Re: RARA-AVIS: Hammett and... Henry James

From: jacquesdebierue (
Date: 21 Nov 2007

--- In, Patrick King <abrasax93@...> wrote:

> While nowhere as prolific as Henry James, I do think
> Hammett is coming into his own. In his modest way, he
> may have been America's strongest 20th Century
> influence on world literature. Fitzgerald, Hemingway,
> Steinbeck, Faulkner, Lewis, not to mention
> Robbe-Grillet, all were among his readership. Several
> of them cited him as an artistic influence.

I think Faulkner has had the most influence worldwide, though the others you mention were all well received and liked. The particular magic of Faulkner, his invention of giving you the information in very little bits, of never telling what he's going to do, of working from inside out as if in a spiral (in the novels), etc., was quickly grasped as what it was: a major innovation. This is on top of his great characters and stories, and of his remarkable use of the Southern language (this is only visible to those who read English, though). Virtually all the great Latin American writers of the second half of the last century were Faulkner disciples, and some still are. The same is true in other literatures, though the effect is more filtered.

Between Franz Kafka and William Faulkner, you can account for a lot of the influence in the past century. I think Joyce had far less influence than these guys, for example, and far less influence than the Twain-Hemingway-Hammett (or hardboiled) style, which has in effect become the standard style in American English outside of bureaucracy and technocracy. A fantastic streamlining which rendered a lot of older stuff quite unreadable, including James (admittedly an anomaly even within long-winded writers).

So maybe the hardboiled boys weren't as good as Faulkner, but their effect was enormous. Well, OK, none of them was as good as Faulkner.




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