Re: RARA-AVIS: Chandler or Hammett? -- Plus A Glance At John Morgan Wilson

Date: 02 Dec 2003


Re your comments below:

> It's not easy to write naturally. In the development
> of a naturalistic
> American prose style Hammett anticipated and in my
> view surpassed Hemingway (who
> took it too far and made it, paradoxically,
> artificial). The care that Hammett
> took in perfecting this so-called natural style can
> be seen in his extensive
> stylistic revisions to the original version of Red
> Harvest, mentioned on this
> list just recently.

True, but it was a natural voice with Hammett, not one that had to be developed in spite of the English public school education that Chandler had, and, to some degree, had to overcome.

And please understand, I'm not saying Chandler's BETTER than Hammett. I'm saying he's more influential.

> While Chandler's more ornamental
> (some call it baroque) style
> is charming, it's a smaller achievement and one
> which led to self-parody in
> his own work and cliche in those that imitated him.
> And, of course, Hammett
> didn't need to make glossaries of slang terms, he
> knew them first-hand.

That's sort of my point. Chandler had to work harder to achieve an authentic American voice than Hammett did. And he certainly had to work harder to make the details of detective work convincing because he didn't have the background and experience Hammett did.

> Hammett's influence may be less visible because it's

> more pervasive, extending far
> beyond detective fiction.

Since Chandler was most influenced by Hammett, and tried to emulate Hammett, you may have a point. But Chandler's influence is the most obvious.
> As far as the private detective convention goes: The
> Maltese Falcon was
> published in 1930. Chandler started publishing in
> 1933. Does anyone know whether
> anyone preceded Hammett in this?

In terms of the private eye stories at novel length, Hammett himself preceded THE MALTESE FALCON in RED HARVEST and THE DAIN CURSE (and, arguably BLOOD MONEY). Carroll John Daly's THE SNARL OF THE BEAST predates all of them.

As far as the pardigm I referred to earlier, Chandler was not the first one to come up with ANY of those traits. As far as I can determine, he IS the first to put them all together in a single character, but even if he isn't, the point is that everyone who came after Chandler followed that model because Chandler did.

Sam Spade in THE MALTESE FALCON does not fit the paradigm in a number of respects. He's not (at least at the beginning of the novel) operating a one-man agency. He's not an ex-cop. And, most importantly in terms of reader expectations, he's not a first-person narrator.

Again, let me reiterate, I'm not saying Chandler's better. I'm saying that, for better or for worse, he's the more influential. Or at least, the more OBVIOUSLY influential.


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