Detective Fiction: Hardboiled Fall 2012

Meeting Place, Time, and Office Hours

  • Room: duPont 209
  • Mtg. Times and places: TR, 6:00 PM – 7:15pm
  • Professor: Jim Groom
  • Office hours: duPont 310 from 5:00 PM – 6:00 PM or by appointment
  • E-mail:

Course Description
Over the course of our 15-week term, we will examine one specific genre of 20th century American fiction in order to discuss the themes and concerns surrounding American literature in the last century. The particular strain of American Fiction that we will consider over the next 15 weeks is often termed “Hardboiled,” after its dark, violent themes and particularly laconic use of language. This class will trace the roots of this fiction from Hemingway, one of American Modernism’s more recognized literary artists, through more obscure figures such as James M. Caine, John Fante, Patricia Highsmith, and Chester Himes, as well as more recent, popular writers such as James Ellroy, Sara Paretsky, and George Pelecanos in order to get a sense of the ways in which Hardboiled fiction has transformed over time and reflects the last century’s specific cultural moments in a variety of different ways. Some themes that we will trace throughout the semester are as follows: the place of violence in 20th century cultur; the changing relationship of the artist to society in the 20th century; the increasingly blurred distinction of high and low art in the literary realm; the interdependence between cinema and fiction throughout the last 100 years; the relationship between hard-boiled fiction and the historical moment in which it was written (i.e., the 1920s, 1940s, 1960s, 1980s, etc.). Course requirements include an ongoing class blog, in-class participation, midterm exam, final exam, and a final Wikipedia-based research project.

Required Texts
*Ernest Hemingway’s In Our Time
*Dashell Hammett’s Red Harvest
*John Fante’s Ask the Dust
*James M. Caine’s Mildred Pierce
*Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train
*Chester Himes’s Cotton Comes to Harlem
*Sara Paretsky’s Indemnity Only
*James Ellroy’s The Black Dahlia
*Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress
*George Pelaconos’  The Big Blowdown

Course Policies
Attendance is mandatory. You will be allowed 2 absences. Your grade will be lowered one full letter after each additional absence, unless you have a documented medical excuse. Since your participation is essential, if you are absent 4 or more times, even with a medical excuse, you will need to withdraw from the course. Be sure to come to class on time. Late arrivals are disruptive and distracting.

I expect everyone to have completed ALL of the assigned reading by the start of each class session, and to be prepared to discuss it in class. For a schedule of readings, consult the course calendar (below). This class is relatively reading-heavy averaging 200-300 pages a week, so make sure that you can handle your responsibilities. We can’t have an interesting, engaging, and productive class if folks don’t do the reading. Moreover, the midterm and the final research projects will be based on the reading. Do the reading!

Participation is required. I ask that you take an active part in class discussion both in the classroom and on the course blog so that we can make class time lively and interesting.

Plagiarism is defined as using the ideas or writing of others and passing them off as your own. Such practice will result in an F for the course and possible disciplinary action from the University. Familiarize yourself with methods of avoiding unintentional plagiarism when quoting or paraphrasing another’s work. We will discuss these in class.

Requirements and Grades
Your grade will be based on your regular blogging, in-class midterm exam, a final Wikipedia-based research project, and class participation.

The midterm is required and cannot be made up. It will cover the readings and themes we have covered up and until the exam.

Wikipedia Research Project
Modeled on Jon Beasley-Murray’s radical work in the Spring of 2008, our collective goal will be to bring a selection of articles and resource on Hardboiled detective fiction to featured article status (or as near as possible). By project’s end, we will have researched and contributed to at least five Wikipedia articles that do not have a good or featured article status on Wikipedia currently. More details on this project will follow as the semester gets under way.
Final Exam
The final exam is required and cannot be made up. It will cover the readings and themes we have covered up over the entire semester. This exam will happen on Thursday, December 13th from 7-9:30 PM.

Grade Breakdown
Your final grade will be calculated according to the following percentages:

  • Participation 15%
  • Blog Work 20%
  • Midterm exam 20%
  • Wikipedia Research Project and Research Paper 25%
  • Final Exam 20%

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