jest: (orchid)
[personal profile] jest posting in [community profile] milk_and_orchids
Sorry to be sliding this in at the last minute. There was a volcano. It erupted.



League of Frightened Men continues the trend of Archie acting like a five year old. In this case, a five year old with attention deficit disorder. The story opens with Wolfe and Archie in the office. Archie is in the middle of an I'm BORED, Pay Attention to Meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee tantrum. I suspect that Archie Goodwin is every bit as high maintenance as Nero Wolfe himself.

While Archie throws pejoratives around like it is 1935, we are introduced to the antagonist, Paul Chapin, who became disabled during a hazing incident that took place at Harvard University. Paul Chapin is an Evil Cripple, with shades of Genius Cripple. I am really curious about how prevalent these tropes were when Rex Stout was writing this book. My familiarity with the Evil Cripple/Evil Wheelchair User comes mostly from Doctor Who; I'm not sure what sort of presence it had before that.

Anyway, enter Paul Chapin, psychopath. Enter the cowardly clients. Who exactly is intended to be the sympathetic character in this book? Evelyn Hibbard seemed like a good person, but she was only around for about five pages.

Which reminds me, although Wolfe is the character that is generally considered to be a misogynist I actually found Archie's attitude towards women the more offensive in this book. All his comments about women are along the lines of "…provided she's not just an item for the cleaners" or "nobody that knew merchandise would have put her on a bargain counter." It speaks volumes. Whereas Wolfe is "the only man I had ever met who used absolutely the same tone to a woman as to a man."

Archie's favorable opinion of other men seems to based on a combination of intelligence, competence, work ethic, nerve, and social class. He has a certain amount of contempt for college boys and the class privilege they represent. He obviously likes to think of himself as a working man. In Chapter 7 Archie refuses to let Fritz bring him his glass of milk in the evening, presumably because Archie doesn't like to think of himself as someone who needs to be waited on?

Wolfe's attitude towards Archie's intelligence is condescending, and who can blame him? Archie is more often in the role of man of action than man of intelligence. He claims that he has been working for Wolfe for seven years. This is easy to believe when they fight like an old married couple. At one point Archie is yelling at Wolfe when Orrie shows up with Paul Chapin's box, causing Archie to immediately break out the respectful tone and it's all, Honey, let's not fight in front of the company. *g*

But, seriously, what exactly has Archie been doing for seven years? Keeping orchid records? Body guarding? Nursing Wolfe through relapses?

Wolfe's agoraphobia and relapses are one of the most interesting features of the early books, and are something I like to keep track of.

In chapter 10:
"…but I was thinking of suggesting that you go out and look at him."
"Out?" Wolfe raised his head at me. "Out and down the stoop?"
"Yeah, just on the sidewalk, you wouldn't have to step off the curb. He's right there."
Wolfe shut his eyes. "I don't know, Archie. I don't know why you persist in trying to badger me into frantic sorties. Dismiss the notion entirely. It is not feasible."


Of course, we need to recognize the significance of Wolfe leaving the house to appreciate the scene where Archie has been drugged and is devastated at the thought that Wolfe might be murdered.

(Confession: every time I read it that scene makes me squeee so hard that I actually have to put the book down and pace around my flat enjoying it for a while before I can resume reading.)

In Chapter 11: "I have seen him, during a relapse, dispose completely of a ten-pound goose between eight o'clock and midnight."

That strikes me as a symptom of something other than eccentricity.


Thoughts? Opinions?

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Date: 2010-04-17 07:02 pm (UTC)
dorinda: Randolph Scott smiles at Cary Grant. (Randolph_Cary)
From: [personal profile] dorinda
I am really curious about how prevalent these tropes were when Rex Stout was writing this book.

I don't know much about the history of the trope either; I'd be curious to learn. But I do get the sense that it must have been familiar by this time, if only because of the way the story subverts it. Chapin is introduced with such high suspense, with the way the League members build him up by talking about him in such awestruck/horrified tones and so forth, not to mention the super drama of his first appearance. It seems like he's going to be Wolfe's Moriarty-figure, the Super-Genius-turned-to-Eeeeebil who can meet him on a higher plane.

But no! It turns out the firing pin is filed off his gun, he's never killed anyone at all, he keeps a furtive secret box of used underwear, and basically his image is way bigger than any bite he actually has. In the end, he's reduced to saying, you know, "BEWARE, for I'm going to WRITE YOU INTO MY NEXT BOOK AND PRETEND-KILL YOU AAAHAHAHAHAHA," which is...no Moriarty, that's for sure.

(Not that he becomes a figure of fun, though. Wolfe, at least, always treats him with the same even tenor--neither fearing nor pitying him.)

Of course, we need to recognize the significance of Wolfe leaving the house to appreciate the scene where Archie has been drugged and is devastated at the thought that Wolfe might be murdered.

Oh, that whole SEQUENCE. I swoon. ♥ ♥ ♥ Archie crying. The way the realization that his cherished leather case is missing makes him cry again. The very symbolism of the leather case, with the orchids on one side (done from a real Cattleya) and pistols on the other, with their initials inside, given to him for his birthday--and it sounds like it might actually have been Wolfe's first birthday present to him ("and I didn't even know he knew when my birthday was."). How much he admits to valuing it. The way that, even still totally doped-up and grieving, he can see significance in Scott's missing taxi-driver jacket. His powerful and irrational desire just to go home, to "see for myself that Wolfe wasn't there, look at things..."

