Rex Stout maintained his popular readership despite the often controversial and radical political content expressed in his detective fiction. His political ideals often made him many enemies. Stances such as his ardent opposition to censorship, racism, Nazism, Germany, Fascism, Communism, McCarthyism, and the unfettered FBI were potentially offensive to colleagues and readers from various political backgrounds. Yet Stout attempted to present radical messages via the content of his detective fiction with subtlety. As a literary traditionalist, he resisted using his fiction as a platform for an often extreme political agenda. Where political messages are apparent in his work, Stout employs various techniques to mute potentially offensive messages. First, his hugely successful bantering Archie Goodwin-Nero Wolfe detective duo—a combination of both the lippy American and the tidy, sanitary British detective schools—fosters exploration, contradiction, and conflict between political viewpoints. Archie often rejects or criticizes Wolfe's extreme political viewpoints. Second, Stout utilizes the contradictions between values that occur when the form of detective fiction counters his radical political messages. This suggests that the form of detective fiction (in this case the conventional patterns and attitudes reinforced by the genre) is as important as the content (in this case the muted political message or the lack of overt politics) in reinforcing or shaping political, economic, moral, and social viewpoints. An analysis of the novels The Black Mountain (1954) and The Doorbell Rang (1965) and the novellas "Not Quite Dead Enough" and "Booby Trap" (1944) from Stout's Nero Wolfe series demonstrates his use of detective fiction for both the expression of political viewpoints and the muting of those political messages.
College and Department
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Cannon, Ammie, "Controversial Politics, Conservative Genre: Rex Stout's Archie-Wolfe Duo and Detective Fiction's Conventional Form" (2006). Theses and Dissertations. 469.
Rex Stout, detective fiction, mystery novels, Nero Wolfe, Archie Goodwin, politics and literature, The Black Mountain, The Doorbell Rang, Not Quite Dead Enough, Booby Trap, Too Many Cooks, The Illustrious Dunderheads, J. Edgar Hoover, FBI, COINTELPRO, Senator Joseph McCarthy, Fascism, Communism, Nazism, racism, censorship, Democracy, Individualism, isolationism, WWII, conventional values, form, content