The American Roman Noir

"Relying on a stunning array of historical data -- changes in work habits, styles of automobiles, architecture, and appliances, the use of new materials in manufacturing -- Marling demonstrates dramatic changes in the nature and quality of American life. Such changes emphasized speed, efficiency, and constant mutability. Marling further charts the shifts in aesthetic design from Victorian rococo to the smooth lines of art nouveau which also connoted a movement from synecdochial to metonymic appearance. He does an exemplary job of revealing the ways in which these alterations in cultural phenomena suggest major shifts in fundamental values.
"In each of the three central chapters, Marling blends biography, a defining social incident, and analyses of two novels by each of his subjects. With Dashiell Hammett he emphasizes the effect the Fatty Arbuckle case, which Hammett investigated as a Pinkerton agent, had upon the novelist. For Hammett the fabula of the prodigal "was about the tension between individuals who have and spend, apart from talent and ability, and the self-enforced social conformity of the working class that formed the audience…" In The Red Harvest he discovered a style that approximated the sleek, new design of life, and the conventions of the fabula are fairly easy to detect. The Maltese Falcon reveals signs of Hammett's experience as a writer of advertising copy, and the work hinges on the elaboration of the fabula as well as on a discussion of an intricate dichotomy of smooth and rough images.
"The American Roman Noir is a well-written, extraordinarily well-researched study. Its insights, which abound throughout, are original and provocative and demonstrate the virtues of thorough interdisciplinary research. Marling has a secure grasp of contemporary critical theory, yet theory never becomes an end in itself. This book is impressive for the breadth and depth of its scholarship and represents a truly important addition to genre studies and scholarship on detective fiction."
David Madden, Modern Fiction Studies, 42: 4, Winter 1996, 840-43.
"In the 1980s William Marling published books on Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler that remain the best general introductions to these writers. These earlier critical studies are filled with biographical, historical, and cultural facts that also dominate Marling's most recent book, The American Roman Noir, but in the 1980s Marling subordinated these materials to his aesthetic claims about Hammett and Chandler, for example, that "Hammett's work as a significant place in major American literature" and that in studying Chandler it is crucial to understand "exactly how his fictions work" and how he exceeded "the limits of [his] genre." In the 1990s Marling has moved on with the rest of the profession, into what he himself calls narrative theory and cultural materialism (x). The result is a book that will delight those looking for a new kind of American Studies, even as it will dismay those who see structuralism and the New Historicism as more or less engaging ways to put the author and his or her text at the absolute periphery of literary study.
"Marling's aim is nothing less than to explore "the relations between the detective novel, art nouveau, economic history, film, and advertising," especially as these relations can be identified in the works of Dashiell Hammett, James. M. Cain, and Raymond Chandler (x). Throughout the period from 1927 to the end of World War II, in cultural phenomena as diverse as design theory, economics, the history of film, and in popular literary genres such as the detective novel, Marling sees pervasive evidence of what he calls "a master narrative about consumerism" (xi), typically embodied in "the fabula of prodigality" (xii). This thematic concern is especially crucial to detective fiction of the period, though Marling notes other incarnations as diverse as The Jazz Singer and The Great Gatsby. To understand Hammett, Cain, and Chandler in their cultural context is therefore to illuminate the era as well as this strand of its fiction."

Robert Merrill, American Literature, 69: 3, September 1997, 634-35.

Raymond Chandler

"It is somewhat surprising that a Twayne volume on Raymond Chandler has not appeared sooner, for Chandler is almost universally lauded as "the premier American mystery writer of the twentieth century," in author William Marling's word. This book is a sound addition to the Twayne series, which is designed to provide an introductory overview of a writer's life and canon through a cohesive critical perspective. Marling's approach is to explore the "great gap between the man and the genre," discovering in the discrepancy between the classically trained and personally fastidious and his lurid, obdurate fictional world the key to understanding Chandler's contribution to modern literature. The book serves its purpose effectively, providing an informative survey of Chandler's biography, his art - its imaginative evolution, scope, thematic direction, and stylistic proclivities -- and the literary assessment of his work. Although Marling relies perhaps too much on explication excerpted from other critics, and his own angle of analysis is not new, he odes offer insightful and articulate commentaries on individual stories. And there are still surprises for the veteran Chandler scholar."

-- Lianna Babener, Choice, March 1987, 1061.

" A good blend of biography and analysis."

-- Robin Winks. The Boston Sunday Globe, January 25, 1987.

"…the best general introduction to the writer."

-- Robert Merrill, American Literature, 69: 3, 634.


Dashiell Hammett

"Marling’s study was the first to benefit from Layman’s Shadow Man, and the opening and closing chapters of his work have a biographical focus. The middle four chapters – "The Short Stories," "The Black Mask Novels," "The Falcon and the Key," and "Lillian and The Thin Man" – focus on the fiction. While the format of the Twayne series usually demands a good deal of plot summary, Marling manages to offer insightful readings of the fiction while still giving the plot coverage his format calls for. His section of the short stories is limited to what he terms "the best of the anthologized pieces," but in limiting his scope he allows himself the space to elaborate on the merits of the stories he has chosen. In this chapter, his reflections on Hammett’s style are especially keen, and in a few short pages he makes a strong case that Hammett’s "was a made, not a found, style" (46). Overall, Marling’s study mixes biography and criticism, coverage and close reading, in a concise and persuasive manner."

