Dashiell Hammett, a Maltese Misogynist

Dashiell Hammett. The Maltese Falcon. 1930. Hardboiled detective novel.

the-maltese-falcon-book-coverRead this novel by all means—Mr. Hammett is the founder of the hardboiled detective mystery sub-genre—but please treat it as an influential document rather than as a literary classic. It doesn’t merit the superlative.

In the hindsight of eighty years, Mr. Hammett comes off as unintentionally hilarious. I was continually chortling at his campy dialogue (“Shoo her in, darling, shoo her in”) and snorting at his overuse of a Macguffin (a falcon-shaped figurine that has no role other than narrative impetus). Particularly farcical is the self-consciously tough-guy persona of Samuel Spade, the beefy and amoral private eye who copes adroitly with the unexpected instead of doing much “real” (investigative or deductive) detective work. Sam Spade is—no other word for it—a brute, a sullen and misogynistic sonofabitch who’s equally at home rassling with ruffians or screwing his partner’s wife.

I’d like to add that Hammett wrote women so crudely that I feel embarrassed for the national literature. Hemingway generally respected women, even if he never understood them, but this bruiser frankly loathed the second sex! Brigid O’Shaughnessy is alternately devious and helpless; Iva Archer clings and nags; and Effie Perine is dutifully self-effacing. As Tolstoy would say, Hammett lacks the correct moral relation to his characters, and no amount of sharp writing can compensate for so severe a defect. The Maltese Falcon may be a hardboiled classic, but as far as I’m concerned it’s about as delectable as an egg of that genre. Stick with Hemingway.

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4 thoughts on “Dashiell Hammett, a Maltese Misogynist

      • Women are usually cunning an devious or weak…or just plain dead in Chandler’s books, I have yet to read The Long Goodbye though which I do own somewhere or other…

  1. Just read Maltese Falcon and Long Goodbye with my book discussion group. They liked both but Chandler much more. True there’s not much detecting going on in MF but Spade does have enough loyalty in him to deduce who killed his partner. In LG Marlowe always comes back to his insistence that Lemmox did not kill his wife and keeps up that investigation until the truth comes out — completely. Notably Chandler was rhe screenwriter for the MF movie. I didn’t dislike Hammet as much as you but rhink Chandlwr was the better of the two.

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