Ellroy on Hammett: a Hardboiled War on Labor

I was searching the UMW library database for a James Ellroy novel I wanted to re-read this break (The Big Nowhere), when I stumbled across his introduction to an Everyman’s Library Edition of some of Dashiell Hammett’s stories and novels. I was excited by the discovery because both Hammett and Ellroy factored heavily into the hardboiled class I taught this fall, and I was dying to know what Ellroy made of Hammett. I walked over to the library—what a privilege it is to have one so close!—and grabbed the book. (As is often the case these days, the introduction is also available in its entirety online as an article in the Guardian titled “The poet of collision”, who knew?)

As usual Ellroy didn’t disappoint, and the first paragraph of his succinctly jumpy introduction frames the tension at the heart of Hammett’s vision:

"We Never Sleep" The Pinkerton Detective Agency Motto and Icon

“We Never Sleep” The Pinkerton Detective Agency Motto and Icon

Dashiell Hammett was allegedly offered five Gs to perform a contract hit. It is most likely a mythic premise. He was a Pinkerton operative at the time. A stooge for Anaconda Copper made the offer. The intended victim was a union organiser. The stooge had every reason to believe Hammett would take the job – post-first-world-war Pinkertons were a goon squad paranoically fearful of all perceived reds. Hammett’s mythic refusal is a primer on situational ethics. He knew it was wrong and didn’t do it. He stayed with an organisation that in part suppressed dissent and entertained murderous offers on occasion. He stayed because he loved the work and figured he could chart a moral course through it. He was right and wrong. That disjuncture is the great theme of his work.

The great moral disjuncture Ellroy frames here was in many ways at the heart of the first three writers of the hardboiled course. From Hemingway to Hammett to Fante, the post-first-world-war meditation on the moral void of contemporary culture opened up like a huge, gaping hole at the center of the century, and all the Nietzsche, Freud, and Marx I tried to shovel into it couldn’t begin to fill it up. This is part of the reason why I’ve been drawn so deeply into the first three seasons of Boardwalk Empire, as a contemporary series it is embedded within that disjuncture, there is no clear moral course through it. A few students noted on the final exams I graded yesterday that the novelists we read during the second half of the course (Himes, Paretsky, Ellroy, Mosley) were attempting to right the wrongs of the earlier novels—a fascinating take on the class. There was a continuation of the same themes in the later novels, but rather then remaining  within the ocean of moral uncertainty as Hammett does, the later writers surgically try and remedy the moral disjuncture historically.

Beyond that, Ellroy’s introduction vindicates one of the biggest omissions on my syllabus: Raymond Chandler. His work is included tangentially through films like Double Indemnity (1944) and Strangers on a Train (1951), but we didn’t read any of his novels. In fact, I made a conscious choice to put John Fante’s Ask the Dust in instead of The Big Sleep.

…Hammett’s vision is more complex than that of his near-contemporary Raymond Chandler. Chandler wrote the man he wanted to be – gallant and with a lively satirist’s wit. Hammett wrote the man he feared he might be – tenuous and sceptical in all human dealings, corruptible and addicted to violent intrigue.

Marlowe always seemed far too right, too pure—the dark side was purely slumming in his books. Personal triumphs aside, the other theme that comes up again and again this semester is the idea of work versus labor that pervades the genre. Ellroy gets at the tension between detecting as a job versus the fiction quite nicely:

Detective work was by nature prosaic. File prowls, blown tails, attenuated stakeouts. Crime stories demanded near-continuous action. File prowls must yield revelation. Blown tails must provide climax. Stakeouts must further plot. Hammett knew this going in: crime fiction was preposterous melodrama with a gnat-sized reality base. Never had there been a single case rife with multiple shootouts, homicidal seductresses and wall-to-wall mayhem succinctly resolved at tale’s end. Hammett had to fit social realism into a suffocatingly contrived form. He did it with language – densely spare exposition and multilayered dialogue.

I love how Ellroy reminds us of how far apart the reality and the fiction are in this sphere, re-situating the hardboiled crime novel within the realm of “preposterous melodrama” (which is interestingly linked to my other hang-up this semester: Douglas Sirk‘s 1950s melodramas). The narrative action of Red Harvest is preposterous, as Ellroy notes a bit further on:

The body count accretes with no more horror than pratfalls in farce. It doesn’t matter. The language is always there.

