The Absurd Detective: Horace Benbow in Faulkner’s "Sanctuary" and Ida Arnold in Greene’s "Brighton Rock"
University of Kassel
Class topic: Hard-boiled Modernism
Lecturer: Prof. Göske
Summer Semester 2002
by Andrea Sternberg-Holfeld
Table of Contents
2 Characteristics of the typical hard-boiled detective
3 How do Horace Benbow and Ida Arnold fit to these characteristics and how do they differ?
3.1 Horace Benbow
3.2 Ida Arnold
In post-world-war I America, the genre of the hard-boiled detective story developed. The traditional ratiocinetic detective of the Sherlock Holms type was replaced by the tough-guy detective, who, in his personality, resembled the popular western frontier hero. But not all stories which can be considered a hard-boiled detective novel use the typical tough-guy detective. In Sanctuary, Faulkner introduces Horace Benbow as a detective, but his detective is a total failure. Horace's whole personality is a caricature of the popular hard-boiled detective. In Greene’s Brighton Rock the female detective Ida Arnold succeeds in tracking down the murderer of Hale, but Greene, by the way he describes his detective, robbs her of the hard-boiled detective’s authority and thus renders her as as absurd as Horace in Faulkner’s novel. By introducing the absurd detective, both authors describe a more realistic, though very disturbing picture of the world.
Some time after World War I the hard-boiled detective emerged in North America's popular literature (Morgolies, 1982, p. 1). One literary strand of the hard-boiled genre extends to the traditional "Whodunnit" detective stories like the ones by Edgar Allan Poe or Sir Conan Doyle. But another, genuinely American strand reaches back to the popular western or frontier adventure tale. Often, the authors of hard-boiled detective stories wrote popular westerns as well. Even Dashiell Hammett, one of the founding fathers of the hard-boiled school, wrote westerns for pulp magazines early in his career (Morgolies, p. 5). With fewer and fewer buffalo to hunt and rustlers and Indians to fight, the western heroes turned to the city to pursue criminals, explains Morgolies (p. 6). And, the hard-boiled detective also owed something to the spirit of the American hoboes, says Morgolies (p. 3), who "developed a kind of ethos that valued toughness and courage as virtues and celebrated hard drink and physikal violence as a means of proving worth." For the hoboes, life was hostile or, at best, devoid of purpose. According to Schopen (1979, p. 175), the hard-boiled detective stories "derive not from the tradition of fictional intellectual puzzles but from the novels of Cooper and Twain, Crane and Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Works like the Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett he considers not detective stories, but rather detective novels: "they are novels whose central characters are detectives and which employ the detective format for serious aesthetic and moral purposes." The main theme in the detective novel, in contrast to the detective story of the deductive type, is no longer the crime and its solving but character conflict (Schopen, p. 177).
The genre of the hard-boiled detective story or novel not only attracted authors like Hammett, who had worked for a detective agency for several years, but also found its way into the work of American novelists like William Faulkner. Faulkner’s Sanctuary obviously owes to the hard-boiled detective story in respect to the criminals and crimes depicted in the novel. But his Horace Benbow is rather a carricature of the typical hard-boiled detective. The same is true for Graham Greene’s Ida Arnold in Brighton Rock. Again, the brutality and viciousness of the criminals and the novel’s whole atmosphere clearly belong to a European type hard-boiled detective story. But Greene’s detective, like Faulkner’s, is a rather absurd one.
This essay attempts to compare the absurd detectives Horace Benbow and Ida Arnold to the typical hard-boiled detective. It also discusses the question which effects the introduction of the absurd detective has on both novels and why Faulkner and Greene chose the absurd instead of the typical hard-boiled detective.
2. Characteristics of the typical hard-boiled detective
Hard-boiled detectives are heroes, tough, hard-boiled of course, attractive in a way, individualistic, cynical, amoral, sometimes sneering, always courageous, and seemingly impervious to emotion. They are males, bachelors or at least divorced, unswervingly honest and devoted to their jobs, isolated, classless, and they tend to "regard most social and political institutions as soft or too amenable to corruption", describes Morgolies (1982, p. 1, 17). They are the doers, not the thinkers (Tallack, 1976, p. 252). Their tough noncommital pose expresses a widespread disillusionment and tells us "that they may have been hurt once, believed once, but no more - that they cannot, will not, be taken in again" (Morgolies, p. 4). To show his feelings, even to himself, is, for the tough-guy, to render himself vulnerable, Tallack explains (p. 253). The hard-boiled detectives’ "only principles were the standards of their profession. They took pride in doing their job well." And, of course, "they could not be bribed or deterred from their obligations [...] by appeals to friendship, sentimentality, sex, or even romantic love" (Morgolies, pp. 10, 18).
In contrast to "traditional" detectives who "apprehend criminals by using their intellect rather than violence", the hard-boiled detective often takes to physikal violence. According to Morgolies (1982, p. 5), the Poe and Doyle style detectives are "gentlemen who rarely question the social conditions that produce criminals. They not only defend the status quo but, more important, they believe in the status quo." Once they have solved the crime, their world is mended again. For the hard-boiled detective, this is not true. He, truely enough, supports the social order, even if he often shows contempt for organized authority, because he manages to do things the police is incapable of doing and beats them at their own game (Morgolies, pp. 5, 10). But the hard-boiled detective does not believe in anything except his job and his integrity. And of one thing he is certain - that life is violent (Morgolies, p. 4). He is a lonely isolated figure in a world replete with terror, manace, and death. In order to withstand an engulfing sense of horror, he has to anesthetise his feelings. Thus, the price of survival in an environment that constantly confronts him with crime is emotional atrophy, says Morgolies (p. 5). But the hard-boiled detective "also represent the ancient American belief that the individual, and not society, is morally responsible for his actions and that he can and should be able to take care of himself, as well as to lend support to the weak and the helpless." (Morgolies, p. 87)
The hard-boiled detective is an autochthonous American character restricted to the "dark alleys and mean streets of the American city", an urban manifestation of the frontier or cowboy hero (Schopen, 1979, p. 178). Like them, he exists outside organized society. But with no West to which he could escape, he is curiously trapped inside society as well, "he is doomed to live among the people he saves", says Schopen (p. 178). He is the "man in the middle", caught between the demands and the moral system of society and the dictates of his own conscience, his "code", which is the base of his integrity. This makes him cynical and near paranoid (Morgolies, 1982, p. 6).
