Re: RARA-AVIS: Before 1920

From: Robert Elkin (
Date: 18 Oct 2007

If you want the true beginnings of US Lit, see Poe, not Twain. (& read William Carlos Williams' IN THE AMERICAN GRAIN, which will provide some background). Hemingway? Pfui. "Eyes more interested than interesting," says Stein, & I won't argue.

----- Original Message ---- From: Michael Robison <> To: Sent: Wednesday, October 17, 2007 9:17:46 PM Subject: RARA-AVIS: Before 1920


            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



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