The language is all that matters, and it is rooted in work-a-day stiffs whom are private operatives working for corporate overlords at a meager wage. These are not workers within a larger social context of solidarity that defines the labor struggle of the early twentieth century, but rather alienated wage slaves.  And what are they working towards? Well, to crush organized labor.

Hammett’s workday men risk peril for trifling remuneration and never question the choice. The great satisfactions of the job are the mastery of danger and the culling of facts to form a concluding physical truth. These facts comprise the closing of the case and thus the story. Hammett’s men stand hollowly proud in their constant case conclusions. They are in no way affirmed or redeemed. They have survived. They are hopped-up versions of the schmuck clerk who got through one more shift at Wal-Mart. Their mundane world swirls around them and ignores them.

Updating Hammett’s Continental Op to a “hopped-up” version of the “schmuck clerk” at Wal-Mart is frighteningly accurate caricature of contemporary culture that illustrates the train wreck that is the labor movement in the US. The historical and cultural themes underpinning hardboiled fiction and noir film are myriad, but this is the the theme that has been haunting me all semester—and Ellroy brings it home like a shiv in the neck. Hardboiled literature is violently hostile to organized labor. The vision of the lone, hardboiled  detective as romantic hero acts as a trope to romanticize the institutional oppression of labor—and the flaccid, middle-aged, unattractive detective stands by helplessly watching and moralizing to no effect—then on to the next job. Ellroy points this struggle out when trying to make sense of Hammett’s operative work as “fascist tool” for the wealthy alongside a concomitant guilt that drives a literature of violent atonement that ultimately results in powerlessness.

Hammett saw himself as complicit. The realisation may have fuelled his self-destructive path with alcohol and women. He was a Pinkerton. He signed on to work for an enforcement agency that squashed workers flat. He knew it was wrong. He knew he was wrong. He did the job on an ad hoc basis and couched his Manoeuvrings within The Manoeuvre in a personal moral code. The monstrous force of systemic corruption cast his code and his own job holder’s life in extreme miniature and rendered everything about him small – except his guilt.

I love how Ellroy frames Hammett as a twisted character obsessed with his own guilt.   It’s like a page from The Black Dahlia. We are our criticism.

Posted in Dashiell Hammett, Hardboiled, James Ellroy, labor, Red Harvest, work | Leave a comment

FINAL Final

Since my group focused on Sara Paretsky’s Indemnity Only, we had difficulty finding a lot of information and responses from the time period given as it was most recent, even with Peter’s help. I did, however, learn a little more about how to use search engines and which engines to use specifically with the help of the resource desk in the library. My group didn’t convene until a little later in the process and, up until then, we had all been continuously contributing which is why the information seemed a little choppy and disjointed. After meeting up, we came to a common understanding on who was to work on what, who wasn’t working, and what needed to be done. During this time, we also went back through some of our prior research and edited it up to make sure it had more of a common theme coming from the same voice.

Although we’d all contributed to the plot, I was the one to go back and revise it to hopefully add some more specifics as well as try to make it sound more fluid. Again, this was after meeting with the group. Before that, I was having difficulty finding things on my own, so I went to the resource desk at the library and emailed Peter. There wasn’t a lot of actual tangible text that would be of use, but Peter did point me in the right direction on how to properly use the school’s data bases. Doing so, I found articles on several of her books in relation to similar authors of the time period, all discussing breaking the atypical feminine mold in detective literature before their novels. It was greatly emphasized, especially in Sara Paretsky: Overview by Kathleen Klein that before these novels, the female character in hardboiled fiction was typically the sexual object or the femme fatale who turned into the villain. Several articles from the UMW databases following these lines identified that Paretsky was one of the first to write a female P.I. from a feminist outlook. Also in Women, Myster, and Sleuthing in the ‘80s by Hileman as well as Dial Femme for Murder, Paretsky talks about developing her characters to have a realistic and cynical outlook on the world and their circumstances, as well as to have their smarts about them. They break into roles that were designed for men of that time period, and often times do a better job than they do. Paretsky even dated back to Adam and Eve, pointing out Adam’s blame of Eve for the eating of the forbidden fruit. She comes off as a strong feminist who is determined to infiltrate this idea of women being inferior in any of sort of way to men.

