Re: RARA-AVIS: The Postman Always Rings Twice

From: David Wright (
Date: 23 Oct 2003

Here's a fairly authoritative-sounding account from

"A Note on the Title of James M. Cain's Novel
'The Postman Always Rings Twice' In "Murder on the Love Rack," the tenth chapter of CAIN: The Biography of James M. Cain (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1982), Roy Hoopes details the history of Cain's famously enigmatic title for his first novel. According to Hoopes, Cain originally titled the work Bar-B-Que, but the publisher Alfred Knopf who was considering publishing the novel objected to the title and suggested For Love or Money instead. Cain hated Knopf's title because he found it generic, the sort of title that seems designed to market any sensationalistic book or movie. In return, Cain offered to call the book Black Puma or The Devil's Checkbook, but Knopf rejected these as well. Hoopes reports that finally, during a conversation with the playwright and screenwriter Vincent Lawrence--Cain's best friend in Hollywood, and the person to whom he ultimately dedicated this novel--came up with the title The Postman Always Rings Twice. The two writers had been commiserating over the agonies of waiting for the postman each day to find out the latest news on their submitted manuscripts. Lawrence said that he would sometimes go out into his backyard to avoid hearing the postman come but complained that the postman always rang twice to make sure he was heard. This anecdote put Cain in mind of an old English and Irish tradition according to which the postman always rang (or knocked) twice to announce himself. Cain pitched the title to his friend and Lawrence agreed that this metaphor was well suited as a description for the fate of Frank Chambers. Knopf, of course, accepted the title, and Hoopes notes that this title, with its rather obscure meaning, may in fact have contributed to the controversy that fueled the novel's huge success. J.C. Caruso University of Washington"

===== David Wright Seattle Public Library

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