Found Pages: The Remarkable Harold Ernest (“Darcy Glinto”) Kelly, 1899–1969.
Sidebar 5: Darcy Janson
The thirteen novels attributed to Harold Kelly writing as Hank Janson are the first “Kelly” novels that I’ve read that deal with the more or less ordinary texture of daily modern life as experienced by someone not a criminal. One would have to know that series much better than I do to tell how far the author inhabits seamlessly a pre-established voice or family of voices, and where we have departures from it.
The unequivocal attributions are by Steve Holland in his absorbing and poignant The Trials of Hank Janson (2004). As I’ve indicated in “Violence, Inc.,” I am skeptical about some of them.
Most of the books are not particularly interesting in their own right, being too low-keyed and with too many Hank clichés, particularly in comparison with the books by Stephen Frances himself at his Janson best, with his intense sense of the suffering body.
But there are things here to hold and at times grip the attention.
These are first-person narratives, and it is interesting to observe, in the person of Hank, some of Kelly’s own detailed thought-processes, particularly with regard to problem-solving, whether breaking into or out of a building, tracking down someone’s identity, or figuring out the right way to handle a disturbed woman.
It’s nice, too, that solutions don’t always come as planned, as they do for that master operator Travis McGee. Stake-outs drag on and get nowhere, tailed cars are lost sight of, a beat cop refuses to be bluffed and carts Hank off to the station-house where he can not get instant access to his friend on the force, etc.
It is possible, also, that if one stayed with them more attentively than I have done, one could figure out more about Kelly’s own ethical stance.
The best of the books—for me Reluctant Hostess (1961), Honey for Me (1962), and Sex-Angle (1964)—are solid and knowledgeable. One would swear, for example, that Kelly himself had been out in the wintry Canadian woodland that figures at one point in Sex Angle. And why not? Canada wasn’t behind the Iron Curtain, and, as I said apropos of his pamphlet Give the People Homes (1945), Kelly may in fact have been there.
There are characteristic Kelly/Glinto-type episodes in those and others of the thirteen books, such as closely described hand-to-hand fights and the painstaking problem-solving by which Hank breaks out of the garage pit in which he is seemingly hopelessly immured.
The worldly-wise yet unpretentious voice, in places, is that of someone who may be tapping into his own earlier years of experiences as a journalist.
“In my beginning is my end.” After the so-so first two Jansons, She Sleeps to Conquer and Venus Makes Three ( 1961), Kelly starts hitting his stride again with a return to white-slavery, or what would now be called sex-slavery, in Reluctant Hostess (1961), which is what I shall principally focus on here.
Narratives within narratives can be particularly effective at times, such as the story of the two American women cousins in a concentration camp in the real Hank Janson’s (Stephen Frances’) Women Hate Till Death (1951).
At the start of Reluctant Hostess, Janson runs into a former lover, Stella Cardew, for whom it had been “the first time” back in high-school days—a relationship that had mattered to both of them—and who is now, ten or more years later, a poised, handsome, mature, and, because of a marriage, rich woman. They like one another still, and make love at her request.
Afterward, she tells him, without melodramatics, the three-chapter story of her recent servitude in a brothel after being drugged by a smoothie recruiter for it.
As she explains:
“It went on for five weeks. The [ house ] doctor had said toleration would come, but it isn’t toleration you get to. It’s an apathy of utter hopelessness. You have to accept that that is going to be your life for the future. You can see no possible way of escaping from it and you begin to feel so degraded that you cannot envisage going back to a clean and decent life even if the opportunity came. A misery settles inside you that is like a heavy ache that never goes. During the days you go through the motions of ordinary living, walking for exercise, eating your meals, even talking with the other girls. But you see yourself and the things you do as if they were some way off from you. You start by hating the people who have forced you to such a state but your feelings have to deaden. I guess you would go mad if they didn’t. You end by having no feeling about them at all.” (p.39)
That sounds to me like a former journalist’s (Kelly’s) transcription or adaptation of things that have actually been said to him.
At the start of Chapter V Stella tells how “some of the men were such nasty specimens to look at I had got in the habit of playing a sort of silly little game,” namely not looking until the last moment at the prospective customer to whom she had to expose herself in the reception room under the hard-eyed gaze of the Madam.
On this particular evening, she is upset because it looks like being an all-nighter.
“I always hated that most, although it can happen that you have to receive half a dozen or more. However, I went down playing my futile little game as usual. I gave my bow, loosened my girdle [i.e. wraparound belt), drew out my arms as Madame took the dressing-down from my shoulders, did my pirouette—and then looked straight at the client. As I did so, he gasped, Mrs.Cardew! Is it possible?’” (p.40)
And no, in context it isn’t funny and she isn’t Mrs Robinson. He’s her sixtyish and ultra-respectable banker, and ashamed in his turn to be found frequenting such a place. He asks how she came to be there, and the Madam asks angrily what’s going on.
“But I was in such a state, between amazement and shame it was as if she spoke from a long way off. And it hadn’t occurred to me yet that this might be a miracle of good luck. I was thinking about having snatched the gown and put it on again, and was telling myself, Now you’ve done it. This time nothing can save you from a caning, and she’ll make it as severe as she dares to make up for the two she let me off.’” (p.41)
That’s not porn, not “exploitation,” not sadistic, nor in the conventional S-M sense masochistic. Like the account I quoted earlier of Eileen O’Rourke in Road Floozie seeking an outdoors spot for the night, it’s true imaginative self-projection into an embodied consciousness different from one’s own.
