I cannot express how much I hate Philo Vance right now.

August 29, 2009

I don’t know why I keep putting myself through this. I loathe Philo Vance. I mean, S.S. Van Dine is hilarious in his insistence on always using the longest word available and out-footnoting everyone on the face of the earth, but even run-on sentences about “the lepidoptera of our café life” cannot make up for the hatefulness that is Philo Vance.

Vance talks like Peter Wimsey, if Peter Wimsey were condescending and mean, all, “most distressin’, old dear,” and such. But as often as Van Dine tries to tell us that this is all an act, and Vance is really a sensitive soul, this is the only side of him we see.

Vance’s involvement in murder cases is due to what Van Dine insists is a lifelong friendship with the D.A., John F.-X. Markham. But again, he tells rather than shows, and I end up kind of liking Markham because he seems to maybe dislike Vance as much as I do.

Seriously. Van Dine insists that,

“despite the seeming bitterness at times in the discussions of these two men, there was at bottom no animosity in their attitude toward each other. Their friendship was of long standing, and despite the dissimilarity of their temperaments and the marked difference in their points of view, a profound mutual respect formed the basis of their intimate relationship.”

Yeah, whatever. They hate each other. Most of their interactions consist of Vance being a condescending asshole while Markham makes one half-hearted attempt to show that some aspect of the legal system is justified before giving up. Ugh. On second thought, I hate him too.

And the footnotes: I like funny footnotes as much as the next person. But I prefer ones you can laugh with rather than laugh at. Also: I wish someone would footnote the footnotes. Otherwise, what am I to do with this?:

“* The Loeb-Leopold crime, the Dorothy King case, and the Hall-Mills murder came later; but the Canary murder proved fully as conspicuous a case as the Nan Patterson-“Caesar” Young affair, Durant’s murder of Blanche Lamont and Minnie Williams in San Francisco, the Molineux arsenic-poisoning case, and the Carlyle Harris morphine murder. To find a parallel in point of public interest one must recall the Borden double-murder in Fall River, the Thaw case, the shooting of Elwell, and the Rosenthal murder.”


  1. Finally, someone who hates Philo Vance as much as I do!! Thank you!!!

  2. remember what ogden nash said, and it is sooo true: “philo vance needs a kick in the pants!”

    • it’s so, so true.

  3. LoL. Have you seen the films starring William Powell and a host of others?

    • I’ve seen a few. There are probably not many people other than William Powell who could make Philo Vance charming.

  4. I’ve seen the Powell films but never read the books. Honestly though, I actually like some of those types of footnotes – they are intriguing bread crumbs that send me Googling off on some adventure.

    • Yeah, I tend to love footnotes like that, but these ones are so deeply condescending that they just set my teeth on edge. The movies are more uncomplicatedly fun, and I could pretty much watch William Powell in anything.

  5. I actually rather like the early Philo Vance novels. Yes, Vance is irritating with his affectations and such, but mysteries are rather interesting, as is following Vance as he ferrets out the clues and their meaning. I think Van Dine ran out of steam as the series went on. The later books tend to be a little less mysterious and clue-laden. But I’m still planning on reading The Gracie Allen Murder Case soon, just to see how Gracie is used in the book.

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