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Hard-Boiled Fiction and Dark Romanticism


Jopi Nyman

Since the 1920s the use of romantic features in the tough masculinist narratives of American hard-boiled fiction has often surprised its readers. Through an exploration of fiction written by four major hard-boiled writers (Ernest Hemingway, Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain and Horace McCoy), this study explains the genre's fascination with romance from a critical Cultural Studies perspective. It focuses not only on the use of the theme of the waste land and Gothic conventions, but also on the subversion of romance and its ideal hero. The study argues that the romanticism and pathos evident in the genre are antimodern and nostalgic yearnings for a lost world of true individualism and manhood.


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1. Introduction 9


9 1. INTRODUCTION American hard-boiled narratives abound with tough males and dangerous women, gloomy cities and their dangerous streets, love, death, and violence. Through pathos and disappointment the encounters of their protagonists are removed from a simple realistic framework and explored in a romantic manner reminiscent of Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville. This study deals with the representation of romanticism in hard-boiled fiction. a tough-edged popular genre which emerged and flourished in popular magazines and novels during the American 1920s and 1930s. In another context I have argued for an interpretation of hard-boiled fiction as a masculine romance in which the object of the romance is power, not love. 1 In this study my point of departure is slightly different. I intend to explore some of the ways in which hard-boiled narratives construct a world in which romanticism, the romantic, and romance function as alternatives to the harsh world of social and cultural change. It is the intention of this study to aim at an explanation of the genre's application of romantic features: how hard-boiled fiction draws from the traditions of romanticism and romance. Since the genre is explicitly gendered, I will also discuss the gendered ideology and the limitations that it imposes on the genre. While it has been more common to discuss American hard- boiled fiction of the 1920s and the 1930s as a mere variant of detective fiction," in this study the genre is expanded so that other kinds of writing from the period, most notably that of...

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