This seemed to be a very common them not only in Indemnity Only, but also in Paretsky’s other books. This could also be confused with writing styles since it seems to be common in her novels, but the realistic feminist characters are hard to deny. Another thing that was brought up in the articles that the book verified was the throwing over of typical patriarchies, especially since it’s a feminine PI (who is in a few professional roles, also new for the time period) bringing down several men. The issue of white collar crime is more specific to the Warshawski books, which somewhat introduces the breaking of another mold, that being the condemnation of those who normally get away with crimes. After further research, I realized that white collar crime more or less piqued in the 80s, with a lot of corporate fraud tied into it. The “victims” of these crimes typically ended up being the companies themselves with men who were previously rich and powerful becoming subject to the law. This is more of what we saw in Indemnity Only, but occupational fraud that benefits a single person at the expense of the company was also a raging trend of the 80s (“White Collar Crime.” Reference For Business – Encyclopedia of Small Business, Business Biographies, Business Plans, and Encyclopedia of American Industries. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2012. http://www.referenceforbusiness.com/encyclopedia/Val-Z/White-Collar-Crime.html). While the goal of white collar crime typically involves smuggling money, it usually ends up costing the corporation much more than they were able to get away with, especially since it’s unlikely that the crime of the company will forever go unnoticed. I also discovered that the type of fraud we saw in Indemnity Only is seen more among corporations that are more established, or with more powerful figures running them. Because of their credibility, they’re not as prone to extensive background checks like other smaller, less established companies might be. Another thing to take notice about the novel is how it was the guys at the top of the line who were orchestrating the fraud, while those of lesser power either idled ignorantly or unknowingly came upon, much like Peter Thayer did. It’s here that we see the effect of being an established, rich, white male in a corporate setting.

The other people in the group noticed this also, but they discovered a more prominent connection with labor unions than I found. These were more of my contributions, other than rewriting the plot summary, but it’s hard to tell what is to be placed where since a lot of the reading was more or less the same. As I said, it was hard to find a lot of information, but especially differentiating articles. I more discovered the feminist plot amongst Indemnity Only and following with her other novels. Eventually, I was lead towards researching things such as Sara Paretsky herself and strong themes throughout the novel, such as white collar crime and feminism, to relate back to the book rather than articles revolving around the actual novel. It was hard to find much other than the break of feminism in many resources since that seemed to be the main impact of the book, especially for the time period it was written in. Overall, I think our book was a little more challenging than the others, but I enjoyed my group and everyone in it which helped the experience. It was difficult to find all the necessary information, but I think that my group worked nicely with the resources available and am overall pleased with just our rough draft of the article, let alone the final product.

Leave a comment

Final that I swore I thought I hit publish last night on

The Glass Key Wikipedia Research

            I began doing my research for this article where probably everyone else did as well: a Google search. I had done this many times before so I thought that maybe if I sat and sifted through the usual crap the internet had to offer that I could find something useful. I was tasked with finding the critical receptions of The Glass Key and so I casually searched “glass key critical receptions” thinking that it would find me many useful links. At first I thought I had hit a gold mine, considering every link was to a different review or opinion on Dashiell Hammett’s novel. After taking down a couple links and quotes I entered class that night feeling more than prepared; that was until I displayed what I had come up with and basically got shut down immediately. None of my information dated before 2007 and the links I was using were hardly educational. Back to square one.

With newfound passion to sit for hours and not stop until I had what I thought to be worthy I once again retreated to my Google safe place. This time was different; this time I was going to use filters and not trust any .com that claimed to be a know-all. I even had moved myself to the library to limit the distractions. I came away with a few notable names reviewing the book but once again nothing dating to before 1987. Being that I thought there was nothing that could help me besides changing the way I enter my Google search, I felt that I was doing very well. That night during class after my information was again not sufficient, Professor Groom suggested that as a class we should use Peter Catlin, a librarian at Mary Washington that specializes in these fields.

Instead of listening to Professor Groom like I should have from the beginning, I thought I would use our library’s own databases for my research instead. The databases are so huge and full of relevant information, that they were almost too much; I felt like I needed to include a little bit of everything. I ended up with what I thought I would be able to just transfer over to the Wikipedia article but it was actually still just a bunch of hooblah when I came to present it in class again. Running out of options, I reached into the back of my mind and remembered how much Jim Groom had mentioned Mr. Catlin and how much he could help.

