RARA-AVIS: Re: Marlowe

From: Kevin Burton Smith ( kvnsmith@thrillingdetective.com)
Date: 30 Aug 2001

Kerry wrote:

> The strong women in
> Chandler's books, and
> Maltese Falcon and Spillane's yarns were either
> femme fatales or overlooked.

Part of the problem is that Chandler has become so closely identified with the private eye genre that he's become the whipping boy for all the excesses perpetrated by lesser writers (not to mention a million bad movies and television shows) in the genre. I see more variety in his women characters than some of you do. "Chandler's women are complex, some venal, some drunk, some sex cats, some gallant," no less an authority on the evil that men do than Sara Paretsky admits
(mind you, she's read all the books). The same could be said of Hammett and of many of the other writers of the thirties and forties
(by the way, THE BIG SLEEP was published in 1939, not the fifties).

Of course, it's true that in some of the books, she continues, "the seductress... is at the root of the trouble," but so what? In some of the books, she isn't. And most of the men Marlowe encounters are no prizes, either.

Does this make Marlowe or Chandler necessarily sexist or misogynist? If so, the same criticism could be directed at Paretsky herself, whose own books are full of dangerous bad men, who just happen to have sex drives, and good men who are essentially dickless (the elderly neighbour, the priest, etc.).

Both V.I. and Marlowe view the opposite gender with what amounts to sexual suspicion, and indeed, it's a riff that runs right through the genre, on both sides of the chromosome. But in this context, sex is just another temptation, like money or power. So are V.I. and Phil prudes, or just prudent? Does Marlowe kicking that flake Carmen out of his bed make him a misogynist? That's like saying his refusal to take a bribe makes him into an anti-capitalist or an anarchist.

Hell, I'd have to be a lot drunker than Marlowe was to boink Carmen, myself. And I like women. But by that point in the book, it was pretty obvious that that girl just weren't right.

And what the hell's a sex cat?

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