Crime Fiction

Raymond Chandler

Biography

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Raymond Chandler (1888 - 1959)

Raymond Thornton Chandler was born 1888 in Chicago. His parents split
up in 1895, and together with his mother, the seven-year old boy
moved to London, where he received education at Dulwich College.
A stay in France and Germany during 1905 gave him ample opportunity
to appreciate style and colloquialisms in other languages, an
experience which may have been significant to his later development
of his own style and language.

However, in 1907 a career as a British Civil Servant appeared to be
young Raymond's destiny, as he passed the necessary exams to commence
with his duties at the Admiralty. It turned out that this was not his
thing, and he took up an unsteady life as a would-be writer,
journalist, and even poet. Money was extremely short, to put it
mildly, and in 1912, with the help of a loan from a relative, Raymond
returned to the United States, leaving his mother Florence behind for
the time being.
He managed to hold a few odd jobs in Los Angeles and successfully
completed a bookkeeping course, an achievement which would help him
in later years.

World War I touched North America in 1917, and Raymond enlisted in
the Canadian Army. After a stint in France, he was back in Los
Angeles in 1919 and happily, he managed to bring his mother along
with him.
Soon he started to have an affair with Cissy Pascal, whom he married
after her divorce and after his mother's death in 1924. Cissy was
eighteen years older than Raymond, a fact he was apparently unaware
of at the time of the wedding. She was a strikingly beautiful woman,
and 'officially' reducing her age by at least ten years was no
problem at all.
Chandler had embarked on a career with an oil company and he even
made it to vice-president; however, his increasing problems with
alcohol got him fired in 1932.
What now?

For some reason and with the urgent necessity to earn a living,
Chandler turned his attention to pulp fiction writing - with success:
in 1933, he published his very first story "Blackmailers Don't Shoot"
in 'Black Mask', a popular and cheap-priced publication designed for
quick consumption. More than fifteen stories followed, until in 1939,
Chandler succeeded with his first novel "The Big Sleep".
Very quickly, Raymond Chandler was established now and even wrote
screenplays in Hollywood, commanding top weekly salaries.
Cissy Pascal Chandler died in 1954, and Raymond never recovered from
this blow. Despite their difference in age, he had been extremely
devoted to her (save for numerous drinking bouts and a small number
of Hollywood secretaries). His drinking increased and in 1955, he
made a half-hearted attempt at suicide.

During Cissy's final months, he worked on "The Long Good-Bye", which
was published shortly before her death.  A number of years followed
without literary output, save for "Playback" in 1958, and the
posthumous "Poodle Springs" fragment. Chandler disintegrated
continually, hitting the bottle and involving himself with useless
and superficial, unsuccessful attachments to women who tried to care
for him or for themselves, and he died a lonely death in a hospital
in La Jolla.

Chandler's end could be taken from one of his own books - perhaps
Marlowe would have died the same way had Chandler lived long enough?
Philip Marlowe, the central character in Chandler's work, is a
private detective with a complex personality and with a clear-cut
code of conduct. If he feels that he does not meet a client's
expectations, or that he is unable to do the job because it is
against his own principles, he will not accept any money. Marlowe
plays chess, he listens to music, he appreciates attractive women,
drinks a lot, fights hard, carries guns, and conducts a personal war
against corrupt policemen. His attitude towards women is that of an
old-fashioned, chivalrous 'knight' - that is, he will not take
advantage of women, where others in his position would do so. A
living anachronism? Chandler did not think so. He made that clear in
his essay "The Simple Art or Murder" (1944), a classic on the craft
of writing up to this day. Philip Marlowe is the private eye 'par
excellance', and there is no getting away from that.

Chandler made use of his earlier pulp stories - he extracted large
sections from them and combined them with other parts taken from
other stories in order to produce new pieces. He happily called that
procedure 'cannibalizing'.
Although he was influenced by Dashiell Hammett ('he started where
Hammett left off'), Chandler introduced a cool and witty approach to
the detective story - the cliché 'hard-boiled' was coined somewhere
along the line - and although many critics did not like it, he was an
intellectual representative of modern American literature. His
influence on later writers was immense, he excelled with hilarious
similes (very, very few writers managed to equal his incongruous and
sometimes loony equations), and where Hemingway, whom he approved of,
excelled with pure style and pure language, Chandler excelled with
tough and curt descriptions of people, locations and persons, as well
as with downbeat renditions of feelings and situations.
Raymond Chandler was an avid writer of letters - luckily, many of his
letters have survived and his major biographer Frank MacShane edited
a large volume of them.

Additionally, Chandler issued a few critical essays on the writing
and film businesses, respectively - his scathing remarks are not only
fun to read today, but they should be placed permanently on the desks
of all so-called agents, directors, and publishers. Raymond Chandler
was an unhappy person, unfriendly, impolite, defeated by the bottle,
but he wrote a number of immortal works and he showed the way to many
writers to come, although most of them were and are not suitable to
clean his shoes.
© 2008 Henry - Classic Crime Fiction

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