That night I emailed Peter basically asking him if there was anything he could find on Dashiell Hammett or The Glass Key that dated before 1980, but preferably right around when the book was published in 1931. The next day after I had opened my email I found that Professor Groom was very right to recommend Peter because he is fantastic. He used the library’s personal search engine that can find things from other libraries nationwide and dished me some great information. I scheduled an appointment with Peter for the next day; I quickly became excited because I knew that my classmates, like me, were lazy and probably weren’t heeding Jim Groom’s suggestions to use Mr. Catlin.

After my meeting with Peter, I came away with three different critical receptions from newspaper from The New York TimesThe Chicago Tribune, and The Bookman and each one had the original scan of the document. I also found out that Simpson library has quite the selection on Dashiell Hammett and his works (an entire six foot long shelf actually).  Each book about Hammett mentioned The Glass Key at least four to five times and so it made my job a lot easier. Going to the index I would just look up the novel, and it usually even had its own contents about it (i.e Reviews, characters, etc.). Each book would bring up the different reviews of the novel, but most of them would repeat the same three or four names reviewing it, like Raymond Chandler, and so I figured that they were probably pretty important reviews.

Each book had so much information in fact, that I began adding to the other parts of the Wikipedia article’s Google doc. For example, The Glass Key although published as a novel in 1931, was originally run as a four-part series in the Black Mask magazine. I offered this information to Professor Groom and even he hadn’t known that, so they were a great resource, as was Peter Catlin. Using Peter actually almost felt like cheating since he was so helpful, but that just goes to show that if a professor suggests something, you should at least look into it.

This Wikipedia article project by itself has changed my almost decade old way of doing research entirely.  For too long and too often I would trust any link or any information on the internet because I had never had the right way shown to me in a way where it warranted results. Basically what I am saying is not only did I get to read a very good book, but I also gained a life skill in the sense that this project has changed who I am academically and how I view certain research tools.

 

Leave a comment

More wikiness

Writing for Wikipedia is a challenge. When we write as students, it’s all about: What does the teacher want? What will make him/her happy so I’ll get a good grade? Whereas with an encyclopedia it’s all about: What will be useful to the reader? For this class, it’s a double challenge because the students have to consider both.

Someone writing a paper on Cotton Comes to Harlem might have to explain things about Chester Himes, or the blaxploitation film genre. In a web environment like Wikipedia, hyperlinking to related articles can accomplish all of that. Linking related articles into the new and newly revised articles will strengthen the encyclopedia. Maybe I’ll work on that.

Another challenge with Wikipedia editing is citing everything. In traditional papers, we build our own arguments and conclusions from available evidence. Wikipedia, however, is not the place for original research. It’s all about the available evidence. Our arguments and conclusions belong elsewhere. This brings to mind the recent Philip Roth vs Wikipedia incident. Roth found that the article on his novel The Human Stain had wrong information about what inspired it. He had his people contact Wikipedia to get it fixed, but Wikipedia responded that his word was not good enough: It had to be published somewhere, so the article would have a citable source. So he wrote about the situation in the New Yorker magazine, and that became his source. In our case, we can draw our own conclusions about the novels, but we have to be careful to filter out ideas that are not supported by citable sources. All in all, I think the class did an admirable job, especially considering that is probably the first time most of us have attempted anything like it.

Even though it is a challenge, I love this Wikipedia project. It’s an opportunity to make something that people can really use, to make the world a better place, even if only in a small way. @DrGarcia tweeted about an article from the London School of Economics on the scholarly benefits of writing for Wikipedia. Writing for Wikipedia is making a contribution to public knowledge, making something people can use, benefit from and build upon. And the student can point back to it and say, “I did that.” I’ve heard that some people think student work gets stuffed in the back of desk drawers and forgotten. That is not happening here. Hardboiled will not be forgotten.

Posted in Hardboiled, wikipedia | Leave a comment

Wikipedia Reflection Final Draft

Since my group focused on Sara Paretsky’s Indemnity Only, we had difficulty finding a lot of information and responses from the time period given as it was most recent, even with Peter’s help. I did, however, learn a little more about how to use search engines and which engines to use specifically with the help of the resource desk in the library. My group didn’t convene until a little later in the process and, up until then, we had all been continuously contributing which is why the information seemed a little choppy and disjointed. After meeting up, we came to a common understanding on who was to work on what, who wasn’t working, and what needed to be done. During this time, we also went back through some of our prior research and edited it up to make sure it had more of a common theme coming from the same voice.

