Elegant and concise language used to describe an ugly and possibly irredeemable world

Thursday, April 29th, 2021

Big Sleep by Raymond ChandlerI recently mentioned that Neovictorian’s Sanity nudged me to read (and then comment on) The Maltese Falcon and then The Big Sleep. The introduction to my annotated copy of The Big Sleep is full of interesting tidbits, like this 1950 reflection from Chandler:

“I arrived in California with a beautiful wardrobe, a public school accent, no practical gifts for earning a living, and a contempt for the natives that, I am sorry to say, persists to this day.”

The introduction describes Black Mask magazine as one of the best regarded (of the lowly regarded) pulp fiction outlets. I’d heard of it, but I didn’t realize its origin:

It was founded in 1920 by drama critic and editor George Nathan and journalist, culture maven, and scholar H. L. Mencken as a way to fund their tonier magazine, The Smart Set.

Mencken’s Wikipedia entry doesn’t even mention Black Mask.

Detective fiction was a definite genre by this point, with its own rules:

One of these authors, S. S. Van Dine (the pseudonym of American art critic Willard Huntington Wright), even published the rules for this type of literary game in his 1928 essay “Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories.” (Rule number one: “The reader must have equal opportunity with the detective for solving the mystery. All clues must be plainly stated and described.” Just try this with The Big Sleep!)

These rules evolved as the new hard-boiled style emerged:

Carroll John Daly broke in the hard-boiled style with his story “The False Burton Combs” in 1922; his success was enormous, and he was emulated by Black Mask writers throughout the decade.


In the eloquent words of novelist Walter Mosley, the hard-boiled style is “elegant and concise language used to describe an ugly and possibly irredeemable world,” a style that captivates us “the way a bright and shiny stainless-steel garbage can houses maggots and rats.”


For Chandler, as for Hammett, Hemingway was “the greatest living American novelist.”


Hemingway’s 1926 The Sun Also Rises became the hard-boiled touchstone, with its interior monologue, stark prose, and colloquial turns of phrase.

Hemingway’s novel didn’t move me when I was forced to read it in high school. I may have to give it another go.


  1. Kirk says:

    Call me a Philistine, but I’ve never been able to grasp the fascination with most of the acclaimed writers and intelligentsia of the 20th Century. Or, for that matter, anywhere and any time.

    Take, for example, Sinclair Lewis and his incessant whinging about the imagined sins of the “middle class” he so despised. I don’t know what he wanted, in replacement, but we can look all around us at the results of mainstream American culture abandoning all those “crass, low-brow bourgeoisie” morals and values.

    Color me not too impressed with any of that ilk. The intellectuals of the world are people I generally find utterly vacuous and entirely contemptible, people who take up belief systems mostly as a rejection of whatever it was that was their parents, as a form of immature rebellion. And, they usually make a hash of everything themselves, utterly failing to exceed the standards of their parents lives.

    It’s like that proud New-age twat I know, she who so disdainfully discarded her parents Lutheran faith. Did she become a rational evidence-based believer in the sciences…? Nope; she’s fully into that whole “crystal healing” and “aromatherapy”, even trying to apply that to dealing with her kid’s various and sundry drug addictions.

    So… Yeah. I really have difficulty taking any of these “acclaimed authors” at all seriously. Hemingway wound up eating a shotgun barrel, his daughters were all pretty much ‘effed in the head, and I look at that and all I can say is that the end results don’t match the great game they all talked. Hemingway was more a media creation/personality than he was anything else, and the fame allowed him to get away with literal murder in several highly questionable cases. The shenanigans he got up do during WWII being my primary examples…

    It may have been art, but I’m not sure that the art produced by these varied and sundry acclaimed and famed is really worth the attention. Then, look at the effect some of this “art” has had in the cultural commons–How many nut job killers have been “inspired” by Holden Caulfield from “Catcher in the Rye“?

