Re: RARA-AVIS: Gutman and the Defintion of Hard-Boiled (was "Angie," etc.)

Date: 21 Apr 2002


Re your comments below:

> Jim this is the second time you wrote you didn't
> think Gutman was hard
> boiled . . . why do you think Gutman was
> not hard boiled? Does
> somebody actually have to kill to be responsible for
> it?

Murdering someone, either personally or by remote control, doesn't make one hard-boiled. It simply makes him a murderer. Murderers can be hard-boiled
(like Parker) or non-hard-boiled (like the two little old ladies in ARSENIC AND OLD LACE). Non-murderers can be hard-boiled (like Steve Carella) or non-hard-boiled (like Miss Marple). All committing a murder means is that you have, deliberately and with malice aforethought, taken another person's life unlawfully; it has no effect on your hard-boiled status.

> He certainly is
> willing to give up Wilmer who he says was like a son
> to him.

That makes him treacherous, disloyal, and ruthless, not hard-boiled. Once again one can be treacherous and ruthless and be either hard-boiled or non-hard-boiled. And one can be honorable and scrupulous and be either hard-boiled or non-hard-boiled. The defining characteristics of
"hard-boiledness" are neither treachery nor ruthlessness. Neither are they honor and scrupulosity.

> Do you
> disqualify him because of his way of speaking or his
> supposed upbringing?
> According to you be hard boiled a person has to be
> colloquial. According to
> my dictionary that is, " characteristic of or
> suitable to ordinary or
> familiar conversation or writing rather than formal
> speech or writing."
> Does that mean someone who is educated and British
> cannot be hard boiled?

Well, being British and educated isn't absolutely disqualifying. Being British, educated, and possessed of a certain elegance of manner IS disqualifying. Actually, just the elegance of manner is disqualifying, whatever one's nationality or educational attainments. Sherlock Holmes is tough. but he's not colloquial. He lacks what Rudyard Kipling called "the common touch." He walks the walk, but he doesn't talk the talk.

But to get to the character in question, Casper Gutman is neither tough nor colloquial. He's pedantic, pretentious, and irritatingly prissy. He's set up by Hammett to be a specific contrast to Spade who is a tough, direct, come-to-the-point, regular guy.

> I don't want to get into this debate again . . .

Well, it's an awfully long post if you don't want to get into this debate again.

> . . . but I think your
> definition is hardly definitive.

My definition may not be authoritative; it may not be the consensus of the group; it may not be correct in the least. But it IS definitive. That which is definitive is that which defines something. And a definition, BY definition, defines something. You may not think I've defined "hard-boiled" accurately, but I have defined it.

Usually, and this is where the confusion arises, when we describe something or someone as "definitive," it's something OTHER than an actual definition. Hence we might describe Sean Connery as the "definitive James Bond," SINGIN' IN THE RAIN as "the definitive American film musical," baseball as "the definitive American sport," World War II as "the defining event of the 2oth Century," etc. What we mean by this is that by being such a quintessential example of whatever these persons or things are, they define the role, or the genre, or the profession, etc. Despite the fact that they are not actually definitions, they BECOME definitions by being superlative exemplars.

You may think there is either more or less to being hard-boiled than being tough and colloquial. That's fine. Offer your own definition and see if it floats.
 You may do a better job than I have.


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