Although we’d all contributed to the plot, I was the one to go back and revise it to hopefully add some more specifics as well as try to make it sound more fluid. Again, this was after meeting with the group. Before that, I was having difficulty finding things on my own, so I went to the resource desk at the library and emailed Peter. There wasn’t a lot of actual tangible text that would be of use, but Peter did point me in the right direction on how to properly use the school’s data bases. Doing so, I found articles on several of her books in relation to similar authors of the time period, all discussing breaking the atypical feminine mold in detective literature before their novels. It was greatly emphasized, especially in Sara Paretsky: Overview but Kathleen Klein (Klein, Kathleen Gregory. “Sara Paretsky: Overview.” St. James Guide to Crime & Mystery Writers. Ed. Jay P. Pederson. 4th ed. Detroit: St. James Press, 1996. St. James Guide to Writers Series. Literature Resource Center. Web. 16 Dec. 2012 http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.umw.edu/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CH1420006265&v=2.1&u=viva_mwc&it=r&p=LitRG&sw=w) that before these novels, the female character in hardboiled fiction was typically the sexual object or the femme fatale who turned into the villain. Several articles following these lines identified that Paretsky was one of the first to write a female P.I. from a feminist outlook. Also in Women, Myster, and Sleuthing in the ‘80s by Hileman (Paretsky, Sara, and Monica Hileman. “Women, Mystery, and Sleuthing in the ’80s.” Sojourner: The Women’s Forum 14.7 (Mar. 1989): 16-17. Rpt. in Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Jeffrey W. Hunter. Vol. 135. Detroit: Gale Group, 2001. Literature Resource Center. Web. 16 Dec. 2012. http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.umw.edu/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CH1100033930&v=2.1&u=viva_mwc&it=r&p=LitRG&sw=w ), she talks about developing her characters to have a realistic and cynical outlook on the world and their circumstances, as well as to have their smarts about them. They break into roles that were designed for men of that time period, and often times do a better job than they do. Paretsky even dated back to Adam and Eve, pointing out Adam’s blame of Eve for the eating of the forbidden fruit. She comes off as a strong feminist who is determined to infiltrate this idea of women being inferior in any of sort of way to men.

This seemed to be a very common them not only in Indemnity Only, but also in Paretsky’s other books. This could also be confused with writing styles since it seems to be common in her novels, but the realistic feminist characters are hard to deny. Another thing that was brought up in the articles that the book verified was the throwing over of typical patriarchies, especially since it’s a feminine PI (who is in a few professional roles, also new for the time period) bringing down several men. The issue of white collar crime is more specific to the Warshawski books, which somewhat introduces the breaking of another mold, that being the condemnation of those who normally get away with crimes. After further research, I realized that white collar crime more or less piqued in the 80s, with a lot of corporate fraud tied into it. The “victims” of these crimes typically ended up being the companies themselves with men who were previously rich and powerful becoming subject to the law. This is more of what we saw in Indemnity Only, but occupational fraud that benefits a single person at the expense of the company was also a raging trend of the 80s (“White Collar Crime.” Reference For Business – Encyclopedia of Small Business, Business Biographies, Business Plans, and Encyclopedia of American Industries. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2012. http://www.referenceforbusiness.com/encyclopedia/Val-Z/White-Collar-Crime.html). While the goal of white collar crime typically involves smuggling money, it usually ends up costing the corporation much more than they were able to get away with, especially since it’s unlikely that the crime of the company will forever go unnoticed. I also discovered that the type of fraud we saw in Indemnity Only is seen more among corporations that are more established, or with more powerful figures running them. Because of their credibility, they’re not as prone to extensive background checks like other smaller, less established companies might be. Another thing to take notice about the novel is how it was the guys at the top of the line who were orchestrating the fraud, while those of lesser power either idled ignorantly or unknowingly came upon, much like Peter Thayer did. It’s here that we see the effect of being an established, rich, white male in a corporate setting.

The other people in the group noticed this also, but they discovered a more prominent connection with labor unions than I found. These were more of my contributions, other than rewriting the plot summary, but it’s hard to tell what is to be placed where since a lot of the reading was more or less the same. As I said, it was hard to find a lot of information, but especially differentiating articles. I more discovered the feminist plot amongst Indemnity Only and following with her other novels. Eventually, I was lead towards researching things such as Sara Paretsky herself and strong themes throughout the novel, such as white collar crime and feminism, to relate back to the book rather than articles revolving around the actual novel. It was hard to find much other than the break of feminism in many resources since that seemed to be the main impact of the book, especially for the time period it was written in. Overall, I think our book was a little more challenging than the others, but I enjoyed my group and everyone in it which helped the experience. It was difficult to find all the necessary information, but I think that my group worked nicely with the resources available and am overall pleased with just our rough draft of the article, let alone the final product.

