RE: RARA-AVIS: Hardboiled Character Traits

Date: 01 May 2002


Re your comments below:

> I'm still not buying your definition, it is too
> simplistic . . .

That's its greatest asset. Hard-boiled crime fiction is essentially simple and direct. All the definitions that try to make it complicated not only miss the point but are too exclusive.

> . . . and fails the
> Wizard of Oz test. If Dorothy Gale fits, then it
> can't be hardboiled.

I could've been missing the point, but I think whoever brought up Dorothy Gale was kidding. In any case, if you're seriously worried about the terrible fate of Dorothy Gale's being considered in the same breath as Sam Spade or Parker, I'd like to remind you that THE WIZARD OF OZ wasn't a crime novel, it was a fairy tale. We're talking about crime fiction here.

> I'll take tough, but not colloquial as definitive.
> While I agree that
> most hardboiled characters are colloquial in their
> speech (a necessity
> of location and vocation), I don't feel that it's
> definitive or that
> there's conclusive evidence that every hardboiled
> character classic and
> otherwise is strictly blue-collar in origin either.

I never said every hard-boiled character is blue-collar in origin. I said they talked or expressed themselves in a colloquial, "regular-guy" way. And it is definitive because it was style, which is to say it was the language, more than anything else, that set "hard-boiled" apart from what came before.
> If you accept that the genre is evolutionary in
> nature than it logically
> follows that it's devolutionary as well. Thus
> Sherlock Holmes is
> hardboiled for his era and culture, while not being
> hardboiled for ours

He wasn't hard-boiled in the crime fiction sense for the simple reason that hard-boiled didn't exist. Hard-boiled wasn't an evolution from Holmes, Poirot, Lord Peter, etc. to Spade, the Op, Marlowe, etc. It was a reaction to (and to some degree AGAINST) Holmes and the rest of the traditionalists. To say that Holmes was "hard-boiled for his era" is simply to misread the entire history of crime fiction.

> ... but you can't judge any one fictional or real
> within your own
> context, they won't fit. Just as Marlowe and the
> other classic HB
> characters are not as hardboiled in today's world as
> they were in their
> own.

Marlowe and the rest are tough enough and colloquial enough for any world.
> There's a definition out there and tough is a part
> of it and colloquial
> will have it's place, but the genres too big for the
> small box you're
> trying to stuff it into.

I'm not trying to stuff it into a small box. I humbly submit "tough and colloquial" is the simplest, MOST inclusive, LEAST exclusive definition that's been offered. Making it more complicated won't make it more inclusive. It will do just the opposite. On the other hand, anything LESS complicated will only serve to include obviously non-hard-boiled characters like Sherlock Holmes and Lord Peter in the ranks.


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