Kiss Me Deadly: Gender Play in Hardboiled Fiction

The New School NLIT3832

Spring 2006


Prof. Megan Abbott

meganabbott (at)

15 Sessions

Mondays 6:00–7:50 p.m.

January 22–May 15

3 credits


The cynical private eye, the gritty urban underbelly, the inevitable double-cross at the hands of a beautiful woman—these are a few of the conventions that define American hardboiled fiction. This course focuses on two of the genre’s most persistent archetypes: the tough guy hero (or anti-hero) and the glamorous femme fatale who threatens to lead him to his doom. We examine this fraught relationship through the lens of the gender and sexual anxieties characteristic of both the genre and the historical context of 1930s–1950s America, including changing definitions of masculinity and femininity as the culture moves from women entering the workforce during WWII through Cold War notions of family and domesticity.



Jan 22: Introduction to the Hardboiled: Genre History/Background

Private Eyes

Private Eye as Man Alone

     Jan 30: Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon

     Feb 6: Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon; Recommended viewing: The Maltese Falcon (1941)*


Private Eye as Tarnished Knight

     Feb 13: Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep

     Feb 27: Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep; Recommended viewing: The Big Sleep (1946)*


Private Eye as Psychotic Avenger

     Mar 6: Mickey Spillane, Kiss Me Deadly; Recommended viewing: Kiss Me Deadly (1955)*; Paper #1 due



The Crazed Criminal

     Mar 13: Dorothy B. Hughes, In a Lonely Place

     Mar 27:  Dorothy B. Hughes, In a Lonely Place; Recommended viewing: In a Lonely Place (1950)*


The Victim of Fate

     Apr 3: Horace McCoy, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?; Recommended viewing: They Shoot Horses,

Don’t They? (1969)*


The Love Rack

     Apr 10: James M. Cain, Double Indemnity; Paper #2 due

     Apr 17: James M. Cain, Double Indemnity; Recommended viewing: Double Indemnity (1944)*



The Laura Syndrome

     Apr 24: Vera Caspary, Laura; Recommended viewing: Laura (1944)*


The Laura Syndrome II/Revisions

     May 1:  James Ellroy, Black Dahlia

     May 8: James Ellroy, Black Dahlia


Contemporary Hardboiled

May 15: Selections, Hardboiled Fiction Today; Paper #3 due


* Available at NYU Bobst, 2nd Floor, Avery Fisher Center


                             YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME.      

                             Copyright © 2006 by Megan Abbott 
                                                                                                                                                   Return to the Main Page.