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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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3. Waste Lands 33


33 3. WASTE LANDS In order to explore the dark side of romantic bleakness hard-boiled fiction represents the myth of the waste land in a romanticizing and sentimentalizing manner. In this it is not alone, and the theme has been treated frequently in twentieth-century American literature. According to Raymond Olderman, the waste land is the most distinguished idea of romance, defined by Richard Chase as the most American literary form. 41 In Olderman's view the process can be seen to have started with Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (1925) and to have culminated in the existential novel of the 1960s.42 By representing the world as a waste land, literary narratives are able to function as forms of cultural criticism and to voice anti- technological views in a somewhat nostalgic manner. as is the case with the best-known example, T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land (1922). While the myth of the waste land dates from the Middle Ages, it is best known through its use by Eliot and his influence on American literary modernism. In short, the myth tells the story of a cursed old king whose land is no longer fertile; the return to an era of happiness and fertilizing rain would require the presence of a knight who is able to solve a problematic riddle. 43 As T. S. Eliot de- 41 Raymond Olderman, Beyond the lt"aste Land: A Studv of' the American Nore/ in the Nineteen-Sixties ( 1972: New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1973) I 0. Here Olderman...

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