Marriage Noir, illustrated

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In the same way as Film Noir represents the “dark side of the screen”, the noir novel, a 20th century heir to Emile Zola’s naturalism, offers a dark brand of literary realism. Where noir cinema is the nightmare to Hollywood’s dream industry, noir paperbacks can be seen as an inverted mirror to Harlequin romances. A conservative, Christian-influenced and marriage-oriented outlook is the cultural horizon for gender relationships in both categories of mass market texts: as an aspiration and source of romance in Harlequin; as a curse, a trap and a cause for evil in noir fiction. Crumbling, failed, unhappy marriages offer a fertile ground for vice and crime and this has duly been explored in books and films, from James Cain to Chandler. For Chandler stories of “dalliance with promiscuous blondes” were already cliché, but this did not prevent him from writing some of his own, as did, many, many others subsequently. Works abound with treacherous and murderous spouses, which show dreadful errors of judgement and terrible mistakes, violent honeymoons and the sad irony of deception between one-time soul mates. Such is the extent of these portrayals, some works would deserve to be branded marriage noir. As an important and revealing subgenre, marriage noir shows the articulation and patterns of some of the noir genre structuring motifs. It shows, too, the ability of the genre to provide a commentary on ideologies and civilization. It is not mere coincidence that Lewisohn’s The Case of Mr Crump (1926) was finally published in America in that postwar period, in paperback collections alongside crime fiction books and with a similar cover. It also now appeared under a telling new title: The Tyranny of Sex (by comparison, it was published in France in 1931, with a preface by Thomas Mann, as Le Destin de Mr. Crump).  European Authors such as Frédéric Dard would pick up on this societal dimension of noir and offer their own brand of marriage noir when writing their American-Style noir novels.

Harry W

 

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