And then when he recognizes Wolfe's voice on the phone: first stiffening up and nearly dropping the phone, and then "I let the phone down and pressed it against one of my ribs for a moment, not wanting to make a fool of myself." Oh, the barely-managed REPRESSION.

I also really appreciate the subtle revelations of the other side of that sequence. Because at first it seems like it might've been an embarrassing anti-climax, with Archie so worked up and Wolfe seemingly calm and safe. However, Wolfe actually takes pains to give Archie (and us) some glimpses of the fear and danger he went through on his end--his concern for whether Archie should be up, the way he quotes back the note, something more beneath the surface about that birthday gift:

"What persuaded me that some sort of action was called for was the presence in the envelope of the leather case you had seemed to like."

He paused for a glass of beer. I grunted, and thought I ought to say something, but all I could think of was, "Yeah, I liked it. And you've still got it."

He nodded, and resumed.

Wolfe of course keeps underplaying the story--for instance, claiming that the really distressing thing was Dora Chapin's driving--but that's how Archie (and we) know it was truly serious. He talks slightingly of her knife, claiming it wouldn't have been long enough to kill him, but of course his throat could be slashed as easily as anyone's. And he admits that she had undeniable power over him, knife or no knife: "...and of course she had in reserve my anxiety as to the peril of your situation." So neither the narrative, nor Wolfe himself, leave Archie out on his limb with regard to the worry and care each has for the other, and what it can bring them to.

...more later! :D

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Date: 2010-04-18 06:30 pm (UTC)
liviapenn: miss piggy bends jail bars (remains sexy while doing so) (f. wolfe: wolfe's perfect day)
From: [personal profile] liviapenn

Do you think Paul Chapin subverts the trope? I'm not convinced. The end really just plays into all the insinuations of impotence that are made earlier in the book.

I go back and forth on this myself. On the one hand, yes, he would be a much *cooler* character as a murderous evil mastermind instead of a pretender. But, you know, even if you take away the murders, he's *still* kind of an evil mastermind. He had the whole League in horrible suspense and fear for their lives for, what, months and months? And he totally gets away with it!

He even gets the last shot in his final conversation with Wolfe, with Wolfe helplessly calling after him and being totally brushed off:

"So you read my books. Read the next one. I'm putting you in it-- a leading character."

"Naturally." Wolfe opened his eyes. "And of course I die violently. I warn you, Mr. Chapin, I resent that. I actively resent it. I have a deep repugnance for violence in all its forms. I would go to any length in an effort to persuade you--"

He was talking to no one; or at least, merely to the back of a cripple who was hobbling to the door.


Ice cold!

Wolfe does *try* to get in a little bit of a lecture about how stupid/stubborn Chapin is, but imo it just bounces right off. Hmm. I never actually thought about it in this sense before, but both "Fer-de-Lance" and "The League of Frightened Men" have somewhat sympathetic/successful villains, who both manage to cheat justice, in a way. (Manuel Kimball succesfully accomplishes his revenge and avoids jail, and OK, the actual murderer in "League" doesn't get away with it, but the Chapins together certainly pulled enough stunts to be charged with *something* and I don't get a sense that that's going to happen...)

So in a way, Paul Chapin get all the advantages of being an actual murderer (being able to savor his revenge, cackle evilly at people, etc.) without having to take any of the responsibility.

To me he's not pathetic. (Except for the box of gloves/underwear, to which I can only go "ewwwwwwwwwwwwwww".)

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Date: 2010-05-16 11:28 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] ama_nesciri
Yes I absolutely love that part, both when Archie (drugged and out of his senses) shows how emotional he is/how he feels about both that case and about the idea of Wolfe being hurt/dead. It was beautiful. Especially the great in character moment when he holds the phone to his chest and gets his mind/feelings under control. This is actually my favorite book! And I love how Wolfe chooses to tell Archie this long description of what happened, and implying that Archie would never let someone take that case from him unless he was incapacitated or dead.

And I love how quietly and neatly Wolfe gets in his own question of 'so did you like that case I gave you?' and how Archie just grunts--and then realizes he should say something, and does. To me it smacks of realism and authentic emotional responses, so I love it xD! And I also liked how Archie adds 'you've still got it' [the case] as a kind of, 'I want it back because it's mine and I like it'. I thought his response to Wolfe was great esp. considering he 'thinks he ought to say something, but can't really think of anything "profound" or "meaningful".'

It's also nice to see how exactly Wolfe describes past danger--he points out that he was worried for Archie, but for someone who complains and hates being disturbed or annoyed his story is pretty calm/nothing to worry about. It's also a way he gets to boast about breaking his routine for Archie--at knifepoint in a taxi--and about his own stiff upper lip and bravery when faced with 'do this or Archie will die'. It's an interesting scenario to me, the whole thing; the fact that Wolfe then discusses it is like an embarrassment of riches.

: )!

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Date: 2010-05-18 02:56 am (UTC)
dorinda: Animated image of Jim kissing Plato on the temple, from a screen test for "Rebel Without a Cause" (JimPlato_animated)
From: [personal profile] dorinda
and implying that Archie would never let someone take that case from him unless he was incapacitated or dead.