The feeling of entrappement also characterizes the hard-boiled detective’s attitude towards women. He cannot, like the frontiersmen, who always "fled women who would imprison them in a tainted polity and dampen their idealism with the pragmatic demands of a domestic life", avoid being confronted with women, because he is confined to the city (Morgolies, 1982, p. 6). But he is unable to commit himself to a female. And his mistrust often enough proofs true. Almost "any woman to whom the detective is serioulsy attracted will - if she is not murdered - be revealed guilty of conspiracy, complicity, or murder itself", says Schopen (1979, p. 181). According to Morgolies, one of the most important measures of the hard-boiled detective’s toughness then is his ability to cope with those treacherous women exactely as he copes with male criminals. In the end, all hard-boiled detectives "end either alone or destroyed, victims of the irresolvable conflict between the individual and his society" (Schopen, p. 179). The hard-boiled detective therefore is a modern tragic heroe.
Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon is a typical hard-boiled detective, a prototype as characterized above. As a detective, Sam Spade seems to thrive in the twilight world of crime. He profoundly understands its nature and knows all about its criminal inhabitants, their behaviour, motives, even the way their minds work. This knowledge urges him to believe nothing, trust no one, and stalk "his prey with a stolid singlemindedness" which thoroughly reveals and destroys the criminal schemes of his opponents (Schopen, 1979, p. 180). Already in the beginning of The Maltese Falcon, Spade does not believe a single word of Mrs Wonderly’s story, he only believes in the money she pays:
"Oh that," Spade said lightly. "We didn’t exactly believe your story."
"Then-?" Perplexity was added to the misery and fright in her eyes.
"We believed your two hundred dollars" (p. 33).
Spade knows that life is impredictable and that death is omnipotent. He expresses this knowledge in the Flitcraft-story which he tells to Brigid (pp. 62-64). Having himself adjusted to these facts makes him fearless, and this fearlessness or carelessness gives him great power over others who take being alive too seriously (Morgolies, 1982, p. 29). In the absence of anything else to believe in, Spade commits himself only to his profession and his inner apprehension of his duty, says Schopen (p. 180) and continues: "Aware of the treachery which attends human relations in his world, he refuses to express or act upon his feelings for others [...]. So Spade embodies the basic conflict of the individual and society: as a detective he is a ruthless and successful predator in an amoral and predatory world; but as a man he is isolated by his integrity from the human community. With the appearance of Brigid O’Shaughnessy, this conflict is transformed into dramatic action."
At the end of the novel, Spade must choose between Brigid and his integrity, although either choice results in his loss. As a detective, he has to stick to his code, which tells him:
"When a man’s partner is killed he’s supposed to do something about it. It doesn’t make any difference what you thought of him. He was your partner and you’re supposed to do something about it... ." (pp. 213-214)
And as a man, he turns Brigid over to the police, unmoved by her pleading, because he could never trust her:
"Next, I’ve no reason in God’s world to think I can trust you and if I did this and got away with it you’d have something on me that you could use whenever you happened to want to. That’s five of them. The sixth would be that, since I’ve also got something on you, I couldn’t be sure you wouldn’t decide to shoot a hole in me some day... ." (p. 214)
Spade's "insular integrity affords more security than the unpredictable possibilities of human relations," concludes Schopen (1979, p. 181). And since the unlucky relationship between Brigid and Sam Spade is the real focus of the novel, Sam, though successful in solving the crime, indeed bears a resemblance to the tragic hero.
3. How do Horace Benbow and Ida Arnold fit to these characteristics and how do they differ?
3.1 Horace Benbow in Sanctuary
Though Sanctuary definitely is a hard-boiled crime novel, Horace Benbow as its detective differs from the typical hard-boiled detective in many respects. The first obvious difference between Horace Benbow and the hard-boiled detective is the fact that Horace is no professional detective. He has no detective office and clients do not come to him wanting him to find a person who has disappeared, to shadow an untrue husband or to solve a crime of any sort. In contrast to Horace Benbow, the hard-boiled detective is familiar with the underworld as if he was a part of it himself, whereas Horace, as a descendant of a southern aristocratic family, has never been entangled with the vicious Memphis underworld before. The inhabitants of this counterworld are totally alien to him. It does not, for example, come to his mind that Popeye would try to kill Lee Goodwin in jail or on the way to court. But Lee knows he would, and asks Horace: "...What sort of men have you lived with all your life? In a nursery?..." (p. 279). When Ruby tells the story of her life, Horace is horrified: "Good God," he whispered. "What kind of men have you known?" (p. 276), again showing his lack of experience with the world of his clients. Those men are definitely not the kind, Horace knows.
The hard-boiled detective is a true professional, but Horace Benbow is not in any respect. He is a chance detective, appointed by himself and his commitment to the Goodwin case. When Ruby Lamar tells him about Temple Drake, he immediately starts to investigate on her in order to find out if Temple was all right. He takes the early morning train to Oxford, where Temple went to school. At the post office, he questions a clerk about Temple. When the clerk asks with lowered voice: "Are you another detective?", Horace answers: "Yes" (p. 171). Because the clerk cannot tell him more than that Temple quit school about two weeks ago, Horace readily gives up his investigations (as the hard-boiled detective would never have done) and decides that "It's finished" (p. 172). Not until more than a week later, he continues his investigations after having bought new information on Temple Drake from Senator Snopes. Snopes himself discovered Temple at Miss Reba's house by pure chance. Thus, almost everything Horace finds out is a product of chance rather than of professional investigation.