Leave a comment

Devil in a Blue Dress:The Doodle Version

 

Herrrrre we go again.

  1. This lovely little doodle here came from something Jim Groom mentioned in class; something along the lines of “the world of Easy Rawlins that we are viewing”. I really like this idea in general when it comes to literature; that what we are reading and the opinion we are getting is essentially the one reality of our narrator  and there are (or could be) multiple other realities that are influencing this one. I think the fact that we see this world through Easy gives the scenery a much more logical spin. Easy is very methodical with his actions, and I really like that about him. Easy Rawlins is written into many other novels by Mosley, and I think this is because he is such a solid character. The scene and the characters can change around him, kind of like actors walking on and off a stage; but Easy remains steadfast and interacts without losing his own character.
  2. This quote just really struck me, for some reason. I think because it is just so honest. I don’t think I would go as far as applying it to real life, but for the “world” of this novel, it seems accurate. Who has the power? The man with the most money. That’s the person who has the least amount of debt to pay, and therefore the most freedom. So in a sense, money does seem to control things, kind of like a god-figure.
  3. Aside from an attempt at the class “The Who” symbol, this is also a nod to Easy’s ever-present “Voice”. I really like this voice; it never tries to get ahead, it only tries to stay alive. I think it’s less of a conscience and more of an instinct. It’s not exactly telling Easy what’s right and what’s wrong, it’s telling him what he needs to do to stay alive. I think that’s the very heart of this novel, that “dog-eat-dog” outlook and the sheer necessity to stay alive.
Leave a comment

Final Post and Paper!

Lauren Mello

Groom

Hardboiled: American Detective Fiction

12/16/12

Researching Indemnity Only

.            I was assigned to the Indemnity Only group for the Wikipedia project. I was really

excited because I really enjoyed the book, and felt that it would be interesting to research

as well.  I offered to look up themes because that was the subject that I was particularly

interested in. I remembered that two common themes that stood out while reading the

book were: feminism and labor unions. Sabrina offered to research labor unions, so I took

on the task of researching feminism and gender equality. I knew that Sara Paretsky was a

groundbreaking author for introducing feminism and gender equality into the American

Detective Fiction genre. I was interested in finding out how she expressed feminism

through her main character, V. I. Warshawski.

.             I went to the library to see if the librarian could help me look for information about

Paretsky and feminism. We were able to find the database Literature Resources from Gale

which had quite a few articles about Paretsky and her work. Luckily a lot of them were

discussing how she influenced the new feminism movement in the American Detective

Fiction genre. Two sources in particular helped me to see how Paretsky wanted to

introduce the idea of feminism into her work: Sojourner: The Women’s Forum, a journal,

and the Female Dick and the Crisis of Heterosexuality, a critical essay. Both of these

articles provided additional insight as to what Paretsky was trying to do with her writing.

 

.         One particular article was actually an interview conducted by Monica Hileman from

Sojourner: A Woman’s Forum with Sara Paretsky. The interview discussed the reaction

that Paretsky received from her books and main character V.I Warshawski.  Paretsky said

that overall she was receiving good feedback and that a lot of women liked Warshawski as a

character. This encouraged Paretsky to share her envision for the protagonist. In the

interview she said, “It’s important for women to develop confidence in their bodies. I think

it’s encouraging to have characters like V.I who are confident and can hold their own

physically as well as verbally.”(Paretsky, Hileman)  This line made it seem like Paretsky

was particularly interested in encouraging women to gain confidence and stand up for

themselves. Paretsky definitely created Warshawski in that vision in several ways. First

off, Warshawski was in shape and made sure to take care of her body. This helped her

various times throughout the book when things got physical. For example, the time when

Master’s henchmen attempted to abduct Warshawski outside of her office, this did not

work well for the men. She was able to fight them off for a long time and caused some real

damage before they finally succeed in taking her, barely. Secondly, she also has a very

strong personality. She knows what she wants and she is going to get it. I think that

Paretsky succeeded in making V.I Warshawski a dominating female main character and

this helped enforce her theme of feminism and gender equality by proving that a woman is

capable of doing a ”man’s” job like being a private investigator.

