1. What is an “editorial novelist”?
  2. What do “dude” and “literary dude” mean in the following passages?

All are mentioned in the New Yorker article “Easy Writers” by Arthur Krystal (21 May 2012):

Chandler wasn’t pleased. “Literature is bunk,” he retorted, propagated by “fancy boys, clever-clever darlings, stream-of-consciousness ladies and gents, and editorial novelists”—in other words, a bunch of literary dudes.

“He [Mathew Arnold] will not be missed,” Whitman told a friend. Arnold reaffirmed all that was “rich, hefted, lousy, reeking with delicacy, refinement, elegance, prettiness, propriety, criticism, analysis.” He was, in short, “one of the dudes of literature.” Whitman probably figured that his own gnarly hirsuteness would save him from becoming a dude. He was wrong, and therein lies a lesson for all hardworking scribblers: stick around long enough, develop a cult following, gain the approval of one or two literary dudes (in Whitman’s case: Henry James, Ezra Pound, and F. O. Matthiessen), and you, too, can become respectable.”

It seems that Chandler and Whitman, as well as the writer of the article, have used “dude” as a disparaging term. If so, what does it (dude and literary dude) mean in this context?

Furthermore, if (literary) dude is disparaging or derogatory, how can it be applied to literary figures like Whitman and Henry James and Ezra Pound and F. O. Matthiessen (in The New Yorker article)?

3 Answers 3


I can't help you with "editorial novelist," but I do know where "dude" comes from.

"Dude" today is just some guy, usually a friend or buddy. It is also used as friendly greeting.

"Dude" used to be way different though. A dude was like a dandy - a fancy dresser more concerned with appearance than anything else.

A "literary dude" is therefore a writer or other person involved with literature who is more concerned with appearing to be literate rather than actually doing anything serious in the field.

In other words, a "literary dude" is a poser or wannabe who thinks he's really something - but only has the form and appearance but no substance, and is admired only by other posers.


A Standard Dictionary of the English Language, edited by Isaac Kaufman Funk (1894) defines dude as follows:

A person who renders himself socially conspicuous by the affectation of an exaggerated fastidiousness in dress, deportment, discourse, etc.; one unduly devoted to the niceties of dress or manners; also a more serious representative of superfine ideas, style, or taste; as, a clerical dude; a literary dude.
The word was first heard on the streets and in the theaters of London in 1881–82. In connection wit the affectations of the esthetes in dress and manners. The satirical application of dude or dudes, so long established in the familiar use of all English people, was not only natural, but almost inevitable.

Based on this, a "literary dude" is an author or a literary scholar who places particular importance on dress, language or manners (or all of them). Henry James and Ezra Pound are well-known authors. F. O. Matthiessen was a literary scholar whose study American Renaissance (1941) was still recommended reading when I was studying literature in the 1990s.

Below are a few examples from other texts.

From Sixteenth Annual Report of the Kansas City Public Schools (1887,page 90):

That literary dude with a brilliant and many coloured, paper-bound copy of the latest romantic fad from Haggard, Zola, or Amelia Rives,—reads for the same reason that the tennis ball rolls across the lawn,—because the racket of fashion has struck him.

From The Critic, Volume 3 (1883, page 479):

What could be more shocking than to hear the editor of a journal so respectably named as the Advance-Gazette denounced as 'an effete and fossilized old literary dude?'

"Editorial novelist" is a term that I have been unable to find elsewhere and was probably a creative coinage of Raymond Chandler's, just like "stream-of-consciousness ladies and gents". There are authors who have used stream of consciousness. Similarly, there have been novelists whose work was deemed valuable enough to be worthy of an editor's time, unlike genre fiction (such as crime fiction, the genre in which Chandler excelled), which was for a long time regarded as having less artistic merit than literary fiction. This may be what Chandler had in mind with his disparaging descriptions.


An editorial is a section in a newspaper that expresses the views of senior newspaper staff on topics of current interest. It often refers to an opinion column, possibly anonymous or credited to the newspaper, but the adjective is also used of "editorial cartoons", which express a political point of view through a drawing. "Editorial" suggests something more serious and conventional than mere "opinion", as the editorial carries higher status.

It's quite possible that Chandler is using the phrase "editorial novelist" to mean a novelist who opines at length on the important social and political issues of the day, in the same way as a newspaper editorial does. This would refer to writers of social novels like John Steinbeck, Upton Sinclair or Sinclair Lewis. This was one of the dominant types of literature in Chandler's era, along with the other types he cites (stream-of-consciousness such as Joyce and Woolf, and vaguer terms like "clever-clever darlings" which could mean several things).

The second quotation tells you what "dude" means here: "rich, hefted, lousy, reeking with delicacy, refinement, elegance, prettiness, propriety, criticism, analysis". The word dude has various shades of meaning, from the wealthy and effete city-slickers of a dude ranch to the aimless drug-users of Dude, Where's My Car? But here it's all in the question.

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