That's a good point, and one I hadn't consciously realized! We hear about the deep meaning of the leather case for Archie in his narration--but then, as you say, from the way Wolfe reacts to it, we know that Wolfe is aware of just how meaningful and important the case is to Archie, so that its existence in Dora Chapin's hands proves that something very bad has happened. It makes me wonder delightedly just how Wolfe came to be aware of that. And, given that the case is so important to Archie, I can't help but presume that it is just as important (for itself symbolically, and also for Archie's attachment to it) to Wolfe.

Boy, that plotline is the gift that keeps on giving! :D

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The miserably brief span of human life

Date: 2010-04-17 09:18 pm (UTC)
dorinda: The continents of the world, nibbled out of an apple (world_apple)
From: [personal profile] dorinda
I can't believe I never noticed this, until this re-read! Archie's initial poking has produced movement from Wolfe, who (we are about to find out) has made the connection between Chapin and Hibbard, the guy who asked Wolfe for help while Archie was away. And this happens:

Wolfe said, "Archie. One would know everything in the world there is to know, if one waited long enough. The one fault in the passivity of Buddha as a technique for the acquisition of knowledge and wisdom is the miserably brief span of human life. [...]"

"Yes, sir. You mean, we just go on sitting here and we learn a lot."

"Not a lot. But more, a little more each century."

"You maybe. Not me. If I sit here about two more days I'll be so damn goofy I won't know anything."

Wolfe's eyes flickered faintly.


...then Wolfe needles Archie, who tells him to go to Hell, and Wolfe replies, Awesome, you're annoyed and therefore awake, let's get to work. (As if it's his job to nudge Archie into activity!)

Looking at it fannishly, I love to envision this as Wolfe's first foray into broaching the topic of not-aging and how useful it would be. But Archie not only takes it lightly but also complains about the very idea, that it would be against his nature and drive him insane, so Wolfe veers away with the typical tactic of snark/countersnark.

And of course we know Archie doesn't seem to stop aging until later in the books. So perhaps Wolfe regroups from this casual attempt, and returns to the topic when he feels Archie will be more receptive?
Edited Date: 2010-04-17 09:37 pm (UTC)

Re: The miserably brief span of human life

Date: 2010-04-18 12:39 pm (UTC)
ladyvyola: Snoopy on his doghouse, typing his masterpiece, "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night" (literary genius)
From: [personal profile] ladyvyola
I am intrigued by your ideas and wish to subscribe to your newlet--

Oh, wait. Already did that!

That's an amazing little excerpt, especially since the series as a whole conditions us to equate an eyelid flicker from Wolfe with any other person's flailing about for five minutes.

Re: The miserably brief span of human life

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Re: The miserably brief span of human life

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Date: 2010-04-18 07:37 pm (UTC)
soupytwist: stephen fry peering round a wall (Default)
From: [personal profile] soupytwist
I love this one so much! Drugged Archie being so completely, openly torn apart by the idea that Wolfe had died, and the case! and Wolfe leaving the house for Archie! (Incidentally, I love that a large part of the overarching character plot is "learning to read Wolfe and finding out exactly how much he actually does love Archie". I love it SO MUCH.)

I am not sure about Chapin either - he's really interesting, and I liked that he came over as legitimately powerful and smarter than the people who got him injured. I liked that it sort of started accidentally, too, actually, it came over to me as kind of 'well, okay, opportunity, may as well carry on with that and make fools of them all'. I mean, yeah there was the Evil Cripple issue, but I sort of felt like that was at least a bit better than most people attempting similar ideas at the same time? But the whole impotence thing and the frankly weird collection of stolen undies. I don't really know where to even begin with those, because they're so weird!

Archie's attitude to women gets better, I think, though; I like to put that down to Lily and also inexperience trying to work out exactly what the "normal" straight dude attitude would be. He very often seems like he's putting on his love for women - not that there's reason to doubt that he thinks various women are hot, but kind of like he's mentioning it because he feels he should, or expressing it a certain way because he thinks that's how he should express it. It's especially notable in cases where he's being his flirty skirt-chasing self riiight up until case intervenes and then it's bye-bye with narry a regret - I'm reading Poison a la Carte right now and omg seriously - but a similar sort of distance in his attitude is there from right early on, and it's fascinating. He likes the ladies, but he doesn't want to live with one, despite how many "I should have asked her to marry me!" jokes he makes to rile up Wolfe.

Oh and I wanted to add that the relapse stuff struck me similarly, as absolutely serious mental health stuff going on for Wolfe. What do you reckon Archie thinks of it? It seemed to me like Archie takes the relapses quite seriously; he's not like "and we got him assessed by a doctor" about it, but he never as far as I know/noticed made any "aaand Wolfe should just snap out of it the big baby" kind of comments either. It made me think that it would make total sense if one of the big reasons Archie first got hired was to assist during those relapses.

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Date: 2010-04-19 08:23 am (UTC)
liviapenn: miss piggy bends jail bars (remains sexy while doing so) (Default)
From: [personal profile] liviapenn

Oh and I wanted to add that the relapse stuff struck me similarly, as absolutely serious mental health stuff going on for Wolfe. What do you reckon Archie thinks of it? It seemed to me like Archie takes the relapses quite seriously; he's not like "and we got him assessed by a doctor" about it, but he never as far as I know/noticed made any "aaand Wolfe should just snap out of it the big baby" kind of comments either.

