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

From: Patrick King (
Date: 24 Nov 2007

--- Brian Thornton <> wrote:
> I don't see Hemingway so much influenced by Hammett
> as being a fellow-traveler on the post-Twain/Crane
> realist tide. If you're talking "influences" where
> Hemingway was concerned, you'd be better able to
> prove "The Kansas City Star"'s stylebook/Ring
> Lardner/Twain/Crane/Sherwood Anderson/a bunch of
> French impressionist paintings.
> I also fail to see any substantial *stylistic*
> influence by Hammett's work on either Fitzgerald or
> Faulkner.
> All four of these men were giants, no question, and
> their writing bears some similarities that can be
> chalked up to them being (as I mentioned above)
> "fellow travelers."
****************************************************** Hemingway cited Hammett as an influence on his sparse, discriptive sentence structure. It may be in A MOVEABLE FEAST, but Hemingway's specific quote on Hammett is not hard to find. The other writers all acknowledged reading Hammett. Fitzgerald was so impressed by Hammett's work that he revising TENDER IS THE NIGHT, when half way through it, to make it a murder mystery. That revision went a long way before Perkins convinced him to go back to the original idea. Robbe-Grillet, of course, has openly credited his very peculiar style to Hammett's use of sentences and description.

What writers perhaps most admired and were envious about Hammett was his ability to create stories that translated into MANY successful movies. The similarity of the public image of Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald and the fictional protrait of Nick & Nora Charles as drawn by Hammett is certainly there. None of Fitzgerald's own stories were made into successful movies during his lifetime and if you read his bios, this was very frustrating to him.

I'm not, by any stretch of the imagination, saying that all these writers consciously attempted to change their writing to be more like Hammett's. I am saying they were all very aware of the successes Hammett achieve by comparably little effort. And they all found his work absorbing and amusing.

James M. Cain, whose work was constantly compared to Hammett's by critics, was the one writer who maintained he never read more than a paragraph of Hammett's work in his life. Cain, of course, our own feelings aside, is not in the same catagory as the other writers under discussion.

I also take exception to the idea that Hemingway was
"a fellow-traveler on the post-Twain/Crane realist tide." Hemingway, like Fitzgerald, was a romantic writer. He owes much more to Jack London than he does to either Twain or Crane. His novels are not realistic. They are tragic romances. FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS, arguably his best full-length book, has as much to do with reality as does Burrough's A PRINCESS OF MARS.

Patrick King

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