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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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6. Conclusion 133


133 6. CONCLUSION Hard-boiled narratives exploit different forms of romantic imagery for their own purposes. The promise of the romantic dream is constantly expressed yet almost as often shown to be impossible to achieve. The promise of a better world gives the bourgeois subject a meaning for his life and locates him in culture and society. While the promise of a better life and emotional fulfilment plays a major role in hard-boiled narratives, they tend to become nostalgic yearnings for a lost world. The hard-boiled male can no longer hold on to the outdated ideology of individualism and unrestricted individual autonomy. Consequently, for him the only way to attain the romantic promise is to yearn for power over the Other, a role which is often assigned to the immigrant and the feminine/non- masculine. The terror so evident in hard-boiled rewritings of Gothic derives from a contempt and fear of the Other. The ideal hard- boiled male should not lose his power and mastery but hold on to it and try to obey the remnants of the ideology of individualism. Thus the pathos and romanticism of hard-boiled fiction can be seen as ways of looking backward. Like some other literary forms of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, it seeks for solutions not only in the past but also in a gendered myth. Like Mark Twain's well-known A Connecticut Yankee at Kin~ Arthur's Court ( 1889), hard-boiled fiction is antimodern in its tone since it also seeks redemption in tradition and...

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