*nod nod* Something Archie says in FDL that I forgot to mention-- when he's talking about his job as a bodyguard, or the gong in the hallway, or something like that-- "Wolfe explained to me he wasn't a coward, he just didn't LIKE being touched or compelled to move quickly, so I was totally okay with that, even though I normally have only scorn for sissy cowards!!"

And it's like: Archie, c'mon, by pretty much every stereotypical definition, Wolfe is totally the kind of guy you would and in fact DO scorn. The pickiness about his clothes, the foodie thing, the books, the fancy talk, the laziness, the moodiness, the melodrama, the *flowers*, fact that he even HAS a live-in bodyguard on top of a gong alarm to keep people out of his room at night-- basically, if Archie met any other guy who was like this, he *would* be full of scorn and disdain-- he would have no time at all for a weak-sister kinda guy like that. But somehow it's okay because it's *Wolfe*.

It's the same with Fritz-- "Fritz is the only guy I know who can giggle without giving me Worrisome Thoughts about his masculinity." Well, why? If you would worry about any other guy, why not Fritz? Because he's so overbearingly manly and has chicks dripping off him all the time? Not that *I* can see... It's totally circular logic: I think Fritz is okay because I'm okay with Fritz! And the same with Wolfe. Archie just has this rock-solid respect for *something* in Wolfe and that makes all the rest of it okay-- it's just the eccentricity of a genius, or something! Geniuses have these kinds of fixations, who can tell with a genius!

It made me think that it would make total sense if one of the big reasons Archie first got hired was to assist during those relapses.

Awww man, totally like Lord Peter and Bunter! :D

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Date: 2010-05-12 12:38 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] ama_nesciri
I have seen the relapses similarly, and always wondered about how Archie describes them in the books--but now I think that 'authorial intent' is coming to the fore in these situations. When Archie describes the relapses he never really includes 100% weak/pathetic behaviors (ie. crying, nightmares, panic attacks.)

Instead, imho, he seems to just paint the relapses as one more annoying eccentricity that Wolfe has, one that is unsurprising because he's a genius and is supposed to have weird quirks and fits of star/diva-like insanity. (Like Tracy Jordan on 30 Rock to make an insane comparison.)

By making the relapses just seem odd, Archie strips them of their potential weight/horror/trauma and because he doesn't explicitly say anything like 'Wolfe's time in prison in X country' or 'Wolfe kept having panic attacks because of his time in Z year', he kind of (to me) disassociates the relapses from WWI--and by doing so he also disassociates them from Wolfe himself. When I read the books I don't get the sense that Wolfe's life experiences resulted in these relapses, they are instead like headaches or a cold (in the sense of anyone can get them, there's nothing you can really do about them etc.)

The way the relapses are described in the books makes me want to see (and read fics about) what they were 'really' like, without Archie's unreliable narration. I would also like to know how everyone reacted to his first book, and the rest (esp. the infamous santa claus-Botweill case)!

Also that's a great idea of 'Archie was first hired to assist during a relapse'--and it even explains (if we want one) his later over-protective attitude when he (to us, the readers) seems overly concerned about Wolfe, etc. Since he's seen Wolfe at his worst and we haven't, his overreaction makes more sense.

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Date: 2010-04-19 07:29 am (UTC)
liviapenn: bette kane squee-ing happily (dc: bette omgsquee)
From: [personal profile] liviapenn

My thoughts!

In the second sentence of the book, if you're paying close enough attention to the implications, Archie actually gives away the twist in the last chapter! As it turned out, the name of Paul Chapin, and his slick and thrifty notions about getting vengeance at wholesale without paying for it, would have come to our notice pretty soon in any event.... Oh Rex Stout. :D

Also notable in this opening scene is the part where Archie is needling Wolfe. Okay, first of all, it's just CUTENESS, esp. the bit about the snowflakes. "You mustn't go to sleep, sir, you freeze to death!" When he moves on to reading silly things out of the paper at Wolfe-- you know, this is actually not the last time that some random thing Archie reads in the paper (1) seems to be random, but actually someone walks into the office in two seconds and asks them to take that very case, or (2) seems to be random and unrelated, but actually is totally related to the case they're currently on, which means either that it's a convenient dramatic device on Rex Stout's part, OR that Archie's subconscious is smarter than even he gives it credit for. *G*

I mean, at least this time there is some plausibility, because he reads like six different things before he hits on the one that makes Wolfe go "Hey, wait a minute," but iirc later on in the canon he just randomly picks up the paper, is like "Did you see this?" and oh yeah, it HAPPENS TO BE A VITAL CLUE. It's almost like over the years he starts becoming vaguely genre aware and doing it on purpose because he knows that randomly picking up the paper and reading something out of it will provide relevant information, like reading the I Ching or something.

-- Then there's this:

"Suppose you read it."

"Viva voce?"

"Archie." Wolfe looked at me. "Where did you pick that up, where did you learn to pronounce it, and what do you think it means?"

"Do you want me to read this stuff out loud, sir?"

"It doesn't mean out loud. Confound you."


This is so adorable and *domestic*. I love Wolfe's befuddlement and low-key grumpiness. That last "Confound you", I'm sure, is covering up an inner "Archie stop being SO ADORABLE."

