RARA-AVIS: Re: Was Kafka Noirish?

From: Max Gilbert ( jmaxgilbert@yahoo.com)
Date: 11 Feb 2005

--- In rara-avis-l@yahoogroups.com, bruce@b... wrote:
> On Feb. 3, Frederick Zackel asked, "is Kafka noir-ish?" and gave an
> interest sample from The Trial.
> That subject interests me, too. Does anyone have any suggested
> for 19th and early 20th C literary influences for early noir
> Thanks for whatever notes you can provide.
> Best,
> Bruce

It's a topic that interests me as well. I think you can definitely trace the roots of noir to the Gothic novel, which is not surprising since most comtemporary genre fiction (i.e., mystery, horror, sf) can be traced back to it, but in some ways noir carries on that tradition in the most pure form. The noir novel removes god from the equation (you have the hand of fate in place of the hand of god-- the difference being that fate punishes good and bad alike) and expands the scope of the action (e.g., instead of the hero/heroine trapped inside the confines of the castle, he or she is trapped inside the city). If you look at an author like Cornell Woolrich, you can certainly see a lot of similiarities with the gothic in terms of mood and plot (even if the particular figures and scenes are different--although in some of the later American gothic work the city becomes more prominent). A lot of the Gothic isn't that readable anymore & (IMHO) the best works are typically ones that bring in the supernatural (e.g., Matthew Lewis' THE MONK), but in many the supernatural is explained (Ann Radcliffe's work) or there is only the grotesque and not the supernatural (e.g., George Lippard's THE MONK OF MONK'S HALL, which is American and presents a Gothic portrait of mid-19th century Philadelphia).

Somewhere between the Gothic and the noir mystery you can place the sensation novel, which developed in 19th century England (also, not suprisingly a point on the way to development of the mystery). A lot of these are still quite readable today (if you don't mind the length)--e.g., Dickens' BLEAK HOUSE, Mary Braddon's LADY AUDLEY'S SECRET, Wilkie Collins THE WOMAN IN WHITE or (my favorite) ARMADALE, or Charles Reade's HARD CASH. These books have complicated plots in which the hero/heroine finds him/herself in circumstances beyond his/her control often involving legal machinations or criminal charges. As a sample, here's a plot synopsis for HARD CASH that I pulled off a Web site:

"In Hard Cash, a father incarcerates his son in order to cover up a crime. The doctors who admit him have a kickback scheme worked out with the hospital--they get money for each patient admitted. Once in the hospital, the hero tries to prove his sanity but finds it impossible to battle against doctors who refuse to look past the diagnosis that caused his admission to his actual mental condition. He also must negotiate with the head of the hospital, a woman who is madly in love with him and refuses to allow him out of her sight.

He cannot prove his sanity and only escapes when there is a fire in the asylum. There is one "good" doctor in the story who refuses to bleed patients, deny them food, or admit the sane to mental hospitals. The other doctors think him a quack, but he saves several lives."

Not that far from some of the mental hospital noir tales of our century.

>From these same common roots you can trace a number of other
developments, for example the precursors of the political thriller are books like Joseph Conrad's THE SECRET AGENT (also rather noirish).

I'm also interested in the roots of hardoiled fiction, which I think owes a strong debt to the working class fiction of the late 19th centuries--authors like Jack London (in the US) and Arthur Morrison
(in the UK). Some of Morrison's works might be the earliest examples of the hard-boiled crime novel (in the UK at least--I know 19th century British lit much better than 19th century US): CHILD OF THE JAGO (1894) & THE HOLE IN THE WALL (1902) are really crime stories about life in London's slums and make use of working class dialect to some extent at least.


------------------------ Yahoo! Groups Sponsor --------------------~--> Meet the McDonald¿s® Lincoln Fry get free digital souvenirs, Web-only video and bid on the Lincoln Fry prop charity auction. http://us.click.yahoo.com/U0ptCC/fV0JAA/Zx0JAA/kqIolB/TM

RARA-AVIS home page: http://www.miskatonic.org/rara-avis/
  Yahoo! Groups Links

<*> To visit your group on the web, go to:

<*> To unsubscribe from this group, send an email to:

<*> Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to:

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 11 Feb 2005 EST