Hardboiled: American Detective Fiction
4 December 2012
The process of writing and editing a Wikipedia article is not as easy as it looks. At first, I admit, I assumed that this project would be simple; I was certainly and strongly proved wrong. Writing a Wikipedia article, or any article for that matter, is no time for talking about feelings or hunches that you get from an individual reading. Rather, it is a time for research and vigorous fact-checking. Nothing that is put into the article can be based upon personal ideas, and any and all facts must be validated and proved to the best of your ability. Even though the topic under discussion seems ambiguous and personal, through writing this article I have learned that the plot of a novel has deeper, universally understood meaning, which gives the work so much more depth than I had previously thought imaginable. I had originally thought that things we deduce from novels are through our own speculation, but I have come to understand that these subjects are debated all throughout the world, such as through Wikipedia articles. Though the process and pacing of the project went from two hours to two days and still more, it is a credit to Wikipedia that their articles are so well-built.
I began my research on various blogs and WordPress sites, assuming that the themes in the Glass Key would be based mostly upon my personal interpretation of the novel. I would check out a couple of qualified blogs (i.e. Professor Marling) to make sure I hadn’t missed anything important and be done in a day. Professor Marling’s blog at first amused me; he was flamboyant in his writing, even using a word like “mustachioed” in his initial description of Ned Beaumont (Marling). Another aspect of his article that entertained me was that he was so set on turning Ned Beaumont into an archetype. He describes Ned as “a new kind of hard-boiled hero: morally ambiguous, of limited effectiveness, neither crack-shot nor pugilist nor deductive whiz” (Marling). Thinking of the classic archetypes-hero, earth mother, evil-I did not consider that to be relevant at all; Ned Beaumont fit none of the characters I had studied previously, and in class we had focused more on the overall themes and characteristics of the entire novel, not simply one character. However, I did enjoy the last paragraph he wrote; it discussed the loss of luck that was reminiscent of novels written during the Great Depression, which I myself had picked up on. The characters all seemed desperate and cutthroat, and the novel projected, in my opinion, an every-man-for-himself attitude. What was exasperating about the article was that Marling never went into very much detail. He stated many of the ideas that I had had, but I was looking for something to back it up and he provided not much more than a plot summary. At this point, I realized that a cursory search would not cut it for this project; either I would find a suitably qualified professor who was willing to explain himself, or I would go it alone, and Wikipedia deserved better than that.
After that first unsuccessful attempt at research, I dug up that pamphlet we had received a couple of weeks prior to starting the projects from the confines of my desk. I decided to start with the obvious; online databases are easy to search, and the University of Mary Washington has all of the best, except for Groiler. The initial problem was figuring out which database to use. I stumbled through five or so until I found America: history and Life, which was stunning, absolutely rife with the kind of information that I needed, and Gale, which provided me with the most important article of all.
Using Gale, I was able to find James Maxfield, the author of “Hard-boiled dicks and Dangerous Females.” His article was definitely a step up from the previous; he focused on the objectivity of the writing style, and through it he brought up the question of Ned Beaumont as a “hero” as well as Professsor Marling. What was all this about an archetype? Maxfield’s article went on to describe the relationship between Ned and Janet; that because of their possible relationship, the plotline is different from the rest of Hammett’s novels and thus, Ned Beaumont has feelings, a somewhat unique character trait among Hammett’s detectives.
That’s when it hit me: Maxfield and Marling had not been referencing the classic archetypes that I had been thinking of. They had created an entirely new set of archetypes based entirely upon Dashiell Hammett’s novels! It made sense; Hammett was one of the most important noir fiction novelists, so of course noir fiction has a different set of archetypes than other novels. I started thinking about the other books we had read by Hammett and realized that Ned Beaumont was in fact a different character than, say, the Continental Op in Hammett’s Red Harvest, and that is what made The Glass Key more storybook than Hammett’s other novels had been.
Gray, Russel W. “Jimmying the Back Door of Literature: Dashiell Hammett’s Blue-Collar Modernism.” Journal of Popular Culture 41.5 (2008): 762-83. America: History and Life. Web. 2 Dec. 2012. <http://web.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.umw.edu/ehost/detail?sid=3a41ae15-9dd6-4f55- 9bd4- e3e21249a869%40sessionmgr115&vid=10&hid=113&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2 ZQ%3d%3d#db=ahl&AN=34246126>.
Marling, William, Prof. “The Glass Key, by Dashiell Hammett, 1931.” Web log post.Detnovel.com. Case Western Reserve University, 2012. Web. 2 Dec. 2012. <http://www.detnovel.com/GlassKey.html>.
Maxfield, James F. “Hard-Boiled Dicks and Dangerous Females: Sex and Love in the Detective Fiction of Dashiell Hammett.” Clues 6.1 (1985): 107-23. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 2 Dec. 2012. <http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.umw.edu/ps/retrieve.do?sgHitCountType=None&sort=RELEVANCE&inPS=true&prodId=LitRG&userGroupName=viva_mwc&tabID=T001&searchId=R1&resultListType=RESULT_LIST&contentSegment=&searchType=BasicSearchForm¤tPosition=1&contentSet=GALE%7CH1420044388&&docId=GALE|H1420044388&docType=GALE&role=LitRC>.