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February 02, 2005

"The Maltese Falcon" Turns 75

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

When I first read Faulkner and Hammett, I read them side by side and loved 'em both. But I was also an impressionable, over-trusting kid, and I was content to accept the usual evaluation: that, while Faulkner's work stood for Real Literature, Hammett's was ... something else, and something unquestionably lesser.

A few years ago, though, I re-read "The Maltese Falcon" -- and found myself gasping in admiration.

I've now come to my senses: as far as I'm concerned, "The Maltese Falcon" is the equal of any 20th century novel I've ever read. My little contribution to the conversation: it may be helpful to think of "Falcoln" not as a conventional-novel-wannabe, but as epic vernacular poetry -- as a work more along the lines of "Beowulf" than of "Middlemarch."

I just noticed that 2004 and 2005 are the 75th anniversary of the original serial publication of "The Maltese Falcon." Here's an interesting WashPost-sponsored online chat with Rick Layman, a Hammett biographer, and Julie Rivett, Hammett's granddaughter. William Ames' quick intro to Hammett and "The Maltese Falcon" is a good one.

Best,

Michael

posted by Michael at February 2, 2005




Comments

I prefer Chandler on the whole but must concede the worth of The Maltese Falcon. So delightfully amoral.

Posted by: James Russell on February 3, 2005 02:43 AM



Didn't Chandler in his essay, "The Simple Art of Murder" base his claim for the significance of the detective story on The Maltese Falcon? He said something to the effect that a genre that could produce such a book had no need of any artistic apologies.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on February 3, 2005 03:29 AM



James -- Amoral and oomphy! It's got some real shock value, no? Which of the Chandler's is your fave? I'd love to have the chance to read 'em all in a row, so I could make a sensible comparison. I guess for the moment I'd vote for "Long Goodbye," but maybe that's just because it's the one I read most recently.

FvB -- Geezerbrain: I can't remember though I re-read the essay only a few years ago. The thing that always surprise me about people who want to put crime fiction (or any of the genres) into a little ghetto and then return to talking about "literature" as though "literature" was something entirely different is ... Hmm, well to start again. I take "literature" to be a kind of meta-thing -- all pieces of fiction are candidates. Why the hell not? And who can predict what future audiences and critics are going to say? What surprises me about so many "literary" people is how exclusive they are about what's "literature" and what's not. Candidates for the canon (and I think they think in these terms) must necessarily come only from the "literary writing" part of the fiction world. This strikes me as wrong in so many ways I can't begin to enumerate them ... But imagine disqualifying "Tom Jones" because it's just a picaresque romp, or "Beowulf" because it's kind of an adventure story, or "The Charterhouse of Parma" because it's a parody of a swashbuckler (a double sin -- parody and swashbuckler!) ... It's so wrong that I find myself wondering why they'd try to make such a case. And then I feel bad because I'm starting to discuss motives, and I try to keep that to a minimum.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 3, 2005 12:45 PM



"Chandler wrote that [the Maltese Falcon] 'may or may not be a work of genius, but an art which is capable of it is not "by hypothesis" incapable of anything.'"3

"3 Raymond Chandler, "The Simple Art of Murder," Atlantic Monthly, December, 1944, 58."

http://www.cwru.edu/artsci/engl/marling/hardboiled/MalteseFalcon.HTM

Posted by: Dave Lull on February 3, 2005 02:29 PM






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