RARA-AVIS: Before 1920

From: Michael Robison ( miker_zspider@yahoo.com)
Date: 17 Oct 2007

Over the past couple years I've been delving back into older literature looking for the origins and variations on the themes I see in the hardboiled and noir genre. I started chronologically by reading Gilgamesh and Beowulf, The Iliad and Odyssey, several books of the Bible, and a buttload of other great stuff.Some of it was just dazzling. Hell, most of it was. After having White's Once and Future King as my major source of the Arthurian legend, The Death Arthur was great. They are almost all bastards and back stabbers, and the blameless ones are the most screwed.
 Then there were the two tales of Faust, each with their own special twist on the story. I read a few Shakespeare plays I hadn't got around to yet. As usual, the stories were great but I could have done without some of the lofty speeches. I finally worked my way up to American literature. I have already posted here about Cooper's Last of the Mohicans, with the first great American fictional hero. I despised James's Turn of the Screw and I couldn't conjure up a bit of respect for his instruction booklet on how to write fiction. I loved Hawthorne's House of the Seven Gables. That's some dark-assed shit. I read Melville's magnificent Moby Dick, Ahab for sure one of the most famous screwed protagonists in American literature. I read some more of his stuff but it didn't measure up to Moby Dick. I reread Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin and was a lot more impressed than the first time. Uncle Tom is true to that old deordorant commercial. He might die at the end, but you never see him sweat. Can't really be noir, can it? Death without defeat. Twain's Huckleberry Finn was a lot darker than I remembered, and rereading it confirmed Hemingway's opinion that American writing began with Twain. I finished The Virginian a few weeks back. I commented heavily in the margins as I was reading it and meant to get around to putting together some thoughts on it but it hasn't happened. The main thing I wanted to comment on was the variations I saw in the Virginian as compared to Cooper's Natty Bumppo, and how that related to the first hardboiled heroes of Daly and Hammett and later Hemingway's code hero. I'll have to get around to that one of these days.

I think a great topic worthy of discussion would be literature that led up to the noir and hardboiled genre.


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