Re: RARA-AVIS: RE: RARA-AVIS Digest V3 #867

From: Doug Bassett (
Date: 07 Sep 2001

--- Dick Lochte <> wrote:
> Jim Doherty writes:
> I'll allow that Holmes (and, for that matter, war
> vet
> Watson) are tough men. But they're not hard-boiled
> because toughness isn't all there is to it.
> "Hard-boiled" means tough AND colloquial. It
> implies
> a certain "blue-collar" ethos that Holmes and
> Watson,
> staid Victorian gentlemen that they are, simply
> don't
> have.
> In other words, though they may walk the walk, they
> don't talk the talk. And, to be hardboiled, talking
> the talk is almost as important as walking the walk.
> __________________________________________________

I basically agree with Mr. Doherty, and disagree with Mr. Lochte. "Hardboiled" means more than simply
"tough". Today I bought a first edition of James Jones FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (for a buck, ridiculously) and Jones is a tough writer, and was a tough guy, no doubt about it. But he wasn't a hardboiled writer.

> I don't believe language is a crucial part of being
> hardboiled since, in
> literature at least, it's about attitude and action,
> not talk. Nor do I
> think that blue-collar ethos is a necessity.

No, sorry, I think both are required. Regarding blue-collar ethos (never heard it discussed that way before, but I like it) the hb attitude almost
*requires* a kind of workmanlike, "let's get our hands sweaty" approach. Whether bs or not (and frankly, I think it's mostly bs), the idea is to emphasize gritty

> a long line of
> British clubmen -- from Bulldog Drummond to James
> Bond -- who have their
> hardboiled moments.

I really like Ian Fleming's work, but I think you grievously misunderstand Bond if you ever classify him as "hardboiled". He comes from a far different tradition, the school of British Adventure Writing that had it's start in Victorian England.

Now Quiller, on the other hand....

> Lawyers like Perry Mason or Steve Martini's
> character (name momentarily
> escapes me) have at least a touch of the hardboiled
> in them.

The first Mason, THE CASE OF THE VELVET CLAWS (? right title?) is a hb book. Mason is seen as a sort of Spade-like character, willing to twist the law to serve his own higher ideals of justice. I like Gardner's work generally -- he's a wonderfully readable author -- but later books are much tamer, maybe "medium boiled", if anything.

The one Martini book I read many years ago I absolutely hated, and have never gone back to him.

I don't get one blue
> collar vibe from the
> chess-playing poetic Marlowe.

But Chandler's wide influence on the genre suggests that most people really *did* see him as some kind of idealized "common man". If you learn a bit about Chandler and his life then yes, Marlowe can be appreciated on other levels, but I really think most saw Marlowe as simply a tough, heroic American -- an idealized protrayal of what this country wishes to think of itself.

That goes double when
> it comes to Spencer
> and Elvis Cole.

Well, I have little regard for either Parker or Crais, both of whom seem to me to be working late variants on the Chandler formula. Certainly the best Scudder novels, to pick a guy off the top of my head, portray him as a working class, no-nonsense joe.

Going back to Holmes, if getting
> out the needle and
> shooting up after a tough case isn't hardboiled then
> what are we talking
> about?

Far from being hardboiled, I would call Holmes the ultimate Bohemian. Remember, the Holmes stories were written mostly in the 1890's, the height of the Decadent movement in England. Holmes really seems influenced by that -- he's a kind of languid artiste who takes drugs to better endure the boredom of the world. In most of the stories crime is presented as just another "fix" for him.

This doesn't make the stories bad -- I grew up on the Sherlock Holmes stories, and love them now. It just makes them not hb.


===== Doug Bassett

__________________________________________________ Do You Yahoo!? Get email alerts & NEW webcam video instant messaging with Yahoo! Messenger

# To unsubscribe from the regular list, say "unsubscribe rara-avis" to
#  This will not work for the digest version.
# The web pages for the list are at .

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 07 Sep 2001 EDT