Fresh off his dive into the archives in the Library of Congress, Terry Zobeck is back with a new set of pure text corrections for one of Hammett’s earliest stories — he apologises for the cover image of the issue of Black Mask in question, photographed instead of scanned, not being quite as well-framed as the covers used with previous installments of this series. But I figure it’s more than good enough for a rough & tumble blog post, from Hammett enthusiasts in the trenches, under fire, letting you know what Hammett wrote — not the edited texts you’ve been reading for decades.
“The Vicious Circle” is early Hammett; it was his sixth published short story (if you count the two short shorts “The Parthian Shot” and “Immortality”) and only his second in Black Mask (the June 15, 1923 issue). It also was among the eight stories he signed under the penname Peter Collinson. The Black Mask editor wrote that “The Vicious Circle” was “one of the best stories we’ve run for a long time — with the regular Black Mask touch — and a plot you won’t fathom until the last word.”
Black Mask must have been having a particularly poor run of stories at the time for “The Vicious Circle” to be among their best. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not entirely without merit — it has a nice set-up and is certainly a tough-minded story, but there’s not much excitement in the telling. My favorite thing about it is the setting — Washington, DC. Perhaps I can start an East Coast version of the Hammett Tour!
An unnamed Senator with presidential ambitions meets with a shady constituent to seek his help in dealing with a blackmailer who can ruin the Senator. He gets what he wants, but the moral of the story is “be careful what you wish for.”
Frederic Dannay was rather free with the blue pencil this time around, starting with the title. When he reprinted the story in the April 1951 issue of Ellery Queen (and later that year in Woman in the Dark) he changed the title to “The Man Who Stood in the Way.” It is
with this story that we see perhaps Dannay’s most audacious editing — he actually rewrites the opening paragraph, inserting his own description of the Senator. We also have another example of Dannay editing Hammett’s work for the sake of social sensitivity.
In documenting the original text, I’ve used the same format as my earlier posts — page number, line number, whether it is from the top or bottom of the page, and the text corrections, with Hammett’s original text that was deleted underlined. The page numbers refer to the 1951 first edition Woman in the Dark.
Page no. Line # Top/bottom Text
120 title The Man Who Stood in the Way
The Vicious Circle
120 1 top The Senator kept biting his
lip, as if he were beset with problems of insurmountable difficulty. He The
Senator was a massive man, exuding an air of power.
120 4 top scarcely adequate for his
weight its task;
120 12 top under
the tread trend of his heavy feet [this appears to be an
120 10 bottom cram
coarse black nigger-wool tobacco into a yellow-gray corn–cob
121 16 top to the hat on the floor occasionally,
121 15 bottom ignore it altogether, as something
unworthy of a man’s attention.
122 6 top Gene Inch nodded his head
122 12/13 top Should be a separate paragraph:
“Yeah, I know you pardoned Tom.”
122 15 top “You’ll help me, then?” The
122 17 top The Senator quailed and his
122 8 bottom they are talking of running me for
President in 1924.
123 11 bottom Inch twisted the end of his long nose between
a scrawny thumb and finger, reflectively.
124 1 top known to be for a
friend of mine.
124 2 top if you killed him
124 12 top [The break between paragraphs
should be titled “II”]
124 3 bottom [The break between paragraphs should be
125 5 top [This paragraph should be part
of the preceding one.]
125 17 top Should be a separate paragraph:
“Come in and close the door behind you.”
125 18 bottom Then he motioned his captive to a chair
and himself sat on the edge of the bed.
126 17 bottom “Shut your mouth, damn you!”
Inch snapped irritably, shaking his revolver at the blackmailer.
127 12 top “Nothing to identify him by at
127 17 bottom “You sure-God hit him pretty;
[This also should be a separate paragraph]
127 15/16 bottom [The break between paragraphs should be
127 8 bottom hope and fear, eagerness and
127 7 bottom Inch nodded with cool assurance.
127 2 bottom with a sobbing intake of breath,
and the color began to flow back in his face.
128 2 top “Ain’t nothing can happen! Everything
is all right!”
I am deeply indebted to Mr. Clark Evans of the LOC’s Rare Book Room for arranging my access to these fragile pulps and for helping me to photograph them. In the coming weeks
I’ll be documenting the edits made to “Afraid of a Gun” and the Continental Op tale “Night Shots.”