Hardboiled Syllabus

Over the next month or so I am locking into reading a whole bunch of hardboiled fiction from the 20th century. I’ll be blogging it regularly, but releasing those posts over the course of the Fall semester because I have the distinct pleasure of teaching a Freshman Seminar on US detective fiction. My plan is to blog all my discussion material and thoughts as I go, and regularly release all the resources I will be talking about in the class. What’s more, I will have all their blog reactions pingback to the original and have it all syndicated into some space I am still imagining—I hope it starts to capture the dicussion both textually and visually.

What’s more, for the final research paper we’ll be modeling that project on Jon Beasley Murray’s radical Wikipedia experiment in Spring of 2008. I’m excited to have the opportunity to experiment with something like that, and I think for this class it is going to work well. It is only 15 students, they are all new to college, and they’ll have no idea of what to expect. Scar them #4life! When I finally design the class site I’ll have more details there, but in the mean time it is time to read and get in touch with Jon and Brian Lamb to figure out how deep I am in when it comes Wikipedia 🙂

Make the jump for full syllabus.

[I know, I know, I have to wikify this syllabus, will do soon]

Detective Fiction: Hardboiled Fall 2012

Mtg. Times and places: TR, 6:00 PM – 7:15pm; Room: duPont 215
Professor: Jim Groom
Office hours: duPont 310 from 5:00 PM – 6:00 PM or by appointment
E-mail: jimgroom@gmail.com

Course Description

Over the course of our 15-week term, we will examine one specific genre of 20th century American fiction in order to discuss the themes and concerns surrounding American literature in the last century. The particular strain of American Fiction that we will consider over the next 15 weeks is often termed “Hardboiled,” after its dark, violent themes and particularly laconic use of language. This class will trace the roots of this fiction from Hemingway, one of American Modernism’s more recognized literary artists, through more obscure figures such as James M. Caine, John Fante, Patricia Highsmith, and Chester Himes, as well as more recent, popular writers such as James Ellroy, Sara Paretsky, and George Pelecanos in order to get a sense of the ways in which Hardboiled fiction has transformed over time and reflects the last century’s specific cultural moments in a variety of different ways. Some themes that we will trace throughout the semester are as follows: the place of violence in 20th century cultur; the changing relationship of the artist to society in the 20th century; the increasingly blurred distinction of high and low art in the literary realm; the interdependence between cinema and fiction throughout the last 100 years; the relationship between hard-boiled fiction and the historical moment in which it was written (i.e., the 1920s, 1940s, 1960s, 1980s, etc.). Course requirements include an ongoing class blog, in-class participation, midterm, and a final Wikipedia-based research project.

Required Texts

Course Policies

ATTENDANCE: Attendance is mandatory. You will be allowed 2 absences. Your grade will be lowered one full letter after each additional absence, unless you have a documented medical excuse. Since your participation is essential, if you are absent 4 or more times, even with a medical excuse, you will need to withdraw from the course. Be sure to come to class on time. Late arrivals are disruptive and distracting.

READING: I expect everyone to have completed ALL of the assigned reading by the start of each class session, and to be prepared to discuss it in class. For a schedule of readings, consult the course calendar (below). This class is relatively reading-heavy averaging 200-300 pages a week, so make sure that you can handle your responsibilities. We can’t have an interesting, engaging, and productive class if folks don’t do the reading. Moreover, the midterm and the final research projects will be based on the reading. Do the reading!

PARTICIPATION: Participation is required. I ask that you take an active part in class discussion both in the classroom and on the course blog so that we can make class time lively and interesting.

PLAGIARISM: Plagiarism is defined as using the ideas or writing of others and passing them off as your own. Such practice will result in an F for the course and possible disciplinary action from the University. Familiarize yourself with methods of avoiding unintentional plagiarism when quoting or paraphrasing another’s work. We will discuss these in class.

Requirements and Grades
Your grade will be based on your regular blogging, in-class midterm exam, a final Wikipedia-based research project, and class participation.

MIDTERM: The midterm is required and cannot be made up. It will cover the readingd and themes we have covered up and until the exam.

WIKIPEDIA RESEARCH PROJECT: Modeled on Jon Beasley-Murray’s radical work in the Spring of 2008, Our collective goal will be to bring a selection of articles onHard-Boiled detective fiction to featured article status (or as near as possible). By project’s end, we will have researched and contributed to at least five Wikipedia articles that do not have a good or featured article status on Wikipedia currently. More details on this project will follow as the semester gets under way.

Your final grade will be calculated according to the following percentages:

  • Blog Work 25%
  • Midterm exam 20%
  • Final Wikipedia Research Project 30%
  • Participation 25%

Tentative Course Calendar

Week 1: Introductions and Detective Fiction and the Genre Novel

  • Tue: Introductions Syllabus Review
  • Thu: Introduction to the Detective Genre (Hand-out/reading from Stephen Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature)

Week 2: High Modernism

  • Tue: Discuss Ernest Hemingway’s In Our Time (Stories up to and including The Three-day Blow)
  • Thu: Continue discussion of In Our Time (“The Battler” to “Big Two Hearted River: Part 2”)

Week 3: Modernisms’ Highs and Lows: Dashell Hammett and the Hard-Boiled Novel

  • Tue: Discuss Dashell Hammett’s Red Harvest Chapter 1-13
  • Thu: Continue discussion Chapters 13-30 of Red Harvest

Week 4: John Fante as LA’s Marginal Modernist

  • Tue. Discussion up to chapter 12 of Ask the Dust
  • Thu. Discussion of rest of Ask the Dust

Week 5: The Pulp Writer and Noir as Subgenre: James M. Caine

  • Tue. Discuss First 6 chapters of Mildred Pierce
  • Thu. Discuss remainder of Mildred Pierce

Week 6: Noir as Film Genre

  • Tue: Selections from James Naremore’s More than Night
  • Thu: Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity (screenplay written by Raymond Chandler)

Week 7: Patricia Highsmith and Queering 1950s Noir


  • Tue. Discussion through chapter 20 of Strangers on a Train
  • Thu. Finish Strangers on a Train

Week 8: Midterm

Week 9: The New Noir: An African-American Perspective on the Hard-Boiled Genre

  • Tue Discuss First Half of Cotton Comes to Harlem
  • Thu Discuss through Chapter 18 of Cotton Comes to Harlem

Week 10: Hardboiled Women: VI Warshawski

  • Tue Discussion of first half of Indemnity Only
  • Thu Finish discussion of Indemnity Only

Week 11: Hardboiled History: James Ellroy

  • Tue Discussion of Black Dahlia
  • Thu Discussion of Black Dahlia

Week 12: Individualized Research/Meetings

Week 13: Alternative Histories: Genre as corrective?

  • Tue Discussion of Devil in a Blue Dress
  • Thu Discussion of Devil in a Blue Dress

Week 14: Hardboiled DC

  • Tue Discussion of The Big Blowdown
  • Thu Discussion of The Big Blowdown

Week 15: Final presentations


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3 Responses to Hardboiled Syllabus

  1. Luke says:

    This looks great… I love this stuff.

  2. Keira McPhee says:

    Me too. Will re-read along with you all.

    • Reverend says:

      Thanks you, Luke, and I am excited fo you to be reading along Keira. I can see you out by the lake devouring these books. I am excited about this class in that we’re gonna try and examine the detective fiction genre both as a reaction to each decades particular historical context as well as examine the larger issue of violence as a disappearing phenomenon—and the hardboiled detective as a way to make it more present for the masses. And odd argument for many, but an interesting take, I think, on why violent detective fiction has been so popular for almost 100 years.

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