Author: Leonard Cassuto
Translator: Jae-sung Kim
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About This Book
Leonard Cassuto's cultural history links the testosterone-saturated heroes of American crime stories to the sensitive women of the nineteenth-century sentimental novel. From classics like The Big Sleep and The Talented Mr. Ripley to neglected paperback gems, Cassuto chronicles the dialogue, centered on the power of sympathy, between these popular genres and the sweeping social changes of the twentieth century, ending with a surprising connection between today's serial killers and the domestic fictions of long ago.
This is an erudite, illuminating and highly readable study
-- Journal of American Studies Vol. 44 No. 2, 2010
Cassuto has profitably plowed new ground in this study. It's certain to become an essential document for undersatnding crime fiction's inner workings.
-- African American Review Vol. 43:1
About the Author
Leonard Cassuto is professor of English at Fordham University and an award-winning journalist whose writing has appeared in academic journals and popular periodicals ranging from The Wall Street Journal to Salon.com. He is the author of The Inhuman Race: The Racial Grotesque in American Literature and Culture and the general editor of the forthcoming Cambridge History of the American Novel.
Crime Fiction Studies: Leonard Cassuto's Hard-Boiled Sentimentality
Reviewed by Elizabeth Emanuel
At first glance it seems that in Hard-Boiled Sentimentality: The Secret History of American Crime Stories Leonard Cassuto, Professor of American Literature at Fordham University, has drawn a long bow by proposing that the emergence of the hard-boiled crime fiction genre of the 1920s and '30s arose as a direct response to what he describes as the largely female-dominated domestic fiction of the mid-nineteenth century. Going even further back, Cassuto explains that ‘sentimental sympathy� can be traced to the practical Scottish thinkers of the eighteenth-century who viewed all individuals as possessing an innate moral sense. This moral philosophy Cassuto argues, when combined with evangelical Christianity, led to American sentimentalism, characterised by ideals centred on the home and family. Cassuto proposes that hard-boiled crime fiction has been profoundly influenced by the idealised image of the middle-class family originally propagated by sentimental literature.
Writing in 1985, Jane Tompkins explained how the chief characteristic of the sentimental novel was that it was “written by, for, and about women.� These women, she suggests, elaborated a myth that gave women the central position of power and authority in the culture, citing Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin as “the most dazzling exemplar� of its type. Cassuto argues that hard-boiled crime fiction, far from contradicting this earlier ideology, relies on the stereotypes of family and gendered stereotypes that sentimental novels helped to create, and moreover strengthens notions of the “place and value of family in the postindustrial world.� He suggests that sentimental fiction outlines what society could or should be, while crime fiction shows how the ideal is undermined by criminal activity, or fractured when families are dysfunctional.
Cassuto supports his theory by demonstrating that the stars of noir, the likes of Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, and Gravedigger Jones, establish their own code of behaviour as ‘outsiders�; that is, they operate in a world excluded from the domestic sphere, a province that is opposite but not unaligned to it. Cassuto asserts that the narratives these tough guys inhabit reinforce the ideology of home as a place of comfort and security in a world that is changing, becoming more urbanised and driven by individuals motivated by self-interest and greed. He notes, however, a key distinction in that, whereas sentimental novels abound with Christian teachings, noir discards them.
Whether one agrees with Cassuto’s hypothesis or perhaps thinks his argument is somewhat tautological, the real worth of this book lies in the breadth of the subject material it investigates. Divided chronologically into three sections, Hard-Boiled Sentimentality is a valuable chronicle of crime writing from the 1920s to now. Cassuto has provided a wealth of material to excite the serious researcher. His writing is never dull, and this well-written book comes with the bonus of comprehensive notes, which include extensive bibliographical sources and a helpful index. Academic investigation of the crime fiction genre has seen a burgeoning of critical material since the seventies. The link that Cassuto makes between largely twentieth-century crime fiction and the sentimental novels of the nineteenth-century will engender debate and stimulate further enquiry. All in all, I urge university libraries to purchase Hard-Boiled Sentimentality for their shelves as a most useful crime fiction reference.
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