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Richard Connell is an author whose reputation rests largely upon a single short story, ”The Most Dangerous Game.” However, during his life, his many short stories, novels, and writings for the screen enjoyed great popularity with audiences, and some of his works were also praised by critics.
Works in Biographical and Historical Context
Bred for Journalism
Connell was born on October 17, 1893, in Poughkeepsie, New York. His father, Richard Edward Connell sr., worked as a reporter and editor for a local newspaper called the Poughkeepsie News-Press for twenty-three years before becoming Poughkeepsie police commissioner and redirecting his interests to politics. The younger Richard was more than happy to keep the Connell name prominent in the world of journalism. He began covering baseball games at the age of ten and earned ten cents per story. While in high school, Connell took a position at the Poughkeepsie News-Press where he worked as a reporter.
Following high school graduation, Connell attended Georgetown College (now Georgetown University) for a year. His time at Georgetown was cut short when his father was elected to the U.s. House of Representatives. Connell left college to work as his father’s secretary in Washington, D.C., in 1910. Unfortunately, Connell’s job and personal life were disrupted in 1912, when his father died at the age of fifty-five. In 1915, Connell decided it was time to continue his studies, and he enrolled in Harvard University. His time at Harvard reignited Connell’s love of writing. He became editor of the daily newspaper The Harvard Crimson and the university’s humor publication, The Harvard Lampoon. While managing The Harvard Crimson, Connell wrote an article attacking a New York newspaper editor. The editor was so irate that he sued the paper for libel. ironically, Connell later worked for that editor, after he graduated from Harvard.
Connell continued to maintain his focus on journal ism until he was offered a position as an advertising copy writer while he was working as a reporter for the New York American. Once again, Connell’s professional life was shaken—this time by the onslaught of World War I, a global war that would disturb countless of lives. Connell eagerly enlisted in the U.s. Army in 1917. Forever the devoted journalist, Connell took this opportunity to work as the editor of Gas Attack, the newspaper of his camp. In addition to providing Connell with additional journalistic experience, the war also provided travel opportunities: Collins spent a year in France with his unit, the twenty seventh New York Division.
From Fact to Fiction
When the war ended in 1918, Connell returned to his job writing advertising copy. A year later he married fellow writer and editor Louise Her-rick Fox. More good news arrived that same year, when he published his first short story. Thus officially began his tremendously prolific career as a short-story writer. Connell began publishing stories at a steady rate in such major periodicals as Collier’s and The Saturday Evening Post. His story ”A Friend of Napoleon” won him a second-prize O. Henry Award in 1923. By this time, Connell and his wife had been living in Paris, France, for three years, but the couple regularly returned to the United states for visits. A 1924 trip to California inspired the couple to take up permanent residence there. Connell was attracted by the plentiful opportunities for gardening and fishing that the state afforded. He also took an interest in California’s budding film industry. Further expanding his already vast repertoire, Connell tried his hand at screenwriting. He began working on silent movies with the established screenwriter Paulschofield, who helped Connell bring his story ”Tropic of Capricorn” to the screen as East of Broadway (both 1924).
His cinematic debut notwithstanding, Connell’s greatest achievement in 1924 came in the form of a terrifying tale that would become one of the most anthologized short stories of all time. Published on January 19, 1924, in Collier’s, ”The Most Dangerous Game” (also known as ”The Hounds of Zaroff”) finds New York big-game hunter Sanger Rainsford shipwrecked on a Caribbean island. There Rainsford encounters the Russian aristocrat General Zaroff, an insidious character with a yen for hunting human beings. The adventure story not only won Connell his second O. Henry Award; it also secured his position as a writer for many years to come. The story was adapted for radio and the cinema several times, often under such alternative titles as A Game of Death (1945), Run for the Sun (1955), and The Woman Hunt (1973).
The world would most remember Connell for ”The Most Dangerous Game,” but he had many more stories to tell, and a number of them would be anthologized in the collections The Sins of Monsieur Petipon (1922), Apes and Angels (1924), Variety (1925), and Ironies (1930). Not all of these collections were well-received upon publication, but Connell refused to be hindered by mixed responses from critics and continued to produce work at an impressive pace. Much of that work was ultimately brought to the screen. His 1924 serial ”A Little Bit of Broadway” was made into a motion picture the following year as Bright Lights. In 1927, he published his first full-length novel, The Mad Lover, about a millionaire reformed by his love for a poor girl. Two years later, he published Murder at Sea (1929), a mystery novel featuring the detective Matthew Keaton.