Horace's entire personality contradicts the typical traits of the hard-boiled detective. He is neither cool, tough, violent, cynical, nor amoral. Instead, he is rather the prototype of the soft grown, idealistic, intellectual, and introspective son of wealthy people, who never has had to work physically or cope with an alien reality. He is full of illusions and emotions, rather like an adolescent and not at all like a hard-boiled detective, "yet with an adult sense of responsibility that makes him want to put things right" (Wittenberg, 1979, p. 96). Ruby Lamar apprehends Horace's character already the evening when he comes to the Old Frenchman Place:
"That fool, " the woman said. "What does he want......." She listened to the stranger's voice; a quick, faintly outlandish voice, the voice of a man given to much talk and not much else. "Not to drinking, anyway," the woman said, quiet inside the door. "He better get on to where he's going, where his women folks can take care of him." (p. 13)
Horace himself finds, that he lacks courage: "I lack courage: that was left out of me. The machinery is all here, but it wont run." (p. 17)
Longley (1963, pp. 23, 25) categorises Horace Benbow as one of Faulkner's comic heroes, who "...is always on the side of the angles", on the good side, "...the man of good will - one who performs acts of kindness and benevolence even though this means self-denial and sacrifice or perhaps even personal danger". Generally passive, these idealists are "much given to introspection and tend either to withdraw from life or to engage in quixotic quests", says Cohen (p. 78). According to Longley (pp. 23, 28), the comic hero is no saint, but he is "...merely human, with human limitations and abilities". Horace's limitations, the reasons why he fails to save Lee Goodwin, are primarily his own incapacity and innocence. The combination of innocence, ineffectuality, and emotional involvement with the situation of the Goodwins are typical for the comic hero, but for one who is an almost total failure. Volpe (1974, p. 142) calls Horace Benbow a twentieth-century Don Quixote, who, in his defense of Goodwin, defends all his ideals: "If he can prove that justice exists, then his belief in goodness and truth and beauty has validity" (Volpe, p. 143). But at the end he must realise that there is no such thing as justice - that Aunt Jenny was right when she said: "You wont ever catch up with injustice, Horace" (p. 119). The symbol of Horace's character and his whole world is the book, which he carries with him in his pocket when he first meets Popeye at the spring. Popeye, however, carries a gun in his pocket (p. 4), the symbol of his affiliation to the Memphis underworld.
The typical hard-boiled detective is highly effective in his job. He never fails to uncover the truth, to trace down the villains, and to hand them over to the police. At the end, justice always is restored thanks to the hard-boiled detective. Horace Benbow, in contrast, is a total failure when effectiveness is concerned. Effectiveness is a word that does not apply to Horace in any respect, though his ultimate failure is not due to a phlegmy attitude (Wilson, 1994, p. 453), and though he "is neither a moral nor a physical coward" (Longley, 1963, p. 29). Nevertheless, has he failed in almost any field of human endeavor, be it as a lover, as a husband, as a stepfather, or as an attorney. He has not even been able to learn how to drive a motor car (p. 120). Horace is tired of his life, and of society. He dreams of leaving everything behind: "When this is over, I think I'll go to Europe," he said. "I need a change. Either I, or Mississippi, one" (p. 134). After his visit at Miss Reba's house and his encounter with Temple Drake, this feeling is further enhanced:
He sat at the table, looking down at the single page written neatly and illegibly over, feeling quiet and empty for the first time since he had found Popeye watching him across the spring four weeks ago. While he was sitting there he began to smell coffee from somewhere. "I'll finish this business and then I'll go to Europe. I am sick. I am too old for this. I was born too old for it, and so I am sick to death for quiet." (p. 260-261)
Although Horace eventually traces down Temple Drake and finds out what really happened that night at the Old Frenchman Place, he is not able to use his knowledge effectively in order to save Lee Goodwin. His failure as a defense counsel for Goodwin "is so abysmal that his innocent client is not only convicted but is hauled away and burned to death by a mob" (Longley, p. 28). The total desaster in the Goodwin case is, according to Longley, caused by Benbow's inability "to realize that perjury and malice can be used to convict an innocent man, and by his failure to estimate his sister Narcissa and his witness Temple accurately and take effective countermeasures against their treachery". His wrong judgment of Narcissa and Temple is rooted in Horace's own personality, in his illusions, and in his own guilty relationship to the women who figure in the Goodwin trial and his private life ("He sat with something of the air of a guilty small boy" p. 107), says Longley (p. 23). Horace's impotence is portrayed as largely spiritual, whereas Popeye's impotence is physikal, but according to Wittenberg (1979, p. 96), they are equally crippled. At the end of the novel, Horace has failed to restore justice, and thus, he has failed to defend his ideals and humanistic values, as well.
Horace Benbow's position within society also differes from the typical one of the hard-boiled detective, who exists outside organized society. Horace, more by craft of his ancestry and education than by his own achievements, is an accepted and respected member of society. And as a husband and a lawyer, he is far from failure in the eyes of society (Wittenberg, 1979, p. 96). He is not classless as the hard-boiled detective, but a white southron upperclass gentleman, who is a descendant of one of the early and successful settlers in Yoknapatawpha County, of southern aristocracy. Though not very successful, he is and will be a part of southern society as long as he sticks to its codes of behaviour. But Horace's relation to society is not without problems. Southern society at the beginning of the 20ieth century was subject to great changes. And Horace, like other central male characters in Faulkner's novels, was "oriented during childhood toward the past, toward a mid-nienteenth-century world. When these young men collide with the reality of twentieth-century existence, they are shocked, outraged and confused", says Volpe (1974, p. 18). According to Volpe (p. 21), the "tragic plight of the Faulkner hero is that he is a prisoner of the past, of society, of social and moral taboos, and of his own introspective personality. He is so entrapped that his individuality, what Faulkner calls the central "I-Am" of his being, is practically obliterated."
