Archie Goodwin (character)
Archie Goodwin is a fictional character in Rex Stout's mysteries. The witty narrator of all the stories, he recorded the cases of his boss, Nero Wolfe, from 1934 (Fer-de-Lance) to 1975 (A Family Affair).
|First appearance||Fer-de-Lance (1934)|
|Created by||Rex Stout|
I know pretty well what my field is. Aside from my primary function as the thorn in the seat of Wolfe's chair to keep him from going to sleep and waking up only for meals, I'm chiefly cut out for two things: to jump and grab something before the other guy can get his paws on it, and to collect pieces of the puzzle for Wolfe to work on.— Archie Goodwin in The Red Box (1937), chapter 12
Archie is Wolfe's live-in assistant in the private investigation business Wolfe runs out of his comfortable and luxurious New York City brownstone house on West 35th Street. Wolfe rarely leaves the brownstone, so Archie does most of the actual investigating, followed by reporting his findings to Wolfe, who solves the mystery. Archie is a skilled observer and has trained his memory so that he can make verbatim reports, oral or typewritten, of extended conversations. He claims to be able to type six to seven pages per hour on average, or up to 10 when he needs to hurry (Before Midnight, chapter 11). Because Wolfe is largely ignorant of and uninterested in the logistics of the world outside his house, he relies on Archie for various kinds of information and judgments of a practical nature. Wolfe also turns to Archie for opinions regarding the personalities of the women connected with a case.
Archie's bedroom is on the third floor of the brownstone, and he owns all of the furniture within it. Under his bed is a gong that is part of an alarm system designed to sound if anyone gets too close to Wolfe's bedroom door or windows at night. He typically eats his breakfast in the kitchen, and lunch and dinner in the dining room with Wolfe. However, if he must hurry to keep an appointment, he will eat in the kitchen or at a restaurant because Wolfe hates to see anyone rush through a meal.
In addition to detective work, Archie also handles Wolfe's bookkeeping and banking, types his correspondence, and keeps the germination and other records for the orchids Wolfe raises as a hobby. His salary is $200 per week in Too Many Women (chapter 5), but later it is $400 per week ($600 per week and a half, Death of a Dude, chapter 6). Archie's hobbies include dancing (usually at the Flamingo), poker, and baseball. He was a fan of the New York Giants until they relocated to San Francisco in 1957, then later became a fan of the New York Mets when that team was founded in 1962. When moving around Manhattan on business, he often prefers to walk rather than using Wolfe's car or taking taxis. Unlike his employer, Archie has only two conspicuous eccentricities: his favorite drink is milk, and he always knows the exact time.
Archie's conversations with other characters often feature his penchant for arch wit, which can serve purposes such as playing devil's advocate to "badger" Wolfe into working; stalling or goading police officers; issuing threats under the guise of ironically ingenuous observations; or charming female characters into cooperating with Wolfe's professional desiderata.
Regardless of what year the story takes place, Archie and the other principal characters in the corpus do not age. Archie is in his early 30s.:383, 565[a][b][c] He was born on October 23 in Chillicothe, Ohio. At age 12 he lived in Zanesville. In The Rubber Band (chapter 7), Archie mentions a sister in Ohio who once sent him silk pajamas for his birthday.
Rex Stout was never overly concerned with consistency in the Wolfe books, and Archie himself can relate unreliable information with ease, so some specifics of Archie's background vary in the corpus. In Fer-de-Lance, he comments that his parents died when he was a child, but in The Final Deduction (chapter 10) his mother is still living.
The most concentrated — but suspect — biography of Archie comes from Too Many Women (chapter 27), in which Mrs. Jasper Pine has his background investigated. She tells Archie that his father's name is James Arner Goodwin (Archie himself implies his father's name was Titus; he tells Lily Rowan to use the name Mrs. Titus Goodwin when he asks her to call Wolfe pretending to be his mother in Some Buried Caesar), that his mother's maiden name is Leslie, that he has two brothers and two sisters, and that he was born in Canton, Ohio. Archie never mentions the alleged brothers and second sister in the series. "Rex thought Mrs. Pine — who was the kind of person who supposes money can buy anything — got what she deserved", wrote Stout's authorized biographer John J. McAleer. He quotes Stout: "Of course Archie was born in Chillicothe. I don't know how he got Mrs. Pine's dick misinformed.":249
Although he is from the American Midwest, Archie has the "street smarts" to handle just about any situation he finds himself in, and he knows New York City like the back of his hand. Though he freely admits that there is no one better than Saul Panzer in many aspects of investigative work, such as remembering faces and tailing people, Goodwin is one of the most competent private detectives in the city. He has a long-time social relationship with Lily Rowan, a wealthy society woman, but they do not try to limit each other's social lives, and Archie has many passing love interests throughout the series. The only serious affair apart from Lily that he shares with the reader is Lucy Valdon, with whom he has a series of extended assignations during The Mother Hunt, prompting Wolfe and Fritz to fear that Archie may finally settle down. This does not happen, and Lucy Valdon did not appear in any other story although she receives a mention in A Right to Die.
