Why Nero Wolfe Never Ages

"I don't know how a brain that is never used passes the time."
- Nero Wolfe (The Final Deduction, 1961)
Maury Chaykin as the immortal Nero Wolfe
The attentive readers of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin stories are likely to be familiar with the apparent immortality of the characters, whose aging processes seems to be have been in suspended animation during the period between their first recorded appearance in Fer-de-Lace (1934) until their final bow in A Family Affair (1975). This is most notable in A Right to Die (1964), in which a character from Too Many Cooks (1938) reappears and has morphed from a young adult into a middle aged man with a grown son. There's also the advent of technology in the later books – so time does, in fact, move on outside of the brownstone, but does seems to have had a very weak grip, if any, on its inhabitants.

What's the secret of their perpetual robustness and everlasting good looks? To be honest, I don't have a clue, however, I do have one or two theories to offer on this matter – and they make so much sense that I want to consider them as part of the corpus. But hey, I am open to rivaling theories. ;)

Theory #1: if you're a habitual visitant of the brownstone on West 35th Street, then you probably have noticed that not everyone lived to tell about it. There's an impressive list of people who drew their last breath in (and around) Wolfe's abode, which could mean that the fundaments of the house rests on an ancient, sacrificial altar and needs a blood offer every now and then to appease some archaic God of Death – who resides on the greenhouse roof in the human guise of Wolfe's orchid nurse, Theodore.

Theory #2: taking Nero Wolfe's personality into consideration, it's also possible that he simply repudiates the idea that time is irretrievable and who couldn't envisage him looking up from a book to glare at a ticking clock and muttering, "pfui!" If the passage of time wants to encroach on Nero Wolfe's time it has to check with Archie Goodwin first to make an appointment – just like everyone else.

Theory #3: Wolfe's greenhouse roof is stuffed with plants and flowers imported from that mythical place high-up in Tibetan mountain region, Shangri-La, emanating fragrances that considerably slows down bodily decay and mental rot of the residents of that famous brownstone.

Yes, the next book in the queue just so happens to be an entry from the Wolfe and Goodwin series, which prompted me to post this. Now, if only I had a quiet moment to work my way through the first couple of chapters. Hm. I'm afraid I just wasted such a moment on this nonsense. Oh, well.


  1. You know, this, if shortened, would have made an interesting introduction to the review instead of taking a post all by itself. Then again, I always feel guilty creating a post and not doing a book review or something of the sort in it. I practically didn't comment on my blog redesign in a post, for instance, until I justified it to myself by saying "Well, I have to inform the public where those crime maps came from!".

  2. Theory #4 - Wolfe hated women and an aged Archie would not be able to have his way with them.

  3. I like your theories! The image of Wolfe standing in at a sacrificial altar clothed in robes (yellow, of course) is no more a strain than the image of him crouching, blade in hand, in a mano-a-mano knife fight (The Black Mountain). I do have a theory of my own, which I explicated in an open letter to Mr. Wolfe, which you can read here, if you're interested: http://beaglewriter.com/writings/gambit.php. You have to read to the end of letter before you get to the theory. It's similar in some ways to your theory #2. Thanks for the post!

  4. @Patrick

    I have the opposite feeling of guilt when I look at my blog. I want to do more non-review stuff, but there's usually a lack of inspiration or time that prevents me from doing them – although I have something on my mind for the very near future. Actually, I hope to have it up before the end of the weekend (at latest somewhere next week). But don't pin me on it.

    @Jeffrey Marks

    Archie handling Wolfe? I don't think Archie's the type who's attracted to sagging breasts, male or female. ;)


    Thanks for the link, GS. I will read at my leisure later this evening.

  5. Very clever piece. All three theories are equally plausible, but I favor Theory #3. It just must have something to do with those orchids. Their very ephemerality stands in contrast to the apparently timeless existene of Wolfe and Goodwin, and I fancy that some kind of "Picture of Dorian Gray" dynamic is in effect: The flowers quickly bloom and quickly die, so that those two men might remain ageless.

  6. I like the parallel you drew with The Picture of Dorian Grey, and that final sentence makes it a very attractive fancy.

  7. I'd put forth the theory that Wolfe thrives by draining psychic energy from Inspector Cramer, who rarely seems to get the best of him.

    As for the timeless feel of the books, I have to admit that it was somewhat jarring to find Archie using a computer in the Robert Goldsborough Wolfe novels.

  8. I think it is Fritz's cooking. Something he puts in the shad roe must transmute the laws of aging. Fritz has to be the key to everything. Why do you think Wolfe seldom eats out? Because he can't afford to be without Fritz's cooking. Too many meals out of the old brownstone and he starts to age.

  9. I also vote for theory #3 aqs my fave...at least as far as slowing down the process;

    In my re-readings, i kinda perceive Archie to slowly "age": Archie from his late 20's in the 30's books to hitting 40-ish by the end.

  10. See my essay, "Does Anyone Know What Time It Is?," in the Spring 2021 issue of The Gazette: The Journal of the Wolfe Pack.