The collision of the intelligent, sensitive, and idealistic protagonist with 20ieth century society, a society which affects the individual's integrity and strangles his humanistic values, detonates the violence, sordidness and brutality of much of Faulkner's fiction, continues Volpe (pp. 20-21). Horace's idealism and his humanistic values indeed heavily collide with the Jefferson society, the Baptist ladies who manage to get Ruby turned out of the hotel (p. 180), the ambitious district attorney Eustace Graham, who is ready to do anything just for public effect in order to be elected to Congress (pp. 185-186), the corrupt and vulgar upstart Snopes, who has no moral at all and sells his information on Temple to three different parties (pp. 206, 261, 266), and finally the treacherous Temple Drake and her perjury, and his own sister Narcissa, who must have passed on the information to the Baptists that Ruby and Lee Goodwin are not married, and who negotiated with the district attorney behind her brother's back (pp. 182, 263-265). According to Volpe (p. 147), Narcissa differs from Temple only in degree.
Horace himself is not really interested in what society thinks of him. He tries to escape the restrictions of its code of behaviour, leaves his wife, whom he had taken away from another man (p. 117), associates, by chance, with the criminals at the delapidated Old Frenchman place, and takes on to defend Lee Goodwin, a bootlegger and convicted murderer, not for money or fame or sexual desire for Ruby, but because he is convinced that Lee is innocent. When Narcissa says: "These people are not your people. Why must you do such things?", Horace answers: "I cannot stand idly by and see injustice-" (p. 119). And to Ruby he explains: "But cant you see that perhaps a man might do something just because he knew it was right, necessary to the harmony of things that it be done?" (p. 275).Out of pure humanity, Horace is willing to take Ruby and her illegitimate child into his and his sister's house, no matter what rumour and moral turmoil this would cause in society ("I cant help it. She has nothing, no one." p. 117). His behaviour is an affront against society and against his sister Narcissa, who sternly and mercilessly refuses Horace to bring Ruby into "her" house: "The house where my father and mother and your father and mother, the house where I - I wont have it. I wont have it" (p. 118). And again:
"Not in my house," Narcissa said. "I thought we settled that."
He struck the match and lit the pipe and put the match carefully into the fireplace. "Do you realise that she has been practically turned into the streets? That---"
"That souldn't be a hardship. She ought to be used to that." (p. 182)
In contrast to Horace, Narcissa's only motivation is to keep a spotless reputation, and therefore she does not want any member of her family to get mixed up with morally doubtful persons ("I dont think anything about it. I dont care. That's what people in town think. So it doesn't matter whether it's true or not." p 184). But Horace is caught between the rules and demands of society and his humanist and idealist ideas and intentions, and his commitment to the larger issue of injustice. Before the sequence of events which finally leads to the killing of Goodwin, Horace existed in a state of childish innocence, says Volpe (1974, p. 142). He believed that "God is a "gentleman," [that] the rule of justice prevails, and [that] society embodies civilized values" (Gidley, 1976, p. 235). But, as he investigates, Horace has to face reality, a reality of sexual corruption, bigotry, social injustice, hypocrisy, cruelty, and self-righteousness which thoroughly destroys his illusions. And because these are evils which transcend time and place, Volpe (p. 142) concludes that it is life itself that Horace is out of touch with, not just the times in which he lives.
Another major difference between the hard-boiled detective and Horace Benbow is his attitude towards women. The hard-boiled detective is a potent, attractive male who is successful with women. But he never lets any woman influence, manipulate, or dominate him. He is the strong guy who controlls the relationship with the female, as well as his feelings. And he never trusts her, knowing that women can be at least as evil and treacherous as men. Horace, on the other hand, is dominated by his sister Narcissa and his wife Belle. And he knows, he is, though he sometimes tries to fight them. When Narcissa told the chauffeur to bring Horace to her house, he, with irony, retorts: "Oh, she did? [...] That was kind of her. You can tell her I changed her mind" (p. 125). And when Ruby says: "You have to live here", Horace answers: "I'm damned if I do. I've already let too many women run my affairs for me as it is, and if these uxorious......." But he knew he was just talking." (p. 201). Faulkner allowes Horace a period of escape from his wife, but his respite is only temporary. At the end, he is forced into capitulation by the strong-willed women in his life (Wittenberg, 1979, p. 98). He returns to Belle, desillusioned and beaten. His dispair is cosmic, says Volpe (1974, p. 146).
In spite of being 43 years old, Horace still dwells on his adolescent illusions of "a magnolia and moonlight Eden peopled by gallant men, and noble, pure women with beautiful manners and elevated moral standards," says Volpe (p. 20). Before he met his wife, his sister Narcissa represented this ideal of purity (Meindl, 1974, p. 172), later on his wife Belle. But during the ten years of his marriage, his "illusions have been manaced. His great romance with Belle Mitchell has deteriorated into a stale marital routine, symbolized for him by his weekly trips to the railroad station for shrimp" (Volpe, p. 142). Nevertheless, Horace has not shed his adolescent illusions, he has remained the dreamer and idealist. Disappointed in his wife, Horace has transferred his illusions to his stepdaughter Little Belle, investing her with his naive ideals of female purity and spiritual beauty. But Little Belle betrays Horace's naivet', too (Volpe, pp. 141-143). During the series of events in Sanctuary, especially through his encounter with Temple Drake whose "adventure dramatizes the reality about women that Horace has avoided for forty-three years" (Volpe, p. 144) and who "developed into a symbol of universal moral chaos" (Volpe, p. 145), Horace finally realizes that women as he depicted them in his illusions do not exist in reality. Even Little Belle looses her innocence:
The image blurred into the highlight, like something familiar seen beneath disturbed though clear water; he looked at the familiar image with a kind of quiet horror and despair, at a face suddenly older in sin than he would ever be, a face more blurred than sweet, at eyes more secret than soft. (p. 167)
Through the meeting with Temple in the brothel, Horace's understanding that Little Belle's sexual affection "is and will continue to be enjoyed by other men, and his understanding that Little Belle might become corrupted and then corrupt" (Wilson, 1994, p. 454) is intensified. The "discovery that evil resides in the sanctuary, the temple, the dwelling place of purity and innocence - woman", that "the ultimate sanctuary of man's hops and dreams is a void", that "the ideals he believed in were human fabrications, created out of man's need for meaning, rather than reflections, as he thought, of an ultimate meaning in the universe" (Volpe, 1979, pp. 141, 150) at the end shatters his illusions, and leads to his total despair and surrender. He even gives up the idea of divorcing Belle, since it "would be a useless gesture in a world without meaning or hope," says Volpe (p. 149). The hard-boiled detective, in contrast, though he knows that the world is violent, without much meaning or hope, does not give over. If he ever shared such illusions about goodness and innocence in women, he has lost them long ago. He knows for sure that there is no such sanctuary of purity and innocence. But this knowledge has not led him into despair, but into mistrust, cynicism and emotional atrophy. He never surrenders.
