Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Who the hell is Arbogast?

Raymond Chandler liked the name Arbogast so much that he used it at least three times (The High Window, "Trouble Is My Business," Farewell, My Lovely). The hero of S.J. Perleman's detective-story spoof "Farewell, My Lovely Appetizer" has his office in the Arbogast building.

Milton Arbogast is a private investigator in Robert Bloch's novel Psycho and a movie based on it that you may have heard of. And the guy in the Studebaker who picks up the hitchhiking Vince Parry in David Goodis' Dark Passage? You guessed it: He's another in the honorable line of crime- and horror-fictional Arbogasts.

Arbogasts have been Frankish generals and Irish saints, but does anyone know why the humorously euphonious name (at least to non-Arbogasts) crops up so often in the work of celebrated crime writers? Have I missed any Arbogasts? What are your favorite odd character names in crime or other fiction?

  © Peter Rozovsky 2012

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24 Comments:

Blogger Dana King said...

I'm in the process of re-reading THE LAST GOOD KISS. C.W Sughrue qualifies as an odd, yet enticing name.

April 24, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Sughrue is no Arbogast, though it is pretty good. Better yet, both it and Arbogast are real names. Why make up gimmicky monikers when the rich ethnic pastiche that is America offers so many good real ones?

April 24, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

I have no answers, but it is intriguing. He's like some kind of crime fiction avatar.

April 24, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I think the first crime-fiction parody I ever wrote, when I was in college, used the name. My guess is that Chandler liked the sound of the name and everyone else followed him. It sounds like a name Dickens might have come up with had he been American.

I always used to enjoy writing cutlines for the Associated Press photographer Charles Rex Arbogast.

April 25, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

Or is Dickens had been Irish.

April 25, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Or German.

April 25, 2012  
Anonymous Matthias Giessler said...

Are you aware or The Arbogast Case?

http://www.amazon.com/The-Arbogast-Case-A-Novel/dp/0374138125

April 25, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I had not heard of that novel. Thanks. I also came across a real-life Arbogast case when preparing this post. The Arbogast name exerts even greater sway than I thought in the world of crime.

April 25, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

I learned that Arbogast is a combination of inheritance and guest. Doesn't a guest inheritance itself speak of crime?

April 25, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I also learned that when preparing this post. I also realized, though I did not mention this, that crime-fiction Arbogasts tend to me marginal, seedy, vaguely disreputable, and not terribly successful.

April 25, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

Yeah, I figured you would have run across that. What I still can't quite figure out is what a guest inheritance or an inheritance guest IS.

April 25, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I also don't know how the words came together. The combination sounds like a legal term, doesn't it, maybe something from the law of the Salian Franks.

April 25, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

It does. But I'm not too brushed up on the Salian Franks, uh, frankly.

April 25, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Confessing your ignorance, are you?

April 25, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

Pretty much always.

April 25, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You have a fine track record with such confessions, you know.

April 25, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

Well, I do generally sort it all out in the end. But not without a lot of help.

April 25, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You know, you could blow your own horn if you wanted to.

April 26, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

Nah, it's not really my thing, but thanks for the link.

April 26, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, Franks could be too big a subject and Arbogast far too small a one for a blog post, anyhow. But I'll keep looking in nonetheless.

April 26, 2012  
Anonymous Linkmeister said...

Remembering my LOTR, one of the five wizards (Gandalf and Saruman being the two important to the story) was named Radagast, who in his brief appearance was said to like birds better than people. Not that I'll fault him for that.

April 26, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Tolkein having been the scholar he was, I'd guess he intended associations with the Germanic-sounding gast and the Middle English-via-Latin readic, as in root, radical, or radish. I'd believe this despite invented etymologies in any of LOTR's invented languages. And maybe thge similarity to St. Francis and any of his animal-loving predecessors was no coincidence either.

April 26, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

Not wishing to make this Arbogastian business any more complicated than it is, but I was reading Mandarin's Jade recently, the main story Chandler cannibalized to write Farewell, My Lovely.

There's no Arbogast in it. The Giddy Gerty Arbogast from the novel is plain ol' Giddy Gerty in the story. But one of the main characters in Mandarin's Jade is Mrs Prendergast (Mrs Grayle/Velma in the novel). There are no Arbogasts in Ireland but there are plenty of Prendergasts, particularly in Waterford, where Chandler spent some of his childhood.

Perhaps, Chandler monkeyed around with the name Prendergast and came up with Arbogast. But it's not a name he gave much prominence to. I reread Farewell, My Lovely recently and didn't even notice the name.

What I noticed and remembered was that Giddy Gerty Arbogast had a Hitler moustache. It's one of the rare occasions in a Chandler novel you get an inkling of the tumultuous events happening outside of Marlowe's grubby little world.

April 26, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Our good friend Wikipedia says St. Arbogast's name was, in fact. a Germanicized version of his Celtic name, Arascach. Anyone or anything of that name in Ireland?

Giving a whimsical name to a Hitlerian character is more typical of Chandler's fellow Dulwich old boy P.G. Wodehouse, I think.

April 27, 2012  

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