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Table of contents :
Chapter 1: Introduction: Consumption, Control, and Cannibalism
Missing on the Plate: Food in Crime Fiction
Crime Fiction and the Crisis of White Masculinity
Tough White Masculinity and Austere Consumption
Cannibal at the Table
Tough Masculinity and the Crime Fiction Timeline
Chapter 2: Criminal Consumption in Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon (1929)
The White Isolated Body
Whitewashed and “Queerless” San Francisco
Gender Policing at the Table
Civilizing Masculine Restraint
The Eating Detective
The Masculine Carnivore
Success to Crime
Chapter 3: Control and Cannibalism in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep (1939)
Consumption and the Subject
Excess and Gendered Consumption
Control, Consumption, Cannibalism, and Abjection
Unreliable Narration and Marlowe’s Meals
Homosocial Control and Consumption by Proxy
Drinking to Excess
Chapter 4: Mature Consumption in Leigh Brackett’s No Good from a Corpse (1944)
Narrating Clive’s Tough Body
Maturity as Hegemonic Masculinity
Consumption and Punishment
Consumption and Homosocial Care
Chapter 5: Pathologies of Prophylactic Masculinity in Dorothy B. Hughes’s In a Lonely Place (1947)
Competing White Masculinities: Alienation and Integration
Cannibal: Insatiable Appetites and Restraint
Spectacular Consumption of Food
Masculinity, Girth, and Embodiment
Chapter 6: Dangers of Postwar Satiety in Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me (1952)
Lou Ford: A Subject Split
Unstable Rural Masculinity
Eating Is Ordinary
Food as Measure of Health and Satisfaction
Sexual Consumption and Murderous Meals
White Cannibalism and Waste
Barren Land or Impotent Rurality
Chapter 7: Homosocial Consumption in Rex Stout’s Champagne for One (1958)
Formula, Innovation, Anachronisms, and Popularity
The Plot and the Nonstory
Nero Wolfe: The Sedentary Genius
Archie Goodwin: The Man Who Memorized All
A Salute to Crime for the 1950s
The Book of Household Management: Homosociality at West 35th Street
Chapter 8: Conclusions
Food, Consumption, and Masculinity in American Hardboiled Fiction
Crime Files Series Editor
Clive Bloom Middlesex University London, UK
Since its invention in the nineteenth century, detective fiction has never been more popular. In novels, short stories and films, on the radio, on television and now in computer games, private detectives and psychopaths, poisoners and overworked cops, tommy gun gangsters and cocaine criminals are the very stuff of modern imagination, and their creators a mainstay of popular consciousness. Crime Files is a ground-breaking series offering scholars, students and discerning readers a comprehensive set of guides to the world of crime and detective fiction. Every aspect of crime writing, from detective fiction to the gangster movie, true-crime exposé, police procedural and post-colonial investigation, is explored through clear and informative texts offering comprehensive coverage and theoretical sophistication.
Food, Consumption, and Masculinity in American Hardboiled Fiction
Marta Usiekniewicz University of Warsaw Warsaw, Poland
ISSN 2947-8340 ISSN 2947-8359 (electronic) Crime Files ISBN 978-3-031-29159-3 ISBN 978-3-031-29160-9 (eBook) https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-29160-9 © The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2023 This work is subject to copyright. All rights are solely and exclusively licensed by the Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed. The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use. The publisher, the authors, and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, expressed or implied, with respect to the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. Credit line: antonioiacobelli/Getty Images This Palgrave Macmillan imprint is published by the registered company Springer Nature Switzerland AG. The registered company address is: Gewerbestrasse 11, 6330 Cham, Switzerland
One of the early readers of this book shared with me a piece of advice he got from his editor: a book, even one’s first, should not be written by a committee. I agree. It is, after all, my name on the cover and my ideas within. However, Food, Consumption, and Masculinity in American Hardboiled Fiction would not have materialized if not for the community of people who have helped me on the way, providing me with intellectual stimulation, emotional and financial support, as well as heaps of constructive and well-deserved criticism. This is the section where I get to thank them for all they have done. The person who has influenced me the most, by far, is David Schmid, who was my mentor during a Fulbright Scholarship at SUNY Buffalo in 2014, and has continued to support this research ever since. I have run out of words to express my gratitude for the large-scale interventions and line-edits he has made on endless versions of this work, not to mention the intellectual and emotional hand-holding at every stage of turning a project into a book. I cannot speak on his motivations for this invaluable assistance, but I know that at least some of my typos and errors have produced merriment, so much needed in academic life. Karolina Krasuska is probably the second most important influence on this research project and the person who pushed me to turn the research into a book. Another reader of its many iterations, she is the one whose valuable insights halted my writing for about eighteen months. I know that the intervals produced by her astute comments only seasoned my thinking about the combination of food, consumption, and masculinity in crime fiction. An intellectual partnership that started with me attending v
her graduate course on masculinities has yielded not just this book, but also other academic publications which moved me far beyond my comfort zone. This type of academic mentorship is rare and thus greatly valued. The three other fantastic readers of sections of this book include Anna Kurowicka, Ludmiła Janion, and Matthew Levay. I know that this book would not have been what it is if not for the careful editorial and conceptual interventions of these three people. My best friend and great colleague, Anna, who has read the most, has also exhibited unmatched patience and endurance for both my style of writing and accepting feedback. The fact that we continue to be friends speaks volumes. Paweł Frelik, once reviewer and now a colleague at the American Studies Center, has been a great resource, tracking down academic sources seemingly impossible to obtain anywhere. Though most of my thinking happens as I write, I resent the fact that writing remains a solitary practice. This is why I appreciate the community created within the Gender/Sexuality Research Group founded at the University of Warsaw’s American Studies Center, as well as its much earlier and less formal predecessor known to its members as the Flying University. Karolina Krasuska, Anna Kurowicka, Ludmiła Janion, Agnieszka Kotwasińska, Natalia Pamuła, and Aleksandra Kamińska, you have been a wonderful sounding board for ideas and support in the process of getting my work published. I would also like to thank Shayani Bhattacharya for many writing sessions and conversations we had at the earliest stages of what was at that time only a research project. The Forum for Dialogue team, my colleagues, have not just let me take as much time as I needed off work to convert a manuscript into a book, but have been supporting me in this endeavor. Thank you. If not for my grandmother’s somehow shameful yet infectious love of crime fiction, which she passed onto my mother, Jadwiga Linde- Usiekniewicz, and to me, this book would not have existed. Because of her interest in the topic, combined with the fact that in our family the umbilical cord is never severed, my mother has been the first person to read each new section of this book. Her feedback has always been a mixture of motherly cheerleading and scholarly incredulity (she is a linguist) at the peculiarity of a cultural studies approach to research and analysis. If this admission reflects the privileges of coming from an academic family, it also shows that the demands for parental support in a child’s education never cease. Without the loving and uncritical support of my father, Jerzy Usiekniewicz, the kind of doctor who saves actual lives, I would probably
have given up halfway through the rather gruelling process of creating Food, Consumption, and Masculinity in American Hardboiled Fiction. Likewise, without the ongoing commitment to restoring my good mood and connection to the outside world offered by Jacek Staromłyński and our dog, Mana, I might have not accomplished this feat of scholarship either. Not a committee, but a community. Thank you.
1 Introduction: Consumption, Control, and Cannibalism 1 2 Criminal Consumption in Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon (1929) 31 3 Control and Cannibalism in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep (1939) 69 4 Mature Consumption in Leigh Brackett’s No Good from a Corpse (1944)101 5 Pathologies of Prophylactic Masculinity in Dorothy B. Hughes’s In a Lonely Place (1947)135 6 Dangers of Postwar Satiety in Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me (1952)171 7 Homosocial Consumption in Rex Stout’s Champagne for One (1958)201 8 Conclusions225 Index231 ix
Introduction: Consumption, Control, and Cannibalism
Food, Consumption, and Masculinity in American Hardboiled Fiction is a deep-dive study into literary representations of tough white masculinity in American crime fiction. Though conventionally posited as transhistorical and fixed, tough white masculinity is revealed here to require a lot of discursive maintenance. It also deploys attitudes to and representations of food, a simultaneously common and highly ritualized phenomenon, to assert its toughness, maleness, heterosexuality, able-bodiedness, and whiteness. Envisioned as impenetrable and in control, tough masculinity must navigate instances of alimentary, sexual, and material consumption carefully as any sign of corporeal weakness undermines its status as hegemonic. As a result, though inspired by the cannibal fantasy of the ultimate consumer who has control over the world he inhabits, most tough white men of crime fiction struggle with various, often unacknowledged, food issues and anxieties which impact their performance of gender and sexuality. As the genre develops and the prescribed model of masculinity changes, the values ascribed to food and consumption change. What remains constant, however, is that masculinity is preoccupied with controlling consumption. Since, as observed by Samantha Murray, Western cultures are obsessed with excessive desire, oftentimes represented as appetite and its manifestation on the body, i.e. fatness, there “is a moral panic about excessive desire … about a refusal to regulate one’s needs and © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2023 M. Usiekniewicz, Food, Consumption, and Masculinity in American Hardboiled Fiction, Crime Files, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-29160-9_1
impulses” (2008, 57). She adds that as food and eating have been historically associated with women, “eating practices are lived and understood in gender-specific ways” (2008, 57). Therefore, masculine obsession with control of consumption is triggered by an anxiety over masculine performance. If excess is feminine, then within the binary logic of a heterosexist society, control must be masculine. A food and consumption analysis of white masculinity as represented in hardboiled fiction shows that most masculine anxieties about conforming to strict gender norms may be recast as fears of contamination resulting from either uncontrolled consumption or fears of being consumed. The ability to prevent oneself from being consumed and to control the consumption of others, or more figuratively, to consume others—especially less masculine (or less white) men and women—confers a sense of power. At the same time, and in contrast to Murray’s claim about excess and femininity, Deborah Root points to a different intersection of power and consumption: “Consumption is power, and the ability to consume excessively and willfully becomes the most desirable aspect of power” (1996, 9), which is precisely how Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade, the original tough guy detective, does according to my analysis in Chap. 2 of this book. Nevertheless, and bearing in mind that Spade is an outlier here, it must be noted that any decision to consume is always already a decision to open one’s body to the other, which within the context of tough white masculinity is dangerous. If toughness is coded as impenetrable—and in the originally highly homophobic genre, where any penetration of the male body is seen as a threat to masculinity, it very much is—then the decision to insert anything into one’s body is already a violation of the integrity of that body, and to a degree of the sense of subjectivity that is based on an assumption of corporeal finiteness. On this point, Kyla Wazana Tompkins observed that eating threatens the fantasy of the self because “eating transcended the gap between self and other, blurring the line between subject and object as food turned into tissue, muscle, and nerve and then provided the energy” (2012, 3), not to mention its later transformation into abject waste. The threat consumption poses to the self is the reason why consumption performed by the tough hero must be so discursively circumscribed. The present analysis of eight characters featured in six early and mid-twentieth- century novels explores the mechanisms and consequences of this threat to integrity. Spanning from 1929 to 1958, Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, Leigh Brackett’s No Good from a Corpse, Dorothy B. Hughes’s In a Lonely Place, Jim
1 INTRODUCTION: CONSUMPTION, CONTROL, AND CANNIBALISM
Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me, and Rex Stout’s Champagne for One all feature white, middle or working class, mostly able-bodied and presumably heterosexual cis-men. What and how they eat defines who they are because, as argued by Jennifer Brown, “the division between normal and abnormal, the Self and the Other, is often defined by what is eaten and what is forbidden to eat” (Brown 2012, 3). Any consumption these men engage in must therefore be controlled, as otherwise the deviance from the consumption norm will translate into a deviance from the gender norm. As a result, food and other consumables, such as alcohol and cigarettes, are never entirely benign in the context of what Cyntia Barounis has aptly called “prophylactic masculinity” (2019, 3), while consumption patterns reflect on the values and norms a particular culture at a particular time imposes on genders. In the introduction to their Philosophers at Table, Raymond D. Boisvert and Lisa Heldke argue for “humans as ‘stomach-endowed’ beings” instead of the “minds that happen to be housed in bodies” model (2016, 24) to argue for the relevance of the philosophical study of food and consumption. My approach to subjectivity and embodiment follows this logic. This book is an effort to do justice to the ways in which consumption intersects with gender on the basis of a narrow yet rich cultural archive that is hardboiled fiction.
Missing on the Plate: Food in Crime Fiction One obvious but insufficient reason for an analysis of consumption in crime fiction is that it is there. The foodie cozy mystery genre by authors such as Mindy Quingley, Sally Andrew, Rosie A. Point, Joanne Fluke, or Shari Randall include actual recipes. Crime authors locate their murders in domestic and professional kitchens, while food writers prowl through centuries of crime novels to find recipes enjoyed by famous sleuths (cf. Michelis 2010; Do 2013; Baučeková 2014; Carter 2016; and Saladino 2013). Yet, for all the eating detectives of Donna Leon, Anthony Bourdain, Patricia Cornwell, or Tom Hillenbrand, or the spectacular visuals of film and television productions such as NBC’s Hannibal, Hallmark’s Murder, She Baked, or Refn’s The Neon Demon, there is little scholarly investigation into food and masculinity in the genre. This book proposes a way of reading white, heterosexual, able-bodied, cis-masculinity—so often the unacknowledged norm for any masculinity—through food and consumption, understood in the broadest terms of alimentary, sexual, and material consumption.
Food has several purposes in any literature, and some that pertain to crime and hardboiled fiction in particular. Food and its meanings are relational and context specific, so a focus on food and consumption practices enables an account of the changes in models of masculinities. Angelica Michaelis observes that food is an “ambiguous signifier whose meaning is contingent on context and specific situations” (2010, 152). As a result, and following Barthes’s theory of food as a system of meaning, each food item or consumption practice may be used differently depending on how it is framed within a text and the context of that text’s production (2008, 28–30). Furthermore, each reader may have different intertextual associations with a particular item of food, making each reading of a text a new text. There are many things food can do in a fictional text. First of all, food and patterns of consumption can describe characters—their age, class, race, ethnicity, and ability—as well as the setting, providing locations, times of day, or seasons. Secondly, food and food practices can be used to develop plots. In crime fiction specifically, they may provide the motive, weapon, or complication deferring the solution of a crime, or may serve as a retardation of the otherwise fast-paced plot. Food is also a source of knowledge, a repertoire of meaning that a character may access, including, espiecially in the police procedural variety of crime fiction featuring postmortem exams, information about the stomach contents. Thirdly, food and food practices can be either intentional or non-intentional reflections of the socio-economic and historical context of the times a story is set in, as well as of the times when the novel is written, especially if the two periods differ. Finally, in a probably less tangible way, food and food practices can be used to represent relationships between people or people and things. As a common point of reference, food and other consumables, including drinks, drugs (both legal and illegal), and cigarettes may serve as sources of imagery, aesthetic pleasure, or vocabulary: cliché images or idioms, as well as metaphors and similes, as is the case with Chandler’s narratives discussed in Chap. 3. Food and consumption are also related to corporeality, sexuality, and subjectivity, a connection explored by Julia Kristeva and her 1982 Essay on Abjection, as well as Elspeth Probyn in her 2000 Carnal Appetites where she disambiguates and complicates the intersections of consumption, desire, embodiment, and shame. Kristeva shows the ways in which subjectivity is formed via abjection, while Probyn examines the conceptual overlap between food, sex, and consumption, arguing how shame might be a
1 INTRODUCTION: CONSUMPTION, CONTROL, AND CANNIBALISM
constitutive part of all these practices. Both note the ways in which ingestion questions the integrality of the body, demanding from it a connection with other people or objects. The connection is important for tough masculinity: since a tough body needs to be seen as impenetrable, it also needs to struggle with the idea of consumption. Both authors also point to the overlap between eating and sex, bringing alimentary and sexual consumption closer together. This is particularly visible in the figure of the cannibal, not only as the ultimate consumer, but as a model for a violent subject-object relationship inherent to consumption. Also examining connections between food and sex, Carol J. Adams in her Sexual Politics of Meat argues that there is a conceptual overlap between meat-eating and sexual violence. A result of a particular strain of eco-feminism, Adams’s analysis illuminates the way the cannibal may function as a patriarchal ideal consumer. These three approaches toward consumption, gender, and sex enable an analysis of masculinity in the context of crime fiction because they insist on shattering the notion of impenetrability and highlight the violence and coercion inherent in its performance. Moreover, a food or critical eating perspective has the ability to reposition the subject and object of any given study. In their account of eating-as-thinking, Boisvert and Heldke note that Western philosophy has privileged distance from the object of study as a prerequisite for objectivity and truth. They, in turn, argue for replacing sight with taste as the controlling metaphor for epistemology, where tasting is a means by which more can be gleaned about whatever is being examined, rather than by simply observing it (2016, 117–28). Precisely because of its proximity and subjectivity, tasting-as-knowing enables better understanding. It raises the stakes of the investigation because this closeness may be dangerous to the embodied subject, especially if that subject is invested in maintaining itself as isolated and impenetrable, just like the tough hero investigated in this book.
Crime Fiction and the Crisis of White Masculinity It seems customary when embarking on a project concerning masculinity to comment on the fact that the field is still relatively new and underexplored in terms of content analysis and methodologies. Indeed, if one compares masculinities studies, seen as a development of gender studies, with the volume of theory generated by the study of femininity, the discrepancy is strikingly visible (however much has been done around
masculinity in queer theory). This historical imbalance may of course be attributed to the transparency of the masculine, and has been often commented on as such, but in the last thirty years there has been a proliferation of inquiries into masculinity and privilege within the patriarchal system, or when discussing the queer perspective, the heteronormative system. Importantly, however, despite major progress in terms of accounting for the diversity of masculine experiences, there has never been a methodological consensus on the way fictional representations and constructions of masculinity should be approached (Baldwin 2020, 23). Though clearly fiction is not a mirror image of reality, it does record and reflect, albeit distortedly, and in some ways constructs models of masculinity that are in conversation with contemporary discourses on masculinity outside of fiction. Inspired by the approach to literary representations of masculinity in postwar American fiction in Clive Baldwin’s Anxious Men, I too believe that “fiction is situated in relation to other historical discourses that prescribe appropriate gendered behaviour” (2020, 21). In this context, genre fiction as represented in books, film, television series, graphic novels, or video games is especially productive for analysis of models of masculinity. Within genre analysis, crime fiction has gained an academic stronghold and is prolifically examined by scholars around the world, a lot of whom focus on the texts’ gender aspects. This interest might result from the way the genre has written its own history: splitting stories and authors along gender (and geographical) lines into classical detective fiction written and read by middle-class women and the hardboiled/noir created by men for working-class men. The explicit oppositionality of these two types of crime writing has been rightfully contested (Plain 2001, 5–6). Rebecca Mills stated that the “distinction between the ‘realistic’ American hardboiled crime tradition and the mannered English Golden Age of detection has in recent years been eroded” and replaced by notions of continuity (2020, 152). Yet, though crude, this gendering of types of crime fiction has enabled numerous analyses of gender representations. Gill Plain noted: “Thinking about gender in relation to crime fiction is not simply a matter of representation; it is also the case that the genre itself—its formal structures and stylistic features—has long been considered gendered” (2020, 102). Though by no means defending a binary opposition, Plain observed that crime fiction has “valorised modes of knowledge conventionally associated with masculinity: Rationality, logic, the primacy of empiricism and the refusal of emotion” (2020, 102). This is not to say, however, that though written with the white male
1 INTRODUCTION: CONSUMPTION, CONTROL, AND CANNIBALISM
patriarchal subject in mind, the hardboiled fiction was not also a challenge to conventional masculinity. Plain continues that both classic and hardboiled stories are distrustful of “high ideals,” but the latter extends its suspicion to “institutional authority and structures of power.” She continues: “This fundamentally urban mode of crime fiction generates a radically different relationship of form to gender. Masculinity here is not something to make fun of, it is something to admire and defend” (2020, 104). Initially, gender-inflected examinations of crime fiction rather than structure or logic, covered depictions of women, as illustrated by the many discussions of the figure of the femme fatale. In time, and with the rise of masculinity studies in the 1990s, gender studies of crime fiction began including analysis of tough men. Another reason for the popularity of the crime genre for gender analysis was also its formulaic structure. Lee Horsley observed that the “investigative narrative … is easily reducible to formulaic elements, with white male detectives tackling violators of the status quo and presiding over narratives that proceed in a fairly linear fashion towards the re-establishment of order” (2001, 199). In his analysis of postwar noir, Christopher Breu contended that it is a “a critical commonplace that one of the central preoccupations of noir is postwar gender relations” (2009, 200). The themes, structures, and history of the genre therefore invite gender analysis. With the above in mind, the two works that shaped my understanding of hardboiled masculinity are Megan Abbott’s The Street Was Mine: White Masculinity in Hardboiled Fiction and Film Noir, with its focus on theorizing the (often unacknowledged) whiteness of the hardboiled protagonist, and Gill Plain’s Twentieth Century Crime Fiction: Gender, Sexuality and the Body, which outlined the limits of the homosocial fantasy created within the masculine genre.1 To a degree, Frank Krutnik’s 1991 In a Lonely Street: Film Noir, Genre, Masculinity has informed my understanding of tough masculinity, also from the perspective of its adaptation into film noir, in its use of the theory of the homosocial continuum to address the objectification and vilification of women and homosexual men in noir. The consensus among scholars researching masculinity in hardboiled fiction is that the model of masculinity presented in those texts is one of toughness and isolation. Cynthia Barounis, though not writing about 1 Other important works on hardboiled and noir masculinities include Nyman (1997), Lay and West (2000), Biron (2000), Fischer-Hornung and Mueller (2003).
crime fiction, calls this model “prophylactic masculinity,” a masculinity that requires men’s bodies to be “invulnerable, impenetrable, and impervious to injury” (2019, 3). She adds that a “real man” must not only be “heterosexually functional and physically fit,” but also has to “control and contain his emotional response to the world, and particularly to other men” (2019, 3). Though the hardboiled model adapts somewhat according to changes in social mores and the economic and political situation, the ideal for tough masculinity may still be reduced to the following features: white, cis, heterosexual, solitary, able-bodied, working or middle class, and employed.2 Discussing literary representations of masculinity of the postwar era, David Baldwin noted, as if in confirmation of the above, that “heterosexuality, whiteness, strength, aggression (and the willingness to commit violence) … indicate attributes that were central to American notions of masculinity in this period” (2020, 3). The hardboiled detective is supposed to be a literary version of hegemonic masculinity, and is thus an expression of, according to Raewyn Connell, “widespread ideals, fantasies and desires” (Connell and Messerschmidt 2005, 838). Most literary or actual men will never get close to this envisioned gender ideal, since, as Judith Butler reminded readers in her 1990 Gender Trouble, no gender norm is realizable, yet the recognition of what is “good” and “bad” masculinity is coded into hegemonic masculinity. Though the values inscribed in the model change, the hierarchy of masculinities perseveres and functions as an antidote for a perceived crisis of masculinity. Christopher Breu argued in the introduction to Hardboiled Masculinities that it has been the practice of masculinity studies to focus on the crisis of masculinity as the source of cultural productions hysterically trying to avert the emancipatory tides and economic and identarian strife of the 1920s and 1930s, while in fact it is the perpetuation of white masculine privilege that is at stake in these productions (2005, 4–5, 11). Discussing the 1950s, James Gilbert observed that the “masculinity crisis” is a “chronic problem” and “a cyclical pattern of anxiety and worry” that produces new cultural forms replacing previous ones deemed “less suitable or attainable” (2005, 16). Similarly, Baldwin notes that the postwar period was “one of anxiety, despite victory over the Axis powers” (2020, 4–5). 2 I am using the terms “man” and “men” to mean cis-men, as the hegemonic model and its approximations are obsessed with biological sex. The eight men analyzed in this thesis are all presented as cis-men. Nevertheless, I am aware of the work done within masculinity studies that expands notions of masculinity beyond biological sex, including popular works such as Jack Halberstam’s 1998 Female Masculinity or Paul B. Preciado’s 2008 Testo Junkie.
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Baldwin’s analysis of postwar American literature, which focuses mostly on the way fictional representations reflected fears around masculinity and its performance in the context of the looming Cold War, resonates with the anxieties expressed in crime fiction. The discourse of the crisis of masculinity is cyclical. Each new panic inspires new gender models populating new or revived cultural productions. Hamilton Carroll showed in Affirmative Reaction that the twenty- first-century version of the crisis borrowed from strategies of Civil Rights, feminist, and LGBTQ movements to begin talking of whiteness and masculinity as precarious due to the perceived losses suffered by those who identify as white or male (2011, 2–10). The power of the narrative of restitution of this perceived loss has been visible in the last decade’s rise in right-wing macho-populism. Carroll further argues that whiteness and maleness have been re-defined in terms of class, sexuality, and ethnicity and, from that position, defended using strategies rooted in identity politics. This new tactic helped to obfuscate once again the transparency and normativity of white masculinity, thus allowing a reiteration of the white male subject as the default subject (2011, 10–23). What is more, as observed by Richard Dyer, whiteness is a category able to colonize any other category, which is why it maintains its transparent and hegemonic status in Western cultural production (1997, 12).3 This is reflected in Megan L. Abbott’s observation about the supposed “racelessness” of the white protagonist seen as universal (2002, 14). She added that even in criticism of hardboiled fiction the racial dimension of the protagonist remains ignored: “when critics address the racial binaries that preoccupy the hardboiled protagonist and his ancestors, they tend to neglect the race-ing of the tough guy himself except through the lens of what he is not: not black, not Mexican, not Asian. What the tough guy is is white” (2002, 94). At stake in these texts preoccupied with tough white masculinity is to “perpetuate and maintain the illusion of whiteness as a universal, as an invisible, raceless norm” (Abbott 2002, 95). Hardboiled texts, argued Abbott, are invested in the whitewashing of tough masculinity; they racialize all non-white characters, creating a binary, so that the hardboiled detective remains “the sole male character—who falls on the white side of the binary” (2002, 95). In fact, the prewar texts discussed in this book, i.e. For other texts on whiteness that informed this book’s approach, see Frankenber (1993), Morrison (1992), Bederman (1995), Painter (2010), Gilman (2004), and for intersections of whiteness and class Smith (2000). 3
The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep, racialize not just ethnic difference, but also gender and class differences, using femininity and orientalization in equal measure to downplay characters threatening the impenetrable white masculinity. Abbott also made the connection between gender and race explicit when she said that “the American construction of masculinity and femininity is linked fundamentally to racial ideology: race and gender operate by and through each other, each using the other to seal up fissures, suture gaps, and naturalize their own performance of whiteness, blackness, masculinity, and femininity” (2002, 4). Clive Baldwin observed about the postwar era that “men from origins other than European have been represented in the West in ways that bend gender through the distorting refractions of ‘racism’” (2020, 22). He mentioned the “wily oriental” men, “whose intellectual powers are acknowledged but seen as corrupted by a feminizing unreliability,” or representations of African men that focus on the power and virility ascribed to them (2020, 22). Though many prewar hardboiled stories are unbelievably white despite the genre’s claim of verisimilitude, they do rely on what Toni Morrison called “the Africanist presence,” i.e. “images of impenetrable whiteness [that] need contextualizing to explain their extraordinary power, pattern, and consistency” (1992, 33). She added that black figures appear only “dead, impotent, or under complete control,” so that they may reiterate the unchecked power that is whiteness (1992, 33). Even in postwar texts, such as In a Lonely Place, the figure of the complacent black servant is used to reiterate the benevolence of the white character, who is seen as a paragon of masculinity. In fact, my analysis of that minor character in Chap. 5 is an attempt at a method suggested by Morrison that is crucial for the ways in which constructions of literary and often transparent whiteness may be gleaned from the representations of blackness: “it may be possible to discover, through a close look at literary ‘blackness,’ the nature—even the cause—of literary ‘whiteness’” (1992, 9). The glaring absence of race from these novels is reason enough to investigate them from the perspective of race. In the postwar era especially, the whiteness and toughness of the hardboiled protagonist are also conflated with his nationality, therefore relegating women and people of color to a latter-category citizenship. As regressive genres based on colonial or Western formulae, crime fiction and noir function well as vehicles for racist and misogynistic content (Orr 2010, 4; Abbott 2002, 2). The whiteness of the hardboiled, which was later challenged by writers such as Chester Himes or Walter Mosley, is a
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direct product of its generic inheritance. Richard Slotkin points to crime fiction’s connection to the Western, which implies an investment in “othering” non-white and non-European identities, reinscribing whiteness and Americanness as masculinity. When discussing pulp predecessors of the hardboiled, Slotkin argues that “American manhood” became an abstract ideal of masculinity (1992, 150–3). The generic heritage of the Western outlaw is another reason for the tough guy’s isolation. No longer traversing the dangerous West, the tough guy is now located in a no less dangerous and infinitely more corrupt prewar urban space. In the postwar literature examined in this book, the urban space, though seemingly less treacherous, will reveal the threat that lies beneath the upper middle-class veneer, or when switched for the countryside, it will contaminate the idyll of the white picket fence. The above shows the resiliance of the tough white persona, which has operated culturally to perpetuate patriarchal heteronormative gender models and structures. The crisis of masculinity is a fantasy that enabled the birth and lasting success of hardboiled or tough masculinity. The sheer success of this strategy is visible in the way hegemonic masculinity, which employs toughness as its element, has reshaped itself over time. The key to hegemonic masculinity’s success is precisely the ability to co-opt various new local and regional strands of masculine and feminine experience into itself (cf. Connell and Messerschmidt 2005). Paradoxically, this nostalgic and conservative racial and gender dimension of crime fiction has attracted, according to Lee Horsley, writers interested in challenging some of those racist and sexist stereotypes (2001, 199). Some examples of such challenges, as well as documents of the old model losing its appeal and being replaced by a new one, are reflected in this book, as the austere prophylactic masculinity of the prewar hardboiled hero is vilified and replaced by a more integrated masculinity in the postwar noir. Megan Abbott observed that an atmosphere of a crisis of masculinity can produce a “curious freedom of expression for less fixed gender constructs” (2002, 26). A similar claim was made by Baldwin, who tracked the ways in which late 1940s and 1950s American literature grappled with social and political changes, both domestic and international (2020, 3–4). That version of the discourse of the crisis of masculinity was fueled by new medical and anthropological research on human sexuality (2020, 9–14). Due to its cyclical character, the crisis of masculinity is never resolved, but remains in constant reiteration. The fixing of norms is never achieved because the crisis discourse is necessary in order to perpetuate white and masculine power rather than address a real decrease in importance. In that
sense, the discourse of the crisis of masculinity is ahistorical, while the ways in which it is framed, its causes and effects, as well as the way in which it is supposedly addressed, change over time and reflect the particular political, cultural, and socio-economic moment blamed for the crisis. Thus each version of the tough persona may employ different measures to re-masculinize representations of masculinity in order to “resolve the crisis” as perceived then and there, or police non-normative masculinities also in flux. As the norm changes, what is excluded changes too. Re-masculinizing literature, of which hardboiled crime fiction is an example, archives various time- and place-specific strategies deployed against the perceived crisis, but the impuls to do so lasts. From its inception, hardboiled fiction, meant as a tool to re-masculinize men, risked becoming a brutalized carnivalization of masculinity—an aesthetic trap especially for Black Mask stories, and decades later an aesthetic present in Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer series. This fear was shared by Chandler, who according to David Glover and Cora Kaplan, decided to operate “on the popular, seeking to elevate and transform [masculinity], to defend it from itself” (1992, 214). Since Chandler was the first to explicitly formulate the principles of the hardboiled genre in his essay “The Simple Art of Murder,” his take on the popular became the jumping off point for other authors. Yet not all writers discussed in this book used the same strategy. Leigh Brackett or Dorothy B. Hughes opted for more genre-bending devices that enabled a reformulation of proscriptive masculinities. Hammett, Chandler’s precursor, adhered to a less didactic purpose. Thompson and Stout, in their various ways, ridiculed the formula to reveal its excesses. Nevertheless, all these texts navigate around the idea that tough masculinity is connected to violence, both inflicted and experienced, and the isolated hero who is able to decide which act of violence is right. The power to decide about violence works as a shield against the perceived crisis of masculinity, which crudely speaking entails the weakening of the American white male.
Tough White Masculinity and Austere Consumption In the paradigmatic version of the tough hero as an antidote to the perceived crisis of masculinity, he needs to be solitary, white, able-bodied, heterosexual, and in control, either of events or of the narrative. This prophylactic masculinity is allowed a few weaknesses, but ones that enable readers to better identify with the character, such as the occasional drink a detective has to ease his troubled mind. The balancing act required from the tough
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hero reflects the anxieties which, instead of alleviating, he is thematizing. The efforts to maintain his status also reflect how much work goes into the upkeep of masculinity supposedly eroded by progressive tides of emancipation. Megan Abbott identified the sources of anxiety that triggered the need for a hardboiled figure: “Depression-era fears about a capitalismdefeated masculinity, anti-immigrant paranoia, Cold War xenophobia, and the grip of post–World War II consumerism” (2002, 2). These anxieties coalesced into a fear of contamination and fragmentation described by Abbott in her discussion of the postwar version of Philip Marlowe: “not the tough guy of yore, confident in his ability to shoot or punch his way out of danger; instead, he is a dissembling figure constantly on the verge of nervous collapse or even hysteria” (2002, 8). The anxiety over the permeability of tough masculinity manifested itself in the overt racism, misogyny, and homophobia that abound in hardboiled novels, as well as their underlying ableism and insistence on masculinity as fitness, but also in the representations of the tough guy’s approach to consumption. With a few exceptions that are addressed and explained in the analysis of specific novels, most pre-World War II/paradigmatic tough guys do not eat—and when they do, they are punished for it. In the postwar context of economic boom and satiety, when the lone hero is no longer the prescriptive masculine model and the genre is subverting itself to account for new cultural, socio-economic, and political realities, eating and consumption become more abundant in the texts under discussion, but the act is still circumscribed and connected to gender performance. Fasting and asceticism as part of masculinity has a long tradition in American culture, peaking in the Progressive Era. Marie R. Griffith observed, discussing late Victorian American practices of fasting, that what helped popularize fasting was “its expansive capacity to combine more traditional, refined sorts of manly ‘will-training’ with the newer masculine concern arising in the period with raw strength and power—the businessman and the bodybuilder fused into one omnipotent, invincible body” (2000, 621–2). What is more, argued Griffith, fasting combined “sensuality as much as self-denial,” which then led to a model of masculine virility achieved through reduction of food intake that could be recast as “selfsacrifice” (2000, 621–2). Though initially a marginal fad, the fashion for fasting reinforced a conceptual connection between self-denial and toughness. The right kind of masculinity was supposed to be both corporeal and semi-disembodied. Baldwin notes that “despite the hierarchical ordering of mind over body, the male body may also be valorized as a source of power, strength and authority” (2020, 22). As apparently one of the
appeals of fasting was the reduction in excrement (Griffith 2000, 621–2), the tough bodies thus achieved sidestepped the digestive cycle that produces abjection. These ideas about controlled consumption and masculinity resurface in the tough guy model of the 1920s and 1930s as an opposition to the lax ways of the beneficiaries of the Gilded Age, and the feminized excess projected onto that period. Combined with the class criticism of early hardboiled fiction, the early novels established a tough white masculinity privileged not to eat, a masculinity which required the mind to be in full control of the body. Consumption as a risk to prophylactic masculinity is not the only threat to tough masculinity’s impenetrability that also affects gender norms as presented in hardboiled novels. Talking about Marlowe, Frederic Jameson pointed to a tension in hardboiled texts of the prewar era, i.e. the simultaneous need to create a world free of (dangerous) women, a white homosocial all-male idyll, while at the same time ensuring that the relations between men do not imply homoeroticism and prevent miscegenation (1993, 37). To prevent contamination, argued Gill Plain, the hero’s masculinity had to stand “in splendid isolation,” from anything that could mar his solitary whiteness and heterosexuality (2001, 60). Inspired by disability and crip theory scholars such as Barounis, Hall, and Kafer, I would add that this insistence on isolation has an ableist dimension. The emphasis on self-sufficiency envisioned as a key for the realization of the neoliberal subject recasts relationality as dependency, thus taking away agency from subjects existing in relations. Thus defined, the neoliberal subject becomes another fantasy, as isolation and impenetrability are impossible models of existence. The tough hero is the literary version of the fantasy of an isolated and self-sufficient subject, one that can never be fully embodied. Sex, which is a form of relationality, is another, non-alimentary, form of consumption at stake when ensuring the safety of the prophylactic masculinity defined via control. The hardboiled detective’s heterosexuality is often connected to both alimentary and sexual abstinence. The genre’s misogyny safeguards against contamination which could result from the emotional and physical release of control possible during sex. This is of course complicated by the fact that for all his sexual abstinence, the tough guy must remain a symbol of heterosexual virility, which affects the position of women within this literature. Abbott observed that the tough guy’s masculinity must protect itself from femininity, be it in the form of actual women or effeminization. Women are made untouchable either because they are evil or because they are discursively masculinized (2002, 54). In search of any relations, the
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tough men have to seek other tough men, but therein lies the threat of homosexual misrecognition. On the basis of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s theory of a homosocial continuum, Frank Krutnik noted that for male friendship to be socially acceptable it needs the men involved to be otherwise engaged in heterosexual relations. Masculinity is proven by men’s ability to conquer women. These heterosexual relations, however, pose a threat to the ideal all-masculine world, which, arguably, is the ultimate aim of the tough masculine fantasy designed to relieve the stress caused by the perceived crisis of masculinity. Thus the only women who are safe for the tough hero have to be somehow desexualized (1991, 164–70). Ideal masculinity is based on a paradox: patriarchy’s ultimate aim is to legitimize an all-male world, but at the same time, in order to legitimize patriarchy, heterosexual relations are necessary and must be present. The genre’s sexism is a way by which the tough character may maintain his heterosexual appeal and virility, without risking the contamination that is brought about by sex. In a genre invested in reconstructing tough masculinity, homosociality signals the possibilities of a masculine utopia. At the same time, creating an all-male world comes with a risk of homoeroticism, which within a homophobic logic is in direct opposition to tough manhood. As a result, most prewar hardboiled novels are preoccupied with establishing the tough guy’s chaste heterosexuality by engaging in intense or implicit homophobia. If represented at all, homosexual characters are feminized and very often orientalized, while bonds between tough men are expressed in kinship or professional relations. In addition, in the postwar era the preoccupation with men’s sexuality is even more intense as medical, sexological, and anthropological research into human sexuality produces insights that run counter to those petrified in models of tough masculinity. Hence even more effort is made to ensure that characters are either read as spectacularly heterosexual or safely desexualized, as is the case with Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe character, discussed in Chap. 7. In the novels under analysis, Chandler’s Marlowe, Brackett’s Clive, and Stout’s Wolfe exemplify the model that ties sexism to sexual abstinence, with Marlowe and Wolfe posing great challenges to the required heteronormativity of the genre. Other texts figure out different means of controlling their detectives’ sexualities. Stout’s Goodwin, Hammett’s Spade, and Hughes’s Nicolai are sexually active heterosexual men whose sexuality does not threaten their toughness. Goodwin’s sexuality is more discursive than actual, and appears mostly in conversations between men rather than interactions with women. Spade is the one hardboiled hero featured in this
book who is shown to have a lot of sex, but as I argue in Chap. 2, it is made possible only within a particular context. Through the narrative technique deployed by Hammett, Spade is impenetrable and as a result may safely engage in extramarital sex. The sexual activity of Hughes’s Nicolai is only implied by virtue of his as yet childless heterosexual marriage. Her Dix Steele and Thompson’s Lou Ford are promiscuous, but their activities combined with their questionable morals are tied to their criminality. Importantly, Ford’s sexuality is a central element of the text that actually uses contemporary psychological and sexological discourse to address both Ford’s sexual childhood trauma and later issues with arousal. At the same time, in each case of the sexually abstinent tough guy a lot of effort and time is spent on ensuring that his sexual inactivity is not seen as asexuality, proving once more how fragile white tough heterosexual masculinity is. Assumed able-bodiedness and pretend classlessness are the two other identity categories that are part and parcel of the tough persona, the maintenance of which is connected to impermeability achieved via austerity and control. Toughness, understood not just as control, but also as the ability to withstand pain, relies on the assumption that a real man must be an able-bodied one. Therefore, any cognitive, social, or physical impairments necessarily invalidate that protagonist’s claim to hegemonic masculinity. This is precisely why In a Lonely Place’s Dix Steel, The Killer Inside Me’s Lou Ford, and Stout series’s Nero Wolfe are not considered the right kind of men. Their respective non-diagnosed PTSD, “sickness,” and fatness (combined with depressive episodes) preclude them from being considered model masculinities, and they are used as anti-examples of masculinity. Though Wolfe and, to a degree, Ford are explicit satires of detective personas, all three illustrate that another threat to tough masculinity is excess understood as the inability to control. As excessive figures, these three “detectives” fix very specific norms of masculinity that they fail to embody. The perceived classlessness of the detectives, always already tied to their whiteness, is also a strategy to ensure that they may access any social milieu, and are appealing to readers coming first from the working class (pulp readership), and later middle classes (paperback readership). This is especially important for the prewar detectives, whose allure lies in their ability to be anyone. The postwar texts are much less shy about locating their characters within a particular class, reinforcing a positive valuation of the white middle class. Class deviance performed mostly via consumption
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patterns is also penalized and class aspirations are considered particularly unacceptable, as shown in my interpretations of Hughes’s In a Lonely Place and, to a degree, Stout’s Champagne for One. Though they are posed as mostly classless, class is actually a very important identity category in the analysis of consumption patterns of the hardboiled protagonists. Within the American context, class and race are linked, and the two determine gender norms specific for a particular social position. Even the reticence to consume is a classed phenomenon, as it reflects a privilege of not eating as well as an understanding of control as indicator of a certain level of civilization also connected to white masculinity (Bederman 1995, 12–31). Though not specifically a class analysis, my reading of the novels insists that the transparency of the hardboiled protagonist’s class status is an illusion designed to serve particular political and didactic aims, i.e. the creation of a vision of a homogenous universal tough masculinity, whose whiteness, able-bodiedness, and heterosexuality remain unmarked.
Cannibal at the Table Notwithstanding the fact that most prewar and some postwar tough guys practice austere consumption, the novels analyzed in this book also contain instances of excessive consumption. This is where the figure of the cannibal appears as a useful paradigm to examine masculine excess. In fact, when planning a book on consumption and masculinity in hardboiled fiction, I did not anticipate how much I would be writing about cannibalism. There is a conceptual overlap between the figure of the masculine consumer and the myth of the cannibal: violence, dehumanization, an asymmetrical relationship of power, and control. As none of the characters I examine actually consumes human flesh, I think of the figure of the cannibal as a myth, a colonial discourse on the racial Other envisoned as savage and uncivilized because engaged in anthropophagy (Arens 1979, Obeyesekere 2005). Further, I largely adhere to an understanding of cannibalism as “neocanibalism,” defined by Richard C. King as “a mode of consumption, rearticulating desire and domination, in which the incorporation of others becomes purely metaphoric” (2000, 113). Simply put, as a metaphor cannibalism works well to map the relationships between the eating subject and the eaten object, as well as to relate individual consumption to larger, especially economic, dimensions of consumption.
My deployment of the figure of the cannibal as a means of reading food and tough masculinity is heterogeneous, as is the status of that figure in cultural and anthropological accounts. One approach to discourses on anthropophagy that has been useful—especially in my analysis of the relationship between Philip Marlowe and his employer, General Sternwood, in Chap. 3—is Elspeth Probyn’s notion that the cannibal is a figure of restraint, a discerning consumer who could eat all the time but does not (2000, 99). This framing of the cannibal goes against the more traditional views that equate cannibalism with the implicitly already subordinated or vilified Other. Jennifer Brown observed that cannibalism “has a long history of being used to ‘other’ particular groups,” but, contrary to Probyn’s take, Brown insists that the cannibal is “the embodiment of indulgent consumption—gratifying his appetite despite cultural restraints and taboos” (2012, 4). When discussing the more aggressive instances of the cannibal myth, I tend to see the cannibal as a figure “blurring power and desire, consumption and control” and describing the social and economic relations of the West (Root qtd. in MacCannell 1992, 118).4 This is not to say that all representations of masculine consumption should be read through the figure of the cannibal. In fact, Chaps. 2, 5, and 7 offer readings of tough masculinity and consumption without referring to anthropophagy. Nevertheless, the “prophylactic masculinity” of the tough guy benefits from this perspective when he eats and when he refuses to consume.
Tough Masculinity and the Crime Fiction Timeline Before moving on to the discussion of the ways in which the tough characters discussed in this book reflect the changing standards of masculinity set by the genre, I feel it is important to explain my approach to some crime fiction terms and definitions. Readers will notice that I use terms such as “hardboiled” and “noir” rather loosely, and sometimes even interchangeably. I use “hardboiled” more often to refer to prewar novels under analysis. This is somehow reflective of the ways contemporary and 4 Richard C. King has argued that a major flaw of the cannibalism criticism is that it continues to equate cannibalism with evil even as it reverses the roles of who is doing the eating moving it from the “savage” onto the “civilized” (2000, 107). He sees the productive potential of approaches that redefine this binary to make cannibalism politically productive in different ways. I consider Probyn’s approach to be one such attempt (see Chap. 3 and Usiekniewicz 2021).
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more recent critics have been using the term to set hardboiled stories apart from classical detective stories (Horsley 2001, 23–35). I use “noir” to discuss postwar novels also as a reflection of the critical discourse and to acknowledge both the film industry’s impact on the genre (Cassuto 2008, 94) and their difference in approach with respect to the prewar model. Susanna Lee argues that one of the shifts from the prewar hardboiled to the postwar tough guy is precisely that where one was both “within and outside the contamination of the world around him” (2003, 45), his postwar counterpart was the “source of disorder and danger” (2003, 45). Breu, in turn, writing about postwar crime fiction, describes noir as a “negative deformation and phantasmatic volatilization” of other modes of crime fiction, including the hardboiled stories (2009, 199). He sees noir as a “resolutely negative cultural fantasy about the relationship of the subject to the law, one that finds expression in a wide range of twentieth- century literary and filmic texts and that functions as both a condensation of and a catalyst for various forms of social negativity that are distinct to the middle decades of the twentieth century” (2009, 200). At the same time, Leonard Cassuto lists pre and postwar authors of tough thrillers under the hardboiled label in his history of the genre (2008, 4). As a result, despite these differences, I refuse to adhere strictly to these stylistic or temporal distinctions, and refer to the characters depicted in this book as noir, hardboiled, or tough. Though I do not deny that both “hardboiled” and “noir” may be used productively to designate specific types of literary products created at a particular time, or be used to label works that share a number of key features to do with plot, characters, language, or settings, as well as common literary and cultural antecedents, I do not find the distinctions that useful for this analysis. I mostly subscribe to an approach presented by James Naremore toward film noir that generic labels are discursive constructs that may refer to different aspects of generic definitions depending on the context (1998, 6). Importantly, none of the characters discussed in this book fully realizes the tough model outlined in previous sections. It is the property of a gender model to require approximation, but make its realization impossible. The reason why The Maltese Falcon’s Sam Spade, The Big Sleep’s Philip Marlowe, No Good from a Corpse’s Ed Clive, In a Lonely Place’s Dix Steele and Brub Nicolai, The Killer Inside Me’s Lou Ford, or Champagne for One’s Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin fail to embody the tough masculine ideals they are supposed to present (or challenge, as in the case of
Steele, Ford, and Goodwin) is that they are always affected by the context in which they appear, one that contains all the threats to the illusion of tough masculinity as response to perceived masculine crisis. The fact that with each version the model has to change is reflective of how time and context-sensitive masculinity models are. Hammett created Sam Spade toward the end of the Gilded Age, on the brink of the Depression, while Chandler began his series in the aftermath of the economic crisis, just at the beginning of World War II, to see its end at a moment when the postwar economic boom had brought about the cultural authority of the mass market. Leigh Brackett wrote her novel almost as if the war was not happening, using hardboiled realism as setting for her attempts at reshaping the genre. Both Hughes and Thompson created their texts in the aftermath of the war, sampling the excesses of the postwar economic and cultural expansion of the United States (US). Finally, Rex Stout created his duo of detectives in the early days of hardboiled but the series lasted long into the 1970s, surviving the generic exhaustion because it was a ridicule of the genre, from its inception relying on anachronisms and datedness. To some extent the selection of novels and their arrangement reflects the consensual timeline of hardboiled fiction’s development. I take my cue from Megan Abbott, who structures her analysis of white hardboiled masculinity in a similar way. She begins with the 1930s, considered the birth of the formalized tough hero, continues into the 1940s to account for the feedback loop with Hollywood adaptations of hardboiled fiction into noir, and ends with the 1950s to account for the ways in which Cold War anxiety affected models of white masculinity within the hardboiled genre (2002, 159). I am aware that the binary opposition of pre and postwar, though meaningful, is an artificial construct and convention (Baldwin 2020, 4) that somehow suspends the war years in a literary limbo, not to mention produces a fiction in which war ends at the same time for everybody. A similar artificiality is true also for the neat periodization into decades, as noted by Gill Plain (2013) in her introduction to Literature of the 1940s: War, Postwar, and “Peace.” She pointed out, for example, that the 1940s do not fit the neat periodization as the decade is divided into at least three periods of war, postwar, and “peace.” Nevertheless, in the same way that gender labels do not have to be fixed to offer valuable points of references, I see decades as a convenient way of marking the passage of time and the changes it brings. This book project is not envisioned as a panorama of
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tough masculinity across decades, but rather an investigation into the ways consumption informs a particular model of masculinity realized over time. Though I am mindful of the conventionality of the period distinctions, they remain informative for my project. Drawing a line between pre and postwar hardboiled texts is typical for crime fiction criticism, and my work is not different in that respect. Stanley Orr observes that the experience of World War II and especially the returning servicemen’s narratives contributed to the development of the genre’s postwar form, and specifically the type of masculinity presented in such works (2010, 108). While in my analysis of the three novels published before the end of the war—The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, and No Good from a Corpse—I focus more on the virulent misogyny and homophobia, as well as the reconstitution of white American manhood perceived as lost due to mostly economic strife, I see the three postwar texts—In a Lonely Place, The Killer Inside Me, and Champagne for One—as alternative ways of engaging with war as experience and as a literary and cultural trope. Dorothy B. Hughes’s novel is very explicitly a challenge to the traditional veteran narrative visible mostly in the cinematic expressions of noir (Orr 2010, 107). Though Stout’s Champagne for One does not invoke war as such, the series includes two short stories, “Not Quite Dead Enough” and “Booby Trap,” both penned in 1944, that address the issue of World War II and feature Archie Goodwin in a US Army uniform. Additionally, in what can be pieced together about Wolfe’s biography from the entire series, he was a spy during both wars and bragged of killing two hundred people. Yet it seems that neither Goodwin’s nor Wolfe’s masculinity relies on the veteran motif, unless the very homosociality of their domestic arrangement is considered an aspect of this. Finally, Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me may be seen as both a response to the long aftermath of World War II and, more importantly, an expression of anxiety over the Cold War. Ideologically, the prewar writers were more interested in a criticism of the rich. Brackett’s text seems less preoccupied with class critique, using it more as a generic prop. The postwar authors share a determination to challenge the cultural conformity imposed on postwar and Cold War artists by the political climate of the time. Additionally, apart from addressing the conformity and quietism of mainstream postwar American culture, Hughes, Thompson, and to a lesser degree Stout also offered a critique of and an engagement with America’s satiety and consumption practices, an aspect of their work that is reflected not only in their depictions of food and drink, but also in their broader attitudes to consumption.
One way in which a genre may deal with exhaustion, which happened to hardboiled in the mid-1940s, is genre subversion and transgression. Hughes and Thompson both invert the hardboiled narrative by having the tough guy be the criminal. This inversion enables a criticism of a genre that is also its continuation. Another strategy employed by writers is genre- mixing that is not intentionally subversive. Leigh Brackett combined her noir plot with that of a conventional romance, while Rex Stout intertwined a classic and a hardboiled detective story for comedic effect. These reconceptualizations of a genre also influenced the type of masculinities seen as prescriptive and those that are condemned. The temporal and thematic division into pre and postwar representations of masculinity allows me to think of the pre and postwar texts as shifting from “forming the paradigm” into “challenging the paradigm.” This opposition is to some extent simplistic, as even the prewar texts already contain subversive elements or strategies aimed at enhancing the slowly burning out formula. At the same time, though not meant as a universal timeline, the chronological organization with the pivotal point located in the 1940s offers an account of one of the many trajectories tough white masculinities followed from the late 1920s till the late 1950s. It would be mistaken to argue that the shift between the model represented in Brackett and Hughes (the immediate war and postwar texts featured) reflects the genre at large, but when seen in the context of other hardboiled texts, they do reflect a pattern. The division into the pre and postwar era also makes visible the shift between the prewar criticism of the rich associated with an economy of (perceived) scarcity to a criticism of consumption, available only in an economy of plenty. This reflects a major ideological change. My analysis shows that tough masculinity relies on control and is expressed through consumption including cannibalism, but, at the same time, when its literal and figurative belly is full, the genre moves away from condemning the rich into a condemnation of those who overconsume. What remains unchanged, it seems, is tough masculinity’s rejection of excess seen in gender, racial, or corporeal terms.
Overview The six texts under analysis were selected either for their canonical status, such as The Maltese Falcon or The Big Sleep, or because they represent a generic outlier, such as No Good from a Corpse. The postwar novels were
1 INTRODUCTION: CONSUMPTION, CONTROL, AND CANNIBALISM
selected to reflect the different avenues taken by the genre when faced with a generic exhaustion, with In a Lonely Place and The Killer Inside Me as direct revisions and critiques of the hardboiled, while Champagne for One is proof that once well satirized, the hardboiled is timeless. It could be argued that in my account of postwar masculinity I have ignored an important figure of Cold War toughness: Spillane’s Mike Hammer. After all, Abbott noted that “Mickey Spillane’s sociopathic detective Mike Hammer becomes the era’s most widely consumed representation of the tough private eye” whose books sold better than Chandler’s did (2002, 254). But the popularity of a representation was not a key criterion in the selection. Food, Consumption, and Masculinity in American Hardboiled Fiction shows the investment of the novels analyzed in maintaining the discipline of the body and of consumption as important features of tough masculinity. Spillane’s works celebrate excess and lack of discipline, as performed by Hammer, and thus present a different avenue of the genre’s development. Hammer is the opposite of the prophylactic masculinity personified by Chandler’s Marlowe. Unlike Hughes’s Dix Steele or Thompson’s Lou Ford, Hammer’s excess is in no way disciplined or punished, and as such he represents an exploitative type of masculinity. Spillane’s series, though definitely an illustration of postwar excess, especially in terms of sexuality and violence, continues the politics of racism and misogyny of the prewar hardboiled, though his virulent anti- Communism is an interesting spin on the leftist-inspired genre. Since I was interested in the ways in which the formula was subverted, not exaggerated, in the postwar era, I did not include Mike Hammer into my discussion. Having said that, the consumption patterns of that character would merit a separate analysis. My discussion of Sam Spade in “Chap. 2. Criminal Consumption in Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon (1929)” focuses on establishing the tough paradigm of prophylactic masculinity invested in isolation and corporal impenetrability that has gender, racial, and ability consequences for the model. Spade’s consumption patterns, both alimentary and sexual, are confronted with his ambiguous morality pitched against the corruption of the world he inhabits. The novel also deals with the moral panic of the foreign peril, as well as the dangers of empowered femininity. Spade, as the spectacularly detached consumer, remains always in control, which allows him to eat, smoke, drink, and have sex as much as he wants. In “Chap. 3. Control and Cannibalism in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep (1939),” I argue that the protagonist, Philip Marlowe, inhabits a
much more sinister world of gender imbalance, in which the fear of gender and racial contamination precludes either alimentary or sexual consumption. In his first-person narration, Marlowe omits meals in an effort to establish tough masculinity as austere masculinity, and suggests that needing food is a weakness. As a critic of exuberant consumption embodied by the rich, Marlowe is anxious about corruption and criminality consuming him and expresses it via his misogyny, homophobia, and racism. Wistful to inhabit an all-male idyll, the character is also frantically avoiding any homoerotic potential, although given the more recent critical responses to the character, he fails. Ed Clive, discussed in “Chap. 4. Mature Consumption in Leigh Brackett’s No Good from a Corpse (1944),” is much more of a generic prop, in a text that combines elements of noir and romance plots. As Ed Clive is a much more straightforwardly heterosexual character, the novel’s needs to employ different discursive methods to assert his toughness. Rather than insisting on his straightness, the text emphasizes his maturity. Clive’s consumption patterns show that tough masculinity is an adult masculinity, while food and eating are associated with immaturity. His drinking practices only confirm Spade’s tactic of measuring men’s masculinity by how much they can drink. Dix Steele and Brub Nicolai, the two antagonists discussed in “Chap. 5. Pathologies of Prophylactic Masculinity in Dorothy B. Hughes’s In a Lonely Place (1947),” reflect the moment when conventional prewar hardboiled masculinity is replaced by the postwar socially integrated model. The former is first pathologized and then criminalized for its misogyny, racism, and social isolation, while the latter is glorified. Excessive consumption, both sexual and alimentary, is condemned if it is an expression of social aspirations. Steele engages in spectacular consumption, for which he must pay, while Nicolai performs a version of masculinity that is integrated with and acts on behalf of state institutions. Written as a version of a Veteran narrative, In a Lonely Place establishes toughness as the ability to reintegrate into a society, as well as an ability to control one’s consumption and engage with it in a culturally prescribed manner. In “Chap. 6. Dangers of Postwar Satiety in Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me (1952)” I argue that Lou Ford is even more of a pathologization of the prewar tough masculinity and overconsumption. The book’s most brutal tough detective is also the most avid consumer of all-American fare. Located in small-town Texas, Ford is the embodiment of the Cold War fear of satiety breeding evil that hides under a veneer of respectability.
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The text is as much a critique of the hardboiled formula’s excessive tough masculinity as criticism of unchecked consumption and political disengagement as such. Ford’s consumption patterns confuse sexual and alimentary gratification, but his eventual downfall does not alter the status quo of the world that produced him. Reliant on pop-psychoanalytical discourse of sexual deviance and mental illness, the novel addresses notions of reproduction and waste. Finally, the Wolfe-Goodwin duo examined in “Chap. 7. Homosocial Consumption in Rex Stout’s Champagne for One (1958)” reflects the assumptions that the appropriateness of consumption depends on the body of the consumer. The comparison of the two detectives, one fat foreigner and one fit American, shows that masculine excess must be contained to avoid being criminalized. Thus, while the fat Nero Wolfe is tucked away in his New York brownstone, the fit Archie Goodwin, who is also the narrator, travels the city and gathers information. Though both detectives eat a lot, and the meals are part of the nonstory that is appealing to readers, only Wolfe is chastised for his excesses through making both foreignness and fatness non-masculine. The pair envisioned as a satire of both the classic detective story and the hardboiled is timeless in its anachronisms, which make the novel and the series eternally dated and thus always nostalgically appealing. As hopefully made obvious in the outline of the chapters of this book, all six novels and their eight male protagonists tap into the hardboiled pool of props and traits in various ways, either to rely on them seriously or to ridicule them. The arrangement of the discussion, as well as recurrent motifs analyzed, though not aimed at creating a coherent narrative, signpost important shifts in terms of masculinity and consumption. The analysis of consumption patterns also reveals how obsessed with consumption and control tough masculinity is, and how looking at gender norms through the lens of consumption may both confirm existing interpretations of classic literary and cultural types or expand them. Food, Consumption, and Masculinity in American Hardboiled Fiction shows that when analyzed in tandem with food, tough masculinity confirms its threatened status and reveals anxieties over the permeation of corporeal borders and excess understood in gender, racial, and sexual terms, as well as the fantasy of cannibalism made impossible by fear of contamination. Based on racially and sexually inflected models inspired by ascetism and austerity, hardboiled masculinity is a malnourished one. Because in pragmatic terms not eating causes death, the need to eat
challenges the fantasy of disembodiedness crucial for the tough model. Eating food, if it appears at all, usually ends in punishment. It is made possible only in very particular circumstances, such as seduction to entrap a femme fatale, or a business meeting. Yet due to the fact that consumption practices in the American context as such are gendered, most meals, even when carefully heteronormatively proofed, invite subversive readings. Food and consumption therefore enable a more comprehensive understanding of the intersections between race, class, sexuality, ability, and embodiment in readings of masculinity. Beyond this, it shows just how gendered consumption practices are and to what extent the gendering of consumption affects models of masculinity and femininity. Consumption is also connected to nationality, meaning the analysis of food and masculinity shows the way in which Americanness is understood in gender and racial terms. In generic analysis, the focus on how food shapes masculinity in the hardboiled novels reveals a major ideological shift between traditional and subversive hardboiled texts. A genre initially focused on the condemnation of consumption, seen as overconsumption, shifts into a genre that prescribes the right types of consumption, fortifying the connection between consumption and Americanness.
