Re: RARA-AVIS: Geoffrey Gorer on James Hadley Chase

From: E.Borgers (
Date: 02 Jan 2005

Interesting addition to our discussion! I did not read Gorer's essay, but I think that reality was slightly different. And simpler. It is difficult to mix up France and the UK in the same sentence when speaking of eroticism and the 50s. Even if Europe was on the prudish side at the time, France was more liberal when looking at eroticism in the arts, including literature - but not in cinema. At the same time in the UK, a lot of (gen, lit and other, incl famous writers) novels were forbidden and/or submitted to censorship during the same period (40s, early 50s) for indecency, with moral justification. So perception of could be very different in these two countries.

In the USA, naturalistic lit had shown already that some eroticism could surface easily in American modern novels, contrasting heavily with the ambient bigotry. Pulp lit under HB and naturalistic influences made quickly a mix of violence and sex scenes, even when it was not the main purpose of the books. All this could give a quick caricature of American novels when it was pushed to the extremes of pastiches. As I already said, Chase's Orchids was a pastiche by intentions. The same with Vian's "American novels", wherein he added black humor and derision to the pastiche (and were certainly not his best works, not even really representative of Vian's lit works- except by their provocative side). I do not think that Chase was really thinking that America was as he painted it in his first books; he just blew up the major traits, prominent clich鳬 of American noir/HB lit of the time. America was an excuse: It just happened that American HB novels were good sellers... so he wanted to fake it. Real America was really not his goal, which explains his fantasies. During the same time, Peter Cheyney (also a British) was already a very successful writer with novels mimicking American HB and was presented as an American writer, or at least making every efforts to let readers to believe it.

But America, even during these days, was seen in France and the UK more as a country were extreme violence was accepted and this physical violence was graphically depicted everywhere in its literature (and cinema), contrasting with the French or British lit wherein physical violence was milder or seldom extreme- I speak here of general lit and genre lit. So, to do like in an American novel it was perceived you had to describe violence. Things changed later of course.

Maybe Gorer's essay is more revealing of the American views and values of the 40s and 50s than of the real influence of American lit on foreign writers (a wild guess of mine...).

E.borgers Hard-Boiled Mysteries

Jay Gertzman :

>Gorer's essay "The Erotic Myth of America" (1950) is extremely
>provocative. He says that French and English writers (Boris Vian and
>Chase are his examples, and so could Bertold Brecht be) saw the US as a
>kind of anarchistic no man's land where all kinds of sensual appetites
>are given their head, so to speak. Especially fascinating are those
>which conflate sex and money, and idolize the latter in order to blur
>the twisted frustrations the former present to Texas-sized venal and
>fragile egos. This is a myth, of course. Nothing since 9/11 could
>possibly give evidence of its validity, God knows, but only show the
>wisdom of our fearless leaders (from Bush-Cheney to Lieberman-Kristol)
> of just war against "haters" and "terrorists." That having been
>piously intoned, I think Gorer has a lot of value to say about Chase
>(a.k.a. Rene Raymond). He writes of his ignorance of American geography,
>his female characters "always in heat," his absurd attempts at American
>slang, his "paste board characters," his focus on men torturing each
>other. He says the popularity of Chase's novels allow "fulfillment of
>deeply felt but furtive wishes. . . . American culture is thought to be
>the source of the imaginative sins which the readers of these books
>commit during their solitary orgies." As for Chase's models, Gorer cites
>Hemingway's To Have and To Have Not, and Chase's own Twelve Chinks and
>a Girl, as well as Faulkner.
>I believe George Orwell liked No Orchids.

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