RARA-AVIS: Re: RARA-AVIS Digest V4 #503

From: jjnevins@ix.netcom.com
Date: 04 Sep 2002

> Date: Wed, 4 Sep 2002 09:25:36 -0700 (PDT)
> Subject: Re: RARA-AVIS: critical studies on the
> origins of hard-boiled?
> Jess,
> Re your question below:
> > Does anyone know of a good critical study on
> the
> > origins of hard-boiled,
> > especially the genre's 19th century dime
> novel
> > roots? I'm looking for a study
> > which examines the influence of the Old King
> > Brady/Old Cap Collier/Nick Carter
> > genre of dime novels on the early
> hard-boileds. Is
> > there such a thing?
> There are books which talk about how dime
> novels
> eventually transformed into pulp magazines.
> However,
> thay emphasize the changes in the magazine
> publishing
> indutry. Aside from the fact that Carroll John
> Daly
> was clearly influenced by the melodrama he'd
> grown up
> with, I think you'd find that the influence of
> dime-nvel detective stories on their
> Prohibition/Depression-era descendants would be
> negligible. The social phenomenons that
> contributed
> most to the rise of the hard-boiled crime story
> was,
> first of all, World War I which desensitized
> readers,
> particularly men, to violence, second of all,
> Prohoibition and the rise in gangsterism and
> corruption that accompanied it, and, finally,
> the
> Depression, which solidified the cynicism that
> had
> been growing all through the '20s.

I think you'll find more of a continuity in the definition of masculinity, as seen in the figure of the dime novel detective and the figure of the hard-boiled detective, than you're willing to credit. Readers desensitized to violence? Check, got that in spades during the hey-day of dime novels. Gangsterism and corruption? Check, got lots of that, too. Economic depression? Yep. The figure of the hard-boiled detective has the trauma of WW1 behind it, but in nearly all the other important ways the hard-boiled detective is an updated version of the Nick Carter strain of dime novel detective, rather than a radical break from tradition.
> If anything, you could argue that hard-boiled
> influenced the dime novel characters. When

Nah, you couldn't, if only because dime novels weren't published when hard-boiled first appeared. I realise this is quibbling over definitions, but I was being exact when I used the phrase "dime novels." Dime novels are a 19th century phenomenon. After the early 1900s they just weren't around any more. There were certainly adventure and detective magazines between the demise of the dimes and the rise of the pulps, but they weren't dime novels.

I'm interested in the influence of 19th century detective characters, as seen in the dime novels, on the hard-boileds.

> Nick
> Carter first appeared in the 19th Century, he
> was a
> "Great Detective" more or less in the tradition
> of
> Sherlock Holmes (for all that he preceded
> Holmes by
> perhaps a year).

No, sorry, he wasn't. When he debuted he was a dime novel detective in the tradition of Old Cap Collier and Old King Brady, which meant heavy on the action and light on the cerebration and deduction. The change to a more Holmesian characterisation took place only circa 1904, when Street & Smith and Amalgamated Press, the British owner of Sexton Blake, reached an agreement to begin rewriting each other's stories. (The demand for Blake and Carter stories outstripped the supply, even with worthies like Frederic van Rensselaer Dey cranking out material.) Blake was somewhat Holmesian at this point, so the Blake stories, rewritten to incorporate Carter, showed a Holmes influence.

But even then Carter's Holmesian attributes were only superficial. The Carter stories were always more concerned with adventure and exotic enemies than with deduction and a well-crafted crime.

I suppose the proper answer to my question is that no, there is no such animal, and that I should write it myself....


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