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The Hardboiled Generation, 1894-1903

Posted by Joshua Glenn  May 27, 2008 10:36 AM

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Perhaps the most famous pseudo-generation -- besides the Beat Generation (actually New Gods + Postmoderns) and Generation X (PCers + Netters) -- is the Lost Generation. Gertrude Stein (b. 1874) coined the phrase to refer to those American litterateurs -- Ernest Hemingway (b. 1899), F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896), Ezra Pound (1885), T.S. Eliot (1888), Sherwood Anderson (1876), Waldo Peirce (1884), Sylvia Beach (1887), and herself -- who lived in Paris between the end of World War I and the beginning of the Depression.

But let's face it, out of that group, only Hemingway and Fitzgerald, plus fellow expats John Dos Passos (1896) and Malcolm Cowley (1898), belonged to the cohort of Americans who came of age during and shortly after World War I. Born between 1894 and 1903, these Americans were in their teens and 20s in the Teens (1914-23; not to be confused with the 1910s), and in their 20s and 30s in the Twenties (1924-33). There is no Lost Generation. Let's call 'em the Hardboileds, instead.



1884-93: Lost Generation The New Kids
1894-1903: Lost Generation Hardboiled Generation
1904-13: The Greatest Generation Partisans
1914-23: The Greatest Generation The New Gods
1924-33: The Silent Generation Postmodernist Generation
1934-43: The Silent Generation Anti-Anti-Utopian Generation
1944-53: Baby Boomers
1954-63: Baby Boomers OGX (Original Generation X)
1964-73: Generation X PC Generation
1974-83: Generations X/Y Net Generation
1984-93: Millennials
1994-2003: Millennials TBA

Please credit Brainiac/Joshua Glenn whenever you use this guide. Got a beef with my periodization, or different generational name suggestions? Leave a comment on this post or email me. Born between 1954 and 1993 and still unsure about whether you're a Boomer, Xer, Yer, or Millennial? Here's a handy guide.


Who are the Hardboileds?

Fitzgerald described his contemporaries as "grown up to find all gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man [i.e., ideologies] shaken." Europeans born between 1894 and 1903 felt the same way: They modified Marxist ideology and gave us Western Marxism (Bertolt Brecht, the Frankfurt School) and Surrealism (Bataille, Breton, Aragon, Soupault, Éluard, Crevel, Desnos, Vitrac, Leiris, Artaud, Queneau, Tanguy, Buñuel, Masson, Magritte). Americans born during the same time span tended to turn from Marxism to new religious experiences (cocktails; cars; the music of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Bix Beiderbecke, the Gershwins) and new wars (Eliot Ness and J. Edgar Hoover vs. Lucky Luciano, Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly, Carlo Gambino, John Dillinger).


Finally, although many prominent Hardboileds were small-c communists and fellow travelers, they largely eschewed ideology in favor of entertainment. This cohort of Americans gave us pioneering comics and cartoons (Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Little Orphan Annie, Popeye, Dick Tracy, Blondie); and Golden Age radio (Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Fred Allen, Gracie Allen, George Burns, Ed Sullivan, Edgar Bergen). They were also instrumental in conjuring up Hollywood's Golden Age. One thinks of directors, producers, and choreographers like John Ford, Howard Hawks, Frank Capra, Preston Sturges, George Cukor, Irving Thalberg, David O. Selznick, Darryl F. Zanuck, and Busby Berkeley; not to mention "classic" actors like Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Fred Astaire, Spencer Tracy, Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, and Tallulah Bankhead. All of which was horrifying to Frankfurt School types, who wrote (mostly) disparagingly of the "culture industry" in America, and its increasingly "one-dimensional society."


The literary style of those Americans born between 1894 and 1903 was hardboiled. Raymond Chandler, a member of an older cohort who didn't start writing fiction until he was in his 40s, and who therefore was afforded a certain amount of perspective on his juniors, explained that hardboiled stories and novels were a serious response to the postwar world: "Their characters lived in a world gone wrong, a world in which, long before the atom bomb, civilization had created the machinery for its own destruction and was learning to use it with all the moronic delight of a gangster trying out his first machine-gun. The law was something to be manipulated for profit and power. The streets were dark with something more than night."


Hardboiled authors like Dashiell Hammett, Horace McCoy, W.R. Burnett, Paul Cain, and Raoul Whitfield wrote novels of action, in which corrupt wealthy people hire tough, semi-sleazy detectives and "ops" who can navigate through a lawless underworld. In the hardboiled fiction of the Twenties and Thirties, according to one critic, an "anxious sense of fatality is usually attached to a pessimistic conviction that economic and socio-political circumstances will deprive people of control over their lives by destroying their hopes and by creating in them the weaknesses of character that turn them into transgressors or mark them out as victims." This characterization allows us to perceive that other literature of the period -- not just genre novels -- is hardboiled, too: John Dos Passos' "The 42nd Parallel," for example, as well as William Faulkner's "Sanctuary," Erskine Caldwell's "Tobacco Road," Nathanael West's "Miss Lonelyhearts," John Steinbeck's "Tortilla Flat," and Ernest Hemingway's "To Have and Have Not."