References Abbott, Megan L. 2002. The Street Was Mine: White Masculinity in Hardboiled Fiction and Film Noir. New York: Palgrave. Adams, Carol J. 2010. The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory. New York: Continuum. Arens, William. 1979. The Man Eating Myth: Anthropology and Anthropophagy. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Baldwin, Clive. 2020. Anxious Men: Masculinity in American Fiction of the Mid- Twentieth Century. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Barounis, Cynthia. 2019. Vulnerable Constitutions: Queerness, Disability, and the Remaking of American Manhood. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. Barthes, Roland. 2008. Toward a Psychology of Contemporary Food Consumption. In Food and Culture: A Reader, ed. Carole Counihan and Penny van Esterik, 28–35. New York: Routledge. Baučeková, Silvia. 2014. The Flavour of Murder: Food and Crime in the Novels of Agatha Christie. Prague Journal of English Studies 3: 35–46. https://doi. org/10.2478/pjes-2014-0016. Bederman, Gail. 1995. Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States 1880–1917. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
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Biron, Rebecca E. 2000. Murder and Masculinity: Violent Fictions of Twentieth Century Latin America. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press. Boisvert, Raymond D., and Lisa Heldke. 2016. Philosophers at Table. London: Reaktion Books. Brackett, Leigh. 2004. No Good from a Corpse. Blackmask Online. Epub. Breu, Christopher. 2005. Hard-boiled Masculinities. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. ———. 2009. Radical Noir: Negativity, Misogyny, and the Critique of Privatization in Dorothy Hughes’s In a Lonely Place. MFS Modern Fiction Studies 55 (2, Summer): 199–215. Brown, Jennifer. 2012. Cannibalism in Literature and Film. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Butler, Judith. 1990. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge. Carroll, Hamilton. 2011. Affirmative Reaction: New Formations of White Masculinity. Durham: Duke University Press. Carter, Miranda. 2016. Dining with Death: Crime Fiction’s Long Affair with Food. The Guardian, November 5. https://www.theguardian.com/ books/2016/nov/05/dining-death-crime-fiction-miranda-carter. Cassuto, Leonard. 2008. Hard-Boiled Sentimentality: The Secret History of American Crime Stories. New York: Columbia University Press. Chandler, Raymond. 1988. The Simple Art of Murder. New York: Vintage. ———. 2005. The Big Sleep. London: Penguin. Connell, R.W., and James W. Messerschmidt. 2005. Hegemonic Masculinity: Rethinking the Concept. Gender Society 9 (6): 829–858. https://doi. org/10.1177/0891243205278639. Do, Tess. 2013. Food and Crime Fiction: Two Complementary Approaches to the Vietnamese Past in Tran-Nhut’s Les travers du docteur Porc. PORTAL Journal of Multidisciplinary International Studies 10 (2) https://doi.org/10.5130/ portal.v10i2.3030. Dyer, Richard. 2003. 2. The Matter of Whiteness. In Privilege: A Reader, ed. Michael S. Kimmel and Abby L. Ferber, 21–31. Boulder: Westview Press. ———. 1997. White. London: Routledge. ———. 2006. White. London: Routledge. Fischer-Hornung, Dorothea and Monika Mueller, eds., 2003. Sleuthing Ethnicity: The Detective in Multiethnic Crime Fiction. London: Associated University Press. Frankenber, Ruth. 1993. White Women, Race Matters: The Social Construction of Whiteness. London: Routledge. Gilbert, James. 2005. Men in the Middle: Searching for Masculinity in the 1950s. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Gilman, Sander. 2004. Fat Boys, A Slim Book. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
Glover, David, and Cora Kaplan. 1992. Guns in the House of Culture? Crime Fiction and the Politics of the Popular. In Cultural Studies, ed. Lawrence Grossberg, Cary Nelson, and Paula Treichler, 213–226. London: Routledge. Griffith, R. Marie. 2000. Apostles of Abstinence: Fasting and Masculinity During the Progressive Era. America Quarterly 52 (4): 599–638. http://www.jstor. org/stable/30042198. Hammett, Dashiell. 1992. The Maltese Falcon. New York: First Vintage Crime/ Black Lizard Edition. Horsley, Lee. 2001. The Noir Thriller. New York: Palgrave. Hughes, Dorothy B. 1975. In a Lonely Place. New York: Bantham Books. Jameson, Frederic. 1993. Synoptic Chandler. In Shades of Noir: A Reader, ed. Joan Copjec, 10–40. New York: Verso. King, Richard C. 2000. The (Mis)uses of Cannibalism in Contemporary Cultural Critique. Diacritics 30 (1, Spring): 106–123. Kristeva, Julia. 1982. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. New York: Columbia University Press. Krutnik, Frank. 1991. In a Lonely Street: Film Noir, Genre, Masculinity. New York: Routledge. Lay, Frank and Russell West, ed. 2000. Subverting Masculinity: Hegemonic and Alternative Versions of Masculinity in Contemporary Culture. Atlanta: Rodopi. Lee, Susanna. 2003. The Menace of the Post-Hardboiled Maverick: Jim Thompson’s Pop. 1280 and Modern Television Detective Drama. The Journal of Popular Culture 37 (1): 43–55. MacCannell, Dean. 1992. Cannibalism Today. In Empty Meeting Grounds: The Tourist Papers, 17–73. New York: Routledge. Michelis, Angelica. 2010. Food and Crime: What’s Eating the Crime Novel? European Journal of English Studies 14 (2): 143–157. https://doi.org/10.108 0/13825577.2010.481461. Mills, Rebecca. 2020. Victims. In The Routledge Companion to Crime Fiction, ed. Janice Allan, Jesper Gulddal, Stewart King, and Andrew Pepper, 149–167. London: Routledge. Morrison, Toni. 1992. Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. New York: Vintage Books. Murray, Samantha. 2008. The “Fat” Female Body. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Naremore, James. 1998. More Than Night: Film Noir and Its Contexts. Berkley: University of California. Nyman, Jopi. 1997. Men Alone: Masculinity, Individualism and Hard-Boiled Fiction. Atlanta: Rodopi. Obeyesekere, Gananath. 2005. Cannibal Talk: The Man-Eating Myth and Human Sacrifice in the South Seas. Berkeley: University of California Press. Orr, Stanley. 2010. Darkly Perfect World: Colonial Adventure, Postmodernism, and American Noir. Columbus: Ohio State University Press.
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Painter, Nell Irvin. 2010. The History of White People. New York: W.W. Norton & Norton. Plain, Gill. 2001. Twentieth Century Crime Fiction: Gender, Sexuality and the Body (America in the 20th/21st Century Series). New York: Routledge. ———. 2013. Literature of the 1940s: War, Postwar, and “Peace”. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. ———. 2020. Gender and Sexuality. In The Routledge Companion to Crime Fiction, ed. Janice Allan, Jesper Gulddal, Stewart King, and Andrew Pepper, 102–110. London: Routledge. Probyn, Elsbeth. 2000. Carnal Appetites: FoodSexIdentities. London: Routledge. Root, Deborah. 1996. Cannibal Culture: Art, Appropriation, and the Commodification of Difference. Boulder: Westview. Saladino, Dan. 2013. Hungry Detectives: Why Crime Novelists Write About Food. BBC Food, August 16. http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/0/23666332. Slotkin, Richard. 1992. Mythologies of Resistance: Outlaws, Detectives, and Dime-Novel Populism, 1873–1903. In Gunhter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in 20th Century America, 125–155. New York: Atheneum. Smith, Erin A. 2000. Hard-Boiled: Working-Class Readers and Pulp Magazines. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. Stout, Rex. 2009. Too Many Cooks/Champagne for One. New York: Bantham Book. Epub. Thompson, Jim. 2006. The Killer Inside Me. London: Orion Books. Mobi. Tompkins, Kyla Wazana. 2012. Racial Indigestion: Eating Bodies in the 19th Century. New York: New York University Press. Usiekniewicz, Marta. 2021. Crip Appetites: American Gastrodystopias in the Graphic Series Chew. Przegla ̨d Kulturoznawczy 47 (1): 150–165. https://doi. org/10.4467/20843860PK.21.009.13463.
Criminal Consumption in Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon (1929)
Initially serialized in Black Mask magazine from September 1929, Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon is a celebration of consumption and consumerism befitting the period. Whereas the first installment appeared in the very month a stock market collapse inaugurated the Great Depression that would end the first wave of American consumerism (Higgs 2014, 73), both the novel and its protagonist, Sam Spade, provide a prescriptive model of urban masculine consumption. Considered the founding text of hardboiled fiction in its noir variant, The Maltese Falcon is also a template for white, urban, heterosexual, able-bodied masculinity, a modernization of the Western hero, described through gastronomic and stylistic preferences, purchasing power, and his attitude to wealth. Dashiell Hammett’s status as the father of hardboiled fiction was secured when, in his 1944 essay “The Simple Art of Murder,” Raymond Chandler hailed Hammett as the creator of a new form of realistic crime writing, as opposed to the effeminized mystery stories of the Golden Age. Given this iconic status, any discussion of the intersection between food and masculinity in this genre has to begin with an analysis of the character who came to epitomize the virtually Platonic ideal of tough, amoral,
An early version of this chapter appeared as Usiekniewicz 2019. © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2023 M. Usiekniewicz, Food, Consumption, and Masculinity in American Hardboiled Fiction, Crime Files, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-29160-9_2
prophylactic masculinity (Horsley 2001, 25, 30–31). As is often the case, this classic character does not entirely match the debuting “original design,” but is rather an entity constructed through constant time- and context-specific projections. Sam Spade, a character who consumes a great deal, materially, alimentarily, and sexually, is often remembered as reserved and disciplined when discussed as a precursor of later models of hardboiled masculinity. Reflecting as it does conventional discourses about representations of tough, white masculinity, which ignore food and food practices, even when they relate to this poster boy for early 1920s carefree consumption, this misrecognition is telling. The story of private detective Sam Spade, first tasked with solving the murder of his partner Miles Archer, then hired by Brigit O’Shaughnessy to help retrieve a statute of a falcon, provides an overview of the late 1920s obsession with wealth and possessions. The villains of the novel, the femmes fatales Brigit O’Shaughnessy and Iva Archer, two New York gangsters Casper Gutman and Wilmer Cook, and the orientalized and effeminized Joel Cairo, represent contemporary causes of anxiety: the emancipation of women, organized and extremely violent crime, and a perceived crisis of masculinity. Ultimately, Archer is revealed to have been a bad detective, the statue proves worthless, and the villains are either apprehended or killed. Spade remains unscathed, ready to take on his next case and reassert his tough, white, hegemonic masculinity. In my analysis of Spade, I explore how the detective’s white, urban, heterosexual masculinity is constituted in relation to other people and objects, most importantly those subject to consumption, such as food, alcohol, and cigarettes. I demonstrate how, without affording the reader any intrapersonal access, Hammett externally characterizes Spade via his consumption practices. Food and food practices are used to discursively confirm Spade’s masculinity, whiteness, virility, heterosexuality, and able- bodiedness, as well as his economic and professional status. Other consumptions, including the drinking of alcohol and smoking of cigarettes, apart from establishing and conforming to a generic convention and providing authenticity, display the potential threats that overconsumption and vice can pose to the masculine body. Spade’s ability to consume large quantities of alcohol and smoke copious amounts of cigarettes is deployed as assurance of his toughness. In contrast, the overconsumption of food, often implied by a character’s corpulence, usually—though not in the case I discuss in Chap. 6—signifies corporeal and mental weakness. As the protagonist of an urban Western, Spade is also at risk of being consumed by corruption, crime, or the “foreign peril” of non-white immigrants.
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Spade’s white, urban, and heterosexual masculinity is constructed through interactions with other characters, many of which take place in a context of consumption. As consumption began to be viewed as part of human nature during the 1920s, particularly in the US, this is not unexpected (Higgs 2014, 68). However, examination of the intersection of consumption and socializing reveals Spade’s attributes: his relational exteriorized identity. Due to the third-person narrative, any insight into his character is only possible through the description of Spade and his actions. James Naremore has described how Hammett positions the narrator “outside the character, like a camera watching an actor, describing only his movements” (Naremore 1983, 60). An examination of these movements is the only way to interpret Spade. Notably, the detective’s interactions with women are intended to contrast with Spade’s masculinity. The three women in the novel: the two femmes fatales, Brigit O’Shaughnessy and the wife of Spade’s murdered partner, Iva Archer, and the tomboy assistant, Effie Perrine, function as proof of both Spade’s heterosexual virility and his self-control.1 Megan Abbott has observed that “a central characteristic of hardboiled fiction is the configuration of gender through binary structures—in particular, binaries produced in the service of constituting a fearless and potent maleness” (2002, 7). To illustrate the mechanisms producing this gender effect, discussions of masculinity must include correspondent analyses of representations of femininity in women and men. Given the material under analysis, I view sexuality as part of a gender performance that is also framed by consumption. Spade’s relationships with other masculinities, found in both men and women, are vital. Interactions with the detective’s police friend, Tom Polhaus, and the novel’s villains, Casper Gutman, Wilmer Cook, and Joel Cairo, the latter a Greek, whose orientalized description conflates effeminacy, homosexuality, and foreignization and whose last name connotes another “exotic” provenance, take place in contexts of consumption and help establish Spade’s hegemonic masculinity. As meanings of consumption and gender performance are relational, eating alone or in company produces different associations, which, in turn, influence possible reconstructions of Spade’s masculinity from descriptions of his body, actions, and behaviors toward people and objects. 1 In Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States 1880-1917, Gail Bederman describes white masculinity as based upon the assumption of control over “savage” instincts and desires (1995, 12–31).
Canonically, the character of Sam Spade is associated with the noir strand of crime fiction and often juxtaposed with other hardboiled characters, most significantly Philip Marlowe, discussed in my next Chap. 3 (Horsley 2001, 25, 30–1). Whereas Spade is deemed to be amoral and egocentric, Marlowe is renowned for his personal moral code. Lee Horsely has argued that rather than chivalry, Hammett’s detectives are motivated by professional etiquette and individual integrity, and are therefore less invested in the maintenance of social norms than characters such as Philip Marlowe (2001, 30–31) However, James Naremore has claimed Hammett’s detectives are driven solely by self-preservation (1983, 62). This ethical and professional character follows generic conventions visible in the two strands of early twentieth-century American crime fiction: while Marlowe has more in common with chivalric and romantic protagonists, Spade is closer to the Western action hero (Malmgren 2001, 1–2; Cawelti 1977, 163). In both cases, however, there is an important disconnect in hardboiled and noir fiction from the celebreality of classic detective fiction. What is more, set in far less law-abiding environments than their English predecessors, and despite attempting to either reinstate the rule of law or at least maintain the status quo in the legally charted but corrupt society of the late 1920s and 1930s, hardboiled and noir detectives are more involved with the criminal world than that of law enforcement (Slotkin 1992, 145). As such, working outside the law, they are reactionary rather than revolutionary figures. Rather than regard for the law, I argue that what drives these characters is their drive to impose control and order, an ability that is vital to their hegemonic status. This is clearly visible in Sam Spade, whose relentless control of his environment enables him to defy the corruption enveloping his world. The crime and corruption depicted in early hardboiled fiction appears to be related to the emergent materialism of the 1920s, as American culture moved toward more ostentatious consumption on borrowed or stolen money. Spade’s ability to resist the corruptive pull of consumerism via control of his own body and the spaces he occupies is key to his performance of masculinity. Spade’s almost impenetrable status is projected through the novel’s narrative voice, his relationship with his environment, and other discursive devices. Structurally, a combination of the generic heritage of Hammett’s characters and the modernist influence on popular writing in the 1920s, as well as the author’s iconically sparse style, ensure that Spade can only be accessed via a description of his exterior. Neither the narrator nor the reader can penetrate the detective’s thoughts, an isolation that affords
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Spade power. I argue that part of this corporal and mental impenetrability is reflected in depictions of Spade’s approach to consumption and other food practices. The narrative techniques that Hammett deployed—a non- stylized, Hemingwayian language combined with an almost camera-like attention to detail—invite investigation of these details rather than a focus on the plot and resolution. My detail-oriented approach to the text is founded on what Christopher Breu has described as Spade’s “prophylactic toughness,” which he defined as “organized around a rigorous suppression of affect and … mirrored by the detached, laconic utterances and his instrumentalized, seemingly amoral actions” (Breu 2005, 1). The structure of the narrative and the use of a third-person narrator distance the character from the reader. Unlike Hammett’s earlier, first-person Continental Op stories, The Maltese Falcon is narrated by a detached non-omniscient, or rather, selective narrator. This narrative style corresponds with the emotional detachment of the detective who, for some, has become synonymous with tough, opaque masculinity. Adapted and re-adapted within crime fiction, this model of masculinity has influenced and limited the range of masculine performances available for tough, white men. However, unlike the masculinity of his outlaw predecessors and some of his followers who I discuss in this book, the tough, white masculinity of Sam Spade avoids the consumption regiments, culinary asceticism, or starvation so often associated with toughness in Protestant cultures and is thus well-nourished. As the exterior is all that is provided, the detail-oriented descriptions of Sam Spade’s consumption habits are crucial insights into his character (Gregory 1985, 91–4). This access is unquestionably mediated by crime fiction reading habits that emphasize a focus on the insignificant in search of clues. When Naremore claimed that Hammett’s writing signaled a shift from detectives as thinkers to detectives as doers, he noted how this shift exposed the superficiality of crime fiction and its preoccupation with surfaces. When analyzing a description of Spade rolling a cigarette, Naremore concludes that detective stories are “the most fetishistic of literary genres because the trivial objects of the investigation—the ‘clues’—function like the overdetermined symbols of dreams” (1983, 61). This overdetermination legitimizes an approach to Hammett’s text that privileges the investigation of telling presences and omissions. Naremore also claims that Hammett’s technique of withholding information is not only a means of creating suspense but also conveys the essence of this new genre: no one cares who committed the crime and
how. This modernist technique invests “the simplest movements with the importance that gunshots and fistfights had in the earlier fiction” (1983, 61). According to Malmgren, a focus on surfaces that befits an investment in consumption and materialism, though not hindering the solution of crimes, does prevent them from being resolved satisfactorily (2001, 74). Thus the bulk of noir crime provides only superficial closure with any revelations about the perpetrators’ motivations and actions functioning as empty signifiers. For example, the falcon statue has no meaning or value, Brigid O’Shaughnessy’s incarceration does not end corruption, and the deaths of crime victims do not make sense once the mystery is resolved (Naremore 1983, 64). Pursuit of the statue supersedes the need to know the identity of Archer’s killer. Unlike earlier whodunits, hardboiled fiction shifts relevance to that which is exteriorized. Thus, my analysis of Sam Spade as the consuming detective focuses on examination of his body, his eating and consumption habits, and his interpersonal relationships with men and women.
Prophylactic Impenetrability My focus on Spade’s eating body enables an in-depth analysis of a masculinity that is relational and only accessible through analysis of the exterior. I argue that consumption—material, alimentary, and sexual—is key to tough, white masculinity, and it is the body that actually does the consuming or is the one consumed. As I argued in my Introduction, the strict control of all consumption performed by a tough character protects the autonomy and safety of their body, but limits acceptable gender behavior. As Raymond Boisvert and Lisa Heldke have shown, eating poses a threat to the concept of a body as an impenetrable and finite entity (2016, 117–128). On this basis, I have argued elsewhere that the act of ingestion includes vulnerability, as the eaten object may be unpleasant or even poisonous (2021, 150–65). This is understandable within the hardboiled genre: to protect the status afforded by his liminal position as neither a criminal nor law enforcement, the detective needs to maintain a barrier between himself and the corrupt criminal world he inhabits. This is particularly visible on the two occasions the detective has drinks with Casper Gutman: at their first meeting, Gutman behaves like a gracious host; at the second, he laces the whiskey in order to incapacitate Spade. A classic trope of hardboiled stories, this is intended to create suspense, but here also points to the literal dangers of consumption. Like the
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overgrown Alice, the detective drinks, falls unconscious, loses control, and stops being in charge. Megan Abbott has observed that hardboiled detectives “repeatedly find themselves dissembling, fainting, unconscious, overpowered, and out of control while their ideals of masculinity continue to require of them self-discipline, toughness, and the quintessential hardness that gives the genre its name” (2002, 7). Toughness requires a continuous re-assertion of masculinity through not only dramatic actions but also, and more importantly, via everyday practices and activities. It is not only a fear of pain, weakness, body-contamination, or corruption that motivates tough men’s unwillingness to allow foreign objects or substances to enter their spectacularly heterosexual bodies. On a more abstract level, this blatant gesture of refusing penetration reflects the genre’s homophobic bias. This is most obviously present on a diegetic level in plots that vilify, ridicule, and kill gender nonconforming and non- straight characters, such as Joel Cairo in The Maltese Falcon. This fear of penetration reflects a bias on the genre’s ideological level. In the aforementioned encounter over drinks, Gutman, referred to as “the fat man,” functions as a symbol of criminal excess. His effusive flattery of Spade and provision of whiskey and cigars are part of the excess in speech, size, and hospitality that emasculate Gutman: excess calls gender into question (Murray 2008, 4–5). As Amy Farrell has argued, fatness has been used to “identify ‘inferior bodies’—those of immigrants, former slaves, and women—and it became a telltale sign of a ‘superior’ person falling from grace” (2011, 8). Though violent, a gangster fattened on the suffering and exploitation of others is no match for the hypermasculine Spade. During their meeting, the “fat man” offers Spade a Coronas del Ritz cigar: Spade took a cigar, trimmed the end of it, and lighted it. Meanwhile the fat man pulled another green plush chair … Then he took his glass from the table, took a cigar from the box, and lowered himself into the chair. His bulbs stopped jouncing and settled into flabby rest. (Hammett 1992, 105)
Though at times a cigar is merely a cigar, in such a homosocial and homophobic context the acceptance of a phallically shaped object must be offset in some way that reconfirms the heterosexuality of the accepter. Thus, to eliminate any hints of homoeroticism Gutman is presented as disgustingly obese. Their body shapes, one conventionally masculine, the other excessive, are reflected in their smoking choices: aside from this
isolated instance, the “fat man” is the leisure class’s cigar to Spade’s working class, rolled cigarette. Gutman’s excesses render him a ridiculous example of both unmanliness and the monstrosity of the abject. In the words of Christopher E. Forth, Gutman is “unlovable” but, thanks to the presence of the hegemonically masculine Spade, he is manageable (2013, 397–8).2 Such a presentation of Gutman is also a plot device: it makes his successful drugging of Spade more remarkable. Apart from establishing a formal way to create suspense, the exchange between Spade and Gutman also addresses mutual male assessment. Earlier in the scene, when pouring the whiskey, Gutman tells Spade he distrusts “men that say when. If he’s got to be careful not to drink too much it’s because he’s not to be trusted when he does” (Hammett 1992, 105). Thus, despite having neither toughness nor resistance, the overweight gangster observes that toughness incorporates resistance to intoxication and highlights the value of self-discipline and obliqueness. The monstrosity of Gutman’s excess poses a threat to Spade, literalized in the drugging. According to the logic I will present below, it also foreshadows the dangers femininity poses to tough, white masculinity, whether performed by femmes fatales or effeminized men, following Gill Plain’s observation that feminization projected onto any “other” produces the monstrous feminine (2001, 246). Gutman’s gender performance is a failure: neither a good man nor a good woman, he embodies the corruption and excesses of the underworld. Spade, annoyed with his host’s overbearing politeness, changes the dynamics of the conversation and smashes the whiskey glass: “The glass struck the wood, burst apart, and splashed its contents and glittering fragments over the table and floor. Spade, deaf and blind to the crash, wheeled to confront the fat man again” (Hammett 1992, 110). By behaving angrily and violently Spade manages to escape further examination. But the radical change of atmosphere is also a reaction to the effeminizing quality of the polite, albeit insincere conversation taking place. Through violence and rejection of the other man’s drink, Spade reestablishes himself as a man of action, not words. Importantly, the genre’s overt homophobia and misogyny, often conflated, are not the only mechanisms that propel a fear of consumption and glorify discipline. A foreign substance entering the cis-male body—via the Forth also argues that fatness infantilizes men and, in an analysis of Gutman on film, suggests the villain is rendered perverse by combining infantilization with sexual perversion (2013, 391). 2
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mouth, pores, or anus—may not only harm that body, but also change it and thus challenge the notion of the tough guy’s physical impermeability, the very quality on which his masculinity is based. Uncontrolled consumption is thus a threat to the lone detective’s independence, and a reminder that tough masculinity is malleable. It is also a threat to white male subjectivity, in which masculinity is ensured by discipline of a body that maintains the pretense of complete autarchy. As I will show, it is the control Spade exerts, not only over his own body but his entire surroundings, that permits him to be a relatively well-nourished and well-sexed individual. The genre’s general—and Hammett’s specific—concern with a detective’s impenetrability also relates to the “for hire” status of the private investigator, which, again, is tied to consumption: the purchasing of another’s time and body. Being hired contains the risk of losing one’s independence and becoming a pawn in the client’s plot. Anxiety over becoming “a sap” can also be seen as an expression of the fear of losing control. This theme is often visible in noir texts in the tension between a detective and both the femmes fatales and criminals. Spade’s prophylactic isolation is not the only aspect of his identity that must be continuously discursively maintained, as his white, tough, heterosexual masculinity must be reconfirmed every time he shares or is asked to share a meal. As they involve an opening of the body to foreign objects and test a subject’s discipline of appetite, such encounters literally threaten his integrity. Megan Abbott has argued that the strict gender norms ascribed to tough masculinity in response to the perceived crisis of masculinity at the beginning of the century enabled a paradoxical negotiation of gender within those restrictions. Of course, all such instability is resolved by the end of the novel, but its very presence has already challenged the status quo (2002, 26). There is no doubt these tough figures re-stabilized the gender binary, but the instability they inadvertently addressed enabled the—albeit fleeting—appearance of divergent gender performances, such as those by Joel Cairo and the femmes fatales. Envisioned as a stabilizing entity par excellence, Sam Spade also contains elements of instability stemming from his moral ambiguity.
The White Isolated Body Hammett presents Spade as a visual paradox. The novel features a description of Spade’s V-shaped face, followed by an account of his conical body: “He was quite six feet tall. The steep rounded slope of his shoulders made
his body seem almost conical—no broader than it was thick—and kept his freshly pressed gray coat from fitting very well” (1992, 4). A few pages later, his body is compared to a bear: “The smooth thickness of his arms, legs, and body, the sag of his big, rounded shoulders, made his body like a bear’s. It was like a shaved bear’s: his chest was hairless. His skin was childishly soft and pink” (1992, 12). Spade’s body is both soft and hard, menacing and attractive, but nowhere near the excess of Gutman’s obesity. His dress sense is elegant, but the poor fit of his clothes prevents a reading of vanity or dandyism. Descriptions of Spade’s appearance prevent a swift, uncomplicated assessment of his character. In one passing comment he is described as looking “rather pleasantly like a blond satan” (1992, 3). The implied contradiction in the figure of a blond Satan also underscores the often unacknowledged racial dimension of noir. As discussed in the Introduction, like other noir fiction, The Maltese Falcon relies on the “‘raceless’ universality of the white protagonist” (Abbott 2002, 14). Spade’s whiteness is both taken for granted and explicitly coded as not- non-white: “not black, not Mexican, not Asian. What the tough guy is is white” (2002, 94). His whiteness is a factor in his effectiveness, because as a white man he has access to any and every place. In fact, this white character was hailed into existence precisely to alleviate the anxieties produced by not only women’s emancipation, but also immigration and the influx of people of color into formerly white professional and geographical spaces. Spade’s figure of the amoral blond Satan promises salvation from the threats of emancipation, racial integration, and immigration. Though not focused on the explicit or implicit vilification of non-whites, The Maltese Falcon reinforces the transparency and hegemony of whiteness, while aligning all foreignness with evil. To achieve this the tough guy must consume in a way that confirms his transparently white status; alimentary, material, and sexual consumption choices must reinforce white supremacy, while unambiguous whiteness reinforces his control of the world he inhabits. Only then can the hierarchical structure of racial difference remain intact. Combined with an analogous attitude toward gender difference, the text ensures that Spade remains white and male, while gender and racial “inferiors,” such as Joel Cairo and Brigit O’Shaughnessy, function as contrast to emphasize his superior status. The need for a protagonist whose white status is impossible to contest indicates the fear of contamination that underwrites all white, hardboiled detectives and motivates the gastronomical austerity and general isolation
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of most white, tough sleuths. As Kim Q. Hall has argued, albeit when discussing the slow food movement of the twenty-first century, what she terms the “metaphysics of purity,” which denotes some foodstuff as bad and thus consumers of such food as inferior, is both racist and ableist, in that it posits that impure foods produce disabled bodies (2014, 179). According to this view, the bad diet that contributes to disablement is in turn a burden on an able-bodied society. Hall also claims that food politics and security based on purity seek to “preserve boundaries between bodies … as a process of border control in which corporeal and national integrity must be protected from that which threatens to contaminate, corrupt, and dissolve it from without” (2014, 179). As tough detectives, functioning as proxies for the nation, need to prevent the healthy body of America becoming spoiled by crime, integration, emancipation, and immigration, they are either extremely careful about what they consume or, like Spade, inhabit worlds where their degree of control prevents harmful ingestion. A refusal to ingest is a refusal to engage, making corruption, emancipation, and miscegenation—the plights of noir society—impossible. Following this logic, white, hegemonic masculinity can only be maintained when removed from society. Yet, as Hall states, “self-sufficiency is an illusion rooted in the able-bodied assumption of control over one’s body … and a food politics oriented toward the goal of self-sufficiency enacts a form of alimentary ableism” (2014, 188). The hardboiled, tough guy is invoked to uphold the illusion that bodies and subjects are complete and separate from the rest of the world, even though, as noted by Hall following arguments made by Stacey Alaimo and Karen Barad, there are “no pure bodies, no bodies with impermeable borders” (2014, 179). My discussion of the detective’s body owes much to insights gained from critical disability studies into how an ableist culture—based on the premise that able-bodiedness is the norm and disability the stigmatized pathology—requires all disabled subjects to be objects of pity or vilification. In the racist, sexist, and ableist logic of noir, the tough, white detective has to be able-bodied in a physical sense, performing most of his investigation either on foot or through his ability to withstand physical violence. Disability is associated with weakness, and weakness is the antithesis of the hardboiled persona. Of course, the history of disability in the US clearly demonstrates that both walking and resistance to extreme violence have been experienced by many people with disability, but an ableist culture does not allow this to be the case in representations of toughness.
The tension produced by this assumption is something I discuss in later chapters, where I also analyze how the unaddressed mental concerns of the tough guy persona render them criminally insane in postwar iterations of the genre. In The Maltese Falcon, Hammett goes to great lengths to exclude the possibility that either national or corporeal borders are vulnerable to contamination via penetration, while at the same time ensuring Spade is removed from any conventional societal ties. The lack of access to Spade’s thoughts prevents penetration of his mind, which in turn reduces the threat of penetration of the body. The fictional setting of the novel, an all- white San Francisco, remedies anxieties over national security. The novel first thematizes and then soothes both the fear of external contamination by immigration and miscegenation, and the fear of internal contamination represented as the fear of symbolic or literal penetration. This is why Spade’s grooming practices and self-care are important elements of his performance of masculinity. Just before the climax of the criminal intrigue, Spade decides to take some alone time: “After a leisurely breakfast at the Palace, during which he read both morning papers, Spade went home, shaved, bathed, rubbed ice on his bruised temple, and put on fresh clothes” (1992, 134). The passage reads as a quasi re-arming of the hero. The detective, who in the course of the novel has undergone bodily harm and a spell of unconsciousness, needs to clean and regain possession of himself. His ritual is simple, almost spartan, the bare minimum of male grooming, yet it is discussed in unusual detail. The bath appears to be particularly significant: it suggests the work the detective does is dirty and must be regularly expunged. It also indicates that a tough guy needs to tend to grooming and hygiene, again a prescriptive aspect of this masculine model. Washing is obviously connected to fear of contamination: the detective can only be dirty temporarily and as a result of aggression, otherwise he would cross the extremely arbitrary line between detective and criminal. He cannot, however, be too clean or too overtly preoccupied with his looks, as evidenced by the presentation of Joel Cairo, whose effeminate homosexuality is expressed in orientalized terms; a common trope in representations of homosexuality in hardboiled fiction. A passage in which Cairo’s sartorial and grooming choices are contrasted with those of Spade is worth quoting in its entirety: Mr. Joel Cairo was a small-boned dark man of medium height. His hair was black and smooth and very glossy. His features were Levantine. A square-cut
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ruby, its sides paralleled by four baguette diamonds, gleamed against the deep green of his cravat. His black coat, cut tight to narrow shoulders, flared a little over slightly plump hips. His trousers fitted his round legs more snugly than was the current fashion. The uppers of his patent-leather shoes were hidden by fawn spats. He held a black derby hat and a chamois-gloved hand and came towards Spade with short, mincing, bobbing steps. The fragrance of chypre came with him. (1992, 42)
Cairo’s attention to personal grooming is commented upon as something unmanly on numerous occasions, especially in connection with his body type—feminine narrow shoulders and wide hips—and his attempts to use violence. Everything about him is excessive and excessiveness is deemed effeminate. Moreover, he is othered not only as homosexual, but as non-white. This combination ensures that homosexuality is effeminized and foreignized, and thus un-American. Like Gutman, a character whose fatness and affectations queer or effeminize him, Cairo’s performance of masculinity could be a threat to Spade’s heterosexuality by simple coexistence in the same room. This exposes the fragility of tough masculinity that may be contaminated by mere association, and thus Cairo is rendered benign via his perceived “oriental” status, within a racist logic that ascribes extreme strength to black men but not other non-white men. Effeminate, elegant, and foreign, Cairo is no match for Spade. He is disarmed—also literally in an altercation in Spade’s office—but the strength imbalance, like the smashing of the whiskey glass at Gutman’s, realigns the situation to prevent homoerotic readings. Joel Cairo is not the only failure of prescriptive masculinity presented in homophobic terms. Queerness is vilified via other means, with Gutman and Wilmer Cook presented as implicitly homosexual and potentially in a semi-incestuous relationship between a mentor and mentee, or father and stepson. Whether effeminate, fat, or excessively violent, all three are foreigners in Spade’s San Francisco: Cairo is apparently Greek, and Gutman and Cook are from New York. The latter, by virtue of his excessive violence and aggression, also appears to have been transplanted from the Western genre: Spade describes him as a “pocket edition desperado” (1992, 194). All three are figures of excess: Gutman in his obesity, Cairo in his flamboyance, and Cook in his aggression. Unlike Spade, they have failed to achieve disciplined and impenetrable masculinity. As Spade is in control, his body is allowed more food, sex, and violence.
Hunger is seen as a physical weakness in most hardboiled novels, antithetical to the genre’s image of tough masculinity. However, the intake of foreign objects may be rendered benign if the context of consumption is made safe. Even as the spiked drink takes effect and Spade loses consciousness, he remains in charge. “This is my city and my game” (1992, 177), he observes at one point, and he is the last man standing at the end of the novel. Since neither the exterior nor the interior poses a threat to a detective afforded such control by the narrative structure and aspects of the setting, which I discuss below, Spade is free to open his body up to material, alimentary, and sexual consumption without the risk of vulnerability, and thus protect the status quo of white heteropatriarchy. Spade remains impervious to violence and corruption, as well as the sexual temptation that would weaken another, lesser, man. Neither Iva Archer nor Brigit O’Shaughnessy, both of whom have sex with Spade, is able to shift the detective’s priorities and self-interest. Thus, the novel can feature images of Spade eating, alone and in company, with men and women. He can smoke countless cigarettes and drink other men’s alcohol and yet remain intact. As I will show in Chap. 2 in relation to Philip Marlowe, this is not often the case for a hardboiled detective whose masculine status requires constant maintenance and discursive effort.
Whitewashed and “Queerless” San Francisco The overarching theme of The Maltese Falcon is that control, especially of consumption, is a prerequisite of tough masculinity. Sam Spade not only exerts control over what he and others consume, but also over the city he inhabits: a fictional San Francisco. This is a city with a strictly preserved racial line, in which the foreign is either vilified or absent. However, due to generic conventions requiring credibility and authenticity, the mean streets must be realistically represented. John G. Cawelti has observed that Hammett’s novels “embody a powerful vision of life in the hard-boiled detective formula,” and that this is the extent of realism his work contains (1977, 163). Nevertheless, Spade does reside in a recognizable city and is well-acquainted with the street names, theaters, bars, and restaurants. Due to his whiteness, masculinity, and—often overlooked and self-evident—able-bodiedness, Spade is able to access all these venues. No other social position opens as many literal and figurative doors as white maleness, and this is Spade’s utmost advantage over every other protagonist, whether the fat and immovable Gutman
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and his sidekick, the two women, or the orientalized Cairo. The only others with equal access are police officers, all white men, who even manage to enter Spade’s apartment without needing to seduce him. The virtually all-white San Francisco depicted in The Maltese Falcon evades any hint of the racial tension so present in the novels of Raymond Chandler. Yet race is present in the text in two ways: whiteness as a self- evident norm and whiteness under threat from the foreign other, symbolized by the falcon statue and Cairo. Although San Francisco was an ethnically diverse city during the 1920s, with a vibrant Chinatown, there is no suggestion of this in the novel.3 This absence precludes any risk of Spade becoming non-white by association or by consumption of food unfit for white masculinity. It also removes any racial interpretation from the “spade” in his name. The only local non-white character mentioned in the text is Spade’s lawyer, Sid Wise, and his employees, who are explicitly raced as Jewish at a time when Jewishness was still considered a race rather than a white ethnicity.4 Despite an expanding Asian population in the city, which contributed to Asian quotas in the Immigration Act of 1929 on a national level, the novel does not contain a single local person overtly marked as non- white. Meanwhile, all the evil described in the novel originates from outside America, mostly from the orientalized East. Before arriving in San Francisco on a ship from Hong Kong the titular falcon had passed through the hands of countless foreign thieves and incited murder and betrayal in Sicily, Paris, and Constantinople. Nothing good can come from abroad the novel seems to imply. Spade considers San Francisco his town and Hammett demonstrates this local knowledge by delineating the detective’s movements around the city, often on foot. Spade frequents his favorite eating establishments, including the Palace Hotel, John’s Grill, and States Hof Brau. Interestingly, with the exception of the Hof Brau, these are all racially and ethnically unmarked places, while the resolutely Teutonic Hof Brau reinforces whiteness and masculinity. The abundance of food venues is not accidental. James Naremore has observed that Hammett’s detectives are “usually According to Census data the Chinese population in San Francisco doubled between 1920 and 1930 (from 1.5% to 2.6%), and was the fastest growing minority in the city. “San Francisco History—Population” San Francisco Genealogy. Accessed January 5, 2016. http:// www.sfgenealogy.com/sf/history/hgpop.htm. 4 For a discussion of the history of whiteness see, for example, Painter 2010, and specifically Jewish whiteness in the US, see Gilman 1991. 3
bachelors … they are loners, eating meals in various restaurants or hotel rooms, living as far from domesticity as a frontier scout” (1983, 52). Eating out symbolizes evasion of a domestication that, by constricting him with the social norms supposedly inherent to heterosexual coupling, could harm a detective’s sleuthing abilities. These geographical choices reconfirm not only Spade’s whiteness and masculinity but also his disregard for the social mores that require heterosexual men to marry and have children. At the same time, care is taken to prevent the reading of this self- administered solitude as queer by emphasizing Spade’s heterosexual appeal and practice. Unsurprisingly, non-whiteness is not the only difference omitted from Spade’s San Francisco to prevent any tainting of his white, urban heterosexuality. Despite San Francisco already having a significant queer culture at the turn of the century, initially due to the World War I practice of discharging in port cities any sailors discovered taking part in homosexual acts (Sibalis 2004), Spade’s city is also whitewashed of any queer culture. Like most tough guy stories, The Maltese Falcon goes to great lengths to establish hegemonic masculinity as unquestionably heterosexual masculinity, precluding any homosexual relations and limiting homosocial ones to highly specific non-eroticizable contexts, which, as Naremore has observed, renders the detectives “somewhat homophobic” (1983, 52). I object to Naremore’s “somewhat” and, along with Gill Plain and Megan Abbott, argue that most tough characters within the mainstream hardboiled and noir genres, in which masculine camaraderie is highly valued, manifest extreme homophobia. In fact, I argue that homophobia is a generic convention in early noir, even when subverted. The removal of queer culture from Spade’s San Francisco exemplifies this convention. Despite sleeping with his partner’s wife, Spade lives an emotionally secluded life. Yet, for all this prophylactic solitude, a detective needs to be in the know about the city’s goings-on. To avoid his street-wisdom being called into question and losing his business, Spade must know people and be known to them. Since knowing is controlling in hardboiled fiction, the detective needs to be part of the social fabric despite living in splendid emotional isolation. As Spade declares in a conversation with O’Shaughnessy, San Francisco is his domain, his city, and his game (1992, 177). This complete domination over the city is accomplished through the two methods discussed above: Spade’s impenetrability, illustrated through the narrative structure, and a setting designed to exclude any potential for contamination with
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non-whiteness or queerness. In such a controlled location, Spade may interact with various racially, morally, and gender-wise “suspect” characters without any fear of corruption, an immunity manifest in his consumption practices.
White Consumption Thus far I have clarified how the juxtaposition of withheld information and supplied details helps structure the reading of The Maltese Falcon’s protagonist and the whitewashed “realistic” world he inhabits. I have also noted that he eats and drinks an unusually large amount for a hardbold sleuth. I have also referred to food locations as sources of diegetic “realism” and character credibility, and sketched the potential risks to masculine toughness and whiteness posed by consumption. Now I will address what Spade actually eats. Most scholars have overlooked Sam Spade’s rather substantial appetite during the few days of his avian adventure, focusing instead on his generic vices of drinking and smoking. Nevertheless, the text includes descriptions of Spade eating out and at home, as well as grocery shopping. The fact these are recorded could—rightly—be seen as an attempt to add realism. However, given the fetishistic reading practice that Hammett’s novel invites, each instance of consumption provides insight into the way white, tough masculinity is performed via food. Spade’s food practices help maintain his superior status, serve to impose conventional gender norms on women, and help navigate relationships between men. Those few scholars of The Maltese Falcon who notice Spade’s consumption practices and connect it to his gender performance, consider how often he eats out as proof of his fear of domestication, as exemplified by the earlier quote by Naremore. The detective is depicted twice having breakfast: once at his apartment with Brigit O’Shaughnessy after they have had sex, once in the Palace Hotel. He is described eating lunch three times: on his own at The Palace Hotel and John’s Grill, and at States Hof Brau with Tom Polhaus, the police detective investigating the murder of Archer. Spade is described having dinner at Herbert’s Grill, and supper at his home with Brigit O’Shaughnessy. As the fate of the villains is determined during the novel’s climax, another supper is offered but not eaten. Spade is also described shopping for the breakfast he eats with O’Shaughnessy, and declining an invitation from the in-house detective, Luke, to share breakfast at the Palace Hotel. In turn, Spade’s invitation to
breakfast is rejected by his secretary, Effie Perrine, the novel’s only positive female character, whose gender performance is in stark contrast to the two femmes fatales. Despite the gastronomic freedom afforded Spade by his control of the world he inhabits, eating and drinking companions are still chosen with care to avoid the harm that could result from inappropriate company. In accordance with the genre’s template, Spade drinks a great deal of alcohol. He has many solitary drinks, including a Bacardi rum in a wine glass after learning of Archer’s death and a Manhattan cocktail from a paper cup in his office.5 He also has two drinks with the novel’s villains, Gutman and Cook, and is drugged during the second. He drinks in the presence of two police officers, Polhaus and Dundy, who question Spade about the death of Archer. Spade also rolls and smokes countless cigarettes throughout the novel. The Bull Durham tobacco brand is mentioned, as is the cigar brand Coronas del Ritz. The inclusion of brand names is certainly a literary device that enables an economic addition of specificity, but it also reflects a consumer culture in which brand-name recognition imbues regular objects with additional meaning and value. Their inclusion carries over the meanings associated with the brand and the consumers of that brand. For example, Bull Durham was a marketing trailblazer in 1914 with the famous slogan “Experienced Smokers Roll their Own.” There is no doubt that Spade is an extremely experienced smoker (Washington Post 1914, 5). Much like Hemingway’s iceberg theory of prose writing, a well- executed omission is as meaningful to the reader as any detailed description, and in Hammett’s economic prose, each omission, brand name, and description is meaningful. Spade’s care when rolling cigarettes indicates his control and vigilance, and the fact that he rolls his own rather than buying ready-mades may be evidence of his pragmatism and his status as the brand’s “experienced smoker.” Finally, the constant care and tender fondling of a phallic object suggests Spade derives a certain onanistic pleasure from the activity or from life in general. 5 Confusion exists as to what kind of Manhattan cocktail Spade is drinking. A Manhattan containing American Whiskey, Italian Vermouth, and Angostura bitters and created in the Manhattan Club in New York during the 1970s was popular among wealthy socialites (Smith 2000, 364). However, in a different publication Smith lists an eighteenth-century version that bears little similarity to the later cocktail of the same name, consisting of rum, sugar, and beer (Smith 2013, 30). Since Spade pours his Manhattan from a bottle into a paper cup rather than mixing a drink, it seems likely this is the rum—rather than the whiskey-based variety.
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Specific foods and dishes function figuratively in tough speech and metaphors, and as a means of deflecting questions (Christianson 1989). Early in the novel, Spade, Brigit O’Shaughnessy, and Joel Cairo are at Spade’s apartment. Having learned that Spade had an affair with Archer’s wife, Iva, the police officers Polhaus and Dundy arrive. As they question the others, Spade distances himself by slowly rolling a cigarette. Finally, when asked about the events of the night Archer was murdered, Spade claims he was “in the kitchen mixing an omelet when it all happened, wasn’t I?” (1992, 75). The omelet-making is a blatantly ludicrous activity in such a situation, yet it suggests Spade is withholding information. The tag question at the end functions rhetorically as a refusal to provide answers. Antagonizing the police without corroborating his guests’ statements ensures Spade maintains his isolation and therefore his independence from any alliances that could later cloud his judgment.
Gender Policing at the Table In my analysis of the stakes of gender within the hardboiled genre, I rely on Abbott’s assertion that in attempts to reassert gender norms, the early hardboiled novels provided some space for gender instability (2002, 26). I argue that food and consumption are used in The Maltese Falcon in service of this reassertion, even when they may initially be seen as a means of threatening the tough, white detective’s masculinity. Here I will show how examination of a meal reveals significant details about the relationship between sexual and alimentary consumption, and gender performance. I describe how the femme fatale, a symbol of dangerous empowered femininity, is alternately interpellated into a domestic role and reduced to an animal to disarm her threat to patriarchy. I also call attention to the way in which a morally ambiguous detective can manipulate the law and his relationship to it in the service of gender prescription. The sequence in which O’Shaughnessy stays overnight with Spade occupies the whole of chapter nine, “Brigit,” and takes place after Joel Cairo, Polhaus, and Dundy have left the detective’s apartment. When O’Shaughnessy tells Spade she was followed, he offers to check whether someone is waiting outside. Although the stalker, Cook, is not there, Spade lies and thus has an excuse to keep her in his apartment. He suggests this will give them time to talk and immediately moves into the kitchen to start preparing a meal (Hammett 1992, 85). The two eat, have
sex, and after searching her apartment the following morning, Spade picks up eggs, fresh bread, and oranges for their second meal together. Spade correctly assumes this femme fatale has the answers, as within the misogynistic narrative logic of crime fiction, a woman’s role, if not to be an obvious threat or titillation, is to be a mystery solved by the male hero. The novel’s logic also supports an outcome that favors male domination and female submission. Aware of his vulnerability to seduction as a virile heterosexual man, Spade transforms this vulnerability into an asset, pretending to be enthralled with O’Shaughnessy in the hope she will reveal more information. He is also able to steal her keys and access her apartment. In an exchange over liverwurst and corned beef sandwiches, which I discuss below, O’Shaughnessy states that she knows two men she is afraid of, and has seen both of them that night: “I can understand your being afraid of Cairo,” Spade said “he’s out of your reach.” “And you aren’t?” O’Shaughnessy replied. “Not that way,” Spades said with a grin. (Hammett 1992, 87)
With this latter comment Spade asserts his heterosexuality and maintains the pretense of being captivated by O’Shaughnessy. Consequently, she relaxes and he can extract information, though there is no guarantee she will tell the truth. As Spade acutely observes, Cairo poses a threat to O’Shaughnessy as he is supposedly not susceptible to her sex appeal. However, the sexuality of a femme fatale is dangerous to straight men, especially hardboiled detectives, and often it will only be those who refuse to succumb who survive. Sexual pleasure as a release of control and sovereignty over one’s own body destroys the illusion of bodies as autonomous and opens them to alien objects and fluids. Thus, most tough detectives avoid the emotional and bodily contamination they see as part and parcel of this exchange. An inability to control sexual appetite is also a sign of weakness that white masculinity must avoid at all costs (Bederman 1995, 12–31). Living as he does in a world designed to enable him to maintain control, Spade does not need to stay celibate. He will not be blindsided by any infatuation and sexual desire will not cloud his mental acuity. Given his impenetrability, Spade is engaging in extremely safe sex. First, however, Spade and O’Shaughnessy eat and talk. Spade occupies himself with preparing supper, but the scene is more a power play than domestic bliss or gastronomic seduction:
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He had put the coffee-pot on the stove when she came to the door, and was slicing a slender loaf of French bread. She stood in the doorway and watched him with preoccupied eyes. The fingers of her left hand idly caressed the body and barrel of the pistol her right hand still held. “The table-cloth’s in there,” he said, pointing the bread-knife at a cupboard that was on the breakfast-nook partition. (1992, 85)
The tender motions of food preparation are contrasted with the hardness of the gun held by O’Shaughnessy. Domesticity is offset by the gun, yet the violence is made ridiculous by a list of food items. The gun, the knife, and the baguette all invoke phallic imagery in anticipation of the sexual activity to follow, yet O’Shaughnessy’s usurpation of masculinity with the gun and the softness of Spade’s baguette challenge gender norms. Abbott’s collapse of gender restrictions is explicit in a scene where a man wields a bread knife, and a woman has a gun. Although Spade disarms her with a tablecloth, the interpellation of gender expectation conventionally resets the gender power dynamic, and the man regains power and control. O’Shaughnessy is disarmed by the power of gender disciplining: as a woman she is called to the domestic chore of setting the table. Spade also resorts to this gender interpellation to disarm the femme fatale during the final supper depicted in the novel, in chapter nineteen, “The Russian’s Hand.” Spade, this time host to Cairo, Gutman, and O’Shaughnessy, asks the woman to prepare some food: “I think it’d be swell if you’d see what you can find us to eat in the kitchen, with plenty of coffee. Will you? I don’t like to leave my guests” (1992, 194). In an inversion of their former late-night snack, gender roles are solidified. In case this recasting of the femme fatale into a domestic goddess runs the risk of obliterating the sexual titillation she provides, the novel rapidly reminds readers she is a sexual object of the male gaze: Gutman tricks Spade into forcing O’Shaughnessy to strip. As is often the case in patriarchal cultures, the proximity of these two scenes conflates sexual objects and objects of consumption (Adams 2010). Food is used to prescribe gender in both these scenes. Having O’Shaughnessy play the hostess in the latter erases the instability of the earlier meal. Eating is thus no threat to the detective’s masculinity as it enables him to assign significance and role to each character. He is in charge at plot level and, as he embodies the ideal of hegemonic masculinity, controls the gender performance.
In the initial supper scene, the meeting between the detective and femme fatale becomes a duel with a gender reversal of weapons: a man in the kitchen with a bread knife, and a woman with a gun. The former’s weapon seems benign in comparison to the gun. In the context of the pre- Depression Era “masculinity crisis,” the man resorts to a bread knife as a phallic symbol of erstwhile patriarchal domination, while the sexually liberated women wields a deadly weapon. The armed femme fatale embodies the contemporary threat: she is a sexually and economically liberated, strong, mysterious woman, presented as a combination of affectations rather than a person. Her ambition exceeds the gender-appropriate desire for a heterosexual, reproductive marriage. Sat next to each other on the same side of the bench, thereby precluding eye-contact but ensuring physical contact, the two continue their conversation over liverwurst and corned beef on French baguette with brandy-laced coffee. Spade resumes his questioning: She put the pistol down on the end of the bench nearer her. “You can start now, between bites,” he said. She made a face at him, complained, “You’re the most insistent person,” and bit a sandwich. (1992, 85)
With Spade disarming O’Shaughnessy with gender interpellation and physically entrapping her by the table, this scene evokes the taming of a non-human animal or monster through feeding. Brigit O’Shaughnessy is also depicted as a non-human animal in a conversation between Miles Archer and Sam Spade after their first encounter, and after she meets Tom Polhaus. Often the comparison to an animal is intended to highlight O’Shaughnessy’s sexual appeal and promiscuity, conforming to what Carol J. Adams has termed the “sexual politics of meat” in patriarchal carnivorous cultures, in which the sexual consumption of women and the consumption of meat are conflated as violence on both a physical and metaphorical level (2010, 67–9). Following a long tradition of gothic and horror texts deploying the figure of the monstrous-feminine, the animality of strong women is also a common trope in renditions of femmes fatales. Gill Plain has explored the logic behind the monstrous other as deployed in early crime fiction and, later, in noir, where the category of the feminine is projected onto queers, criminals, and racial others, all “feminized” and “defined in deviant opposition to the legitimate authority of patriarchal masculinity” (2001, 246). These monstrous others “occupy the sign
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‘woman,’ and the paradigm shift, or crisis, of contemporary crime emerges from the return of this fundamental repressed” (2001, 246). The empowered femme fatale and the orientalized effeminate man appear as monsters returned from decades of repression. Their subsequent dehumanization in hardboiled and noir fiction helps pacify fears of that empowerment, as well as confirm the powerful status of hardboiled masculinity. By emphasizing their otherness from the tough hero, the world of clear-cut boundaries and fixed roles is maintained. In her discussion of horror films, Barbara Creed has argued that every human society has “a conception of the monstrous-feminine, of what it is about woman that is shocking, terrifying, horrific, abject” (1996, 46). Following Julia Kriseva’s theory of subject-formation via abjection, which situates the mother as the key figure of abjection and thus affirms the abject status of femininity as a whole, Creed claims that the ideological project of horror films is “purification of the abject” through confrontation, ejection, and the demarcation of new lines between human and non- human (1996, 46). A similar logic operates in crime fiction, where the confrontation is achieved not by gore, but by crime. For white, tough masculinity to exist and maintain its superior status, the boundaries between genders and races, whether corporeal or national, must be preserved. The masculine subject is formed by the expulsion of all it is not, which, as it is expelled, is made abject. Thus, argues Kristeva, as crime draws attention to “the fragility of the law,” all crime is abject (1982, 4). Highlighting the fragility of such a conventionally patriarchal institution as law threatens the hierarchy of masculine superiority. However, as Kristeva has noted, not all who deny morality are abject, as “there can be grandeur in amorality” (1982, 4). This is demonstrated in Sam Spade’s relationship to morality and masculinity in The Maltese Falcon. Within this logic O’Shaughnessy is a monster, whose criminality challenges not just codified law but also gender laws, and thus has no grandeur. In hardboiled and noir fiction, the dehumanization of femmes fatales anticipates the rather ruthless ways with which they are dealt: by being killed or, like Brigit O’Shaughnessy, brought to justice. Disarmed first by conventions of domesticity, and then tamed with food, O’Shaughnessy and the sexual appetite she might incite in the spectacularly heterosexual Spade is no longer a threat. Elspeth Probyn has argued that although sex has often been theorized as transgressive in feminist and queer theory, it can also function as a normative tool, as “the very principle of containment” (2000, 72). Sex can be
a way of “reterritorialising the subject,” and thus a “transgression” that “reterritorialises the body in sex” (2000, 72). Since Spade inhabits a world that poses very little threat to his corporeal integrity or mental stability, the sex he engages in, even when it disobeys a lesser tenet of heteronormativity in its extramarital or casual nature, in no way challenges what he is. In a moderately race- and gender-panicked universe, sex must confirm rather than challenge existing norms and subjectivities. In The Maltese Falcon, sex reveals nothing about the characters or the plot, and thus is rendered benign. In a now iconic monologue at the end of the novel, Spade lists seven reasons why he can’t help O’Shaughnessy escape the police, and in doing so, reveals the extent of his self-interest. As Naremore has observed, and, as previously mentioned, a key feature of Spade is his “ability to master his own sometimes ugly instincts” (1983, 65). Despite his unattractive qualities and moral ambiguity, our sympathies lie with Spade because he eventually “serves the interests of official society” (1983, 65). However, as Naremore has stated, rather than having faith in the law, Spade conducts his work to satisfy his “taste for hunting and adventure,” and due to the realization that “he can survive best on the right side of the law” (1983, 65). Thus, Spade sides with the law out of self-interest. In contrast to both Philip Marlowe and Ed Clive, two other prewar detectives I discuss in this book, Spade’s adherence to select social norms is not due to any communal values or individualized moral code. In this sense he is Kristeva’s amoral genius, who, rather than risk abjection, actually denotes the new limits of what is included and excluded along racial and gender lines. His character stabilizes good and bad masculinity and femininity and uses codified law to mete out punishment. It is not justice he seeks, but personal satisfaction.
