Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Fantômas on paper and an early Australian award winner

I'm warding off the slump that can come after a superb book (Peter Temple's An Iron Rose) by reading two books at the same time, and there are good things so far in both.

Charlotte Jay's The Yellow Turban (1955) has the following, among other memorable observations, in its opening pages:

"We had all been at Cambridge together. By that I mean Arthur and Roy were undergraduates when I was working as junior assistant in a rather seedy bookshop off the Newmarket Road. But my lack of social and scholastic distinction had not worried Roy, and what did not worry Roy did not worry Arthur — in those days."
Then there's Fantômas, familiar to readers of this blog from my recent posts about Louis Feuillade's silent-movie serials of 1913 and 1914, but before and after the centerpiece of many novels by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre.

I don't know many crime novels that alongside blurbs from the Village Voice and the Washington Post could carry testimonials from Jean Cocteau and Guillaume Apollinaire, but Fantômas (1911) does. This bit of dialogue might help explain why:
"`Sir,' she said, `I do not know if you are joking or if you are talking seriously, but your behavior is extraordinary, hateful, disgusting—'

"`It is merely original, Princess ...'"
***
If you want get your mystery-loving friends scratching their heads, mention that Raymond Chandler was the first American to win the Edgar Award for best novel from the Mystery Writers of America, for The Long Goodbye.

The first author of any nationality to win? The aforementioned Australian, Charlotte Jay, for Beat Not the Bones in 1954.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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25 Comments:

Blogger Xavier said...

The first author of any nationality to win? The aforementioned Australian, Charlotte Jay, for Beat Not the Bones in 1954.


And quite deservingly so, for it is a wonderful book.

November 23, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Soho Crime reissued Beat Not the Bones a few years ago. I'm not sure if it's still in print, but I'll look.

The Yellow Turban is certainly off to an entertaining start. That woman could write.

November 23, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

You know I prefer to think of Raymond Chandler as (like Samuel Beckett) a cricket loving Irishman.

November 23, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

He might have been eligible to make it onto Ireland's soccer team (though he'd have been among its more Anglophile members). But he does not make it as an Irishman.

Hmm, but if he is, then one has to jump to the fourth year of the Edgars before an American wins for best novel. (Margaret Millar won in 1956. She was Canadian -- and is a favorite of Declan Hughes')

November 23, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Adrian,

Perhaps I might add to that thought by noting that Chandler referred to his family as "pure middle class Protestant Irish" a point he was "sensitive on, but one which is difficult to make other Americans understand. I am not an Irish-American in the sense commonly understood..."

I know that Beckett, too, was a Protestant but Chandler's right; Americans tend to equate "Irish" with Catholic.

But poor Chandler, neither fish nor fowl, was never quite comfortable thinking of himself as an "American" either.

November 23, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Was he more comfortable thinking of himself as Engish than as anything else?

November 23, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Elisabeth,

In the last decade or so (too late for Chandler of course) there's been a whole renaissance in the thinking about the Ulster Scots or Scotch Irish, the Protestant Irish who migrated to Appalachia.

A really excellent film I saw recently called Winter's Bone was set among these people and but for the accents it could have been rural Northern Ireland.

November 23, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, copies of the novel Winter's Bone were floating around Noircon. Daniel Woodrell was supposed to attend but cancelled a few weeks before the event.

OK, if not the accents, what made the movie so evocative of rural Northern Ireland?

November 23, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Peter,

No, I don't think so. Although he once wrote to his English publisher: "I always feel like a phoney when I say 'we Americans' because I basically I never have and never will feel quite a native..." he also wrote a letter to the editor of the Daily Express (London) in which he ferociously defended America and identifies himself as an American.

Chandler's later-in-life Anglophilia was of the rose-colored glasses variety. After all, he left England as a young man to return to the US to seek his fortune.

tasty v-word = torte

November 23, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I didn't know his Anglophilia was a later-in-life thing. It did seem excessive, especially as applied to literature.

