Hammett: “Ruffian’s Wife”

Guest Blogger Terry Zobeck returns with another post about the edits Frederic Dannay made while collecting Hammett’s short stories into paperback format decades ago. I notice he drops the name James Sandoe for the first time on this site — we’ll have to do more on Sandoe, in time. Plus, in the course of doing research on the texts, Terry came across a very nice little extra that ought to appeal to any and all Hammett fans:

“Ruffian’s Wife” was first published in the October 1925 issue of Sunset, a magazine that began publication in 1898 in San Francisco, still publishing today. Frederic Dannay reprinted the story in the 1945 anthology Rogue’s Gallery and collected it the following year in Hammett Homicides. In the introduction to the story in the latter volume, Dannay notes that it was James Sandoe, noted author and critic, who provided him with the text for the story just as Dannay was searching for a purely criminous Hammett story to fit the theme of the anthology.

“Ruffian’s Wife” is an interesting story and prime Hammett. As Dannay notes, its characters are all criminals. It is a curious mixture of romance and menacing suspense told from the perspective of the title character. The descriptions of the characters, especially Leonidas Doucas, the “perfumed asthmatic fat man,” are detailed and memorable — as Dannay states, he is a prototype for Caspar Gutman. Hammett renders Doucas’ speech as individual words separated by hyphens and described as “sighing puffs of breath spaced his words, cushioned them, gave them the semblance of gems nested separately in raw cotton.” The climactic scene between Doucas and Guy Tharp, the Ruffian, is told with realistic and graphic violence.

Dannay made very few edits to the text provided by Sandoe (assuming Sandoe didn’t edit the text as he transcribed it), mostly in the nature of formatting the paragraphs; however, he did delete two lines, the first of which is especially unfortunate as it is a wonderful line of description near the end of the story.

I’ve followed my usual style of noting the edits: page number, line number, whether it is from the top or bottom of the page, and the edited text; Hammett’s original text is underlined. The page numbers refer to the 1946 Lawrence Spivak digest Hammett Homicides. “Ruffian’s Wife” was reprinted in the still available collection Nightmare Town (1999); it uses the Dannay text.

Page       Line        top/bottom      Text

116         4             top                  

                  Should be a separate paragraph: “Not just—I expect him, yes, but I don’t know exactly when he will come.”

116         8             bottom

                  wakened awakened her.

118         1             top                  

                  Should not be a separate paragraph; belongs with the preceding paragraph:  Once he came out of the hotel as she passed.

119         1             top

                   Should be a separate paragraph: She smoothed her hair with cold hands, smoothed her apron, and opened the door.

119         6/7          top

                   his chest bulged a corduroy jacket of dilapidated age.

119         12           top

                   Should be a separate paragraph: He strode up the walk.

121         15           top

                   Should be a separate paragraph: “Reckon I’ll trot down the hill.”

124         ½            top

                   He sat straight up, hands inert on fat thighs, cocked cooked profile inert. [Dannay apparently corrected a typo]

126         1             top

                   Should not be a separate paragraph; belongs with the preceding paragraph: Only her pride had been in her husband’s place in that world.

126         9             bottom

            Should be a separate paragraph: A chair slammed to the floor.

127         19           top

                   of wide emptiness.  It was as if walls and men were gone and she stood alone in a black void.

128         10           top

                   Should be a separate paragraph: Margaret cringed against the wall, feeling as if she were going to vomit.

128         2             bottom

                  She tried to keep that thing out of her voice as she moved unsteadily toward the kitchen door.

Now for something special.  This issue of Sunset featured a small personal piece on Hammett on the table of contents page. It is illustrated with a picture of Hammett and his daughter Mary that I’ve not seen before. The picture includes Mary’s toy elephant, the same elephant as in the picture on page 46 of Jo Hammett’s A Daughter Remembers The accompanying text reads:

Dashiell Hammett is introduced, “in person,” to SUNSET readers this month. With him in the picture you’ll observe his daughter and — for no reason at all — their elephant.

Some five months ago Mr. Hammett brought us “Ber Bulu;” you remember the story? For this issue he has written “Ruffian’s Wife.”

How did he come to write fiction? Oh, well, he’s been a railroad man, a stock broker, a detective, a soldier and a husband and father. Some outlet for the piled-up experience which these various jobs must have meant was undoubtedly indicated.  Moreover, as he says himself, he likes to write.

And, since we (and others) like to read what he writes — well “quod erat etcetera!”

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