Speaking of Archie and Wolfe being totally married, which we weren't, this bit from Chapter 3: "No, sir. I wouldn't for anything. A trick is okay, and a deep trick is the staff of life for some people, but where you've got us to at present is wallowing in the unplumbed depths of - wait a minute, I'll look it up, I think it's in Spenser."

Crushing Archie Goodwin sarcasm (tm)! And then Wolfe's response:

"Archie, I warn you, some day you are going to become dispensable." He stirred a little. "If you were a woman and I were married to you, which God forbid, no amount of space available on this globe, to separate us, would put me at ease. ...."

Okay, first of all, Wolfe just told Archie he was indispensable! <3 (Wolfe probably wouldn't have said this except that before the book starts Archie had to go away and be replaced by a stenographer + bodyguard, so he kind of already knows he's irreplaceable.)

But then, okay, the comment about "if you were a woman and if we were married!" I... I actually can't even parse this. Every clause is weirder than the next. Why say "God forbid" about something as impossible as being married to Archie? And then, the thing is, Archie is about as annoying as it's possible to be just as he is! How could he be WORSE for Wolfe's nerves if they were married? It's like, they already live together, they already eat meals together... I mean, I guess Wolfe wouldn't be able to order Wife!Archie to STFU, but then on the other hand, it's 1939, maybe he would! Also it's not like Regular!Archie ever listens when Wolfe orders him to shut up ANYWAY, so what exactly would the difference be? And then there's the part about "no amount of space available on this globe...." Why even bring that part up? "Basically our relationship is exactly like a husband/wife relationship. Except for the part where, when you go far away, I can relax. And I suspect I wouldn't feel that way if I were hypothetically married to a woman and *she* went away." What is that even supposed to mean? Is this some kind of reference to the fact that Archie *did* just go away for a while? Poor Wolfe, constantly beset with Crushing Archie Goodwin Sarcasm, and only free of it for short breaks, where he can relax and be at ease. <3

Chapter 3 also has one of Archie's first references to looking things up in the dictionary (and, specifically, using the dictionary to point out when Wolfe is equivocating or being hypocritical)...

".... Why did you steal it?"

"I borrowed it."

"You say. I've looked in the dictionary. ...."


Bee hee hee.

Also, when Wolfe is discussing whether or not Paul Chapin would hide Hibbard's body specifically so that Evelyn Hibbard wouldn't get the insurance money: "....even a delay in an enemy's good fortune is at least a minor pleasure. Worth such a finesse if you have it in you.

I always find this kind of thing significant, when Wolfe uses the first person to talk about what the killers did/said. Usually it's when he's doing the big charade reveal speech at the end-- "And then I picked up the thing and crushed his skull," etc.-- but, he does it here, too. He doesn't say "A man like Chapin might think it was worth such a finesse, if he had it in him--" no, this is Wolfe telling Archie, "I think it WOULD be worth it to do such a thing in this situation, if you had the backbone, or the ruthlessness. " Is this Wolfe being dramatic and romantic? Or does he mean it? A little of both, I think.

(There is more to come, but I'm not doing a post every three chapters, I swear!)

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Date: 2010-04-19 10:29 pm (UTC)
soupytwist: stephen fry peering round a wall (Default)
From: [personal profile] soupytwist
The "if you were a woman and we were married" thing is so weird and adorable! Like, god only knows what Stout/Wolfe thought he was saying with the married bit if not "let me vaguely and yet definitely gay about this", but the "one day you might be dispensable!" bit is exactly like two married friends of mine who make "you'll be sorry when Angelina Jolie calls me and I have to divorce you!" type jokes all the time. They are kind of sickeningly adorable in much the same way Wolfe and Archie are. :)

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Date: 2010-04-21 02:03 am (UTC)
dorinda: Animated image of Jim kissing Plato on the temple, from a screen test for "Rebel Without a Cause" (JimPlato_animated)
From: [personal profile] dorinda
But then, okay, the comment about "if you were a woman and if we were married!"

Ahh, yes. That's the topic I kept intending to go back to for Fer-de-Lance. But here will do just as well!

I admit I adore, as well as find very telling, that recurring idea from Wolfe about *if you were a woman and we were married* and *good thing you're not a woman and we're not married!* and so forth. To my mind, it meshes perfectly with Archie's tendency (which only grows more marked) to pretend-threaten to get married in order to put a scare into Wolfe.

By which I mean (as I think you had discussed in your LJ, [personal profile] liviapenn?) that each of them automatically (if perhaps tacitly, though just barely) sees the other as filling that spouse-role. So if Archie were a woman of course they would be married; if Archie got married to a woman of course that would mean he'd be abandoning Wolfe (the intensity of Wolfe's emotional reaction to that is brought most explicitly to the fore, perhaps, in "Christmas Party"...sigh! ♥).

The structure of the dynamic doesn't even need to be originally built by fannish readings in order to play with it--the characters themselves keep bringing it up, poking at it, and reinforcing it. In short: WHO CAN BLAME ME. :D

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From: [personal profile] liviapenn - Date: 2010-04-22 06:36 am (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

Date: 2010-04-19 08:06 am (UTC)
liviapenn: selina reclines in bed, fingers brushing her lips (dc: that's hot (selina approves!))
From: [personal profile] liviapenn

Chapter 4: Is this the only time Wolfe gets a group of people as clients for a single job and splits up the fee between them? There's "And Be A Villain" where his fee is split up between a radio network & some corporate sponsors, etc., but that's a little different. IMO, if this were one of the later books, rather than going through the trouble of tracking down the entire League and getting them all to sign on, Wolfe would just target the richest one and soak that guy enough to make the job worth his time. This whole "from each according to his ability (to pay)" setup is suspiciously communist anyway!