Fortunately the banker is level-headed, tough-minded, and resolute on her behalf, and after a Mexican stand-off with the coolly dangerous and articulate head of the operation (the doctor), takes her away with him, dressed the way she is because she cannot bear to return to her bedroom cell.
Stella’s experiences, and the near-entrapment of a young girl, Ellen, in the same way, result in Hank’s getting the operation closed down, in part by a knowledgeable-sounding visit to the brothel as a (pretend) client, and we have the same concern as in the first-series Glintos with violated boundaries, shame, and the recovery from shame.
After putting the unconscious Ellen to bed in her apartment, Stella tells Hank that she’d thought of letting Hank see how pretty she was, “But even if she is doped, she still has the right to the privacy of her nakedness, and to decide for herself what man shall see her undressed.”
Kelly’s earlier concerns are also involved when Pat (no last name, I think), speaking of her own servitude in the brothel in Honey for Me, tells Hank, “It’s as if I had somehow gone away from myself. I wasn’t me any more and really thought I never would be again. Then you sort of rediscovered and presented the real me” (p. 101).
Hank reassures another freed inmate, “Before long you’ll feel that it wasn’t your real self that was kept here. It’ll seem as if it was another you who had to go through with it all, but that you’ve lost that you and got your real self back again.” (p. 151)
This was two years before John D, MacDonald set Travis McGee up in business as a rather too self-congratulatory sexual healer of wounded sparrows.
In Chapter 9 of Honey for Me, there is a polemic by Hank against what Kelly/Janson calls white slavery and its mechanisms:
Some [girls] begin running to flesh after a bit because their glands are fixed that way. All of them begin fading before too long and the big money connoisseurs are not interested. So there is a steady flow. They all go down the line sooner or later unless they die first, and from down the line, when everything about them is drooping still more, there is a sea trip. Mostly by then they are beyond caring what happens to them. They are until they find that journey’s end means vermin-ridden joints where their services are sold to the scum of the Arab or Far East world. (p. 84)
At the time this would probably have seemed to the intellectually liberated mere pornographic fantasy. But Kelly was obviously in earnest, as he was in Reluctant Hostess.
One of the liberal-intellectual myths used to be that most atrocities were myths—that the reports of German atrocities in Belgium in 1914, or horrors perpetrated by the Bolsheviks, or so-called white slavery were either fantasies (like the alleged ritual sacrifices of Christian children by Jews) or were greatly exaggerated for propaganda purposes.
It is as if decent people were incapable of projecting themselves into the mind-sets that would make certain atrocities. possible.
But the patterns are more complicated than that.
As the over five hundred small-print pages of the government report by the 1915 Bryce Commission makes abundantly clear, atrocities indeed occurred in Belgium, not only the “normal” currency of war, such as drunken rape and pillaging, but large-scale ones like the mass shooting of civilians and the burning of buildings in reprisals for alleged (and unproven) snipings, and also more outré ones like the occasional drunken angry cavalryman slashing at the upraised hands of a child with his saber or the nailing of someone to a barn wall by soldiers inflamed by rumours of Belgians gouging out the eyes of wounded Germans.
These were all the more shocking because perpetrated by the troops of a supposedly highly civilized nation.
The Bolshevik horrors, of course, maximized terror as an instrument of policy and not just the product of individual sadism and a desire for vengeance, though those came into it.
Exaggerations can indeed occur, whether by individuals mis-seeing or misreporting, or as outright falsifications or literary fabrications.
But what seems to occur is that what can be imagined by someone will eventually be done by someone else. Makers of fiction, insofar as they are more imaginative than so-called ordinary people, perceive the import of actual violences by a few individuals, and intensify them and increase their scale. And later on, “ordinary” people, when permitted or encouraged by those in authority, enact them literally. The unthinkable has been thought and incarnated.
So-called “white slavery,” meaning organized prostitution and the international transportation of girls, indeed existed. It wasn’t simply a slogan giving employment to reformers.
Edward J. Bristow’s Prostitution and Prejudice; The Jewish Fight Against White Slavery, 1870-1939 (Schocken 1982), which is in large part about the organizational activities of Jews in the sex trade, makes that abundantly clear. And though Bristow plays it down, obviously some of the girls found themselves in places where they’d much rather not have been, as epitomized in the words “Buenos Aires.”
We now know a lot more than we want to about forced prostitution and the trafficking in women in our own time. I’ve no idea how much literal truth Kelly was speaking about the States. But emotionally he was ahead of the game, I would say—more so than Stephen Frances writing as Hank Janson in Mistress of Fear (1958), in which, after pooh-poohing as impractical the whips-and-chains idea of sex-slavery, he has recourse to the unspeakably addictive and mind-and-body-wrecking aphrodisiac ginseng (!) as the real enslaver.
Kelly was always basically on the side of victims and underdogs, and his concern with sexual slavery and violences against and by women, into whose experiences he projected himself, makes him still timely.
- Sidebar 1. Some Orchids
- Sidebar 2. Chase and Glinto
- Sidebar 3. The Pre-trial Glintos
- Sidebar 4. Deep South Slavery
- Sidebar 6. Rogues’ Gallery
- Sidebar 7. Kelly Brothers
- Sidebar 8. Scandal
- Sidebar 9. Westerns
- Sidebar 10. City Mid-Week
- Sidebar 11. Gangdom
- Sidebar 12. Jungle Books
- Sidebar 13. Bodily Harms
- Sidebar 14. Propaganda?