Thanks to these authors, from Hammett to Hemingway, during the Twenties and Thirties, the American male ideal was -- for better or worse -- one characterized by physical strength, emotional detachment, aggressive behavior, and an amoral worldview. Hardboiled.

See this post's APPENDIX for lists of hardboiled novels of the Twenties and Thirties.


Meet the Hardboileds.


1894: Dashiell Hammett, E. E. Cummings, Harold L. Davis, Jack Benny, James Thurber, Donald Deskey, Jean Toomer, Norman Rockwell, Mark Van Doren, Walter Brennan, Isham Jones, Ben Hecht, Moms Mabley, Bessie Smith, Martha Graham, Paul Green, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Fred Allen, Stuart Davis, Harold Gray, E. C. Segar, James P. Johnson, Norbert Wiener, John Howard Lawson, Philip K. Wrigley. Elsewhere: Aldous Huxley, Meher Baba, Nikita Khrushchev, Rudolf Hess, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, King Edward VIII, Isaac Babel, Joseph Roth, J. B. Priestley, Jean Renoir, Friedrich Pollock.


1895: John Ford, Edmund Wilson, Buckminster Fuller, Buster Keaton, Gracie Allen, Bud Abbott, J. Edgar Hoover, Lewis Mumford, Robert Hillyer, George Schuyler, Machine Gun Kelly, Babe Ruth, Michael Arlen, Robert Hillyer, Shemp Howard, Milt Gross, Dorothea Lange, Busby Berkeley. Elsewhere: Max Horkheimer, Paul Éluard, Gala Dalí, Ernst Jünger, F.R. Leavis, Robert Graves, Mikhail Bakhtin, Jiddu Krishnamurti, Rudolph Valentino, László Moholy-Nagy.


1896: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Howard Hawks, George Burns, John Dos Passos, Louis Bromfield, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Ira Gershwin, Robert E. Sherwood, Blind Gary Davis, Ethel Waters, Mamie Eisenhower, Jimmy Doolittle, Irwin Edman, Raoul Whitfield. Elsewhere: Andreé Breton, Antonin Artaud, André Masson, Martin Niemoller, Wallis Simpson, Jean Piaget, Raymond Massey, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Oswald Mosley, Raymond Postgate.


1897: William Faulkner, Kenneth Burke, Bernard De Voto, Fletcher Henderson, Sidney Bechet, Rudolph Fisher, Frank Capra, Louise Bogan, Gene Tunney, Marion Davies, Thornton Wilder, Louis Lepke, Walter Winchell, Moe Howard, Amelia Earhart, Horace McCoy, Fletcher Henderson. Elsewhere: Lucky Luciano, Louis Aragon, Philippe Soupault, Georges Bataille, Joseph Goebbels, Anthony Eden, Wilhelm Reich, Douglas Sirk, Walter Pidgeon, Pope Paul VI, Vito Genovese, Eric Knight (Richard Hallas).


1898: Preston Sturges, Malcolm Cowley, Paul Robeson, George Gershwin, Stephen Vincent Benét, Lil Hardin Armstrong, Eric D. Walrond, Aaron Douglas, George Jessel, Armand Hammer, Scott O'Dell, Norman Vincent Peale, Thomas Boyd, Horace Gregory, Berenice Abbott, Alexander Calder, Peggy Guggenheim. Elsewhere: Herbert Marcuse, C.S. Lewis, René Magritte, Erich Maria Remarque, Bertolt Brecht, Hanns Eisler, Lotte Lenya, Golda Meir, Kenji Mizoguchi, Sergei Eisenstein, Alvar Aalto, Tamara de Lempicka, M. C. Escher, Henry Moore.

Bogart stars in a Hammett adaptation

1899: Duke Ellington, E. B. White, Humphrey Bogart, Al Capone, Hart Crane, James Cagney, Ernest Hemingway, W.R. Burnett, Fred Astaire, Thomas A. Dorsey, Hoagy Carmichael, Allen Tate, Irving Thalberg, George Cukor, Léonie Adams, Vera Caspary, Gloria Swanson, Walter Lantz, Juan Trippe, Doc Barker, Norman Taurog, Louis Adamic. Elsewhere: Alfred Hitchcock, Vladimir Nabokov, Jorge Luis Borges, Leo Strauss, Weegee, Charles Boyer, Roger Vitrac, Erich Kastner, Charles Laughton, Noel Coward, Federico Garcia Lorca, Nevil Shute, Ramon Novarro, F.A. Hayek, Brassai, Jean de Brunhoff, Elizabeth Bowen, C.S. Forester, Bruno Hauptmann.


