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

From: M Blumenthal (
Date: 21 Apr 2002

> 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.

> 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.

Jim, It comes down to each person's definition of hard boiled. You can say something has nothing to do with a person being hard boiled and I can say the reverse. I don't think we will agree. Going back to my trusty dictionary(Random House College Webster's) hard boiled is defined as
"unsentimental or realistic; tough;" Gutman is certainly unsentimental and realistic. You might argue that Gutman is not physically tough, but he certainly is mentally. Compare his attitude to Joel Cairo's when they discover the falcon they have is a phony. He can shrug it off and prepare to renew his quest with no qualms.

> >>
> 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.

Actually, in some of the stories when he wants Holmes is able to walk the walk and talk the talk, but I didn't think we were disputing about him. Many of Ross Thomas' characters, for example, would fail to qualify under that definition.

> 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 can agree with you that he is probably not physically tough, but I don't agree that is a requirement to be hard boiled. His manner and physical appearance are meant to contrast with Spade's, but underneath they are equally tough and determined.
> > 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.

> 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.

Again the dictionary, 'definitive' is defined as, "most reliable or complete...2 serving to define, fix, or specify definitely.. 3 Satisfying all criteria"

I think my use of the word was correct. Your concept of the meaning of the word , like your definition of hard boiled, may satisfy you, but it is incomplete at best.
>> 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.

I don't think there is a definition that everyone will agree to. Similarly, I called the list of characters 'the best' , but I knew some would choose their favorites, others would choose the most influential, others would choose the most popular, and others would try to choose those that they thought were most fully realized. Mark

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