 

.          The second resource I found was a critical essay by Ann Wilson titled “The Female

Dick and the Crisis of Heterosexuality”. The essay talked about how select female authors,

Paretsky included, shaped the idea of a strong female in a male dominated field.  Wilson

stated that, “…A heroine modeled on a hard-boiled detective is a woman who is self-reliant

and independent, a prototype of a feminist ideal.” This went along with Paretsky’s earlier

statement about having a very confident woman as the protagonist. According to Wilson,

Warshawski is a prime example of a feminist. Throughout the essay she goes on to talk

about how Paretsky influenced the new style of writing that involved having strong female

leads that in many ways out shine the men in the story. As she is describing the new style

of writing she goes on to say, “The conventional representation of the female body as

weaker than a man’s and therefore less effective in situations which require physical power

is exposed by Paretsky as a ruse: each author puts her heroine in situations which require

agility of mind and body.” Paretsky’s goal in writing Warshawski the way she did was so

that there would be a new image in American Detective Fiction that showed the ability of a

woman to function and succeed at the same level as a man.

 

.           Overall I found that Paretsky broke the norm for American Detective Fiction

writers. She helped to influence a new style of writing that involved a strong capable

female lead in a male dominated field. For the Wikipedia article I researched the theme of

feminism and gender equality. I also helped to form the character list and connected them

to each other. As needed we reviewed each other’s work to create a more uniform voice.

Once we all agreed on what information that was to be submitted we all met at the library.

I uploaded the information onto Wikipedia and formatted it to provided titles, sections, and

categories to clearly present our content. The project was frustrating at times when we

could not find enough information for a topic, but in the end we had enough resources to

create a solid and reliable Wikipedia page for help others learn about Indemnity Only.

Posted in Ask the Dust | Leave a comment

Final Paper

FSEM paper

Leave a comment

Devil in a Blue Dress: book vs movie!

I thought that Devil in a Blue Dress was actually a really easy read. I felt like all the previous books that we have read this semester have had really detailed plots while Devil in a Blue Dress was pretty straight forward. That being said, I was really interested in seeing the movie and how it would differ from the book. It actually was pretty different, first off in the book we see this connection between Easy and Daphne they even go and stay together for a few days. In the movie that connection was lost, I felt that Daphne was almost against Easy and that there were no feelings other than being acquaintances. That was really disappointing because that helped to move the story along in the book, and it made it a little bit more interesting.  I also felt like they diluted Allbright’s personality. In the book we get this mental image that Allbright is an elitist and has a very strong personality. He showed this by wearing all white and talking in a manner that you would think he was extremely well educated. In the movie he was still a prominent character but his clothing style was changed, and he didn’t seem as controlling as in the book. Overall I thought that the book was much better than the movie, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

Posted in Classroom Assignments | Leave a comment

Edited Double Indemnity

Double Indemnity

Double Indemnity, by James M. Cain, is a story about murder, love, and money. It was published in 1943 as a short story in the book, Three of a Kind. Because of its popularity, in 1944 Billy Wilder directed the film which was based off the book. I took an interest in specifically researching the topic of Double Indemnity’s critical receptions. Through this process, I found that critical reception is an incredibly important aspect in a novel’s success. It not only reflects James M. Cain as a writer, but reflects the time and interest of the public during the 1940s.

While researching Double Indemnity, I found it quite difficult locating a lot of information about the story other than the plot summary. I found it even more challenging finding reviews from the 1940s that I could use as useful forms of critical reception. After Google and database researching, I had accumulated very little information, by myself. With some help from our trusty UMW librarian, Peter Catlin, I was pointed to several different locations to obtain research. He first listed two websites that provided in being very helpful. He listed several other books that the library didn’t have, but could be requested on inter-library loan. Lastly, he suggested I take a look at the microfilms available in the library. I found these to be incredibly helpful.

Prior to the experience I gained with Double Indemnity research, I had never seen nor heard of microfilm. Microfilm is defined as micro-photographs of newspapers or magazines. Because I was utterly ignorant as to how to operate microfilm, and what it was, I called upon the reference librarians. Through painstaking trouble, they finally found the films I was looking for, and set up the machine with the film in it. I soon realized that microfilm contains years of newspaper prints, and for a while I scrolled through the months until I found the date and article name Peter Catlin had suggested. What I found interesting about the newspapers from 1943 was the drastic contrast between newspapers then and newspapers today. While scrolling through, a large amount of the print was covered in ads from that time. Beautiful women smoking cigarettes, and countless models wearing the newest clothing styles, covered the pages. These women accompanied all the microfilms I viewed, and I was fascinated by them.

