Timothy's Reviews > The Hard-Boiled Virgin

The Hard-Boiled Virgin by Jack Woodford
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really liked it
Read 2 times. Last read February 1, 2019 to February 14, 2019.

It seems apt to have finished reading this novel as Valentine’s Day starts in the wee hours. For this is not romantic comedy, it is a romantic noir.

I am not really an avid reader of “pulp fiction,” though I recently read an early Jack Vance crime novel and am a Charles Willeford enthusiast, favorite novels including his tough guy/Stirnerite spins on Ayn Rand themes, as in Burnt Orange Heresy, Cockfighter, and The Woman Chaser. I would not be surprised to learn that Willeford studied not only Woodford’s writing manuals, but also pulp novels such as this one, originally called Lady Killer and published under a pseudonym in the 1930s, the decade in which he produced his largest fictional output.

This book is less a novel of ideas than the author’s Illegitimate and Unmoral, which I have reviewed elsewhere; it is much more like Willeford’s work. It is less talky in elaborating Woodford’s “selfism” and more along the lines of a standard love triangle — except that Woodford’s method is more aptly termed a “love tangle.” Here we have a revenge scenario worked out. The plan fails, and, after a few twists and a murder, we have a happy ending. As usually with Woodford, the opening chapter is brilliant, while the happy ending will probably please today’s readers least.

I have a theory about the value of this author’s fiction. Woodford considered his work in this field — which he called “sex novels” — to be junk. He thought of himself a manipulator of readers for whom he had little respect. (But he showed much more disrespect for publishers. I recommend his Loud Literary Lamas of New York as a fun book-length rant against his bêtes noir. Woodford made his living as a self-publisher, and recommended to would-be authors that publishing method — though he had to give it up in his final decade.) The nature of his “sex writing” method was the ramping-up of sexual excitement. It worked back in his day, when there were multiple taboos against “prurience” in speech and in literature. And Woodford found the perfect way to navigate through the Comstockian minefield: by never mentioning a sex organ, in either technical or vulgar wording, euphemistic or dysphemistic. This book is no exception. But nowadays all that sexual frustration has dissipated. Nothing sexual is hidden from us, free on the Internet, and Network TV is far, far more explicit than Woodford was. So we are left with the strength of his prose, the ingenuity of his characterization and plots, and the charm of his cynicism. It is rather like Greek statuary: their greatness is revealed eons later, and in no small part because the original gaudy painting has worn off. The sexual repression and titillation constitute the ancient Greeks’ paint.

This is one of his better efforts. I am pretty sure he despised it, or at least pretended to. But I don’t. I think it has merit. I enjoyed it, and studied how it was constructed. Many a literary “masterpiece” of his era is no longer worth reading. This “trash” is.

Here is an oddity, though. Twice in the novel he used the word “strengthy.” I had never encountered that word before. Why not, simply, “strong”? I am pretty sure Woodford did not choose the word lightly. And I was almost taken aback at discovering that it was a once-common word. I am a bit surprised I had not noticed it before. Checking Google’s Ngram viewer, I see it has dropped out of the language. The word’s heyday was the 1840s, a century before this paperback hit the racks.

There is an advertisement for his line of books from “The Woodford Press” — including two of the novels I mentioned above — and was undoubtedly a term Woodford insisted on adding to The Hard-Boiled Virgin’s publishing contract.

The title of this novel is, of course, classic — and was cribbed from Frances Newman’s modernist monstrosity made infamous in the Twenties.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
February 1, 2019 – Started Reading
February 13, 2019 – Shelved
February 13, 2019 –
page 123
63.73%
February 14, 2019 – Finished Reading

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