When Wolfe disappears for an extended period in In the Best Families, Archie rents an office of his own and works as an independent detective. During this time, Archie writes, "My idea was to net more per week than I had been getting from Wolfe, not that I cared for the money, but as a matter of principle." Later, Archie needles Wolfe, pointing out that he made a little more than double the amount that Wolfe had been paying him; Wolfe claims not to believe it.
Archie, as Stout's first-person narrator, faithfully relates each case in the past tense in meticulous detail. His narrative includes his own thoughts over the course of the story, from ruminations on the case in progress to personal impressions of and opinions about the people involved. He is very thorough in describing the details of other characters' physical appearances, often adding his own positive or negative judgments. Because Wolfe routinely keeps Archie in the dark about certain key insights and key tasks assigned to other operatives, Archie's openness with the reader over the course of the story he is telling from his own point of view does not risk giving away the solution prior to Wolfe's climactic revelations. (However, despite his candor toward the reader, Archie occasionally makes it known that he's holding back some particularly private thought or event.) From time to time Archie acknowledges the reader directly, by speculating as to whether we will be interested in this or that detail, showing us supposed copies of vital documents when the originals are no longer accessible to him at the time he is writing, or discussing whether we might have figured something out yet at a certain point in the narrative. He occasionally expresses faint concern that another character, such as Wolfe or Inspector Cramer, may read his account of the case and take offense at something he has written.
Archie's narratorial wittiness includes a repeatedly employed callback maneuver whereby he quotes a character using a striking or unusual turn of phrase, and then later uses the phrase himself, in some other context, in the course of his narration.
- Lionel Stander in the Columbia Pictures films Meet Nero Wolfe (1936) and The League of Frightened Men (1937)
- John Gibson and Joseph Julian in the 1943–44 radio series The Adventures of Nero Wolfe
- Elliott Lewis in the 1945 radio series The Amazing Nero Wolfe
- Gerald Mohr, Herb Ellis, Lawrence Dobkin, Harry Bartell, Lamont Johnson and Wally Maher in the 1950–51 radio series The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe
- Gene Reynolds in the 1956 Omnibus TV series episode, "The Fine Art of Murder"
- William Shatner in the aborted 1959 CBS-TV series Nero Wolfe
- Joachim Fuchsberger in the 1961 German TV movie Zu viele Köche
- Paolo Ferrari in the 1969–1971 Italian TV series
- Tom Mason in the 1977 TV movie Nero Wolfe
- Lee Horsley in the 1981 TV series Nero Wolfe
- Don Francks in the 1982 Canadian radio series Nero Wolfe
- Timothy Hutton in the A&E TV movie The Golden Spiders: A Nero Wolfe Mystery (2000)
- Sergey Zhigunov in the 2001–2002 Russian TV movies
- Timothy Hutton in the 2001–2002 A&E TV series A Nero Wolfe Mystery
- Pietro Sermonti in the 2012 Italian TV series
- Rex Stout prepared a confidential memo dated September 14, 1949, providing physical descriptions of Archie and Wolfe. Under the heading "Description of Archie Goodwin", Stout begins: "Height 6 feet. Weight 180 lbs. Age 32." When he was later asked by biographer John J. McAleer at what age Archie was fixed in his own mind, Rex Stout replied, "I like 34.":383, 565
- Rex Stout's confidential memo of September 15, 1949, describing Nero Wolfe, Archie Goodwin and Wolfe's office, is reprinted in the back matter of the 1992 Bantam Crimeline edition of Fer-de-Lance (ISBN 0-553-27819-3).
- Archie's conversation with Cynthia Nieder in "Man Alive" sets his age as 32.
- McAleer, John J. (1977). Rex Stout: A Biography. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 9780316553407.
- The League of Frightened Men (1935), chapter 12, describes Archie's new wallet; "Wolfe had given it to me on October 23, at the dinner-table, and I didn't even know he knew when my birthday was."
- "The Cop-Killer"
- The Silent Speaker, chapter 10
- The Final Deduction, chapter 10
- In the Best Families, chapters 12 and 13