All in all, Horace Benbow does not fit to the characteristics of the hard-boiled detective in any respect. He rather is a caricature, a truely absurd detective.
3.2 Ida Arnold in Brighton Rock
Brighton Rockdefinitely is a hard-boiled crime novel, too. And its detective, Ida Arnold, indeed shows some of the characteristics of the typical hard-boiled detective. But there are major differences, too. First of all, Ida Arnold is, like Horace Benbow, no professional, but a self-appointed investigator. With the intuition of a Miss Marple, she senses that there is something "fishy" about the death of Hale:
She had instincts, and now her instincts told her there was something odd, something which didn’t smell right. (p. 31),
But there was something fishy to her nose, though there was nothing she could put her finger on except that ‘Fred’... . (p. 34)
Though she had hardly known Hale, the fact that there was nobody at the inquest who had asked any questions, rises a sentimental, motherly responsibility in her to ask questions herself:
"I’d like to ‘ave asked some questions." (p. 32),
"It’s not natural." The more she thought about it the more she wished she had been there: it was like a pain in the heart, the thought that no one at the inquest was interested,... . (p. 33),
...and again the easy pathos touched her friendly and popular heart. She wouldn’t have given it all another thought if there had been other relations, besides the second cousin in Middlesbrough, if he hadn’t been so alone as well as dead. (p. 34),
"You oughtn’t to fuss about that, Ida. It’s none of your business."
"I know," she said. "It’s none of mine." But it’s none of anybody’s, her heart repeated to her: that was the trouble: no one but her to ask questions. (p. 34)
When Ida questions Molly about her encounter with Hale, Molly asks: "You a woman detective?" And she answers: "Oh, no, I’m just a friend of his" (p. 41). But, nevertheless, Ida acts much like a real detective, nosing around, asking questions ("I'm inquisitive. I can't help it. I'm made that way." p. 74), listening for hints, talking to people, using her connections. And, like the hard-boiled detective, she has many useful connections among the ordinary people. The ordinary people of Brighton accept her because they recognize that she is one of them (Macdonald & Macdonald, 1994, p. 104). She is at home in the bars and in the streets of middle-class Brighton. She knows everything about life and people, or at least, she herself is convinced that she knows everything ("You can trust me. I've seen the world. I know people..." p. 223). Nobody pays Ida for her investigations, and almost nobody appreciates her stubbornness and insistance, least the police, because everybody is contented with the doctor’s statement that Hale died natural. Ida, however, considers the money she made on the tip Fred gave her a sort of payment, for which she has to give something in return ("...she had a conscience, she had a code, and if she took cash she gave something in return." p. 69), very much like the hard-boiled detective, who, when he accepts cash, by his inner code is bound to deliver results.
The most obvious difference to the typical hard-boiled detective, of course, is that Ida is female. Her female predecessors, educated, refined and eminently proper women who incorporate upper- and upper-middle-class values, were almost always confined to prim, respectable, village life. Their lives were so absolutely different from Pinkie's that their paths would never have crossed (Macdonald & Macdonald, 1994, p. 108). Neighter the male nor the female cerebral and aristocratic, traditional British detective would have become mixed up with a mob in vulgar street crimes. Therefore, say Macdonald & Macdonald (p. 102) it
...is thus not surprising that to deal with Brighton Greene would borrow an American type of detective at ease in the mean streets of a fast-moving metropolis, a working- man's detective [...]. What is surprising is that, for this decidedly male role, he chose an Ida.
