Hammett: Milady

If you know me, you know that I enjoy solid pieces of litcrit. Sure, a “Just the facts, ma’am” kind of article like the typical pulp fan dotes on is perfectly okay — issue, date, who painted the cover art, blah blah. But literature is a living thing, ready to talk to anyone who is prepared to listen, and I really enjoy seeing some new angle opened up on fiction I thought I had down pat.

Barbara Fass Leavy recently popped in an idea I cannot recall hearing before in over thirty years on the mean streets, but one where the parallels just fall neatly into place. A retired professor of English literature at Queens College, City University of New York, who taught courses in crime fiction before she retired, Barbara emailed in to ask if Hammett read Dumas — as I mentioned in the blurb for my first Guest Blogger, Hammett actually included The Count of Monte Cristo in a Continental Op story. He knew Dumas, and pretty much anyone who ever starts reading books will read The Three Musketeers, guaranteed.

Barbara has written a book on Ruth Rendell and has contemplated others: “As far as mean streets: Here is the book I didn’t write. The question at the heart of it would have been how it happened that the detective’s sidekick was transformed over time from Holmes’s Watson to Mosley’s Mouse or Burke’s Clete Purcell or even Parker’s Hawk?  (I use a Freudian vocabulary — from superego:Watson to id:Mouse). At some point the mean streets got so mean that Chandler’s ideal detective could not survive on them with the ethics he lived by. The detective needed, in fact, a sociopathic sidekick unhampered by his scruples.”

At the end of August, Barbara will be doing a couple of talks for the conference Killer Nashville, one of them on the femme fatale in crime fiction. And as our latest Guest Blogger, Barbara tells us what she’ll be talking about — is this very cool or what?:


I would take for granted that Hammett read Alexandre Dumas. As a somewhat old-fashioned literary scholar, I would really appreciate some documentation, although what interests me does not rest on my proving direct influence. 

I will tell you up front what particularly interests me. There seems to me a direct thematic line from Milady de Winter in The Three Musketeers to Brigid O’Shaughnessy. The idea of a femme fatale/murderess being handed over for execution or almost certain execution by a lover or husband is the theme I am following.

Of course, Mickey Spillane takes this one step further.

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