After collecting all the research I had found, I finally began to it format it into a legible story.

James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity was positively reviewed by critics after it was first published. According to John K Hutchens who reviewed of Three of a Kind in the New York Times, says Cain’s, “men and women are the most highly combustible characters in modern fiction, an aspect of his story-telling that would be a little ridiculous in a lesser craftsman…it is one device in the general scheme of a writer who holds you by the sheer, dazzling pace he sets.” Hutchens later says, “One reader, for instance, does not for a moment believe that the …cagey insurance man in “Double Indemnity”, having taken one look at the figure of a latter-day Lucrezia Borgia, is ready at once to attempt murder for her. But you do not think of this at the time, because you are too busy wondering what will happen next. If this is not necessarily the sign of an artist it is the certain mark of a first-rate storyteller, and surely Mr. Cain is precisely that.” In May of 1943, Time published an article reviewing Three of a Kind. The review said, “All three stories have the rancid air of authenticity which Cain obtains by screwing down his competent microscope on a drop of that social seepage which discharges daily into U.S. tabloids and criminal courts. And as in any drop of ditch water, the action in Cain’s tales is of infusorial violence.” The review goes on to say, “The Embezzler and Double Indemnity are stern moral warnings that it is easier to embezzle money than to put it back, to murder husbands than to collect their accident insurance. Both tales are also remarkable examples of the art with which Cain makes unfamiliar readers feel at home in such worlds as banking and insurance, the skill with which he uses business routines to build suspense.” Cain continued to get raving critical receptions from the trio of short stories composed in Three of a Kind, and in particular Double Indemnity. Dawn Powell, a writer for The Nation, wrote in her review published in May 1943, that, “The best story-and the best Cain has done for a long time-is Double Indemnity…” While some reviewers today look back at Double Indemnity and Cain in a critical manor, Hutchens put reality in perspective. “For, when Mr. Cain’s faults have all been pointed out-and the principal one that the character doesn’t matter much in his writing-the pertinent fact remains: when he is at the top of his form it is all but impossible to put down the story he is telling.”

After reading through all the reviews I could find, I found that several noted an interesting beginning to Three of a Kind. While it does not necessarily pertain to the critical reception of Double Indemnity or Three of a Kind, I found it note worthy that several reviewers had mentioned the unusual preface of the book. John K. Hutchens says of Cain, “Just as surely, he is no mere sensationalist.” In an uncommonly interesting preface to this book he declares that he is “probably the most misread, misreviewed and misunderstood novelist now writing,” and goes on to say that he makes “no conscious effort to be tough or hard-boiled or grim.” He contradicts this disavowal a bit later with an admission that such was his “morbid fear of boring a reader” that he “certainly got the habit of needling a story at the least hint of a let down.” A review from The New Yorker, says, “Mr. Cain’s preface intimates that from now on he will abandon such intense tales” in favor of a broader kind of writing.” From both quotes, it seems as though Cain was quite concerned with the reception of his stories. He did not want to be stereotyped as the typical ‘hard-boiled writer’, or in any way categorized. Ironically, his stories, including Double Indemnity, are often referred to as the epitome of noir and hard-boiled fiction, something he utterly opposed. Although, when Cain says that he feared boring a reader, he must have known what the reader at the time in 40s wanted. From the late 1930s to the late 1940s the public was engrossed by the idea of the noir novel. Cain, therefore was feeding the public what he knew would entertain them. Whether Cain accepted it or not, he was writing in his time for the people of his time. And, when it’s all said and done, a good novel is a good novel, and Cain exemplifies this notion with Double Indemnity.

Bibliography

Dingy Storyteller. Time [serial online]. May 24, 1943;41(21):102. Available from: Academic Search Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed December 6, 2012.
By, J. K. (1943, Apr 18). A cain three-decker. New York Times (1923-Current File). Retrieved from http://ezproxy.umw.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/106673745?accountid=12299
Powell, Dawn. “Mr. Cain’s Art.” The Nation 22 May 1943: n. pag. Web.

Leave a comment