|Born||July 23 1888
Chicago, Illinois, United States
|Died||March 26 1959 (aged 70)
San Diego, California, United States
|Nationality||American (1888–1907, 1956–1959)
|Influenced||Robert B. Parker|
Raymond Thornton Chandler (July 23, 1888 – March 26, 1959) was an American author of the so-called hardboiled detective fiction, a subset of crime stories and novels. His work was immensely influential on the style of the modern private eye story, especially in the style of the writing and the attitudes now characteristic of the genre.
His protagonist, Philip Marlowe, is together with Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade, the epitome of the hardboiled private detective, a tough, sometimes violent investigator who does whatever is necessary to do his job.
Beginning in the late 1930s, Chandler's work helped to refine the genre of hardboiled detective fiction. From its earliest days, hardboiled fiction was published in and closely associated with so-called pulp magazines, most famously Black Mask magazine launched in 1920 by journalist H. L. Mencken and drama critic George Jean Nathan. Later, many novels of this genre were published by houses specializing in paperback originals, also colloquially known as "pulps." Consequently, "pulp fiction" is often used as a synonym for hardboiled crime fiction.
Marlowe and Spade's popularity grew through the iconic performances of Humphrey Bogart in John Huston's 1941 film version of Hammett's The Maltese Falcon and Howard Hawks' 1946 film adaptation of The Big Sleep, with a screenplay adapted by William Faulkner. These two roles set the standard for a genre of hardboiled detective films that remains popular into the twenty-first century.
Chandler was born in Chicago, Illinois, 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 in which P.G. Wodehouse learned to write prose). He did not attend university, instead spending time in France and Germany. In 1907, he was naturalized 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 generally difficult time personally and financially. 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 18 years his senior. Chandler's mother, who had opposed the union, died on September 26, 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 co-wrote Double Indemnity (1944) with Billy Wilder, based upon on James M. Cain's novel of the same name. His only original screenplay was The Blue Dahlia (1946). Chandler collaborated on the screenplay of Alfred Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train (1951)—a story he thought implausible—based on Patricia Highsmith's novel. By then, the Chandlers had moved to La Jolla, California, a rich coastal town near San Diego. This move would prove significant for his work.
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.
His protagonist is the perfect extension of his locale. 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.
In 1954, Cissy Chandler died after a long illness, during which time Raymond Chandler wrote The Long Goodbye. His subsequent loneliness worsened his natural propensity for depression, and he returned to drink, never quitting it for long, which caused the quality and quantity of his writing to suffer. In 1955, he attempted suicide, calling the police in advance to notify them of his plan.  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 (Stephen Spender's wife), the latter two of whom assumed Chandler to be a repressed homosexual.
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. 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.
Philip Marlowe is Raymond Chandler's most popular creation–a recurring character in a series of novels including The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye. Marlowe first appeared, under that name, in The Big Sleep, published in 1939. Chandler's early short stories, published in pulp magazines like Black Mask and Dime Detective, featured essentially identical characters with names like "Carmady" and "John Dalmas." Some of those short stories were later combined and expanded into novels featuring Marlowe, a process Chandler called "cannibalizing." When the non-cannibalized stories were republished years later in the short story collection The Simple Art of Murder, Chandler changed the names of the protagonists to Philip Marlowe.
Philip Marlowe's character is foremost within the genre of hardboiled crime fiction that originated in the 1920s, most notably in Black Mask magazine, in which Dashiell Hammett's The Continental Op and Sam Spade first appeared.
Underneath the wisecracking, hard drinking, tough private eye, Marlowe is quietly contemplative and philosophical. He enjoys chess and poetry. While he is not afraid to risk physical harm, he does not dish out violence merely to settle scores. Morally upright, he is not bamboozled by the genre's usual femmes fatale, like Carmen Sternwood in The Big Sleep. As Chandler wrote about his detective ideal in general, "I think he might seduce a duchess, and I am quite sure he would not spoil a virgin."
Chandler's treatment of the detective novel exhibits a continuing effort to develop the art form. His first full length book, The Big Sleep, was published when Chandler was 51; his last, Playback, when he was 70. All eight novels were produced in the last two decades of his life.
Critics and writers, ranging from W. H. Auden to Evelyn Waugh to Ian Fleming greatly admired the finely wrought prose of Raymond Chandler. 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."
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 countryside.
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. 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 of The Pencil.
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.
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:
Although his swift-moving, hardboiled style was inspired mostly by Dashiell Hammett (1894 — 1961), 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 and pastiche.
His influence on the genre was widely felt. In the United States, the original hardboiled style has been emulated by innumerable writers, notably including Chester Himes, Mickey Spillane, Ross Macdonald, John D. MacDonald, Robert B. Parker, Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton, and Walter Mosley.
Chandler was also 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.
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