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'The Florentine Dagger' (1923)

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  • miketooney49
    THE FLORENTINE DAGGER. By Ben Hecht. Boni and Liveright. $2.00 The
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 6, 2012
      Boni and Liveright. $2.00


      'The Forum,' January 1924, "Freudian Detective
      Fiction," by Laird Shields Goldsborough:


      "The really absorbing mystery to be
      found in Mr. Ben Hecht's latest book is
      not nearly so much, 'who murdered Victor
      Ballau?' as 'Why did Ben Hecht care who
      murdered him?' Ben Hecht, arch foe of the
      Bourgeoisie; arch high priest of 'L'art pour
      l'art, and damn the censors'; Ben Hecht has
      apparently consented to keep his literary pot
      boiling by the addition of ingredients designed
      especially to tempt the palate of his especial
      bete noire, the tired business man. For hors
      d'oeuvre he has served up the sudden and
      inexplicable death of Victor Ballau; for entree
      he has concocted the elaborate suspicions
      which soon threaten to envelop the beautiful
      daughter of the murdered man; and for piece
      de resistance he has wisely relied upon the
      laudable efforts of her lover. Prince Julian de
      Medici, to clear her name. Surely a menu for
      the masses, -- their accustomed food, but
      with exotic trimmings!

      "One sees it all, the whole meteoric
      descent into the realm of 'mere mystery
      fiction,' in the stylistic difficulties which
      the author experiences while trying to
      speak with his tongue in his cheek. From
      what the scholarly would call internal
      evidence, I venture to do a little literary
      sleuthing on my own account; I venture
      to reconstruct for the benefit of the
      curious the circumstances of that Hechtic
      night during which 'The Florentine Dagger'
      was committed -- to paper.

      "It is a dark and stormy night. The wind,
      and possibly the wolf, howls at the door
      behind which is ensconced Mr. Hecht,
      amid whatever exoticisms serve him for
      household gods. A copy of that charming
      mixture of lurid fact and fiction, The
      Hearst Newspapers' Sunday magazine,
      has just fallen from the Hechtic hand.
      The Hechtic eye has just been revolted
      by a feature story concerning Mile.
      Lucrezia Bori, hailed recently by the
      Hearst papers as, 'Innocent as a lamb,
      yet with the dark secrets of the Borgia in
      her blood,' -- or words to that effect.
      The face of Ben Hecht becomes contorted
      with a consuming passion. The howling
      at the door! The terrific hysteria excited
      in a man like Hecht by the Hearst-
      Lucrezia Bori incident! All these things
      unseat his high insistence upon L'art pour
      l'art. Dual personality, -- the Freudian
      splitting of the mind into compartments,
      -- is induced by the strain; and Mr. Ben
      Hecht's alter ego seizes his pen and writes
      a would-be 'best seller.'

      "Naturally the hero is Prince Julian de Medici
      of Broadway, -- what other mediaeval family,
      the Borgia excepted, is so well known to the
      readers of Mr. Hearst's admirable Sunday
      magazine? Naturally exoticism is laid on with
      a trowel, -- Ben Hecht, even as an alter ego,
      can never quite escape from that. And naturally
      too, the whole story is about to degenerate into
      a solemn farce, until it plunges into the realm
      of abnormal psychology. There Ben Hecht is
      in his element, at last. Whatever may be said
      about the irreverence of the 'Chicago Moderns'
      for the Christian Deity, they worship at the
      shrines of Freud and Jung assiduously enough.
      And curiously, -- or rather very naturally, --
      when Ben Hecht ceases to pander directly to
      the crowd, when he flies home to his native
      complexes and obsessions, the whole tone of
      'The Florentine Dagger' is heightened and
      improved a thousandfold.

      "Indeed it is to this late flowering of sincerity
      that I believe the book will owe most of its
      success. Once in his belated stride, Mr. Hecht
      is not only sincere but in a sense original.
      Original, that is, because no careful student of
      abnormal psychology has as yet diluted the
      more ghastly pages of Messrs. Freud and
      Jung with just the right dash of hokum to
      satisfy the public. For example, the man in
      the street would be revolted if Dr. Freud
      should present to him the case of X --, an
      inmate of an insane asylum, whose mind is
      in such a state that he does not know whether
      he attempted to kill himself one night, or
      whether someone attempted to murder him.
      Horrible! Yes. But rename the unfortunate
      X --. Call him Prince Julian de Medici;
      cause his madness to arise out of 'the dark
      secrets . . . in his blood'; envelope the whole
      mystery in an air of bogus mediaeval-modernism,
      -- and presto! you have found a new way to
      tickle the palates of those who love detective

      "That, by the way, is about all Mr. Hecht has
      done. You will probably be diverted by his
      baffling mystery, -- and a very fair specimen
      it is. But you will be far more diverted by Ben
      Hecht, -- that is if you are either a student or a
      lover of that evanescent thing called style."

      1935 movie version:

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