Del Bascom is in this chapter. Does he ever actually make an on-stage appearance in any other book? I don't think so, which doesn't really surprise me. There's not really a lot of places you can go with this character, and since he necessarily has to be Not A Genius, he's not very interesting, which is to say, not as much fun as some other characters who also only exist to provide info to Wolfe & Archie, like Lon Cohen (who hasn't shown up yet.)

From Chapter 5: Fritz was always happy and put on a little extra effort when he knew things were moving in the office. That night I passed him a wink when I saw how full the soup was of mushrooms, and when I tasted the tarragon in the salad dressing I threw him a kiss. He blushed. Wolfe frequently had compliments for his dishes and expressed them appropriately, and Fritz always blushed; and whenever I found occasion to toss him a tribute he blushed likewise, I'd swear to heaven, just to please me, not to let me down. I often wondered if Wolfe noticed it. His attention to food was so alert and comprehensive that I would have said off hand he didn't, but in making any kind of a guess about Wolfe offhand wasn’t good enough.

........... This is what makes the Nero Wolfe mysteries different than other mysteries, imo. There's a whole paragraph here about these complex familiar interactions-- Fritz knows Archie doesn't know the difference between great and excellent food, and Archie knows that Fritz knows (and also that Fritz pretends not to) but Archie doesn't know if *Wolfe* notices that Fritz pretends that Archie's compliments are just as good as Wolfe's. It has *zip* to do with the plot, it's not even part of any Wolfe-Archie relationship B-plot, it's just-- I think Rex Stout enjoyed writing about the brownstone residents as a family. (And I think that even if you didn't know that Rex Stout had a lot of siblings you could probably deduce it from paragraphs like these.)

Later when the League starts arriving: Archie gets defensive! "Tell me," he said, "is it true that Nero Wolfe was a eunuch in a Cairo harem and got his start in life by collecting testimonials from the girls for Pyramid Dental Cream?"

Like an ass, for half a second I was sore. "Listen," I said, "Nero Wolfe is exactly--" Then I stopped and laughed. "Sure," I said. "Except that he wasn't a eunuch, he was a camel."


Oh, *Archie*. Don't wear your heart on your sleeve like that! <3 It has struck me that in later books when Archie has to punch someone and it isn't for bodyguarding or self-defense purposes, most of the time it's because of an insult to Wolfe (whats-his-name the Nazi dude in "Over My Dead Body" who throws one of Wolfe's books on the floor, and the right-wing radio pundit in "The Second Confession" who says mean things about Wolfe on the air, are the examples I can think of... It's very romantic.)

When Archie grabs the gun away from Paul Chapin in the office: Wolfe said, "Confound you, Archie. You have deprived Mr. Chapin of the opportunity for a dramatic and effective gesture. ...." And then he even apologizes! Wolfe respects a talented dramatist. Maybe he just respects drama.

Blah blah things happen.

Chapter 8, near the end-- Archie does something for Evelyn Hibbard, similar to what he does for Anna Fiore at the end of FDL, where he gives her $1000 instead of the $100 back, presumably as a sort of silent apology for scaring her and roughing her up. In this bit, Wolfe is going to charge her $3000 and Archie tries to talk him down to $1000 and they settle on $2000. Of course in these earlier books you get more of a sense that Archie is just a big kid and works this job for the excitement and the drama, but later on he's like "it's expensive to run this house!!" and does less of this gentlemanly largesse type of thing.

Chapter 9-- Archie is REALLY rude to Saul! On the phone with him: I asked him what he wanted and he said he wanted to report. I asked him report what, and he said, nothing, just report. I was sore at everything anyway, so I got sarcastic. I said if he couldn't find Hibbard alive or dead, maybe he could rig up a dummy that would do. I said I had just got a smack in the eye on another angle of the case, and if he was no better than I was he'd better come on down to the office with a pinochle deck, and I hung up on him, which alone is enough to aggravate a nun. (Later on in Chapter 13 there's a Saul-description that is a little more like the usual thing: He, with his wrinkled little mug not causing any stranger to suspect how cute he was, and he could be pretty damn cute - he sat on the edge of a tapestry chair, smoking a big slick light-brown cigar that smelled like something they scatter on lawns in the early spring, and told me about it to date. Although that's still not quite our Saul, "cute" is definitely a compliment coming from Archie, as he says the same thing about Wolfe in Chapter 5 when Wolfe is presenting his plan to the League: Again heads nodded. He was easing them into it; he was sewing them up. I grinned to myself, "Boss, you're cute, that's all, you're just cute.")

(no subject)

Date: 2010-04-21 02:10 am (UTC)
dorinda: Fat Pony appears in a blaze of light! (Fat_Pony)
From: [personal profile] dorinda
Archie gets defensive!