    Much of 20th Century high-end “culture” was obsessed with the supposed “falsity” and “inauthenticity” of what was disparaged as merely “white bread middle-class” and crass. When that supposedly “superior” culture managed to take over the wheels of general popular culture in the 1960s, what we got resulted in everything you look at and see around us today. Do you like what you see? I know I find most of what is going on out there not only distasteful, but positively destructive–And, the “famed authors” like Hemingway and Lewis played their parts in it all, with all their snide little cuts on the middle-class culture of the times.

    It’s sort of like John Cleese, he of the subversive Monty Python crowd. Not that long ago, I heard him decrying the destruction of the very culture he spent his youth tearing down, commenting on how things had gotten ever so much worse in the Britain of today–The one he helped create.

    Not a fan of any of these people, to be honest. I’m getting to where I find more and more agreement with the line from Hanns Johst’s Schlageter: “When I hear the word culture…, I release the safety on my Browning!”.

    Yeah, the source is suspect, but I can’t argue with the intent or meaning behind it. I don’t trust any of these assholes, at all–We’re living in the final end stages of what they wanted, and I would rather spend the majority of my life in that land that both Hemingway and Lewis despised than the one created by their philosophies and sycophants.

  2. VXXC says:

    “When I hear the word culture…, I release the safety on my Browning!”

    “Do it first. Do it yourself. Keep Doing It” — Scarface (George Muni) making the pistol shooting sign to his henchman Rini.

  3. Kirk says:

    Don’t get me wrong… I’ve got no issues with “culture”, but it’s just that the usual cast of the characters citing “culture”… Generally are neither cultured nor civilized at their cores. Witness all the luvverly leftoid freaks that casually talk about consigning those that disagree with them to the camps for “re-education” or extermination.

    When these people speak casually of having to kill “25 million or so” fellow citizens in order enact their dreams, that’s when you need to start paying attention to them and keeping track of where they’re living. It’s best to deal with them before they reach critical mass in the population, and take over.

    But, do take them at their consciously “cultured” word…

  4. Wang Wei Lin says:


    I’m considered well read by most folks, but that’s a damn low bar these days and certainly not as informed as you. Many years ago I read Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. I thought it stunk. No wonder he offed himself if that’s what was in his head.

  5. Bruce says:

    “The Old Man was just an old man, the Sea was just the sea, the Fish was just a fish,” said Zelazny appreciatively. I liked The Old Man and the Sea when I read it, about the time I read Roger Zelazny’s appreciation.

    If you hate fish stories it ain’t you.

  6. Kirk says:

    Most of the evil stemming from this stuff comes not from the authors themselves, but from the adulation of the critics and the crowds they egged on.

    I think Hemingway would have been a happier, more productive of actual quality writer, had he not gotten all the adulation and acclaim he did. Same with most celebrities–It’s the rarefied world created by the publicists and the worshipping public that forces most of these types so far off the rails. If Hemingway had been a moderately successful writer, one that did not catch the attention of the crowd, what then would have been his legacy?

    Likewise, what about men like Melville? What if he’d been held up to a similar sort of acclaim as Hemingway, from the same point in his life? Would we have more or better work from him, or would we have lost Moby Dick?

    There’s an ocean of nihilism lurking beneath much of the “culture” of the 20th Century, stemming from I don’t know what. You can speculate all you like about root cause, but the fact is… It’s there. And, we’re living in the results of having our cultural commons murdered by the people who should have been appreciating and extending it.

    Rod Dreher has a post up, one that got highlighted over at Instapundit:


    Regrettably, the original is behind a paywall, but the gist of it is contained in Dreher’s post. Food for thought, there–And, the general thrust of it is in total agreement with the same thing I’m saying here, and have been saying for years. There’s something fundamentally wrong, and perhaps historically unique, rooting around at the foundations of our civilization. One wonders if we are going to survive it…

    And, it’s all of a piece with the same things I’m pointing out here about the general thrust of what these sorts like Hemingway and Lewis were getting up to in their writing. They disdained the plebian accomplishments of those they disparaged as Babbitts, but did they offer up anything superior as a model? Did any of their criticisms and savaging result in a better world?

    I’d submit that the answer to those questions is an emphatic “No.”.

  7. Gavin Longmuir says:

    Kirk: “They disdained the plebian accomplishments of those they disparaged as Babbitts, but did they offer up anything superior as a model?”