Civilizing Masculine Restraint Not all femininity is criminal, however, and mich of its appropriateness is connected to restraint. Restraint in the face of desire is a condition of prescriptive white masculinity and is illustrated through Spade’s relationship with his assistant-sidekick, Effie Perrine. While O’Shaughnessy is coerced into sharing a meal with Spade, Perrine has the freedom to refuse afforded to her by her somewhat sexless status. Before she goes to question her cousin Ted, a professor at Berkeley, about the falcon statue, Spade asks her to join him for breakfast:
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“I’ll go right now,” she said, “and you go see a doctor about that head.” “We’ll have breakfast first.” “No, I’ll eat over in Berkeley. I can’t wait to hear what Ted thinks of this.” (1992, 134)
Perrine is dedicated to her work: she stays in the office overnight, is ready to host Brigit O’Shaughnessy at her house, and will deliver mysterious packages in the small hours of the morning. Her refusal to participate in a breakfast—established as a post-coital meal in the earlier scene with Spade and O’Shaughnessy—suggests an awareness of the risks of heterosexual consumption. Within the logic of this story, she must remain virginal and unspoiled in order to represent hope-inspiring goodness. Her virginity and innocence are connected to her boyishness. Naremore has observed that despite being “attracted to the sexy females they encounter,” Hammett’s detectives only trust women “who behave like scouts” (1983, 52). Perrine does not actively pursue an erotic relationship with Spade, yet the potential is there and the structure of the novel reveals this tension. When first introduced, Effie Perrine is described as “a lanky sunburned girl whose tan dress of thin woolen stuff clung to her with an effect of dampness. Her eyes were brown and playful in a shiny boyish face” (1992, 3). She is depicted as both attractive and non-sexual. As there can be no legitimate attraction between the masculine hero and any masculinity, even, or especially when performed by a woman or girl, women’s sex appeal can be neutralized by making them more masculine. Effie Perrine’s boyish qualities make her sexually benign, yet her appealing figure continues to titillate and ensure that Spade has not turned “queer.” Though impossible to act on, sexual tension between Spade and Perrine exists, and is communicated, again, through a focus on the consumption of phallic objects: this time, cigarettes. On returning to the now Archer- less office, Spade takes a moment to sit and contemplate the new set-up: “He took tobacco and cigarette-papers from his vest-pockets, but did not roll a cigarette. He sat holding the papers in one hand, the tobacco in the other, and looked with brooding eyes at his dead partner’s desk” (1992, 23). Effie Perrine enters the room, sits on Hammett’s desk, and starts rolling a cigarette for him: “Her thin fingers finished shaping the cigarette. She licked it, smoothed it, twisted its ends, and placed between Spade’s lips” (1992, 27). The erotic dimension of this passage is clear, particularly given how Spade is described rolling a cigarette at the start of the novel:
Spade’s thick fingers made a cigarette with deliberate care, sifting a measured quantity of tan flakes down into curved paper, spreading flakes so that they lay equal at the ends with a slight depression in the middle, thumbs rolling the paper’s inner edge down and up under the outer edge as forefingers pressed it over, thumbs and fingers sliding to the paper cylinder’s ends to hold it even while the tongue licked the flap, left forefinger and thumb pinching their end while right forefinger and thumb smoothed the damp seam, right forefinger and thumb twisting their end and lifting the other to Spade’s mouth. (1992, 12)
Though without a visible climax, the rolling of this cigarette evokes an almost sexual pleasure in fondling and then placing in one’s mouth a phallically shaped object. With the spectacle of licking and rolling an item so obviously phallic and performing an activity that at that time was undoubtedly associated with men, the scene between Spade and Perrine—the only characters depicted rolling cigarettes—reverberates with erotic tension, yet one that neither wants to unleash. Perrine’s boyishness prevents any sexual activity, enabling Spade to avoid despoiling her innocence. As stated, the strength to discipline one’s sexual urges is a sign of white masculine toughness. Although as Gail Bederman has described, Victorian middle-class white masculinity was founded on ideals of “self-mastery and restraint expressed,” an influx of immigrants and the rising economic and cultural potential of the working classes caused these values to denote a certain unmanliness in comparison to the overtly virile working-class man (1995, 12–31). In order to regain their status, middle-class men began to espouse some elements of rough masculinity and forge a new artificially classless model of masculinity, one based not only on gender but also race. Thus, by the second decade of the twentieth century a new version of white male hegemony had appeared that amalgamated whiteness, masculinity, and civilization (1995, 12–31). In this new masculine ideal, a man was aware of his physical power but knew how to keep it in check. Refusing to give in to urges was a test of masculinity. In this context, Spade’s refusal to “spoil” Perrine’s virginity is an element of his masculine performance. He is that white, heterosexual male who can control himself. Although the text leaves a little space for the decision on whether or not to have sex to be entirely Perrine’s, she is denied sexuality and therefore any agency over that sexuality: in her limited capacity she can merely refuse to have breakfast with Spade.
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The Eating Detective As mentioned above, in a text where details are sparse, descriptions of items and gestures take on profound meaning. Thus, analysis of the food shared by Spade and O’Shaughnessy during that initial meal—a social event and therefore significant in itself—is crucial. The food Spade lays out, liverwurst and corned beef, highlights his bachelor status. These are long-lasting, protein-filled sandwich fillers. At the same time, the bread appears to come from a different register. Rather than French bread, which is best bought and eaten fresh, one would expect the more convenient pack of sliced bread, popular since around 1930 (Martindale 2009, 66). This suggests a level of financial and consumer freedom, also visible in the produce Spade buys for his and O’Shaughnessy’s breakfast: eggs, oranges, and more fresh bread. Unlike the inhabitant of the mean streets, as which he is often depicted, Spade is the unlikely representative of the well-to-do urban man: he can afford this food and has time to enjoy it. The choice of beverage is also significant. Coffee implies the evening is not over and the two will continue to talk. In his theory of food as a system of communication, Ronald Barthes illustrates the ambiguity of coffee as a cultural sign. Like all units of signification, coffee has different meanings in different contexts and these meanings change over time and across places. In Barthes’s account, in which coffee is generally seen as a stimulant, it can signify the end of or a break from work due to its recurrent depictions as a beverage drunk during a break (2008, 31). Since the Boston Tea Party, coffee has also been associated with American independence, and with cheap Brazilian coffee flooding the market during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, has become the patriotic and pragmatic choice for Americans (Rees 2009, 283–4). Thus, though unacknowledged in the text, coffee is also a comment on the independence that is key to Spade’s masculinity. What is more, while coffee has been associated with leisure and drunk as a post-meal aid to digestion in Europe, in America it is mostly drunk in professional contexts and often signals the start of a working day. Hence, coffee is thoroughly in keeping with the “work is life” attitude of most hardboiled detectives. The fact alcohol is added to the coffee during the Spade-O’Shaughnessy supper may suggest the detective wished to put his guest at ease or get her intoxicated. Whether imbibed to increase pleasure, alleviate sadness, or
administered as a truth serum, poison, or medicine, alcohol is ingested in great abundance in noir fiction. Like smoking or drinking, eating food enables a structural moment of disengagement from the immediacy of a plot, as well as detachment from the events surrounding a character. Finishing a meal is also significant. The French bread and liverwurst supper ends when Spade, in response to what his guest says about the story of the falcon statue, extinguishes his cigarette on his plate, drinks the last dregs of his coffee and calls her a liar (Hammett 1992, 88). These over-dramatic gestures, reminiscent of the glass-smashing at Gutman’s, are intended to intimidate O’Shaughnessy. They are a dynamic ending to a phlegmatic meal, a change of pace and a return to a more adventurous tempo. This is a reminder that Spade is in control of the situation. After some admonitions, he concludes that they have all night, and declares he will “put some more brandy in some more coffee and we’ll try again” (1992, 89). Spade’s declaration is not followed by a discussion but with sex. One form of consumption bleeds into another as Brigit O’Shaughnessy offers her body to Spade to defer the necessity of providing more information.
The Masculine Carnivore I have already explained in what I hope is sufficient detail the ways in which a meal shared with a woman, drinks shared with men, and even some instances of solitary ingestion can pose a threat to tough, white, heterosexual masculinity. I have also discussed a number of countermeasures. Another meal worth considering in the context of masculinity is one that two men eat together. The Maltese Falcon features a lunch—the most innocuous of meals—that Spade shares with his friend, the police officer Tom Polhaus, then working on the Archer murder. Over half of chapter fifteen, “Every Crackpot,” is spent on this meal of pickled pig’s feet at the States Hof Brau. Following the common association of meat-eating and masculinity in Western cultures (Adams 2010, 48), the more meat the two men eat, the more comfortable they are in their white straight masculinity. In his analysis of men and meat-eating, Jeffrey Sobal has noted that independence is a “hallmark characterization of contemporary Western masculinity,” and thus “manly eating often represents a refusal to surrender food choices to authorities” (2005, 139). When men eat in a non-manly way, they can often “feel pressure to present gender ‘accounts’ … both to
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justify their failure to enact appropriately gendered eating and to resist being de-masculinized” (2005, 140). This is precisely what is required in this scene as Spade and Polhaus make up after an argument. In a conversation partitioned by eating, Polhaus apologizes to Spade for suspecting him of murdering Archer. Spade takes offense when Polhaus suggests he resembles the other officer, Dundy, and suggests the police want to frame him. This leads to an awkward silence: “Spade picked up his knife and fork and began to eat. Polhaus ate” (Hammett 1992, 141). The tension between the men is reflected in the manner they eat, best summarized by the following comment: “Polhaus cut savagely into his pig’s foot” (1992, 141). As they enjoy their roasted pork, mutual accusations and reproach yield to a discussion about the two cases. In time, they drop the cutlery and begin eating with their hands. This move toward a more uncivilized and non-Western eating method projects an image of violent masculinity, familiar from Adams’s correlation of masculine violence toward animals and women. Their perceived savagery is supposed to offset the possibility of any homoerotic meanings presented by this homosocial situation.6 At the same time, the violence must be limited to food consumption to avoid slipping into savagery codified in non-whiteness. This follows Bederman’s claim that the new twentieth-century masculinity was based on white men’s ability to control their primitive urges, yet not, as the Victorians had, suppressing them altogether. The only movements mentioned in these passages relate to eating and there are no descriptions of facial expression. Apart from the emotional detachment afforded by such a narrative technique, both the setting and the food ensure there is no risk of either a racially marked or a homosexual and homoerotic reading of either the meal or the two detectives’ relationship. States Hof Brau is a cafeteria-style eatery specializing in meat dishes. The Teutonic name emphasizes strength and manliness, as well as traditional male camaraderie. The cafeteria setting also implies the meal is a professional meeting, not a date. The setting and choice of food are intended to drain the meeting of any potential sentimentality. The savage eating could be an example of spectacular carnivorous consumption, mitigating the presence of hurt feelings and reestablishing masculinity. 6 A shift from violence to sex is, of course, not unthinkable, as illustrated by the supper scene described earlier, in which Spade asserted his dominance over the femme fatale. In this case, however, effort is made to prevent a competition of masculinity that could lead to violence and potentially sex.
The detached manner in which this reconciliation is described conforms to the genre’s preoccupation with men not appearing “queer” in homosocial contexts. As the model of masculinity prescribed by the genre forecloses the possibility of emotionality, facial expressions and gestures are replaced with a record of eating actions. From a potentially risky explosion of excessive emotion—anger in this case—a conversation over pork and the use of hands to eat enables a smooth transition from an emotional to a professional situation.
Success to Crime Consumption is frequently used as a means of alleviating tension between men in The Maltese Falcon, and though meals are rare, drinks are often used to calm a potentially violent situation. Versatilely deployed, drinking scenes serve to establish masculine toughness via the ability to resist intoxication despite the consumption of large quantities. Drink was also used as a poison in Gutman’s hotel room and as a truth serum when Spade and O’Shaughnessy had supper. In what follows, I highlight how drink scenes not only conform to genre expectations, but also reflect on race, law, and exploitation. True to the model of the noir hero he establishes, Spade drinks a considerable amount on his own. In reaction to Archer’s death he downs three glasses of Bacardi rum and smokes five cigarettes. This is mildly excessive consumption, but Spade’s intellectual sharpness when responding to Tom Polhaus and Lieutenant Dundy’s interrogation demonstrates how well the detective can hold his liquor. Alcohol can be a transgression of social mores, but it is also highly ritualized and used for celebratory purposes. After all, the most famous quote from the novel, “Success to crime,” is a toast Spade makes in the presence of the two police officers (Hammett 1992, 17). This is blatant provocation. Potentially emboldened by the earlier rum, Spade is testing how far he can go, whether toasting crime or serving rum in wine glasses. This flipping of a social situation is habitual for Spade, who also uses the tactic with Gutman and O’Shaughnessy, and almost always has the effect of restoring his control. Celebrating crime in the presence of two on-duty officers who suspect Spade of murder serves as a display of toughness and defiance of the law. This is not the only instance of Spade performing this dis-alliance with the law, a tactic for maintaining his outlaw status. Prohibition is yet another
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context for toasting crime. By invoking a law that is both so evidently ignored and actually increased criminality during the 1920s and 1930s, Spade draws attention to the arbitrariness and ineffectiveness of codified law. What is more, toasting crime reveals the truth about crime detection, be it private or public: it is a profession paid for by crime. In a chilling herald of the late twentieth- and twenty-first-century industrial prison complex, Spade flaunts the benefits for law enforcement and other state and private institutions of chasing and incarcerating criminals. Probably in an effort to maintain the superior status provided by state power, the two officers are initially reticent to accept a drink. By refusing to share a drink they signal that this is not a social call; they cannot socialize if they want to use the full extent of their power. Interpellated as police officers, they need Spade to act as either a witness or potential perpetrator. Accepting the drinks would mean agreeing to Spade’s power dynamic and male hierarchy, and although his initial attempt to maintain dominance fails, Spade does retain his advantage: despite consuming four glasses of rum, both his mind and body match those of the presumably sober detectives. The choice of rum, a drink not generally associated with hardboiled detectives, is also meaningful and may further indicate Spade’s nonconformity. According to Adam F. Smith, rum was considered a poor man’s drink from the eighteenth century onward. Though popular in America and an important element in the triangular trade system discussed below, rum lost its appeal during the nineteenth century to be replaced by whiskey. Nevertheless, rum was the drink against which the temperance movement coalesced and, due to its low price and availability achieved through sugar plantation slavery, did experience a revival. Smith has detailed how speakeasy bartenders would cover the nasty taste of low-quality rum of unknown origin with syrups and juices, a practice that would lead to the rise of cocktail culture and guarantee that most blends were based on rum rather than vodka (Smith 2013, 29–38). Moreover, while the majority of strong alcohol arrived via the East Coast, rum was smuggled via the West Coast or domestically and illegally distilled. Therefore, symbolically, Spade’s choice of rum speaks volumes about his ambiguous attitude to the law. In Hammett’s narratives, designed to be read fetishistically, specifying Bacardi rum is also a telling detail, especially in a racial and economic context, connoting both slavery and the appealing exoticism of the Caribbean
(Smith 2013, 38).7 Caribbean sugar cane and its product, rum, were instrumental in the slave trade, with rum used to pay slave traders in West Africa for men and women who were then transported to grow the sugar cane. It was also used as exchange currency with indigenous peoples and contributed to the demise of many who unwittingly surrendered their land to white colonizers. Thus, rum connotes the racial dynamic of exploitation that drove the US’s rise to economic and political power. Smith has argued that rum was a major actor in transforming the colonies into an independent resource-rich political entity (2013, 38). Rum is thus ambiguous: it may signify both economic power and racial exploitation. This ambiguity matches the ambiguity of Sam Spade, whose very name connotes not just death—a spade used to bury a dead body—but also the opposite of white or red, as in the spade in a pack of cards. Though no effort is spared to make Spade unambiguously white in an all-white San Francisco, the narrative does reveal a racial tension: a blond Satan who is as dark as a spade. While most critics connect Spade’s blackness to moral rather than racial ambiguity, it seems naïve to ignore the racial elements the narrative is so willing to repress: what Toni Morrison has termed the “Africanist Presence” (1992, 6). Rum, associated with the Caribbean and coded as foreign, mysterious, and black, may point to the unfathomability of the character, his dark side. The text conforms to the racist notions of its time without explicitly expressing racist views or depicting non-white characters other than Joel Cairo in demeaning ways. Another connection can be made between the satanic figure and the Caribbean. The 1920s not only witnessed the high culture of the Harlem Renaissance, it was also a time when popular African American culture spread to Northern and Western cities with the Great Migration from the South and the Caribbean. Some religious practices, including the perpetually misunderstood Voodoo, could appear like witchcraft or satanism to the Puritan-inflected, white, American mind. The abject evil personified by Satan is also racially other: black popular culture and religious practices would function as a reminder of what should be expelled. Although it 7 Smith notes that real demand for Caribbean rum brands such as Bacardi, Captain Morgan, and Don Q began in the late 1940s and 1950s with the affordability of air travel and popularity of Latin America and the Caribbean islands. Only in this period did rum begin to signify the middle-class leisure it is associated with now (2013, 38). In Hammett’s time, it was still considered a cheap and swift way of getting drunk.
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would be difficult to view Spade as a figure of gender or racial abjection, some of his appeal originates from his moral liminality, and since morality is both a raced and gendered concept, there is space to probe the racial and gender consequences of his construction, including the limits of the fantasy of a white, hegemonic masculinity. Though the narrative strategies of contemporary crime novels rarely positioned the detective as a murderer—as distinct from a killer in the course of his duties—part of Spade’s ambiguous appeal is the possibility he murdered Archer. This swiftly establishes the stakes of the mystery and as Spade proves he did not kill his partner, he reasserts his power, not via the legitimacy of the law but through his outlaw status. Like any other institution, the police may be corrupt, but not the morally ambiguous vigilante driven by a self-interest that coincides with the patriarchal values the tough guy is meant to protect. In a materialist world where everything is for sale, vigilante justice is more effective than any state-power apparatus. There are, however, limits to this vigilantism and implied criminality. Those characters coded as criminals are finally punished either by death or by the state: Gutman is killed by Cook, while Cairo and O’Shaughnessy, it is suggested, end up in jail. White, heterosexual, tough masculinity must resist slipping into excess: according to the genre’s logic, he is the only barrier against a flood of corruption. It is his ability to toe the lines of morality, gender, and sexuality that places him at the top of a hierarchy, which as I have demonstrated in this chapter, is also maintained via a control of consumption.
Conclusion Lee Horsley has argued that Hammett’s hero, with his inherent moral ambiguity, established the noir thriller hero-paradigm. She contrasts this with the hardboiled detective who, though an outsider, adheres to either an internal or external set of known values (2001, 5–7; 19–20). While I remain unconvinced by Horsley’s differentiation and use noir and hardboiled interchangeably, I do believe that Chandler misread Hammett’s protagonist, as is clear from the following description, written by the former, inspired by the work of the latter: But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid … He is the hero; he is everything. He must
be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be … a man of honor—by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world. (1988, 18)
Sam Spade is not a man of honor and though most definitely a man of his world, he would not work in any other. Though his job is ordinary to him, Spade is not a common man, and when he walks the mean streets of San Francisco he is as mean as the narrative logic will permit. He is the able-bodied, white, heterosexual, tough man, but only because the world designed around him enables him to be just that. The complexity of his character resides in a fetishistic mode of reading that privileges an overinterpretation of empty signifiers: this renders a flat character ambiguous while maintaining his superior and autarchic status. I have argued that the fetishistic reading invited by Hammett’s style, including Spade’s prophylactic masculinity and complete exteriorization, justifies my focus on consumption, which enables a more complex reading of the protagonist’s identity as constructed in relation to others. Given the wave of consumerism sweeping over America at that time, this focus is even more relevant and revealing. Kerryn Higgs has discussed the contemporary discourse of consumer desire and insatiable appetite for goods, and noted how consumption expanded through the 1920s, until “truncated by the Great Depression of 1929” (2014, 72). Spade’s consumer choices both mimic and critique these new appetites. He alone can enjoy the food and sex, any other character who does will be punished, if not killed. Spade’s masculinity, like most gender identities, is entrenched in and intersects with the other identity categories of race, class, sexuality, and disability status. These are informed by food and consumption practices. Hall has observed the reverse of this mechanism, noting that the “meaning of food is caught up in intertwined networks of gender, race, class, nationality, heteronormativity, and disability” (2014, 181). An analysis of food and consumption practices is useful in de- and re-constructing gender models and gender subject-formation, as represented in this case by Sam Spade. An analysis of eating, drinking, and smoking, and consumption understood in material and sexual terms, reveals the destabilizing and re-stabilizing of hegemonic masculinity in late-1920s crime fiction. It also exposes the considerable amount of effort this masculinity takes to
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maintain. By focusing on a novel that has been canonized for establishing the hardboiled genre, I have delineated how this prototypical tough masculinity operates. In subsequent chapters I compare this model to other tough masculinities, including Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, and Stout’s Nero Wolf and Archie Goodwin. Eating, drinking, and smoking provide generic authenticity, establish time and place, check and accelerate plot, and supply props and justifications for action. Analysis of consumption also reveals a fear of penetration fueled by the genre’s homophobia, and the threat of racial contamination to an already fragile white, heterosexual masculinity. For Spade, however, the specific contexts of food and sexual consumption enable him to eat and have sex without fear. Specific meals and drinks carry context-dependent meanings. Drinking, a generic staple of hardboiled fiction, can be used to signal the temporary racial/moral othering of Spade, but also ensures his hegemonic status through his ability to tolerate alcohol. Both eating and drinking contribute to the novel’s whitewashing and “straightening” efforts by alleviating the racial tensions and homophobia that underpin most early hardboiled texts. Smoking, apart from the obvious function of disengagement, suggests sexual restraint on the part of a virile, heterosexual, white male. The very body that consumes is also significant: as critical eating studies have revealed, food is changed upon eating, and eating subjects change when they consume. The Maltese Falcon is a novel filled with moralizing (over)consumption, both in individual character actions and through a deeper symbolic reading of text fragments. The novel establishes the type of eating detective against whom all subsequent detectives were required to measure up. But their attempts to approximate that gender ideal would inadvertently fail. The first new pretender I will address is Philip Marlowe, who, unlike Spade, goes about his work without food or sex. In the following chapter, I assess whether Chandler made good on his promise to create a streetwise man of honor.
References Abbott, Megan L. 2002. The Street Was Mine: White Masculinity in Hardboiled Fiction and Film Noir. New York: Palgrave. Adams, Carol J. 2010. The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory. New York: Continuum.
Barthes, Roland. 2008. Toward a Psychology of Contemporary Food Consumption. In Food and Culture: A Reader, ed. Carole Counihan and Penny van Esterik, 28–35. New York: Routledge. Bederman, Gail. 1995. Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States 1880-1917. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Boisvert, Raymond D., and Lisa Heldke. 2016. Philosophers at Table. London: Reaktion Books. Breu, Christopher. 2005. Hard-boiled Masculinities. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Cawelti, John G. 1977. Adventure, Mystery, and Romance: Formula Stories as Art and Popular Culture (Phoenix Series). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Chandler, Raymond. 1988. The Simple Art of Murder. New York: Vintage. Christianson, Scott R. 1989. Tough Talk and Wisecracks: Language as Power in American Detective Fiction. The Journal of Popular Culture 23 (2 (Fall)): 151–162. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.0022-3840.1989.00151.x. Creed, Barbara. 1996. Horror and the Monstrous-Feminine. In The Dread of Difference: Gender and the Horror Film, ed. Barry Keith Grant, 37–67. Austin: University of Texas Press. Farell, Amy Erdman. 2011. Fat Shame: Stigma and the Fat Body in American Culture. New York: NYU Press. Forth, Christopher E. 2013. Nobody Loves a Fat Man: Food and Masculinity in Film Noir. Men and Masculinities 16 (4): 387–406. https://doi.org/10.117 7/1097184X13502653. Gilman, Sander. 1991. The Jew's Body. New York: Routledge. Gregory, Sinda. 1985. Ambiguity in The Maltese Falcon. In Private Investigations: The Novels of Dashiell Hammett, 88–114. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press. Hall, Kim Q. 2014. Toward a Queer Crip Feminist Politics of Food. Philosophia 4 (2 (Summer)): 177–196. muse.jhu.edu/article/565882. Hammett, Dashiell. 1992. The Maltese Falcon. New York: First Vintage Crime/ Black Lizard Edition. Higgs, Kerryn. 2014. Collision Course: Endless Growth on a Finite Planet. Cambridge: The MIT Press. Horsley, Lee. 2001. The Noir Thriller. New York: Palgrave. Kristeva, Julia. 1982. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. New York: Columbia University Press. Malmgren, Carl D. 2001. Anatomy of Murder: Mystery, Detective and Crime Fiction. Bowling Green: Bowling Green Popular Press. Martindale, Marty. 2009. Bread, Sliced. In The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink, ed. Andrew F. Smith, 66. New York: Oxford University Press. Morrison, Toni. 1992. Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. New York: Vintage Books.
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Murray, Samantha. 2008. The “Fat” Female Body. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Naremore, James. 1983. Dashiell Hammett and the Poetics of Hard-Boiled Detection. In Essays on Detective Fiction, ed. Bernard Benstock, 49–72. London: Palgrave Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-349-17313-6_4. Painter, Nell Irvin. 2010. The History of White People. New York: W.W. Norton & Norton. Plain, Gill. 2001. Twentieth Century Crime Fiction: Gender, Sexuality and the Body (America in the 20th/21st Century Series). New York: Routledge. Probyn, Elsbeth. 2000. Carnal Appetites: FoodSexIdentities. London: Routledge. Rees, John U. 2009. Historical Overview: Revolutionary War Food. In The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink, ed. Andrew F. Smith, 283–284. New York: Oxford University Press. Sibalis, Michael. 2004. Urban Space and Homosexuality: The Example of the Marais, Paris’ ‘Gay Ghetto.’. Urban Studies 41 (9 (August)): 1739–1758. https://doi.org/10.1080/0042098042000243138. Slotkin, Richard. 1992. Mythologies of Resistance: Outlaws, Detectives, and Dime-Novel Populism, 1873-1903. In Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth-Century America, 125–155. New York: Atheneum. Smith, Erin A. 2000. Hard-Boiled: Working-Class Readers and Pulp Magazines. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. Smith, Andrew F. 2013. Drinking History: Fifteen Turning Points in the Making of American Beverages. New York: Columbia University Press. Sobal, Jeffery. 2005. Men, Meat, and Masculinity: Models of Masculinity. Food and Foodways: Explorations in the History and Culture of Human Nourishment 13 (1-2): 135–158. https://doi.org/10.1080/07409710590915409. Usiekniewicz, Marta. 2019. ‘Success to crime,’ or Sam Spade’s Consumption Habits in Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon: Consumption and Control. In Food and Drink in Contexts, ed. Paweł Hamera, Andrzej Kuropatnicki, and Artur Piskorz, 117–150. Krakow: Wydawnictwa Naukowe Uniwersytetu Pedagogicznego. ———. 2021. Crip Appetites: American Gastrodystopias in the Graphic Series Chew. Przegla ̨d Kulturoznawczy 47 (1): 150–165. https://doi.org/10.446 7/20843860PK.21.009.13463. Washington Post. 1914. “Bull Durham Ad.” NewspaperArchive.com, June 29, 1914. https://newspaperarchive.com/washington-post-jun-29-1914-p-5/.
Control and Cannibalism in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep (1939)
My reading of Raymond Chandler’s representation of consumption and masculinity, embodied in 1939 The Big Sleep by the LA-based private detective Philip Marlowe, continues my argument that tough, white masculinity relies on an impenetrable and pure body, a model referred to as prophylactic masculinity (Barounis 2019, 3). The maintenance of an epidermal barrier is essential for the detective to avoid contamination by a corrupt world. This becomes literal when Marlowe announces he has had “a belly full” of the rich and describes them making him sick (Chandler 2005, 70 and 128 respectively, all quotes from the novel come from this edition). In the logic of this novel, consumption can only defile. The threat is not only of consuming something that may alter one’s being—by poisoning, incapacitating, or killing—but of oneself being consumed. As a result, consumption in The Big Sleep assumes a sinister quality as it comes to be a vehicle for anxieties about gender performance and social change. In The Big Sleep, consumption not only consists of the ingestion of edible objects such as food, alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs, but also the more symbolic acts of consuming or being consumed by others. On an abstract level, Marlowe is in danger of consuming something harmful or being consumed by the corruption and materialism of the world he inhabits. Both these modes of quasi-cannibalistic consumption relate to the worldview depicted throughout the Marlowe series: Chandler’s detective
© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2023 M. Usiekniewicz, Food, Consumption, and Masculinity in American Hardboiled Fiction, Crime Files, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-29160-9_3
lives in a corrupt world, where vain and evil people are rewarded with money and fame, while everyone else is subjected to exploitation. I argue that Marlowe’s reluctance to eat food stems from a fear that consumption endangers his selfhood. Miserable and unfit for the world he is meant to dominate, Philip Marlowe manifests his anxieties through a refusal to alimentarily, sexually, or materially consume anything. Marlowe is more self-conscious and aware of his weaknesses than his medieval, dime novel, and Western predecessors (Cawelti 1977; Rzepka 2000). Megan Abbott has observed that his “relationship to his own masculinity, his own self-conscious view of his hardboiled role, is continually fraught” (2002, 49). Marlowe “is a dissembling figure constantly on the verge of nervous collapse or even hysteria, a figure that often finds himself the victim of claustration and sequestration not because of his (actual or mistaken) criminal guilt, but because of his questionable behavior, his deviance from gender norms or expectations” (2002, 8). Paradoxically, the redeemer of patriarchy’s model of tough masculinity fails to meet the ideal and knows it. This insecurity fuels Marlowe’s need for austerity: he must control his consumption. The explicitly gendered and always excessive consumption in The Big Sleep is cannibalistic in nature, rendering subjects unstable and resulting in the collapse of fixed identity categories. To maintain a stable subject position, Marlowe must avoid consumption of any kind or at least neutralize its effects. These efforts are not foolproof and do not guarantee that the privileged masculine position will be maintained: the myth of a stable identity can only be supported by the constant maintenance of hegemonic masculinity. Therefore, in all his interactions with people and objects, Marlowe must reassert his masculinity either by taking complete control of his environment, or, if that fails, by neutralizing the effects and consequences of excessive consumption. In what follows, I first present the mechanisms that contribute to the failing of Marlowe’s masculinity and their connection to consumption and control. I argue that Marlowe, riddled with anxiety over the penetrability of his body, wavers between being consumed by others and becoming sick from excessive consumption. From this ambiguous position, the figure of Marlowe challenges the notion of what is abject, further complicating the status of food and eating in relation to straight, white masculinity. By comparing scenes featuring food and eating with those depicting drinking, especially an exchange between the detective and his employer, General Sternwood, I demonstrate the threatening capacity of food to transform and penetrate the
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subject. I also comment on the harmful quality ascribed to alcohol consumption, which often requires company and therefore thwarts the detective’s social isolation. I then discuss how this makes Marlowe a fantasy of disembodied masculinity, a version of prophylactic masculinity, in a genre that emphasizes the embodied aspect of tough masculinity.
Consumption and the Subject Kyla Wazana Tompkins has observed that eating threatens the “foundational fantasy of a contained autonomous self—the ‘free’ Liberal self” by “blurring the line between subject and object” (2012, 3). Transforming into tissue, muscles, nerves, and “the energy that drives them all,” food can “transcend the gap between self and other” (2012, 3). Eating suggests physical weakness, dependence on sustenance, and the penetration of foreign objects into bodily orifices, which is antithetical to prophylactic masculinity that which requires “male bodies to be invulnerable, impenetrable, and impervious to injury” (Barounis 2019, 3). Depictions of oral penetration by food not only rework the genre’s underlying homophobia, but also challenges the very stability of Marlowe. Thus, avoidance of consumption empowers a toughness that symbolically precludes any racial, sexual, or gender contamination of white, hegemonic masculinity. The very fact that something as seemingly benign as consumption poses a threat to the tough man’s selfhood on an abstract level reveals how easily the borders that enable a subject position can be dissolved. As a result, the privileged white male subject, Marlowe, may become an object and lose a quantity of the privilege associated with that subject position. In Power of Horror, Kristeva has described the fragility of body and self: The body’s inside … shows up in order to compensate for the collapse of the border between inside and outside. It is as if the skin, a fragile container, no longer guaranteed the integrity of one’s “own and clean self” but, scraped or transparent, invisible or taut, gave way before the dejection of its contents. Urine, blood, sperm, excrement then show up in order to reassure a subject that is lacking its “own and clean self.” (1982, 53)
Thus, the body itself produces that which unmakes it: bodily fluids, reminders of the tough guy’s biggest fear, the incontainability of the stable self. Megan Abbott has described Marlowe as “suffering from a blurring of boundaries, a fear that the performances he controls … exist side by side with the ones he seemingly cannot: his lapses into unconsciousness, his
feelings of fragmentation and dissociation, his sudden expressions of fears of death” (2002, 61). The fact that subjects both contain and consume that which undoes them is not the only threat to the white, heterosexual detective. That he himself could become the edible object is even more terrifying. Being cannibalized implies both a loss of subjectivity and a reduction to the status of an object. Marlowe’s seemingly fixed, isolated, and tough subject position is constantly exposed to the risk of being entirely consumed by a corrupt reality. Anxiety about the permeability of tough masculinity, manifested by a refusal to consume, is related to the racism, misogyny, and homophobia that saturate the novels. Fredric Jameson has suggested that the paradoxical presence of homophobia and homoeroticism in the Marlowe novels is not only the result of ideologically driven anxiety, but an aesthetic that taps into “everything racist, sexist, homophobic and otherwise socially resentful and reactionary in the American collective unconscious, enhancing these unlovely feelings … by a homoerotic and male-bonding sentimentalism that is aroused by honest cops and gangsters with hearts of gold” (1993, 37). Gill Plain has examined the crucial tension within many hardboiled novels: the impossibility of creating a realistic white heterosexual homosocial all-male idyll that precludes any suggestion of homoeroticism. The strategy deployed in an attempt to thwart queering of the Marlowe novels is to place the detective’s masculinity in “splendid isolation” from the society he inhabits (2001, 60). Nevertheless, as Plain has shown, this strategy failed. Hailed into existence in the late 1930s, Philip Marlowe was intended to embody the type of hero outlined by Raymond Chandler in his 1944 essay, “The Simple Art of Murder”: … a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be … a man of honor—by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world. (1988, 18)
What is not spelled out in the text, but has been acknowledged by critics, is that rather than fulfilling crime literature’s goal to depict the rise in crime and corruption, the character functions as a backlash to perceived and real changes not directly connected to the rise in crime that took place in late 1920s and 1930s America. As evidenced by the vilification of women, people of color, and queers, these changes include (some) women’s
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empowerment, sexual liberation, and (some) emancipation of racial and ethnic minorities (Jameson 1993, 37), as well as a general turn toward consumerism, pretense, and obsession with status. James Naremore has observed that wherever Marlowe looks, “he sees Jews, homosexuals, gangsters and various pretenders or arrivistes from the Midwest. Even the domestic architecture strikes him as fake” (1998, 85–6). Spade, who also had to deal with this foreign invasion, was able to contain it; by the end of The Maltese Falcon all criminals, orientalized homosexuals, and the femme fatale were either apprehended or dead. Marlowe, however, is unable to rid his LA of crime, and the majority of criminals and murders evade justice.
Excess and Gendered Consumption A more specifically gendered reason for why consumption is such a threat to the tough, white masculinity envisioned as an antidote to changes in social mores, is that, conventionally, consumption is gendered female. This is not only because women are seen as objects of consumption, or that the sensuality of some aspects of consumption is deemed unmasculine, or the historical connection between femininity and materiality illustrated by the separate spheres model of the Victorian era (Roberts 1998), but also because it implies a potential for excess.1 In Western culture, excess is gendered as female, raced as non-white, and classed as inferior.2 Understood as an inability to control oneself and allied with the newly embraced consumerism, excess is the antithesis of tough, austere masculinity in most prewar hardboiled novels. White, tough masculinity is heavily invested in austerity and self-denial as proof of its toughness. Thus, excess, in terms of consumption as well as gender performance, must be avoided by the detective and punished when expressed by others. Compared to Hamett’s Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep is a more politically explicit post-Depression era Marxist-inflected text, overtly antagonistic toward the rich and suspicious of consumption. However, Marlowe is also dismissive of the disadvantaged, often blaming their situation on their own failings. 1 For a discussion of excess as feminine, cf. Russo (1997), as well as the classic feminist fat studies: Chernin (1994), and Bordo (2004). 2 This is a version of Amy Erdman Farell’s observation about the functions of fat and fatness, which are seen as a manifestation of excess. “In today’s terms, fat, if it had a color would be black, if it had a national origin, it would be an illegal immigrant, non-U.S., and nonWestern” (2011, 8). For more analysis of white fatness, see Chaps. 5 and 7.
Several hours into the case for which the Sternwood family have hired him, Philip Marlowe complains that the rich make him sick. Invested in a nostalgia for the patriarchal order, the novel sets the detective on a mission to avenge the deaths of the story’s male characters, who, with a few exceptions, die at the hands of the rich and the female. Rusty Regan, killed by his wife’s sister Carmen Sternwood, is not the only man whose death suggests that women’s emancipation affects men’s mortality. Other deceased men include Arthur Gwynn Geiger, a gay pornographer, killed by the Sternwood driver Owen Tylor, who is in love with Carmen. Tylor is later killed by Carol Lundgren, Geiger’s gay lover: this successfully “deals” with the novel’s queers, as Lundgren is incarcerated for his crime. No assault on heterosexuality goes unpunished. Another straight man, private detective Harry Jones, is poisoned by Lash Canino, a brutal gun for hire employed by Eddie Mars. Functioning in a quasi-Marlowe role, Jones fails to be the “best man” and thus dies on account of a woman and at the hands of a criminal. The murder method itself suggests the nefarious effect of consumption and reminds Marlowe—a witness to the crime—about the dangers of opening one’s body to food. Serving the text’s ideological aspiration to conceptually link criminality with femininity, The Big Sleep strives to emphasize the deadliness of its femmes fatales, seen again as figures of excess. The novel’s emancipated women, including the two Sternwood sisters and Agnes Lozelle, an employee of Geiger’s bookstore/porn shop and Joe Brody’s partner in crime who contributes to the death of Jones and successfully escapes harm, are eventually vilified and rendered irredeemable, despite or maybe because of their heterosexual appeal. The novel steadfastly establishes that in the new world of rampant consumption and materialism, white men die as a result of the actions of white women, who get away with anything. Despite attempts by patriarchy’s prince in shining armor to recuperate the lost world of stable gender categories, nothing but Marlowe’s own purity can be salvaged, through the significant cost of isolating himself from the entire world. In fact, to protect himself from the poisonous excesses of an environment that could unravel his impenetrable and superior self, Marlowe acts according to a set of values that should be “good enough … for any world” (Chandler 1988, 18). This implies these values are universal, but the code alone does little to guarantee immunity from corruption. This is why Marlowe must seek greater isolation than Spade. Since the world he inhabits is more perilous in gender and racial terms, Marlowe must be wary about whom and what he encounters. In order to carry out his
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mission he must remain pure and avoid contamination by the corrupt world. This corruption, though ascribed to the rich, is extended to include all that is non-traditionally masculine and non-white. Contrary to my claim about Marlowe’s disdain for the less fortunate, John G. Cawelti has argued that the Chandlerian variety of the hardboiled detective “is an instinctive protector of the weak, a defender of the innocent, the avenger of the wronged, the one loyal, honest, truly moral man in a corrupted and ambiguous world” (1977, 151). He notes the nostalgic aspect of this set of values, likening them to a chivalric code, and argues that this code “enables him to act in a violent world without losing his purity and force…[he] remains a marginal man” (1977, 151). Though I disagree with the effect of this attitude, I share the observation that Marlowe is obsessed with maintaining his purity. In fact, Marlowe- narrator’s refusal to discuss eating and Marlowe-protagonist’s reticence to accept drinks from others are part of his overall avoidance strategy. Avoidance is also made possible by a narrative structure in which the protagonist-narrator is the ultimate judge of what elements of the story to include or omit. This dedication to what Kim Q. Hall has termed the “metaphysics of purity” (2014, 179) reflects the novel’s prodigious investment in maintaining a model of masculinity that reinforces notions of physical and mental able-bodiedness, i.e. prophylactic masculinity. Megan Abbott has noted that Marlowe’s masculinity “obtains in his refusal to contaminate himself, refusal to involve himself sexually with a woman” (2002, 54). This emphasis on purity indicates that any type of interaction between the body and the outside world, especially the demonized women, is aberrant and thus must be prevented. However, it also makes Marlowe’s masculinity an impossible model for him to realize. This vilification of consumption as always excessive and ambiguous has another feature that confirms its gendered (and implicitly raced) aspect. As I stated when discussing Spade, consumption is a gendered practice in a patriarchal heteronormative world, locating women as consumers (those who buy in order to produce food) and products of consumption (as sexual objects) in that they have the potential to be excessive. The female characters of the novel are overconsumers: Vivian Regan drinks heavily and gambles; Carmen Sternwood takes drugs, drinks alcohol, and is promiscuous, in the process of which she is often orientalized or beastialized. The sisters embody the evil aspects of affluence and its ever-present overindulgence and excess: the waste of means in an economy of scarcity. Somewhat inconsistent with this gendering, the General is also a figure of
excess. But, as a former affluent heavy drinker who produced daughters at a late age, his is a decrepit masculinity, one that has lost its hegemonic status. Sternwood’s consumerist transgressions pale in comparison to the most gender ambiguous character in The Big Sleep: the fat, bisexual porn king and epitome of excess and effeminacy, Arthur Gwynn Geiger. Throughout the novel he is orientalized and effeminized by the settings he inhabits, the clothes he wears, and descriptions of his silhouette (Abbott 2002, 113). Geiger’s body is the physical manifestation of his evil sexual and consumptive excess and, according to the heteronormative logic of Marlowe’s narrative, he cannot exist. Thus, his corpse is the first to appear and later disappear. While Geiger is irredeemable, the General still has a chance to atone by diminishing to a semi-vegetative state, an impotent, frail symbol of a mythic past, enabling a homosocial relationship with Marlowe that is not fraught with homoeroticism. This is reinforced by the quasi-familial relationship established by the characters’ generational gap, which conventionally deters a homoerotic reading, but could enhance a queer one, in the same way the relationship between Gutman and his young muscle can be read as homoerotic, familial, or both (cf. Chap. 2). Sternwood is the almost-not-living proof of the dangers of excess. In these terms, most of the villains are evil due to their excess: Joe Brody’s unchecked greed, Lash Canino’s bloodlust, and Eddie Mars’s need for control in the service of crime. It is modesty and “smallness” that can redeem men: Harry Jones, the “small man in a big man’s world,” and the two law enforcement representatives, Bernie Ohls with his “toy cigars,” and Captain Gregory, aware of the impossibility of stopping people like Mars. The good big men, such as Regan, die. Thus, excess, gendered and vilified, poses a threat to the tough, austere masculinity achieved via control of consumption. Marlowe must avoid coming into contact with manifestations of excess to avoid contamination and steadfastly restrain his appetite. If this cannot be avoided, he must reduce the impact of such an interaction by recasting the excess as criminal or insignificant.
Control, Consumption, Cannibalism, and Abjection The impenetrable body that safeguards Marlowe’s subject position is not the only body fetishized within crime fiction. The fascinatingly abject, dead body is as much a part of the detective’s identity formation process as the live bodies against which he asserts his independence. According to
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Gill Plain, “the abject is almost painfully appropriate to the dialectic of fascination and repulsion that motivates the production and consumption of criminal fictions” (2001, 10). Following Kristeva’s concept of abjection, Plain focuses on the fact that “there can be no more powerful site of the abject than the corpse” (2001, 10). Using a corpse to symbolically expel the abject is impossible in a hardboiled novel—as opposed to classic detective stories, in which the world is not riddled with crime and corruption and can return to the status quo—as there is often a fresh dead body on every other page (Plain 2001, 20–55).3 Therefore, abjection needs to shift, and in The Big Sleep it shifts from the corpse onto food and consumption. This is not unfeasible: as Kristeva noted, some of the most prototypical abject objects are food items and practices (1982, 3). I would argue that the site where these two meet in a productive way, especially given consumption’s implicit ties to consumerism and capitalism, is in the configuration of cannibalistic consumption, in which the corpse becomes food or, on a more abstract level, people are consumed by the system. In a passing comment about the irritations of the life of a private eye, Marlowe demonstrates his ability to ignore his employers and claim his independence from their financial grip. This is achieved through his decision to ignore a ringing phone: I had finished my drink and it made me feel as if I could eat the dinner I had forgotten all about; I went out leaving the telephone ringing. It was ringing when I came back … I put my lights out and opened the windows up and muffled the phone bell with a piece of paper and went to bed. I had a bellyful of the Sternwood family. (2005, 128)
In line with earlier references to food, the meal is announced but not described. The narrative also presents both the meal and the events of the day as noxious: they induce indigestion. Thus, corruption and excess, as manifested by the Sternwoods, retroactively make Marlowe’s dinner inedible. This fragment illustrates how easy it is to become contaminated even when one has taken precautions, such as a restorative drink before dinner. The final comment about having “a bellyful of the Sternwood family” supports a reading of Marlowe as not only at risk of being consumed economically by his employers, but also of cannibalistic consumption. Thus cannibalism, symbolic rather than actual, is tied to the way hardboiled 3
For a brief discussion of corpses in crime fiction, cf. Mills (2020), as well as Bolin (2018).
novels depict social relations, especially those containing an imbalance of power. Within the working-class inspired genre of hardboiled fiction, cannibalism, functioning as a proxy for overconsumption and excess, denotes the threat to others posed by the baneful rich. At the same time, as Espeth Probyn has observed, a cannibal can function as a figure of restraint (2000, 99). She writes “the cannibal as a mythic figure is exemplary of excess … but who practices restraint. As a historical fiction, the cannibal, as we have seen, is placed against the modern white capitalist who would sell his grandmother, but draws the line at eating her” (2000, 99). In this way, it is not always the rich who are cannibals, but also the consumption-averse detective, constantly nauseated by too much contact with the Sternwoods. Thus, building on scholarship that questions Marlowe’s capacity to reinstate a nostalgic patriarchal idyll, I also follow authors such as Carol J. Adams, Gananath Obeyesekere, Jennifer Brown, Richard C. King, and Elspeth Probyn in my use of the tropes of cannibalism and the cannibal— understood in terms of a racial and sexual phantasy that shapes the norms of white male consumption—to illustrate the fragility of such white masculinity in relation to consumption. In her critical theory of the “the sexual politics of meat,” in which she articulates the interweaving of meat consumption and sexual violence toward women in patriarchal systems, Carol Adams explains the metaphorical and real impact of consumption on the eating subject. She argues that consumption, which requires a fragmentation and objectification of the once unified body of a sentient being, results in the annihilation of the subject: it denies a former subject any agency and claims to selfhood (Adams 2010, 75). By undermining the subject position, consumption, both metaphorical and real, threatens the autarchic, white, tough, prophylactic masculinity. The relationship between this mechanism and the precarity of Marlowe’s masculine status is made visible when one considers that the detective’s business model, independent of law enforcement institutions, also makes him a commodity. His services, and by extension his self, can be purchased and commanded by those who are economically superior. If masculinity is understood as a constant vying for the top position in a hierarchy of other masculinities (Connell and Messerschmidt 2005), the position of a detective who can so easily lose his independence and be ordered around by his moral and intellectual inferiors is highly unstable. His vulnerable status is thus in need of constant maintenance and reassurance, increasing the need to prevent, as much as possible, any instances of consuming or being consumed.
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Jennifer Brown has described how the cannibal myth has been deployed to establish the self/other divide in racial, ethnic, class, gender, and sexuality terms: “[c]annibalism has a long history of being used to ‘other’ particular groups … He is an omnivore but on the other hand, he is the embodiment of indulgent consumption—gratifying his appetite despite cultural restraints and taboos” (2012, 4). Thus, the rich, living off the labor and exploitation of others, may be recast as cannibals. Richard King notes that according to Deborah Root: “In cannibal culture, the power to consume slides into the power to control. Blurring … consumption and control, anthropophagy thus encapsulates the subjectivities and social relations characteristic of the (post)modern West” (2000, 118, see also Root 1996). Elsbeth Probyn has observed that the cannibal “brings together competing aspects underlying Western identity: its analogy with capital and consumer society is congruent with fears that our appetites have no end” (2000, 81). Yet, while there is a limit to cannibalistic excess, there is no limit to the extravagances of the rich. In his own words, General Sternwood is paying the price for his youthful excesses. Though far more acceptable among men than women, his decision to have children in later life, which inadvertently implies sexual consumption, is also a violation of societal norms. In contrast to Brown’s and Root’s takes on cannibalistic excess, Elspeth Probyn has observed that “the cannibal is a paradoxical figure: at once the emblem of excess, it also signals a very basic restraint” (2000, 99). As she explains, the cannibal “fascinates because he could eat non-stop, but doesn’t. He is an omnivore with a sense of occasion” (2000, 81). The powerful subject-making myth of the cannibal in literature does contain a paradox. Brown has argued that its connection with monstrosity and disregard for “accepted eating practices” has the ability to both reduce humanity to flesh and yet present that flesh as something rare and desirable: as “both disgusting, and the most rarefied of gastronomic tastes” (2012, 4). Through this ambiguity, cannibals, real and symbolic, pose a threat to identity projects invested in essential and fixed categories. Thus, in reaffirming a stable white masculine identity, ambiguity produced by fraught consumption has the capacity to undo the prescriptive work of hegemonic models of masculinity. As was the case with Spade, hardboiled detectives are often portrayed as morally ambiguous. Marlowe is not ambiguous in this sense: he has a code to which he rigidly adheres. The ambiguity of Marlowe originates from the fact that his far less assured masculinity is constantly under threat.
Marlowe does not remain the object of economic consumption throughout the entire novel, tough. In fact, this image is reversed when the detective curses the rich for making him sick (Chandler 2005, 70); he is no longer the one consumed, but the one who overconsumed their poison. Chandler is indicating that consumption is harmful for both consumer and consumed and that most consumption in a world where people exercise little self-control is overconsumption. Marlowe’s austerity is moralized: it suggests his superiority over others. Therefore, a refusal to consume offers a fleeting sense of imperviousness. Austerity, as a strategy to maintain prophylactic masculinity through control, realizes the cannibalistic paradox formulated by Probyn, according to which the cannibal is the one restraining his appetite. Marlowe is not a cannibal or a cannibal’s meal, but he inhabits a world in which consumption is related to violence and subject annihilation in the context of consumerism, while asceticism and restraint are sources of moral superiority. The racial and gender complications presented by cannibalism also complicate the racial and gender status of the detective, yielding additional evidence of the melodrama that is Marlowe’s masculinity.
Suspicious Ingestion Seemingly fueled by moral superiority, witticism, whiskey, and cigarettes, Marlowe continues to present the need for food as a weakness at best: not eating is a manifestation of his superiority. As the detective is the narrator of The Big Sleep, food does not have to serve its character description function, and thus partly explaining its relative scarcity. This absence of food is also in stark contrast to the amount of food-related imagery and idioms deployed by Marlowe in his narration: although actual meals are mentioned only in passing, food plays a large part of Marlowe’s phraseology. Due to its link to domestication and feminized excess, food is repeatedly cast as unmanly, and in a story lasting five days, Marlowe admits to eating only ten times, always alone. The descriptions of just two breakfasts—one of which is actually the recounting of a hypothetical meal presented to Harry Jones—feature a list of consumed items. The reader is never present when Marlowe eats. Although the noir conventions of alcohol and cigarettes are more masculine objects of consumption and thus appear frequently and are depicted in detail, drinking and smoking are still unsafe. Having the potential to incapacitate or kill, as when Canino kills Harry Jones, alcohol is perceived
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as the more dangerous of the two. Yet, resistance to alcohol is a measure of masculinity: the tough body should not yield to alcohol unless the drink is laced with drugs. On a more abstract level, what makes drinking particularly dangerous for Marlowe is its status as a social practice and thus a threat to isolationist masculinity. The scene that most strikingly contrasts Marlowe’s attitudes to eating and drinking appears mid-way through the novel in chapter twenty-one. The detective is avoiding the Sternwood family after learning about Rusty Regan from Captain Gregory of the Missing Persons Bureau: I didn’t go near the Sternwood family. I went back to the office and sat in my swivel chair and tried to catch up on my foot-dangling … I was thinking about going out to lunch and that life was pretty flat and that it would probably be just as flat if I took a drink and that taking a drink all alone at the time of day wouldn’t be any fun anyway. (2005, 138)
Emotionally affected by what he has learned, Marlowe feels dejected and is momentarily sedentary. Aware of the cliché of a PI drinking in his office he is reluctant to conform to this stereotype. Drinking denotes fun when in company, sadness or desperation when alone. Despite the well-established health risks, smoking can be done on one’s own and therefore remains the safest object of consumption. Social smoking has consequences for gender performances, especially in the homosocial spaces Marlowe inhabits, in which any instance of someone handling a phallic object near their mouth could be associated with sexuality. In addition, cigarette smoke has the ability to penetrate the bodies of others and therefore challenges the tough body’s impenetrability.
Unreliable Narration and Marlowe’s Meals One of the reasons why Marlowe fails to achieve the masculine ideal set out by Chandler is the fact that as a first-person narrator, Marlowe gives readers literal access to his thoughts, thus relinquishing his impenetrability from the outset. Scott Christianson has observed how a first-person narration “self-deconstructs” and can therefore “undermine … the effort at control and closure made by detective fiction” (1989, 161). The wisecracks made by hardboiled detectives are thus “important linguistic moves in a game of power to live autonomously and to make meaning of experience—however doomed to failure those moves finally must be” (1989, 161).
Stephen Knight has noted that Marlowe speaks not only as a narrator, but as a protagonist. While the detached narrator provides witty descriptions, similes, and musings on the world, the voice of Marlowe provides banter with others as part of the events being recalled. This allows the detective to be simultaneously incapacitated on the diegetic level and in control of the narrative (1989, 141–3). At no point, however, is he free from the reader’s gaze. Megan Abbott has noted how, by relying “heavily on first-person narratives,” Chandler is able to “anatomize this urban white male sensibility from within” (2002, 4). Although readers are ostensibly receiving greater insight into the character and his motivations, they are prevented from seeing any perspective but the hero’s. Thus, Marlowe appears to have complete control of the story as envisioned within the model of masculinity he is intended to embody. However, providing readers with access to his interiority challenges his impenetrability. As a first-person narrator, Marlowe is unreliable. Not only is he often rendered unconscious and thus unaware of events, he uses humor and deflection to mislead as he shifts almost seamlessly between the wry collected voice of the Marlowe-narrator, and the at times emotionally charged Marlowe-protagonist. Narrator-Marlowe attempts to obscure the fact that his reportage is selective: he chooses to limit time spent on consumption, especially of food, and emphasizes refusals to consume, such as the protagonist-Marlowe’s refusal to sleep with Carmen Sternwood. Analysis of the meaningful presences and absences of food and consumption in The Big Sleep reveals tensions within the white, masculine model Philip Marlowe represents: creating a white homosocial utopia from which women and men of color are excluded without generating the potential of homoeroticism is impossible. I perceive the relative scarcity of food as having two functions: it reflects both the necessary isolation of tough masculinity, and anxieties about the body’s vulnerability. The fact that Marlowe eats alone in the few meals that are mentioned, portrays his reticence to socially engage with the world (Plain 2001, 80–1). Thus, he refuses to have sex with women and is wary of drinking with men. The only type of meal described in The Big Sleep is breakfast, the most innocuous of meals when alone. And the only excessive consumption permissible without punishment is drinking coffee, of which he has six cups a day. This dietary choice is intended to reflect his professional dedication rather than a lack of control over intake.
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Scenes that include Marlowe eating are few and far between: a dinner after learning Geiger is dead; a light breakfast before meeting Bernie Ohls to view the Sternwood driver’s body, followed by lunch; a dinner he eats after bringing Carol Lundgren in and talking with the DA, Taggart Wilde; a breakfast he eats to fight a hangover caused, according to him, by too much of the Sternwood family; a breakfast he only mentions to Harry Jones; and finally, a dinner he eats before going after Canino. He also registers the smell of food, but notes that this fails to make him hungry. The first time Marlowe refers to eating comes at the very end of Chap. 4. He is perusing Famous First Editions in a Hollywood public library, attempting to learn about rare books before visiting Geiger’s bookstore: “Half an hour of it made me need my lunch” (2005, 21). With no mention of the location or meal, this signals the end of the chapter. The comment separates Marlowe from the classic cerebral, body-less, detective trope. By drawing attention to corporeal needs, Chandler is ridiculing the need for arcane knowledge so glorified in the effeminized fiction he derided in his essay “The Simple Art of Murder.” This hunger illustrates that knowledge is not enough for sustenance, and yet, paradoxically, rather than the Poirots and Wimseys of Christie and Sayers, it is this seemingly embodied detective who does not eat. Marlowe rarely comments on the effect food has on him, or how it tastes. The breakfast he eats on his way to meet Ohls is described as “light” and, mentioned as it is alongside dressing and shaving, is part of the “fresh new day” trope so often featured in detective stories (Chandler 2005, 45). The mundane aspects of these events function as fillers between major plot events. An inattention to food also suggests the detective’s mind is elsewhere. Another breakfast also conforms to this “fresh new start” trope: “I read all three of the morning papers over my eggs and bacon next morning” (2005, 128). While this is the first time readers are informed about the content of meal Marlowe consumes, it is as generic as the manner of its recounting: the selection of typical American breakfast fare emphasizes that, though tough and exceptional, Marlowe is an everyman. This narrative technique builds on the readers’ identification with the detective, already established by the first-person narration. The food items are also easy to prepare and indicate bachelor fare when eaten alone, thereby preventing any reading of Marlowe as a domesticated man. As well as avoiding depictions of him eating, representing food as poison, and neutralizing
the adverse consequences of excess and interpersonal relations, Marlowe must also avoid being seen in domestic locations. This is why he spends so much time either traveling across Los Angeles or in his office, another generic staple of hardboiled fiction. Marlowe only mentions visiting the kitchen when fixing himself an alcoholic drink or coffee. The next time eating is mentioned, Marlowe has just seen the body of the Sternwood driver hauled out of the river: “I ate lunch at a counter and looked at an afternoon paper and couldn’t find anything about Geiger in it” (2005, 54).4 The lunch is unremarkable, overshadowed by Geiger’s death and the effect this could have on Marlowe’s employers. Eating at the counter emphasizes that Marlowe is working. Tony Hilfer has observed that the “alienated posture of the tough detective becomes a reassurance about how to live, with style, in a job-centered, emotion-denying society” (1990, 8). The detective’s isolation, emphasized by his solitary lunch, is a protective measure masquerading as toughness. It also proves the point that the corpse is not always abject within the hardboiled genre: seeing a dead body does not stop Marlowe from eating. Megan Abbott has emphasized Marlowe’s need to highlight his detachment from “‘Others,’ from social change, from modernity, from growing ethnic diversity, from the empowerment of women, from the threat of femininity or feminization” (2002, 11). By refusing to acknowledge how food affects him, Marlowe remains “hermetically sealed from his surroundings” and safe from the potential corruption occasioned by social, political, and economic change (Abbott 2002, 26). Paradoxically, Marlowe’s body must repel every effect as it is thrown into a highly sentimental narrative of nostalgia for a masculine utopia that never was (Usiekniewicz 2013). The association of embodiment and food is also invoked when references to hunger or fatigue appear. Upon returning home after handing Carol Lundgren over to the DA, Marlowe is accosted by a couple of Eddie Mars’s men. He refuses to go with them, saying:
4 The viewing of the driver’s body also features a moment that will later become a trope of the police procedural subgenre: determination of time of death. Asked for his opinion, the doctor replies, “If he ate dinner last night, I’ll tell you—if I know what time he ate it. But not within five minutes,” (2005, 52). Not a staple of the 1930s hard-boiled genre, a victim’s eating habits will become an important part of an investigator’s toolbox and a cliché in television series depicting medical examiners.
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I’m too tired to talk, too tired to eat, too tired to think. But if you think I’m not too tired to take orders from Eddie Mars—try getting your gat out before I shoot your good ear off. (2005, 126)
While the sequence initially highlights Marlowe’s corporeal weakness, the reader is reassured of his toughness and self-reliance: Marlowe refuses to conform to Mars’s orders and the men leave. Although joining other tough men could have seemed homosocially enticing, their excessive criminality makes them unattractive. Marlowe’s toughness exists in isolation. In hardboiled fiction, toughness is associated with the detective’s outlaw status, but the Chandlerian protagonist must abstain from elements of criminality that could mar his morality. Marlowe has a moral code that distinguishes acceptable and prohibited transgressions. As Eddie Mars and other tough men cross the line into criminality and are a threat to the detective, homosociality is not only problematic due to the possibility of homoeroticism, but also because the people who could form such a society threaten the detective’s integrity. The absence of descriptions of food in The Big Sleep is counterbalanced by the Marlowe-narrator’s phraseology throughout the text, especially the use of domesticity-inspired images. For example, he describes Agnes Lozelle’s face falling apart “like a bride’s pie crust” (2005, 56). According to Christianson, by using wisecracks and “elaborate ‘hard-boiled conceits’—colloquial and poignant metaphors and similes—the … writers of this genre convey their complex sensibilities and attitudes towards modern experience, assert their and their protagonists’ autonomy, and exercise language as power” (1989, 151). The juxtaposition of the blatantly non- domesticated femme fatale and pie crust emphasizes the absurdity of the simile, as does the presence of such a benign, wholesome food item in the violent context of crime fiction. Elsewhere, Marlowe describes a gun as “hungering” for his internal organs, and calls Agnes both an “egghead” and a “cheesehead,” jokingly suggesting an underlying connection between intelligence, femininity, and dairy products. Descriptions of Marlowe’s eating and fasting practices reveal the detective’s investment in separating himself from society and maintaining physical impermeability via consumer discretion. In most cases, food is rendered noxious and, by threatening the protagonist’s corporeal or moral integrity, suggests vulnerability. As a repository of images within the detective’s idiom, food adds to the self-deprecating yet also self-assured narrative voice. The pressure to isolate oneself to avoid consumption is even more
visible when the detective drinks. In what follows, I examine a number of scenes of Marlowe drinking, mostly in male company or alone, in which his masculinity is endangered by an excess of affluence and violence, and Marlowe oscillates between the cannibal and the cannibal’s meal.
