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

From: Brian Thornton (
Date: 24 Nov 2007

Patrick King wrote:

>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.

Show, don't tell, Patrick. If it's so easy to find, please show it to us. I've read A MOVEABLE FEAST twice and I don't recall any specific reference along those lines at all. I suppose it's possible that I missed it, but being the big Hammett fan that I am, I doubt I'd have missed a reference like that one.

>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.

Or of Hammett himself and Lillian Hellman. Nick Charles bears as much resemblance to Scott Fitzgerald (either privately or publicly) as (to borrow from your anaology below) he does to John Carter, Warlord of Barsoom.

>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.

Sure sounded that way to me.

>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.

That's different than what you were saying earlier, but OK. Got a source, here?

>I also take exception to the idea that Hemingway was
>"a fellow-traveler on the post-Twain/Crane
>realist tide."

Take as much exception as you like, but bear in mind that Hemingway's connection to Twain/Crane and the realist school is well-documented on this list, so you're taking up the club with more people than just myself, here.

Don't believe me? It's easily confirmed by a quick search of the Rara Avis archives. We've been over that ground several times in the five-plus years that I've been a member of this list.

>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

Spare us the hyperbole. I read everything by Burroughs that I could get my hands on when I was a kid. Loved his stuff, especially the Martian Chronicles. BUT if I go read his stuff now, it reads as labored, histrionic, post-Victorian romantic escapist fantasy with carboard cutouts for characters and plots so laughably predictable that they'd make Carroll John Daly blush.

Bear in mind, too, that "realistic" and "real" are not the same thing in either Webster's dictionary or in literary criticism.

You'll have to do better than that to convince most of the folks on this list that Hemingway's writing was the stuff of heroic fantasy and not someone struggling to write "one true sentence."

Brian Thornton

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