And over a crack about Wolfe's sexuality, too. Oh, Archie. *pat pat*

Re: Del Bascom, I had actually forgotten he appears on-stage in this book. Funnily, from reading books out of order and whatnot, I think he surprised me when I finally met him face-to-face... he seemed less competent, perhaps, than I had assumed, and Wolfe seemed to respect him less than I had imagined.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-04-19 09:08 am (UTC)
liviapenn: miss piggy bends jail bars (remains sexy while doing so) (Default)
From: [personal profile] liviapenn

-- Wolfe fooling around with Paul Chapin's Box of Creepy Fetish Objects: Wolfe fingered the gloves some more, and held up a stocking to look through it at the light. To see him handling female hosiery as if he understood it gave me a new insight into the extent of his pretensions. Ahahaha, Archie. You've thought about this some, then? Wolfe's experience with women?

Of course Archie is totally right, because just a second later Wolfe says, ".... for years Dora Chapin, then Ritter, was Mrs. Burton's personal maid, and that she still attends her, to do something to her hair, at least once a week." The sheer vagueness of that phrase "do something" is just lethally adorable coming from Wolfe, who is always technically exact in his vocabulary. What does Dora Chapin's job entail? What do women hire other women to do to their hair? Wolfe doesn't know! They do something. They do stuff! *G*

I think I pointed this out in one of my earlier squee posts, but yeah, this is the book where Archie talks about his fancy ostrich-skin wallet that was a birthday present from Wolfe? And it is the WEIRDEST and possibly most creepily significant segue of all time, because it comes up right after they paw through Paul Chapin's creepy fetish treasure box, and Wolfe calls it the box that Paul Chapin keeps his *soul* in. And Archie says: I had a nice piece of leather of my own, not as big as Paul Chapin's treasure box, but fancier. IE, when it comes to things we prize beyond measure, possibly even to a point other people would think creepy and wrong, Paul Chapin has his box of stockings and *I have this*.

........... *raises one eyebrow!*

Later in Chapter 13: Fritz and Archie once again have an interaction that wouldn't be inappropriate between a patient mom and a twelve-year-old boy: Fritz, sitting there reading the French paper, giggled at me: "You drink milk looking like that, you curdle it." I stuck my tongue out at him and went back to the office.

Near the end of 13, Wolfe notices something significant:

He stopped himself; and said in a different tone:

"Mr. Goodwin. Hand me the glass."

I gave it to him. His using my formal handle when we were alone meant that he was excited almost beyond control, but I had no idea what about.


......................I'm just not even gonna say anything about this except "I don't even KNOW, man."

Chapter 15: I had about as much hope of finding Hibbard as of getting a mash note from Greta Garbo ....

I only mention this because in the early 70s Greta Garbo DID WRITE a mash note to Archie, so there. :D

Chapter 16 features my nominee for "most unintentionally suggestive sentence in this book" -- Archie looking at Hibbard in the office after they've unmasked him -- To me he was the finest hunk of bacon I had lamped for several moons. AAAAAHHHHH.

-- Also, can I just say, Hibbard's Great Undercover Adventure is so Sherlock Holmes it hurts.

Chapter 17 features one of the weirder Rex Stout "women are aliens" moments, when Mrs. Burton says that Paul Chapin's *actual* intolerable deformity is that he's a man with feminine cunning.

Chapter 20-- Okay, so I totally just skipped over the OMG ARCHIE DRUGGED AND OMG CRYING part, but really, what is there to say about it. It is absolutely perfect in every way. What I love is Wolfe's recap afterwards, cool as the wrong side of the pillow: "You know my fondness for talking. It was an excellent opportunity. She was calm from the outset. She and I have much in common-- for instance, our dislike of perturbation. .... After I had explained the situation to her, we discussed it. The moment arrived when it seemed pointless to continue our conference in that cold, dark forbidding spot, and besides, I had learned what had happened to you. She seemed so uncertain as to what she had used to flavor your coffee that I thought it best to reach a telephone with as little delay as possible." Sure, no biggie, just talked it over.

I would love to see *this* scene expanded in fic, actually. Maybe even from Dora Chapin's POV. Mostly I'm curious, what *else* does Wolfe think that he has in common with Dora Chapin, besides not liking a lot of fuss? Ruthlessness, coupled with a broad streak of romanticism? What else?

I already commented on the last chapter in my comments above, and like I said, I kind of go back and forth as to whether it's more or less of a stereotype for Paul Chapin to not actually be the real killer, but I have to say I still think he's a pretty cool character (except for the creepy fetish box about which the less said the better) and a pretty awesome villain. Archie clearly thinks the idea of Wolfe getting killed in a book is hilarious, but I wonder what he actually thought when/if the book came out and he actually read it. I can see it really bothering him!

(no subject)

Date: 2010-04-19 10:34 pm (UTC)
soupytwist: stephen fry peering round a wall (Default)
From: [personal profile] soupytwist
........... *raises one eyebrow!*

SERIOUSLY. The segue is absolutely all 'Paul Chapin's creepy box of fetish objects... my gift from Wolfe!'

It almost gets weirder when Archie comments that he wouldn't mind having one of Mrs Burton's gloves himself! A looot of very odd sexual stuff in this book, omg.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-04-21 02:25 am (UTC)
dorinda: In "Brideshead Revisited" (1981), Sebastian and Charles, arms around each other, look out to sea. (Brideshead_sea)
From: [personal profile] dorinda
To see him handling female hosiery as if he understood it gave me a new insight into the extent of his pretensions. Ahahaha, Archie. You've thought about this some, then? Wolfe's experience with women?

