Sexuality, Guilt and Detection: Tension between History and Suspense
‘Two things may be said of Cain with great assurance: nothing he ever wrote was completely outside the category of trash; in spite of the ultimate cheapness of his novels, an inordinate number of intelligent and fully literate people read him.’ 1 This obvious inability to come to terms with what are clearly seen as two contradictory elements in Cain’s writing supplies my starting-point. It is clear that Frohock’s prescriptive model for literature, in which the assumed concerns of the ‘intelligent and fully literate’ reader occupy a realm different from those of the common reader (whose appetites may be satisfied by ‘trash’), is under attack. Julian Symons’s assertion of Hemingway’s stylistic debt to Hammett, Gide’s admiration for the latter, and the growing critical machinery attempting to close the gap between ‘popular’ and ‘high’ culture — which has recently revealed Chekhov as the author of a crime novel as well as highly regarded plays and stories — testify to this development. In this environment, Cain’s writing can be reassessed — because, of course, ‘trash’ and ‘ultimate cheapness’ are code words indicating an unhesitating, if ambivalent, confrontation with sexuality and violence in an almost completely amoral universe.
KeywordsSexual Desire Sexual Attraction Female Character Material Deprivation Common Reader
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- 1.W. M. Frohock, The Novel of Violence in America (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1957) p. 13.Google Scholar
- 2.Alain Robbe-Grillet, ‘Snapshots’ and ‘Towards a New Novel’ (London: Caldar and Boyars, 1965) p. 72.Google Scholar
- 3.James M. Cain, The Five Great Novels (London: Picador 1985) p. 558.Google Scholar