Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Stacey Bishop (George Antheil) : Death in the Dark, 1930

Article rewritten on occasion of the publishing in U.S. also, after in Italy, of the Antheil novel.
It is recommended read this analysis, after reading the book in question, because many of the plot details are revealed.

To celebrate the first 1000 visits to my blog, I dedicate to my readers a novelty, the analysis of a legendary novel, published only in Italy : Death in the Dark, 1930, by George Antheil.

Once this phrase had a sense, now  he does not have it anymore. Indeed after the second publication of this novel, in Italy (ten years ago. Title of italian publication: "La morte nel buio".  
Preface Mauro Boncompagni, translation Giancarlo Carlotti – Shake Edizioni, Nnoir Sélavy , Milano, 2009, pagg.188 ), now the John Pugmire's publishing house, has published, also in U.S., the Antheil novel.

Death in the Dark hadn't the success Antheil thought to have, for a strange reaction of the public, and so he decided to abandon the ambition of all light literature, and spent his brain energies on other things.
In truth, the noted British critic and novelist Julian Symons said Antheil would write a second novel, in addition to this published at the time by Faber & Faber, the publishing house founded by Elliot, but this second work, nobody has seen. So, unless you are one day buried in some private collection, the only detective wrote and published by Antheil, is Death in the Dark. Why was it the only Antheil’s attempt ? Why the public did not accept him as he would have expected? What did happen it ?
First we say that the Antheil book is super-vandinian novel. 
At the time, in which Antheil wrote, Van Dine was the champion and the archetype to model, especially for an American author as Antheil who albeit temporarily transplanted in Europe (after the First World War had been created a community of Americans: Ezra Pound, Antheil, Hemingway, Miller, etc. ..), especially in Paris,where he had become familiar with European authors: Elliot, Joyce, Miro, Picasso, Stravinskj, De Chirico), deeply resented from Nietzsche’s influence in Van Dine.  Philo Vance detective is a bourgeois, but very rich and cultured, who despises the vulgar, and for which has value only  “the murder committed by a fine art” like wrote Thomas De Quincey. In short, a detective that personified the theories of Nietzsche on the birth of Superman (which in the German writer, beyond the post-mortem manipulation of Nazism, however, has a more philosophical sense). However, this Superman’s philosophy , also had a deeply irrational soul, which is well married with the yearnings of those who wanted to awaken the conscience from the torpor in which they were sunk.
So then Antheil could only create a detective who was largely tributary to Van Dine. And so Antheil, who took the pseudonym of Stacey Bishop, created his Philo Vance who called Stephan Bayard: as Philo Vance is an esthete, a passionate lover and critic of contemporary art (such as impassioned and art critic is Philo Vance), and as Vance music fan, it's just that Bayard of contemporary music, he has a friend Attorney: the Philo Vance’s Markham is the Antheil’s Wayson. And Antheil's novel is based on a Van Dine’s novel, in a manner so obvious,  being almost a quote.
A chain of murders takes place in a house, in New York: at Denny home, wealthy family of the rich bourgeoisie, Dave Denny was found dead for a gunshot in the forehead. What's wrong? The fact that at the time of the shooting, the house was dark: how did the murderer in the dark recognize his victim and how did he shoot him exactly in the middle of the forehead, in his bedroom? The fact is that all the suspects were at the time of the gunshot together in same room: Frieda Alvinson was sunk in an armchair to read, Dr. Stein and John Alvinson were looking out the window, while another, adjacent, or nearly so, was Gertrude Denny, the victim's wife, and finally in his bedroom was sleeping the matriarch of the family, the mother of Denny. There is also a half brother, Aaron, who at the time of the murder, was out of the house.
The surveys seem at first sight more than difficult: who killed, did he take advantage from a fortuitous distraction of the present (the wailing of the sirens of fire that passed under the windows of the house), or was everything knowingly premeditated ? And whom Gertrude expected to see into the bathroom, when Captain Jules opened the door? And who did write a mysterious book in which the crime is described in detail ? And especially why was inserted the door key from the inside, when it was customary that when a belonging to the family was out, he had to hang it  on a hook? And why did the gun shoot  twice and the second bullet was blank?
The fact is that the investigations would lead to Aaron, accused even by his stepmother and whose part in the affair seems to be dangerously established, and the police can not help but stop it, because just as the old mother is about to pronounce the name of the murderer ( him?), someone among the present shoots. Except that no one saw who fired, and, even more strange, the gun that fired, it is found on the bed of the first victim: in practice mysteriously would it have  crossed the aisle that divides the room from the Denny room where the second crime occurred.