Nice v-word. Perhaps because I'm in Canada now, I had the idea of writing an award-winning novel called The Life of Pie.

November 24, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Adrian,

That Scots Irish-US connection is interesting. Frankly, what I know about the Scots Irish comes mainly from contemporary crime fiction.

That Ulster Scots > Appalachia connection reminds me of the 17th c. British immigrants, from Cornwall and Wales via Virginia, who settled on Smith Island, off the coast of Maryland. As in Appalachia, the somewhat isolated population of Smith Island speaks a local dialect that, in this case, is supposedly like the dialect of England's West Country.

November 24, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, I don't know much about Ulster Scots history in America, but you don't have to listen to Irish music for too long before you start hearing what country music was like or could have been before it turned shite.

November 24, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Chandler was embittered against England in an abstract way until late in middle age. He was always proud of, and grateful for, the education he received there. But he also griped about not having been able to make a successful life there. That, of course, changed when he visited England a couple of times at the end of his life and was petted and fussed over in evening soirees, etc.

Thinking of Chandler coming back to American reminds me...

Your mission, Peter, should you decide to accept it, is to investigate the Chandler-St. Louis connection at next year's Bouchercon. It was one of the cities he stopped in for a while on his (eventual) journey west. I'm not even sure what kind of job he had there. Perhaps as a bookkeeper or in a bank? He references his time in St. Louis with a little snippet in The Big Sleep: "St. Louis in August had nothing on that place." (General Sternwood's conservatory.) And I wonder if he would have written about St. Louis the way he wrote about Los Angeles...

Hmmm. Canada = pie? I don't understand.

November 24, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Ah, je comprends.

November 24, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Torte is pie, sort of, and the author of The Life of Pi is Canadian.

And now back to the matter at hand.

I remember Chandler's gratitude for his English education, an Anglophilia that seems of a time different from not only ours but also from what may have been the prevailing sentiment of Chandler's own time. His seemed a particularly old-fashioned sort of Anglophilia.

Seems to me that St. Louis reference is familiar, which is odd, because I have not read The Big Sleep recently. I don't associate St. Louis with Chandler; I wonder if Bouchercon's planners will.

November 24, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

I don't know that anybody associates St. Louis with Chandler; there's so little evidence for his time there. And he probably wasn't writing for publication while he was there.

And, yes, he was a very old-fashioned Anglophile. Very sentimental for an imagined England. It's sometimes hard to grasp that this writer of hard-boiled crime fiction that seems so modern to us came of age in Victorian England.

November 24, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Elisabeth

The book to read is Albion's Seed - a masterpiece of folk history.

November 24, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

The tone, the claustrophobia, the relationship between the people and the land and the people and the law...

Its a very good film.

November 24, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, Chandler's Anglophilia has seemed somehow ungainly to me, as if he were repeating well-worn arguments. But Dulwich College named a library for him, so its trustees must have liked what Chandler had to say.

His non-fiction has always seemed uneven, either shaky and over-the-top, or else stunningly prescient, as in some of his predictions about the future of crime fiction.

November 24, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, take Adrian's advice in the matter of "Albion's Seed." Do not be swayed by its author's having acquitted himself poorly in my one meeting with him. (He taught at my university.)

November 24, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, I have not read Woodrell but, with your comments about the movie in mind, I was looking forward to hearing him at Noircon.

November 24, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Adrian,

I'm pretty sure we have Albion's Seed on some shelf in the house. I'll look for it.

(I was going to write that I would "root around" for it; but I've learned here that maybe I shouldn't use that expression...)

November 24, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You can root around for books here. No real Australians are present.

I wonder what kind of ratings Roots got in Sydney.

November 24, 2010  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

What's happening with the New Zealand mystery award that was posponed earlier this fall?

November 25, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Rescheduled for Nov. 30.

November 25, 2010  

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