Raymond Thornton Chandler
– March 26
) was an American author
of crime stories and novels
of immense stylistic influence upon modern crime fiction
, especially in the style of the writing and the attitudes now characteristic of the genre. His protagonist
, Philip Marlowe
, is synonymous
with "private detective," along with Dashiell Hammett
's Sam Spade
He was born in Chicago
, in 1888, but moved to Britain
in 1895 with his Irish
-born mother after they were abandoned by his father, an alcoholic civil engineer who worked for an American railway company. His uncle, a successful lawyer, supported them. In 1900, after attending a local school in Upper Norwood
, Chandler was classically educated at Dulwich College
, London (the public school
that also taught P.G. Wodehouse
to write prose). He did not attend university, instead spending time in France
. In 1907, he was naturalised as a British subject in order to take the Civil Service
examination, which he passed with the third-highest score. He then took an Admiralty
job lasting slightly more than a year. His first poem was published during that time.
Chandler disliked the servile mindset of the civil service and quit, to the consternation of his family, becoming a reporter for the Daily Express and the Bristol Western Gazette newspapers. He was an unsuccessful journalist, published reviews, and continued writing Romantic poetry. Accounting for that checkered time he said, "Of course in those days as now there were...clever young men who made a decent living as freelances for the numerous literary weeklies...“ but “...I was distinctly not a clever young man. Nor was I at all a happy young man.”
In 1912, he borrowed money from his uncle (who expected it repaid with interest), and returned to the U.S., eventually settling in Los Angeles. He strung tennis rackets, picked fruit and endured a lonely time of scrimping and saving. Finally, he took a correspondence bookkeeping course, finished ahead of schedule, and found a steady job. In 1917, when the U.S. entered World War I, he enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, saw combat in the trenches in France with the Gordon Highlanders, and was undergoing flight training in the fledgling Royal Air Force (RAF) in England at war’s end.
After the armistice, he returned to Los Angeles and his mother, and soon began a love affair with Cissy Pascal, a married woman eighteen years his senior. Chandler's mother, who had opposed the union, died on 26 September 1923, and not long after, in 1924, Chandler and Pascal married. By 1932, in the course of his bookkeeping career, he became a vice-president of the Dabney Oil syndicate, but a year later, his alcoholism, absenteeism, and a threatened suicide provoked his firing.
To earn a living with his creative talent, he taught himself to write pulp fiction
; his first story, “Blackmailers Don't Shoot”, was published in Black Mask
magazine in 1933; his first novel, The Big Sleep
, was published in 1939
. Literary success led to work as a Hollywood
screenwriter: he and Billy Wilder
co-wrote Double Indemnity
), based upon on James M. Cain
's novel of the same name
. His only original screenplay was The Blue Dahlia
). Chandler collaborated on the screenplay of Alfred Hitchcock
's Strangers on a Train
) - a story he thought implausible - based on Patricia Highsmith
. By then, the Chandlers had moved to La Jolla
, California, a rich coastal town in San Diego.
Later life and death
In 1954, Cissy Chandler died after a long illness, during which time Raymond Chandler wrote The Long Goodbye
. Lonely and depressed, he returned to drink, never quitting it for long, and the quality and quantity of his writing suffered. In 1955, he attempted suicide; literary scholars documented that suicide attempt. In The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved
, Judith Freeman says it was “a cry for help”, given he called the police beforehand, saying he planned to kill himself. Raymond Chandler’s personal and professional life was both helped and complicated by the women to whom he was attracted — notably Helga Greene (his literary agent); Jean Fracasse (his secretary); Sonia Orwell (George Orwell
's widow); and Natasha Spender
's wife), the latter two of whom assumed Chandler to be a repressed homosexual. (Unfortunately, Judith Freeman's book perpetuates errors dating back to the MacShane biography relating to the death of Florence Chandler and a number of residences.)
He regained US citizenship in 1956.
After his time in England he returned to La Jolla, where he died of pneumonial peripheral vascular shock and pre-renal uremia in the Scripps Memorial Hospital according to the death certificate. Helga Greene inherited the Chandler estate after a lawsuit with Jean Fracasse. Raymond Chandler is buried at Mount Hope Cemetery, San Diego, California, as per Frank MacShane, The Raymond Chandler Papers, Chandler directed he be buried next to Cissy, but wound up in the cemetery's Potter’s field, because of the lawsuit over his estate.
Critics and writers, ranging from W. H. Auden
to Evelyn Waugh
to Ian Fleming
greatly admired the finely wrought prose of Raymond Chandler. Although his swift-moving, hardboiled
style was inspired mostly by Dashiell Hammett
, his sharp and lyrical similes
are original: "The muzzle of the Luger looked like the mouth of the Second Street tunnel"; "The minutes went by on tiptoe, with their fingers to their lips", defining private eye
fiction genre, and leading to the coining of the adjective 'Chandleresque', which is subject and object of parody
. Yet, Philip Marlowe is not a stereotypical tough guy, but a complex, sometimes sentimental man of few friends, who attended university, speaks some Spanish and, at times, admires Mexicans, is a student of classical chess games and classical music. He will refuse a prospective client’s money if he is ethically unsatisfied by the job.