But Ida Arnold, the first female hard-boiled detective, is very much like the typical tough guy detective. "In sum, Ida's detective style, her manner and method is undeniably hard-boiled, growing out of her rough and ready moral values", conclude Macdonald & Macdonald (p. 105). She believes in law and order, capital punishment and justice in the simple, archaic "eye for an eye"-sense (p. 77), which is both typical for the western hero and the hard-boiled detective. Her values are old-fashioned and conservative: severely punish the guilty and safe the innocent, even against their own will. When Rose asks: "Why should you care about me?", Ida answers: "I don’t want the Innocent to suffer." (p. 121). And Ida is ready to do everything in order to safe Rose: "I’m going to make you listen," Ida said. When you were life-saving you must never hesitate, so they taught you, to stun the one you rescued." (p. 122)
Like the hard-boiled detective, Ida does not trust in the police and their capability in bringing about justice. So, she herself takes over, convinced, as the hard-boiled detective, that she will do a better job: "I can manage this my own way. I don't need your police. [...]. I've got my friends." (p. 80) She neither trusts God to be the one force to ensure justice: "If you believed in God, you might leave vengeance to him, but you couldn’t trust the One, the universal spirit. Vengeance was Ida’s, just as much as reward was Ida’s, [...]. And vengeance and reward- they both were fun." (p. 37)
Her being a female, however, results in major differences to the tough guy detective. Ida is kind of a very sentimental, emotional, passionate, kind and motherly, spiritually ignorant and superstitious ("Ida believed in ghosts." p. 33) version of the hard-boiled detective:
...and the cheap drama and pathos of the thought weakened her heart towards him. She was of the people, she cried in cinemas at David Copperfield, when she was drunk all the old ballads her mother had known came easily to her lips, her homely heart was touched by the word ‘tragedy’. (p. 32)
Ida never uses physikal violence, though, when she first sees Pinkie through the window of Jim Tate’s office, she says: "A kid like that oughtn’t to be mixed up with things [...]. If he was mine I’d just larrup it out of him." (p. 72). And, to Rose she says: "If I was your mother I’d give you a good hiding." (p. 123). Ida's sharp sense of human relationships makes her conclude that Pinkie hates and fears Rose and does not love her at all. Her good-hearted righteousness and sense of motherhood, say Macdonald & Macdonald (p. 105), make her determined to accept the responsibility for Rose who is young enough to be her daughter: "If I wasn’t a kind woman I’d give you up. But I’ve got a sense of responsibility." (p. 199)
But, as Greene lets the reader clearly understand, Ida's view of the events is rather restricted, limited by her own ignorance and self-rightousness ("I know what's right." p. 144). "Analysis is," say Macdonald & Macdonald (1994, p. 104), "a concept foreign to her, but she knows what she knows." Ida explaines everything according to her vast store of experience. Unable to see otherwise, she assumes that her world is the only world. When she looks out of the window, she sees only the city she knows ("Ida went to the window and looked out, and again she saw only the Brighton she knew...", p. 72). Circumstances, which do not fit into her view of life, do not exist for Ida. She cannot see what is not part of her experience and so she is totally blind to the dark side of Brighton: "Only the darkness in which the Boy walked, going from Frank’s, going back to Frank’s, was alien to her; she had no pity for something she didn’t understand" (p. 72). According to Diemert (1992, p. 396) "...she is completely ignorant of the knowledge that comes with the experience of poverty." Ida sees only the middle-class Brighton, the Brighton of bars and fun, not the Brighton of Paradise Piece or Nelson Place, where poverty rules and where criminals like Pinkie are formed by their dreadful and hopeless environment.
But Ida’s motivation is not justice, responsibility, and a feeling of owing something to Fred alone. Ida is also motivated by her own craving for fun. The manhunt is a game for her, exciting like the bet at the races, a task that makes her feel alive, and gives her otherwise rather purposeless life a temporary direction: "The hunt was what mattered. It was like life coming back after a sickness." (p. 151) She takes pleasure in her ability to find out things and to get, step by step, her suspicions and intuitions confirmed.
Not unlike the hard-boiled detective, Ida is somewhat desillusioned about life and people, and about herself. She is, for instance, convinced that people do not chance, including herself. When Rose says that people change, Ida answers: "Oh, no they don't. Look at me. I've never changed. It's like those sticks of rock: bite it all the way down, you'll still read Brighton. That's human nature." (p. 198) But Ida considers this knowledge rather a realistic approach to life. Her desillusionment is not as profound as the one of the hard-boiled detective, since her reality normally is not peopled with murderers and treachery as is the hard-boiled detective’s. Therefore, she does not become cynical or impervious to emotion like the typical hard-boiled detective. She loves life ("It’s a good life." p. 72, "The world was a good place if you didn't weaken..." p. 221), simply ignores everything that could spoil her construct of reality, and tries to get as much fun and adventure out of her life as possible.
Though self-appointed and on a morally rather doubtful basis ("...her heart beat faster to the refrain: it’s exciting, it’s fun, it’s living", p.37), Ida is, like the professional detective, extremely effective in her inquiries. And because she is only an elderly woman, Pinkie fails to recognize the deathly enemy. He cannot place her at all: "The boy watched her with amazement. He said, "Who the hell is she?" (p. 127)In order to emphasise Ida’s effectiveness and determination, Greene often uses similies and metaphores associated with war when discribing Ida:
She rose formidably and moved across the restaurant, like a warship giong into action, a warship on the right side in a war to end wars, the signal flags proclaiming that every man would do his duty. (p. 121)
...she was like the chariot in a triumph - behind her were all the big battalions - right’s right, an eye for an eye, when you want to do a thing well, do it yourself. (p. 221)
...she stared out over the red and green lights, the heavy traffic of her battlefield, marshalling her cannon fodder, while five yards away Spicer stood too, waiting for an enemy to appear. (p. 81)
At the same time, Greene, by evoking these images, again and again manages to mock Ida. Some of Ida’s personal qualities help her a lot in effectively carrying out her quest, among them her excellent memory, especially for faces ("She had a royal memory", p. 72), close observation of details ("she missed nothing", p. 20), extracting useful knowledge from friendly chats with everybody ("There isn’t much," she said, "I’ve not picked up - here and there. The neighbours always talk." p. 234), and her ability to get men into confidentially talking to her, e.g. Cubitt (p. 160-162) and Dallow ("She sat there completely at her ease, her big breasts ready for any secrets. She carried her air of compassion and comprehension about her like a rank cheap perfume. [...] He too began automatically to confide." pp. 233-234). And Ida never gives up: "Ida was going to begin at the beginning and work right on. She was a sticker" (p. 37), "I never give in." (p. 144), "I don't give up until she's safe." (p. 223)
Eventually, Ida succeeds in bringing down Pinkie and saving Rose’s life, though her "conclusions are often both error-ridden and misguided" (Diemert, 1992, p. 396). Ida fails to find out why and how Hale was killed. But she does not seem to be really interested in these details. She is very pleased with the results of her investigations, Hale’s death is avenged, the villain is dead, and innocent Rose is safed. The question, what part she played in the sequence of events, does not deter Ida: "As with Hammett’s heroes, neither Pinkie’s death nor Spicer’s is on Ida’s conscience, for she is convinced that "Somebody else would be dead if we hadn’t turned up" (p.243), so all is justified," say Macdonald & Macdonald (1994, p. 105). When Dallow accuses her by saying: "God’s sakes, this is your doing. You made him marry her, you made him...", Ida does not react at all, and matter of factly says: " "Get a car [...] quick." (p. 236) She is convinced, that she always did the right thing, and that there is no reason for her to feel guilty in any sense ("He’s not on my conscience anyway." [...] "There wasn’t any choice," Ida Arnold said. She got up; she was like a figurehead of Victory.", p. 244), even though her investigations ultimately drove Pinkie "too far down a road he only wanted to travel a certain distance" (p. 129)in order to survive. Indirectly, Ida causes the murder of Spiker, and Pinkie’s efforts to make Rose safe, finally by driving her into suicide, as well as the horrible death of Pinkie himself. Macdonald & Macdonald (1994, p. 113) are convinced that "...ultimately Ida and the society for which she stands are to some extent responsible for Pinkie; he is to some degree a product of their smug moral certainty which allows him no room to maneuver in less extreme directions." Ida succeeds in ridding society of the dangerous Pinkie, but, indeed, as says Diemert (1992, p. 391): "she does nothing to alleviate the conditions that produced him; the source of the evil remains, just as Pinkie’s voice remains on record and in the reader’s mind at the end of the narrative." Ida does not even recognize the social conditions of poverty that produce evil. In this respect, she is a total failure.