1900: Chester Gould, Adlai Stevenson, Spencer Tracy, Yvor Winters, Charlie Green, Don Redman, Thomas Wolfe, Aaron Copland, Stephen Bechtel, Natalie Schafer, Taylor Caldwell, Margaret Mitchell, Jean Arthur, Norman Foster, Lefty Grove, Mervyn LeRoy, Agnes Moorehead. Elsewhere: Kurt Weill, Luis Buñuel, Helene Weigel, Erich Fromm, René Crevel, Robert Desnos, Hans-Georg Gadamer. Yves Tanguy, Leo Löwenthal, Franz Leopold Neumann, Ignazio Silone, Jacques Prévert, Wolfgang Pauli, Martin Bormann, Ignazio Silone, Antoine de Saint Exupéry, Gilbert Ryle, Heinrich Himmler, Rudolf Hoess, Xavier Cugat, Adi Dassler, James Hilton, Geoffrey Household, Richard Hughes, Jean Negulesco, Nathalie Sarraute, Robert Siodmak, Charles Vidor

Cooper stars in a Hemingway adaptation

1901: Walt Disney, Louis Armstrong, Zeppo Marx, Ed Sullivan, Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, Sterling Allen Brown, Carl Barks, Ed Begley Sr., Whittaker Chambers, A.B. Guthrie, Bebe Daniels, Brian Donlevy, Melvyn Douglas, Allen B. DuMont, Nelson Eddy, George Gallup, John Gunther, Granville Hicks, Ub Iwerks, Allyn Joslyn, Harry Partch, Linus Pauling, Rudy Vallee, Chic Young. Elsewhere: Robert Bresson, Marlene Dietrich, Jacques Lacan, Michel Leiris, Henri Lefebvre, André Malraux, Enrico Fermi, Fulgencio Batista, Maurice Evans, Alberto Giacometti, Werner Heisenberg, Emperor Hirohito, Louis Kahn, Lee Strasberg.


1902: John Steinbeck, Langston Hughes, Eric Hoffer, Ogden Nash, Tallulah Bankhead, Ray Kroc, Sidney Hook, Wallace Thurman, Gwendolyn B. Bennett, Arna Bontemps, Christina Stead, Wolcott Gibbs, Thomas Nast, Ansel Adams, Kenneth Fearing, Mortimer J. Adler, George Carol Sims (Paul Cain), Henry Steele Commager, Richard J. Daley, Stepin Fetchit, Larry Fine, Strom Thurmond, Margaret Hamilton, Corliss Lamont, Max Lerner, Charles Lindbergh, F. O. Matthiessen, Talcott Parsons, Richard Rodgers, David O. Selznick, Jessamyn West, Darryl F. Zanuck. Elsewhere: Karl Popper, Meyer Lansky, Anthony Asquith, Joe Adonis, Carlo Gambino, Albert Anastasia, Erik Erikson, John Houseman, Victor Jory, Ayatollah Khomeini, Max Ophüls, Oskar Morgenstern, Emeric Pressburger, Ralph Richardson, Leni Riefenstahl, Norma Shearer, Christina Stead, Alfred Tarski, William Wyler.


1903: Bing Crosby, Nathanael West, Eliot Ness, Rachel Carson, Walker Evans, Bob Hope, Countee Cullen, Roy Acuff, John Dillinger, Bix Beiderbecke, Arnold Gingrich, Erskine Caldwell, Vincente Minnelli, James Beard, Kay Boyle, Dorothy Dodds Baker, Arthur Godfrey, Edgar Bergen, Chill Wills, Ward Bond, Al Hirschfeld, Joseph Cornell, James Gould Cozzens, Lou Gehrig, Curly Howard, Estes Kefauver, Clare Boothe Luce, Anne Revere, Dr. Spock, James Michener. Elsewhere: T.W. Adorno, George Orwell, Claudette Colbert, Cyril Connolly, Evelyn Waugh, Hans Jonas, Mark Rothko, Herbert Spencer, Bruno Bettelheim, Kenneth Clark, Raymond Queneau, Victor Gruen, Malcolm Muggeridge, George Coulouris, Tor Johnson, Louis Leakey, Anaïs Nin, Alan Paton, Georges Simenon, John Beynon Harris (John Wyndham).


Honorary Hardboileds born in 1893: Anita Loos, Edward G. Robinson, Charles S. Johnson, Walter Francis White, Joan Miró, plus Zora Neale Hurston (1891, but claimed she was born in 1901). Born in 1904: Peter Lorre, James T. Farrell, Graham Greene (British), Frank Gruber.

Honorary member of the Partisan Generation: Cornell Woolrich (1903).