Homosocial Control and Consumption by Proxy Marlowe’s dedication to maintaining his purity and impenetrability by refusing to consume or interact with others is visible in his relationships with other characters. Avoiding both women and the risk of being misread as queer is achieved via a practice of misrepresenting women. As Megan Abbott has observed, if a woman in hardboiled fiction is not evil, she must be “untouchable in some other way …. If she were touchable, then she would be a contaminant” (2002, 54). Women of color or marked ethnicity are made untouchable by the text’s underlying racism, as evidenced by Marlowe’s rejections of Carmen Sternwood and a Jewish bookstore clerk. Women are deemed too threatening and thus forbidden as objects of attachment. However, relationships with men are not so easily controlled, as the all- male homosocial idyll is–within the homophobic logic of the text—always at risk of homoeroticism. Gill Plain has noted that all sensuality within Chandler’s fiction occurs in depictions of men and argues that, contrary to the textual efforts to vilify queerness, the detective’s quest to find Regan is intended to legitimize men’s love of men (2001, 61). In a purely masculine world, there would be no anxiety as women would be absent (2001, 77). Particularly in Chandler’s early novels, Marlowe is searching for a specifically white, homosocial paradigm. To maintain homosociality but preclude homoeroticism, Marlowe’s relationships with men must be fleeting and are therefore usually disrupted by the other man’s escape or death. In The Big Sleep, Marlowe attaches himself to a number of men, including Rusty Regan, who is dead before the story begins and becomes the novel’s specter of tough, white, able- bodied masculinity. Gill Plain has suggested that the search for Regan symbolizes Marlowe’s quest for an ideal masculinity. The detective is aware of his own shortcomings, to which the narrator-Marlowe continuously refers. Therefore, though Marlowe may not represent perfect masculinity, he is determined to locate its embodiment (2001, 65). Within this logic, Regan’s death is a sacrifice on the altar of true masculinity. It is also the event that sets the patriarchal crusader in motion.
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Harry Jones, who Marlowe looks down on and mocks, manages to inspire fond feelings from the latter, which become even more pronounced after the detective witnesses, but does not prevent, Jones’s death. Finally, and most importantly from the perspective of consumption, Marlowe attaches himself to the moribund General Sternwood, who, despite embodying wealth-induced corruption, inspires sympathy in the detective. In fact, Charles Rzepka has suggested that Marlowe becomes the General’s knight and thus, following the code of chivalry, remains chaste and uses only justified violence. Rzepka argues that by accepting the General as his Lord, Marlowe becomes the old man’s proxy, enabling the former to live vicariously (2000, 704). This hierarchical relationship also has a significant commercial dimension, as Sternwood not only turns Marlowe into his agent, but also a commodity. For all his disdain for the rich, he is coerced into working for them and thus, for Marlowe, crime quite literally pays. At the very beginning of the novel, Marlowe meets General Sternwood in an orchid-filled greenhouse that is “warm as a slow oven” (2005, 6). Wanting Marlowe to deal with a blackmailer, the General, offers the detective a drink and lets him smoke in his presence, even though he can no longer enjoy these vices himself. This is precisely the scene in which, Rzepka claims, Marlowe becomes Sternwood’s proxy and therefore loses some of his independence. This is a meeting of two men who complement each other in their strengths and weaknesses. The General is affluent and has the power to hire Marlowe. Marlowe is poor, but his economic status is a source of moral superiority: the detective’s attitude implies his economic disadvantage is the result of honesty in a corrupt world. The detective is young and able-bodied, while his potential employer is incapacitated by age and illness. Thus, though Sternwood represents economic and generational hegemonic masculinity, it is Marlowe who approximates—especially in comparison to the General—the new tough, honest masculinity required to replace the sick, corrupt masculinity of the old capitalism. The greenhouse scene, which I will describe in detail below, presents the men bonding over their shared investment in patriarchal and military values, but also sparring over who is the dominant male. Rivalry is implicitly intended to prevent a homoerotic reading whenever sympathy appears between two men, but as many slash fiction readers can attest, a power imbalance between men has never precluded an erotic reading.
Competition over hegemonic masculinity is also represented in a transaction between a man who wants to hire a detective, and a detective who leases his able-bodiedness for money. Within the economic logic of transaction, the greenhouse scene suggests that Marlowe may serve as both the consumer and the object of consumption. He is being consumed by General Sternwood, and by the rich in general. Accepting the transaction results in Marlowe ceding some of his independence, damaging his image of isolated, tough masculinity. At the same time, the ambiguous relationship that forms between the men—part respect, part disgust, part mistrust—serves to conceal how transactionality within a capitalist economic system prevents self-reliance. The greenhouse scene highlights all the tensions concerning consumption and masculinity, as Marlowe oscillates between being consumed and being the cannibal. The detective is not only asked to act as the General’s proxy but, more importantly, he is the vessel for Sternwood’s vicarious consumption of cigarettes and alcohol. Consumption is thus once again revealed to be subject-forming practice, which may create assemblages, in this case an assemblage of the formerly powerful and now weak General Sternwood and the able-bodied but anxious and penetrable Marlowe. In their Philosophy on the Table, Raymond D. Boisvert and Lisa Heldke suggest switching the organizational metaphor for knowing from seeing and hearing to tasting-as-knowing. This allows a blurring of boundaries between the outside and inside, and thus expands Western notions of subjectivity and embodiment (2016, 117–28). By re-privileging food and the experiences of eating bodies, philosophy could begin to account for the philosophical Other, including that which escapes classification: that which in Kristeva’s terms is abject. Echoing Tomkins’s earlier idea about the destabilizing power of food, they emphasize the fact that eating reveals the vulnerability of the human body (2016, 107). Boisvert and Heldke show how ingestion ensures a unique and intimate relationship between the person and the object (2016, 106–8). In both Bodily Natures and Exposed: Environmental Politics and Pleasures in Posthuman Times, Stacy Alaimo presents her theory of how intimacy contributes to the collapse of boundaries between human and non-human. Challenging the notion of an impermeable Western human subject, she advocates “performing exposure as an ethical and political act” (2016, 5). I would expand this theory and argue that consumption not only blurs the boundaries between subject and object, but accelerates the assemblages between two subjects, further challenging the notion of individual, independent bodies. Forced to
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undergo radical exposure in his interaction with General Sternwood, Marlowe needs to find mitigating strategies. Simultaneously bonding and competing over dominance, the gender performance in the greenhouse is intended to hide the fact that this relationship is built on the capitalist exchange of money for physical labor, thus delegitimizing Marlowe’s hard-won independence, challenging his masculinity, and potentially moving him from subject to object. The exchange illustrates how much verbal and other maintenance tough masculinity requires, and anticipates issues relating to the notions of a homosocial utopia and the discourse of the crisis in masculinity that permeate The Big Sleep. As this scene exhibits the discursive strategies of threatened masculinity it is worth examining in detail. Seated in the stifling greenhouse, Marlowe is offered a drink: Then the old man dragged his voice up from the bottom of a well and said: “Brandy, Norris. How do you like your brandy, sir?” “Any way at all,” I said. The butler went away among the abominable plants. The general spoke again, slowly, using his strength as carefully as an out-of-work show-girl uses her last good pair of stockings. “I used to like mine with champagne. The champagne as cold as Valley Forge and about a third of glass of brandy beneath it. You may take your coat off, sir. It’s too hot in here for a man with blood in his veins.” (2005, 7)
In contrast with the General’s elaborate and expensive preference, Marlowe’s casual attitude suggests the simplicity befitting a lower-class tough man. Sternwood’s comment about the jacket is both a way of overcoming the class divide and introducing informal intimacy. Megan Abbot has argued that Marlowe’s attempts to distinguish himself morally from “upper-class greed, middle-class hypocrisy, and lower-class depravity” should be read as “attempts to mark him as classless” (2002, 107). However, as Chandler’s fiction upholds a highly middle-class ideology symbolized by respect for the institution of marriage, these attempts are futile. Following Sternwood’s suggestion, Marlowe removes his coat, comments on the heat to himself, and, having been invited by the General to do so, lights a cigarette. He blows a plume of smoke in the direction of his host, inducing the latter to lament his condition, perhaps in an attempt to win sympathy:
A nice state of affairs when a man has to indulge his vices by proxy … You are looking at a very dull survival of a rather gaudy life, a cripple paralyzed in both legs and with only half of his lower belly. There’s very little that I can eat and my sleep is so close to waking that it is hardly worth the name. I seem to exist largely on heat. (2005, 7–8)
The General then asks whether Marlowe likes orchids. The latter replies that he does not. The General then describes them as “nasty things” with flesh “like the flesh of men” and scent like the “rotten sweetness of a prostitute” (2005, 7–8). This fragment, which positions Marlowe as the General’s proxy, is key in terms of masculine relations inflected through consumption. The revulsion at orchids, deemed abominable and compared to human flesh, adds a certain gothic quality. Orchids also symbolize the General’s life of humid stagnation. This is juxtaposed with his warrior past through the mention of Valley Forge, a winter encampment during the American Revolutionary War. The General’s current state is the price he pays for keeping his wealth within the family via apparent sexual and financial incest: a common theme in gothic tales. The gothic conflation of sexuality and economy are suited to a reading of The Big Sleep, which, despite being a landmark of hardboiled fiction, is as generically unstable as Marlowe’s tough prophylactic masculinity. The General’s complaints about his physical weakness demonstrate the genre’s assumption of compulsory able-bodiedness as a crucial yet transparent element of masculinity, with not just ability but extraordinary physical fitness being a prerequisite for correct masculine embodiment. The definitions of that fitness are context-dependent and change over time, but the detective must exceed the norms of withstanding and causing pain. Failure to be in full command of one’s body precludes toughness and is therefore effeminizing. In a general account of masculinity, Barounis has described this type of a “real man” as “heterosexually functional and physically fit. In addition to maintaining the boundaries of his physical body, he must also control and contain his emotional response to the world, and particularly to other men” (2019, 3). Thus, the General is not a complete man: though formerly heterosexual, currently he is not in charge of his body and requires constant support from others. He is exposed and thus vunerable, but at the same time he remains predatory and wants to tap into Marlowe’s virility. To disarm this threat to Marlowe’s impenetrability,
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the General is depicted as impotent with age and illness. This also safeguards against homoerotic interpretations of the bond between the two men. Although having daughters at a late age reveals a former virility, Sternwood’s disability desexualizes him (see Barounis 2019), and, within the ableist and ageist logic of the text, prevents any possibility of sexual contamination. This is significant in a text preoccupied with stifling any homoerotic content in homosocial settings. The General is not the only Sternwood family member whose advances are rejected by Marlowe. In a more sexually explicit scene, Carmen Sternwood attempts to seduce the detective, and when rejected, becomes enraged. Her excess is recast as mental illness, a disability that rather than desexualizing her renders her hypersexual and thus contemptible. In traditional medicalized views of cognitive disability, women diagnosed as mad were also believed to be hypersexual: “Indeed, many disabled women, queer and straight alike, have critiqued the pervasive assumption that people with disabilities are either asexual (for those with physical disabilities) or hypersexual (typically those with cognitive or psychiatric disabilities and illnesses)” (Kafer 2003, 85). The conversation between Sternwood and Marlowe continues with a description of drink preparation far more detailed than any discussion of food in the novel, but lacking the brand-oriented style of The Maltese Falcon: Then the butler came pushing back the jungle with a teawagon, mixed me a brandy and soda, swathed the copper ice bucket with a dump napkin, and went softly among the orchids. … I sipped the drink. The old man licked his lips watching me, over and over again, drawing one lip slowly across the other with a funereal absorption, like an undertaker dry-washing his hands. (2005, 8)
The General is no longer a benign desexualized patron, but a predator. His excessive appetite and sensual lip movements have transformed him into a twisted version of a femme fatale, or as Sean McCann has noted, “a feminized sexual predator” (2000, 169). Addressing the push-and-pull quality of the relationship between the General and Marlowe, McCann has observed that the detective’s sympathy for his employer has limits, as the Sternwood’s particular combination of incapacitation and predation renders him dangerously monstrous: However much Marlowe may prefer the General to his daughters, the logic of Chandler’s plot ultimately casts the old man as a feminized sexual predator
(a “sentimental old goat”) analogous to the vampiric women who surround him. Trapped in the power of his orchids, the General resembles the predatory female beasts of turn-of-the-century fantasy. He needs to lure guileless young men like Regan and Marlowe to join him in corruption. (2000, 169)
Thus, Marlowe must flee from the feminized cannibalistic monstrosity. By literally leaving the hot house, he detaches himself from the predatory monster, corrupted by his own money, thereby defining himself as not- Sternwood and temporarily reasserting his isolated masculinity. Charles Rzepka, who argues that Chandler’s work retains the gothic disgust with the rich, has suggested that the General, rather than the benign symbol of a past masculine utopia, is a vampire sucking blood and life from young men: first Regan, then Marlowe. In these terms, the effeminate and dangerous General is perversely consumerist, fueled by the other men’s virility: … venomous and predatory, “sleeping the big sleep” of his crepuscular second childhood, the General lives “on”—and in—a life giving “heat” that is artificial, second-hand, not his own … Sternwood draws sustenance not only from other men’s pleasures, but also from other men’s suffering. (2000, 708–9)
The greenhouse, where the General makes men sweat and the flowers produce the smell of decomposition associated with dead flesh, has a funereal ambience. At the same time, the incapacitated General suggests a formerly potent hegemonic masculinity that connotes power and abundance, as well as the previous ability to drink and smoke. Marlowe’s more modest masculinity implies a similar ability to ingest alcohol and cigarettes, items of consumption that serve no nutritious purpose. Thus, the scene establishes masculinity as the ability to consume that which is not nutritious. Consumption is a luxury, permissible only under certain conditions. As mentioned earlier, consumption and especially overconsumption is highly feminized in American culture, and thus the ability to control such ingestion is a sign of tough masculinity. The way to re-masculinize consumption is to present it as a test rather than an indulgence. In this reading the two men represent different stages on a particular continuum of one masculine model. General Sternwood is simply more advanced in years and a warning against overconsumption.
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The greenhouse scene also explicitly compares actual and vicarious consumption. As the hardboiled novel is intended to be a highly corporeal genre, as opposed to the former world of armchair detectives, the former is presented as preferable. However, despite tough detectives needing to be in the story bodily, remaining body-less is the only way to maintain one’s integrity in Marlowe’s world. Thus, being a proxy for someone else appears to be the best strategy for a character set on maintaining their prophylactic status. Nevertheless, this impermeability is difficult for a detective to actualize. The condemnation of enjoyment by proxy is a major theme in The Big Sleep, especially in relation to pornography, described by Marlowe as “elaborate smut” (31). Yet, the character of Marlowe and his isolationist practices appear to suggest the opposite. Vicarious experience renders everything benign and thus harmless. Unlike Rzepka, I see Marlowe not as a proxy agent for General Sternwood, but striving to be a constant proxy in a world contaminated in every way. Thus, while Rzepka argues that Marlowe’s destruction of his bed after rejecting Carmen Sternwood’s sexual advances symbolizes his condemnation of proxy, the “erotic simulacrum” (2000, 718) she symbolizes, I believe Marlowe, having been aroused and therefore momentarily embodied, is expressing self-loathing. This effort to disembody oneself is a strategy to prevent contamination of the self via the tasting-as-knowing paradigm. The only way for a body not to be permeated is to not exist. This is why narrator-Marlowe is such an essential element of the masculine performance.
Drinking to Excess The Big Sleep features many scenes of drinking. Whereas Marlowe’s social drinking poses a threat to his integrity, any instance is an opportunity to demonstrate the detective’s ability to withstand the effects. His ability to stay in control is Marlowe’s only real claim to toughness, yet in the corrupt world of the novel, what one is drinking is less sinister than with whom one drinks. The social relations enabled by drinking and smoking in both homosocial and heterosocial contexts always threaten Marlowe’s splendidly isolated masculinity. The noxious aspect of drinking originates not from the alcohol or its excessive consumption, though Marlowe does complain about the harmful effects it has on his body, but from the excess it implies: an abundance of people, money, and crime. Halfway through the story, Marlowe notes feeling “as empty of life as a scarecrow’s pockets.
I went out to the kitchenette and drank two cups of black coffee. You can have a hangover from other things than alcohol. I had one from women. Women made me sick” (2005, 174). Once again excess is codified as feminine or effeminate and consequently, within the logic of the hardboiled tradition, the embodiment of evil. The instances of social drinking that best illustrate Marlowe’s fear of contamination include: the aforementioned greenhouse conversation; a drink with Eddie Mars at Las Olindas club; a drink at the garage to which he follows Lash Canino; and a conversation with Mrs. Regan Marlowe over spiked coffee. The drinks at the garage provide also an insight into how race operates in a novel, which, apart from a few explicitly Hispanic musicians, is entirely white. As noted by Sean McCann, Canino, Mars’s henchman, is a rare case in Chandler’s early novels of a racially ambiguous character, other than, in the case of The Big Sleep, orientalized Carmen Sternwood and Arthur Gwyne Geiger. McCann has observed how Canino becomes more brown as he becomes more violent, thus conflating non-whiteness and criminality, shifting from “a man in ‘a belted brown suede raincoat’ to, simply, ‘the brown man’” (2000, 163). Crucially, this sole example of racially ambiguous, tough masculinity marked with criminal excess is the only character killed by Marlowe. Megan Abbot has described how Marlowe’s racial stereotyping of minority groups serves to “brand his whiteness as racelessness, a great power in texts obsessed with what ‘race’ might mean” (2002, 113). Evil is thus confirmed as both gendered and raced excess, while power is depicted as raceless. Marlowe uses four bullets to kill Canino, excessively signifying either fear or a desire for vengeance for the death of Harry Jones. I would argue that Marlowe’s later comment that he is “part of the nastiness” is intended not only to convey that he is a murderer, who also covered for Carmen and participated in rich people’s corruption, but that he was also complicit in the death of Jones. The excess is motivated by remorse, shattering Marlowe’s disembodied control. A scene that truly illustrates that it is the company one keeps when drinking that is dangerous, not the drink, takes place at a garage run by Eddie Mars’s minions. It is here that Marlowe, entering the garage under the pretense that his car has broken down, encounters the assassin Lash Canino for the second time. As the encounter evokes the earlier scene when Canino poisoned Harry Jones, witnessed by Marlowe, the detective is on his guard. The meeting does indeed result in Marlowe losing consciousness, but this time the wise guy—wiser through awareness of Jones’s
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demise—is hit over the head with a bat. The scene appears to suggest Marlowe is so immune to alcohol that only direct violence can bring him down. In later scenes of social drinking, such as the spiked coffee with Vivian Regan and the drinks he is coerced into at Las Olindas, alcohol is the least nefarious element. The ritualized consumption of social drinking enables predictable plot and setting development, while also legitimizing interactions that a solitary figure like Marlowe could otherwise evade. As in The Maltese Falcon, drinks are used as truth serums and props in performances of hospitality, all generic uses of alcohol that emphasize the detective’s toughness or superiority. The adverse effects of alcohol may test tough masculinity, but they barely leave a mark. Regularly plied with alcohol by others, Marlowe is also good at consuming it alone, fulfilling the hardboiled cliché of a heavy-drinking, chain- smoking, trench-coated detective. I argued above that there is nothing sinister about alcohol other than what it is designed to do: it is bad for people as if by default. Marlowe notes that when he drinks a lot, he suffers the consequences—“my stomach burned from whiskey” (2005, 34)—but this is what he had expected. In line with the genre, alcohol, and cigarettes, may in fact also have positive, even medicinal and therapeutic effects. As part of hardboiled toughness, drinking combined with a refusal to eat has an overtly punishing quality. Denial of nourishment could be seen as implicitly atoning for the various ways in which the detective has contributed to rather than prevented corruption. In the same vein, Marlowe decides to do something that will not end well for him. Rather than keeping Sternwood’s check for five thousand dollars, an excessive sum for the services rendered, he chooses to investigate Regan’s disappearance, something he was explicitly told not to do. This behavior is typical of Marlowe’s contrariness. In this context, Marlowe’s solitary drinking also functions as punishment, as he admits to himself: That left me. I had concealed a murder and suppressed evidence for twenty- four hours, but I was still at large and had a five-hundred-dollar check coming. The smart thing for me to do was to take another drink and forget the whole mess. That being the obviously smart thing to do, I called Eddie Mars and told him I was coming down to Las Olindas that evening to talk to him. That was how smart I was. (2005, 141)
Marlowe, who does consider himself to be clever, is not being honest with himself. However, in this instance he is invested in presenting himself as someone who does the right thing. Another instance of solitary drinking that merits attention appears in the very last paragraph of the novel. “On the way downtown I stopped at a bar and had a couple of Scotches. They didn’t do me any good. All they did was make me think of Silver-Wig, and I never saw her again” (2005, 251). Silver-Wig is Marlowe’s nickname for his solitary love object, Mona Mars, who, due to her married status, is safely inaccessible. Fidelity to her husband is the feminine aspect that makes her at once attractive yet unavailable to Marlowe. They share a reverence for marriage and the accompanying patriarchy, a system that privileges, among other things, the economic, political, and symbolic dependence of wives on husbands. This scene is intended to suggest Marlowe’s despondency over the impossibility of union with Mona Mars, hence the lack of positive effect. Yet, given the dangers of a homosocial utopia, it is hard not to see the two drinks as celebratory: Marlowe has managed to escape the threat of domestication. The fact that he is drinking imported liquor at a bar also suggests a special occasion. Returning to a bar, a generically credible location, functions as closure in a narrative that fails to provide a return to the safe status quo with evil quashed by imprisonment or death. Since expulsion of the criminal is impossible in an entirely corrupt world, some sense of safety is provided by the detective returning to his post, ready to start another (failed) patriarchal crusade.
Conclusion Philip Marlowe is the most fastidious detective discussed in this book. With his prophylactic masculinity hinging on purity and isolation, consuming food would call his toughness into question. Marlowe’s story vilifies and moralizes consumption as excessive and gendered female. His austerity is as much a criticism of class and corruption as it is a war waged against women and people of color, who are implicitly seen as causing the downfall of the patriarchal culture revered by Chandler. The white, heterosexual male’s fall from grace as a result of the Great Depression, World War I, and social and economic changes, is redeemed by a patriarchal crusader whose refusal to engage with the corrupt world is so immense he refuses to eat.
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The virtually non-eating detective allows himself some consumption, but only of certain items and only in safe circumstances. He drinks and smoke excessively, but when not forced to do this with others, the two conventional poisons have little negative effect. Problems only arise when consumption is made social, as it is people, not objects, that corrupt, poison, and consume. While Sam Spade toasted crime, it appears that Marlowe is reluctantly toasting celibacy and masculine isolation. Marlowe has the privilege of not eating because he is also the narrator, selecting what to include and exclude from representation. The telling omission of eating and the convoluted ways in which other consumption is performed or denied invite a fetishistic reading strategy that reveals tough, white, able-bodied masculinity to be in constant peril and requiring constant reassertion and maintenance, both on the diegetic and discursive levels. Thus, in a genre that calls for a decidedly embodied protagonist, Marlowe must be entirely disembodied to meet the ideal of incorruptible, white, straight masculinity, and as the narrator, he is. The very state of having a body means that in the corrupt world of Chandler’s fiction, Marlowe is constantly under threat of either cannibalistic consumption or eating something that could negatively affect that body. Austerity and a refusal to eat are the only strategies that can maintain some semblance of tough masculinity, as tenuous and temporary as it may be. Marlowe, who as a character must be embodied, manifests anxiety about being consumed by corruption, change, evil, and excess. Dependent on his employers, he must work hard to assert his independence through isolation. Yet, he is forced to interact with others, as well as eat and drink. Whenever he consumes, he is sick. His strategy for achieving a semblance of independence is thus strict control of any consumption, not only in terms of what is consumed, but also in what context. Consumption, seen as always excessive, poses a threat to Marlowe as it is also coded as unmanly. What complicates this even further is the fact that Marlowe’s world is based on a paradox, where the longed-for patriarchal homosocial idyll constantly mutates into instances of homoerotic attachments, which, in the homophobic logic of the text, threaten the detective’s masculinity and whiteness.
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Naremore, James. 1998. More Than Night: Film Noir and Its Contexts. Berkeley: University of California. Plain, Gill. 2001. Twentieth Century Crime Fiction: Gender, Sexuality and the Body (America in the 20th/21st Century Series). New York: Routledge. Probyn, Elsbeth. 2000. Carnal Appetites: FoodSexIdentities. London: Routledge. Roberts, Mary Louise. 1998. Gender, Consumption, and Commodity Culture. The American Historical Review 103 (3): 817–844. https://doi. org/10.2307/2650573. Root, Deborah. 1996. Cannibal Culture: Art, Appropriation, and the Commodification of Difference. Boulder: Westview. Russo, Mary. 1997. The Female Grotesque: Risk, Excess and Modernity. London: Routledge. Rzepka, Charles J. 2000. ‘I’m in the Business too’: Gothic Chivalry, Private Eyes, and Proxy Sex and Violence in Chandler’s The Big Sleep. MFS Modern Fiction Studies 46 (3, Fall): 695–724. https://doi.org/10.1353/mfs.2000.0057. Tompkins, Kyla Wazana. 2012. Racial Indigestion: Eating Bodies in the 19th Century. New York: New York University Press. Usiekniewicz, Marta. 2013. Błędny rycerz patriarchatu. Wzorce męskości reprezentowane przez chandlerowskiego Philipa Marlowe’a. In Kryminał – Gatunek Poważ(a)ny? ed. Tomasz Dalasiński and Tomasz Szymon Markiewicz, 167–176. Poznań: E-wydawnictwo.
Mature Consumption in Leigh Brackett’s No Good from a Corpse (1944)
Much less known than either The Maltese Falcon or The Big Sleep, discussed in the previous two chapters, Leigh Brackett’s 1944 noir novel No Good from a Corpse continues to use consumption as a measure and reflection of its characters’ masculinities. In this case, however, the key stake of masculinity as represented by Ed Clive, the novel’s protagonist, is not the performance of sexuality and maintenance of impenetrability, but, rather, manifestations of maturity, identified as a prerequisite for hegemonic masculinity. In No Good from a Corpse it is adulthood in masculinity that requires discursive maintenance, not heteronormativity. The novel posits maturity, identified as the control of oneself and others, as crucial for hegemonic masculinity, and uses consumption to map masculinities/ maturities of characters it represents. Excessive consumption is still considered unmasculine, but the novel features redemption of some overconsumers, and the annihilation of those labeled criminally immature. Styles of economic, alimentary, and sexual consumption are thus tied to conventional notions of maturity, while youthfulness and childishness are vilified, criminalized, and punished. No Good from a Corpse positions immaturity—tied to being out of control—as the underlying source of evil, deploying food and alcohol as means of assessing characters’ adulthood. In the text, consumption of food is most often associated with childhood, and, since the novel is invested in depicting hegemonic
© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2023 M. Usiekniewicz, Food, Consumption, and Masculinity in American Hardboiled Fiction, Crime Files, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-29160-9_4
masculinity as adult masculinity, the detective whose adult masculinity requires constant maintenance, is very often brutally punished for eating. Interestingly, however, neither food nor drink is suspect or threatening as such, but what one does with it is. Drinking, indexed as an adult practice, is used to establish a lack of maturity in people other than the protagonist, serving not as a generic therapy or truth serum, but one more way of connecting masculinity, maturity, and toughness. Smoking is the one consumption practice that seems neither gendered, nor dated, but appears as an element in rites of passage shown in the novel. As a result, though via a completely different ideological road, the tough, white, heterosexual masculinity of No Good from a Corpse is personified once again by a hungry detective, yet one that is well-sauced. In the novel, Ed Clive eats a full meal three times, and alludes to a breakfast he had. The three meals include: a supper eaten on the night of Laurel Dane’s death in her apartment, a dinner shared with his employee and sidekick, Jonathan Ladd Jones, and a meal in a drive-in that he eats to calm his nerves. Each time readers are informed that food has been consumed, but just as with Marlowe, there is no information regarding the actual dishes. Clive drinks numerous cups of strong black coffee, drunk with a meal or instead of one. Apart from the full meals, Clive eats homemade cookies he is offered, and notes, several times, while interviewing witnesses, the smell of food cooking. He also talks about eating twice with Jones, and once with the maid whose baked goods he ingests. Nevertheless, food is very present in the novel as a repository of metaphors and similes (see Christianson 1989), as well as points of reference in terms of time and place, the latter function being typical for food in crime fiction settings. The relative absence of accounts of foods eaten is contrasted with the abundance of accounts of alcohol consumed. This imbalance is not surprising as it is conventional for hardboiled text to feature a lot of alcohol consumption, but in the context of the novel’s take on the relationship between food and immaturity, the representation of drinking and maturity is extremely important. Clive drinks more often than he eats, mostly Teacher’s Highland Cream. He has a liquor bottle available at his home, office, and car. He appears in locations also likely to serve alcohol, such as clubs, bars, and other people’s apartments. Other characters drink rum, gin, or cocktails. While the novel provides specialized vocabulary for alcohol-serving furniture, such as a liquor cabinet or a cellarate, it features mentions of only several kitchens, but not the detective’s. Of course this discrepancy is in keeping with the standards of the genre, but it also plays
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a crucial role in the construction of masculinity and the masculine continuum as presented in the novel. If food represents immaturity, then the ability to hold one’s liquor is a measure of maturity. Alcohol is also depicted as medicinal and therapeutic, and is associated with both physical and mental cleansing powers. Reflective of the mid-1940s more direct treatment of violence and the body in literature and culture, No Good from a Corpse is more explicit in its depiction of brutality and bodily reaction to pain or ingestion. For example, unlike the two previous novels discussed in Chaps. 2 and 3, No Good from a Corpse mentions physiological products of consumption: it refers to urination twice, and depicts characters, including Ed Clive, vomiting. This explicitness may be tied to the fact that the novel offers a revision of the hardboiled genre by virtue of blending generic elements of prewar and wartime noir and romance. The inclusion of romantic elements is seemingly “balanced” by brutality and gore. Stylistically, the novel reads almost like a pastiche of a noir text because of both the abundance of violence and frequent nods to noir classics, including the famous toast to crime made by Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon and reiterated in Brackett’s novel by Clive saluting: “Here’s to crime” (Hammett 1992, 300). As a result of that blending, the novel’s representation of gender and sexuality is based not only on the crime fiction tradition but relies also on the complexity of gender performance and tropes coming from the romance tradition. Instead of a “melodrama of a beset manhood” invested in prophylactic masculinity of the previously discussed Hammett and Chandler novels, the shift from a homosocial framework in tension with homophobic and misogynistic content, to a differently tensed heterosexual romance, enables this more violent and explicit text. The protagonist refuses to engage in sexual activities with his girlfriend, which is a nod to the sexual austerity of characters such as Philip Marlowe. Brackett’s text is complicit in the misogyny and racism of its time, but its romance understructure provides space for more complex depictions of women and gender relations. It also explores new modes of hegemonic masculinity and masculine relationality as portrayed by Ed Clive, and his associates, friends, and foes. As for the detective’s motivations so key to the construction of his masculinity, it is not economic self-interest or adherence to a moral code that propels his actions, but a need to just “be around when people need [him]” (Brackett 2004, 41). After experiencing injustice in his youth, Ed Clive takes on jobs that enable him to right wrongs. In that, he seems to have more agency than Marlowe, and self-assurance equal to Spade’s,
despite not having the same level of control over the plot or the world he inhabits. This lack of concern about becoming an object of consumption or “part of the nastiness” that plagued Chandler’s detective, is done away with by insisting on maturity as masculinity. This level of confidence must, of course, be carefully maintained, but to the effect that Clive’s is truly an impenetrable body. Since the novel is not as canonical as some other texts discussed in this book, a summary of major plot points and characters seems necessary. This story of murder and blackmail motivated by love and jealousy interweaves attempts to answer two questions: who killed Laurel Dane, the detective’s love interest; and, who is blackmailing the Hammonds, Jane and Mick, a rich Californian couple, who want to avoid more scandal? Ed Clive, the story’s main protagonist, a relatively well-to-do Los Angeles private eye, is asked to help the Hammonds solve their blackmailing problem. Clive initially refuses because of his past dealings with Mick Hammond, a socialite disabled in a car accident Hammond himself caused. Before marrying into a rich family, Hammond was Clive’s childhood friend, who broke the detective’s trust when he first seduced and then abused a woman young Clive loved. To convince Clive to help them, Hammond befriends Laurel Dane, who, apart from being the detective’s love interest, is also a singer at a nightclub called the Skyway Club. She agrees and arranges for a meeting at the club. Dane’s other suitor, Kenneth Farrar, is another LA private eye and Clive’s rival. Clive is jealous of Dane’s relationships with Farrar and Hammond. He is also aware that Dane keeps her past a secret. He is thus reticent about committing to their relationship, a sign of which is his adamant refusal to have sex with her. Despite his reservations about the Hammonds, Clive meets with Mick Hammond in Dane’s dressing room at the Skyway Club. Their conversation is interrupted when Clive is shot at. After dressing the detective’s flesh wound, the three go to Dane’s apartment, where they stay for the night. During the night Dane is killed with Hammond’s walking stick, while Clive is beaten unconscious in two separate assaults. The police officer who arrives at the scene, Gaines, suspects either man of murdering Dane, but Clive manages to implicate Hammond and get away from the crime scene. Hammond is arrested. Remorseful about letting Hammond take the blame, Clive agrees to take on both cases, which he sees as connected. In the course of the investigation he meets Hammond’s wife, Jane, and becomes infatuated with her. He is also introduced to the two
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other members of her family: Jane’s younger brother, Richard Alcott, and sister, Vivien Alcott. In time, Clive learns that Dane’s estranged husband, Dion Beauvais, together with a former cellmate, Big Fella, had just been released from prison and has been looking for his wife. Once Beauvais learns about Dane’s death, he too wants to find the killer. The two former prisoners do not trust Clive. Though Bouvais initially does work with Clive, he eventually decides to ally with the Big Fella. While Hammond stays in prison, both Gaines and Clive work to solve the murder. During that time two other people die: Sugar March, a waitress at the Skyway Club, and a nameless keysmith. Both deaths resemble accidents but turn out to be murders committed by Vivien Alcott and Kenneth Farrar respectively. As the story develops, Clive learns that Vivien Alcott had a relationship with Farrar, who was also the person blackmailing the Hammonds. Their partnership ended when Farrar fell in love with Laurel Dane. Vivien Alcott decided to kill the singer and elicit Farrar’s help to cover it up. When Clive learns about it, he kills Farrar with a shot to the head—violence supposedly justified by the fact that Farrar had unsuccessfully attempted to kill Clive by tampering with his car and preventing anyone from helping Clive as he was being slowly beaten to death at the beach. Clive also contributes to Vivien Alcott’s death, who when pushed by him, hits her head over the side of the pool and drowns. This death is supposedly justified not only because she killed Dane and March, but mostly because she might escape legal punishment, as according to the novel, (rich white) women are usually treated leniently by the courts. Toward the end of the novel, the Hammonds are reunited, while Richard Alcott, who turns out to be the shooter at the Skyway Club aiming to kill Mick Hammond for the shame he brings to his sister and the family, learns to control his anger. The family order is restored, and the two errant men, Hammond and Alcott, promise to be better. Despite a strong connection she has with Clive, Jane Hammond stays faithful to her husband. Though this ending resembles Mona Mars’s decision to stay with Eddie Mars at the end of The Big Sleep, Brackett’s novel suggests a new opening of marital bliss between the Hammonds. It is the power of love, not the institution of marriage that is salvaged by Clive at the end of No Good from a Corpse. Though the detective remains alone, he is part of a social network, as he reestablishes his friendship with Mick Hammond and may rely on the ever-loyal sidekick, Jonathan Ladd Jones. Though it is not my aim to argue that Brackett subverts noir’s conservative
ideologies, she does offer a twist of the classic noir plot: the femme fatale, Vivien Alcott, does not kill men thus threatening the patriarchal order, but other women. This may suggest that it is not women’s empowerment that hurts the society—as was the logic of Chandler and Hammett—but patriarchy that pits women against each other and reduces options for women’s social advancement to the pursuit of men.
Genre Blending Leigh Brackett is more known for her science fiction and screenwriting, as evidenced by her 2020 posthumous Retro Hugo. She did, however, write five crime novels. No Good from a Corpse (1944) landed her a co-writing job with William Faulkner on Howard Hawks’s 1946 adaptation of The Big Sleep, while The Tiger Among Us, published in 1957, was adapted as the 1962 neo noir 13 West Street. She also wrote Eye of An Eye (1957), and Silent Partner (1969). She worked, among others, on Robert Altman’s 1973 adaptation of Chandler’s The Long Goodbye. Deemed the “Queen of Space Opera,” she had been involved in the script for Star Wars. Brackett relied on genre-mixing and used tropes from various genres to refresh sometimes exhausted formulas. Her penchant for genre blending is visible in the work she did for Hawkes or Lucas, and as I argue, underpins the narrative structure of No Good from a Corpse. As reflected in the posthumous Hugo Award, there is currently a popular and critical investment in revisions of popular literature canons. For crime fiction history, works such as Sarah Weinman’s anthology Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s and 50s (2015) attempt to supplement popular knowledge of crime fiction history. Nevertheless, when considering hardboiled writers of the pulps, or 1940s and 1950s paperbacks, male authors’ names appear more often, while women writers function more as exceptions than rule. This is the case with Leigh Brackett, also because of her comparatively smaller hardboiled output. Despite some efforts, especially in science fiction criticism, there is very little scholarship devoted to her works, and what there is relates more to her SF and screenwriting work. In fact, most fan or academic accounts of the crime genre fail to recognize Brackett. Though she does appear in Bill Pronzini’s 1001 Midnights (1986), she is absent from the Oxford Companion to Crime and Mystery Writing (1999). Her position as a woman writer working in traditionally masculine genres may invite an assumption that her work has to somehow be less
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representative of the dominant ideologies of her times, or—with reference to the themes of this book—be more concerned with food and eating because of the conventional association of femininity and feeding. It would be naïve to assume that Brackett’s gender makes her hardboiled stories subversive of societal norms, yet her position in traditionally male- dominated genres does affect the way the text plays out various generic and gender tropes. Brackett’s women characters and their motivations seem more complex than those in books by Chandler or Hammett, even if they are recognizable as formulaic elements, such as femmes fatales or sidekicks. This may be due to the fact that Brackett, unlike Chandler, has a lesser investment in the patriarchal system that never was or, unlike Hammett, in asociality and cleansing violence—as I show below, she sees violence as recuperative. It is also, I argue, the effect of blending romance elements with noir. Of course, romance fiction is embroiled in patriarchy, too, but in ways that highlight rather than downplay the emotional complexity of women’s experience. Brackett’s use of romance tropes introduces a heterosexual romance logic of happy ending and actions motivated by love to the noir paradigm of lone hero fighting against crime and corruption in mostly homosocial spaces. As a result, some of the gay panic potential inherent to the genre is diffused, and there is less need for the vehement eradication and vilification of emotional excess. Of course, as in any homosocial context that still persists in No Good from a Corpse, homoeroticism is always a possibility, but the generic blend makes intimacy between men easier to downplay. Romance elements change the way male solitude is framed in the novel. Though Ed Clive is still invested in the “private dick” paradigm and toughness as independence, his solitude is not a defense mechanism triggered by a fear of contamination, as it was with the characters of Hammett and Chandler. His solitude and refusal to engage with the novel’s women, other than Laurel Dane, is motivated by loyalty to his dead girlfriend rather than the threat posed by a femme fatale. Though to some extent, his abstinence returns Brackett’s detective into the realm of the Chandleresque sexually withdrawn detectives, it in fact amplifies the recuperative power of heterosexual love, or what Robert McRuer has called the “heterosexual epiphany” (McRuer 2006, 15–6), just not in the detective’s love story, but the Hammonds’ relationship. Clive’s mentorship of other men, including his sidekick Jones, childhood friend Hammond, and his brother-in-law Alcott, shows masculinity that defies notions of crisis and presents nurture and patronage, rather than competition and domination, as a means of engagement between men.
The romance novel is a broad category equally elusive and mutable as crime fiction. For Pamela Regis, author of A Natural History of the Romance Novel, a romance novel “is a work of prose fiction that tells the story of the courtship and betrothal of one or more heroines” (2003, 19). John G. Cawelti observes that the “moral fantasy of the romance is that of love triumphant and permanent, overcoming all obstacles and difficulties” (1977, 42). These two definitions suggest that the genre is invested in emotions and it sees resolution in a happy heterosexual coupling, using love and romance as means of returning order to a troubled world. In No Good from a Corpse, the romance is established in the novel’s opening lines: Edmond Clive saw her almost as soon as he came into the runnel from the San Francisco train. She was standing beyond the gate, watching for him, and somehow, she was quite alone. Clive smiled and tried to shove a little faster through the mob. Then her gray eyes found him. Suddenly there was no mob, no station, no noise, nothing. Nothing but the two of them, alone in a silent place with the look in Laurel Dane’s gray eyes. (Brackett 2004, 1)
The fragment blends noir and romance elements to upend both conventions: the detective waiting at a train station, lovers reunited after a separation, a couple overtaken with emotion. Though, unlike conventional romances which prioritize women’s experience (Pagan 2019; Ramsdell 1999, 4), No Good from a Corpse retains, for the most part, Clive’s focalization, it does include several specifically romantic elements, including highly eroticized depictions of Clive’s corporeality. The fragment above introduces a prescriptive image of completeness— the couple reunited, and not the solitary hero avoiding any company for fear of contamination. It shows the detective for whom the fantasy of aloneness includes the woman he loves. In Making Meaning in Popular Romance Fiction: An Epistemology, Jayashree Kamble observes that romance plots where “the move from the fragmented self to a unified one is achieved primarily through the establishment of a relationship between lovers” (2014, xiii). As a response to the fragmentation of the self that hardboiled masculinities manifested, the heterosexual romance—with all its attendant ideological problems—seems more successful than the pursuit of complete impenetrability typical for the prewar noir plots.
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Importantly, Kristin Ramsdell observes that not all texts which contain a love relationship are necessarily romances, and in fact adventure or spy thrillers may feature love or sex and not function as romances. For her, a romance must “chronicle not merely the events of a courtship but what it feels like to the object of one” (1999, 4). In that sense, Brackett’s text does not meet the criteria as the emotional stakes of the story are tied with the criminal plot, but the fact that the very first movements on the part of the detective are toward a woman who is not, at the time, involved in a case he is working on establishes the context for a romance plot. As for some of the romance elements outlined by Regis (2003, 30), No Good from a Corpse features heterosexual flirting of various types: Clive and Dane, Clive and Alcott, as well as Clive and Hammond. It also contains barriers to unions, e.g. Dane and Hammond’s married statuses, which prevent other relationships, Mick Hammond’s infidelity in relation to his wife, not to mention the fact that Dane’s death precluded a romantic happy ending for Clive. It also presents numerous scenes of heterosexual attraction between characters, including Clive’s flirtation with every conventionally attractive woman depicted in the story. It could be argued that the detective’s sexual appeal is as much a noir as romance element. However, the fact, that unlike in Chandler and Hammett’s texts, there is no woman able to resist the detective suggests that it is a fantasy of masculinity featured often in romance plots. Typically for a romance, the novel contains numerous declarations of love, including Clive’s admission that he loved Dane, as well as a symbolic betrothal, another romantic standard, between the two Hammonds, who decide to get back together. Since at the end of the novel, the woman the detective loves is dead, he cannot reunite with her. He does, however, avenge her death and kill those responsible, which paradoxically provides a satisfactory closure to both the romantic and crime plots within the novel. Though a romantic happy ending is unavailable for the detective, the message of recuperative love is sealed with the story of the Hammonds, who overcome their marital problems—the husband’s infidelity and drinking—to go on living their privileged life. The above is the most heteronormative interpretation of No Good from a Corpse as a romance plot. There are ways of queering these relations and plot points, for example by way of Kosofsky Segwick’s continuum of homosocial desire theory, however, such a subversive reading would obfuscate the explicit function the romance plot has in a crime narrative: the confirmation of heterosexuality of men in an otherwise masculine homosocial set-up.
Both noir and romance share, albeit with examples to the contrary, a tendency to feature mostly adult protagonists. Though conventional heterosexual romances rely on an age and class imbalance between the protagonists, with the hero usually a decade older than the heroine, and much more affluent, the formula in its conventional variety does demand a relationship between adults rather than adolescents (Modleski 1980, 439). In the same way as a crime novel, romance is a genre that sees adulthood as a default setting for the hegemonic and subordinate gender roles it depicts. Therefore it is invested in maintaining a division between childhood and maturity—a theme that is crucial in understudying the age/gender dynamics of No Good from a Corpse. What is more, both formulas sometimes rely on a certain transhistoricity, in which references to real-world events are vague or non-existent. This generic feature is somewhat reflected in No Good from a Corpse, which though published in 1944 offers only some indirect allusions to the war context of its production, such as wartime workforce demographics, rubber shortages, blackouts, or the draft. Invested in invoking a recognizable noir setting, the novel seems to fetishize a prewar California, rather than engage in social commentary. This is important because, as I argue in the Introduction, the war is an important if somewhat constructed turning point for models of hegemonic masculinity in the US. By avoiding a direct engagement with servicemen’s masculinity, the novel may continue to present a more traditional model, which is less invested in, e.g. explicit patriotism and nationalism.
Narrating Clive’s Tough Body Brackett’s decision to merge romance and hardboiled formulas enables a more complex representation of gender models and allows for a reading of the novel’s representation of food and consumption in relation to gender and maturity. In No Good from a Corpse masculinity is not based on the opposition between the masculine and feminine, but, without disavowing sexual and gender differences completely, merges masculinity with the concept of adulthood and relies on the opposition between mature and immature. As a result, food and consumption are deployed to signify age and adulthood: not masculinity as such, but masculinity as maturity. Clive is short, yet, as frequently noted, a handsome and sexually attractive detective. He is also repeatedly described as tough, or himself comments on his
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own toughness, which puts him within the hardboiled tradition of tough masculinity, which nevertheless requires a lot of, in this case discursive, maintenance. If, as presented in Chaps. 2 and 3, Chandler’s and Hammett’s protagonists represent two poles of the tough masculinity continuum, Brackett’s protagonist, Ed Clive, is located somewhere in-between the two iconic hardboiled detectives. The third-person narrator, who often switches focalization, resembles Hammett’s choices in The Maltese Falcon. This strategy to prevent any access to Sam Spade’s thoughts led to the complete externalization of the character. In contrast, Chandler’s decision to make readers privy to Marlowe’s thoughts via first-person narration enabled a discussion of white masculinity from within (Abbott 2002, 4), but served as threat of penetration of the tough white body par excellence. Brackett offers a relative compromise between the two strategies, with the focalization reflecting the detective’s point of view, from time to time shifting to other’s perspectives, mostly the novel’s women. Those shifts were usually motivated by the need to emphasize Clive’s sexual appeal. Though perceived as object of this female gaze, Clive never seems to risk becoming the object of sexual consumption mostly because he retains his domination over all of the novel’s women. The first mention of Clive’s physique is him stepping out of the shower: “His body was lean and tanned, put together with tough, wiry neatness. There was dark hair on his chest and forearms” (Brackett 2004, 26). His body is viewed through an implicitly heterosexual gaze that eroticizes him; a strategy that recurs throughout the novel to stress how sexually irresistible Clive is. At the same time, Clive’s professional success relies on a certain understatement of his capabilities associated, to a degree, with his reduced height and contrasted with his unmatched toughness. Clive’s toughness is rearticulated in the novel almost like a mantra, with numerous women assuring Clive that he is the man of the story. Both Jane Hammond and Vivien Alcott confirm just how much of a tough guy he is. The detective, very much in a Marlowian vein, is reticent about accepting jobs, especially if they involve people such as Mick Hammond, who have already misused his trust. After some persuasion, however, he accepts the job now presented to him by Hammond’s wife. She visits Clive, who had been hospitalized after being beaten by Big Fella and Beauvais, to urge him to help get her husband out of jail:
“Mick’s innocent. There must be some way to prove it.” “It looks as though it’ll take a bigger man than I am to do it.” “Then you’ll have to be a bigger man,” said Jane. “You’re the only man there is.” (2004, 282, emphasis added)
Jane Hammond’s statement that he is the only man recalls almost exactly Chandler’s description of the hardboiled hero recorded in “The Simple Art of Murder” about the man who “must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world” (1988, 18). Thus Clive is located on a continuum that runs from Marlowe’s hypermorality to Spade’s moral ambivalence and self-interest. This intertextuality makes Clive into something of a cliché, which leaves no room for him but to accept his mission. He needs to be “the bigger man” as in the magnanimous one, the more mature of the fighting sibling. In return, he gets his masculinity reasserted not by one, but two women. Just a few pages later in the very same hospital room in which Clive talks to Jane, Vivien Alcott admits to having feelings for the detective, thus reasserting his sexual appeal as well as his masculinity: “You’re a man, Ed. You’ve got hands that can hurt, and a hard body … You’re real, Ed” (2004, 303). Thus in the span of two scenes Clive is confirmed as both morally unique and physically apt to do the job of saving another man from prison, and solving the murder of Laurel Dane, though neither Jane Hammond nor Vivien Alcott mentions the dead woman. The exchange with Vivian Alcott, though located at a hospital, happens over drinks. She means to seduce the detective to prevent him from discovering that she is one of the killers. In a continuation of the conversation in which Clive salutes crime (Brackett 2004, 300), she proceeds to tease Clive about his masculinity and toughness: “I thought you were tough.” “Only during office hours. Other times I’m strictly the patty-cake type.” He tilted the bottle and winced. “Oi! I’m stiff all over.” He drank. “What’s that for? Oil?” “Nuh-uh. Heat’s good for bruises. I’m trying it from the inside.” He felt better. (2004, 312, emphasis added)
Though Clive distances himself from his toughness, he does show that taking time to recover is not an option, while self-medicating with drinks is the way to go. This fits the novel’s logic that a man’s ability to drink is proportional to his masculinity. Although Clive is being dismissive, the scene reiterates that alcohol has the capacity to make one feel better if that person is an adult.
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Alcohol, and especially drink choices, are deployed in the text to reflect characters’ masculinity. Clive drinks in a conventionally masculine and noir fashion, choosing scotch, while Jones, who is depicted as less masculine, drinks whatever appears easiest to obtain, including his boss’s whiskey. It is suggested that Jones’s drinking is the reason for his failures. Yet the character whose masculinity is questioned on the basis of his beverage selection is Kenneth Farrar. To establish Farrar’s alibi, Clive interviews the Skyway Club bartender, Vince Klingman. When asked about Farrar, Klingman replies: “He was in the bar the night Laurel was killed. I built him a pousse-café.” Klingman’s expression showed what he thought of men Farrar’s size who went in for things like that. (2004, 120)
There is an unspoken agreement between the two rather masculine men as to what real men drink, and a layered, colorful drink is not it. The questionable taste in drink associates Farrar, already depicted as a dandy, with femininity, which in the hardboiled logic makes him a gender traitor. A murderer, attempted-murderer, blackmailer, and extorter, Farrar has to die, but among his crimes are his failures at prescriptive masculinity. Clive only reconfirms his masculinity by way of his drink choices and ability to hold them. Though offering and drinking alcohol on numerous occasions, the detective is never completely incapacitated by liquor. When Laurel Dane is being killed it is fatigue (and food), as well as two separate blows to the head that make him pass out, not the drinks he had earlier. In contrast, Mick Hammond is sound asleep because he had too much to drink. At the same time, the fact that Clive was drinking and can legitimately claim intoxication is also useful when trying to shift Gaines’s suspicion about his involvement in Dane’s death. He pretends to be drunk, but Jones calls him out on it, to which Clive replies: “I hope Gaines hasn’t a sharp ear. Anyway, I gave him an out and he took it” (2004, 94). This exchange is yet another moment in which a character gives Clive an opportunity to reconfirm his toughness. Both at home and on the job, Clive is depicted as always ready for action, even intoxicated. Despite drinking at the bar, after blackmailing Gaines to release Hammond from jail, Clive is still capable of collecting Jones from a brothel and win a fight with two drunk and aggressive sexual workers. The women had encouraged Jones to drink gin with them, which
he did. As a result he was unable to learn Farrar’s movements from them, something that Clive does without trouble. The text implies that only some people are able to use alcohol as a truth serum, and immature oftentimes effeminized Jones is not one who does. Clive, though drinking heavily with Vivien Alcott, is able to use alcoholic “bonding” to extract information from her. Clive’s toughness protects him from the adverse consequences of drinking, and his ability to drink a lot only confirms how mature he is. Another means by which Clive’s toughness and resilience are confirmed in the context of heterosexuality is Clive’s refusal to sleep with his girlfriend and his relationship with the woman’s former lovers. When Beauvais asks Clive if he slept with Dane, the latter hits him. Beauvais is surprised that such a short man could draw blood from him, which once again reconfirms Clive’s toughness. Finally, Clive admits that the two of them did not have sex: “The answer’s no. I knew us both too well. I didn’t want to make the mistake you did” (2004, 234). The heterosexual romance elements do not prevent women from being a threat to the tough, white hero, and his ability to restrain himself is part of his maturity—in line with Gail Bederman’s notions of white masculinity that though strong needed to show restraint. An inability to control sexual appetite was a sign of weakness that white masculinity must avoid at all costs (Bederman 1995, 12–31). Clive suggests that Beauvais did not control his desires and as a result of his liaisons with Dane ended up in prison. One means by which the novel ensures that Clive is safe from the dangers of the femme fatale is that one of them dies at the beginning of the story, and the other, Vivien Alcott, is killed by the detective. Apart from the classic noir suspicion of femmes fatales, Clive is also respectful of the institution of marriage. Both Laurel Dane and Jane Hammond are married, and the novel suggests a romantic logic of the recuperative power of marriage as a means of salvation for worthwhile men. Clive does not purse Jane Hammond because he wants to be a loyal friend to Mick Hammond, but, more importantly, the romance plot has to play out according to the logic of a heterosexual romance in which the lovers are reunited after overcoming obstacles and separation (Regis 2003, 30). From a romantic hero, Clive is transformed into a couples’ counselor to the Hammond’s marriage. His heterosexual romance cannot be realized because the object of his affection is dead. Clive’s sexual abstinence reflects his very noir ability to control his desire, and does not invalidate the reading of the function of the
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heterosexual romance in the novel. Instead, it shows the importance of heterosexual love. The novel does not suggest that any man may be saved by any woman, but that there are certain women who are able to save some men. In a variation of a “heterosexual epiphany,” i.e. the process by which a disabled masculine character is reintroduced into normative society through a relationship with an able-bodied woman-caregiver (McRuer 2006, 15–6), Mick Hammond is improved (morally and physically) through the unwavering love of his wife.1 In order for this recuperative romance plot to be resolved, Clive needs to pull away from a potential liaison with Jane Hammond, but his reasons to avoid the relationship come from a romance rather than a traditional hardboiled paradigm. If sexual abstinence is one means of showing, and not simply telling, how tough Clive is, the detective’s resistance to pain is another. As mentioned before, the novel is excessive in its depiction of, among others, violence, and Clive is assaulted many times. The assaults are usually correlated with food consumption in that whenever the detective eats, he gets punished. Despite food and eating’s polysemy, in No Good from a Corpse most of consumption depicted denotes immaturity because it is associated with childhood and dependency on others, and as such poses a danger to self-reliant masculinity. The text reinforces the idea that needing food is a weakness. Even though there are moments in the novel where food is not invoked to signify dependence and immaturity—mostly to represent social relations and power dynamics related to age and gender, in metaphors, and as sexual innuendoes—the bulk of food representation and accounts of the detective eating serves as presages of upcoming attacks. Consequently, each time Clive is assaulted or has his life threatened and survives, he reasserts his toughness. The clearest example of this logic is Clive’s fight with Dane’s husband and his associate, Big Fella, which happens soon after eating dinner with Jones, and reminiscing about his childhood and gingerbread cookies. The description of that beating runs through the entire chapter thirteen. It is very detailed in its depictions of brutality, excessive to the point where it shifts into ridicule. At the same time, the violence does not seem gratuitous, 1 In the introduction to his book, Robert McRuer analyzes the 1999 film, As Good as It Gets, and shows how compulsory heterosexuality and compulsory able-bodiedness conflate to create a narrative of overcoming of disability through a heterosexual romance. The mentally disabled character of Melvin, played by Jack Nicholson experiences a “heterosexual epiphany,” which motivates his decision to “get better” (2006, 19–26).
as it offers an opportunity for Ed Clive’s toughness to be reasserted once again. David Glover and Cora Kaplan note that a risk involved in writing hypermasculine fiction that resuscitates masculinity in a homosocial space was a brutalized carnivalization of masculinity, an aesthetic trap typical especially for Black Mask stories (1992, 214). Since Brackett’s text is less implicated in the tension between a homosocial fantasy and a gay panic, she can enhance the brutality without the risk of carnivalization. In fact, her choice to merge the romance and crime genres may necessitate the brutality in order to assure the audience that they are reading a crime novel, and not a romance—with all the gendered stereotypes of readership associated with these genres. The strategy is evident, when the detailed account of the fight is compared to the relative brevity of description regarding Laurel Dane’s corpse and Sugar March’s supposedly accidental death. This is not violence as titillation for readers, but violence to ensure the interpretation of Clive as tough. The account of the fight recalls the fact that Clive had eaten, inadvertently reminding readers why it is that he is now subjected to this corporal punishment: Big Fella waited until [Clive] was on his hands and knees and ten kicked him in the stomach. He watched patiently while Clive threw up his dinner and then kicked him three or four times more, not hurrying, choosing his spots. Clive retched and sobbed and pushed himself away from the sand, two or three inches. “Hard boy,” said Big Fella. “Very tough.” (2004, 270, emphasis added)
Unable to hold on to his dinner, Clive is reduced to a sobbing child on the beach. The detective is momentarily stripped of his adulthood, and instead of tough impenetrable masculinity, he becomes all body: subject to pain and anguish. His momentary weakness is tied to a loss of control caused by infantilization, as at that moment Clive recalls the violence that he had experienced in the very same place as a child. As a boy, Clive had been assaulted by larger boys, who submerged him in water—an experience which made him want to become someone who once grown up “was going to do something about big boys that went around swiping things from little boys” (301). This is the core memory that structures Clive’s motivation. The comparisons to a child continue, for example when Big Fella assaults him: “He leaned over and hit Clive twice under the ears, like a
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child in a tantrum” (264). The person giving Clive such a severe beating is also presented as not entirely adult, as Big Fella is depicted as a person with a mild cognitive disability. Following an ableist logic typical for noir, disability makes him at once an infantilized subject (McRuer and Wilkerson 2003, 10) and a dangerous monster (Garland-Thomson 2009, 163) capable of killing another man with his bare hands. This reading would suggest, quite contrary to the novel’s efforts to continuously reestablish Clive as tough, that the only reason the detective is able to overpower the two men is through the reduction of the more physically threatening one of them to the level of a child. This reduction is made through the deployment of an ableist convention which relies on presenting people with cognitive disabilities as childish and immature, but also as ones out of control. While Clive is able to collect himself from his momentary infantilization, Big Fella is forever petrified as a non-adult. Clive’s toughness is in fact discursively reconfirmed, though ironically, when Big Fella comments on the detective’s resilience. Clive’s final triumph proves that he is not just a “hard boy,” but a “hard man.” This reassertion of the tough hetero-masculinity of the adult man is crucial for the hardboiled genre. It is within that context that Abbott positions the hardboiled hero for whom the confirmation of his masculinity enables a distancing “from social change, from modernity, from growing ethnic diversity, from the empowerment of women, from the threat of femininity or feminization” (2002, 11). This distancing mechanism is retained in No Good from a Corpse despite the work done by the romantic plot, as the genre’s investment in reasserting tough masculinity is its core value.
