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Hard-Boiled Fiction and Dark Romanticism

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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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2. Hard-Boiled Fiction and the Romantic Tradition 17

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17 2. HARD-BOILED FICTION AND THE ROMANTIC TRADITION While Richard Chase· s now classic interpretation of all American literature as romance rather than as novel has recently been called into question, Chase· s description of major American literary works. including Twain's Huckleberry Finn (1884) and Melville's Mohy- Dick ( 1851) as forms of the romance, has certain benefits for the purposes of this study. In his study Chase has argued for a reading of American fiction as romance. a literary form distinct from the English novel. While the novel portrays reality in detail, the romance is freer to describe action and may also include astonishing events. 111 Similarly. the characters in the romance are not fully integrated with their own society or with each other. thus allowing also for mystery. 11 As Chase sums up the difference between the two forms. "[b ]eing less committed to the immediate rendition of reality than the novel, the romance will more freely veer toward mythic, allegoricaL and symbolistic forms". 12 Although the idea of the romance as a unified category that might be used to describe American fiction in general is too general and can be far too easily contradicted. like the term romantic, 13 the romance may, nevertheless. be used to describe certain literary genres within the American literary tradition. According to John Me Williams. Chase· s insistence on the existence of American romance is too programmatic and his selection of works to be I 0 Richard Chase. The American Nm·e/ and...

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