Connell would go on to write two more novels, Play boy (1936) and What Ho! (1937). The vast majority of his many stories are now forgotten, although some survive thanks to memorable film adaptations. These include the gangster story Brother Orchid (1940), which starred two of the leading big-screen tough guys of the 1940s, Humphrey Bogart and Edward G. Robinson. He also cowrote the original story treatment for the Frank Capra film Meet John Doe (1941), for which he won an Academy Award. Connell’s long and intriguing career was brought to an end when he suffered a heart attack in 1949. There is no denying that Connell achieved much during his lifetime, but he remains most remembered for that one unforgettable tale, ”The Most Dangerous Game.”
Works in Literary Context
The theme of revenge appears toward the end of ”The Most Dangerous Game” when Rainsford turns the tables on his hunter, Zaroff. In this way the reader is left with the lingering question of whether or not Rainsford has become a figure just as murderous as Zaroff. Despite winning Zaroff’s game by using his wits to survive, he is overcome by the primal desire for revenge and kills Zaroff at the story’s conclusion. Since Rainsford has already won the most dangerous game, the act cannot be justified as self-defense, and his apparent satisfaction in killing Zaroff reveals a darkness stirred within Rainsford while engaging in the game.
In ”The Most Dangerous Game,” General Zaroff makes racist comments that reflect the attitudes of anti-immigrant Americans during the 1920s. When he explains his nefarious hobby to Rainsford, he makes the revealing statement, ”I hunt the scum of the earth— sailors from tramp ships—Lascars, blacks, Chinese, whites, mongrels—a thoroughbred horse or hound is worth more than a score of them.” ”The Most Dangerous Game” was published only a few decades after an influx of immigrants landed on American shores, which caused many Americans to fear that jobs would become scarce and their standard of living would drop. Such hateful attitudes grew so prevalent that Congress set about restricting the number of African, Asian, and Latino immigrants. By placing the vitriolic sentiments of anti-immigration Americans in the mouth of the villainous Zaroff, Connell’s story can be read as a powerful criticism of such attitudes.
Works in Critical Context
Connell’s work was often more popular with readers and filmmakers than it was with critics, but early works like ”A Friend of Napoleon” and ”The Most Dangerous Game” were quite well received, both of the aforementioned stories winning O. Henry Awards. Among Connell’s more than three hundred stories, ”The Most Dangerous Game” has survived particularly well.
”The Most Dangerous Game”
In a detailed 1997 study of ”The Most Dangerous Game,” Rena Korb deems the story ”spare” but not ”simplistic.” ”Connell’s careful work turns a plot that could be deemed unrealistic into a story that compels the reader to breathlessly share Rainsford’s life-or-death struggle,” Korb writes. Scholar David Kippen explains that while most of Connell’s work has disappeared due to his underdeveloped characters, ”The Most Dangerous Game” has survived because of two important characteristics: ”The story is an extremely successful example of the adventure genre, and the stereotypes Connell uses evoke allegories that remain relevant today.”
Incorporating several of Connell’s most famous stories, including the award-winning tales ”A Friend of Napoleon” and ”The Most Dangerous Game,” the anthology Variety (1925) was not impervious to critics. Although a reviewer for The Saturday Review of Literature offers a positive assessment of the book, deeming its stories ”easy to read, [with] all displaying facility and versatility,” other publications were not as kind. A dismissive notice in The New York Times states that the collection ”ranks, though high, in the great army of the second-rate.” For this reason, perhaps, ”The Most Dangerous Game” remains his only literary work currently in print.
- Hall, Mordaunt. ”East of Broadway (1924).” The New York Times (November 12, 1924).
- —–. ”The Most Dangerous Game (1932).” The New York Times (November 21, 1923).
- Lansu, Helvi. ”The Shape of Literature.” English Journal (1965): 520-524
- Review of Variety. The New York Times (March 29, 1925): 8.
- Review of Variety. The Saturday Review of Literature (August 8, 1925).
- Thompson, Terry W. ”The Most Dangerous Game.” The Explicator (2002): 86-88.
- Welsh, Jim. ”Hollywood Plays the Most Dangerous Game.” Literature-Film Quarterly (1982): 134-136.
- Book Rags. ”The Most Dangerous Game Study Guide.” Accessed November 14, 2008, from http://www. bookrags.com/studyguide-mostdangerous game/ bio.html.
- The Nostalgia League. The Most Dangerous Game. Accessed November 14, 2008, from http://theno stalgialeague.com/olmag/connell-most-dangerous-game.html.
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