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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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4. Landscapes of Terror 79


79 4. LANDSCAPES OF TERROR What the representation of landscape presented in these hard-boiled stories shows is that it contributes to one version of romanticism in which landscapes appear to be not only mystic but also capable of turning suddenly into locations of terror and violence. Life is always insecure in them. While hard-boiled fiction does not necessarily have all of the major ingredients of Gothic such as "dark subterranean vaults. decaying abbeys. gloomy forests, jagged mountains and wild scenery inhabited by bandits, persecuted heroines. orphans. and malevolent aristocrats", 114 it definitely deals with locations that are gloomy and dangerous; there always is more than a hint of mystery in these tales. Like the landscapes of Brockden Brown and Poe, those ofhard-boiled narratives are similar locations of terror. Since American Gothic fiction of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century replaced the more European convention of the haunted castle with its own setting and re-located terror on American soiL connecting it also with the explicitly American Puritan background. its representation of terror is rather more efficient. 115 As soon as the narrator of Brockden Brown's Wieland has met the diabolic stranger. nature is represented through terror: .. Next day arose in darkness and storm. Torrents of rain fell during the whole day. attended with incessant thunder, which reverberated in stunning echoes from the opposite declivity. The inclemency of the air would not allow me to walk out". 116 In a similar vein. as I will argue in this chapter, hard-boiled fiction...

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