Past All DishonorBy: Cain, James M. (male)
Publisher: New American Library (Signet Books 680) (2nd printing)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 212: PS3505 .A3113 P37 1948
Contributor: W. Prout, S. Wetzel
GeneralEra: 1860s Author as on Cover: James M. Cain Geographic Locale: Sacramento, California and environs; Virginia City, Nevada Date of Publication: 1948 | Original Date: 1946 Setting: urban (19th century); the story begins in a shack on the banks of the Sacramento River; some of the action takes place in a bar in Sacramento; the rest of the story takes place in the bars, bordellos and mines in Virginia City Motives: love and greed
Roger Duval leaves Maryland for Sacramento, California during the silver boom to spy for the Secessionists who hope to form a separate country in California. He is a young man with a strong ethical code. He falls in love with Morina Crockett, not knowing she is a prostitute, leaving his assigned post to follow her to Virginia City, Nevada. At first stunned to learn of her profession, he determines to have her at any cost, but in his quest for Morina, he loses his integrity and pride. After shooting her husband-to-be in a well-planned "accident", Roger goes into hiding in the mines and Morina joins him. They discover a rich silver vein, and in order to get money to buy the mine, they plan a train robbery which goes wrong. As they try to escape, the paranoid Roger, hearing someone behind him, turns and fires his gun, only to discover that he has killed his love. He then kills himself by her grave, with his story next to him.
Roger Duval adult male, tall, handsome, curly bronze hair, Confederate spy and miner
George Brewer adult male, probably late 30s/early 40s, good-looking, heavy-set, six feet tall, barrel chest, rolling walk, mine owner
Morina Crockett adult female, Creole, 23 years old, pale skin, long black hair, dark eyes, very slim, beautiful, prostitute
Padillo "Paddy", adult male, Mexican, bandy-legged, small, white teeth, funny grin, miner and mariachi
Biloxi adult female, around 40, Creole, dark, good-looking, slim-hipped, large-breasted, brothel madam
Roger's .36 Navy revolver; knives, sharpened iron pipes, falling mining equipment, and lots of fists
Level of Violence
Roger is mugged and beaten by several thugs outside a bar after winning $1,000; stabbed through the hand with a sharp metal pipe, and shot at during a train robbery. Paddy and another miner are killed in a mine when a rope is cut above ground, letting heavy machinery fall on them (this was meant for Roger). During a robbery at the saloon where Roger is working, he shoots several robbers and deliberately kills Brewer as well. The level of description is explicit and fairly frequent.
Roger's love for Morina consumes him, but their actual sexual activity is minimal. During their first three days together, it is innocent and sweet. Later there are a few allusions to him "taking" her, but most of the sexual activity is only implied and there is nothing graphic.
Roger has firmly traditional ideas about what a lady should be; the fact that Morina is a whore and he still loves her is something that is difficult for him to reconcile. Roger's conflict between his love for Morina and his hatred of her profession is integral to the plot. Morina is the dominant member of the Roger/Morina couple, and Biloxi, though she may pretend otherwise, is a shrewd, clever businesswoman.
little is mentioned in this regard, other than several references to the Mexican miners and Orientals working on the railroads. Even though Roger is a Southerner, he shows little prejudice. His best friends are Mexican miners. The miners are badly treated by the mine owners, and a foreman who had been a slave trader is brutal to them, but this seems more a matter of economics than prejudice.
alcohol is the only drug used. Once in awhile Roger drowns his sorrows, and much of the action takes place in bars, but this is not a major element.
the city marshal of Virginia City arrests Roger for killing the robbers and George Brewer. He chooses a coroner's jury on the spot, and they find the killings of the criminals and that of Brewer accidental. When Brewer's brother states that it was no accident, the marshal listens to him, but does nothing.
when Roger gets blood poisoning in his wounded hand and refuses to let the doctor cut it off, Morina uses New Orleans conjure along with a special salve to cure it. Roger suspects she is working with the devil, but he finally allows her to do it, rather than lose his hand or die. Roger lives simply, with no use or desire for costly goods. His later quest for money was only to win Morina. She prizes money and all that it can buy -- beautiful clothes, jewels, carriages. Sam Brewer, newly rich, wants the best of everything, including women, and spends lavishly. Prostitution is integral to the plot because Roger feels it is wrong. In general, it is neither glamorized nor vilified; it is just a way some women make a living. Poor conditions in the mining industry and the attempt to unionize the mine workers is an important sub-plot. Roger's role as a Confederate spy is important to his character, but events of the Civil War are only occasionally mentioned. In one scene in a brothel, a Union officer objects to a Southern song. Biloxi picks up a sword that had belonged to a Mississippi general killed in battle and brandishes it at the officer. Her friend explains that it is just her way, and he had better either apologize or get out. The officer responds that he'd be damned if he'd apologize, but if she removed the sword he would sing bass. That was the end of the issue.
Prostitutes/ Mines and Mining/ Nevada - Virginia City/ Robbery/ Murder
as Roger sinks deeper into his obsession for Morina, he makes many enemies and imagines even more; by the end of the novel, he is constantly looking over his shoulder. Guilt is also a major factor since Roger knows he is betraying his country and tries to justify his actions as actually helping his mission, but he knows he is doing wrong. The conflict between doing his duty and trying to win Morina often depresses him. This alternates with anger at himself, Morina, and others.