Ida Arnold’s position within society differs from the typical hard-boiled detective's. She is no outsider, but feels herself belong to the common people anywhere she lives: "...there was no place in the world where she felt a stranger" (p. 72). Her friendly, cheery, open-hearted, humorous, and motherly air makes it easy for her to associate with people anywhere, especially with men: "Her friends - they were everywhere under the bright glittering Brighton air. [...] She had only to appeal to any of them..." (p. 80)Ida is like everybody. And, in her opinion, her philosophy and code of behaviour is not in any way contradictory to the code of middle-class society: "She was honest, she was kindly, she belonged to the great middle law-abiding class, her amusements were their amusements, her superstitions their superstitions [...], she had no more love for anyone than they had." (p. 80)In many respects, Ida mirrors middle-class values. Her concept of family, for example, reflects family as she knows it from her middle-class experience. Blind to everything else, Ida is convinced that she is the heroine who saves Rose, the innocent young girl, from her foolish love and that she, by returning Rose to her family, does the very best for the girl:
But Ida Arnold had an answer to everything. "She didn’t understand. She was only a kid. She thought he was in love with her."
"An’ what does she think now?"
"Don’t ask me. I’ve done my best. I took her home. What a girl needs at a time like that is her mother and dad. Anyway she’s got me to thank she isn’t dead." (p. 243)
What she never realizes is that families in Nelson Place and Paradise Piece, where Rose and Pinkie grew up, are conditioned by their poverty. Ida is totally ignorant of the fact, that not all families function as middle-class families do. Because of this ignorance, she cannot see that for Rose, her family is not a loving home but a dreadful place full of moods and greed, a place where she desperately wanted to escape from ("They'd send me -" she hesitated a long while at the grim word, "home." p. 74). Having been brought back to her parents after Pinkie's death does not help Rose at all, but seems to make everything even worse: "She would have found the courage now to kill herself..." (p. 245), something that is beyond Ida's limited middle-class imagination. Diemert (p. 397) is right when he says, "...Ida fails to recognize how her preconceptions color her interpretation and so does not see that her reading of Rose collapses." Her misjudgment of lower-class reality as well as her total lack of religious depth ("That's only religion," the woman said. "Believe me, it's the world we got to deal with." p. 198) deprive Ida of the absolute authority usually inherent in the typical detective. It is true when Diemert (p. 398) concludes that "As a detective and as a model of critical authority Ida fails to gain our confidence; consequently we can only be suspicious of her claims to certainty and her authority as a figure of justice."
Ida feels totally comfortable and self-assured among the common people who fill Brighton on holidays, and she never feels the desire to escape to somewhere else or change her life in some way or other. Only in the very end, she considers returning to her ex-husband, but it seems to be a rather sudden vague and sentimental feeling, not a decision to really change anything or a sign for that she, through her encounter with Rose and Pinkie, might have learned something beyond her "popular wisdom" (p. 234). In order to make up her mind, she decides to ask the ouija-board (p. 245), which she seems to have used quite frequently before, also with Hale’s death. Relying on supernatural devices, of course, would be absolutly out of question for both the traditional and the typical hard-boiled detective, and adds to the impression that Greene is mocking his detective and thus intentionally undermines her authority. Ida's belief in "ghosts, ouija boards, [and] tables which rapped" (p. 36) makes her, says Diemert (p. 388), almost a parody of the Holmesian investigator.