Everything solved? No, not at all. Because the suspect is in turn found dead in his cell, killed by a gunshot fired almost point-blank. The strange thing is that no one has seen come in room who killed him, let alone get out and  no gun was found inside the cell.
So among the three crimes one is more insoluble than other.
In the midst of this jungle of suspicion, false leads, more or less convincing evidence, clues solvers, analysis and other weird at all weird, artistic and musical considerations, endocrine Criminological Research, Stephen Bayard will able to trap a murderer of higher mind, smart , vengeful, and evil.
It 'clear that the false line on which Antheil builds his novel, as we have said before, is a novel by Van Dine. Considering the year in which it was not merely writing and publication of his novel (1929), Death in the Dark, she could have just as an example of  vandinian novels are written until that year. Among these is chosen that is still considered perhaps if not “the masterpiece” one of his masterpieces, and one that certainly has affected more than any other, the detective novel tout court: a chain of murders that occur in a family.
Antheil from Van Dine had taken some of the characteristics we have mentioned above. I will say that the same first-person narrator Stacey Bishop, the pseudonym of Antheil, is modeled on S.S.Van Dine, who appears in novels and that is the pseudonym of Willard Huntington Wright.
There lies the Greene family, hence the Denny family. In both there is a stepmother, a widow. In both, she is killed. In both there is a library, where there is a particular book, revealing the murder (the first), in both cases there is an evil mind that plans the massacre, in both cases there are artistic considerations, in both cases there is a doctor there, Von Blon, Stein here, but in both cases there is a crime committed with a gun that is not (the third murder), in both cases there is something that is open and that causes death. Too many similar elements not to mention an example of super-vandinian writing.
The thing that intrigued me most, however, is the fact that in a novel built (perhaps) as a tribute to Van Dine and his way of building the novels, there Antheil had entered his thoughts on art (Miro, Picasso) and on music (Stravinskj, Schumann, Raff), giving it the title character, and especially his remarks (which won him, as recalled in the preface Boncompagni, the consideration of the Paris Police) Endocrinology of the nature of the crime.
Moreover, that these assumptions endocrinological crime were his fixation, it is explained by the fact that a few years after the publication of this his novel, Antheil published a separate study, the title of which was Every Man His Own Detective: A Study of Glandular Criminology (1937).
Considerations that he - in the discussion of the novel - assigns to Dr. Stein. But what particularly struck me is how Stein speaks of the phenomenon and how he intends to cure him: and for that, among others, expressed their thoughts on the fact that, using certain scientific devices, you can turn a mass of deficient a series of bright minds. The creation of a super race? The description that makes Stein is a well-educated scientist, but also that blindly believes in his project. The laboratory with all its appliances, and the aura that manages to get around the human body, make me think to  Fritz Lang's “Metropolis”. But the consideration that making a radical change of  centrism thyme he is able to transform a criminal into a bright brain man, a superman, as he says, reminds me  Nietzsche, but also to the studies of genetics that came after it and spotted the chromosome of crime.
Beyond this, the novel, despite being a triumph of pure deduction, it is too difficult for the average reader, because it can be thoroughly understood, requires a reader who knows certain issues, and certainly this may have affected the success of the novel . Perhaps the striking similarity (and I am silent on other similarities even more direct) with The Greene Murder Case, had its importance. Who knows ..
It is certain  Antheil was expecting a great recognition of the public, and instead the reception was not what he  expected. What resulted was a great interpreter of American musical modernism, tried without much luck detective work to deliver wide-ranging history of the genre.
It almost seems like the story of another American musical performer, Blanche Bloch, also she vandinian writer, which gave the story a single novel worthy of note: The Bach Festival Murders (1942).
But that's another story.
Beyond this, an extraordinary novel, published for the second time ever, before in Italy, after the first publication, in 1930, and now in U.S.

Pietro De Palma

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