Maturity as Hegemonic Masculinity In accounts of masculine toughness as represented by hardboiled detectives, a lot is said about the detective’s outsider status, and nonconformity that helps perpetuate social norms, as well as (hegemonic) masculinity (cf. Cawelti 1977; Krutnik 1991; Abbott 2002; or Nyman 1997). Most of those descriptions, however, take for granted the detective’s age and maturity. When John G. Cawelti notes the chivalric and Western origins of the hardboiled hero, he talks of the already adult man, even though many accounts of American masculinity from the nineteenth century, in which Cawelti and others see origins of the hardboiled genre,
contain important elements of immaturity.2 Nina Baym notes that American masculinity is connected to immaturity and an escape from domestication (1981, 123–39). Consequently, one could argue, somewhat contradictory to my earlier statements about sexual austerity and white masculinity, that this American immaturity is realized in the avoidance of sex. This effort to avoid domestication that brings on maturation can also manifest in consumption patterns, such as refusing to eat food associated with domesticity. In this view, there is a paradoxical privileging of immaturity in descriptions of American masculinity that does not, however, extend to hardboiled detectives, who though mostly avoiding domestication are always already fully mature. The reason for the above paradox is that by the early twentieth century, with its experiences of World War I, rapid urbanization and industrialization, economic crises, and rise in crime, the wilderness, once appealing to the young Western hero because of its pristine ambivalence that justified some innocence, is no longer available to the streetwise tough guy. As a grown up, he knows there is no wilderness to escape to. Megan Abbot notes that “The (urban) wilderness is never the tough guy’s utopian dream realized or temporarily realized. It is instead the landscape of both street crime and high-level corruption, crooked hoods and the degenerate wealthy” (2002, 6–7). Her justification for this shift is the fact that for the hardboiled hero “Everything is a trap, not the least of which is his own disturbing drives, his own pleasure in transgression” (2002, 6–7). To be the man for the hardboiled world, the detective needs to shed all immaturity, while all his infantile transgression needs to be disciplined. For Ed Clive this means that for the most part he is hungry and hurt, as every time he tries to nourish his body, he is punished either indirectly by losing somebody he loves—Laurel Dane is killed just after the detective decides all is safe and he can get himself some supper—or literally by being violently assaulted. From another angle, it could be argued that Clive enjoys what could be called a “privilege of not eating” that is part of the austere masculinity common in hardboiled fiction, but which is also only available to unattached adults, whose eating patterns are rarely controlled by others—parents or spouses. The ability to decide if and what one shall eat is one of the markers of independence gained with adulthood. 2 To read more, consider the “American Adam” trope described by Leslie Fiedler in Love and Death in the American Novel, or Nina Baym’s take on the American literary canon and its relationship to masculinity in “Melodramas of Beset Manhood.”
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Obviously, childhood, maturity, and adulthood are not uncontested terms and are social constructions that carry gendered, classed, and raced meanings. Diana Gittins points to the normative and prescriptive aspects of the concept of childhood, which obfuscates “the fact that the meanings and assumptions inherent in it (innocence, dependency) were constructed by a certain social group at a certain point in time, but later used to define what all families and all childhoods should be” (2009, 45). The obfuscation of gender, as well as of historic and class-specificity in conceptualizations of childhood plays a role in how the concept functions as shorthand for immaturity and innocence. In a text on historical constructions of childhood sexuality, Mary Jane Kehily and Heather Montgomery also observe that innocence is not essentially connected to childhood, but in fact “childhood innocence is an adult ideal, something which adults would like childhood to be” (2009, 85). Gittins also argues that childhood “only has meaning in the context of a binary relationship with adulthood and implicit in it is the idea that it is universal” (2009, 37). She continues that childhood is a fiction that obscures “the power relations and inequalities” (2009, 37), all of which is visible in No Good from a Corpse, with Clive measuring people’s maturity and then treating them accordingly, and consumption choices and patterns being used as maturity measuring sticks. Most representations of childhood are created by adults and thus reflect time and context-specific projections onto children treated (by default) as agency-less (in articulation) blank slates. Gittins observes that these adult visions of childhood offer “potential insight into what children and childhood mean to adults” (2009, 47). As such representations of childhood, as well as ways in which immaturity is connected to that concept, provide a reflection on the contemporary definition of the fantasy of adulthood that is always somewhat gendered. Women and men are expected to fill different gender roles and assume specific characteristics befitting their maturity. Judith Kegan Gardiner states that though “not completely ignored in contemporary discourses, age tends be an undertheorized category in comparison to gender” (2002, 93). Including age into an analysis of gender, she argues, “might also be helpful in facing issues of authority and dependence, without either naturalizing some categories of people as deserving privilege over others or assuming that mere assertions of equality … constitute an adequate feminist theory of authority” (2002, 112). She points out that one of the crucial effects of women’s empowerment is their newly acquired authority that the hitherto patriarchal society has had
trouble adjusting to. One of the results of this shift in power relations is the infantilization of society that fuels misguided notions of a masculinity crisis as caused by feminism (2002, 112). Her observations, although meant as an account of 1990s discussions of masculinity, point to another dimension of hegemonic masculinity: hegemonic masculinity demands authority that in a patriarchal society is reserved for adult men only. Therefore maturity is an essential category in masculinity, which oftentimes leads to the infantilization of women and emasculation of younger, non-heterosexual, or non-white men. In line with this patriarchal definition of masculinity, the women presented in No Good from a Corpse appear to be lacking maturity and therefore remain excessive in their lack of control. The maid who offers Clive cookies (see below), Vivien Alcott, Sugar March, sex workers interrogated by Jones, and, to some extent, even Laurel Dane are presented as not fully adult and excessive. The woman saved from this representation of femininity is Jane Hammond. She fully embodies emphasized femininity to Clive’s hegemonic masculinity, but combines it with a level-headedness and maturity seemingly uncommon to women of the novel. Thus she is a unique, unattainable ideal made more so by her unattainability. As alcohol can be used to delineate the power relations in homo and heterosocial context, when for example hosting women, Clive assumes the role of a patriarchal father figure. In a conversation he has with Laurel Dane, after serving them both glasses of Highland Cream, he asks: “Now, then. Tell papa all about it” (2004, 71). His word choice and tone infantilize her, but the choice of an alcoholic beverage suggests she is an adult. This recasting of Dane as a child potentially enables the sexual prohibition between the couple. Dane is not the only immature woman who drinks in the novel. The suggestion is that alcohol is what prevents girls from growing up. In fact, Vivien Alcott, who is a heavy drinker, is shown as unable to control her appetite. Her first kill does not satisfy her hunger and therefore she wants to kill more. Vivien Alcott dies before she may grow up. Clive reflects on the impossibilities of women’s adulthood in a conversation he has with Vivien just before she dies. He suggests that women only grow up once they find what it is that they have always wanted, and then they become “people, finished, mature, with the door shut forever on the nursery” (2004, 425). This variant of murderous adult femininity that has to be extinguished reiterates a patriarchal model that stresses that women cannot be equal to men because the result is perversion.
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As mentioned above, the woman who is allowed to be an adult because she has interiorized the values of traditional society is Jane Hammond. She remains faithful to her husband, despite his adultery and impairment sustained as a result of his drunkenness and infidelity. This is not to say that a disability is a reason to leave a spouse, but rather that the logic of the novel and the representation of Mick Hammond’s disability suggest that her decision to stay is a heroic act. She stands by him symbolically reinforcing the power behind the institution of marriage that perpetuates the patriarchal kinship system. In Crip Theory, Robert McRuer talks about the function of a heterosexual epiphany that redeems a disabled character in a narrative of disability overcoming (2006, 20–5). This very mechanism is deployed in the character of Mick Hammond to make him a positive character. It is only achieved through the maintenance of a heterosexual union with his wife. Thus what could be considered a flawed masculinity is recuperated via heterosexuality and marriage. Jane Hammond’s devotion to the family structure is crucial to offset the gender destabilizing fact that she has inherited and is in charge of the family money. Another way in which the novel reinserts Jane Hammond into a traditional gender role is by assuring that she is the matriarch because the other potential heirs are lacking. Her ability to drink with dignity is a sign of her maturity, once again confirming the function of alcohol as the measure of maturity. Though many of the women are infantilized in the novel, often through the use of food and representations of consumption, it does not prevent them from being sexualized and dehumanized as well. Repeatedly, when Vivien Alcott is described, she is depicted as a predatory and animal-like, one that has a rapacious, uncontrollable appetite. At one point, Clive asks her: “Where did you get so bloodthirsty?,” to which she replies: “Runs in the family. We all like our beef rare” (2004, 159). Later, when Clive and Vivien Alcott kiss for the first time she is described as “parted and hungry” for the kiss (2004, 324). The idea that Vivien Alcott is a predator is suggested throughout other scenes: a device that helps foreshadow her guilt and justify her death. Regardless of whether invoked as cuteness or danger, consumption as sexual consumption is a common strategy in hardboiled novels (see Chaps. 2, 3, and 6) that capitalizes on the conceptual proximity of alimentary and sexual appetites (Probyn 2000). In that way consumption may be used not just to sexualize characters, but also to both infantalize and eroticize women.
In the novel, those who are considered immature or not adult enough are represented as not dealing well with the consequences of drink. As a result, they are either vilified or ridiculed: Jonathan Ladd Jones, who fortunately has other redeeming features; Mick Hammond whose maturation comes at a price of his able-bodiedness; or Richard Alcott who though less worthy of Clive’s affection than the other two men redeems himself by virtually growing up. In fact, Alcott is as if forced into manhood via a violent altercation with Clive. Those men who are even lower on the maturity- masculinity scale and thus merit no sympathy from Clive, such as Kenneth Farrar or Dion Beauvais, are also shown as incapacitated by alcohol. Lacking the redeeming qualities of Jones or Alcott, within the economy of the novel, they both have to die. Farrar is revealed as one of the story’s two murderers and killed by Clive, while Beauvais dies due to injuries sustained during the beach fight with the detective. The above account of the relationship between age, consumption, and gender, hopefully explains Ed Clive’s obsession with maturity and its relation to masculinity and toughness. It seems to stem from a retrograde investment in a fantasy of a patriarchal society where male authority was never questioned. Hence, for Ed Clive, maturity or willingness to grow, is the redeeming feature in people: Jane Hammond is immediately recognized as worthy because of her unwavering support for an errant husband, Jonathan Ladd Jones, though unable to stay sober, has some of the caregiver capacities that put him into a quasi-motherlike figure, and Mick Hammond and Alcott promise to grow under the watchful and caring eye of Jane Hammond. Conversely, those who are in any way seen as immature are either punished or unhappy: Kenneth Farrar and, especially, Vivien Alcott, both uncontrollable and childish, similarly Bouvais and Big Fella also end badly. Because of the investment in maturity as masculinity, any slippages from maturity on Clive’s part are also punished. This was visible in the fight scene described above but is a throughline in the novel. The novel associates drink with adulthood, and food, often served by others, with immaturity. At the same time, it constructs immaturity or the adult projections onto childhood ambiguously: both as a safe space of innocence, to which Clive psychically returns when enduring pain, and as villainy or failure, as in the case of the Alcotts, whose inability to grow out of their gender nonconformity results in their inferior status and lack of authority. Within the novel, aligning food with childhood works as a feedback loop of condemnation for both eating and immaturity. Within the logic of this
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alimentary theory, the detective needs to be an adult and a non-eater to fulfill his tasks, for every time he eats he is punished. Thus his privilege of not eating becomes a requirement.
Consumption and Punishment Apart from the dinner and cookies for which Clive is severely beaten up, the meal that sets up the logic of alimentary consumption being followed by punishment is the one that leads to Laurel Dane’s death. Together with Mick Hammond, Clive brings Dane to her apartment, as they want to make sure she is safe. Once both Hammond and Dane are in their separate beds, Clive goes to the kitchen: He had had nothing to eat since breakfast. He decided that there was nothing definite about anybody gunning for Laurel tonight and if anyone was going to he could wait while Clive got food and some strong black coffee. (2004, 79)
The fragment obviously established Clive as a mind in control of the tough body that can go on without food. At the same time, the fact that just after this meal Dane is killed, suggests that no ingestion may go unpunished. Paradoxically, food weakens his body because it makes him fall asleep. He drops his guard, and Dane dies that night. Punishment for eating continues throughout the novel, which reinforces the logic that food harms the body, a notion already introduced in The Big Sleep. Like Marlowe, Clive also prefers to eat on his own, and with the exception of the dinner he shares with Jones, other meals mentioned are solitary, yet not less deadly in their effect. Even memories of food have the ability to incapacitate Clive.3 During a phone conversation with the police detective, Gaines mentions a dinner Clive had interrupted with the call. Afterwards, the narrator states: “He closed his eyes and shivered. For a moment he looked physically ill” (2004, 158). At the risk of shaping the reading to fit an overarching argument, it could be argued that Clive feels ill precisely because he remembers that eating means death, or his body is revolting at the thought of his last meal. 3 There is an entire literature on food and memory, overviewed e.g. in Warren Belasco’s Food: Key Concepts (2008), or John D. Holtzman’s “Food and Memory” (2006). For a review of attitudes to comfort food and memory, see Comfort Food: Meanings and Memories, ed. Michael Owen Jones and Lucy M. Long.
The novel does not make this connection explicit, but the very proximity of the topic of consumption and nausea suggests a certain ambiguity projected onto food. Another memory of food which brings on incapacitation happens when Clive is driving with Dane’s husband, Beauvais, to find the latter’s prison cellmate, Big Fella. It turns out that Big Fella is hiding near to where both Clive and Hammond grew up. The location brings on nostalgic childhood memories for Clive: “One more block and you’re home. Hot gingerbread and milk after school. Only home isn’t there any more. They pulled it down to make way for a derrick, and there hasn’t been anyone to bake gingerbread for a long time now” (2004, 246). Clive’s childhood is recalled via images of specific food items. It is important that it is cookies, which are associated with childhood and pleasure rather than nourishment. They are typical comfort food items prepared by somebody else to please whoever is offered them. As such they suggest that feeding is caring, and imply that the receiver of these offerings may be cared for. Cookies associated with domesticity are also gendered as feminine: both in regard to who makes and who eats them. Therefore they are an unmanly treat, especially if evoked in a specifically immature context of childhood memories. If the first food memory brought about sickness, the second quite literally brought about pain: the scene of Beauvais and Big Fella assaulting and almost killing Clive. Food ingested or recalled, as a vehicle for immaturity, has the ability to hurt. Of note should be the fact that cookies may also help reiterate the detective’s heterosexuality, as is the case with the chocolate chip cookies Clive is offered by a maid working for Mrs. Kerbs, another of Farrar’s former lovers. He follows the maid through to the kitchen where she just brewed some tea and prepared several batches of chocolate-chip cookies. The exchange differs from the previous accounts of food in the novel because it contains one of the longest description of an edible object: “‘Have one,’ the girl said. ‘There’s plenty more.’ It was crisp and had lumps of chocolate candy in it. ‘Good,’ he said” (2004, 352). Unlike the gingerbread cookie in Clive’s childhood reverie, this one is suggesting not only gastronomical but also sexual consumption. Though the offerer of the cookie is infantilized via the use of the word “girl” and presented in a wholesome domestic setting—she is brewing tea and baking cookies—the conversation between the two has all the markings of a heterosexual banter that is typical for hardboiled novels and detectives who populate them.
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Further in the conversation, the two mention the war context of the novel, reduced to Clive’s comment that the maid would be good at riveting because she must look good in overalls (2004, 352). During the war more women were hired in place of the drafted men and thus temporarily rose in professional ranks. This nod to some emancipation is quickly countered with Clive’s objectifying gaze and comment pertaining to the maid’s looks rather than capabilities. Again, Clive’s heterosexual masculinity is reconfirmed, this time by allowing him to leer at the maid. As the conversation progresses, the images of sweet sexiness are replaced by mechanized erotics of riveting. Finally, Clive makes the maid eat half of his cookie and then kisses her, adding that he “enjoys his work” (2004, 353). Soon it is revealed that seducing the maid was a way of gathering information rather than pursuing sexual consumption, thus emphasizing Clive’s self-control in terms of consumption. Finally, Clive’s third recorded meal, on his own, in a drive-in, is also followed by punishment. Drive-ins are food outlets associated with Americanness and West Coast car culture, and though existing since the 1920s, they reached peak popularity during the postwar economic boom. They also imply familiarity and safety, since they serve known food and cause no anxiety for a patron who could feel inadequate in an “ethnic” or “fancy” restaurant.4 Easily approached in a car and affordable, a drive-in suggests convenience and makes clear that it is a place to eat food, not to dine. It is a place a professional man may visit without risking committing the crime of taking a break. In this case, Clive eats to steady his nerves. Conventionally, food may function as medicine and this is the effect Clive is counting on. Yet this strategy does not work for him. He is punished for attempting to eat, as he nearly dies in a near-miss car crash. Failure of food as medicine for an adult male, makes way for drink to have that soothing effect. The brevity of the description of the food situation is contrasted with the longer passage concerning Clive’s fears and emotions preceding the decision to have something to eat. The constant reminders that Clive has feelings are juxtaposed to the continuous reiterations of his toughness and maturity, which seems to suggest that Clive is a complex character or, 4 Rebecca L. Epstein in “Appetite for Destruction: Gangster Food and Genre Convention in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction” (2004) provides a reading of how violence that ensues in a diner, another American food location, is more destructive because of the location and cultural associations with such a place.
alternatively, reflects the tension between masculinity models of romance and crime genres. To recapitulate: the former needs heroes who are emotional, while the latter needs them to be tough. At the same time, conventionally both genres share an investment in the protagonists’ hypermasculinity and heterosexuality that is often manifested through phallic props.
Consumption and Homosocial Care For all its purportedly sinister and dangerous quality, food has another important function in the novel: establishing relationships and performing care. This is the first such deployment of food in the novels discussed so far, and the gendered aspect of that food function cannot be overstated.5 Both in terms of actual meals and figures of speech, food functions heavily as means of expressing concern over the well-being of others. After all, feeding is caring, and in the context of the 1940s paid and unpaid care work is mostly women’s domain. More specifically, it is reserved for female family members. Since there is very little female family around Clive, the function of the caregiver is often placed on his coworker, Jones. Whenever care is extended toward Clive, the detective immediately attempts to jokingly recast the situation in terms of kinship relations, a gesture suggesting a degree of “infantilization panic.” When Clive takes care of someone, he is immediately cast as the family patriarch, a father-figure who admonishes his unruly sons (and daughters) for their inability to control their liquor. He does this to Jones, Alcott, and Hammond—simultaneously retracting their masculinity to reconfirm his own. Throughout the novel the inferiority of other men as not mature is reiterated in various ways: Jones is made a poor drunk or a quasi-woman, Hammond is disabled and morally weak, and Richard Alcott is presented as a hateful drunk spoiled brat. He also starts to function as Clive’s son. Though the two men do not differ so much in terms of age, after going through the motions of masculine competition, they develop a 5 Having said that, in Chandler’s The Long Goodbye (1959), originally published in 1953, Marlowe takes Lennox, a drunk he befriended one night and helped escape to Mexico, to a diner to share a breakfast. In “When Violet Eyes are Smiling: The Love Stories of Raymond Chandler” Gill Plain uses this relationship to argue for the homosocial and homoerotic quality inherent in Chandler’s novels (2001, 80–1).
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master- apprentice relation that enables the latter’s maturation. Clive teaches his student to stop relying on family money to be his own man, but not before he beats up Alcott twice and helps him to the restroom when this quasi-son is overpowered with alcohol. When Richard Alcott returns drunk to his house, Clive helps to carry the man to the bathroom where he continues to be sick. The detective also takes care of drunk Jones, who refuses to leave the apartment of the two sex workers he was meant to question but failed due to the gin they consumed together. When drunk, Alcott, Jones, and to some extent Hammond, turn into children that Clive must take care of. Yet this caring image of quasi-fatherhood is balanced with the violence, vomit, and urination also featured in the text, much more explicit and less prudish than either The Maltese Falcon or The Big Sleep. In the end, Richard Alcott actually thanks the detective for this expression of tough love, with which Clive is exasperated, but also by which he is moved: “Clive watched him. ‘My God,’ he whispered. ‘People!’ His eyes dark eyes had unfamiliar softness” (Brackett 2004, 225). Clive teaches Richard Alcott how to be a man by encouraging him to become economically independent. Thus a man’s masculinity is implicitly measured in his productivity. When it is Clive that is taken care of, he emasculates his primary caregiver, Jones by casting him as the nagging mother to Clive’s spoiled child. This casting as a child has to be rejected quickly on the basis of the principle that immaturity is evil, hence the humor works as an infantilization deflector. One example of such a mockish discursive disdain for kinship happens when Jones asks Clive if the latter ate dinner: “Johnny shot a glance at him. ‘You had any dinner, Ed?’ Clive laughed. ‘Okay, mama! Just don’t try and hold the spoon for me, will you?’” (2004, 216). Whenever food and Clive’s eating are mentioned, he immediately connects it with motherly affection and positions himself as a child unhappy about his lack of independence. At the same time, the suggestion that a grown man could be thus reduced is presented as incredulous and therefore funny. In another conversation with Jones, Clive gets frustrated with the constant (non-masculine) harassment: “Coming home now?” “That depends.” “Had any dinner?” “No, mama.”
“Well, you ought to get some dinner.” “I’m not hungry.” “Look, Ed, it’s not good to...” “For Christsake, can’t I even feed myself?” (2004, 170)
In a world devoid of dependable women, care must come from the conventionally less masculine men. Jones fits this model, but his presentation is internally contradictory. He is the one concerned the most about Clive’s well-being, but as a weaker man he is unable to control Clive. When Jones is drunk, Clive takes care of him. This double role of mother and child helps create a queer kinship between the two men that is not homoerotic. A later passage reasserts the queer kinship pattern of the two men’s relationship regardless of whether Clive wants to admit to his dependence on Jones or not. The two coworkers have a fight in the aftermath of Dane’s death, followed by Clive getting himself a drink. He spills some of the Scotch on the floor, and then when trying to undress, falls flat on the floor. The scene is capped with the following description: “Jonathan Ladd Jones dragged him into the bedroom, covered him carefully with a blanket, and went out again. There was plenty of Scotch left in the bottle” (2004, 97). The fragment, which starts as a generic description of an alienated detective self-medicating with alcohol, progresses into a gesture of affectionate care performed by one man toward another man. The passage reiterates the connection between an inability to drink and immaturity but reaffirms that Clive’s incapacitation is not a result of a lack of control, but extenuating circumstances: losing the woman he loves, followed by a sleepless twenty-four hours of interrogation by the police. Violence is yet another way of countering the softening effects of care, expressed and received. Whenever Clive is the object of care by Jones, it must be imposed on him through physical violence. The first time Jones beats Clive into resting is on the day after Dane is found dead—Clive wants to drink, but Jones hits him hard enough to force him to go to sleep. Then, when Clive wants to leave the hospital, Jones punches his employer in the stomach ensuring that his wounds reopen and thus forces him to stay on bedrest. The dynamic between the two men is very familial, though it has the hints of a romance standard in which the erotic tension between future lovers is first expressed through psychological or physical violence. Though because of the way Jones is constantly desexualized and infantalized in the text, the erotic potential gives way to a quasi-familial
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sibling rivalry. This violence is definitely part of a masculine power struggle, but because of the queer father-son, as well as mother-son relationships, the balance is never shifted and it is Clive who, power-wise, remains on top. This is an example of recuperative violence the novel seems to present as a vehicle for masculine intimacy. Alcott and Jones do not end the list of men infantilized and dominated by Clive. Hammond, though later redeemed by his wife’s love in a true romance fashion, also needs to suffer some of Clive’s pseudo-kinship care: “‘Sit tight, kiddie, and eat your spinach, and Uncle Eddie will see if he can find a can opener for you.’ He shook Hammond’s shoulder, hard enough to make him wince” (2004, 320). Although the two men are the same age, Clive positions himself as older by referring to himself as “Uncle Eddie.” In that way he seems to be diminishing the perilousness of the situation Hammond is in. Clive also uses physical force to establish his dominance over Hammond. This seems excessive especially when pitching his masculinity against that of an incarcerated disabled man, whose sole redeeming feature is his ability to maintain his marriage to Jane Hammond. Regardless of his behavior, however, Clive does help Hammond. Other than the above example, the novel does seem to be depicting situations in which men (sometimes begrudgingly) care for other men. Apart from the mutual care between Jones and Clive, the detective takes care of Richard Alcott, and Big Fella tenderly cares for Beauvais when the two are in prison. At the same time, despite the explicit tenderness shown between men there is much less gay panic coded in the text. The discussion of food functions in the novel shows that food is also used to imply eroticism and sexualization, (queer) kinship, threat, and domestication, but most of these phenomena are tied to the issue of maturity as crucial for masculinity. Food is established to have an infantilizing quality that needs to be countered to prevent a contamination of tough adult masculinity. Clive is therefore punished for every attempt at eating, while he has to reassert his toughness in all food contexts. The connection between food and childhood is visible the most in chapter thirteen when Clive’s childhood reverie of gingerbread cookies is punctured by a severe assault by Big Fella and Beauvais. Childhood is continuously interpreted in terms of a power imbalance, in which the adult is in charge of the child. From this logic follows Clive’s obsession with maturity: for the masculine fantasy of toughness to work, the detective must always be the one in power. Spade achieved this via the externalized narration, while Marlowe
had the narratorial control. Clive has to reassert his domination on the diegetic level and hence so much of the discursive work goes into constant reaffirmations of his toughness and maturity.
Generic Vice Cigarettes are as generic to crime fiction as alcohol is, thus there is no surprise that Brackett’s novel includes many depictions of characters smoking. Clive is reported to smoke on more than twenty separate occasions, including passages that suggest chain-smoking or running out of cigarettes due to his overconsumption. He is also the first among the detectives discussed who smokes readymades rather than rolling his own, which may remark on his class status. Smoking is unequivocally an adult practice and thus presents no threat to maturity. It also does not intoxicate, so it may be overconsumed without any adverse consequences. Cigarettes in No Good from a Corpse are considered therapeutic and emotionally soothing almost in the same way as alcohol, so there are several occasions in which both activities occur simultaneously. Clive smokes when he is annoyed, or in pain. He rarely shares his cigarettes, which is indicative of a general generic practice of ensuring that no phallic objects belonging to the detective are indiscriminately shared with others, men or women. Offering a cigarette to a woman could be read as a sexual advance that could corrupt the sexually austere sleuth. Offering a cigarette to a man would be even more problematic due to the anxiety over homoeroticism present in the genre. Clive smokes mostly on his own and offers his cigarettes only to the two people he eventually kills: Kenneth Farrar and Vivien Alcott. Sharing his victims’ last smoke suggests that Clive is an honorable man who has respect for death, even if he does not value the people he kills. His willingness to share a cigarette as he is about to end a life legitimizes Clive as a good character. This gesture indicates that he is morally superior to his victims, since they did not extend this type of generosity to their victims: killing them brutally and with no warning. What is more, the slow pacing of the smoking sequences is contrasted with the rather violent and gruesome representations of the actual deaths. The detective first kills Farrar: Clive put another cigarette between his lips and lighted it, left-handed. In the quick flame his eyes were steady, dark, without emotion. Farrar’s hands
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crept higher. Clive took the cigarette in his left hand and held it out, butt foremost. “Smoke?” Farrar nodded. He raised his right hand and wiped the back of it across the side of his mouth that was still there. Clive leaned over him and placed a cigarette carefully in the corner of his lips. Farrar’s hand dropped down, fast, inside his coat. Clive let him get the automatic in his palms, clear of the holster, clear of the coat. Then he shot Farrar once through the center of the forehead. (2004, 399–400)
The sequence ends abruptly with the shot in the head but is preceded by a long account of cigarette smoking and sharing. This pacing is motivated by the need to create suspense by lulling readers with a detailed description of a regular activity, which is interrupted by Farrar’s attempt to use the automatic weapon and Clive’s cold decision to kill him. The passage both humanizes Clive by including his offering to Farrar, but at the same time shows him as a cold capable professional, who had anticipated Farrar’s moves and killed him. Vivien Alcott’s death is different as it can be read as either an accidental death or a murder motivated by rage. The woman dies drowning after hitting her head on the rim of the pool. She is pushed by Clive, but it seems that he was pushing her away rather than to her death. At the same time, his actions follow Alcott’s long monologue about how she will not be punished for her deeds because she has her class privilege and gender dividend on her side. This is a type of injustice that Clive cannot allow, especially that the crime unpunished is the murder of Laurel Dane. It could be argued that Clive does want to kill Vivien Alcott and offering her cigarettes is a foreshadowing of that: “He got cigarettes from a box, lighted one, and passed it to Vivien with an oddly intimate courtesy” (2004, 425). The comment about intimacy may refer to the fact that the two kissed on an earlier occasion, but it also seems to suggest an intimacy that is created between the hangman and his victim. It also seems that the novel is symbolically removing the type of femininity represented by Vivian Alcott from the realm of accepted gender performances for women. Though she is not stigmatized with mental illness as strongly as Carmen Sternwood was in The Big Sleep, she is vilified by her attempt to be sexually liberated and independent of gender roles.
For the detective, cigarette consumption (as well as alcohol) is the safest of consumption practices depicted in No Good from a Corpse. Similarly to The Big Sleep, Brackett’s novels suggest that it is the superficially benign consumption that is most harmful. The novel suggest that food infantilizes, while drink incapacitates those who are not mature. Smoking is something to be done on one’s own as therapy or consolation for those whose lives need to end.
Conclusion No Good from a Corpse though innovative due to its intertwining of romance and hardboiled elements, as well as explicit accounts of vomiting, mentions of urination, and graphic accounts of violence, does adhere to a conventional prewar model of American masculinity. Rather than destabilizing white heterosexual masculinity, it reinforces it with the use of romance elements. The novel re-defines masculinity not in terms of heterosexuality, but as maturity and uses consumption of food, alcohol, and cigarettes to place various men of the novel on a masculine continuum, on which Ed Clive always represents the closest approximation of the ideal model thanks to the discursive efforts of the text to constantly reconfirm his toughness. As the sole example of the fully formed adult masculinity, Clive enjoys the privilege of not eating and a privilege of drinking. The reverse of the former is that he is punished for eating, while all other men, who fail the maturity test, are paradoxically both tested with and punished for drinking. Immature men are forced to grow up, or they are killed. Women are not shown eating food at all, since the majority of them are already infantilized because of their gender. The maturity of the Alcott sisters is, however, tested with alcohol to reveal that the older sister is a woman, while the younger one is a child. Thus, Jane Hammond together with her husband become the heterosexual couple at the conclusion of the romance plot, while the monster that became of Vivien Alcott is dead in a long noir tradition of killing or institutionalizing dangerous women. The blending in of romance plots enables a reformulation of white hardboiled masculinities that though recognizably prewar, in some way anticipate the new masculinities that appear with the second half of the decade. Notions of maturity rather than impenetrability point to a new need for masculinity less shattered by the perceived crisis of masculinity.
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Masculinity that is socially integrated and comfortable with consumption will dominate postwar crime fiction aiming to obscure the physical and mental damage on those who fought in the war.
References Abbott, Megan L. 2002. The Street Was Mine: White Masculinity in Hardboiled Fiction and Film Noir. New York: Palgrave. Baym, Nina. 1981. Melodramas of Beset Manhood: How Theories of American Fiction Exclude Women Authors. American Quarterly 33: 123–139. Bederman, Gail. 1995. Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States 1880–1917. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Belasco, Warren. 2008. Food: Key Concepts. Oxford: Berg. Brackett, Leigh. 2004. No Good from a Corpse. Blackmask Online. Epub. Cawelti, John G. 1977. Adventure, Mystery, and Romance: Formula Stories as Art and Popular Culture (Phoenix Series). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Chandler, Raymond. 1959. The Long Goodbye. London: Penguin. ———. 1988. The Simple Art of Murder. New York: Vintage. Christianson, Scott R. 1989. Tough Talk and Wisecracks: Language as Power in American Detective Fiction. The Journal of Popular Culture 23 (2, Fall): 151–162. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.0022-3840.1989.00151.x. Epstein, Rebecca L. 2004. Appetite for Destruction: Gangster Food and Genre Convention in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. In Reel Food: Essays on Food and Film, ed. Anne L. Bower, 195–208. New York: Routledge. Gardiner, Judith Kegan. 2002. Theorizing Age with Gender. In Masculinity Studies and Feminist Theory: New Direction, ed. Judith Kegan Gardiner, 90–118. New York: Columbia University Press. Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. 2009. Starring: How We Look. Oxford: OUP. Gittins, Diana. 2009. The Historical Construction of Childhood. In An Introduction to Childhood Studies, ed. Mary Jane Kehily, 35–49. Maidenhead: Open University Press. Glover, David, and Cora Kaplan. 1992. Guns in the House of Culture? Crime Fiction and the Politics of the Popular. In Cultural Studies, ed. Lawrence Grossberg, Cary Nelson, and Paula Treichler, 213–226. London: Routledge. Hammett, Dashiell. 1992. The Maltese Falcon. New York: First Vintage Crime/ Black Lizard Edition. Herbert, Rosemary, ed. 1999. The Oxford Companion to Crime and Mystery Writing. Oxford: OUP. Holtzman, John D. 2006. Food and Memory. Annual Review of Anthropology 35: 361–378. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.anthro.35.081705.123220. Jones, Michael Owen, and Lucy M. Long. 2017. Comfort Food: Meanings and Memories. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press.
Kamble, Jayashree. 2014. Making Meaning in Popular Romance Fiction: An Epistemology. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Kehily, Mary Jane, and Heather Montgomery. 2009. Innocence and Experience: A Historical Approach to Childhood and Sexuality. In An Introduction to Childhood Studies, ed. Mary Jane Kehily, 70–91. Maidenhead: Open University Press. Krutnik, Frank. 1991. In a Lonely Street: Film Noir, Genre, Masculinity. New York: Routledge. McRuer, Robert. 2006. Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability. New York: New York University Press. McRuer, Robert, and Abby L. Wilkerson. 2003. Introduction. GLQ 9 (1–2): 1–23. https://doi.org/10.1215/10642684-9-1-2-1. Modleski, Tania. 1980. The Disappearing Act: A Study of Harlequin Romances. Signs 5 (3, Spring): 435–448. Nyman, Jopi. 1997. Men Alone: Masculinity, Individualism and Hard-Boiled Fiction. Atlanta: Rodopi. Pagan, Amanda. 2019. A Brief History of the Romance Novel. The New York Public Library, February 15. Plain, Gill. 2001. Twentieth Century Crime Fiction: Gender, Sexuality and the Body (America in the 20th/21st Century Series). New York: Routledge. Probyn, Elsbeth. 2000. Carnal Appetites: FoodSexIdentities. London: Routledge. Pronzini, Bill, and Marcia Muller. 1986. 1001 Midnights: The Aficionado’s Guide to Mystery and Detective Fiction. Westminster: Arbour House. Ramsdell, Kristin. 1999. Romance Fiction: A Guide to the Genre. 2nd ed. Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited. Regis, Pamela. 2003. A Natural History of the Romance Novel. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Weinman, Sarah. 2015. Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s and 50s. New York: The Library of America.
Pathologies of Prophylactic Masculinity in Dorothy B. Hughes’s In a Lonely Place (1947)
“He was hungry” (Hughes 1975, 21) encapsulates the essence of Dix Steele, a prewar hardboiled hero reworked into a postwar serial killer in Dorothy B. Hughes’s 1947 novel, In a Lonely Place. This insatiable and violent protagonist displays all the superficial features of a hardboiled character and pushes that archetype’s misogyny, misandry, individualism, and superiority complex to their criminal limits. Steele’s hunger is mentioned in the novel no less than eight times, in a way finally giving voice to the malnourished masculinity of the tough guy. Incidentally, toughness is not a characteristic mentioned in the text at all, thus departing from the toughness model of the prewar hardboiled sleuth. With untamed appetite in terms of alimentary, material, and sexual consumption, Dix Steele is a complex figure reflecting the contradictions of early postwar, white, heterosexual, American masculinity—a masculinity that, according to Clive Baldwin, was in the late 1940s plagued with concerns over gender roles and sexual conduct (2020, 3). Hughes’s text addresses early postwar misogyny and consumerism, at the same time critiquing the role of women in hardboiled narratives. Hailed by feminist critics as a feminist revision of the noir genre (Breu 2009, 202), In a Lonely Place thematizes the relationship between discourses of crises and reassertions of masculinity in terms of consumption and appetite. Dix Steele is the cannibalistic monster who, in contrast to the cannibal as a figure of restraint introduced by
© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2023 M. Usiekniewicz, Food, Consumption, and Masculinity in American Hardboiled Fiction, Crime Files, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-29160-9_5
Elspeth Probyn and discussed in relation to Chandler’s Philip Marlowe in Chap. 3, reflects the perceived threats of uncontrolled appetites combined with the economy of mass production. Quite literally obsessed with consumption, In a Lonely Place contains thirty-two separate descriptions of planning, thinking about, or eating food, most of which is done outside of the house. Food is eaten mainly in company, but sometimes on one’s own, yet there is very little cooking depicted as the text makes an effort to sever the conventional connection between femininity and domesticity. There are nineteen scenes when alcohol is drunk, including solitary and social drinking, sometimes accompanied or preceding food consumption. The novel features twelve instances of coffee drinking, both solitary and shared, during, after, or instead of meals. There are also eleven specific mentions of smoking, but they only suggest many more such instances. In fact, there is barely an interaction in the novel which does not take place either around one form of consumption or another. Invitations or plans to consume serve also as excuses for interactions, including a coffee invitation that leads to the rape and murder of Steele’s penultimate victim. In this sense, the novel reflects and comments upon the zeitgeist of postwar US society keen to compensate wartime rationing with massive accumulation and consumption of goods. War propaganda presented consumer restraint and rationing as part of the war effort. Most Americans, who did not get to experience war first hand, were persuaded that their frugality on the home front was also a manifestation of patriotism (Adams 1994, 70, see Chap. 4).1 Consumption was recast as another means of expressing allegiance to the US through boycotting products made in enemy countries or choosing vegetable shortening instead of butter or substituting peanut butter for meat (Estes 2017, 7). In the aftermath of the war, when wartime technological advancements had to shift to peacetime mode, consumption again became a manifestation of patriotism. This time, however, buying and amassing became a patriotic gesture. War technology had to be adapted for the domestic market and citizens—women mostly—had to be taught to need and use new labor-saving equipment, such as dishwashers, washing machines, and refrigerators. They were also encouraged to eat new food. Consumption was framed as a manifestation of American war triumph 1 According to Michael C. Adams “Of sixteen million military personnel, 25 percent never left the United States, and less than 50 percent of those overseas were ever in a battle zone,” (1994, 70).
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over its enemies, and in consequence conspicuous consumption confirmed itself as an element of Americanness (Shanken 2009, 48). The ability to accumulate commodities, on hiatus since consumerism’s first wave in the 1920s, was once again established as a tell-tale sign of American success. The novel, in its critique and prescription of valid and invalid consumption, uses hunger and satiety as metaphors for good and bad class aspirations, which in turn reestablish a distinctly white heterosexual and middle-class masculinity as hegemonic, at the same time refusing to promote its complementary model of femininity. Quite literally, the novel equates appetites with morality as it attempts to reconfigure the position of women in noir fiction. If the value of the characters was to be established only on the basis of their consumption patterns, then Dix Steele, Laurel Gray, the novel’s quasi-femme fatale-turned-sleuth, and Mel Terriss, Steele’s rich acquaintance whom he kills and whose lifestyle he assumes, would be marked as villains. Though they all differ in class origins, they all consume a lot without achieving satisfaction. Terriss drinks and flaunts his wealth, and his overconsumption manifests on his body as corpulence, while Gray and Steele are continuously hungry with the ravenousness of those who aspire to advance socially and economically. By contrast, the consumption patterns of Brub and Sylvia Nicolai, the LAPD detective and his wife, who are the novel’s unquestionably positive characters both functioning as detectives, fall well within the middle-class norm that combines comfortable wealth accumulation with restraint. In a Lonely Place features detailed accounts of meals or food fantasies, which are distinctly Californian in character. Shrimp cocktails, chowders, and other seafood served at exclusive beach clubs not only highlight the proximity of the ocean, but more importantly, reflect the food fashion of the time. Numerous delicatessens, drive-ins, and diners emphasize typically American fare, such as grilled cheese and salami or turkey sandwiches, as well as reflect the new affluence of the American middle class that can eat out and drive to food venues. The numerous desserts and ice creams consumed reflect not just the ubiquity of refrigeration, but also suggest luxury and leisure, and contribute to the association of sugar with Americans so bemoaned by Roland Barthes in his classic text “Toward a Psychology of Contemporary Food Consumption.” The sheer quantity, the way it is represented, as well as the shift in the narrative perspective all mark a change compared to the way food has featured in noir. In a Lonely Place removes food’s sinister quality so frequent in prewar and mid-war novels. Food no longer functions as a threat to a character’s corporal
integrity, even though it is still associated with death by the proximity of events featuring food to those featuring murder. Nevertheless, in Hughes’s text it is people’s attitude toward food that is examined and may be wrong, not food itself. In fact, it is how one consumes that matters, not what. The characters of the novel smoke and drink as much as they eat: beer, highballs, martinis, and rye whiskey appear at regular intervals and are drunk mostly in company. Both drink and food choices are reflections of people’s social and cultural competences. Without making too much of a point of it, the text shows the noxious effects of alcohol intoxication in a conventional way, but also presents Steele’s commentary on the taste or provenance of drinks. This, again, marks his wannabe status. As social occasions, drinks are seen to have a purpose, and Steele often uses drinks to make people talk to him, while he at times avoids drinking too much in company to prevent giving himself away in a manner befitting a prewar hardboiled sleuth, or a murderer. Like his less explicitly murderous antecedents, Steele also uses alcohol to test his and others’ limits of control. Midway through the novel, Sylvia Nicolai observes: “[l]iquor is such a substitute for facing adult life” (1975, 136), and it is an opinion shared by the novel. To some extent this continues Leigh Brackett’s tradition of equating prescriptive masculinity with adulthood, again linked with heterosexuality, and using the capacity to drink gracefully to test that maturity (discussed in Chap. 4). Finally, sexual appetites and consumption are also featured and commented on frequently in the novel, blurring the lines between sex and sexual violence by making the rapist killer also the person who enjoys sensual pleasures the most. Steele is the ultimate example of the sexual predator described by Carol Adams in her account of misogyny, meat- eating, and sexual violence in The Sexual Politics of Meat. Importantly, however, rather than focusing on glamorized violence, In a Lonely Place refuses to present either the murders or the mangled corpse, which has been interpreted as a gesture of feminist subversion of the classic crime fiction trope of objectifying the female victim (Mills 2020, 150). At the same time, as has been observed by Christopher Breu, Hughes’s “strategic use of a third person limited narration … both brings the reader into uncomfortable proximity with Dix’s thoughts and crucially holds her at a critical distance from the full identification that would be promoted by a first person narrative” (2009, 204). Misogyny is depicted as conventional, and only when Steele is revealed as the murderer does the violence toward
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women read less like everyday sexism and turn criminal. Importantly, the novel does not condemn women’s sexual and lifestyle choices, and thus the casual sexual relations of Steele’s victims or Laurel Gray’s lifestyle are not stigmatized. What is shown, however, is the continuity between casual patriarchal devaluation and objectification of women and sexual violence and murder (Breu 2009, 206). Steele sees women as commodities and treats them accordingly, either as toys to discard, such as his victims, or status symbols who may help him advance socially, like Gray. Whatever the role he ascribes to them, they never satisfy his social or sexual appetites. Though he bemoans the affordances of modern life, such as electric razors or vacuum cleaners (Breu 2009, 205), Steele is dead set on living a life of constant acquisition of goods by any means necessary. Published in 1947, In a Lonely Place reflects a cultural shift toward materialist culture, at the same time voicing criticism of the persistence of economic inequality despite the promise of progress (Breu 2009, 208). The ambiguity, however, arises from the fact that these objections are formulated by Dix Steele, the novel’s villain, in tone similar to Marlowe’s complaints about the rich in the 1930s. Steele, who is first introduced as a sympathetic war veteran, is gradually revealed as a mentally unstable serial rapist and killer of women (Mills 2020, 156) unable to integrate into postwar society. The inclusion of veteran narrative elements into the psychological noir of Hughes’s novel enables an even more complex and gender-inflected criticism of postwar America. Stanley Orr argues that such genre blending was a choice often made by postwar women and minority writers, who had been cast as “Other for the hard-boiled Self” (2010, 110). Hughes used these tropes to rearticulate a challenge to traditional gender norms of postwar America and the crime fiction canon, revealing some of the ideological work done by the popular culture of her time. An analysis of her novel shows the extent to which consumption—literal and abstract—is gendered, and how implicated it is in notions of Americanness present in the late 1940s. Clive Baldwin has listed some of the causes of anxiety in and about postwar American society, and especially masculinity, running counter to the triumphalism of the winning allies, such as the experiences of the Great Depression, World War II, the Holocaust, the use of atomic weapons, and the looming Cold War. He has noted that this “cultural disquiet” impacted “gender and sexuality, with anxious debate about sex roles and a particular concern about American masculinity, as large corporations and mass consumerism came to dominate economic activity”
(2020, 3). The concern over gender and consumption was fueled also by the concurrent fears of homogenization—as opposed to individualism—via consumption and identification of Americanness with mass market and consumerism. Conceptually merging fears of communist contamination and feminization associated with homogeneity, these new cultural practices— or so the concern was—could reflect badly on the US’s overall position in the world and its ability to steer it (Baldwin 2020, 7). The predominant issue that tied to masculinity was the impact of new gender models onto the virility and sexual practices of American men, a topic keenly debated even before the 1948 Kinsey report The Sexual Behaviors of the Human Male (Baldwin 2020, 112). Marriage was seen as a means of reintegrating veterans into society, and toward the end of the decade, strict expectations of “moral” conduct were imposed on both genders. At the same time, a vision of heterosexual sex in which the man aggressively penetrates the passive woman persisted, in a way legitimizing violence against women on both the symbolic and physical levels (Baldwin 2020, 114). Baldwin has noted the paradoxes of the era’s views on men’s sexuality: “a fear of rampant and immoral behaviour and the perception of a decline in male sexual vitality, ensuing from the supposed feminisation of American culture and the deconstruction of traditional gender roles” (2020, 112). Either perverse or flaccid, these versions of masculinity would supposedly fail to protect America from its enemies, or so were the fears of the time. The concerns over material, alimentary, and sexual appetites of American men riddled the late 1940s, hence an analysis of a novel that both criminalizes a dated, hegemonic model of masculinity and embraces a new one, while at the same time advancing a solid critique of the genre’s sexism, offers, once again, an insight into the entanglement of gender roles and consumption. By focusing my discussion on food and other consumption practices of the novel’s characters, Dix Steele mostly, and to a degree Brub Nicolai, as well as other representations of food in the text, I show the transformation of masculinity from the alienated, doubt-riddled, tough hero vying for constant discursive confirmation of his toughness into the domesticated, responsible family man who balances healthy appetite and middle-class restraint. The novel tests the limits of and finally asserts the reintegration of men, crucially war veterans, via a heterosexual union, shifting the responsibility for reintegration from society to the individual. In consequence, in the postwar context, the superficial source of evil,
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which in prewar noir had been systemic corruption, is projected onto the aberrant individual, and, in a manner similar to the classic detective stories of the Golden Age, the plot resolution is not a revolution, but a return to the status quo.2 In a Lonely Place is also a response to the galvanized misogyny of the postwar triumphant US (Breu 2005, 46). In his discussion of Chester Himes, John Okada, and Hughes, Stanley Orr has observed that these authors anticipate a later tendency of “denaturalizing noir” by shifting focus toward those who are rarely in the centers of power (2010, 107). Though Hughes’s two main protagonists, Dix Steele and Brub Nicolai, remain white and male, they are not reduced to types, but instead represent two modes of masculinity that are in tension with each other. The tough, prophylactic, isolated masculinity approximated by Dix Steele is contrasted with Brub Nicolai’s socially integrated and domesticated masculinity. By having Steele caught and Nicolai an LAPD detective who does the catching—albeit with major help from the novel’s two central women characters, Sylvia Nicolai and Laurel Gray—the novel leaves no doubt about the new hegemonic model replacing the former tough guy ideal. Also in stark contrast to the conventional hardboiled types of sidekick and femme fatale, Sylvia Nicolai and Laurel Grey are instrumental in solving the crime and apprehending Steele. As auxiliaries to the male protagonists, these women are presented as much more complex, self-aware and empowered characters who do not get the conventional noir punishment for their emancipatory aspirations. In fact, though both are associated with strongly feminized qualities, such as the ability to read emotions and social situations, they are the ones who put their lives on the line to prevent more women from being killed by Steele. Breu has argued that the novel is also an answer to the racism of the postwar era (2005, 46), but I disagree. Unlike her other novels, in In a Lonely Place Hughes achieves the empowerment of white women by sacrificing its characters of color by relegating most service and food-related jobs to them. In an effort to remove women from domestic spaces, Hughes makes domesticity transparent and the mostly black and brown labor invisible. Though both are revisions of prewar hardboiled femininities, the two women waive the credit for contributing so much to the solution of the crime in order to appease the gender expectations of the time. In fact, 2
See discussion of abjection in Chap. 2 on Philip Marlowe, as well as Plain (2001, 29–55).
Nicolai comments that “Sylvia ought to be the detective in the family. She knows everything about everybody” (Hughes 1975, 25). Nicolai’s approach, though mildly patronizing, appears soon after Steele’s observation that “[w]omen were snoopy. He hated women” (1975, 20). Adamantly sexist, Steele sees how men are spoiled by feminization, when he adds that “Brub would be snoopy too: he was a detective” (1975, 20). Thus in the eyes of the now-compromised misogynistic masculinity of prewar noir Nicolai’s inquisitiveness is a sign of his effeminacy because curiosity is gendered female. Yet due to the fact that Steel is not the character with whose views the novel aligns, despite the narrative ambiguity, the combination of these comments suggests that being “snoopy” is how one solves cases, and this ability may be shared by women and some good men. In his effort to control women, Steel wants to impose conventional gender roles onto them. At the beach club, he wants to act as the rich man he sees himself becoming and one he was during the war. His gesture stops Sylvia Nicolai’s effort to bend gender norms of pre-dinner cocktail savoir-faire: “Brub doesn’t seem to have shown up yet. Unless he’s beaten us to the bar.” … “I’ll substitute for Brub and buy you a drink while we wait,” she said. “I approve of the substitution. But I’ll buy the drink,” he told her. She moved away from him to a table. “You can’t. Not at the club. This is Brub’s party.” (1975, 28)
Her statement that their encounter is “Brub’s party” is telling. The entire novel is evidence that this new postwar society will be the party of men like Nicolai, who will continue to control the finances and social situations. As a representative of hegemonic masculinity, Brub Nicolai’s power is present even in his absence, with empowered women such as his wife maintaining his dominance. Orr notes that “[a]ppropriating the gaze usually ascribed to the male noir hero, Sylvia confuses Dix’s presumptions about the passive domestic angel consumed by ‘aimless female business’” (1975, 121). Neither Sylvia Nicolai nor Laurel Gray conform to the roles Steele wants them to fit and thus make him hate them more. Brub Nicolai, in contrast, trusts his wife’s intuition about his friend, as well as her training in psychology. His siding with his wife is an ultimate gesture signaling his complete reintegration into civilian society: homosocial loyalty is trumped by the heteronormative romance.
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Simultaneously, once the two women’s autonomy is established, it is semi-revoked by the logic of “protection” extended by Nicolai, “and the police force he represents, which forms the masculinist state-based flipside of misogynist violence in the public sphere” (Breu 2009, 210). Steele’s misogyny is overt, yet the postwar society was not a feminist idyll either, and led to the even stricter gender expectations of the 1950s (Baldwin 2020, 4). What is more, argues Breu, the postwar noir novel was not a response to a perceived crisis of masculinity, but “an aggressive reassertion of male privilege” (2009, 210). In a Lonely Place thus offers a gender rollercoaster, which discards some gender models for others, but ultimately yields to the pressures of the times. A scathing takedown of misogynistic violence and its connections to models of masculinity and a feminist reworking of sexist tropes, it presents a logic of moralized appetites that make In a Lonely Place an important comment on economy, gender, and genre.
Competing White Masculinities: Alienation and Integration Two white men return from the war. One becomes a police officer, marries an educated woman, and wants to serve his community. The other misses the times he had and status afforded to him when enlisted. The narrator thus describes Steele: The war years were the first happy years he’d ever known. You didn’t have to kowtow to the stinking rich, you were all equal in pay; and before long you were the rich guy … You were the Mister, you were what you always wanted to be, class. You could have any woman you wanted … The world was yours. (Hughes 1975, 109, emphasis added)
Steele continues to be jealous of his more affluent friends, and occupies himself by seducing, and later raping and killing women. But it is not the trauma of the war that has created the monster; the experience simply allowed him to be himself. The contrast between Steele and Nicolai highlights the acceptable and unacceptable contexts for men’s aggression and violence, as well as sheds light on the ways gender roles prescribe gender- specific psychological reactions. By emphasizing the need for integration into the society, the once coveted outsider status of the alienated detective who is impervious to corruption and other evils of
society is now seen as suspicious, and in the case of the novel, criminal. The new hegemony is focused on communal values and safety, as expressed by Brub Nicolai when asked about his decision to join the police: “I want the world to be a good place, a safe place … To help make one little corner of the world a safer place” (1975, 89). Somewhat in contrast to this reading, Breu has argued that “rather than being an exception, one easily dismissed as aberrant, [Steele] is instead represented as the logical extension of everyday forms of misogyny” (2009, 206). As Hughes does not depict the violent acts committed by Steele, readers’ attention is “directed to the seemingly banal and thoroughly ordinary aspects of Dix’s masculine subjectivity and the way in which these are productive of a violent misogyny” (2009, 206). Though I see, and agree with, Breu’s point about Hughes’s larger ideological critique of the effects of patriarchy, the way Hughes contrasts Steele and Nicolai’s masculinities suggests an attempt at recuperating aspects of conventional masculinity as a response to social, political, and economic turmoil. Steele’s entitlement is also contrasted with Nicolai’s work ethic and dedication. Nicolai’s career as a police detective enables not only the depiction of the right kind of postwar homosociality safeguarded by the presence of a wife, but also emphasizes that work is crucial to masculinity. Though nowhere near the tunnel vision of prewar noir detectives, his work is not routine for Nicolai. Though self-conscious about his ideals, Nicolai is driven by a need to make the world better: “‘Junior G-man rides his white horse. I suppose in a couple of years I’ll be as stale as Loch. But right now it’s personal. I want to get that killer.’ His laugh repeated. It was an apology for his emotion” (1975, 89). Nicolai’s response to his own emotions shows that despite changes made to postwar masculinity, excessive emotionality is still unacceptable. Dix Steele’s ultimate emotional unraveling preceded by many instances of emotions out of control only further contributes to his vilification. The fact that he wants to avoid working, that he cons his uncle into providing him with an allowance, and that he later kills Mel Terriss to take over his apartment and lifestyle, also distance him from his prewar antecedents. He is not “the good man” of Chandler’s “Simple Art of Murder,” and neither is he the traumatized war veteran, but an aberrant individual dressed up as both. Furthermore, In a Lonely Place conforms to a view of war trauma typical for the era by recasting Steele’s potential PTSD as individual criminality rather than a generational experience. Within the narrative, Steele’s mental
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state is an aberration for which only he should be blamed. This individualized “bad apple” account of Dix Steele fits well the triumphant US postwar narrative not interested in attracting attention to the fact that so many of the personnel sent overseas returned suffering from psychological trauma. The US was invested in reintegration of veterans via heterosexual romance and very little help was offered to families dealing with undiagnosed trauma of returning soldiers. Michael C. Adams has recounted a common, yet silenced, experience of many veterans who “[t]rying to repress feelings … drank, gambled, suffered paralyzing depression, and became inarticulately violent” (1994, 150). Adams had quoted statistics according to which 25 to 30% of casualties of war were mental in nature, and there were moments when this number reached between 70 and 80% (1994, 95). Yet, the popular image of the World War II veteran was that of a combat hero, a warrior unharmed by adversity, who would don the face of a famous celebrity (Casaregola 2009, 3). Adams concurs that the image of the veteran was glamorized in the media, and comments that in the popular view, and in contrast to the Vietnam War veteran, “the 1945 vet came home to enjoy prosperity, satisfied with a job well done, and with few qualms about the war” (1994, 148). There was no conceptual space for any mental or social impairments for returning soldiers, while the popularity of the veteran narrative combined with the sentimentalized image of the wartime hero created sympathy for the figure of the former soldier back from the wars. Breu notes that this is precisely what causes the ambiguity in how Dix Steele’s veteran masculinity plays out in the text: “Dix goes from being the sentimentalized soldier out of step with postwar life to being the woman-stalking sex-strangler” (2009, 204). The postwar success narrative precluded a discussion of mental disability, which with all its attendant stigmatizing cultural meanings seemed antithetical to the contemporary ideology of triumph and would retroactively imply weakness of the American soldier, at a time when concerns were already raised about America’s ability to defend itself (Baldwin 2020, 12). Thus, in the immediate postwar years, women’s magazines, such as Good Housekeeping would promise veteran’s wives that their husband’s tormenting flashbacks would be gone in a few weeks, while the Army gave it up to two months (Adams 1994, 124). Though complying with the mainstream representation of veteran reintegration, Hughes did challenge contemporary models of masculinity. In the Nicolais’ relationship, she depicted masculinity that was able to
embrace empowered femininity: a perspective that ran counter to the predominant view of gender relations in the late 1940s. Stanley Orr suggests that the conventions of a veteran narrative necessitated a representation of an inner emotional conflict. This conflict would be resolved by a “getting the girl” plot with a happy ending that would ease a veteran’s reintegration. Though sidetracked by “persistent homosocial bonding with war buddies, which tempts the protagonist to forgo the painful ‘return to normalcy,’” understood in terms of familial and professional engagement with the present, a veteran would successfully transition into a civilian (Orr 2010, 108–9). This is precisely what irks Dix Steele about the postwar moment and fuels his virulent sexism. He blames women for taking away his social circle (Mills 2020, 156). Upon visiting the Nicolais for the first time, Steele complains: “Things weren’t the same. There was a girl there, a girl who had a right to be there” (Hughes 1975, 8). Notably, the successful reintegration narrative appeared in Nichols’s 1950 adaptation of the novel which, forced by the Hays Code, recast Steele as innocent and offered a heterosexual union as narrative closure. Not constrained by Hollywood codes, Hughes’s novel highlights Steele’s failure to integrate by contrasting him with Brub Nicolai. Married, with his heterosexuality thus confirmed, and employed as a law enforcement officer, providing a legitimate homosocial environment and a link to the state, Nicolai enjoys the stability and prosperity promised by the postwar American dream. Though coming from money, Nicolai works for a living and has married a woman much less affluent than him. Though he has the means and comportment of the wealthy, Nicolai represents a pragmatic and socially integrated model of the new hegemonic masculinity, which includes respect for women extending beyond conventional chivalry. This well-adjusted, gainfully employed new American male is then juxtaposed to Dix Steele, who represents individualized criminality. Typically for serial killer narratives, the murderer is envisioned as an aberration rather than a product of social and political dynamics (Plain 2001, 222). Steele’s murderous instincts are explained by flaws of character rather than experience. Presented as entitled and selfish, Steele resists an interpretation that could somehow qualify his behavior or garner sympathy for him, such as the psychological complexity of trauma. He is singled out as a monster from the start: more threatening because he does not physically appear in a manner that stereotypically suggests mental distress. Though the war was a part of the success story of the US, the novel makes a point to show that it should not be thought of fondly, especially
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with the postwar prosperity seemingly available to anyone. In the fragment quoted above Steele emphasizes how being in the army enabled him unprecedented access to women. Though he misses the homosocial camaraderie of the army and sees women as intruders, echoing Philip Marlowe’s distrust of the entire gender, he is interested in taking ownership of women, whom he reduces to objects either through sexualization or murder, or both. Steele is explicit about his hatred of women, but he kills them not to rid the world of them. He violates women out of frustrated hunger, as none of them may satisfy his unquenchable appetite. The fleeting sense of control he has over women just before he violates them, gives Steele a taste of how he would want to feel, if his appetite would ever be satisfied. It vindicates his frustrations at not having all that he feels he should have. Steele’s hunger is the opposite of Nicolais’ postwar satiety. The tension between Nicolai and Steele may also be explained in generic terms, with Steele representing the logic of a crime narrative, and Nicolai approximating values typical for postwar war narrative. Patrick Deer has observed that while crime stories “explore the individualistic, often antisocial qualities of criminals and those who hunt them, and can display a striking skepticism towards and ironic critique of collective values,” war narratives focus “on the capacity for action and heroism within individuals but often subordinate them to a collective military discipline that ultimately makes individual troops interchangeable and dispensable” (2020, 345). Though Nicolai is not dispensable, firstly because of his drive to find the killer, and secondly because unlike others, he is able to enlist the help of his wife to do that, in his official capacity, he is a stand in for the postwar state and justice meted out by institutions not individuals. Moving away from plot and context, also the choice of the text’s narrative voice, the third person limited omniscient narrator, which provides access to the killer’s thoughts (Orr 2010, 119), poses a challenge to Steele’s toughness. In fact, Steele is completely permeable, and therefore in the logic of his prewar antecedents, failed. No wonder that the novel features almost no mention of toughness, discursive or corporeal, so important for prewar hardboiled tough guys. This narrative strategy also enables a generic shift from a “whodunit,” to a “whydunit” (Telotte 1989, 3), and makes readers somewhat implicated by forcing them to sometimes agree with some of the killer’s assertions. This ambiguity already anticipates the birth of the 1950s anti-social noir of writers such as Jim Thompson, discussed in Chap. 6, and Patricia Highsmith.