Christopher Mettress, The Critical Response to Dashiell Hammett. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1994. Xxxi-xxxii.

William Carlos Williams and the Painters, 1909-1923

"A excellent assessment of the importance of painting on the early poetry of Williams is William Carlos Williams and the Painters 1909-1923. In this recent examination, William Marling corrects the relatively narrow focus of Dijkstra's work by looking instead at the whole Alfred Kreymborg/ Walter Arensberg "circle," which included American and European painters- Demuth, Stella, Hartley, Duchamp, and Picabia, among others -- as well as poets, intellectuals, and artists in other media, such as Isadora Duncan."
-- Christopher Sten, American Studies International, Oct. 1983, Vol. XXI, No. 5

"William Marling's William Carlos Williams the Painters, 1909-1923 is a meatier, more informative approach to the study of Williams' development as a poet. Limiting his concern to the poet's early years, Marling stresses Williams' alliances with graphic artists during a period when he could find little support or solace from other writers. Marling discusses Williams' friendships, and shared aesthetics, with Marcel Duchamp, Marsden Hartley, Walter Arensberg, Charles Demuth, Charles Sheeler, and others, drawing from previously unpublished materials -- not only of Williams but of the artists. The first half of the study traces the relationships, the second connects Williams' writing of these years with aesthetic movements as germane to art as they were to painting. Marling's readings of Spring and All and Kora in Hell are among the most informative these books have received."

--Linda Wagoner, 16 Modern American Authors, Duke University Press, 1984.

"The visual frame of Williams mind receives richer and wiser treatment by Marling, who replaces the question of 'influences' (constituted by what Williams may, or may not, have read) with the question of 'circles' (constituted by friendships, particularly with Charles Sheeler, Duchamp, Demuth, Hartley, and Walter Arensberg, which always had a more enduring role in Williams' imaginative universe) in order to stress that Williams' early poetry has a concern, above all, to operate in visual terms -- what Williams himself called 'pre-writing.' Marling's 'circles' render a more gracious reading than do the 'influences' that are rather tightly listed by….. Marling examines the poetry of the period within the convincing rubric that "there is, in fact, no more obvious source for Williams' shift away from the neo-Keatsian, traditionally-oriented poetry that he wrote before 1914 to the lean, rapid poetry he wrote afterward than the Arensberg Circle."

The Year's Work in English Studies, Vol. 65, 1984.

"William Marling's book takes a close look at one of the most deliberately modern of American poets and the deliberately modern painters who helped shape his work. His study focuses on scarcely more than a dozen years in which not only Williams but dozens of other poets and painters established the tenets of modernism that have dominated the greater part of the century….. What happened? That is what Professor Marling's book sets forth. And though some of the forces acting on Williams were peculiar to him and his experience, somewhat similar congeries of forces probably were operating on the majority of modern artist who were not so much innovators as quick responders to currents already in motion…. Professor Marling is thorough and perceptive in pointing out the direct and indirect impact of these artists on Williams' own work. Not all had a theory of art, but theory played a vigorous accompaniment to the fashioning of works that proclaimed 'make it new.'
"The second half of Marling's book gives close attention to Williams' poetry, from Poems (1909) to Spring and All (1923). It is as good a short treatment of Williams' work as we have, though Kora in Hell does not come clearly into view for me despite Marling's excellent discussion. Perhaps that merely proves his opening comment that Kora "won't come clean in a satisfying literary way." Or maybe it proves whatever might be meant by Eric Auerbach, as quoted by Marling, that the "improvisations" in Kora are "fraught with background."
-- Kenneth Eble, Western Humanities Review, Spring, 1983. 274-76.




Marling's Academic Websites

Noir Detective Novels

The go-to source for information on the American crime and detective novel from 1920 to 1980, featuring biography, plot summary, and analysis, from the Black Mask writers through Kem Nunn Mosely and Sue Grafton. Nominated for an ACA Award in 2012.

Visual Sources of American Modernism

Written with graduate students, this prize-winning site features papers that link Loy, Faulkner, Stein et al to visual inspirations from film to cubism to the "Fifth Dimension." - coming soon: photos from Japan (sumo, archery, kenka matsuri, India, China, Indonesia, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria), and France. Historic photos of Peru, Italy, Spain, and Ohio.

Marling's On-line Scholarship

The Formal Ideologeme

James M. Cain's 'Tyger Woman'

The Style of The Maltese Falcon

Paul Auster and the American Romantics

The Parable of the Prodigal Son

The Parable ( en Francais)

Metanymic Sources of the American Detective Novel

Mobile Phones as Narrative Tropes

The Vague Aches of Interns

Publics, Counter-publics and Film Noir Now

Corridor to Clarifty: Sight and Sensuality in William Carlos Williams' poems

The Dynamics of Vision in William Carlos Williams and Charles Sheeler

Globalisms - Real and Imaginary