Ben Hecht's Hard-Boiled Decadence: The Flaneur as Reporter
Edinburgh University Press
© Edinburgh University Press.
This essay illustrates how Ben Hecht’s short stories in The Little Review and the Chicago Daily News crucially expand the scope of burgeoning research into post-Wildean, American Decadence. These works (written between 1915 and 1921) have been over-shadowed by Hecht’s later Hollywood career to the point where they have all-but eluded scholarly commentary. However, attention to these vignettes of sensual experience in downtown Chicago reveals that they develop Decadence in a unique direction, which fuses the backstreet Decadence of Arthur Machen and Arthur Symons with the pulp fiction published by Hecht’s mentor, H. L. Mencken, in The Black Mask. The result, I argue, is that Hecht’s short stories create a hard-boiled Decadence: a new form which uses Decadent language to explore the continuity of Decadent sensuality in the unlikely setting downtown Chicago, at the same time as it uses the emerging tropes of hard-boiled fiction to define the impediments to having a Decadent sensibility in such circumstances.
This is the author accepted manuscript. The final version is available from Edinburgh University Press via the DOI in this record.
Vol. 13 (2), pp. 235-254.