Ida’s attitude towards men is, in a way, similar to the hard-boiled detective’s behaviour towards women. Like the hard-boiled detective, Ida would not miss any opportunity to have fun in bed ("It doesn't do anyone any harm that I know of. It's human nature." She bit at her èclair and repeated the familiar password. "It's only fun after all." p. 145), something that would be absolutely unacceptable for the respectable Miss Marple-kind of detective. Macdonald & Macdonald (1994, p. 106) say that she is "as open in her sexuality as a Ned Beaumont or a Travis McGee - taking her pleasures where she finds them, savoring the sensual: "She gazed round the big padded pleasure dome of a bedroom with bloodshot and experienced eyes." (p. 146) "
Even though men often fail to satisfy her sexually ("Men always failed you when it came to the act. She might just as well have gone to the pictures." p. 151), Ida has many acquaintances. But, she is not able to really commit herself to a male, as is the hard-boiled detective incapable of commitment to a female. This is obvious when Ida says to Rose: "There's no one who's worth it. [...] You'll have plenty of fun - if you don't let them get a grip on you. It's natural. Like breathing." (p. 122) Both the hard-boiled detective and Ida Arnold change their partners rather quickly: "I like to start something fresh," Ida said. "Not off with the new and on with the old" (p. 29). As a result of her many affairs, Ida is convinced, that she knows everything about men: "You can’t tell me much about men I don’t know" (p. 31). This knowledge, indeed, enables her to detect the odd in the account of the death of Hale. Her experience also enables her to see through Pinkie’s motivation in marrying Rose and that he is a threat to Rose’s life. But, she is totally ignorant towards the feelings Rose expresses for Pinkie, the total committment, something that is beyond her experience and imagination. And her lack of true feelings, her emotional superficiality, again, let Ida seem unworthy in relation to Rose's and even Pinkie's deep emotions and religion.
Even though Ida Arnold displays many characteristics of the hard-boiled detective, her obvious flaws ruin her authority and integrity, thus leaving the impression in the reader that Ida is no less absurd than Horace Benbow.
In comparison with both the traditional and the hard-boiled detective fiction, Faulkner in Sanctuary and Greene in Brighton Rock employ a rather absurd kind, a caricature, of a detective. But the detectives’ absurdity is achieved in a very different way. Horace Benbow clearly is an absurd detective because of his entire personality which totally contradicts the image of the hard-boiled detective. There is, as explained in 3.1, not at all the slightest similarity between the typical hard-boiled detective and Horace. Nevertheless, the reader perceives Horace as the central character of the novel. In spite of his flaws, his ineptitude and absurdity, the reader feels empathy for and identifies with Horace as the almost only positive character in a scary world full of corruption, rape and murder. As Wittenberg (1979, p. 99) says, despite his failings, Horace is a figure with some redeeming qualities. And Faulkner himself seems to like his comic hero. He treats him, says Cohen (1986, p. 89), with "Faulkner's characteristic blend of pity and critical regard for a character, a complex authorial attitude that pities Horace even as it reveals clearly his flaws."
Ida Arnold, on the other hand, displays many traits which are typical for the hard-boiled detective, as explained in 3.2. If the novel had been written in a first person point of view, through the eye and mind of the detective as is the case in many hard-boiled detective stories, Ida would surely have been the prototype of the female hard-boiled detective. But, Greene chose a different approach in his novel. By often assuming an authorial perspective, Greene "reduces Ida to the level of the other odd creatures looked down on from the narrator’s [and thus the reader’s] more elevated height", say Macdonald & Macdonald (1994, p. 114). Furthermore, instead of sharing Ida’s investigations, as is usual in detective fiction, the reader sees it from a distance. Thus, Greene’s female detective is not the central character in the novel. And, to make it even worse, by the way Greene describes Ida it is obvious that the author himself does not like his heroin. Again and again, Ida is mocked by the narrative (Diemert, 1992, p. 387). Greene makes clear to the reader that Ida’s understanding of the case and of the world she inhabits is strongly limited by her inability to see beneath the surface of things, thus giving the reader great trouble accepting Ida’s simple version fo events. And, according to Macdonald & Macdonald (p. 107), Greene carefully makes sure that the reader understands Ida’s guilt in the events, though she herself does not. Her lack of spiritual awareness serves as a means to further denigrate Ida and to discredit her authority, says Diemert (pp. 389-390). And Macdonald & Macdonald (1994, p. 114) find that Ida Arnold’s absurdity is ultimately created through the "...double-edged nature of Greene’s description, description in which even praise of Ida’s sense of right and justice seems, on closer look, a sarcastic comment on her limited perception of reality. Greene’s authorial eye looks down so coldly on Ida that, for all of her virtues, she seems but a middle-aged child, playing games with people’s lives [...]."
Though their absurdity is caused by totally different factors, the ultimate consequence of employing the absurd instead of the typical hard-boiled detective on both novels is similar. Horace Benbow’s absurdity leads to total desaster and desillusionment. Thus, it causes the impression which Volpe (1974, pp. 150-151) describes when he says that "...Sanctuary is a cry of despair. The grim image of life that it presents is unrelieved...." and that "...to read Sanctuary is to experience despair at a pitch of intensity rarely achieved in modern fiction." Ida’s absurdity, say Macdonald & Macdonald (1994, p. 114), causes the reader to call into question her acts, to make readers wonder if perhaps Pinkie, for all his faults, is more sinned against than sinning. The effect created by both Horace’s and Ida’s absurdity thus is diametrically opposed to traditional detective fiction which, according to Gidley (1976, p. 235) always restores the reader's faith in the ultimate efficacy of justice and the stability of the social order. Normally, detective fiction evokes crime and then purges it and is thus a complete safe form, says Tallack (1976, p. 251). It offers its readers a reassuring world in which social reality is consistently ignored, particularly in British detective fiction, and the status quo is never really in danger. Both Faulkner and Greene, with their novels, willfully break these rules. Therefore, Faulkner as a detective writer is subversive, says Gidley (p. 235). And so definitely is Greene. Both Sanctuary and Brighton Rock leave the reader uncomfortable, irritated, at unease, and frustrated, not releaved and reassured as do both the traditional and the hard-boiled detective stories. The moral questions remain unresolved or shattered by reality. Diemert’s (1992, p. 401) statement that Brighton Rock presents its readers with a vision of a world where any attempt to make sense of something is doomed to failure is also true for Sanctuary. But, by not presenting easy answers and solutions, Faulkner’s and Greene’s novels seem much more realistic, and they reveal an intensity and depth that captures the reader from the first to the last page. If they had used the typical formula of the hard-boiled detective story, they would never have achieved these effects. It is the introduction of the absurd detective that makes both novels unique.
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