Re: RARA-AVIS: Noir Horror? and Gothic

From: Etienne Borgers (
Date: 06 Feb 2000

The pandorra box is open... one more time.

As so often with popular literature, classification and sorting is fuzzy because the lack of adequate vocabulary labelling the genres, characters...etc. Then, just imagine when it involved cross-culture links!

How interesting this discussion can be we must keep in mind that NOIR is a French word applied to mystery by analogy and *not* by filiation between the genres
(Noir/HB and gothic).
"Litterature noire" was used in France at least since early 19th Century to name what in English is... the gothic literature (type of lit appearing in England around 1760 and later boosted by the romantic movement) and the word noir is still used in that effect until late in the 20th Century.

As the pessimism of Noir/HB, its "thriller" effect, the absence of conventional morality, and its acumulation of violence made that in France, by analogy Serie Noire was first to use the word Noir
(1945) in that way: *evoking* the horror and negative image of the "litterature noire" in order to distinguish HB mystery from the classic mystery and detection novels... but not implying it was the continuation of gothic, or its heir.

Later as you know the word was applied to some American films... and now, today in France "roman noir" is the word that covers all the HB/Noir novel domain (not yet so in the USA).

I think that "mystery pulp followed by HB and Noir" come more directly from some segments of the popular literature appearing early the 19th Century and that produced works of low literary value (most of the time) but of high imagination and intended for a mass market (already): there were the feuilletons in France, or the novels distributed door to door, the dime novels...etc elsewhere. This popular literature was certainly using some gore and fantastic under influence from the gothic lit, but it was also using all the other tricks(melodrama, action, morality demonstrations, tales, epic, adventures...) In America you finally got something like pulps of all kinds long before the emergence of mystery pulps during the 20's (but here I'm not having the complete details).

I personally think that from time to time, and even very recently , gore and gothic can be disguised as mysteries or Noir, increasing the confusion, and I feel Thomas Harris and his Hannibal is exactly that. And not Noir taking some gothic aspects.

And even if some Noir authors use some gore effects it's only occasional and not as a typical aspect of the HB/Noir genre. Noir involves some existential aspect in its plots, that is almost absent from the gothic tradition.

I'm more inclined to think that modern gore/gothic could reach Noir by twisting its characters than the opposite.

"Fankenstein" by Mary Shelley is certainly an example where we can find some Noir/existential traits. And there will be other examples in the modern gore I'm sure.

And, yes definitely, modern horror is descending directly from the gothic tradition.

>...just as the modern
> mystery/detective/hardoiled/noir novel.

But I cannot agree with the above sentence.

I stop here, being already too long, and probably boring.

E.Borgers Hard-Boiled Mysteries http;//

--- "a.n.smith" <> wrote:
> > I think there is also some sort of general
> consensus that "noir" sort of
> > transcends genres (assuming that "noir" is a
> style, as opposed to genre
> > yadda yadda yadda.)
> >
> > Starting from there, does anyone have any thoughts
> on "noir horror?" For
> > one thing, the modern horror novel is something of
> a descendant of the
> > Gothic novel, just as the modern
> mystery/detective/hardoiled/noir novel.
> I'm glad you mentioned this, as I am taking a
> graduate seminar on the Gothic
> novel right now, and had the same thought about pulp
> and noir being so
> closely aligned. The professor said about my
> thought, "To equate pulp with
> gothic is to do violence to both terms." Which I
> think is a pretty awful
> thing to say. Gothic and noir share so many
> elements, but because of the
> "feminization" of gothic early on, they sort of
> laughed my comments off, as
> they were moreinterested in talking about gender
> issues and historical
> perspective in defining what gothic is. So, where I
> thought I was going to
> enjoy the class, it seems now I've been chastised
> for bringing up the noir
> aspect I so looked forward to exploring.
> Geez. I still think I'm right. Thanks, Tribe.
> --
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