The following two lists, adapted from the appendix to "Hardboiled America" (1981), by Geoffrey O'Brien, demonstrate just how hardboiled the novelists of this generation were.


NB: Members of the Hardboiled Generation didn't crack the fiction bestseller list until 1927 (Louis Bromfield's "A Good Woman," the fourth in his tetralogy), 1928 (Thornton Wilder's "The Bridge of San Luis Rey" and Bromfield's "The Strange Case of Miss Annie Spragg"), and 1929 ("All Quiet on the Western Front," by Erich Maria Remarque).


* Ernest Hemingway (1899): "in our time," the vignettes that would become the interchapters of "In Our Time" (1925) are published in Paris.


* F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896): "The Great Gatsby"
* Hemingway: "In Our Time"


* William Faulkner (1897): "Soldiers' Pay"
* Hemingway: "The Sun Also Rises"


* Faulkner: "Mosquitoes"
* Hemingway: "Men Without Women"


* Hemingway: "A Farewell to Arms"
* Faulkner: "The Sound and the Fury'


* Dashiell Hammett (b. 1894): "Red Harvest," "The Dain Curse"
* W.R. Burnett (1899): "Little Caesar"


* Hammett: "The Maltese Falcon"
* Raoul Whitfield (1896): "Green Ice"
* Burnett: "Iron Man"
* John Dos Passos (1896): "The 42nd Parallel"


* Hammett: "The Glass Key"
* Faulkner: "Sanctuary"
* Whitfield: "Death in a Bowl," "Danger Zone"


* Paul Cain (1902): "Fast One"
* Erskine Caldwell (1903): "Tobacco Road"
* Faulkner: "Light in August"
* James T. Farrell (1904, honorary Hardboiled): "Young Lonigan"
* Dos Passos: "1919"
* Graham Greene (1904, British, honorary Hardboiled): "Stamboul Train" (a.k.a. "Orient Express")


* Nathanael West (1903): "Miss Lonelyhearts"
* Caldwell: "God's Little Acre"
* Farrell: "Gas House McGinty"
* Burnett: "Dark Hazard"



* Hammett: "The Thin Man"
* Farrell: "The Young Manhood of Studs Lonigan"


* Horace McCoy (1897): "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?"
* Faulkner: "Pylon"
* Caldwell: "Journeyman"
* Farrell: "Judgment Day"
* John Steinbeck (1902): "Tortilla Flat"


* Farrell: "A World I Never Made"
* Dos Passos: "The Big Money"
* Greene: "A Gun for Sale" (a.k.a. "This Gun for Hire")


* Hemingway: "To Have and Have Not"
* McCoy: "No Pockets in a Shroud"
* Steinbeck: "Of Mice and Men"


* McCoy: "I Should Have Stayed Home"
* Richard Hallas (1897, British): "You Play the Black and the Red Comes Up"


* Faulkner: "The Wild Palms"
* West: "The Day of the Locust"
* Kenneth Fearing (1902): "The Hospital"
* Greene: "Confidential Agent"
* Geoffrey Household (1900, British): "Rogue Male"
* Steinbeck: "The Grapes of Wrath"


* Burnett: "High Sierra"
* James Ross (DOB?): "They Don't Dance Much"
* Frank Gruber (1904, honorary Hardboiled): "The French Key," "The Laughing Fox"
* Raymond Postgate (1896, British): "Verdict of Twelve"
* Hemingway: "For Whom the Bell Tolls"


* Fearing: "Dagger of the Mind"
* Gruber: "Simon Lash -- Private Detective," "The Navy Colt," "The Talking Clock," "The Hungry Dog"


* Fearing: "Clark Gifford's Body"
* Burnett: "The Quick Brown Fox"
* Gruber: "The Mighty Blockhead," "The Gift Horse," "The Buffalo Box"


* Vera Caspary (1899): "Laura"
* Greene: "The Ministry of Fear"

NOTE: Noir fiction, in which the protagonist is usually not a detective, but instead either a victim, a suspect, or a perpetrator, and in which sex plays a prominent role, was a later development. The genre was pioneered by Cornell Woolrich. (Many of his novels have the word "black" in the title, which is why the French named movies based on his novels "noir.") Born in 1903, Woolrich is an honorary member of the Partisan generation, which includes important noir authors like Jim Thompson, Dorothy B. Hughes, and Charles Williams.

ALSO: African-American writers and artists born between 1894 and 1903 -- e.g., Jean Toomer, Langston Hughes, Wallace Thurman, Eric D. Walrond, Countee Cullen, Aaron Douglas, Rudolph Fisher, Arna Bontemps, Sterling Allen Brown, Gwendolyn B. Bennett -- gave us the Harlem Renaissance. Not a hardboiled phenomenon! As I've noted before, until fairly recently, black Americans have been (productively) out of step with mainstream US culture.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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