:D That line has always struck me, because the "new insight" so strongly seems to indicate that Archie had indeed given it some thought, and by now had decided that Wolfe was a solid Kinsey 6 (if you'll pardon the anachronism)--and "his pretensions" seems to indicate that even now, Archie's not changing his mind, despite Wolfe putting on his sudden show of expertise re: lingerie (Wolfe's true lack of interest/knowledge in the intimate business of women then shows through with his handwavey "do something to her hair," as you mentioned).

Paul Chapin has his box of stockings and *I have this*.

...I OBVIOUSLY NEVER PAID ENOUGH ATTENTION TO THAT SEQUE. HOLY MOLY. &HEARTS;

I would love to see *this* scene expanded in fic, actually. Maybe even from Dora Chapin's POV.

Yes indeed. For me, it brings to mind that 'scary voice' of Wolfe's, that Archie mentions in Fer-de-Lance. I can imagine Wolfe possibly bringing that to bear on Dora Chapin, in and among the reasoned discourse. Perhaps the equivalent of Sherlock Holmes' famous line in "The Adventure of the Three Garridebs" after Watson has been wounded: "By the Lord, it is as well for you. If you had killed Watson, you would not have got out of this room alive."


(no subject)

Date: 2010-04-21 02:44 am (UTC)
dorinda: Fat Pony appears in a blaze of light! (Fat_Pony)
From: [personal profile] dorinda
I had two further details from this book that I wasn't sure where to mention...

Speaking of imaginary previous cases, Bascom refers to another one that happened about two years earlier: "Remember the clerk that didn't see the guy lifting the emeralds because he was sneezing?"--emeralds again! I suddenly wonder if these are the same emeralds that were involved in Fer de Lance's remembered car chase with "Young Graves". *g*

And, on an entirely different note, Archie gets irked at not currently being the Man! Of! Action!: "It seems as if I'm like a piece of antique furniture or a pedigreed dog, I'm in the luxury class. You keep me on for beauty."

I enjoy fan stories that pick up this issue, from both angles--Archie chafing when he starts to feel like a kept boy, but also Wolfe's desire to surround himself with beauty. In the back of my edition of Fer de Lance, they included a typed memo by Rex Stout from 1949, giving character descriptions of Wolfe and Archie, as well as descriptions of the ground floor of the brownstone, concentrating on the office. And it has the line, "Wolfe permits nothing to be in [the office] that he doesn't enjoy looking at, and that has been the only criterion for admission." Well, I ask you. *waves hands around*

(no subject)

Date: 2010-04-21 07:34 am (UTC)
liviapenn: miss piggy bends jail bars (remains sexy while doing so) (Default)
From: [personal profile] liviapenn

"It seems as if I'm like a piece of antique furniture or a pedigreed dog, I'm in the luxury class. You keep me on for beauty."

......WHAT. *goes and looks at that part again* Oh my god, that's a real quote. I swear, there are little slash elves that go back and put these quotes in the book when I'm not looking.

(Speaking of "man of action" I totally already squee-d over on my lj about Archie calling himself that, but what I only noticed on a re-read is that it's actually a callback to something *Wolfe* says-- in Chapter 7 when Archie is theorizing about why Paul Chapin might go around with an unloaded gun: ".... As a man of action you are tolerable, you are even competent. But I will not for one moment put up with you as a psychologist. ...." So when Archie calls himself that later on, it's not only Archie being sort of endearingly self-deprecating and boasting at the same time, it's also a very personal sort of needle at Wolfe! And it also goes to show how much Archie *really listens*-- even putting aside his memory-- to the things Wolfe says to him.)

I enjoy fan stories that pick up this issue, from both angles--Archie chafing when he starts to feel like a kept boy, but also Wolfe's desire to surround himself with beauty.

Yeah, I wonder. You would certainly think that someone who is *as much of a genius* as Wolfe is, esp. in these early books, could figure out some way to make money that doesn't involve so much time and effort and people invading his house and creating deadly enemies and disrupting his meals and forcing him to take responsibility for sometimes making mistakes and getting innocent people killed, and so on. Seriously, after one of their more major jobs for a corporation, just take some capital and buy a chain of laundromats, or a sheep farm in New Zealand, and hire some people to run them, then sit back and live off the profits. Become a tycoon! They certainly have enough rich connections to help them start it off. And, sure, ok, they do need a LOT of money to run the brownstone, and maybe "start a new business!" isn't the first thing on anyone's mind during the Depression, and maybe Wolfe is a little too much of a control freak to sit back and let other people run, say, a hotel that he owns.... but also, maybe the main reason why that isn't an option? If Wolfe did that, he'd really have no reason to keep Archie around.

I mean, he'd still need a stenographer/secretary and possibly a bodyguard, but he wouldn't need a private detective of Archie's caliber. I wonder if that underlies, sometimes, Archie's push for them to *work*. If they don't take on private detection jobs, he's basically a pretty secretary! I can totally picture Archie having this faint subconscious fear that maybe Wolfe will just never accept a job again, and *what does that make him*? He would totally have to leave, his self-esteem couldn't take it.

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From: [personal profile] soupytwist - Date: 2010-04-21 02:17 pm (UTC) - Expand