Hughes’s novel depicts prophylactic, prewar, hardboiled masculinity as criminal in postwar America. Orr notes that “Hughes revisits existentialist noir with literary naturalism, and in doing so, defamiliarizes its strategy of authenticating alienation” (2010, 119). In fact, she vilifies the very alienation that noir and hardboiled fiction embody because, in line with the contemporary worldview, masculine recuperation in the postwar US was possible only via reintegration into society. Hughes shows that not only is the postwar alienated male mentally and emotionally unstable to the degree exceeding the hysteria of Marlowe, but also that his vulnerability to his urges is enough to criminalize rather than medicalize him. When the paradigm of masculinity shifts into one that requires a heterosexual coupling, the separated individualist must be considered suspect. Whereas in No Good from a Corpse a heterosexual union, rather than the spectacular, promiscuous heterosexuality of Sam Spade, was a means to confirm a character’s normative sexuality and maturity, In a Lonely Place makes it a feature of hegemonic masculinity. Despite global fears about the feminization of American men, the novel suggests that domestication and marriage are part and parcel of prescriptive masculinity. Megan Abbott notes this shift, albeit as featured in postwar films: “the notion of a white male figure prowling the urban landscape without wife or children, without familial ties or male friends, without a boss, a company, a community position is profoundly disturbing” (2002, 133). It must be noted, however, that the heterosexual union or its development, i.e. the nuclear family is “a racialized concept that excludes all other forms of habitation as non-white, e.g. Black single mothers, brown itinerant farm laborers” (Cartwright 2020, 9–10), and thus maintains the transparent whiteness of this model. The emphasis on the heteronormative couple is also the reason why in Hughes’s novel the character who superficially embodies hardboiled virtues is also the murderer, while the one who stands for domesticity, responsibility, heteronormativity, and the state is the detective, Brub Nicolai, who, together with his wife and the novel’s quasi-femme fatale, triumph at the end. Yet another means by which the novel establishes prewar tough masculinity as unacceptable is men’s attitude toward racial difference. Where prewar detectives expressed overt racism, such as Marlowe’s blasé demeanor in Chandler’s 1940 Farewell, My Lovely as he watches Moose Malloy kill a black man for no reason, or the countless racial slurs and stereotypes present in other texts of the period, In a Lonely Place, though
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still featuring racial and ethnic minorities more as elements of the setting than as protagonists, builds up a character’s likability via their ability to politely interact with representatives of racial and ethnic minorities, as well as those less economically privileged. The Los Angeles depicted in the novel, like Hammett’s San Francisco, is suspiciously white, as only three people of color are mentioned, none in a significant role. In a scene at the Nicolais’ beach club the couple and Steele are served by a black waiter, Malcolm, and later Steele notes two Hispanic men working on the gardens in his, or rather Mel Terriss’s, apartment building. Though not entirely voiceless, all are marginalized into becoming mere props signifying otherness against which the white characters’ dramas play out. Merely a decade before the peak of Civil Rights and one year before Executive Order 9981, desegregating the armed forces, at a time when African Americans were starting to mobilize against various forms of discrimination and oppression, the sole black man featured, Malcolm, appears as the smiling, accommodating waiter, whose sole function is to generate sympathy for Brub Nicolai, the patron who is nice to the staff. In Playing in the Dark Toni Morrison argues that the language available to any American author is already filled with a racial idiom in which blackness has been used to construct the transparency and coherence of whiteness (1992, 6). She observes that even progressive white authors are complicit in this use of blackness to validate “good” whiteness by creating benevolent white characters who “help” or “save” black characters (1992, 15–6). It is often the case that the humanity of the white protagonist comes at the price of the dehumanization of a black one, even when it is supposedly an attempt to validate both. Though it is hard to argue that Malcolm is dehumanized in order to bequeath humanity onto Brub Nicolai, the waiter is infantilized to a degree reminiscent of antebellum depiction of happy slaves, so that Nicolai may seem as the benevolent white American. Given that the interaction plays out at the beach club during dinner and food provision and service are an element of the set-up, it is worth quoting it in detail. Nicolai comes late to the dinner already attended by his wife and Steele. He is tired after a difficult day at work, investigating the strangulations. As he sits down, the waiter approaches him. The narrator describes Malcolm as “a young colored man, whiter of skin than the beach-brown guests,” who “was unobtrusive at the table” (1975, 29). Brub proceeds to order:
“Hello, Malcolm. Do you suppose you could get me a double Scotch from the bar before you start my dinner? I’ve just come from work and I need it.” “I’m sure I can, Mr. Nicolai,” Malcolm smiled. He went away. (1975, 29)
This exchange takes place in a restaurant, which in a racially and economically segregated society would be one of the few places an upper-middle- class white man would come in regular contact with a working-class person of color, though it must be assumed that Nicolai meets all manner of people as part of his job. The narrator goes to great lengths to establish Nicolai as kind and unassuming. He knows the name of the person serving him and feels the need to justify his request for a drink. The manner in which he orders implies that Malcolm could have a say in the matter and refuse. Malcolm’s smile is ambiguous, as it could either express his disdain for the client or subservience. That the black character is described by his first name only immediately suggests a relation of inequality between the two men: the client is a man, while the waiter is merely a boy. Malcolm is infantilized and presented as subservient to the white patron, perfectly content to fulfill the patron’s wishes. The scene thus reflects the racial, social, and economic relations predominant in postwar America. The text is somewhat aware of the arbitrary difference of status based on skin color alone, when the narrator comments on the contrast between the “black” body of Malcolm and the tanned bodies of club members. To a degree, it is possible to argue that Malcolm is a black boy because he is a waiter. His social and economic position intersect with his race in a tangle of hierarchical social construction. At the same time, the narrator’s side comment on the skin tones of the guests and staff is also telling and reflects a particular approach to race as a social rather than biological concept. If one was to hypothesize and look at the situation through the waiter’s eyes, one could entertain a reading that shows Malcolm’s double consciousness as a black man in a white world of genre fiction. By refusing Malcolm any subjectivity, Hughes shows the limits of subversion—focused on rewriting the role of women in noir, she unwittingly throws other oppressed and ill-served subjects under the proverbial bus. Malcolm remains the token black man introduced only as a ploy to make Brub Nicolai look good. The novel does not open a space for negotiating Malcolm into a subject by any subversive means, though other, non-white writers, such as Chester Himes and later Walter Moseley have successfully achieved that by making their African American characters the centers of the plot.
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The only other time race is explicitly present in the novel is when Steele notices two gardeners working in the apartment complex where he lives. He observes them with suspicion, but also with a level of hate surprising in proportion to the two men’s relative presence. He worries that the two Mexican men will spy on him, which is a direct call back to prewar noir’s suspicion of non-whiteness as threatening, which legitimized much of the racism present in these texts. In an almost comical contrast to Nicolai, Steele embraces a racist disdain for the workers, and refers to them as “peasants” (1975, 172), thus merging their ethnicity with their class status. The word he uses is curiously outdated in the 1940s and seems to exoticize the men even further, functionally precluding any notion of these men ever attaining “properly” American masculinity. By having Steele assume an openly racist attitude, the text confirms readers’ suspicions that they are not to sympathize with him. If the white benevolence of Nicolai was meant to paint him as a positive character, then, in contrast, Steele’s racism makes him into a villain. Having the other two non-white characters employed as gardeners plays into a racist and classist notion on non-white masculinity as unmanly. Mexican workers in the US are often depicted as involved in various aspects of domestic labor, including food production, as farm workers and busboys, or maintenance as gardeners.3 Steele’s comment about the gardeners reveals not just his prejudice toward people of color, but also for the work they do, which seems to contrast with his general attitude of “class-inflected rage against the forms of economic inequality that continued to characterize American life in spite of the economic promise of the postwar years” (Breu 2009, 208). Steele also refers to a waitress as a “chit” (1975, 66), though it is unclear if his disdain is the product of his classism, sexism, or ageism. This animosity may also be a reflection of Steele’s contempt for those who work for a living. In fact, all of the women he kills are employed, and he approaches them mostly as they travel to or from work. Breu has taken these and other departures from the anti-rich agenda as echoes of “the structures of feeling of an emergent American neoimperialism in the postwar moment” (2009, 209), which under the banner of universal equality wants to be the first among the supposed peers and have privileged access to global 3 For more on history and representation of Latinx and Hispanic farm and food labor, see Ruiz (1999) and Guerin-Gonzales (1996).
resources (2009, 209). Breu has noted the gendered dimension of “equality” thus defined, while I would also add that this ideological inconsistency is yet another marker of masculine inferiority meant to set up Steele as a villainous masculinity to Nicolai’s hegemonic one.
Cannibal: Insatiable Appetites and Restraint In a Lonely Place uses attitudes toward consumption to convey characters’ aspirations, and more importantly, provide cues as to their morality and compliance with prescriptive social norms. Nicolai’s restraint and satiety are contrasted with Dix Steele and Laurel Gray’s appetites and desires. Though both Nicolai and Steele eat heartily, and the policeman is described as “attacking” his apple pie or admitting that he is “starving” (Hughes 1975, 153 and 134, respectively), it is Steele whose hunger is not quenched. He is never fully satisfied because his hunger exceeds physiological hunger. Steele engages in a lot of emotional eating meant to quench his emotional and social hunger. He considers the venues he could visit, knowing well that it is not just lack of food that makes him unhappy: He drove over to Wilshire, not knowing where he’d eat. The Savoy, on up to Rodeo, Romanoff’s, the Tropics. He was after good food but he didn’t want to waste a lot of money on it. Not until Laurel went with him to those spots. There was always the Derbyor Sheetz—not for tonight. Neither could fill the hollow within him. (1975, 148–9)
The names of restaurants function as tokens of spectacular consumption, one that is lavish and witnessed by others. Consuming inconspicuously in the privacy of one’s home is not enough for those hungry for recognition by the rich. Steele wants it all: the leisurely lifestyle of the independently rich, and the comforts of domesticity. If Nicolai is the adult male for whom the war was a rite of passage that culminated with a heterosexual union, Steele is the immature boy who wants it all, but does not want to make an effort to get it. Not troubled by a fear of contamination, after all he is fully permeable due to the opinionated narrative voice of the novel, Steele wants to consume. Thus, in a twist on the many prewar motifs Steele embodies, he is criminal because of his excessiveness: not a Spade, but a Gutman. Not surprisingly, given the Protestant influences on American
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culture, the element that travels from prewar prophylactic noir to postwar subversive psychological noir, and from tough guy masculinity to nuclear family masculinity, is the valuation of restraint and control. Steele seems to be the hungriest character among all the men discussed in this book—including the famous gourmand, Nero Wolf, discussed in Chap. 7—as if eating for all the malnourished prewar tough guys. In fact, Steele functions as the unrestrained cannibal, a figure and practice “strongly evocative of the general conflation of concerns about colonial, capitalist and sexual appetites” (Probyn 2000, 80–1). Though not explicitly a colonial figure, yet enjoying the privileges of whiteness resulting from colonialism, in his economic and sexual appetites Steele resembles a cannibal. He lives in an era that realizes its economic potential and both promotes and is concerned with consumerism (Baldwin 2020, 3). In this context, American fears about the limits of human appetite come to the fore and are rendered in popular culture. In a Lonely Place does partake in this anxiety and suggest that excessive consumption is monstrous. Probyn, whose ultimate argument is that contrary to most accounts, a cannibal is a figure of restraint, presents cannibalism as an expression of fear that human “appetites have no end. As a monstrous example the figure of the cannibal reminds us of our inhumanity; as an object of fascination, it questions what we may be becoming” (2000, 81). Steele is such a warning sign of the threats of overconsumption. Steele is thus the reverse of Probyn’s figure of restraint, and, to a degree, a flipped embodiment of the more conventional conceptualizations of the man-eating myth. William Arens’s take on cannibalism suggests that rather than an actual anthropophagy, cannibalism was a colonial projection onto the indigenous people of the Americas, a projection that was used in an attempt to justify the abuses and atrocities committed by the colonizers. Arens claims that “eating human flesh implies an animal nature … accompanied by the absence of other traits of ‘real’ human beings who have a monopoly on culture” (1979, 25). Cannibalism was thus equated with savagism (Obeyesekere 2005, 11–15). Some critics, noting the colonial dimension of concerns over anthropophagy, used the concept to criticize the West as the perpetrator of unrestrained cannibalisms, both in its literal but mostly its metaphorical sense collapsing cannibalism and late capitalist consumerism (King 2000, 106). These takes on cannibalism locate it as part of whiteness and an expression of privilege. King criticizes such approaches as they continue the binary at the heart of the initial
formulation: cannibalism as a sign of savagery, only reversing its direction. In this context, Probyn’s proposition of the cannibal as the figure of restraint provides an alternative reading, which I discuss in Chap. 3 in relation to Philip Marlowe and the way he connects to others.4 My argument about Steele is, however, that within the logic of the novel, he conforms to this predatory version of white consumerism as cannibalism (see Bartolovich 1998; Morris 1996), which links his white male entitlement with insatiable appetite. As his consumption relates to not just food, alcohol, and lifestyle, but more pressingly, the lives of others, mostly women, he can be viewed as an example of the logic of carnivorous patriarchy proposed by Carol Adams in her Sexual Politics of Meat. For example, when Steele is trying to calm himself after getting angry with Gray for not showing up to a date, he is described by the narrator as hungering for the woman: “His brain cooling, the hunger for Laurel began gnawing again” (1975, 110, emphasis added). Using the concept of the “absent referent” that enables meat-eaters to disconnect the animal from the meat, Adams argues that the same happens to women who are reduced to their flesh in modern culture. She observes that “just as dead bodies are absent from our language about meat, in descriptions of cultural violence women are also often the absent referent … Sexual violence and meat eating, which appear to be discrete forms of violence, find a point of intersection in the absent referent” (2010, 67–8). Adams articulates how a mechanism by which the lives of animals are violently commodified to become meat also works for the commodification and sexual objectification of women within patriarchal societies. She quotes a fragment from a nineteenth-century guidebook to brothels where sexual workers are literally described as meat: “She [the owner] does not keep her meat too long on the hooks, though she will have her price; but nothing to get stale here. You may have your meat dressed to your own liking, and there is no need of cutting twice from one joint” (2010, 45). Add to that the ways in which especially noir film has objectified women and fragmented their bodies for titillation, and it makes sense to understand postwar noir as having in mind the ideological codependency of meat consumption and sexual violence. This is evident in the novel, given the offhand comments such as Sylvia Nicolai’s admonition of her husband, which figuratively puts dead human 4 For another account of productive cannibalism and masculinity see my analysis of Chew (Usiekniewicz 2021).
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flesh next to consumption: “‘We asked Dix to a party, not a postmortem.’ … ‘I’m sorry. Sorry, Dix. How about another drink?’” (1975, 33). In her comment invoking a medical examination of a corpse, Sylvia Nicolai aligns murder and consumption, blurring the differences between the types of flesh that can be consumed. The isomorphic resemblance of humans and non-human animals, argues Kyla Wazana Tomkins, has to be ignored to create a socially constructed divide between one type of dead flesh and the other (2012, 30–31). Once this divide is removed, the conflation of eating and killing becomes more visible, as to a large extent, eating relies on killing.5 Crucially, as the text is very thoughtful about depictions of violence and corpses to avoid the spectacle of mangled women’s flesh, there are no descriptions of bodies or medical examinations in the novels. Referring to Lisa Maria Hogeland’s observations about Hughes’s feminist contribution, Christopher Breu notes that the novel refrains “from reiterating the violence it critiques on the level of representation” (2009, 202, see also Mills 2020). By avoiding the dead girl trope (Bolin 2018), the text makes the reading of Steele as a literal cannibal impossible. At the same time, almost any meal depicted in the novel features animal flesh. Adams observes that in Western cultures meat-eating has always been associated with power and virility, which in patriarchal systems means men (2010, 48–9). Steele’s repulsion toward the women he rapes and kills, with the exception of his initial victim, Brucie, functions in a similar way: raping and killing them reasserts his masculinity. The women serve as both vehicles for Steele’s sense of power, and consolation prizes that do not fill his appetite. At some point in the story, when he reads a newspaper write-up of Mildred Atkinson’s death, Steele revels in bringing her down, despite the fact that he has already killed her: Her name was Mildred Atkinson and she had led a very stupid life. Grade school, high school—Hollywood High but she was no beauty—business college and a job in an insurance office … She didn’t have any particular gentleman friend, she went out with several. Not often, you could bet. The only exciting thing that had ever happened to her was to be raped and murdered. Even then she’d only been subbing for someone else. (1975, 40, emphasis added)
5 What is more, most of the dishes mentioned in the novel contain meat, which is a reflection of the diet of the time (Lovegren 2009, 292–3).
The disdain in his voice reflects the fact that he does not see women as subjects: they are either threats or objects to be owned. It also reveals how popular culture assigns worth to women proportional to their attractiveness, suggesting that Mildred Atkinson was too ugly to even warrant a kill and her death was a consolation prize, a substitute meal in the absence of the one he really craved. An average meal to quench the insatiable appetite for more. Steele’s attitude toward women reflects the popular images of women available in the late 1940s—images that Hughes wants to challenge. Raised on a diet of Classic Hollywood films, Steele sees women either as obstacles to male camaraderie, or as objects for his visual pleasure and consumption. For obvious reasons, traditional noir hates an ambiguous female character. The sexist text will have her killed or punished, while the subversive ones, such as In a Lonely Place, will have her redeemed and the cannibalistic monster who cannot control his appetite will be stopped. Those women who do not function solely as consolation prizes for Steele, Brucie, and Laurel Gray, are expected to fulfill his fantasies about femininity, fantasies that reduce women to type. If Laurel Gray conforms to the femme fatale mold that he so obviously wants her to fit, then she justifies both the admiration and the hatred he feels toward her. When she refuses to conform and he sees it, she becomes undecipherable for him and thus even more dangerous and deserving of hate. Required to realize impossible fantasies, these women either fall prey to Steele’s anger, just like Brucie, or escape it thanks to their own and other women’s agency, as in the case of Laurel Gray. Steele sees Gray as a commodity, a status symbol, the way popular culture has taught him to see appealing women. But this image is not very far from how she cynically thinks of herself. After Steele proposes to her, she responds: “You can’t carry a wife when you’re living that way. Get a job? You don’t want a job. And you couldn’t get one that would pay enough to keep me in war paint. I’m expensive, Dix” (1975, 144, emphasis added). The quote not only confirms Steele’s lack of a work ethic discussed earlier, but also shows that in his eyes, and by her own admission, Gray is an object to be consumed. Steele continuously talks about her as if she was an object for display, which rehashes the way in which the hardboiled tradition, and especially film noir, had depicted women up to that point. An example of such an attitude is visible in the following passage: “He’d need money to take Laurel where she should be taken. To expensive places where she could be displayed as she should be” (1975, 71, emphasis added). These admissions
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by both characters echo what Stanley Orr noted about noir’s response to the postwar changes to gendered division of labor: “the misogyny endemic to noir from the 1920s and 1930s only gained momentum” (1975, 118). The 1947 publication of Mickey Spillane’s debut novel, I, the Jury, featuring the sexist, racist, and violent Mike Hammer seems to be a case in point here. Hughes’s novel, acutely aware of the zeitgeist, was an attempt to challenge these trends by ridicule, criminalization, and subversion. Specifically the character of Laurel Gray is an interesting case of just such a subversion. Introduced initially as the novel’s femme fatale, she exhibits a similar ambivalence toward the rich as Steele, which might explain why Steele is so drawn to her. At a dinner date, she rants against the rich: “Rich men. And women. They believe the earth was created for them. They don’t have to think or feel—all they have to do is buy it. God, how I hate them!” (1975, 66). The depiction of Laurel Gray as a femme fatale is complicated by the fact that she is presented only through the eyes of Steele. As such she is forced to fit the fatal woman mold to which she does not conform, she refuses to be the victim (Orr 2010, 71). To Steele, Gray’s nonconformity to the stereotype remains invisible, since his knowledge of women has come from films and books he has read. As an avid moviegoer and a man who has been brought up by a solitary uncle, Steele’s conception of womanhood comes strictly from popular culture, one known for its misogyny. Orr argues that “Laurel complicates the neat binaries of noir; while the femme fatale threatens to compromise male subjectivity, Laurel herself must assume the defensive posture of the hard-boiled hero” (2010, 121). Steele approaches women as challenges to be conquered or possessions to be had; they are the ultimate objects of his conspicuous consumption. This is true even with regard to the women he kills. He has some fantasies of romantic love, which he first tries to exercise on Brucie. When that fails, because she is already married and later dead, he transfers those feelings onto Laurel Gray. Since neither woman can live up to the high standards of Hollywood melodramas, Steele kills the former and threatens the latter. For Steele, heterosexual romance counts only as a means of proving a man’s masculinity and status. Since he is impoverished, the only way he can assert himself is through heterosexual conquest. Nevertheless, both women fail to fulfill his dreams and as a result he lashes out. Though for Orr killing is Steele’s “real pursuit” (2010, 119), I would argue that it is the impossibility of satisfying his hunger. To feel potent again, like when he was flying planes in the war, he goes out and attacks women, whom he
sexually and violently consumes, reducing them to objects, absent referents of femininity he so despises. What the comparison of the two social climbers also shows is that though Steele and Gray share social aspirations and a degree of entitlement, she must operate differently. After all, her gender makes her vulnerable to encounters and situations to which Steele’s masculine privilege makes him immune. She could regress to the original deadly femme fatale of the prewar era and also kill, but she refuses to do that. A victim of domestic violence meted out by her rich ex-husband, she tried becoming a film star at a time where most female onscreen presence was for the purpose of masculine objectification (Mulvey 1999). As such, Gray could be reduced to the embodiment of objectification and commodification of women the likes of Steele perpetuate, but, unlike the femmes fatales of prewar noir, she is redeemed precisely because she steps out of her mold and together with the Nicolais helps capture the murderer to save other women’s lives. In a Lonely Place therefore thematizes gender difference in the context of commercial and sexual consumption pointing to the inequality between socially climbing men and women, and the avenues available for them. It also shows the power of female solidarity against patriarchal violence, from which it later steps away to reassert the masculinity of the official state representative, the policeman. Within the logic of the text, Steele’s monstrous appetite is triggered by his entitlement that reads as an exaggerated version of white male privilege. Returning to Breu’s observation that Steele’s approach to equality mimics that of the US neoimperialism (2009, 209), Steele can have these appetites because he believes that as a white man he should have it better. His racism and sexism are products of this entitlement, one that cannot be condoned in a text that strives to right noir’s wrongs in terms of gender, and to a failed degree, race.
Spectacular Consumption of Food Steele’s performance of masculinity requires an audience to affirm it and meals offer an opportunity for him to revel in “spectacular consumption.” In Elspeth Probyn’s analysis of 1990s neoliberalism, she defines “spectacular consumption” as the affluent foodies’ practice of eating extremely expensive meals as a manifestation of “distended consumption” (2000, 91). Probyn warns that “this spectacular consumption of food” may signal the “limits of our capacity to consume” (2000, 91). I borrow her
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formulation to mean something different: more than simply conspicuous consumption, spectacular consumption is a glamorous spectacle, an excess of wealth on a plate. Dating Laurel Gray is an opportunity to practice spectacular consumption, and the stakes are high for Steele whenever the two go out. At one point the couple has an argument over where to have dinner. He fantasizes about taking her to good restaurants, but instead they stay at his flat, which frustrates her. She suggests that they eat at a drive-in, but Steele does not want to eat there. Both the quality of the unglamorous venue and its connection to the murders motivate his ambivalence. Laurel pushes on and asks what is wrong with eating at a drive-in, suggesting that maybe it is Steele’s money trouble. As the image of affluence is key for Steele, he responds: “I’m not rocky. I got a check today … Look, I got all dressed up to go places and do things. Come on, let’s celebrate. We don’t have to go to Ciro’s. We go to any place you say–the Kings, Tropics–.” (1975, 127)
Steele lists the expensive places that he believes befit the couple that he wants them to be, but Laurel is adamant about eating at a drive-in. The scene is very tense because the Wilshire drive-in is the last place Mildred Atkinson, Steele’s penultimate victim, had been seen with a nondescript man. Hence, Steele fears that Gray’s insistence on going there is an attempt to make him, the killer, go back to the scene of the crime. Later in the novel, Steele actually goes into the drive-in because going there without the police catching him gives him a sense of invincibility: “It was a dare, a magnificent dare … It was the kind of dare he needed, to return here openly, to take the chance” (1975, 159–60). This is another instance of spectacular consumption, an unnecessary and risky feat, as Steele is aware that the restaurant is under police surveillance. Steele wants to be watched. He enjoys the emotional stimulation offered by the fact of being watched, but not being seen. The argument with Gray escalates and reveals Steele’s emotional instability. Though it is Gray who is described as emotionally unstable and infantile, it is Steele who manifests anger: “We’re not going up to the drive-in!” He didn’t mean to shout … She was looking at him out of her lozenge eyes, slyly looking at him, pleased that she’d made him lose his temper. “Okay,” she said finally. “We’ll go to the beach club.” (1975, 128)
The beach club is coded as a posher venue than a drive-in. In fact, the only way Steele can get in is through his association with the Nicolais—it is their beach club. Membership in beach clubs functioned as a status symbol. If beach clubs connote exclusivity, also drive-ins are class-wise meaningful and echo the postwar economic boom with its effects on the lower-middle and working classes. Already in the 1930s, middle- and working-class patrons could find eateries and coffee shops, including diners, Chinese and Italian eateries, hamburger joints, drive-ins, and roadhouses (Mendelson 2009, 290–2). The second half of the 1940s marked the beginning of a widespread drive-in culture in the US. The very presence of such establishments signaled changes in the socio-economic characteristics of that time. For drive-ins to make it, more people had to be able to afford cars, a luxury previously less available to people who would eat at proto-fast-food outlets. Increased spatial mobility thus translates into social mobility and a vision of the good life made available to a larger group of people. Hughes’s text reflects and implicitly comments on these economic changes that affect the ways in which public and private commercial spaces are coded. She remains critical of upward mobility occurring without putting in the work, which seems to be the predominant middle-class ideology of the time. Dix Steele is a criminal, a murdering rapist, but he is the villain also because he does not espouse the Protestant work ethic on which white middle-class America as well as In a Lonely Place hinge ideologically. Steele believes that if he behaves like the rich, consumes the way they do, he will become one of them. He seeks social advancement via consumption: eats his way into richness. This is represented quite literally in the novel. Steele uses food consumption to get money. He eats twice, once in a deli, and then with Nicolai only to solicit the detective’s aid in cashing a check from Uncle Fergus, a relative who pays him a stipend. Their “accidental” meeting and shared meal is a replaying of an earlier lunch the two men shared at the same Ice House diner. Previously Nicolai and Steele talked about the case candidly, but since then the police officer had become suspicious of his army buddy. He no longer wants to share as much information about the case, but wants to keep Steele in his orbit, so that he can observe the friend-turned-suspect. He helps Steele cash his check and pretends to accept his explanations. Both men are shown eating a lot with Nicolai taking a “big bite of spaghetti” (1975, 148), but it is Steele who is the overconsumer, as this is his second lunch of that day. Steele embodies a capitalist fiction of money
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making money, spending it to earn it. By having this flawed financial logic tied to a murder works as an acute criticism of postwar consumerism. When consumption is unavailable, Steele indulges in fantasies of festive eating, ones that would match his social aspirations: What he needed was dinner, a big, hearty, tasty dinner. Steak and french fries and asparagus and a huge fresh green salad, then a smoke and a coffee and something special for dessert, strawberry tart or a fancy pastry and more coffee. Hunger ached in him. (1975, 180–1)
Steele does get a version of this imagined meal a few moments later, when he decides to dine at the Savoy: He hesitated at the derby but he wanted something better tonight. Something as good as a Savoy. He could afford it. He had two hundred and fifty bucks, damn near, and he was hungry. This was the kind of place that he could dine … This was the way he was going to live someday. Nothing but the best. No worry about money. Or about nosy cops. He ordered a rich meal, and he ate it leisurely, appreciating every well- chaffed bite. He lingered as long as he possibly could, he didn’t want to leave this heaven. Eventually there was nothing to do but go out again into the cold night. (1975, 181–2)
Steele’s sensual pleasure in what and where he eats runs counter to all the accounts featured in prewar novels discussed here. Steele’s enjoyment of food enables a fantastic twist of generic conventions, where the pseudo- tough guy transforms into the reviled dandy-foodie-villain. The rarely eating detective becomes the eating killer. Consequently, Hughes’s acute criticism of postwar consumerism morphs into a very conventional mistrust of bodily pleasure typical for prewar noir. If Steele is condemned for his murderousness, he is also condemned for his excessive enjoyment of sensuous pleasures because they include rape and murder of women. The novel, therefore, condemns not just consumerism, but also carnality, which places it at the center of postwar America’s conservative ideology of restraint. Hughes’s novel locates goodness and Americanness much closer to the heteronormative values represented by the Nicolais’ model of a middle- class heteronormative couple with no explicit sex life, whose consumption,
though conspicuous in its own way, does not become flashy in the way Mel Terriss’s or Steele’s wishful consumption patterns are. The postwar consumerist ideology is about accumulation and possession, but not sensual pleasure inspired by objects.
Masculinity, Girth, and Embodiment Steele’s insatiable hunger that only grows the more he consumes makes him also very critical of men who manifest their affluence and satiety. Just like the caricaturist from the turn of the nineteenth century (Farrell 2011, 29), he sees the rich as fat and ugly. With this fatphobic logic he thinks of the men who sponsor Gray’s lifestyle, whom he assumes are fat: “He could see the fat guy, fat pouched, fat jowled, balding. Too old, too ugly to get it without paying for it. Paying plenty. A guy with nothing on his side but money” (1975, 59). Excess manifests on the body of the rich, and that body is meant to be revolting in the way Gutman was revolting to Spade. As a figure of excessive hunger, Steele sees girth as disgusting, and casts it as unmanly, reflecting typical assumptions about men and fat (Forth 2013). These fat and unattractive men, suggests Steele, do not deserve the life they have. When describing Mel Terriss, his only male victim, Steele comments: “Terriss was going to pouches; under the chin and eyes, in his belly … [He] was telling everyone about being off to Rio for a year, a fat job to go with his fat head” (1975, 14). Steele maps onto Terriss’s body his negative emotions about the inequality he experiences because in the Hollywood logic, the handsome man should always get the girl. Recalling that, in college, he was used by the likes of Terriss to pick up women for the rich boys, Steele implicitly emphasizes his own attractiveness. In his own estimation, Steele’s appeal becomes a currency that somewhat elevates him in relation to the Terrisses of the world. Steele takes pride in the fact that he finds seducing women easy as it is the only aspect of white hegemonic masculinity available to him. Steele congratulates himself that his looks and a tactic to invite his victims to grab coffee with him is such a successful way of luring women like Mildred Atkins. He recollects: “Mildred was pleased at having coffee with a good looking young fellow. She preened a little” (1975, 40). Again, Steele emphasizes his good yet inconspicuous looks that make him such a difficult killer to track. Incidentally, coffee, which has been depicted as relatively innocent in prewar hardboiled fiction—the professional working man’s drink—can be used to cover over
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more sinister consumption. Whatever the beverage, Steele’s reveals not just his excessive hunger, but also his vanity. That vanity, in turn, makes him less masculine in contrast to the self-control and quiet confidence of Brub Nicolai. Steele’s changing reaction to Nicolai’s body also reflects the way he feels about the detective. As Nicolai becomes more of a threat, Steele expresses more criticism about the man’s physique. In Steele’s eyes, Nicolai starts to put on weight and turns from a presumably tough fighter to a stocky failure. During the two men’s first encounter after deployment, Nicolai is described in the following way: Brub hadn’t changed. The same short-cut, dark, curly hair, the same square face with the grin on the mouth and in the shining black eyes. The same square shoulders and the look of the sea on him; he rolled like a sailor when he walked. Or like a fighter. A good fighter. That was Brub. (1975, 7)
Later on, sure of his triumph over the police, Steele feels more contempt for Nicolai, which is reflected in an updated description: “He watched Brub’s stocky figure roll away in the crowd. He shook his head, regretfully. Poor guy” (1975, 154). Toward the end of the novel, Nicolai’s body becomes not just fat, but also weak: “Brub rolled in on his stocky legs, dropped down on the couch” (1975, 175). The closer the detective gets to catching Steele, the more the latter needs to devalue him. Steele positions himself as transparently fit and judges other men against that. Since he associates corpulence with superior economic status, to detract from those who have it, he makes them fat, which in his fatphobic though mainstream view, makes them weak and unattractive. Interestingly, Steele’s obsession with men’s bodies is much less homoerotic than Marlowe’s constant surveillance of other men’s looks. The focus on men’s bodies is a reflection of the times so concerned with masculinity and toughness. Baldwin notes: “Heterosexuality, whiteness, strength, aggression are all … attributes that were central to American notions of masculinity in this period” (2020, 3). Among early postwar men the physical ideal of an athletic male was still important due to a shared army experience that prioritized physical fitness. Gaining weight was symbolically connected with aging and domestic comfort, stemming from an assumption still harbored by many that getting fat signals a superior body’s fall from grace. Amy Farell argues that “fat denigration is intricately related to gender as well as racial hierarchies, in particular the
historical development of ‘whiteness’” (2011, 5). Commenting on Terriss’s and Nocolai’s girths, Steele invokes those underlying assumptions present in US culture that fatness is unmanly and non-white. Though delivered by a character so obviously depicted as vile, Steele’s fatphobic comments continue to convey the transparent norms of corpulence that are always inherently sexist and racist. At the same time, fat bodies continue to be associated with capitalist exploitation practiced by the extremely rich and the folly of the middle classes mimicking them (Farrell 2011, 38–48) featured in many late nineteenth-century and twentieth-century caricatures. Thus, for Steele, men’s fatness signifies both the undeserved wealth and stupidity of Terriss, and a superior body’s decline due to domestication that replaced the army’s homosocial camaraderie of Nicolai.
Racializing Domesticity In In a Lonely Place almost all interactions between the protagonists happen around the consumption of food or drink, or have consumption as the main, albeit superficial, topic of conversation, e.g. the drive-in argument between Gray and Steele. At any moment in the novel a drink is offered or prepared, another meal is planned or consumed. Despite this abundance of food almost nobody is depicted cooking. In an emancipatory effort to remove from women the stigma of domestic labor projected onto them by the postwar ideology of gendered divisions of labor, Hughes makes this work transparent and when not, she racializes cooking, gardening, and cleaning by associating them with hired, non-white help. Though taking strides in terms of gender representation, In a Lonely Place does little to challenge or change the genre’s racism, and relies on whitewashing as a means of avoiding racial tensions that were overwhelmingly present in American society and culture of the 1940s. While attempting to detach femininity from the imperative of domestic labor reflected in the popular imagery of the time, Hughes inadvertently manages to racialize domestic labor: black men serving food in beach clubs, Hispanic men gardening. Hughes’s text seems aware of that cultural meaning of kitchen and cooking, and it carefully avoids placing female characters anywhere near an oven or a stove. The only character who is shown doing something in a kitchen is Dix Steele, and his cooking is reduced to easily prepared convenience dishes. In an attempt to remove the sexist stigma from women by
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removing them from kitchens, Hughes populates those and other kitchens with other “Others” in whom economic and racial oppression intersect. The kitchen is an ambiguous space. Unless necessitated by plot, visits to professional kitchens are rare in crime novels not set in the food world, while home kitchens appear more often as locations to be searched, places in which to have conversations, or areas where food or coffee is or is tellingly not prepared. Kitchens, especially those in private homes, are also associated with women. This connection makes them potentially threatening for prewar masculinity, which wanted to distance itself from all things feminine. In the postwar context the home kitchen is still a woman’s domain, more so as the advertisements of the time deployed gendered imagery to emphasize how fantastic a well-equipped kitchen is for a middle-class white woman. Since the postwar era was greatly interested in fortifying gender roles, kitchens became the ideal locations for these women. At the same time, the consumerist culture of the time invited people to eat out and rely on ready-made food, rather than on cooking from scratch. In response to this context, In a Lonely Place has a scarcity of kitchen scenes, and in fact poses a challenge to the normative representations of kitchen-bound femininity. Hughes was determined to move away from the gender stereotypes pervasive in the genre at the time of writing the novel. She made it a point not to show her women characters in overly domesticated roles. Sylvia Nicolai is seen serving drinks and encouraging others to eat, while she eats little, but she is never depicted near actual kitchens. Laurel Gray is de- domesticated even further, as she is never even depicted in her own flat. She guards her personal space to the extent of not letting anyone into her apartment. The removal of women from kitchens challenges the gender mainstream of the time, but as argued earlier, it inadvertently racializes domestic labor by having it done by people of color or those representing a significantly lower social position via race, class, or age. The two women’s attitudes toward food and food preparation reflect their sexuality. Gray is promiscuous and although this is not condemned in the novel, it is supposed to link her with the femmes fatales of misogynistic noir. Sylvia Nicolai’s implied sexual restraint combined with care for the well-being of others without losing her acute ability to read people is what makes her the novel’s ultimate best consumer/American. She is also the one who maintains the social conventions, performing the emotional work typically relegated to women, but still, she is nowhere near the kitchen.
In fact, domestic spaces are demonized in the novel as Steele is the only person depicted as preoccupied with preparing meals at home and, to an extent, enjoying the comforts of home: But now that he was up, he wanted coffee. He padded to the kitchen. Terriss had good stuff; he plugged in the electric percolator and opened the kitchen door to bring in the cream …While he waited for the coffee he began to read the paper. He drunk three cups, finishing his reading. He left the spread paper and coffee cup on the kitchen table. There was a maid service. (1975, 18)
The length of the description as well as the manner and quality of coffee prepared signifies luxury in terms of expense and time. Only the professionally rich may indulge in a leisurely consumption of three cups of coffee with fresh cream delivered to their door. The mentioning of a cleaning service suggests that this lifestyle does not require the presence of a wife, who would be the one taking care of domestic chores. Being affluent enabled an existence where women were only passing guests rather than socializing presences, and though from time to time Steele does wish he had the same comfortable, coupled life as the Nicolais, he is satisfied with the unencumbered life he stole from Terriss. Steele is also the only person seen preparing meals. When appreciating the comfort of Mel Terriss’s apartment, he observes to himself: As a matter of fact he needn’t leave the apartment. There were tins of food, crackers, some cheese and fruit, cold meat in the icebox. He could get comfortable, cheese and beer were good enough for any man on the evening of a scorched day. But he didn’t want to get comfortable; he wanted something lively. Something amusing and stimulating and male. (1975, 45)
Steele’s reflection confirms earlier statements that his consumption is part of his performance of masculinity. Eating at home, without an audience to reassert to him his class and gender performance, is not enough to satisfy his hunger. This is, of course, contrasted with the postwar white America’s investment in comfort, as illustrated by the Nicolais. This is not enough for Steele, because what was good for “any man” was not good for a man who wants to become “the man.” Thus the domestic space, commonly absent from prewar hardboiled texts and so central to postwar American middle-class imagery, is
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compromised by the fact that the person enjoying it most explicitly, and still with some reservations due to a lack of audience, is the rapist and murderer. Unwittingly, for all the effort of removing the burden of cooking and serving food from the two white women, the novel also racializes domestic labor as someone still has to do those chores. As a result, In a Lonely Place continues noir’s political project of establishing whiteness as crucial for hegemonic American masculinity—a project, which the author herself will challenge in her other novels, Ride the Pink Horse (1946) and The Expendable Man (1963).
Conclusion Dix Steele is the ever-hungry monster, who torments his consumption- obsessed postwar society. Within the normative logic of In a Lonely Place his criminal insatiability must be expunged, so that society may return to the status quo of prescriptive limits and practices. He is the white cannibal embodying the logical consequences of sexism, whose ultimate failure is meant to lay to rest the prewar model of prophylactic masculinity of the hardboiled era. In contrast, Brub Nicolai represents the well-integrated postwar masculinity backed by the power of the state, able to cede to his wife’s intuition to solve a case. Moderate, confident, and in control, he is the new hegemony. The two veterans illustrate the binary opposition of masculinity in the brief moment when gender roles were in flux. A revision of prewar hardboiled tradition, In a Lonely Place, though socially empowering women by removing them from domestic spaces and ascribing evil to an alienated male character rather than the femme fatale—as in prewar and sexist noir—is, in fact, an apotheosis of the power of the heterosexual couple and nuclear family as means of reintegrating troubled veteran masculinity back into the now triumphant, affluent American society. Though an acute criticism of early postwar consumerism and a definite challenge to the hardboiled canon, Hughes’s text fits squarely into the progressive ideology and sensitivity of the postwar US middle class. Though successful in challenging gender norms of the genre, the novel fails to address racial tensions, and is very conservative in terms of social advancement. It also continues noir’s vilification of excess, but rather than paint overconsumption as criminal, it posits insatiable hunger and pleasure in consumption as greater sources of evil. By removing the eternally hungry from society—having Steele captured and Gray redeemed by
collaboration with Los Angeles authorities—the slightly altered status quo is maintained. The novel also shows that toward the end of the 1940s consumption was established as an American practice, therefore knowing what and how to consume is crucial to not only class, but also national identity.
References Abbott, Megan L. 2002. The Street Was Mine: White Masculinity in Hardboiled Fiction and Film Noir. New York: Palgrave. Adams, Michael C. 1994. The Best War Ever: America and World War II. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. Adams, Carol J. 2010. The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory. New York: Continuum. Arens, William. 1979. The Man Eating Myth: Anthropology and Anthropophagy. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Baldwin, Clive. 2020. Anxious Men: Masculinity in American Fiction of the Mid- Twentieth Century. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Barthes, Roland. 2008. Toward a Psychology of Contemporary Food Consumption. In Food and Culture: A Reader, ed. Carole Counihan and Penny van Esterik, 28–35. New York: Routledge. Bartolovich, Crystal. 1998. Consumerism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. In Cannibalism and the Colonial World, ed. Francis Barker, Peter Hulme, and Margaret Iversen, 204–237. New York: Cambridge University Press. Bolin, Alice. 2018. Dead Girls: Essays on surviving an American obsession. New York: HarperCollins. Breu, Christopher. 2005. Hard-boiled Masculinities. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. ———. 2009. Radical Noir: Negativity, Misogyny, and the Critique of Privatization in Dorothy Hughes’s In a Lonely Place. MFS Modern Fiction Studies 55 (2, Summer): 199–215. Cartwright, Ryan Lee. 2020. Peculiar Places: A Queer Crip History of White Rural Nonconformity. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Casaregola, Vincent. 2009. Theaters of War: America’s Perception of World War II. New York: Palgrave. Deer, Patrick. 2020. Crime Fiction and War. In The Routledge Companion to Crime Fiction, ed. Janice Allan, Jesper Gulddal, Stewart King, and Andrew Pepper, 343–351. London: Routledge. Estes, Steve. 2017. PB&J: The Rise and Fall of an Iconic American Dish. Gastronomica 17 (2): 5–15. https://doi.org/10.1525/gfc.2017.17.2.5.
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Farrell, Amy Erdman. 2011. Fat Shame: Stigma and the Fat Body in American Culture. New York: NYU Press. Forth, Christopher E. 2013. Nobody Loves a Fat Man: Food and Masculinity in Film Noir. Men and Masculinities October 16 (4): 387–406. Guerin-Gonzales, Camille. 1996. Mexican Workers and American Dreams: Immigration, Repatriation, and California Farm Labor, 1900–1939. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. Hughes, Dorothy B. 1975. In a Lonely Place. New York: Bantham Books. King, Richard C. 2000. The (Mis)uses of Cannibalism in Contemporary Cultural Critique. Diacritics 30 (1, Spring): 106–123. Lovegren, Sylvia. 2009. Historical Overview: WW II to the Early 1960s. In The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink, ed. Andrew F. Smith, 292–293. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Mendelson, Anne. 2009. Historical Overview: World War I to World War II. In The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink, ed. Andrew F. Smith, 290–292. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Mills, Rebecca. 2020. Victims. In The Routledge Companion to Crime Fiction, ed. Janice Allan, Jesper Gulddal, Stewart King, and Andrew Pepper, 149–167. London: Routledge. Morris, Rosalind C. 1996. Anthropology in the Body Shop: Lords of the Garden, Cannibalism, and the Consuming Desires of Televisual Anthropology. American Anthropologist 98: 137–150. Morrison, Toni. 1992. Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. New York: Vintage Books. Mulvey, Laura. 1999. Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. In Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings, ed. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen, 833–844. New York: Oxford UP. Obeyesekere, Gananath. 2005. Cannibal Talk: The Man-Eating Myth and Human Sacrifice in the South Seas. Berkeley: University of California Press. Orr, Stanley. 2010. Darkly Perfect World: Colonial Adventure, Postmodernism, and American Noir. Columbus: Ohio State University Press. Plain, Gill. 2001. Twentieth Century Crime Fiction: Gender, Sexuality and the Body (America in the 20th/21st Century Series). New York: Routledge. Probyn, Elsbeth. 2000. Carnal Appetites: FoodSexIdentities. London: Routledge. Ruiz, Vicki. 1999. Cannery Women, Cannery Lives: Mexican Women, Unionization, and the California Food Processing Industry, 1930–1950. Albuquerque: New Mexico University Press. Shanken, Andrew M. 2009. 194X: Architecture, Planning, and Consumer Culture on the American Home Front. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Telotte, J.P. 1989. The Displaced Voice of ‘In a Lonely Place’. South Atlantic Review 54 (1, Jan.): 1–12.
Tompkins, Kyla Wazana. 2012. Racial Indigestion: Eating Bodies in the 19th Century. New York: New York University Press. Usiekniewicz, Marta. 2021. Crip Appetites: American Gastrodystopias in the Graphic Series Chew. Przegla ̨d Kulturoznawczy 47 (1): 150–165. https://doi. org/10.4467/20843860PK.21.009.13463.
Dangers of Postwar Satiety in Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me (1952)
“Thompson’s novels of the 1950s, which so often end with scenes of their protagonists’ ultraviolent disintegration and atomization, are a grim pronouncement on the fates of those left behind during the nation’s gradual recovery from economic collapse twenty years earlier” (2021, 178), writes Robert Snyder about Jim Thompson’s postwar noir stories. Thompson’s 1952 novel, The Killer Inside Me, features Lou Ford, a Deputy Sheriff in the fictitious West Texas town of Central City, who is both the book’s narrator and protagonist. The readers soon learn that Ford is also a violent rapist and murderer, grappling with what he calls his “sickness,” while presenting a convincing façade of a polite cliche-spouting small-town cop. Not an aberrant hardboiled poser in the mold of Dix Steele, he is a twisted version of a Brub Nicolai ruined by 1950s satiety. The Killer Inside Me uses recognizable tropes of hardboiled and noir crime fiction in order to offer a critique of postwar American society (Baldwin 2020, 74). Ford is one of the “baleful descendents of the hard- boiled heroes, who turned the autonomous status and maverick ethics of the principal character into a source of pure menace” (Lee 2003, 43). Ford’s first-person account of the events of the book, including murders, as well as his own death by explosion narrated from beyond the grave, put readers in a difficult position of sometimes identifying with the villain.
© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2023 M. Usiekniewicz, Food, Consumption, and Masculinity in American Hardboiled Fiction, Crime Files, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-29160-9_6
Relatively early in the novel, in a conversation with a union organizer, Ford observes that “If we all had all we wanted to eat, we’d crap too much. We’d have inflation in the toilet paper industry” (Thompson 2006, chap. 12, all quotes from this edition). It seems, however, that in the satiated postwar US of the economic boom people are supposed to have all they want to eat, and, as a result, the real and metaphorical “crap” is bubbling over through figures such as Ford. Nowhere is this overflow of emotional and physical waste more visible than when, after brutally sexually assaulting and killing Joyce Lakeland, Ford observes: “I laughed—I had to laugh or do something worse … I doubled up, laughing and farting and laughing some more” (2006, chap. 6). Having satisfied his murdering urges, Ford is ready to explode with the excesses of that kill, but for the time being he vents through laughter and passing gas. By the end of the book, however, Ford literally explodes, taking part of the town with him. The novel demolishes the myth of the American dream of postwar triumphalist prosperity by showing that the realization of the dream is available to only a sliver of American society, mostly white, affluent, and male, as well as that prosperity always creates waste. Importantly, and as illustrated in the novel, this society both knows and does not know that prosperity causes waste, and thus may continue to consume without addressing the economic, environmental, and social undersides of this consumption. Thompson makes a point about knowledge that refuses to be acknowledged, and that this denial has consequences both in the novel, but more so as a criticism of American society of that time. Lou Ford is not a criminal, but a representative of the law who breaks it. Even though some of his neighbors, fellow law enforcement colleagues, and friends are aware that something is not right about Ford, they do not act on this knowledge. Their disavowal makes them complicit in his crimes, and maybe justifies, in some way, the fact that he takes them with him as he dies. The detective-turned-villain trope is part of the novel’s premise of evil hiding in plain sight typical for postwar genre literature responding to Cold War anxieties. At the same time, as argued by Ryan Lee Cartwright in their history of queer crip white rural nonconformity: “the myth of the psycho killer has been protecting white Americans from a much scarier story: most danger comes from trusted friends, family members, acquaintances, and expressions of dominant culture” (2020, 90). This echos precisely the mechanisms that allow Ford to abuse and murder both members of his own community and those who try to become part of it. Superficially the model man conflating white rurality with Americanness, Ford is also a
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critique of the privileges afforded to white able-bodied heterosexual masculinity as he is, by far, the figure of greatest excess. Ford’s alimentary and sexual appetites are vast, but whereas his choice of food is conventional American fare of eggs, stakes, or ice-cream, his sexual desires are fatally violent, which is, according to Clive Baldwin, a “mark of dysfunctional masculinity” (2020, 73). Both Hughes’s and Thompson’s novels fit this description, offering insights into how food and food practices enable the semblance of conformity crucial for the damaged protagonists of their respective texts. Where Dix Steele engaged in spectacular consumption in order to approximate the lifestyle of the rich, Lou Ford engages in inconspicuous consumption of food in order to hide his cannibalistic, metaphorically speaking, consumption of women who he reduces to mere flesh. Ford consumes a lot of conventionally American dishes in predictable locations, overconsumes coffee, and drinks limited, by noir standards, amounts of alcohol, while also suffering the consequences of its overconsumption. In his sexual preferences, however, he is brutal and the novel revels in descriptions of that violence. Clive Baldwin argues that at the heart of the violence is Ford’s misogyny, and that his violence toward women is a means of proving his virility. Ford engages in sadistic sex, and the novel presents scenes of extreme violence where both “Joyce Lakeland and Amy Stanton are reduced to shattered flesh and bone in the graphic descriptions of the violence inflicted on them” (2020, 75). In a manner that is radically different from Hughes’s refusal to depict the raping of women by Steele, Thompson’s ensures that readers see the most extreme instances of Ford’s brutality. The critique of America featured in Thompson’s text “rests on assumptions about gender, sexuality and masculinity, and that through its representation of women, the novel reinscribes structures of gender and power” (Baldwin 2020, 74). Following Cartwright, I would add that the novel’s reliance on notions of rurality is always able-bodied and heteronormative (2020, 8, 11). Importantly, Cartwright argues, when “it is imagined to be white, ‘the country,’ a name for rural life, functions seamlessly as a metonym for the ‘country,’ the name for the US nation” (2020, 8). Thus Ford, who initially represents this postwar white Americanness par excellence, is revealed as the ultimate embodiment of evil and a comment on the paradox of satiety: both striving for it and achieving it may have adverse effects on the consumers and the society they are a part of. Lee Horsley observes that in the 1950s literary “noir develops its own narratives of disagreement and its exposures of oppression, debunking the dominant
myth of a unified, happily conformist America” (2001, 95). The Killer Inside Me, specifically shows the ways in which satiety corrupts, and excess of consumption contributes to waste that may manifest as violence. The Killer Inside Me offers its critique on two levels: Ford objects to fake satisfied homogeneity, while the novel objects to the romanticization of the masculine rebel as an antithesis to that homogenization. It is also virulently anti-progress, suggesting, with its depiction of fatherhood interrupted, that the future is futile. Where Hughes offered a hopeful account suggesting that if figures of excess, such as Dix Steele, are contained, society will go on toward a better future with Brub and Sylvia Nicolai at the helm, the containment/annihilation of Ford only proves the aggravated state of the American postwar condition. Devoid of the romanticizing gesture that turns psychopaths into rebels, Ford’s one-man rebellion improves nothing. Hendershot notes how the “freedom and individualism mythologically associated with west Texas” turn into nihilism as “Ford’s aw-shucks, benevolent hayseed routine conceals a killer, but the killer is merely a mask for what lies at the base of Ford—nothing” (qtd. in Snyder 2021, 182). Rather than offering an alternative model, Ford, as a symptom of a larger problem and criminal excess, has to be killed, and his death protects the mediocre status quo. The final combustion that kills Ford and everyone around him, including Sheriff Maples, Chester Conway, Howard Hendricks, Joyce Lakeland, though potentially echoing the cleansing power of Dashiell Hammett’s 1929 Red Harvest, does nothing of the kind for Ford’s Central City. Purification through a killing spree might have worked in the prewar world of the Continental Op, where there was a chance at redemption. Not so much in Central City, where everyone is implicated in the corruption and the perpetuation of hypocrisy, as they allowed the criminality of Ford to exist in their midst. Thus, Ford’s final semi-terrorist attack on the town in which he tries to kill as many people as possible has no impact on society. The character of Ford enables an even harsher critique of the postwar self-satisfied homogeneity of America than that found in Hughes’s work (discussed in Chap. 5), not only because of Thompson’s more explicit and aggressive narrative style, described by James Sallis as “[a] quiet monologue of madness” (1993, 26), but also because Ford, oftentimes, without realizing it, voices complaints about society that are not his own or which do not affect him directly. Sallis continues: “at times uncertain just what story it’s telling, at others lying outright, but always amused at humankind, always clinically detached” (1993, 26). Nothing and no one is spared
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Ford’s harsh judgment, as noted by Lee Horsley, who also claims that Lou Ford is able to tell the truth about the corruption of the well-fed society (2001, 199). The accuracy of the criticism, however, has no reparative potential: nothing good comes from Ford’s rebellion, while his mental illness hardly succumbs to romanticization. Importantly, both the novel and many of those writing about it use the types of sensationalizing or stigmatizing language about mental illness that were common in the 1950s, such as the diagnosis of schizophrenia as being caused by childhood sexual trauma or that of madness, which though inspired by the psychoanalytic writings by Eugen Bleuler and Emil Kraepelin, “simplistically seized upon selective aspects of the pioneering studies” (Payne 2003, 251). Payne observes that the “motifs of splitting and fracturing popularly associated with the schizophrenic condition conveniently reflected the novelists’ sense of the dichotomous nature of the American mental landscape in the complacent Truman-Eisenhower years” (2003, 261), and it seems that The Killer Inside Me reflects just that complacent common sense. Ford is presented as fragmented, both rational and overtaken by murderous passion, which he self-diagnoses as his sickness. In this context, Snyder notes that this diagnosis of schizophrenia triggered by childhood sexual trauma might fit too neatly, and is one of the great narratives Ford debunks in his account of evil (2021, 179). At the same time, Cartwright notes that before “the 1950s, it was much less common for Americans to associate mental illness with violence,” but in time and with sensationalist publications about actual mentally ill murderers and fictional depictions of them, “the label of mental illness would justify a growing Cold War moral panic about the so-called ‘sexual psychopath’: a white man whose gender and sexual aberrance implied an innate amorality that would result in sadistic violence against women and children” (2020, 90). Accidentally echoing Baldwin’s observations about the gender implications of The Killer Inside Me, Cartwright continues that “diagnoses of mental disability are often spectacularized, while actual injury to women, like domestic violence and sexual harassment, is not” (2020, 92). Preoccupied with accounts of the criminal excesses of masculinity, the banality of common misogyny is also ignored in the novel. Importantly, I want to be mindful of the concerns contemporary readers may have about the loose use of dated medical and stigmatizing terminology featured in the novel and its commentaries, and I will do my best not to rehash terms such as “mad” or “insane” uncritically, or throw around a diagnosis such as “schizophrenia.” Inspired by Cartwright, I will
use terms such as “mental illness” and “mental disability” (2020, 89), as well as the diegetic “sickness” when referring to Ford’s mental condition. When quoting other critics, I try to omit or paraphrase those who use language nowadays considered problematic to avoid repeating defunct and offensive language. By means of its setting, Central City, a small town in West Texas, The Killer Inside Me shifts what was a predominantly urban paradigm into a rural context. Cartwright observes that parallel to the metropolis-periphery binary of town and country, there is also one between country and wilderness, the latter of which is coded as uncivilized (2020, 8). This demarcation is important for the tension between rurality envisioned as an idyll, as opposed to wilderness seen as savage. While prewar hardboiled novels placed the private detective in the urban jungle, Thompson’s character inhabits a space often identified with conventional American values (Cartwright 2020, 8). In a related move, it also alters the type of masculinity depicted as hegemonic: “raised in fresh air and good health, with a strong, able body; and steeped in virile white heteromasculinity” (Cartwright 2020, 8). Moreover, the new version of hegemonic masculinity affects the food, food practices, and locations presented in the novel, which for all its countryside location features virtually no farming or food production bar for the food venues mentioned. Importantly, being both a continuation of a familiar genre and its subversion, Thompson’s novel relies heavily on the genre’s heritage of racism, sexism, as well as its critique of consumption, but offers little in terms of an alternative.
Lou Ford: A Subject Split Making Lou Ford not just the killer-protagonist, but also the first-person narrator of the story, helps establish the character as embodying the tension between adherence to and disruption of social norms. Ford is a disintegrated self who sometimes loses control of his renditions. He is in a similar bind as Chandler’s narrator, who is both in control of the story as a narrator, but has to yield some of it to give verisimilitude (see Chap. 3). In Ford’s case it’s mental illness that produces the tension. Both Marlowe and Ford use humor to ingratiate themselves with the readers. Robert Polito notes, however, that for the latter the humor and especially laughter become the markers of mental instability (qtd. in Forter 2000, 126). This is especially visible in the grotesque depictions of the murder scenes and Ford laughing at the corpses quoted above.
