Hardboiled (or hard-boiled) fiction is a literary genre that shares to some degree its characters and settings with crime fiction (especially detective stories). Although deriving from romantic tradition which emphasized the emotions of apprehension, horror and terror, and awe, the hardboiled fiction deviates from the tradition in the detective’s cynical attitude towards those emotions. The attitude is conveyed through the detective’s self-talk describing to the reader (or—in film—to the viewer) what he is doing and feeling. The genre’s typical protagonist was a detective, who daily witnesses the violence of organized crime that flourished during Prohibition, while dealing with a legal system that had become as corrupt as the organized crime itself. Rendered cynical by this cycle of violence, the detectives of hardboiled fiction are classic antiheros.
The term comes from a process of hardening of an egg; to be hardboiled is to be comparatively tough. The hardboiled detective—originated by Carroll John Daly’s Terry Mack and Race Williams and epitomized by Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade and Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe—not only solves mysteries, like his “softer” counterparts, the protagonist confronts violence on a regular basis leading to the burnout and the cynical (so-called “tough”) attitude towards one’s own emotions.
Noir fiction (or roman noir) is a literary genre closely related to hardboiled genre with a distinction that the protagonist is not a detective, but instead either a victim, a suspect, or a perpetrator. Other common characteristics include the self-destructive qualities of the protagonist. A typical protagonist of the Noir fiction is dealing with the legal, political or other system that is no less corrupt than the perpetrator by whom the protagonist is either victimized and/or has to victimize others on a daily basis, leading to lose-lose situation.
The term originates from the stories describing the atmosphere during the Prohibition-period in America that were written by hardboiled writers in the early 1940s, that were adapted for screen in Film noir by the Austro-German film-making emigrants in Hollywood who fled the similarly corrupt system in Europe which allowed for the Nazi movement to gain the power. James M. Cain —also regarded as the third major figure of the early hardboiled genre— is regarded an American pioneer of the noir genre. He debuted as a crime novelist in 1934. Other important American writers in the noir genre include Cornell Woolrich, Dorothy B. Hughes, Jim Thompson, David Goodis, Charles Williams, and Elmore Leonard.
Now my problem is that in Spain novela negra is used interchangeably to refer to any of these terms: noir fiction, hardboiled fiction or crime fiction. Usually I employ the term novela negra as crime fiction, when other bloggers prefer to use the term novela policíaca, policial o detectivesca, (or in my view detective fiction). In which case they consider that novela negra is equivalent to hardboiled and/or noir fiction, only.
By the way the Wikipedia entry for crime fiction says:
Crime fiction is the literary genre that fictionalises crimes, their detection, criminals and their motives. It is usually distinguished from mainstream fiction and other genres such as science fiction or historical fiction, but boundaries can be, and indeed are, blurred. It has several sub-genres, including detective fiction (such as the whodunit), legal thriller, courtroom drama and hard-boiled fiction.
In Italy people commonly call a story about detectives or crimes “giallo“(en: yellow), because books of crime fiction have usually had a yellow cover since the thirties.
And the entry for detective fiction reads:
Detective fiction is a sub-genre of crime fiction and mystery fiction in which an investigator or a detective—either professional or amateur—investigates a crime, often murder.
I wonder if this brings some clarification or if it just creates more confusion. What is your view? Comments are welcome.
The idea of this post arose during the conversation I had with Margot Kinberg last Wednesday.