The high critical regard in which Chandler is generally held today is in contrast to the critical pans that stung Chandler in his lifetime. In a March 1942 letter to Mrs. Blanche Knopf, published in Selected Letters of Raymond Chandler, Chandler complained: "The thing that rather gets me down is that when I write something that is tough and fast and full of mayhem and murder, I get panned for being tough and fast and full of mayhem and murder, and then when I try to tone down a bit and develop the mental and emotional side of a situation, I get panned for leaving out what I was panned for putting in the first time."
Chandler’s short stories and novels are evocatively written, conveying the time, place, and ambience of Los Angeles and environs in the 1930s and 1940s. The places are real, if pseudonymous: Bay City is Santa Monica, Gray Lake is Silver Lake, and Idle Valley a synthesis of rich San Fernando Valley communities.
Raymond Chandler also was a perceptive critic of pulp fiction; his essay "The Simple Art of Murder" is the standard reference work in the field.
All of his novels have been cinematically adapted, notably The Big Sleep (1946), by Howard Hawks, with Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe; novelist William Faulkner was a co-screenplay writer. Raymond Chandler's few screen writing efforts and the cinematic adaptation of his novels proved stylistically and thematically influential upon the American film noir genre.
These are the criminal cases of Philip Marlowe, a Los Angeles private investigator. Their plots follow a pattern in which the men and women hiring him reveal themselves as corrupt, corrupting, and criminally complicit as those against whom he must protect his erstwhile employers.
Typically, the short stories chronicle the cases of Philip Marlowe and other down-on-their-luck private detectives (e.g. John Dalmas, Steve Grayce) or good samaritans
(e.g. Mr Carmady). The exceptions are the macabre The Bronze Door
and English Summer
, a Gothic
romance set in the English
Interestingly, in the 1950s radio series The Adventures of Philip Marlowe, that included adaptations of the short stories, the Philip Marlowe name was replaced with the names of other detectives, e.g. Steve Grayce, in The King in Yellow. In fact, such changes restored the stories to their originally published versions. It was later, when they were republished, as Philip Marlowe stories that the Philip Marlowe name was used, with the exception being The Pencil.
Detective short stories
- Blackmailers Don't Shoot (1933)
- Smart-Aleck Kill (1934)
- Finger Man (1934)
- Killer in the Rain (1935)
- Nevada Gas (1935)
- Spanish Blood (1935)
- The Curtain (1936)
- Guns at Cyrano's (1936)
- Goldfish (1936)
- The Man Who Liked Dogs (1936)
- Pickup on Noon Street (1936; originally published as Noon Street Nemesis)
- Mandarin's Jade (1937)
- Try the Girl (1937)
- Bay City Blues (1938)
- The King in Yellow (1938)
- Red Wind (1938)
- The Lady in the Lake (1939)
- Pearls Are a Nuisance (1939)
- Trouble is My Business (1939)
- No Crime in the Mountains (1941)
- The Pencil (1959; published posthumously; originally published as Marlowe Takes on the Syndicate, also published as Wrong Pigeon and Philip Marlowe's Last Case)
Most of the short stories published before 1940 appeared in pulp magazines like Black Mask, and so had a limited readership. Chandler was able to recycle the plot lines and characters from those stories when he turned to writing novels intended for a wider audience.
Non-detective short stories
- I'll Be Waiting (1939)
- The Bronze Door (1939)
- Professor Bingo's Snuff (1951)
- English Summer (1976; published posthumously)
I'll Be Waiting, The Bronze Door and Professor Bingo's Snuff all feature unnatural deaths and investigators (a hotel detective, Scotland Yard and California local police, respectively), but the emphasis is not on the investigation of the deaths.
Atlantic Monthly magazine articles:
- Writers in Hollywood (December 1944)
- The Simple Art of Murder (November 1945)
- Oscar Night in Hollywood (March 1948)
- Ten Percent of your Life (February 1952)
- Stories & Early Novels: Pulp Stories, The Big Sleep, Farewell, My Lovely, The High Window (Frank MacShane, ed.) (Library of America, 1995) ISBN 978-1-88301107-9.
- Later Novels & Other Writings: The Lady in the Lake, The Little Sister, The Long Goodbye, Playback, Double Indemnity, Selected Essays & Letters (Frank MacShane, ed.) (Library of America, 1995) ISBN 978-1-88301108-6.
- MacShane, Frank (1976). The Life of Raymond Chandler. N.Y.: E.P. Dutton.
- Hiney, Tom (1999). Raymond Chandler. N.Y.: Grove Press. ISBN 0-80213-637-0
- Ward, Elizabeth and Alain Silver (1987). Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles Woodstock, N.Y.: Overlook Press. ISBN 0-87951-351-9
- Howe, Alexander N. "The Detective and the Analyst: Truth, Knowledge, and Psychoanalysis in the Hard-Boiled Fiction of Raymond Chandler." CLUES: A Journal of Detection 24.4 (Summer 2006): 15-29.
- Howe, Alexander N. (2008). "It Didn't Mean Anything: A Psychoanalytic Reading of American Detective Fiction". North Carolina: McFarland. ISBN 0786434546
- Moss, Robert (2002) "Raymond Chandler A Literary Reference" New York Carrol & Graf
- Freeman, Judith (2007). The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved. N.Y.:Pantheon. ISBN 978-0-375-42351-2 (0-375-42351-6)