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Just like his hardboiled and noir predecessors, Marlowe and Steele, Ford is invested in how he is perceived. He is aware of the way his sartorial choices corroborate the image that he wants to project. He describes himself to readers: I was still wearing my Stetson, shoved a little to the back of my head. I had on a kind of pinkish shirt and a black bow tie, and the pants of my blue serge suit were hitched up so as to catch on the tops of my Justin boots. A typical Western-country peace officer, that was me. Maybe friendlier looking than the average. Maybe a little cleaner cut. But on the whole typical. (2006, chap. 4)
Ford presents himself as projecting a coherent persona of a slow-witted Deputy Sheriff known for his amiable nature and corny philosophy. All the items that make up his wardrobe are selected to create a particular type of masculinity. Greg Forter observes that “Ford wears himself as a disguise, his other self tragically invisible” (2000, 127). Ford is also self-reflexive about that projection, and until he unravels emotionally and mentally, his disguise works for him. To some extent, this is exactly what postwar affluence meant: a facade hiding the evil and the pain.1 Importantly, Ford is sensitive about the type of masculinity he projects, as evidenced by this passage on his choice of smokes: I’d been smoking cigars for—well-around eleven years; ever since my eighteenth birthday when Dad had said I was getting to be a man, so he hoped I’d act like one and smoke cigars and not go around with a coffinnail in my mouth. So I’d smoke cigars, from then on, never admitting to myself that I didn’t like them. But now I could admit it. I had to, and I did. (2006, chap. 22)
His decision to opt for cigars is not motivated by preference, but by a norm of masculinity dictated by his father. This admission is one of many that have the effect of making the narrator amiable to the readers despite his otherwise vile ideologies and actions. Though most critics agree that Ford’s affability is a calculated choice (Clark 2009; Snyder 2021), Ford oscillates between pride and shame over his double identity. Early on he notes: “That’s what I was, and I couldn’t 1 In Pop. 1280, a continuation of the novel published in 1964, the narrator, Nick Corey, another sheriff-killer persona, includes a similar outline of his wardrobe, but includes the prices of the items mentioned, thus reducing rural or Texan masculinity to a set of purchasable items (Forter 2000, 147).
change. Even if it was safe, I doubted if I could change. I’d pretended so long that I no longer had to” (2006, chap. 4). The false geniality may be inseparable from the mentally ill persona, thus blurring even further the line between good and evil, or truth and lies. Thompson’s first-person narrator has the ability to “deconstruct the conventional element of crime fiction in which the male lead … is the personification of a quest for truth, which succeeds in setting the world back in balance” (Baldwin 2020, 74). It is impossible to get at the truth when the nihilistic Ford is at the center of the plot. Critics, including Lee and Payne emphasize how this narrative construction poses a challenge to generic elements such as closure and resolution (1996, 127, 2003, 44). As a result, Ford is a literal anti-hero, as his narrative voice unravels the coherence of the plot. Ford’s personality splits into many, not always easily identifiable, segments, visible in the very polyvocality of the novel. Throughout the text Ford also includes other voices and perspectives. There are numerous conversations recalled verbatim, but more importantly, Ford breaks his own narration to include three longer passages authored by other people: the fragments of Kraepelin’s psychoanalytical definitions, Amy Stanton’s letter, and Billy Boy Walker’s recounting of Ford’s story. By giving voice to others Ford abdicates some responsibility over the narrative. The abdication of narrative voice momentarily relieves him of the struggle to maintain a coherent self. Ford’s ability to sustain multiple lives: wholesome if naïve Deputy, Amy Stanton’s clandestine fiancé, the sexually violent lover of Joyce Lakeland, or the cannibalistic murderer, though challenging, also enables him to be unique within an oppressively homogenous small town. At the same time, he is aware that what holds him together may not last forever. He admits it to himself: “All I can do is wait until I split” (2006, chap. 12). Focusing mostly on the parallel between the mental and emotional unraveling of Lou Ford and the unraveling of the plot, Arthur Redding compares the novel to a “flight out of a rational structure of outwardly conforming selfhood” (2008, 102). Ford’s mental illness, which is, within the logic of the text, a manifestation of postwar America’s ills, thus needs to be controlled, or better yet, annihilated to prevent any further exposure of the hypocrisy of postwar conformity. Ford’s mental illness is in no way romanticized as freedom or rebellion, but presented as yet another manifestation of hypocrisy, triumphalism, and self-aggrandizement typical for white masculinity of the era.
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Unstable Rural Masculinity Within the “pastoral mythos” whiteness and traditional gender roles coincide to produce a rural landscape populated with white able-bodied heteronormative individuals committed to conventionally American values (Cartwright 2020, 8). This particular image of the whitewashed rural, where the non-white is always abject and un-American, secures white privilege by casting criminality as foreign. Notions of sexual psychopathy rely on white superiority, which lead to the assumption that “white men who committed violence did so for reasons beyond their control,” and men of color did it because it was part of who they were (Cartwright 2020, 90). This mechanism is key for Lou Ford’s existence in Central City in the sense that he benefits from the invisibility of whiteness and the privileges it affords. That is why the mental illness diagnosis or “sickness” explanations of Ford’s character, already called into question in previous sections of this chapter, seem so suspect: it was white male privilege all along. Placing Ford in a small town allows the pastoral mythos to do its work. Cartwright writes that the myth of “white rustic virtue” contributes to white rural Americans’ “greater material access to the privileged lives of heteronormativity and ablenormativity” and lesser scrutiny of nonconformity (2020, 11). Combined with privileges afforded to masculinity, Ford is thus allowed to roam more freely, while Johnnie Pappas, the young rebel of Greek descent, coded as non-white, dies at the hands of Ford. The shift from the city to a town, which brings with it a host of pastoral myths, both enables Ford’s actions and fuels his killing spree, as the intimacy of a small town replaces the anonymity of the big city. The anonymity of the city is romanticized by Ford at one point when he is planning his escape with Joyce Lakeland, but eventually it is the intimacy of the small town that contributes to the disintegration of Ford. Jennifer Brown argues that in cities people become functions rather than individuals. The heterogeneity offered by cities leads to a homogenization of city life. Heterogeneity fuels the fragmentation of the self, which can only be alleviated by fantasies of control that are found in killing (2012, 171–2). Small towns and communities require their inhabitants to assume roles or functions even more strongly, and the inability to step outside of the role assigned to one may trigger a killing spree. This is definitely true for Lou Ford. Rural masculinity is commonly considered the “real” one, which reveals the enormous economic and cultural power invested in the image of rural,
implicitly wholesome and heterosexual, reproductive masculinity (Campbell et al. 2006, 2). One of the reasons for this overlap is that rurality, often conflated with locality and wholesomeness, merges into a vision of nature that is ascribed to what is often deemed as “periphery.” Paul Cloke observes that “as soon as attempts are made to deconstruct the rural metanarrative, much of that conceptual strength dissipates into the nooks and crevices of particular locations, economic processes and social identities” (2006, 18). In the contrast between the center and periphery, the latter is vague and heterogenous, but forced into homogeneity by the centrally located eye. Though there is little actual similarity between midwestern farmers, Texan cowboys, and small-town doctors, the image of rural masculinity is often limited to that of an essential heterosexual white able-bodied male in his authentic environment. Being a peripheral identity, however, makes rural masculinity an unstable category, and genders “its imagery is by no means always positive” (Campbell et al. 2006, 6). Apart from images of wholesome healthy all- American white boys whose heterosexuality is assumed, some projections onto rural masculinity are much more sinister. Campbell et al. offer a review of different tropes within rural masculinities that are “dangerous and depraved,” such as “six-fingered” ignorant rubes who “form the shadowy and sexually depraved mob” (2006, 6), as well as other uncivilized types cast as different from civilized men. With this said, it seems that the sinister rural masculinity is not coming from the small town, but instead from the wilderness. Lou Ford’s character combines this paradox of rurality made to encompass pastoral myths and uncivilized dangers: he is the polite if stupid law officer on the surface, and a depraved menace inside. Importantly, Central City is rural only by virtue of being “in the country.” The novel depicts barely any farmers and its municipal status comes from the oil boom rather than cattle and corn. Cloke notes that often in its various conceptualizations rural conflates with agricultural or natural (2006, 19). This ties in with the common projections of health, wholesomeness, and naturalness onto the rural. Nevertheless, on the declarative level, the value system of the town taps into a typically agrarian repository of codes and modes of behavior that recalls Southern chivalry. In his narrative, Ford explains the nuances of Texan behavior, revealing also the sexist and racist underpinnings of the system: Out here you say yes ma’am and no ma’am to anything with skirts on; anything white, that is. Out here, if you catch a man with his pants down, you
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apologize … even if you have to arrest him afterwards. Out here you’re a man, a man and a gentleman, or you aren’t anything. And God help you if you’re not. (2006, chap. 2)
White masculinity is presented as solidarity regardless of the situation: white men are not to shame other men even if they are to arrest them. This masculinity also requires a superficial respect for white, and only white, femininity. The focus on white women’s respectability, part of the pastoral myth invoked by Cartwright earlier, implies that real masculinity is available to white men only, while non-white women and men do not deserve recognition at all. The Killer Inside Me is as much a novel about conformity to sexual, gender, and national norms, as about the inclusion and exclusion that are inherently connected with these norms. Combined with the implicit wholesomeness of a rural community as its backdrop, locating the novel in a small town enables Thompson’s narrative to explore issues of white masculinity in general, but that of Texan masculinity more specifically. The peripheral instability of this type of masculinity creates the hypocrisy of small-town life. Lou Ford spells out another wisdom about small-town life to do with keeping up appearances: I suppose it comes from the fact that this country was never very thickly settled, and a man had to be doggoned careful of the way he acted or he’d be marked for life … So if a man or a woman does something, nothing bad you understand, but the end of thing men and women have always been doing, you don’t let on you know anything about it. You don’t because sooner or later you’re going to need the same kind of favor yourself … It’s the only way we can go on being human, and still hold our heads up. (2006, chap. 8)
This is precisely the attitude that allows Ford, in spite of his proclivities, to function well for so long, but also what, at times, inspires his righteous indignation with people such as Chester Conway, Joel Rothman, or his own father. Ford draws attention to the fact that within the small-town community all are implicated in upholding the illusion of wholesomeness. In that sense, all are complicit in the perpetuation of the toxicity of the town. Ford sees the hypocritical and corrupt small-town society as the source of evil in the world. His observation about the toilet paper industry quoted earlier reflects how he perceives consumption and satiety, which motivate
the conformity to social norms. Widespread hypocrisy maintains the illusion of openness, wholesomeness, and safety, but only for the healthy, and racially, sexually, and economically privileged. As the novel progresses, the illusion of the good life is gradually being exposed; the ability to have a town where no doors are closed requires isolation and exclusion as guarantors of safety in homogeneity. One way of ensuring that homogeneity and shared exclusionary value system is through partaking in similar consumption patterns. This is to some extent true for the sufficiently fed postwar small-town community.
Eating Is Ordinary With all the negativity ascribed to consumption and the waste it produces, in The Killer Inside Me eating and food are presented as very ordinary and imply normality. Food consumption is used as a marker of social cohesion. If homogeneity is the glue holding the community together, then eating habits and patterns are an important ingredient. The relocation from city to a town necessitates a greater concern with community, thus food as an ingredient of social cohesion is much more prominent in Thompson’s work than in the novels discussed so far. At the same time, and as noted earlier, the novel makes almost no connection between the rural and the agrarian in terms of depicting farmers or farmland. It is oil that this town produces, not food. The food presented in the text is local only inasmuch as the rural represents the entire country, the US. For this reason, the characters in the novel eat a lot of typically American fare. The novel features twenty scenes of food preparation or consumption by Lou Ford, combined with fourteen instances of coffee drinking, nine descriptions of smoking, two accounts of alcohol drinking, and finally two mentions of administering drugs. Symbolically, the very abundance of food corresponds to the abundance that characterizes postwar Texas with its new oil money and rapid growth of formerly small communities. Food is a sign of the ordinary. All the described meals are conventionally American comfort food fare, including various iterations of fried eggs, pies, and steaks. It is also predominantly food that is easily procured and cooked quickly without much effort, which is typical of the postwar era focused on convenience and comfort. To the extent that in Hammett’s or Chandler’s novels food could have been interpreted as means of signaling the ordinary in addition to its more hidden agenda, in The Killer Inside Me food is very benign, one of the things that allows Ford to blend in.
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Presented as a typical country hearty eater, Ford enjoys preparing meals and eating them, but not for the spectacular purposes that were the key to Dix Steele’s enjoyment of food. Ford’s eating is a sensual experience: one that gives him a sense of wholeness. Lauren Berlant argues that eating food may enable temporary cohesion of a fragmented self, when she notes that “the practice of eating provides a way to negotiate one’s incoherence while not organizing a personality to compensate for it” (2011, 135). For the unraveling Ford the act of eating, of filling his form with solid food, may in fact be a therapeutic activity. In moments of elation Ford eats more, while despondency lowers his appetite: three times in the novel he comments that he could not eat the breakfast due to emotional or drug- induced unhappiness. As a sign of the ordinary, food serves as a measure of social inclusion and a barometer of well-being and health. Food not only nourishes, but also is an experience that may bring joy or disappointment. The ordinariness of food also translates into its local/universally American character. Local is another term often associated with rural, authentic, natural, organic, or ecological that carries with it ideological meanings. Paul Cloke argues that the “symbolic notions of the rural have become detached from their referential moorings, meaning that socially constructed rural space has become ever more detached from geographically functional rural space” (2006, 21). Thus, in the case of Central City, food is not local because it is grown nearby, but it is local in the sense that it corresponds to the pastoral mythos. Though local does mean geographically specific, it works only within a biased geography that assumes that the homogeneity of America is white, Anglo-Saxon, middle class, able- bodied, and heteronormative. The conventionally American food of the novel is constructed as transhistorically and transgeographically local because in the racist logic of the times, there is no “before” to the consensual American diner fare that is ubiquitous around the US. The locations in which it is consumed: home kitchens, diners, hospitals, and hotel rooms, are also conventionally white American. Americanness as whiteness is obviously a more heterogeneous category than this statement suggests.2 In fact, it is the very essence of whiteness’s transparency that renders it so elusive. I am relying on the meaning of white as an index for privilege in contrast to color, that is the transparent and naturalized norm. The local 2 For a discussion of the various shades of white see, for example, Painter 2010 or Dyer 2003.
character of the settings and food items helps to maintain an image of ordinariness that is later disturbed by Ford. Importantly for the focus of this book, The Killer Inside Me is literally framed by two meals. The novel starts at a diner owned by a Greek immigrant, Mr. Pappas, and ends after Ford has his last meal and cigarette in his own kitchen. The opening sequence of the novel sets Ford in a very familiar context of a Texan diner: “I’d finished my pie and was having a second cup of coffee when I saw him … I lit a cigar and slid off my stool” (2006, chap. 1). The food and Ford’s motions are predictable, as is his noir-inspired tone of voice and what it records. A coffee and a pie eaten in the evening suggest a certain level of comfort and unrushed quality of life, which is associated with small towns. Ford’s later admission that he does not carry a gun emphasizes the superficial safety associated with small- town life: an illusion Ford’s actions threaten to debunk. The conventional nature of the scene is interrupted when it is revealed that this generically American food outlet is owned by a foreigner, a Mr. Pappas. Like many other newcomers, the Greek immigrant represents those aspiring to, but not yet living, the postwar American dream: those who are not yet satisfyingly full. In order to succeed he opens a traditionally American restaurant. Even the death of his son, killed by Ford, but initially ruled a suicide, does not prevent Pappas senior from pursuing the dream. In fact, his son’s death serves as a catalyst for a further Americanization of his eatery. Pappas, like so many immigrants of his generation, navigates the line between assimilation and cultural heritage, but once he loses his son, he goes along the assimilation route. Inspired by Johnnie Pappas’s embrace of Americanness, Mr. Pappas refurbishes his diner thanks to money offered by Chester Conway and becomes a great success. Taking money from Conway makes Mr. Pappas part of the corruption of Central City. A child’s death is transformed into a potential economic success and flutter of gastronomic entrepreneurial activity. Counter to the traditional immigrant narrative of first-generation parents working for the economic security of their children, it is by way of a son’s death that economic stability is ensured. What is more, this time against the logic of the general Cold War anxiety about foreigners, the corruption comes from the domestic all- American structures of power symbolized by Chester Conway. Despite the fact that the novel’s depiction of food invests in its universal locality, it shows the ways in which food practices, not only choices, may out someone who is not local. After returning from the site of the first
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murder, Sheriff Maples, DA Howard Hendricks, and Lou Ford drive back to town. Maples suggest they have something to eat. Hendricks wants to go back to the office, but the others tell him to call the courthouse from the diner. Hendricks is surprised by the two locals’ priorities, and later further dismayed when he learns that Chester Conway has ordered Joyce Lakeland’s body to be transported to a hospital in Fort Worth without consulting him. Both the choice of meal over work and moving of the victim establish a hierarchy of power between the men, which is symbolically played out during their meal: Hendricks stopped to use the telephone … We ordered ham and eggs all around …The waitress set the food in front of us, and Bob picked up his knife and fork. … After a minute or two, Bob glanced at him [Hendricks] and raised his eyebrows. “Something wrong with your eggs, son? Better eat ’em before they get cold.” Hendricks heaved a sigh, and began to eat. (2006, chap. 8)
In the homosocial dynamic of the scene Maples and Ford are superior to Hendricks as evidenced by Maples ordering him to eat—a command Hendricks follows. The DA is the newcomer in town. He also prioritizes his job over nourishment, which the two Texan men consider a violation of an unwritten rule. Being in the majority, the two men impose their will on the suspicious Hendricks. This is especially visible by the way the ordering is arranged: Maples orders for all, while the infantilizing gesture of the Sheriff reduces Hendricks to an unruly child whose eggs are getting cold. Hendricks’s food intake is literally policed by the two Texan Sheriffs. This treatment ensures Hendricks’s temporary complacency that will later turn into a wish to take his revenge typical for competing masculinities. A shared meal serves not only to establish the pecking order, but also serves as means of exerting control over others. Without violence or threats, the DA is put in his place and dominated due to his inferior status as a newcomer. Another example of food being context for both the establishment of American social mores and a power struggle between men is when Ford, who enjoys his meals, has them interrupted. This seems an intentional means of producing a narrative discomfort, contributing to Ford’s annoyance and sense of anxiety, but it is also an insight into masculinity, food, and control. First a breakfast is interrupted by Chester Conway, a man Ford despises, later Joel Rothman, a union organizer involved in Ford’s
adopted brother’s death, disrupts another meal. Each interruption can be read as an assault on Ford’s privacy and the sanctity of one’s home and meal times, but these interruptions are showdowns over who is the top man. Before the gruesome events at Joyce Lakeland’s house, but after Ford and she begin their scheme to con the Conways, oblivious to Ford’s involvement, Chester Conway asks the Deputy to help his son, Elmer Conway. Chester Conway interrupts Ford’s breakfast, demands a cup of coffee, and treats Ford as if it was the latter who was the guest. Ford comments: “West Texans as a whole are a pretty high-handed lot, but they don’t walk on a man if he stands up; they’re quick to respect the other fellow’s rights. Chester Conway was an exception. Conway had been the big man in town before the oil boom” (2006, chap. 5). Ford’s dislike for Conway is understandable since he is presented as obnoxiously important and in violation of West Texan behavior standards. It is not just Ford’s masculinity that is assaulted by Conway, but also his privacy and safety in the domestic sphere. Interruption of a meal, a potentially very intimate and vulnerable activity, additionally strengthens the animosity both Ford and the reader feel toward Conway. Rothman’s visit, analyzed below, is less of a masculinity flex, but enables a power play between the men, too. The violation of privacy, similar to that of having someone watch a person eat, enables once again a demarcation of power structures in homosocial environments. Interrupted meals inspire a righteous indignation as if the sanctity of a specific American ritual was threatened by these interruptions. By pitching readers against Rothman and Conway, the text again makes readers who empathize with Ford uncomfortably complicit as first-person narration always requires of readers some level of identification. The problematic status of readers is further enhanced by the fact that they may share some of Ford’s critical views of society, while the first-person narrative technique compels them to root for him even as he kills those with whom the readers may otherwise sympathize, e.g. Amy Stanton (see Chap. 5). A vehicle for social conventions and norms, as well as the mark of the ordinary make food a staple element of the pastoral myth combining rurality, Americanness, health, heteronormativity, and whiteness. It helps maintain an illusion of homogeneity crucial for the postwar ideology of US triumph. The Killer Inside Me problematizes such a depiction of the American condition by pointing to the tensions present between these conflated concepts. With its simultaneously local and universal status, the
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ordinary food depicted in the novel points to the artificiality of postwar triumphalism that affords success to the select few who do not mind the high price and waste produced during this ascent.
Food as Measure of Health and Satisfaction Appetite as a litmus test for Ford’s well-being is a motif running throughout the novel. Whenever Ford feels satisfied and in control, he eats, and does so with pleasure. His appetite is not only alimentary, but sexual, as evidenced in the quote below, while the good humor has been stimulated by the effects of self-administered drugs, testosterone and B-complex: It had sure been a fine afternoon. I was about out of groceries, so I stopped at a grocery and picked up a few, including a steak for my dinner. I went home and fixed myself a whopping big meal, and ate every bite of it. That B-complex was really doing its job. So was the other stuff. I began to actually look forward to seeing Amy. I began to want her bad. (2006, chap. 11)
Contentment is oftentimes connected with satisfaction of hunger that leads to lust in a manner typical of notions of carnal appetites described by Elspeth Probyn (2000, also see below). Ford’s well-being is further enhanced by the drug concoction he administered to himself—to prevent any lapses in sexual performance—thus linking treatment, sex, and eating. The novel treats appetite not just as an emotional thermometer, but also as a symptom in a more medical sense. Ford diagnoses himself several times on the basis of not wanting to eat, blaming for instance the fact that he was administered morphine. When he is locked up in the asylum, he comments on the food that he is given, regular bland meals, all of which he nevertheless eats. Eating means complying with social conventions, and Ford does not want to seem insane. The only time Ford does not finish his meal is when he tries to meet the doctors’ expectations when they show him images of Amy to assess his reactions. Yet, his lack of appetite is only an act. He adapts to the asylum situation by doing what he thinks is expected of him. When shown photos he took of his fiancée, he pranks the doctors by doing what they expect him to: “So I did a lot of frowning and staring down at the floor, and only ate part of my breakfast. I passed up most of my lunch and dinner, too,
which wasn’t much of a chore, hungry as I was” (2006, chap. 23). Ford knows that appetite or the lack of it is considered medical information with regard to patients, both in terms of their physical and mental health. Thus, even as his control of the narrative unravels, Ford’s ability to act and control the impression he makes proves that posing is as essential a part of Lou Ford as killing is.
Sexual Consumption and Murderous Meals Elspeth Probyn explains the ways in which desire, consumption, and hate conflate in sexual contexts: “In the desire to completely consume the other it is easy to slide from loving to eating. It is then not surprising that a category of ‘affectionate cannibalism’ exists in which there is ‘a confusion of desire and hatred’” (2000, 94). Ford is an “affectionate cannibal” and even as he destroys the two women, he experiences contradictory emotions toward them. Ford embodies the tension between the Texan chivalric approach and hypermasculine violence toward women, who in this fantasy enjoy being violated, as if justifying his inclinations. After all, both women killed by Ford, or in his view, the two women who committed suicide by him, remain faithful to him, assuring him that they would never tell on him: Stanton in her letter to him, and Lakeland in her final words as he puts a knife through her. In the context of the novel’s misanthropy its misogyny seems even stronger, especially since that misogyny is represented in terms of a consumption that in part is meant to nourish as well as annihilate, as Ford’s consumption of women culminates in his killing of them. Carol Adams’s theory, discussed in Chap. 5, which explains the relationship between meat-eating, sexual violence toward women, and annihilation of the subject, parallels the gender dynamics of The Killer Inside Me. Adams shows how oppressors first objectify the being they want to violate, and once this is achieved, proceed with the violence. “Consumption,” adds Adams, “is the fulfillment of oppression, the annihilation of will, of separate identity” (2010, 73). Adams’s account clarifies the way in which consumption is a vital part of Ford’s violence toward women that is both sexualizing and dehumanizing. The reason why the violence against women is described in food terms has to do with the assumption that to completely consume a person one has to kill them. Adams notes that numerous feminist critics have found the figure of the cannibal useful to talk about the
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interconnections of sexual practices, sexual violence and female precarity, and the collapse of sexual and consumptive imageries (2010, 89).3 Thus used, the figure of the cannibal becomes both an object of analysis and a tool for a feminist critique of sexual violence. The relationship Ford has with Stanton and her later demise follow the logic presented by Probyn’s and Adams’s disambiguation of the relationship between consumption, sexuality, control, and violence. Stanton is one of the few people with whom Ford voluntarily shares meals. She is allowed to eat with Ford and enter his house even without him there. She is also allowed to bring him food when he is suffering from a cold. She engages in a traditional practice of feeding as caring. Her coming and bringing food make Ford uncomfortable and he comments on the fact that the food is not good: Amy came to see me every day—in the morning for a few minutes on her way to school, and again at night. She always brought some cake or pie or something, stuff I reckon her dog wouldn’t eat (and that hound wasn’t high-toned—he’d snatch horseturds on the fly), and she hardly nagged about anything, that I remember. She didn’t give me any trouble at all. (2006, chap. 14)
Later in the novel he realizes that the food offerings were the best she could do for him, as the material status of her family was much lower than it seemed. Her life is also constrained by the role she is meant to play in the small town. After all, as noted by Cartwright, complementary to pastoral rural masculinity, is its corresponding femininity, where women were “envisioned as naturally domestic guardians of the hearth, selfless mothers who promoted the health of the white race, and moral arbiters of their communities” (2020, 8). Amy is a girl from the good family, a schoolteacher, the paragon of wholesome Americanness, which is contrasted with her secret enjoyment of violent sex and dedication to a mentally unstable, potentially violent, traumatized man, who due to his vasectomy will not give her children or marry her.
3 Simone de Beauvoir talks about “carnivorous arrogance,” Mary Daly about “gynocidal gluttony,” Kate Millet about “sexual cannibalism,” Andrea Dworkin about “psychic cannibalism,” Ti-Grace Atkinson about “metaphysical cannibalism,” while bell hooks talks about imageries that help to structure not just racist, but sexist hierarchies of female-bodied people (Adams 2010, 89).
With Stanton, food is also used as a conventional means of simultaneously innocent and sexually charged flirting. In the two weeks leading up to his killing her, they are having the greatest time together. He describes one of these shared evenings: I stopped and bought some ice cream on the way home, and she was giggling and breaking into snickers all the way. While I made coffee, she dished up the cream; and I took part of a spoonful and chased her around and around the kitchen with it. I finally caught her and put it in her mouth, instead of down her neck like I’d threatened. A little speck of it got on her nose and I kissed it away. (chap. 14)
Ice cream, a dessert traditionally adored in the US (Weiss 2011, 9) and associated with the economic boom and availability of refrigerators, is also one of the traditionally sexual food items, not only because the melting cream visually resembles sperm, but also due to the mode of its ingestion: the licking of the cone, the swallowing of the cream. But the innocuous chase involving the smearing of the cream over her body, which in this instance leads to a kiss and later to sex, also prefigures the scene of her murder, also set in the kitchen. The scene also recalls the earlier conflation of hunger satisfaction and lust after Amy. Though Ford in this fragment embodies the “affectionate cannibal,” he ultimately consumes Stanton by causing her death. She comes to his house packed for their supposed elopement. He punches her in the stomach, she falls to the floor and hits her head. She dies slowly exsanguinating (see below), while Ford reads a paper waiting for the man he wants to frame for the murder to appear. Stanton thus metamorphoses from fiancée to victim.
White Cannibalism and Waste Ford’s earlier statement about “inflation in the toilet paper industry” (2006, chap. 12) is also a comment on the circulation of capital, exploitation, and waste.4 It states the obvious that the more is being consumed, literally and metaphorically, the more waste is produced. If people have enough or too much to eat, they will produce waste, which is precisely 4 Literature on Discard Studies useful here includes Moore 2012, Scanlan 2005, Strasser 2000; for an approach to disability and waste see Hughes 2019.
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what happens in the story. The rapidly growing West Texan town is polluted by its own excess. The excess materializes in the form of the sick and murderous Lou Ford, the only one who is ready to address the hypocrisy of the town and its willingness to deny that anything is wrong. In this way, Ford embodies the toxicity of the town and calls it out, but is a figure of excess, too. In his virulent misogyny he is as culpable as the homogenous postwar society he sees as evil. The fact that he points to the problems of the society does not mean that he is the solution. In fact, as mentioned earlier, his violence does not prevent corruption. In a conversation Ford has with Johnnie Pappas he admits that the law is out to get people like Pappas: the foreigners, second-generation immigrants, who are trying to emulate American ways. People such as Lou Ford take advantage of the masculine and white dividend afforded to them in 1950s Texas, and are allowed to do much more than anyone not sharing their privileged status. The murderer is hiding behind his whiteness, class, and heterosexuality. Like the young lives he wastes, that of Amy Stanton, Joyce Lakeland, Elmer Conway, and Johnnie Pappas, Ford too shall become waste. As he burns alive, he becomes a symbol of waste incinerated in an attempt to obfuscate the fact that consumption produces waste. The need to hide waste comes from the fact that within the 1950s logic of consumption as freedom and Americanness the accumulation of goods has to be seen as burden-free. The eating of food and purchasing goods are some aspects of The Killer Inside Me’s take on consumption. The novel depicts not only people consuming things, but importantly and along the lines of the conflation of consumerism, capitalism, and cannibalism discussed in Chap. 5, people consuming people or people being consumed. Consumption figures not only as an index for fake freedom, but is also seen as threatening to selfhood. Ford envisions himself as consumed by the sickness, and finally is consumed by flames. Amy Stanton and Joyce Lakeland are consumed by love or desire for Lou Ford, only to be later consumed by his murderous violence, Chester Conway is consumed by the need for power, while Howard Hendricks is consumed by ambition.5 Consumption has a (auto) cannibalistic dimension, too: Ford consumes his victims, as he is consumed by sickness.
5 Carol J. Adams argues that sexual violence and killing are also a form of consumption (2010, 72), see also Chap. 5.
As Thompson’s text addresses consumption in carnal and financial terms, it talks about the waste this consumption generates. Given Thompson’s penchant for detailed descriptions of violence, the book literalizes the transformation of human bodies into flesh, corpses, and waste. Ford reduces his victims to waste both literally and symbolically, taking away their personhood for no other obvious reason than his urge to annihilate them, as is the case with the brutal misogyny-driven murder of Any Stanton, his fiancée. Where Hughes was careful not to strip Dix Steele’s victims of their dignity, a gesture recognized by her feminist commentators (Mills 2020, 150, see also Chap. 5), Thompson’s prose lingers on the violence, especially scenes of Ford’s brutality with women. The following is his account of the death of Amy Stanton: “I killed Amy Stanton on Saturday night on the fifth of April, 1952, at a few minutes before nine o’clock … She smiled and came towards me with her arms held out. ‘I won’t darling. I won’t ever say anything like that again. But I want to tell you how much—’ ‘Sure,’ I said. ‘You want to pour your heart out to me.’ And I hit her in the guts as hard as I could. My fist went back against her spine, and the flesh closed around it to the wrist. I jerked back on it, I had to jerk, and she flopped forward from the waist, like she was hinged. (2006, chap. 18, emphasis added)
There is an intentional contrast between the tenderness of Stanton’s words, and Ford’s casual violence. Her body turns into flesh, which provides Ford with an interesting tactile experience. She is reduced from a person into an object which is to be discarded. Her dead body is described in grotesque terms: twitching, hands grabbing at Ford (2006, chap. 17). Later the homeless man who is to be framed for Stanton’s murder stomps on her abdomen and jumps away in disgust. The corpse is abject and ridiculous: no longer human. Lou Ford confirms his cannibal status. The reduction of humanity to flesh is even more visible in Ford’s account of his assault on Joyce Lakeland. The experience of punching her body is compared to punching a pumpkin, while pounding, in both cases, has an undeniable sexually penetrative quality. I backed her against the wall, slugging, and it was like pounding a pumpkin. Hard, then everything giving away at once. She slumped down, her knees bent under her, her head hanging limp; and then, slowly, an inch at a time, she pushed herself up again. (2006, chap. 6, emphasis added)
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The description relies on a similar conflation of consumption images that add to the grotesqueness of the scene, and in fact most of the killings inspire Ford to laugh. Laughter is a means of expelling the excess produced by killing these women. Women are Ford’s fuel, the “thing” that gets him going and, according to his unreliable self-affirmation, produces his “sickness.” As products of his consumption they transform him, while their bodies produce waste. Clive Baldwin reads these scenes as expressions of anxiety over masculinity in postwar America (2020, 77). He argues that these scenes conflate violent depictions with the “sexualised imagery of penetration, and the projection of emotion onto the feminine” (2020, 76), and reinstate the misogynistic power dynamic whereby men’s control over women is asserted via violence. But Ford expresses not only anxieties over his virility and masculine status, but the genre-wise more typical concerns over domestication of the independent hero. By narrating his relationship with Amy Stanton as a story of a woman forcing a man to settle down, he justifies his need to kill her. She is holding him back, making him miserable, so she must die. The moment he arrives at this conclusion, during a visit to Fort Worth, his spirits rise, and he finds his appetite and eats the sandwiches he discarded as inedible earlier. Just before he is killed himself, Ford finally manages to kill Joyce Lakeland. He uses a kitchen knife on which he impales her just before he is shot by Chester Conway’s men. This kill is Ford’s final consumptive sexual act. He is resorting to “implemental violence,” which according to Adams ties together images of butchering, rape, and murder (2010, 77). In her death, Lakeland, whose ontological status in the novel since the initial attack was oscillating between partner in crime, victim, and corpse, is once more transformed. Her transformation triggers a reaction that metamorphoses and later annihilates Ford himself. The two of them are part of a cycle of consumption that perpetuates the status quo of American postwar society. Baldwin, inspired by Anne Campbell’s take on male aggression (1993), observes that aggression is not a natural element of masculinity, but a means to achieve control over women and other men (2020, 76). In relation to Ford, he writes: “In identifying a woman as the agent of his sickness, the novel resonates with topical cultural anxieties about gender and sexuality” (2020, 76). What I would add to this reading is the way in which the violence strips the victims of any humanity, and though Lakeland
survives the first attack, she becomes a zombie-like creature, covered in bandages, haunting Ford from her hospital bed. Women have been both the traditional victims and villains of noir and hardboiled fiction, and in that sense Ford’s killing spree and constant blaming of women for what he does to them both seem the product of the genre. As noted above, it is also a reflection of the gender relations of the time. In Ford’s eyes Joyce Lakeland is the overtly sexual, predatory female, who triggers his sickness because she enjoys being violated. Amy Stanton, in turn, is to blame because she tries to tame the independent hero, and thus, within the perverted logic, deserves to die. Non-white or weak men are also easier to set up as triggers of their own demise, and thus Ford can pretend to himself that he is the victim of his own killing spree. But it is not only in the context of violence toward women where the narrative interweaves images of food, consumption, and waste. After Ford returns home from Fort Worth, where he accompanied the transportation of what is assumed to be Lakeland’s body, he showers, changes, and prepares “some scrambled eggs and coffee” (2006, chap. 9). As he sits to eat, his phone rings, and Joel Rothman, a union organizer, announces that he wants to visit to discuss the death of Ford’s half-brother, Mike. Once Rothman arrives, social conventions compel Ford to offer him food, but the latter declines, sits at the table, and lights a cigarette. The conversation moves to Rothman’s suspicions that it was Ford who killed Elmer Conway and hurt Joyce Lakeland. Over the food that is on the table, they discuss the violent and gruesome details of the event, but Ford manages to convince the organizer that he is not the killer. Rothman congratulates Ford on figuring out that Lakeland and Conway junior wanted to con Conway senior and is sympathetic to Ford’s dislike of the tycoon and his offspring. Finally, the organizer asks about Conway’s reactions, to which the Deputy replies: “Well, I don’t think he feels real good.” Rothman’s response is: “Probably something he ate … But watch that stuff, Lou … Save it for those birds” (2006, chap. 10). Rothman’s deployment of a food metaphor to suggest Conway’s dismay relies on the connection of consumption and food-induced illness or indigestion. This is the first time food is considered noxious in the text. This shift is enabled by Ford and Rothman’s shared belief that Chester Conway deserves to suffer, while indigestion seems a slightly ridiculous hex to put on a powerful hypermasculine man. The overlap between the image of eating of eggs and the murder of Conway and attempted murder of Lakeland is not just due to the
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proximity of conversation and food. In an argument concerning the connection between consumption of meat, sexual consumption of women and violence, Carol J. Adams argues that there is a conceptual link between violence and meat-eating because both practices rely on the power of the absent referent to objectify the being that is killed. Adams discusses this in the context of her feminist-vegetarian theory that deals with the connections and mutual implications of meat-eating and sexual violence targeting predominantly female-bodied people. Nevertheless, her analysis clarifies why food and murder so often appear next to one another (2010, 66–68, 73, see Chap. 5). Meat-eating and killing also share the ability to change the ontology of the thing being eaten/killed. Elspeth Probyn comments on this power of transformation of matter. At the same time, she points to people’s inability to fully realize the various levels on which this transformation functions: oxygen, food, or sperm metamorphose into carbon-dioxide, excrement and urine, and babies, but also into energy, intelligence, or social convention (2000, 31). Adams’s take on this is more sinister, and she focuses on how the renaming that accompanies the metamorphosis voids the original referent and opens the now absent referent to various appropriations. This is made visible by the very process of renaming, whereby the subject “is viewed, or objectified, through metaphor” (2010, 73). This fragmentation distances the subject from its ontological meaning, thus reducing it to representation that enables the eradication of that subject through consumption (2010, 73). Consumption transforms a dead animal into a dish to be consumed or trophy to be exhibited, yet the former shall become excrement, while the other will eventually turn into trash. Ford’s eggs function simultaneously as symbols of new life and reproduction, and dairy products. In the context of the scene they illustrate how waste is already inscribed in consumption. Eating an egg requires the egg-as-future-bird potential to go to waste, and then once digested the egg becomes waste once again (not to mention the shell that becomes waste the moment the egg is cracked either for reproductive or culinary purposes). A human dies and the dead body becomes a corpse that is later medically or forensically examined and produces new knowledge, or becomes the deceased then ritualistically buried to produce solace for the bereaved. Rebeca Mills observes about the position of the dead body in crime fiction that as the victim becomes the corpse, it is sidelined in the narrative, as conventionally the detective pursues and investigates the murderer. The detection rarely brings back
the victim’s humanity, as the detective does not speak for the dead (2020, 149). The twist in The Killer Inside Me is that the almost-corpse of Lakeland does actually attempt to speak for herself, and dies in the flames together with the detective-turned-murdered who first attacked her.
Barren Land or Impotent Rurality Set in the landscape of the pastoral myth, which brings to mind not only agricultural but also implicitly heterosexual reproduction, the novel’s insistence on killing offspring demands a closer examination. One of the ways in which rurality is often conceptualized as wholesomeness is through the conflation of rural with agricultural. Agricultural imagery posits the rural as space for the “natural” reproduction of people, animals, and crops. This in turn explains the implicit heterosexuality that is projected onto the rural (Cartwright 2020, 8), and accounts for the homophobia that is ascribed to that setting. It warrants additional attention, when in a novel this obsessed with production via consumption and transformation, heterosexual reproduction is not only prevented, but penalized. Not only is Ford made sterile, but the three fathers featured in the novel lose their sons: Doctor Ford loses Mike, Chester Conway loses Elmer, while Mr. Pappas loses Johnnie.6 Young Conway, Pappas, and Ford are in different ways and to various degrees victims of their fathers. I do not mean to provide a psychoanalytic reading of the Oedipal complex at work, since Greg Forter offers a good reading of that dynamic for Pop. 1280, but it is interesting that The Killer Inside Me presents a limited version of an annihilation of the next generation. Ford is sterile, because after learning about his supposed sexual disorder, his father had him undergo a vasectomy. Young Pappas and Conway are dead, though via the hands of Ford, their fathers are implicated. Elmer Conway has to die as part of Ford’s vengeance for the death of Mike, while Johnnie Pappas is dead because his father trusted Lou Ford to take care of his son. The sons will not inherit their fathers’ businesses, but these businesses do not seem to suffer because of that fact. In that sense the novel questions the logic of futuristic reproduction (Edelman 2004), as well as challenging the narratives of parents earning so 6 The families of Joyce Lakeland and Amy Stanton also lose their descendants, but these losses are not accounted for in the text, possibly reflecting a noir tendency to ignore women and their narrative trajectories.
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that their children can have a better life. The text seems to suggest that fathers will have better lives, if the sons cease to exist. In the same way as the rural’s connection with the agricultural is severed, the intergenerational loyalties are broken as consumption, and not reproduction, is considered a superior mode of continuation of existence. “Natural” reproduction is thus challenged, which brings back the question of eggs consumed by Ford with so much enthusiasm. An egg served implies a life potential voided for the maintenance of another life, which is a mechanism eating always already implies. Any consumption comes at the cost of another life and thus all consumption helps to maintain hierarchies of existence in terms of species, genders, races, classes, and sexualities.
Conclusion Ford is a paradox: an overconsumer who criticizes consumption. Ford’s split, which makes him uncomfortable, does not cease even after his death. Though at times he is in control of his body, in fact, and as evidenced by the disintegration of the narrative and the ultimate explosion, which is one of the most spectacular versions of fragmentation, his control was an illusion. A man with rapacious alimentary and sexual appetites, which reflect his mental and emotional states, is also the voice for a scathing criticism of satiety and homogeneity in postwar America. Mindful of the waste a culture based on consumption produces, he nevertheless is an agent of waste production. He is an affectionate cannibal and a murderous one, whose violence strips people of their humanity and reduces them to mere flesh. Thanks to his white masculine privilege fueled by gender models of the pastoral myth, Ford the murderer hides in plain sight and in doing so embodies the anxiety of Cold War America. Ford conflates aggression with virility, which inadvertently reflects the norms of masculinity present at the time. Self-diagnosed as a split personality and using pop psychoanalytic theories of “sexual perversion” to explain his sickness, he is in fact a figure of misogyny and white male privilege. In his final words, Lou Ford observes: “All of us that started the game with a crooked cue, that wanted so much and got so little, that meant so good and did so bad … All of us” (chap. 26). He points to the mismatch between hunger and satiety in a society exposed to the propaganda of consumption. The hyperconsumerist rhetoric of postwar America combined, in the Texan context, with the oil boom leads to a shift in reproductive paradigms: from reproduction to ontological transformation. At the
same time, the waste that consumption always already involves, but is denied by the dominant ideology of the time, returns as corruption and violence. The repressed returns and even the annihilation of the specter of that repression, Ford, does not change the status quo. In fact, it only confirms the adverse consequences of combining overconsumption, triumphant rhetoric, and racist and sexist values.
References Adams, Carol J. 2010. The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory. New York: Continuum. Baldwin, Clive. 2020. Anxious Men: Masculinity in American Fiction of the Mid- Twentieth Century. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Berlant, Lauren. 2011. Cruel Optimism. Durham: Duke University Press. Brown, Jennifer. 2012. Cannibalism in Literature and Film. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Campbell, Anne. 1993. Men, Women, and Aggression. New York: Basic Books. Campbell, Hugh, Michael Mayerfeld Bell, and Margaret Finney. 2006. Country Boys: Masculinity and Rural Life. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. Cartwright, Ryan Lee. 2020. Peculiar Places: A Queer Crip History of White Rural Nonconformity. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Clark, Dorothy G. 2009. Being’s Wound: (Un)Explaining Evil in Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me. The Journal of Popular Culture 42 (1): 49–66. https:// doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-5931.2009.00570.x. Cloke, Paul. 2006. Conceptualizing rurality. In Handbook of Rural Studies, ed. Paul Cloke, Terry Marsden, and Patrick Mooney, 18–28. London: Sage Publications. Dyer, Richard. 2003. 2. The Matter of Whiteness. In Privilege: A Reader, ed. Michael S. Kimmel and Abby L. Ferber, 21–31. Boulder: Westview Press. Forter, Greg. 2000. Murdering Masculinities: Fantasies of Gender and Violence in the American Crime Novel. New York: New York University Press. Horsley, Lee. 2001. The Noir Thriller. New York: Palgrave. Hughes, Bill. 2019. The Abject and the Vulnerable: The Twain Shall Meet: Reflections on Disability in the Moral Economy. The Sociological Review 67 (4): 829–846. https://doi.org/10.1177/0038026119854259. Lee, Susanna. 2003. The Menace of the Post-Hardboiled Maverick: Jim Thompson’s Pop. 1280 and Modern Television Detective Drama. The Journal of Popular Culture 37 (1): 43–55. Mills, Rebecca. 2020. Victims. In The Routledge Companion to Crime Fiction, ed. Janice Allan, Jesper Gulddal, Stewart King, and Andrew Pepper, 149–167. London: Routledge.
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Moore, Sara A. 2012. Garbage Matters: Concepts in New Geographies of Waste. Progress in Human Geography 36 (6): 780–799. https://doi. org/10.1177/0309132512437077. Painter, Nell Irvin. 2010. The History of White People. New York: W.W. Norton & Norton. Payne, Kenneth. 1996. Moral Indistinguishability in the Crime Fiction of Jim Thompson: The Killer Inside Me and Pop. 1280. The Arkansas Review 5 (1–2): 118–128. ———. 2003. The Killers Inside Them: The Schizophrenic Protagonist in John Franklin Bardin’s Devil Take the Blue-Tail Fly and Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me. Journal of Popular Culture 36 (2): 250–263. Probyn, Elsbeth. 2000. Carnal Appetites: FoodSexIdentities. London: Routledge. Redding, Arthur. 2008. Turncoats, Traitors, and Fellow Travelers: Culture and Politics of the Early Cold War. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. Sallis, James. 1993. Jim Thompson Dime-Store Dostoevsky. In Difficult Lives: Jim Thompson, David Goodis, Chester Himes, 18–47. New York: Gryphon Books. Scanlan, John. 2005. On Garbage. London: Reaktion Books. Snyder, Robert Lance. 2021. Entropic Disintegration: Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me, Savage Night, and A Hell of a Woman. The Journal of American Culture 44 (3): 177–193. https://doi.org/10.1111/jacc.13278. Strasser, Susan. 2000. Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash. New York: Owl Books. Thompson, Jim. 2006. The Killer Inside Me. London: Orion Books. Mobi. Weiss, Laura B. 2011. Ice Cream: A Global History. London: Reaktion Books.
Homosocial Consumption in Rex Stout’s Champagne for One (1958)
While The Killer Inside Me was a violent rewriting of a tired formula, Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe—Archie Goodwin series offers a satire that successfully mixes elements of classic and hardboiled detective stories, as exemplified by the mid-run Champagne for One. Lee Horsley observed that it was in British crime fiction that a “tone of the light-hearted hard-boiled pastiche ... often found its way into imitation American thrillers,” but the same could be said of Stout’s oeuvre (2001, 93). True to its noir heritage, the Wolfe-Goodwin series of twenty-two novels and thirty-nine short stories offers criticism of consumption typical of any, even mocking, rendition of hardboiled fiction. More importantly, however, Stout’s work also celebrates masculine consumption in a manner and volume unmatched by previously discussed novels, thanks to its depiction of pleasure in consumption that is not countered by any punishment (as is the case in other noir novels) over its decades-long run.1 By having two eating detectives: a fat fifty-six-year-old Montenegrian genius, Wolfe, and an agile thirtythree-year-old American wise guy, Goodwin, these novels illustrate how Stout’s writing career began in 1929, but the Wolfe-Goodwin series began in 1934 with Fer-de-lance, and lasted until the 1975 publication of A Family Affair. His last collection of Wolfe-Goodwin stories, Death Times Three, was published posthumously in 1985 (McAleer 1977, 245). 1
© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2023 M. Usiekniewicz, Food, Consumption, and Masculinity in American Hardboiled Fiction, Crime Files, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-29160-9_7
the body that consumes changes the significance of the consumption. Though the books themselves are a pastiche, the construction of masculinities contained in them merits a serious investigation. The series both illustrates and confirms arguments presented in this book about masculinity, embodiment, and consumption, and their relation to food, nationality, race, ethnicity, sexuality, and ability. Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin’s masculinity is determined by how their overconsumption is regulated and interpreted via these categories, justifying the voracious appetite of the young able-bodied American and otherizing the perceived gluttony of his fat only-naturalized employer. Wolfe and Goodwin are the eating detectives, and since (over)consumption has been traditionally gendered as female, it is clear that featuring urban men who eat and enjoy it a lot problematizes typical understandings of masculinity, femininity, and effeminacy (Murray 2008, 57). In order to discipline the potentially subversive effect of their foodways in a rather conventional, conservative, and anachronistic series, the novels need to deploy many food-related tactics to contain non-normative readings of the characters. Moreover, the detective pair as depicted in the series, and Nero Wolfe especially, invite a reconsideration of the detective’s corporeality. The fact that Wolfe, the series’ big non-American body, is “only” a naturalized American, and all the series activities are narrated by Goodwin, a fit, young, white American, contributes to the discussion of normativity and masculine embodiment in the context of nationality. Amy Erdman Farell observes that “the development of fat stigma [is] related both to cultural anxieties that emerged during the modern period over consumer excess and, importantly, to prevailing ideas about race, civilization, and evolution” (2011, 5). Fatness informs discussions of white masculinity and masculine corporeal transparency, while the fat male bodies are moralized, especially, but not only, in the consumerist context of postwar America. The detective’s huge body and its potential associations with unstoppable appetite and oral fixation, as well as his misanthropy and misogyny, provide ample material for a discussion of the intersection between food, masculinity, and sexuality. In turn, Goodwin’s fitness combined with his youth and a degree of self-assurance unmatched by other hardboiled detectives, enables an analysis of youth, virility, and marital status in an era defined by the myth of the nuclear family, an inherently white concept (Cartwright 2020, 9–10). At first glance, it might seem strange that two characters known for their rather unflattering characteristics lived such a long literary life.
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Discussing men’s corpulence, Christopher E. Forth observes that “fat has been gendered as ‘feminine’ in the Western cultural imagination,” which in a patriarchal culture renders the bearer of that trait as lower in the hierarchy of bodies (2013, 389). He adds that the “generalized cultural association of fat manhood with looseness, immorality, weakness and cowardice” may undermine any benefits that come from being male in a patriarchal, but implicitly sizeist society (2013, 389). Bearing these points in mind, it seems unlikely that Wolfe would remain such a powerful literary character. Though there have been moments in history when white fat masculinity had been associated with affluence and power, as evidenced in visual representation of exploitative capitalists in twentieth-century pamphlets, even within the text of which he is a protagonist, Wolfe’s fat is considered repulsive. Wolfe’s phobic anachronisms could have easily consigned the series featuring the two detectives into oblivion, if not, I suggest, for their timeless flaws that have a redemptive capacity and a nostalgic appeal. Moreover, due to their character flaws, Wolfe and Goodwin invite queer readings that expand on models of masculinity and homosociality. Wolfe’s girth and what it represents in a sizeist society and the two detectives’ appetite and lavish lifestyle point to yet another queering possibility. If one sees appetite as a manifestation of unchecked desire that places oral over sexual pleasure then appetite potentially becomes a queer desire. Kyla Wazana Tompkins has observed that “eating functions as a metalanguage for genital pleasure and sexual desire. But eating is often a site of erotic pleasure itself, what I call, as a means of signaling the alignment between oral pleasure and other forms of nonnormative desire, queer alimentarity” (2012, 5). Both Wolfe and Goodwin show queer alimentarity as a blurring of lines between food as metaphor or substitute for sexual desire. Elspeth Probyn, discussed extensively in Chaps. 4 and 5, also studies the conflation of various desires within food imagery, and connects consumption with sexual consumption. The detectives’ alimentary queerness combined with their timeless anachronism inform the way consumption and masculinity work together in Stout’s work, especially in the context of the late 1950s. Nero Wolfe’s fatness may also be read as non-normativity with a political potential, especially as the food in the novel performs multiple functions. It is a key element of the series’ idiosyncrasy. Due to the conflation of appetite and fatness, food consumed in large quantities ensures Wolfe’s weight. Food is also an important part of the series’s “nonstory,” which is how Umberto Eco describes those passages that do not develop the plot,
but are recurring features of the series (2005, 193). And though queer alimentarity is one way of thinking non-normativity, Wolfe’s embodiment as described by Goodwin also invites readings via disability and fat studies perspectives, thus connecting food and health to masculinity and nationality. At the same time, a sole focus on Wolfe’s embodiment, his eating patterns or “hyper(in)visibility” as a fat man, may run the risk of ignoring the changes in the trope of the eating hardboiled detective as portrayed by Archie Goodwin. Examining the relationship the two detectives and other members of their household have with food broadens the conceptualization of the functions food plays in both crime fiction and homosocial relations. The concept of “hyper(in)visibility” formulated by Jeannine A. Gailey to express the paradox of simultaneous hypervisibility and invisibility of fat white women is useful in discussions of fat men. Gailey argues that “Fat presents an apparent paradox because it is visible and dissected publicly; in this respect, it is hypervisible. Fat is also marginalized and erased; in this respect, it is hyperinvisible” (2014, 7). I argue that a similar phenomenon may be observed in regard to men especially viewed in terms of sexual visibility and recognition in mainstream fatphobic society, even though fat oppression is itself gendered and affects genders (and races) in different ways. In this chapter I focus on Champagne for One, published in 1958, as an example of postwar crime fiction, rather than Fer-de-lance, the first instalment of the series, published in 1934, because by 1958 many of the elements introduced in the first novel have either sedimented and become part of the recurring world of the series, the “nonstory,” or have been dropped. Further, because the protagonists remain more-or-less consistent throughout the series, a later novel better illustrates the anachronistic character of the masculinities performed by the two detectives. Though the pair was to a degree already out of time in the 1930s, presenting them in a late 1950s context enables a sharper contrast, especially as regards issues of race, ethnicity, and sexuality. What is more, Champagne for One, in comparison with other novels of the series, Fer-de-lance included, has a relatively simple plot with a small, by Stout’s standards, number of characters. More importantly, the novel in which the victim is poisoned literally connects murder with gender and
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consumption. The killer’s modus operandi is to add cyanide to the victim’s champagne glass, which provides an opportunity to discuss gender stereotypes employed in the novel.2
Formula, Innovation, Anachronisms, and Popularity Stout’s innovative contribution to the genre relies on two strategies: reusing generic crime fiction elements mostly for comic effect, and combining two crime fiction traditions, classic detective fiction, and hardboiled noir into one series. Ross Macdonald noted that “[w]ith great wit and cunning, [Stout] devised a form which combined the traditional virtues of Sherlock Holmes and the English school with the fast-moving vernacular narrative of Dashiell Hammett” (qtd. in McAleer 1977, 242) while Edmund Wilson called Wolfe “Holmes in modern dress” (qtd. in Rauber 1972, 486). However, his sidekick, Archie Goodwin by no means embodies a modern-day Watson. Goodwin recalls Philip Marlowe’s narrative voice, but unlike Chandler’s detective, Goodwin is much more confident in his masculinity, even in his 1934 Fer-de-lance debut: As I eased the roadster along taking it in I thought to myself that fifty grand was nothing. I had on a dark blue suit, with a blue shirt and a tan tie, and of course my panama which I had had cleaned right after Decoration Day. I’ve found it’s a good idea to consider what kind of place you’re going to, and dress accordingly. (2010, chap. 8, all subsequent quotes from this edition)
The passage closely resembles the opening lines of The Big Sleep, a nod to openings to many pulp short stories featuring a first-person account of the protagonist’s looks, which once more establishes Goodwin as a member of the hardboiled school of detection.3 As the series develops, Goodwin’s masculinity becomes even more self-assured and lacks any of the panic characteristic of Marlowe. Goodwin is the wise-cracking, eternally single sexually active and attractive sleuth with a preference for an For a discussion of poisoning as a gendered method of killing, see Franks et al. 2013. This passage is similar to Philip Marlowe’s description of himself at the beginning of The Big Sleep published six years later: “I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well- dressed private detective ought to be” (2005, 1; For a discussion of food, masculinity, and consumption in The Big Sleep, see Chap. 3). 2 3
all-male living arrangement. Of course, Goodwin is as much a pastiche of a hardboiled detective, as Wolfe is of a classic one, nevertheless, the appeal of the series relies on the combination of the two highly recognizable genres or rather their most visible and clichéd elements. Finally, the mix of crime fiction strands enables a more complex view of class relations and their relation to consumption. Classic detective novels have been traditionally read by middle-class audiences, while hardboiled ones, and pulps especially, appealed to a working-class readership (Smith 2000). This is reflected in the Wolfe-Goodwin series. The class divide between Goodwin and Wolfe is very often marked by the use of language, with the former’s inferior class and education signaled by atypical grammatical choices or his use of slang. Though presumably English is not his native language, Wolfe is a linguistic purist and often corrects Goodwin’s lapses. As the series progresses, however, Goodwin’s English becomes more polished. Wolfe’s higher class status, presented with a degree of derision, overlaps with his non-Americanness. Thus his arcana knowledge of orchids, food, or history not only ages and dates him, but also renders him foreign in a non-threatening way. Despite some aspects of the series changing over time, in most respects Wolfe and Goodwin remain virtually the same throughout: they do not even age. Together with the world they inhabit, they travel in time while not always acknowledging the changes of social mores. The more outdated they are, the more appealing their idiosyncrasies become. The novels seem blissfully unaware of the various tensions present at the time of their production. This is precisely the case with Champagne for One and its sanitized version of late 1950s New York, a period, which though seemingly homogenous, was in fact a site of great social turmoil. James Gilbert observes that “[w]hile there was certainly conformity and uniformity ... and a considerable degree of sexual and social repression, the sexual revolution that had begun three decades earlier in the 1920s continued pace and corroded the dominant conformist categories that stressed monogamy, sexual repression, and domestic ideology” (2005, 18). Thus a plot that includes a condemnation of unwed mothers and premarital sexual activity among women seems painfully out of date. Moreover, the series offers a whitewashed version of New York, where there is no racial tension, while class tensions are played out in a benign way. All these strategies transform the anachronism of the series into timelessness.
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The Plot and the Nonstory Champagne for One begins when Goodwin is invited by a friend, Austin Byne, to replace him as a guest at a dinner held by Mrs Robilotti. Her now dead husband, Albert Grantham, had set up a house for unmarried mothers, and each year he and his wife used to invite four former residents to join the couple for a meal and a dance. They also used to invite an equal number of young gentlemen, and Granthams’ two children, Cecil and Celia Grantham. Despite the fact that Mr. Grantham died, his wife, now married to an Italian, Robert Robilotti, continues the tradition. Apart from the hosts, the dinner is attended by the remaining three young men, Paul Schuster, Beverly Kent, and Edwin Laidlaw, as well as the unmarried mothers, Helen Yarmis, Ethel Varr, Rose Tuttle, and Faith Usher. After dinner champagne is served and dancing is announced. At this point, Faith Usher, known for keeping a bottle of cyanide in her purse, collapses and dies, apparently from cyanide poisoning. Though everybody suspects that she committed suicide, Goodwin argues that she was, in fact, murdered and stakes his and later Wolfe’s reputations on it. Goodwin and Wolfe are hired by one of the guests, Laidlaw, to help him manage the situation, partly because, it is revealed, he was the father of Faith Usher’s illegitimate child. Since Laidlaw plans to marry Celia Grantham, he wants his identity as the father to remain secret. As the case progresses, over the strong objections of Mrs. Robilotti and the begrudging involvement of the police, Goodwin and Wolfe discover that Mr. Grantham was suspected of being Faith Usher’s father. Though he did have an affair with her mother, he was not Faith Usher’s father after all. Nevertheless, he set up a fund for her managed by her mother and Austin Byne. This arrangement was supposed to prevent Elaine Usher from squandering the money, or from blackmailing him. The discovery of these relationships and the potential motives for murder they imply, do not, however, help answer the key question of how the poison got into the champagne glass. In a typically unnecessary and elaborate reconstruction of events, Wolfe shows that there was only one person who could have added the poison, but before revealing the identity of that person, he clears his office and leaves only the Robilottis, the young Granthams, Inspector Crammer, Austin Byne, and his three hired men, Saul Panzer, Orrie Cather, and Fred Durkin. He also invites Elaine Usher into the room. This is the moment when Mrs. Robilotti breaks down and attacks the elder Ms. Usher in a fit of jealous rage, thus admitting to knowing who the two Usher women were.
