Title

Hard-boiled irony : the inversion of medieval romance in 20th century American detective fiction.

Date of Award

5-1-2014

Document Type

Dissertation

School

Caspersen School of Graduate Studies

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Abstract

This dissertation examines the reason why hard-boiled detective fiction owes a greater debt to medieval romance than to its immediate predecessors within the detective fiction genre. Through a comparative analysis of major works in each field, I identify the thematic relationship between medieval romance and hard-boiled detective fiction. By first examining the generic concerns of medieval authors, as well as the motivation for the nineteenth century's renewed interest in medieval culture, particularly romance, I establish the mode and movement (Romantic nationalism) to which hard-boiled detective writers are responding. This, compounded by the contemporary socio-political and cultural landscape of early twentieth-century America provides not only the basis for the stylistic shift in the detective fiction genre after World War I but also the deliberate inversion of medieval romance themes. Addressing why and how the themes established in medieval romance, which fulfill the romance genre's bi-partite functions of entertainment and instruction, also resonate in hard-boiled detective fiction, I classify the latter as a modern form of romance. By creating its own "exaggerated verisimilitude" and by reworking familiar romance themes of authority, identity, and gender relations, hard-boiled fiction, like medieval romance, speaks to contemporary cultural anxieties.