|INTERVIEW WITH REX STOUT
& ANDREW MCALEER
McALEER: When you were writing for
the pulps, between 1912 and 1917, did you see
yourself as a hack writer or as an aspiring young
writer on his way to the top?
STOUT: I have never regarded myself
as this or that. I have been too busy being myself
to bother about regarding myself.
McALEER: Julian Symons says the
Holmes series falls off in the last two
STOUT: Symons? I don’t know him. I
don’t agree with him either. I think one or two of
the later Holmes stories are among the
McALEER: Anthony Burgess says that
those who write series detective stories are
artists—like Wodehouse and Faulkner—building a
world. Do you agree?
STOUT: Depends on the writer. Conan
Doyle and Simenon yes; Christie or Gardner,
McALEER: I take it that Conan Doyle
is one of your passions?
STOUT: Every Sherlock Holmes story
has at least one marvelous scene. And there’s
Holmes himself. Doyle stokes in a thousand shrewd
touches with no effort at all.
McALEER: Did Archie hang up the
picture of Sherlock Holmes that is found over his
desk, or did Wolfe put it there?
STOUT: Did I say that at one point?
I was a damn fool to do it. Obviously it is always
an artistic fault in any fiction to mention any
other character in fiction. It should never be
McALEER: Your culprits always
capitulate plausibly. Do you take care to see that
STOUT: Everything in a story should
be credible, but one of the hardest things to
believe is that anyone will abandon the effort to
escape a charge of murder. Therefore it is
extremely important to "suspend disbelief" on
that. If you don’t, the story is
McALEER: Simenon says characters
must never be too thought out or willed. Is he
STOUT: A character who is thought
out is not born, he or she is contrived. A born
character is round, a thought out character is
McALEER: How do you control your
novelettes so that they seem just as intricate and
entire as your novels?
STOUT: You might as well ask a
shortstop how he avoids tripping when he whirls to
McALEER: Is a novelette easier to
write than a novel?
STOUT: In a way, short fiction is
harder to write than long. An unnecessary page in
a long novel doesn’t hurt it much, but an
unnecessary sentence in a three-thousand-word
story spoils it.
McALEER: Steven Marcus, a professor
at Columbia, says that Dashiell Hammett, by a
succession of "complex devices. . .was able to
raise the crime story into literature." Is he
STOUT: "Raise?" No. It had been
done before, for instance by Collins and
McALEER: Yet you hold Hammett in
STOUT: Certainly. He was better
than Chandler, though to read the critics you
wouldn’t think so. In fact, The Glass Key
is better than anything Hemingway ever wrote. .
.Hemingway never grew out of adolescence. His
scope and depth stayed shallow because he had no
idea what women are for.
McALEER: Kingsley Amis says that you
must be as Johnsonian as Wolfe is, that is, "a
moralist before anything else." Do you accept this
STOUT: I am not any kind of an
"ist." I have a strong moral sense—by my
McALEER: Kingsley Amis thinks that
Wolfe’s speech carries the flavor of the
eighteenth century. Do you think so,
McALEER: How many times have you read
Boswell’s life of Samuel Johnson?
STOUT: All of it,
McALEER: Amis sees Wolfe as a
latter-day Samuel Johnson. Do you find that an
STOUT: Yes. Since I like Johnson,
I’d like to think that Wolfe invites comparison
McALEER: To many readers Wolfe is the
epitome of the rational man.
STOUT: If they want to feel that
way, God bless ‘em. They’ll probably buy another
book, and that’s all I care about.
McALEER: Then you don’t think man is
a rational animal?
STOUT: The minute those two little
particles inside a woman’s womb have joined
together billions of decisions have been made. A
thing like that has to come from entropy. All men
are reasoning animals more than any other animal.
Of course they are. That’s perfectly obvious. They
have a bigger brain and a better brain. And we
reason with our brain. But to say that man is a
reasoning animal is a very different thing than to
say that most of man’s decisions are based on his
rational process. That I don’t believe at all. But
of course he’s a rational animal. He damn well
better be in this complicated world, believe me,
or he isn’t going to last very
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