The premise of the novel is that one emotionally unstable woman kills another woman’s daughter to avenge the suffering she endured at the hands of her unfaithful husband. The novel is also an example of social determinism in practice, with the daughter repeating the mistakes of her mother. But, as argued by Eco, it is not the plot that matters in serialized fiction, but the repetition of recognizable elements (2005, 193). It would seem then, that the key recognizable element in the series is Wolfe’s genius and obesity juxtaposed with Goodwin’s sarcastic narrative voice and immaturity. Eco discusses Stout’s series as a prime example of artistic production valued predominantly for its “nonstory” (2005, 193). For Eco the stories contain recurring plot elements, such as the mandatory questioning of Goodwin by the police, the barging in of Inspector Crammer, or a hysterical attack during which the perpetrator, often a woman or an effeminate man, is revealed (2005, 193). Other nonstory elements include: the description of the interiors of the West Thirty-fifth Street brownstone, focusing on Wolfe’s office and the specially designed chair, the dining room, and the plant room filled with orchids; description of household routines, including, but not limited to, the four hours in the plant room Wolfe spends each day, set meal times; as well as characters’ idiosyncrasies, such as Wolfe’s beer opening ritual, or Goodwin’s predilection for drinking milk with his dinner. In addition, there are descriptions of members of the household and other recurring associates, such as Fritz Brenner, the live-in chef, and Theodore Hortsman, who tends to the orchids. Oftentimes, a novel will feature the three operatives hired as extra bodies when necessitated by a given case: Saul Panzer, Orrie Cather, and Fred Durkin, as well as Inspector Crammer, the inefficient and unlikable representative of NYPD, and Lon Cohen, the journalist whose access to information is often used by Goodwin. Topically, but not in order of frequency, the typical elements include misogyny and misandry, classism, making fun of crime fiction tradition, Goodwin’s love life, a convoluted rounding up of the suspects that offers a limited payoff, violence toward women, racism (against non-Americans), homophobia, Wolfe’s reticence about accepting a job, conscious use of food-language and metaphors, and the Wolfean expression “Pfui.” The two detectives’ singular abilities are also repeated: Wolfe’s immobility combined with cerebral genius and Goodwin’s photographic memory and ability to recall entire conversations verbatim.
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Nero Wolfe: The Sedentary Genius “Height 5 ft. 11 in. Weight 272 lbs. Age 56” (qtd. in Stout 2009, appendix). Nero Wolfe’s corporeality determines how his masculinity is defined in relation to his consumption patterns. Though he is the cerebral genius, who does not need to leave the room to solve a crime—he sends Goodwin to collect the necessary information—the fact that his brain is contained in a huge body has a profound impact on readerly sympathies. His misanthropy and peculiarities of taste and habit, combined with his foreign status, make him suspicious in terms of nationality and physical ability, but Goodwin’s narrative ensures that there is enough to sustain readers’ interest in the character. As the fat detective, Wolfe is the first of the detectives, as opposed to the murderers Dix Steele and Lou Ford examined in Chaps. 4 and 5 respectively, discussed in this study whose health status is addressed directly. Both mental and physical health are taken for granted in most conventional representations of detectives, while any emotional or mental imbalance immediately shifts a protagonist’s status: from the unacknowledged emotional imbalance of Marlowe to the criminal mental illness of Dix Steele and Lou Ford. Mostly due to his body size, Wolfe automatically finds himself on a scale of illness and disability that offsets his genius. Wolfe is by no means the only atypical detective to appear in the context of 1930s pulp magazines, yet Irving Kenneth Zola notes that it was the postwar era that saw a real rise in the number of various minorities including what Hoppenstand and Browne problematically termed “defective detectives” (qtd. in Zola 1987, 490), among them Nero Wolfe, known for being “gargantuan in knowledge and girth” (Zola 1987, 489). The proliferation of disabled masculinities may be tied to the postwar attempt at cultural reintegration of visible disability into society, as well as a way to refresh an exhausted formula. Given that the relationship between disability studies and fat studies perspectives on fatness as disability is by no means simple (Mollow 2015), 4 and the fact that in the 1950s fatphobic context fatness was not considered a disability but rather a consequence of being an inferior person, Wolfe’s size exceeds this simple interpretation. 4 Though some fat studies scholars do use disability studies to help address the medicalization and foster politicization of fat identity, most, especially activists, distance themselves from fat as sickness or impairment, cf. Mollow 2015, Hall 2014, Levy-Navarro 2009.
The question remains whether it is the cerebral genius that needs to be offset by girth, or are consumption patterns and corporeality made palatable only when excused by foreignness and justified by intellectual brilliance? The delicate dynamic of Nero Wolfe’s construction suggests that it is both, as fatness is yet another concept loosely related to its referent. Each Rex Stout story restates just how enormously heavy Wolfe is; Goodwin’s oft repeated assurance that it was a seventh of a ton serves to prove the enormity of the detective’s body. Goodwin, who seems obsessed with his employer’s body, describes Wolfe with a mixture of repulsion at the size, and awe at his physicality and the ability of such a large body to move. This body is kept that way because, suggests Goodwin, it consumes a lot in terms of knowledge and food, while expelling little in terms of feces or information. The first words spoken by Wolfe, as recorded in Fer-de-lance, are “Where’s the beer?” (2010, chap. 1). A few lines later, readers learn that since Prohibition had ended Wolfe decided to give up bootleg beer, as long as he could get a potable legal beer of 3.2. He also proclaimed that he would limit himself to five, rather than six quarts a day. This establishes several things about the character: he consumes a lot of beer regardless of its legal status. He does not mind switching to a legal beverage, if its taste is to his liking, so it is not the illegality of the practice that keeps him at it, but the fact that drinking beer is a lifelong habit. He reacts badly to being denied his drink as he does not like his rituals disturbed. Thus, immediately Wolfe is presented as a consuming creature of habit, and the mechanisms of nonstory are set into motion. In terms of normalizing masculinity, Nero Wolfe is for obvious reasons a big challenge, both literally and metaphorically. A single, orchid-loving, woman-hating obese gourmand in his fifties does not immediately connote conventional 1950s masculinity. To prevent Wolfe from stretching gender norms too far, he is made into an obnoxious, grotesquely overweight prideful misanthrope, whose solitary nature is explained by his dislike of people. Nevertheless, it is not too much of an exaggeration to discuss Wolfe in terms of gender nonnormativity. Wolfe is presented as very aware of the image of the self he is projecting and the effect it has on others. For example, when asked by Goodwin whether he will see a visitor outside of his usual business hours Wolfe declines and then adds: “I understand the technique of eccentricity; it would be futile for a man to labor at establishing a reputation for oddity if he were ready at the slightest
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provocation to revert to normal action” (2010, chap. 6). This meta- commentary sums up both Wolfe’s, and by implication, Stout’s approach to character design. Wolfe’s body size also enables a separation from the world. When discussing Mary Gaitskill’s novel Two Girls, Fat and Thin, Lauren Berlant observes about the character of Dorothy: Obesity and ugliness create a force field around her, seeming to neutralize what, in those “gatherings of the normally proportioned,” might come from others—curiosity of attachment (169). In this way she is protected from saying what she knows, just as she is protected from the world’s demands to know what she knows. (2011, 128)
Berlant argues that fatness may serve as social insulation, deployed by fat people to opt out of the world. If Rauber is right in arguing that Wolfe uses his genius mind to escape the real world, his corpulence may be the bodily manifestation of that disengagement (1972, 494). His body and choice to rarely leave his house lead to a voluntary seclusion, which may in fact be another feature that redeems Wolfe. As a monster, even a tamed and commercially attractive one, Wolfe works better when contained in an enclosed space. New York does not need “a mountain of lard” traversing its streets in search of a clue, but it shall enjoy the performance such a grotesque body delivers in his office. Wolfe is rarely seen outside of his abode and usually makes sure that his clients come to see him. In fact, Goodwin is functionally Wolfe’s emanation in the outside world, and his exceptional memory enables him to report verbatim each encounter that he has had to his employer. Each of Wolfe’s excursions is met with bewilderment on Goodwin’s part, as his narrative casts Wolfe as an immobile recluse. The latter’s account of Wolfe’s movement and embodiment is also revealing. Goodwin continues to be amazed that the “gargantuan body” may be set in motion, and stresses that surprise every time Wolfe does transport himself. Every instance of Wolfe’s change of position is duly noted. For example, Goodwin observes: “I have never understood why he doesn’t make more noise walking. You would think that his feet, which are no bigger than mine, would make quite a business of getting along under his seventh of a ton, but they don’t” (2009, chap. 1, emphasis added, all subsequent quotes from this edition). Toward the end of Champagne for One, when Elaine Usher surges to attack Wolfe, Goodwin recalls:
I was too astonished to move—not by her, but by him. He had been facing her, so his knees weren’t under his desk and he didn’t have to swivel, but even so, he had a lot of pounds to get in motion. Back went his bulk, and up came his legs, and just as she arrived his feet were there, and one of them caught her smack on the chin. She staggered back into Saul’s arms and he eased her onto the chair … You might think that for a long time he had had a suppressed desire to kick a woman on the chin. (2009, chap. 15, emphasis added)
These two passages are exemplary of the way in which the series depicts a fat body’s movement: surprise at its agility. This constant reiteration of fatphobic assumptions makes the fat detective safe to enjoy. In her account of fat shame, Amy Erdman Farrell uses Erving Goffman’s notion of the “abominations of the body” combined with his “character” stigma, which means that people assume that because a person is fat, there is something wrong with their character or personality. She also notes that fatness “was a motif used to identify ‘inferior bodies’” including non- American, non-white, and non-male. She continues that fat “became a telltale sign of a ‘superior’ person falling from grace” (2011, 6–7). As a prideful character, Wolfe does not suffer from fat shame, but Goodwin’s narration does stress the immorality of the fat body, thereby ensuring that the readers stigmatize Wolfe’s body. Because he is economically legitimized by his consumption patterns, and intellectually redeemed by his genius, Wolfe is allowed to exist in the able-bodied landscape of the series, as long as Goodwin continues to reassert that the body that carries the great brain is repulsive and strange, perpetually un-American. As an excessive consumer of food, items, and information Wolfe is a surprisingly stingy excreter, in terms of feces, explanations, or emotions. His weight protects him from being accountable to the world, which fits his reluctance to share the solutions or ideas he has about cases. Goodwin notes two instances of Wolfe’s agitation in Fer-de-lance: Wolfe was whistling; that is, his lips were rounded into the proper position and air was going in and out, but there was no sound … He told me once that it meant he was surrendering to his emotions. (2010, chap. 17)
The above passages illustrate that not only is Wolfe’s expressiveness very limited, but also his ability to expel anything is insubstantial. He cannot even whistle. The paradox is that though he consumes so much, he gives away so little, which could be one explanation for his girth.
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Sander Gilman notes that early Christian texts suggested that “knowledge puffs up” (2010, 34). He continues that the very same texts construed fatness as a “sign of gluttony, as a reflection of prideful nature of humans” (2010, 35). Even if fatness is now associated with stupidity, it was, at some point, connected with knowledge and pride. Despite the common projection of stupidity and mental illness onto fat people, there exists an acknowledgment that they might not be stupid or weak (2010, 37). Importantly, Samantha Murray notes that in the medicalized rather than moralized account of fatness, fat people are still depicted as stupid and lazy because they fail to engage and perform the supposedly healthy actions that would lead them to a reduction in weight (2008, 50–5). Wolfe’s body illustrates the complex and oftentimes contradictory perception of fatness in Western culture, but is “made safe” by containment and foreignization.
Archie Goodwin: The Man Who Memorized All “Height 6 feet. Weight 180 lbs. Age 32” (2009, appendix). Goodwin, as the series’s narrator, appears in a less visible way, initially transparent in his Americanness, whiteness, and able-bodiedness. In a letter to the editor, Stout points out that Goodwin fits well within the standards of hardboiled physique, including an unbecoming nose that damages his appeal thus making him easier to identify with (2010, appendix). In that sense, Goodwin is also a slightly “defective character” in the service of generic believability rather than otherization. Goodwin is also known to ingest a lot, especially when he is bored. In Champagne for One, upon returning home after a night spent at the police headquarters, Goodwin tells Fritz: “I want,” I said, “a quart of orange juice, a pound of sausage, six eggs, twenty griddle cakes, and a gallon of coffee.” “No doughnuts with honey?” “Yes, I forgot to mention them.” (2009, chap 4).
Goodwin’s demands meet with some derision on the part of the chef, who nevertheless prepares the meal and serves it to the detective. He later proceeds to prepare one for his employer. This exchange implies a certain immaturity on Goodwin’s part, which is signaled by the use of an abbreviated form of his first name, Archie: a child delicately scolded for wanting
too much to eat. The menu demanded is also a typical American breakfast diner fare, which a live-in chef could be offended to make. Goodwin is presented as immature by being repeatedly cast as the eternal bachelor, resisting marriage, of which Wolfe notes: “I begin to doubt if you will ever let a woman plant her foot on your neck” (2009, chap. 1). Obviously, Goodwin’s bachelor status fits the masculine model he is supposed to both embody and ridicule, but when combined with his living arrangement and lavish foodways, this lack of heteronormative behavior expected of a white man in the 1950s could potentially become suspicious. Champagne For One notes Goodwin’s rejection of traditional domesticity and its symbols. When visiting Austin Byne’s bachelor pad, he observes “[t]he rugs and chairs were the kind I like, and the lights were okay, and there was no fireplace. I hate fireplaces” (2009, chap. 7). The fireplace as a symbol of settling down or tradition would not fit the superficially modern worldview espoused by Goodwin. Even if the fireplace represents a certain type of domesticity and adulthood that would not fit Goodwin, he still craves domestic safety and satiety, and when an opportunity arises, binges on what may be considered homemade or children’s food. For example, while Wolfe is known for his beer drinking, Goodwin is famous for having milk with his meals. At the same time, Goodwin drinks great quantities of coffee: “I took my time with the meal, treating myself to three cups of coffee instead of the usual two” (2009, chap. 4). Coffee-drinking is part of the hardboiled convention, but most of Goodwin’s coffee consumption happens during meals, rather than instead of them. His coffee is neither the working man’s beverage, nor the digestion-inducing leisurely drink had after dinner—as is the case with Wolfe. Coffee together with other food items, and not alcohol, are also consumed to kill time. When staking out Austin Byne’s house, Goodwin sits in a cafe called Amy’s Nook, where he consumes a surprising amount of pie: “I ate five pieces of pie, two rhubarb and one each of apple, green tomato, and chocolate, and drank four glasses of milk and two cups of coffee” (2009, chap. 12). Goodwin eats all this in the span of two hours of watching the entrance to Byne’s house. Traditionally, during stakeouts, hardboiled detectives are known to drink whiskey out of flasks and smoke cigarettes, rather than eat pie and with this trope in mind Goodwin’s obsessive pie-eating has a certain element of domesticity and immaturity
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to it. A pie evokes images of suburban or rural family life, where homemade sweets are meant as treats for children and adults alike. Goodwin’s binge could thus be construed as a means of stocking up on this unavailable domestic bliss, nostalgia for an imagined alternative lifestyle. I would argue that in this instance, Stout is ridiculing the generic norms of the tough, hungry detective with no threat to Goodwin’s masculinity. Because Goodwin has little anxiety over his masculinity, he is a much more Spade— rather than Marlowe-like hardboiled character. His excessive consumption does not threaten his gender performance in any way. Though eating to absolute excess, he is not considered a figure of excess, unlike his Montenegrian employer.
A Salute to Crime for the 1950s Though I have mentioned that both detectives drink all the generic beverages of the time, with Wolfe being particular about his beer, while Goodwin sticking to his milk, in a novel whose title includes a particular type of alcohol, and where the victim dies because of poisoned champagne, more needs to be said about the specific use of drink in the text. Champagne, rather than remaining an element of the nonstory, becomes a crucial part of the plot, as it is the murder weapon. The following passage comes from the beginning of the novel and reveals the type of linguistic strategy that Stout uses to prioritize food over murder. The strategy is used for comedic effect, but it also makes consumption the center of the world represented in the novel. Champagne for One does not simply celebrate or criticize consumption; it also posits consumption as the predominant mode of existence. At the party Goodwin records: I was introduced around and was served a champagne cocktail. The first sip of the cocktail told me something was wrong, and I worked closer to the bar to find out what. Cecil Grantham, the son of the first husband, who was mixing, was committing worse than murder. I saw him. Holding a glass behind and below the bar top he put in a half-lump of sugar, and a drop or two of bitters, and a twist of lemon peel, filled it half full of soda water, set it on the bar, and filled it nearly to the top from a bottle of Cordon Rouge. Killing good champagne with junk like sugar and bitters and lemon peel is of course a common crime, but the soda water was adding horror to homicide. (2009, chap. 2, emphasis added)
The killing of good champagne anticipates killing with champagne. The passage presents Goodwin as a connoisseur in terms of cocktails, champagnes, and sparkling wines. It also establishes him as the condescending narrator, whose confidence is confirmed by his derision of those around him. This stylistic tactic is typical for the series, where murder and food are often conflated. The conflation points to the fact that any type of nourishment implies death. Maintaining life relies on the taking of life, and this applies not only to those consumers who eat meat. The abolitionist movement had its “blood sugar” produced at the cost of slaves’ lives, while contemporary consumers continue to eat food the production of which poisons both the environment and its producers. In that sense, Stout’s humorous conflation of the two symbolic and real repertoires of crime and food points to a larger issue concerning food justice and consumption, as well as more transcendental values, such as life and death. The scathing criticism of Grantham’s mixological competence may seem presumptuous coming from a person famous for his love of milk, yet Goodwin does occasionally live up to the high drinking standards established by his generic predecessors. In fact, he is often seen drinking hard liquor in his room, even after refusing to share a drink with his employer during dinner. It is hard not to see this as an example of the generation gap, where clandestine drinking is a feature of youth. At the same time, drinks rarely incapacitate Goodwin and he maintains the toughness required in the hardboiled world. Indeed, because he is the narrator of the series, Goodwin is rarely incapacitated by anything, as it would preclude the smooth running of the narration machine. The narration combined with the nonstory relies heavily on Stout’s ability to connect his anachronistic series with its canonical antecedents not merely by character construction, but also via direct allusions to famous consumption-related crime moments. One instance of such intertextuality occurs in the account of the re-staging of the champagne scene in Wolfe’s office. Cecil Grantham is asked to go through the motions of serving champagne. Goodwin narrates: “Here’s to crime,” and took a mouthful of the bubbles. He lowered the glass and told Wolfe, “I hope that didn’t spoil it.” “It was in bad taste,” Celia said. “I meant it to be,” he retorted. “This whole thing has been in a bad taste from the beginning.” (2009, chap. 15)
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Young Grantham is right, since it was the bad taste of his cocktails that prefigured the death that later led to the solution of the case. The toast, a reference to Sam Spade’s toast in The Maltese Falcon, signals literary lineage (see Chap. 1). The comment on the vulgarity of being implicated in crime is also valid. It is a recurrent trope in crime fiction to have characters note that being involved in a case is demeaning. But what could be considered shocking in 1929 is only funny in 1958. By alluding to literary predecessors, Champagne for One establishes itself firmly as both a mockery and a purposefully anachronistic text.
The Book of Household Management: Homosociality at West 35th Street With great consumption, comes the risk of feminization, and so Stout deploys several tactics to ensure that the characters, and Goodwin especially, are understood as masculine (see. Osgerby 2005). By insisting on both men’s misogyny, and on Goodwin’s virility and Wolfe’s implicit non- sexuality stemming from his explicit misanthropy, the stories attempt to neutralize any disruption of the gender norms set up by the crime fiction canon. Consumption cannot, however, be understood solely in the context of gender roles disconnected from other identity categories and social positions. Wolfe is not only a consumer, but also an employer of Goodwin and other members of his household. Though depicted as lazy, he finds his motivation to work in the need to support a certain, very reclusive and exclusive lifestyle, as well as interest in a particular mystery. Even if he is sometimes in the business of righting wrongs, it is secondary to his financial needs.5 Goodwin explains early in Champagne for One: It took a lot of cash. I had to be paid. He [Fritz Brenner] had to be paid. Theodore Hortsman, who spent all his days and sometimes part of his nights with the ten thousand orchids up in the plant rooms, had to be paid. We all had to be fed, and with the kind of grub that Wolfe preferred and provided and Fritz prepared. Not only did the orchids have to be fed, but only that week Wolfe had bought a Coelogyne from Burma for eight hundred bucks, 5 Wolfe states as much outright in Fer-de-lance: “I am not a public servant, I am not even a member of the bar, and I have sworn to uphold no law … I am no altruist or bon enfant, I am merely a man who would like to make some money” (Stout 2010, chap. 7).
and that was just routine … and the only source of current income was people with problems who were able and willing to pay a detective to handle them. (2010, chap. 1)
Thus, the relations in the Wolfe household are based on a delicate economy that recalls the great houses of nineteenth-century England rather than 1950s New York, which is congruent with the series’s anachronisms and the foreign status of Wolfe. The employer-employee relationship is a mixture of economic exchange and loyalty. This is why the unequal relationship between Wolfe and Goodwin has been remapped onto filial and other relations. The homosociality of the series’s domestic setting poses a challenge to the way gender roles are presented. I have argued that misogyny manifested by both men is one way of justifying the lack of women in the series, but it seems that the novels attempt to do more in order to remain on the conservative safe side. Since the design of the series has four men living together, it wants to justify the ensuing homosociality while preventing suspicions of homoeroticism. In my discussion of Marlowe, I suggested the impossibility of a homosocial utopia, but in the Goodwin-Wolfe series the mechanisms deployed are more complex and use food consumption to confirm, but also inadvertently, to undermine the norms. Though the mechanisms recall the celibacy and virility tactics of Marlowe, and Spade’s hypermasculine moral ambiguity, Stout complicates them by having morsels of ideological inconsistency. The detective’s misogyny is sometimes challenged by instances of admiration for women’s pragmatism (Wolfe) or attractiveness (Goodwin). Outside of their professional relationship, Wolfe and Goodwin share a bond that could be compared to a father-son relationship. Even when taken as a trope from the classical detective story repertoire, two men sharing quarters raises no suspicion in the times of Holmes, but it does seem strange to have four men sharing a house in the 1950s context of a nuclear family as the prescribed social organization for white heterosexual economically comfortable men. By making them into a quasi-family the peculiar vision of domesticity may be explained in a non-threatening manner. However, relying on just this justification is inadequate, especially since the novels offer scenes that challenge a desexualized reading. For example, while inspecting a “futile and sterile” orchid in Fer-de-lance Wolfe remarks to Goodwin: “[a]s I have remarked before, to have you with me like this is always refreshing because it constantly reminds me how distressing it
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would be to have someone present—a wife, for instance—whom I could not dismiss at will” (2010, chap. 5). In a similar vein, in Champagne for One, he states: “[t]his is natural. That is, it is in us, and we are alive, and whatever is in life is natural. You are headstrong and I am magisterial. Our tolerance of each other is a constant recurring miracle” (2009, chap. 12). What then prevents an outright homoerotic reading of the two characters, age-wise perfect to embody the patron-young man stereotype of the Geiger-Lundgren variety (see Chap. 2)? I would argue that Stout’s strategy is two-fold: Goodwin and Fritz are established as virile heterosexual men, while Wolfe is constructed as a paradoxically disembodied, desexualized or sexually non-threatening person. John McAleer observes that the relationship between Wolfe and Goodwin resembles that of a father and son (1977, 245). This begs a question if within that logic Fritz Brenner—already described by Eco as the “vestal virgin” (2005, 193)—is the stand-in mother? What then of Theodor Hortsman, would he be the pet? Or the madman in the attic? In a twist on the adult-child relationship, when it comes to sexuality, it is Goodwin who is the adult. Wolfe, in turn, is the child as his fatness infantilizes him into celibacy as masculine corpulence may have that effect on the perception of a person’s masculinity and sexual maturity (cf. Forth 2013, Gilman 2004, Gilman 2010, Kahan 2013). Consequently, within the homosocial abode the diverse sexualities of the household residents prevent homoeroticism, despite the various ways in which all the men are gender nonconforming, especially in terms of their consumption practices. It is discursively easy to make a fat man into a desexualized one. In his analysis of representations of young male fatness Sander Gilman enumerates questions that reflect the common images evoked when discussing male fatness and sexuality: “Are fat men asexual, or are they perceived as asexual, or are they made asexual by marriage? Is their sexuality damaged by their fat, or does their fat damage their sexuality? Are all fat men heterosexuals or merely repressed homosexuals hiding under a veil of obesity?” (2004, 21). I have also mentioned earlier that fatness is often coded as feminine, thus fat men are perceived as feminized or effeminate. Since the very same assumption, which aligns fatness with femininity, projects a lack of libido onto women, the logical conclusion would be that fat men would also avoid sexual encounters. Their avoidance could be due to fears over poor performance. Christopher Forth suggests that “sexual impotence [is] often associated with fat men,” especially when images of fatness overlap with (old or young) age (2013, 392). Medical imagery is also
complicit in desexualizing fat men, since a lot of the early medical obesity discourse, which informs today’s understanding of corpulence, used the image of a young boy with undeveloped genitals as an exemplary fat patient. Gilman notes about one such example: “the Fat Boy can have no desire because his sexual development is stunted!” (2010, 15). As such, fat men are seen as either impotent, non-sexual gay, or asexual, therefore posing no threat in terms of sexual violence or monstrous reproduction. For all these reasons, it is easy to turn the middle-aged, solitary Wolfe into a sexually inactive and sensually averse fat man. Though in some novels it is mentioned that Wolfe enjoys looking at beautiful young women, he never flirts or pursues any such liaison. What is more, his consumption patterns, and the focus on the oral pleasures of eating, suggest that he is, in fact, practicing a form of Tompkins’s “queer alimentarity.” By deriving pleasure from non-tactile pursuits or inanimate objects—orchids and food—Wolfe is able to exert total control over the world around him, which seems to be something he enjoys. As a detective, Wolfe also exhibits a certain unacknowledged fear of penetration, symbolic and real. By remaining celibate he does not risk any unwanted permeation of his selfhood, except for an unsuccessful dish. In that respect, Wolfe’s body becomes transparent, and in sexual terms impenetrable, invisible, and untouchable. Consequently, his corpulence and desexualization enable his splendid isolation which is already foregrounded by his lifestyle. In this way, the monstrosity he represents is prevented not just from breaking out of its containment, but also from reproducing. Yet fatness as asexual is only one of the ways in which male corpulence has been theorized. As both Gilman and Forth have noted, the fat man can just as easily be construed as a perverse and sexually depraved human being (2004, 154–90, and 2010, 396–400, respectively). This trope is especially visible in the depictions of fat villains in some of the works discussed earlier, e.g. the explicit homosexuality of Arthur Gwynn Geiger in The Big Sleep (see Chap. 2), and the implied homosexuality of The Maltese Falcon’s Casper Gutman (see Chap. 1). The depictions of these villains conflate gender performance—the apparent effeminacy of fatness—with sexual proclivities, thus condemning non-heteronormative sex. The logic behind this shift is that since fatness is unattractive and stigmatizing, the only solution for fat bodies—coded as having insatiable appetites—is to seek alternatives, such as homosexuality or sexual violence. I believe that Wolfe is construed as heterosexually asexual in order to prevent this
7 HOMOSOCIAL CONSUMPTION IN REX STOUT’S CHAMPAGNE…
reading of the character, one that would be easily evoked in the minds of crime fiction readers. Once Wolfe is established as a sexually inactive and non-sexual person, the young Goodwin must be depicted as a sexually confident man, which again, fits the mold in which he is set. Paradoxically, however, portraying him as both virile and content to live in the homosocial space of the brownstone poses a greater challenge than desexualizing Wolfe. The tensions stem from the fact that though food can symbolically substitute for carnality (as in the case of Wolfe), it is even more likely to amplify sexuality, as shown in Elspeth Probyn’s Carnal Appetites. Hence, many of the food scenes featuring the hypersexual Goodwin lend themselves to subversive readings, both challenging and confirming his heterosexuality. In an early scene in Champagne for One set in the kitchen, Goodwin explains to Fritz Brenner that he will not eat dinner that night because he is going to the Robilottis. Goodwin is not sure about what to do in the company of the four single mothers and asks Brenner for advice: “You may not be as great an expert on women as you are on food, but you have had your dealings, as I well know, and I would appreciate some suggestions on how to act this evening.” He snorted. “Act with women? You? Ha! With your thousand triumphs! Advice from me? Archie, that is upside down!” “Thanks for the plug, but these women are special.” With a fingertip I wiped up a speck of anchovy butter that had dropped on the table and licked it off. (2009, chap. 1)
In the first part of this exchange both men establish that they have had their dealings with women and have been successful in courting them. In fact, later in the conversation, Brenner worries that Goodwin’s presence at the event will ruin the now reformed women: “It will ruin everything. They will all be back at Grantham House in less than a year.” “No,” I said sternly. “I appreciate the compliment, but this is a serious matter and I need advice” (2009, chap. 1). Thus Goodwin is also established as a successful seducer. At that point, the confirmed virile heterosexual takes his finger, whose phallic shape and potential sexual applications are undeniable, and licks from it a decidedly sperm-like foodstuff. He performs this classically seductive motion in front of another man, who pursues a profession that is to some extent unmanly, albeit professional chefs code differently than other cooking men and women. What then is the purpose of
this highly homoerotic scene? It would seem that containment of active sexuality in the context of food is much more difficult than having sexuality suppressed entirely and then taken over by gustatory pursuits.
Conclusion In my discussion of a novel series that prioritizes consumption over crime, I have shown that the meanings and deployments of consumption, which index all manner of real and symbolic food and ingestion-related practices, depend on the body that is doing the consuming. The fit American body of Goodwin eats differently than that of a fat foreigner like Wolfe, yet the collective interpretation of the significance of their eating suggests that the latter needs to be contained by the former. Americanness, whose conflation with whiteness is again central but unacknowledged, serves not as a category that needs defense, but rather as the tool of such containment. Thus food, which has been considered an important element of the nonstory, assumes another, gender, and citizenship policing function. Having the fat foreign othered overconsumer enclosed in the brownstone and prevented from reproduction once again ameliorates the adverse consequences of an identity built on consumption and patriotism spelled out in terms of amassing goods. Though Wolfe’s consumption patterns are ridiculed because of their anachronism and excess, consumption as such is not criticized. The good fit white American body is allowed to consume excessively, because its tough shape is not only able to contain its inner sprawl—growing fat—but can also function as the disciplinary tool for the fat monster. Not in body, but in his narrative voice, Goodwin contains Wolfe in the brownstone ensuring that no eyes will have to be averted at the slowly moving embodiment of excess.
References Cartwright, Ryan Lee. 2020. Peculiar Places: A Queer Crip History of White Rural Nonconformity. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Chandler, Raymond. 2005. The Big Sleep. London: Penguin. Eco, Umberto. 2005. Innovation and Repetition: Between Modern & Postmodern Aesthetics. Daedalus 134 (4 (Fall)): 193–207. https://doi.org/10.1162/00 1152605774431527. Farell, Amy Erdman. 2011. Fat Shame: Stigma and the Fat Body in American Culture. New York: NYU Press.
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Forth, Christopher E. 2013. Nobody Loves a Fat Man: Food and Masculinity in Film Noir. Men and Masculinities 16 (4): 387–406. https://doi.org/10.117 7/1097184X13502653. Franks, Rachel, Donna Lee Brien, and Marta Usiekniewicz. 2013. Murder, They Cooked: The Role of Food in Crime Fiction. Peer Reviewed Proceedings of the 4th Annual Conference Popular Culture Association of Australia and New Zealand (PopCAANZ), 41-51. Sydney: PopCAANZ. Gailey, Jeannine A. 2014. The Hyper(in)visible Fat Woman: Weight and Gender Discourse in Contemporary Society. New York: Palgrave. Gilbert, James. 2005. Men in the Middle: Searching for Masculinity in the 1950s. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Gilman, Sander. 2004. Fat Boys, A Slim Book. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. ———. 2010. Obesity: The Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Hall, Kim Q. 2014. Toward a Queer Crip Feminist Politics of Food. philoSOPHIA 4 (2, Summer): 177–196. muse.jhu.edu/article/565882. Horsley, Lee. 2001. The Noir Thriller. New York: Palgrave. Kahan, Benjamin. 2013. Celibacies: American Modernism and Sexual Life. Durham: Duke University Press. Levy-Navarro, Elena. 2009. “Fattening Queer History: Where Does Fat History Go from Here?.” In Fat Studies Reader, edited by Sandra Solovey and Esther Rothblum, 15-24. New York: New York University Press. McAleer, John. 1977. Rex Stout: A Biography. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. Mollow, Anna. 2015. Disability Studies Gets Fat. Hypatia 30 (1): 199–216. https://www.jstor.org/stable/24542067. Murray, Samantha. 2008. The “Fat” Female Body. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Osgerby, Bill. 2005. The Bachelor Pad as Cultural Icon: Masculinity, Consumption and Interior Design in American Men’s Magazines, 1930–65. J Design Hist 18 (1): 99–113. https://doi.org/10.1093/jdh/epi008. Rauber, D.F. 1972. Sherlock Holmes and Nero Wolfe: The Role of the 'Great Detective' in Intellectual History. Journal of Popular Culture 6 (3 (Winter)): 483–495. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.0022-3840.1973.0603_483.x. Smith, Erin A. 2000. Hard-Boiled: Working-Class Readers and Pulp Magazines. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. Stout, Rex. 2009. Too Many Cooks/Champagne for One. New York: Bantham Book. ———. 2010. Fer-de-lance. NA: Crimeline. Tompkins, Kyla Wazana. 2012. Racial Indigestion: Eating Bodies in the 19th Century. New York: New York University Press. Zola, Irving Kenneth. 1987. ‘Any Distinguishing Features?’ - The Portrayal of Disability in the Crime-Mystery Genre. Policy Studies Journal 15 (3): 485–513. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1541-0072.1987.tb0072.
To say goodbye is to die a little. (Chandler 1959, 309)
The aim of Food, Consumption, and Masculinity in American Hardboiled Fiction was to show how food and consumption may be used to examine white tough masculinity as depicted in six American hardboiled novels, spanning from the late 1920s to mid-1950s, featuring eight detectives with diverse and time-specific gender performances: Hammett’s Sam Spade, Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, Brackett’s Ed Clive, Hughes’s Dix Steele and Brub Nicolai, Thompson’s Lou Ford, and Stout’s Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe. My analysis showed that consumption practices of hardboiled tough men may be usefully discussed on the basis of two consumption-corporeal models. The prophylactic masculinity model, present more often in the prewar novels, revealed the focus on the maintenance of bodily impenetrability and the fantasy of self-sufficiency that staved off anxieties over corruption and crime. In the postwar era, neocannibalism or the cannibal myth model enables the tracing of power relations between the eating subject and the eaten object to illustrate the violence and codependency inherent to the eating-eaten relationship. As a result of this interpretative lens, new readings of the tough guy were made possible not just in terms of his class, but also race, sexuality, nationality, and gender performance.
© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2023 M. Usiekniewicz, Food, Consumption, and Masculinity in American Hardboiled Fiction, Crime Files, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-29160-9_8
Importantly, an interpretative approach based on food and consumption practices does not require primary texts explicitly focused on food or consumption. Rather, as argued by bell hooks, consumption as a social relationship is “the dominant relationship in our society … a question of immense social and political proportions” (2015, 63). Though hers is an appeal to examine real experiences and the consequences of a shift toward consumption as the dominant social relation, I see any representation of consumption or its avoidance as a mechanism of creating discourse on social and power relations in terms of race, as well as gender, class, or sexuality. Tough white masculinity is riddled with corporeal anxieties that reflect the racism, sexism, and ableism of the genre invested in averting the perceived crisis of masculinity revived each decade via different triggers, such as economic crisis, minorities’ empowerment, war, studies of human sexuality, economic boom, etc. At the same time, crime fiction also created spaces for subversion through the empowering readings of secondary characters or counterintuitive interpretations of the villain-protagonist binary, not to mention the early, albeit mostly negative, depictions of gender nonconformity and non-straightness. All of these may be and often were expressed via consumption. The conceptual overlaps between alimentary and erotic consumption, as well as the connection between consumption and death allowed a broader range of interpretations of the genre’s ideologies, though most of these revealed hardboiled and noir’s conservative or reactionary tendency. Despite revisions of and updates to the formula, the hardboiled fiction that centers on a tough white male figure inherited the obsession with control of consumption and the incredibly ableist discipline of the body that has sexists, homophobic, nationalistic, and racist implications. The functions of eating, drinking, and smoking in hardboiled literature range from character description, generic adherence, and plot development, to illustration of contamination fears, power relations, or misogyny. Both the presence and absence of consumption, alimentary and sexual, is telling and invites a close reading, which oftentimes uncovers dynamics that would be otherwise lost. The context of consumption, the presence or absence of a description of products or people featured are all relevant in establishing the function consumption has in a given interaction, but in a broader context, it shows the ways in which consumption is part of an idealized gender model.
Hardboiled heroes created in times of economic instability, such as Spade, Marlowe, and Clive (see Chaps. 2, 3, and 4 respectively) are suspicious of consumption and need it to be somewhat mitigated by other circumstances. Thus early or prewar texts oftentimes feature little food consumption, and even less of sex. When food or sex does appear in those texts, each has to be framed in a way that would not threaten the isolation and impenetrability of the tough characters’ fit bodies. Consumption of alcohol and smoking appear more frequently because these are generic props and vehicles for the implied male reader identification. Though there is little consumption of food, and hence the preponderance of the prophylactic masculinity model, those prewar texts were interested in notions of cannibalism as metaphor for economic exploitation, as well as a template for asymmetrical power relations between men and women, or rich and poor. In the postwar milieu, represented in this book by Steele and Nicolai, Ford, and Goodwin and Stout, (see Chaps. 5, 6, and 7) the economic changes as well as other factors, including American political triumphalism, economic boom, the Cold War, or anthropological and sexological findings about human sexuality influence representations of both gender and consumption models. Thus toughness, though still connected to control, no longer could rely on austerity and denial alone. On the contrary, it needed to balance between participating in the right consumption practices and not yielding to consumerism. In consequence, the lone hero of the prewar hardboiled was rewritten as the genre’s cannibalistic villain, oftentimes also one with a mental illness. The new detective, in turn, became the proxy for state power. A more affluent American society required a model of a well-integrated hegemonic masculinity open to some social relations, such as a heterosexual marriage. Consumption was no longer suspect, but those engaged in it in the wrong way or for the wrong reasons could be. At stake in this book was showing how consumption understood in alimentary, sexual, and material terms may be a way to further the analysis of masculinity and its performance. The focus on a very specific type of masculinity: white, cis, able-bodied, heterosexual, and American enabled an understanding of the ways in which consumption helps to assert or discourage certain practices seen as potentially feminine, non-white, disabling, or non-heterosexual. Consumption has always been a way to discipline and police people, but typically the effects of that policing were
observed on women and minorities. Food, Consumption, and Masculinity in American Hardboiled Fiction sheds light on consumption’s impact on fictional white tough men. Since not a compendium to or a history of the hardboiled novel, my analysis included only a small selection of hardboiled texts, both classics and outliers. The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep were included for their canonical status, while No Good from a Corpse and Champagne for One because they were less critically investigated. In a Lonely Place and The Killer Inside Me represented attempts to subvert the genre that worked as its continuation. What is more, Hughes and Brackett, women writing in a conventionally masculine genre, offered a corollary to the mainstream depictions of tough masculinity, and included female characters with more depth than the ones featured in their male counterparts’ texts. Thompson and Stout set their texts outside of California, which from both a food and a masculinity perspective offered the much-needed diversification of tough masculinities. As my focus has been on the ways in which whiteness informs the construction of toughness and masculinity, I did not include texts written by contemporary writers of color. Echoing Megan Abbott’s point about the whiteness of the genre (2002), my selection of primary sources further fueled the claim that tough masculinity tied to bodily control has a distinctly racialized history, albeit authors such as Chester Himes or Walter Mosely have introduced African American tough guys, too. Given the sheer volume of literary, film, and television content featuring food and crime published in recent years, this book merely sketched out the possibilities of investigating gender, and masculinities specifically, through food in crime fiction. In fact, as I am writing these conclusions, I am tempted to instead binge watch the cozy new adaptation of Sally Andrew’s Recipies for Love and Murder, re-read the genre-bending graphic novel Chew, and test out the deep-dish pizza recipe featured in Mindy Quigley’s Six Feet Deep Dish. But this current fashion is only an acceleration of a long history of food and crime, including one of my favorite literary responses to second wave feminism, i.e. Spenser, the hypersexual fit foodie and gourmet cook created by Robert B. Parker in 1973 (see Usiekniewicz 2014). The hardboiled stories written in the later decades of the twentieth century and early twenty-first century, as well as different subgenres of crime fiction, such as the classic detective story, the serial killer thriller, the police procedural, or true crime feature different
dynamics of gender and consumption. Different masculinities, including non-American, trans*, non-white, HIV-positive, queer, or disabled will yield new understandings of this intersection, too. Hopefully, this is not a goodbye, but a to be continued…
References Abbott, Megan L. 2002. The Street Was Mine: White Masculinity in Hardboiled Fiction and Film Noir. New York: Palgrave. Chandler, Raymond. 1959. The Long Goodbye. London: Penguin. hooks, bell. 2015. Black Looks: Race and Representation. New York: Routledge. Usiekniewicz, Marta. 2014. The Eating Detective: Food and Masculinity in Robert B. Parker’s Spenser Series. In Crime Scenes: Modern Crime Fiction in International Context, ed. Agnieszka Sienkiewicz-Charlish and Urszula Elias, 309–319. Berlin: Peter Lang.
A Abject, 2, 38, 53, 62, 70, 76, 77, 84, 88, 179, 192 Able-bodiedness, 1, 17, 32, 41, 44, 75, 88, 90, 115n1, 122, 213 Absent referent, 154, 158, 195 Alcohol beer, 48n5, 138, 166, 208, 210, 214, 215 champagne, 89, 205, 207, 215, 216 gin, 102, 113, 127 Manhattan cocktail, 48, 48n5 masculinity, 32, 80, 92, 95, 113, 132 maturity, 121, 132 resilience, 81 rum, 48, 48n5, 60–62, 62n7, 102 rye, 138 toughness, 32, 95 whiskey, 36–38, 43, 61, 80, 95, 113, 138, 214
American, 1, 6, 8–13, 17, 21, 25, 26, 31, 34, 57, 62, 72, 83, 92, 117, 118, 118n2, 125n4, 132, 135–137, 139, 140, 145, 146, 148, 149, 151–153, 163–168, 171–176, 179, 182–186, 191, 193, 201, 202, 214, 222, 225, 227 Anxiety, 1, 2, 8, 13, 20, 21, 25, 32, 39, 40, 42, 69, 70, 72, 82, 86, 97, 125, 130, 139, 153, 172, 184, 185, 193, 197, 202, 215, 225, 226 Appetite alimentary, 121, 135, 140, 173, 197 excessive, 1, 91 sexual, 50, 53, 121, 138–140, 153, 173, 197 symptom, 187 Asexual, 91, 219, 220 Autarchy, 39
Note: Page numbers followed by ‘n’ refer to notes.
© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2023 M. Usiekniewicz, Food, Consumption, and Masculinity in American Hardboiled Fiction, Crime Files, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-29160-9
B Bar, 44, 96, 102, 113, 142, 150, 176, 215, 217n5 Big Fella, 105, 111, 115–117, 122, 124, 129 The Big Sleep, 2, 10, 19, 21–23, 69–97, 101, 105, 106, 123, 127, 131, 132, 205, 205n3, 220, 228 Blackness, 10, 62, 149 Body corpse, 76, 77, 77n3, 84, 116, 138, 155, 176, 192, 193, 195 dead body, 62, 76, 77, 84, 154, 195 tough body, 5, 14, 81, 110–117, 123 violated body, 2 Brackett, Leigh, 2, 12, 15, 20–22, 24, 101–133, 138, 225, 228 Bread, 50, 51, 57, 58 Breakfast, 42, 47, 48, 54–57, 80, 82, 83, 102, 123, 126n5, 183, 185–187, 214 Brutality depiction, 103, 115 sexual, 172, 173 C Cairo, Joel, 32, 33, 37, 39, 40, 42, 43, 45, 49–51, 62, 63 California, 110, 228 Canino, Lash, 74, 76, 80, 83, 94 Cannibal anthropophagy, 17, 153 cannibalism, 1–26, 69–97, 153, 154, 188, 189n3, 190–196, 227 cannibal myth, 18, 79, 225 fantasy, 1 neocannibalism, 225 Capitalism, 77, 87, 191 Car, 94, 102, 104, 105, 125, 160
Champagne for One, 3, 17, 19, 21, 23, 25, 201–222, 228 Chandler, Raymond, 2, 4, 12, 15, 20, 23, 31, 45, 63, 65, 69–97, 103, 104, 106, 107, 109, 111, 112, 126n5, 136, 144, 148, 176, 182, 205, 225 Cigarettes offering, 130, 131 rolling, 35, 48, 49, 55, 56 smoking, 32, 37, 47, 58, 64, 65, 80, 81, 93, 102, 130–132, 136, 177, 182, 226, 227 Class, 3, 4, 6, 8–11, 9n3, 14, 16, 17, 21, 26, 56, 64, 79, 89, 96, 110, 130, 131, 137, 143, 151, 160, 165–168, 183, 191, 197, 206, 225, 226 Classic detective story, 25, 77, 141, 228 Clive, Ed, 19, 24, 54, 101–105, 107–132, 225, 227 Clothes description of character, 76 Code of honor, 72 Coffee, 51, 52, 57, 58, 82, 84, 94, 95, 102, 123, 136, 160–162, 165, 166, 173, 182, 184, 186, 190, 194, 213, 214 Cold War, 9, 13, 20, 21, 23, 24, 139, 172, 175, 184, 227 Consumption alimentary, 1, 3, 5, 23, 24, 36, 40, 44, 49, 101, 123, 135, 226, 227 material, 1, 3, 36, 40, 44, 64, 135, 227 pattern, 3, 4, 17, 23–25, 118, 119, 137, 162, 182, 209, 210, 212, 220, 222 relation, 78, 110, 202, 206, 209, 226
sexual, 5, 24, 40, 44, 52, 65, 79, 91, 101, 111, 121, 124, 125, 135, 158, 188–190, 195, 203 spectacular, 24, 152, 158–162, 173 Containment, 53, 174, 213, 220, 222 Contamination, fear of, 2, 13, 24, 25, 40, 42, 94, 108, 152, 226 Control (discipline) of body, 14, 34, 41, 43, 123, 197 of eating, 23 of oneself, 73, 101 of others, 2, 44, 101, 138 Conway, Chester, 174, 181, 184–186, 191, 193, 194, 196 Corruption, 23, 24, 32, 34, 36–38, 41, 44, 47, 63, 69, 72, 74, 75, 77, 84, 87, 92, 94–97, 107, 118, 141, 143, 174, 175, 184, 191, 198, 225 Country, 136, 173, 176, 180–183 Crip, 14, 172 Critical eating studies, 65 D Desire, 1, 2, 4, 8, 17, 18, 33n1, 50, 52, 54, 64, 94, 109, 114, 152, 173, 188, 191, 203, 212, 220 Diner, 125n4, 126n5, 137, 160, 183–185, 214 Dinner, 47, 77, 83, 84n4, 102, 115, 116, 123, 127, 128, 149, 150, 157, 159, 161, 187, 207, 208, 214, 216, 221 Disability, 14, 41, 64, 91, 115n1, 117, 121, 145, 175, 176, 190n4, 204, 209, 209n4 Drive-in, 102, 125, 137, 159, 160, 164 Drugs, 4, 69, 75, 81, 182, 187
E Effeminacy, 33, 76, 142, 202, 220 Eggs, 50, 57, 83, 173, 182, 185, 194, 195, 197, 213 Excess and consumption, 73–76, 174, 222 and fatness, 1, 25 and gender performance, 38, 73 and violence, 23, 86 Excrement, 14, 71, 195 F Fasting, 13, 14, 85 Fatness excess, 25 perverse, 38n2, 220 unmasculine, 101 Femininity, 2, 5, 10, 14, 23, 26, 33, 38, 49, 53, 54, 73, 74, 84, 85, 107, 113, 117, 120, 131, 136, 137, 141, 146, 156, 158, 164, 165, 181, 189, 202, 219 Feminization, 38, 84, 117, 140, 142, 148, 217 Femme fatale, 7, 26, 50–53, 59n6, 73, 85, 91, 106, 107, 114, 141, 156–158, 167 Fer-de-lance, 201n1, 204, 205, 210, 212, 217n5, 218 Fitness, 13, 90, 163, 202 Food American, 125n4, 183, 184 childhood, 101, 122, 124, 129 comfort, 124, 182 food studies, 3 seduction, 26 Ford, Lou, 16, 19, 20, 23–25, 171–198, 209, 225, 227 Foreign, 23, 37–39, 43–45, 62, 71, 73, 179, 206, 209, 218, 222
G Gender roles/models, 9, 11, 19, 51, 64, 110, 119, 121, 131, 135, 140, 143, 165, 167, 179, 197, 217, 218, 226 Genre exhaustion, 20, 22, 23 features, 6, 110 subversive, 22, 107 timeline, 20, 22 Goodwin, Archie, 15, 19–21, 25, 65, 201–219, 221, 222, 225, 227 Gray, Laurel, 137, 139, 141, 142, 152, 154, 156–159, 162, 164, 165, 167 Great Depression, 31, 64, 96, 139 Gun, 51, 52, 74, 85, 184 Gutman, Casper, 32, 33, 36–38, 38n2, 40, 43, 44, 48, 51, 58, 60, 63, 76, 152, 162, 220 H Hammett, Dashiell, 2, 12, 15, 16, 20, 23, 31–65, 103, 106, 107, 109, 111, 149, 174, 182, 205, 225 Hardboiled detective story, 22, 201 Heteronormativity, 15, 54, 64, 101, 148, 179, 186 Heterosexuality, 1, 8, 14, 15, 17, 32, 37, 43, 46, 50, 74, 109, 115n1, 121, 124, 126, 132, 138, 146, 148, 163, 180, 191, 196, 221 Home, 42, 47, 84, 102, 113, 124, 136, 145, 152, 165, 166, 183, 186, 187, 190, 194, 213 Homoeroticism, 14, 15, 37, 72, 76, 82, 85, 86, 107, 130, 218, 219 Homogeneity, 140, 174, 180, 182, 183, 186, 197 Homosexuality, 33, 42, 43, 220
Homosociality, 15, 21, 85, 86, 144, 203, 217–222 Hughes, Dorothy B., 2, 12, 15–17, 20–24, 135–168, 173, 174, 192, 225, 228 Hunger, 44, 83, 84, 120, 135, 137, 147, 152, 154, 157, 162, 163, 166, 167, 187, 190, 197 Hyper(in)visibility, 204 I In a Lonely Place, 2, 10, 16, 17, 19, 21, 23, 24, 135–168, 228 Intoxication, 38, 60, 113, 138 J Jones, Harry, 74, 76, 80, 83, 87, 94 K The Killer Inside Me, 3, 16, 19, 21, 23, 24, 171–198, 201, 228 Kitchen, 3, 49, 51, 52, 84, 123, 124, 164–166, 183, 184, 190, 193, 221 Knife eating utensil, 47, 50 murder weapon, 215 phallic object, 48, 55 L Lakeland, Joyce, 172–174, 178, 179, 185, 186, 188, 191–194, 196, 196n6 Liverwurst, 50, 52, 57, 58 Los Angeles, 84, 104, 149, 168 Lunch, 47, 58, 81, 83, 84, 160, 187
M The Maltese Falcon, 2, 10, 19, 21–23, 31–65, 73, 91, 95, 101, 103, 111, 127, 217, 220, 228 Marlowe, Philip, 13–15, 18, 19, 23, 24, 34, 44, 54, 65, 69–97, 102, 103, 111, 112, 123, 126n5, 129, 136, 139, 147, 148, 154, 163, 176, 177, 205, 205n3, 209, 218, 225, 227 Marriage domestication, 148 heterosexual union, 121 reintegration, 141, 167 reproduction, 52 Masculinity austere, 12–17, 24, 73, 76, 118 crisis of, 8, 9, 11, 12, 15, 32, 39, 132, 143, 226 discursive, 1, 89, 101 fragile, 16, 65 hardboiled, 7, 20, 24, 25, 32, 53, 108, 132, 148 hegemonic, 8, 11, 16, 32, 33, 41, 46, 51, 63, 64, 70, 71, 87, 88, 92, 101, 103, 110, 117–123, 142, 146, 148, 162, 176, 227 non-white, 151 performance, 34, 42, 43, 158, 166 postwar, 23, 144, 167 prescribed, 1, 60 prewar, 132, 142, 148, 165 prophylactic, 3, 8, 11, 14, 18, 23, 24, 64, 69, 71, 75, 78, 80, 90, 96, 135–168, 225, 227 real, 181 tough, 1, 2, 5, 7–9, 11–25, 32, 35, 36, 38, 39, 43, 44, 47, 53, 63, 65, 69–73, 82, 86, 88, 89, 92, 94, 95, 97, 102, 111, 117, 148, 225, 226, 228
white, 1, 2, 5–17, 20, 22, 32, 33n1, 35, 36, 38, 45, 50, 54, 56, 69, 70, 73, 78, 79, 86, 97, 102, 111, 114, 118, 143–152, 178, 181, 202, 226 Maturity, 24, 101–104, 110, 117–123, 125, 129, 130, 132, 138, 148, 219 Mental illness aberration, 145 criminalized, 172, 175, 179 explanation, 179 Metaphysics of purity, 41, 75 Monster, 52, 53, 92, 117, 132, 135, 143, 146, 156, 167, 211, 222 N Narration first-person, 24, 81, 83, 111, 186 New York, 25, 32, 43, 48n5, 206, 211, 218 Nicolai, Brub, 19, 24, 137, 140–152, 160, 161, 163, 164, 167, 171, 225, 227 Nicolai, Sylvia, 137, 138, 141, 142, 154, 155, 165, 174 No Good from a Corpse, 2, 19, 22, 24, 101–133, 148, 228 Noir, 6, 7, 7n1, 10, 11, 18–22, 24, 31, 34, 36, 39–41, 46, 52, 53, 58, 60, 63, 80, 101, 103, 105–110, 113, 114, 117, 132, 135, 137, 139, 141–144, 147, 148, 150, 151, 153, 154, 156–158, 161, 165, 167, 171, 173, 177, 194, 196n6, 201, 205, 226 Nonstory, 25, 203, 204, 207–208, 210, 215, 216, 222
Norm gender, 2, 3, 8, 14, 17, 25, 39, 47, 49, 51, 70, 139, 142, 167, 210, 217 prescriptive, 152 transparent, 164, 183 Nuclear family, 148, 153, 167, 202, 218 Nudity titillation, 51, 54–55 O O’Shaughnessy, Brigid, 32, 33, 36, 40, 44, 46, 47, 49–55, 57, 58, 60, 63 Outlaw, 11, 35, 60, 63, 85 P Panic, 1, 9, 23, 107, 116, 126, 129, 175, 205 Perfume, 32, 33, 37, 39, 40, 42–43, 49, 62 Periodization, 20 Perrine, Effie, 33, 48, 54–56 Pie, 85, 152, 182, 184, 189, 214, 215 Poison, 58, 60, 80, 83, 97, 207, 216 Polhaus, Tom, 33, 47–49, 52, 58–60 Police, 12, 33, 45, 47–49, 54, 58–61, 63, 84n4, 104, 123, 128, 143, 144, 159, 160, 163, 207, 208, 213, 227, 228 Pork, 59, 60 Power imbalance, 87, 129 relations, 119, 120, 225–227 Private eye, 23, 77, 104 PTSD, 16, 144 Q Queer, 6, 43, 46, 52, 53, 55, 60, 72, 74, 76, 86, 91, 128, 129, 172, 203, 204, 220, 229
R Race blackness, 10 gender, 10, 53, 204 relations, 202 whiteness, 10, 45 Rape, 136, 155, 161, 193 Regan, Terrance “Rusty,” 74, 81, 86, 92 Regan, Vivian, 75, 76, 95 Restaurant, 44, 46, 125, 150, 152, 159, 184 Restraint cannibal, 18, 78, 79, 135, 152–158 masculinity, 54, 56, 114, 153 middle-class, 56, 137, 140 superiority, 80 Rural, 172, 173, 176, 177n1, 179–183, 189, 196, 197, 215 S Satiety, 13, 21, 24, 137, 147, 152, 162, 171–198, 214 Sex abstinence, 14, 15, 114, 115 and consumption, 4, 5, 24, 40, 44, 49, 52, 65, 79, 101, 111, 121, 124, 125, 135, 158, 188–190, 195, 203 and food, 190 relations, 139, 202 Sexual violence, 5, 78, 138, 139, 154, 188, 189, 191n5, 195, 220 Sickness, 16, 124, 171, 175, 176, 179, 191, 193, 194, 197, 209n4 Sidekick, 45, 102, 105, 107, 141, 205 Spade, Sam, 2, 15, 16, 19, 20, 23, 24, 31–65, 48n5, 59n6, 73–75, 79, 97, 103, 111, 112, 129, 148, 152, 162, 217, 218, 225, 227 Spillane, Mickey, 12, 23, 157
Stanton, Amy, 173, 178, 186, 188–194, 196n6 Steele, Dix, 16, 19, 20, 23, 24, 135–147, 149, 151–164, 166, 167, 171, 173, 174, 177, 183, 192, 209, 225, 227 Sternwood, General, 18, 70, 74, 76–79, 81, 83, 84, 87–89, 91–93, 95 Stout, Rex, 3, 12, 15–17, 20–22, 25, 65, 201–222, 225, 227, 228 Subject isolated, 5, 14, 72 neoliberal, 14 T Tasting-as-knowing, 5, 93 Terriss, Mel, 137, 144, 149, 162, 164, 166 Texas, 24, 174, 182, 191 Thompson, Jim, 3, 12, 16, 20–24, 147, 171–198, 225, 228 Toughness, 1, 2, 7, 10, 11, 13, 15, 16, 23, 24, 32, 35, 37, 38, 41, 47, 56, 60, 71, 73, 84, 85, 90, 93, 95, 96, 102, 107, 111–117, 122, 125, 129, 130, 132, 135, 140, 147, 163, 216, 227, 228 Trauma, 16, 143–146, 175 U Urination, 103, 127, 132 V Veteran, 21, 24, 139, 140, 144–146, 167 Victim, 36, 70, 84n4, 130, 131, 136, 138, 139, 155, 157–159, 162, 185, 190–196, 204, 205, 215
Villain as focalizer, 137, 139, 151, 160 as narrator, 171 as protagonist, 171, 226 Virility, 10, 13–15, 32, 33, 90–92, 140, 155, 173, 193, 197, 202, 217, 218 W War Cold War, 9, 13, 20, 21, 23, 24, 139, 172, 175, 184, 197, 227 postwar, 6–11, 13, 15–17, 19–24, 42, 125, 133, 135, 136, 139–148, 150, 151, 153, 154, 157, 160–167, 171–198, 204, 209, 225, 227 prewar, 9–11, 14–24, 54, 73, 103, 108, 110, 132, 135, 137, 138, 141, 142, 144, 147, 148, 151–153, 158, 161, 162, 165–167, 174, 176, 225, 227 Second World War, 20, 139, 145 Waste, 2, 25, 75, 152, 172, 174, 182, 187, 190–198 Western, 1, 5, 9–11, 31, 32, 34, 43, 58, 62, 70, 73, 79, 88, 117, 118, 155, 203, 213 Whiteness, 1, 7–11, 9n3, 14, 16, 17, 32, 40, 44–47, 45n4, 56, 94, 97, 148, 149, 153, 163, 164, 167, 179, 183, 186, 191, 213, 222, 228 as norm, 17, 45, 78, 183, 186 as race, 10, 17, 45, 56, 94 and rurality, 186 Wolfe, Nero, 15, 16, 19, 21, 25, 65, 153, 201–222, 217n5, 225