    Long ago, I recall hearing a theater-type forcefully say that the purpose of the the theater was to highlight problems, not to offer solutions.

    Those types live in a different world from the rest of us, who are firmly told that when we go to our boss with a problem, we had better have a solution to propose.

  8. Bruce says:

    CS Lewis once mentioned the money backing TS Elliot and Ezra Pound. Hemingway was a rich kid too. Rich parents can always buy their boy genius respect. The Old Man and the Sea is still the best fish story I’ve read.

  9. Kirk says:

    Which goes a long way towards explaining their self-hatred, general ennui, and angst towards their own culture.

    The irony is that these people were and are traitors to their own kind, and have done far more to ensure the coming endarkenment than even our enemies managed. I suspect that there will be little pity or sympathy for any of them, in the coming generations, as those surviving “civilized” men look back at what we’ve thrown away, thinking it so much dross.

    I doubt that there’s an historical precedent for any of this–The general coarsening of it all, the admiration for the virtually sub-civilized failure cultures in the underclasses, the fascination with celebrity. Even the Romans had the good sense to see actors and actresses for what they were–Not fit for polite company. Instead, what have we done? Elevated them to celebrity status and worshipped at their feet. You can tell an awful lot about a culture by what it holds up within itself to admire, and what it acclaims. Our favorites do us little credit–The meanderings of the various Kardashians and others of that ilk show us to be a vastly diminished culture, bereft of sense or virtue.

    Meanwhile, the men and women who actually kept and still somewhat keep things going…? They’re denigrated and mocked, disrespected and sidelined. Sports “heroes” are made much of, yet what they actually do? Play children’s games for millions, and behave like uncivilized felons, while their sycophants hang on their every word as though they were fonts of wisdom…

    Kipling’s “Gods of the Copybook Headings” can’t be very far off, these days. I look forward to their reign with not a little bit of schadenfruede and expectant glee at the no-doubt spectacle of the whole sorry edifice crashing down around the ears of these assclowns. It’ll be worth eating the neighbor’s dogs in my dotage, to see such luminaries as LeBron James having to actually work for a living or starve.

  10. Altitude Zero says:

    “How many nut job killers have been ‘inspired’ by Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye?”

    I hate that book with the intensity of a thousand suns.

  11. Kirk says:


    I know, right? I kept trying to read that thing in high school because my English teacher kept going awnandawnandawn about it and the amazing things it had to say…

    End of the day, all it did was convince me that he was a special kind of idjit, and that anything he had to recommend was probably equally crap. I should have been warned by the fact that he told us it had taken him a summer to read when he was a senior in high school…

    At that point in my life, I had the time and the vast boredom necessary to crank through things like Michener’s Centennial in a frenzied weekend, and I was re-reading the entirety of The Lord of the Rings after school in the space of a workweek. He never believed I was actually reading as fast as I was, and would make out that I was merely carrying new books to make it look like I was smarter than I was–I never really got that, bit. It was like he was offended by my reading speed, or something.

    There were reasons I didn’t go on to college. I am pretty sure that if I had, I’d have been playing Charles Whitman before I hit my junior year of schooling… I still have about zero patience for the usual run of dolts we have been producing through “higher education” of late.

    And, I remain convinced that there are “uneducated” auto-didacts out there who could probably give your average college professor a run for their money, in terms of actual knowledge in their fields, all merely by reading and self-study. I know for a damn fact that most of the putatively “educated” military officers I worked around had the intellectual curiosity and reading habits of a sea urchin…

  12. Altitude Zero says:

    “And, I remain convinced that there are ‘uneducated’ auto-didacts out there who could probably give your average college professor a run for their money, in terms of actual knowledge in their fields, all merely by reading and self-study.”

    I’d say that this is a near-certitude, if only because they don’t have to pretend to believe a bunch of obvious lies in order to get tenure.

  13. VXXC says:

    Our elites are the Jonestown cult, but they want us to drink the Kool-Aid so they can party on without us.

    That is the point of all the CRT and self loathing.

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