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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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5. Romance Subverted 109

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109 5. ROMANCE SUBVERTED While the previous sections of this study have dealt with the application of explicitly romantic themes and tropes in hard-boiled fiction, this chapter sets out to explore the ways in which the hard- boiled romance is subverted in James M. Cain's Serenade. In this section I will also argue that the novel breaks the genre's ideological conventions in several ways: the basic patterns of hard-boiled fiction, a masculinist and ethnophobic form of writing, become problematic for the construction of the male protagonist of this novel. Since hard-boiled fiction follows the adventure tradition and thus is based on the notion of the romantic quest in which the target of the protagonist is to achieve self-fulfilment through his tasks or relationships, it can also be explored within the discourse of romance. While recent rewritings of the romance from a lesbian or feminist point of view have pointed out a set of alternative romances with their subversive gender ideology, a traditional (women's) romance tends to reproduce the dominant gender ideology with its explicit roles. 135 The case is only slightly different with masculinized hard-boiled romances. As Batsleer, Davies, O'Rourke and Weedon argue, one of the central features in the thriller and other forms of masculine romance is compulsory (and emphasised) heterosexuality. 136 They write further: Women's romances don't seem to feel the need constantly to reassure their readers that the heroine is sexually 'normal'. Is this because she is the object rather than the subject of the sexual discourse'...

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