"An age which is incapable of poetry is incapable of any kind of literature except the cleverness of a decadence." -- Raymond Chandler
Raymond Thornton Chandler (July 23, 1888 – March 26, 1959) was an Anglo-American novelist and screenwriter who had an immense stylistic influence upon the modern private detective story, especially in the style of the writing and the attitudes now characteristic of the genre. His protagonist, Philip Marlowe, along with Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade, is considered synonymous with "private detective", both being played on screen by Humphrey Bogart.
"A good story cannot be devised; it has to be distilled.""A really good detective never gets married.""Ability is what you're capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.""Alcohol is like love. The first kiss is magic, the second is intimate, the third is routine. After that you take the girl's clothes off.""At least half the mystery novels published violate the law that the solution, once revealed, must seem to be inevitable.""Chess is as elaborate a waste of human intelligence as you can find outside an advertising agency.""Chess is the most elaborate waste of human intelligence outside of an advertising agency.""Everything a writer learns about the art or craft of fiction takes just a little away from his need or desire to write at all. In the end he knows all the tricks and has nothing to say.""From 30 feet away she looked like a lot of class. From 10 feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from 30 feet away.""Good critical writing is measured by the perception and evaluation of the subject; bad critical writing by the necessity of maintaining the professional standing of the critic.""He looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.""He looked as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.""I certainly admire people who do things.""I do a great deal of research - particularly in the apartments of tall blondes.""I guess God made Boston on a wet Sunday.""I knew one thing: as soon as anyone said you didn't need a gun, you'd better take one along that worked.""I think a man ought to get drunk at least twice a year just on principle, so he won't let himself get snotty about it.""If my books had been any worse, I should not have been invited to Hollywood, and if they had been any better, I should not have come.""It is not a fragrant world.""It is pretty obvious that the debasement of the human mind caused by a constant flow of fraudulent advertising is no trivial thing. There is more than one way to conquer a country.""Most critical writing is drivel and half of it is dishonest. It is a short cut to oblivion, anyway. Thinking in terms of ideas destroys the power to think in terms of emotions and sensations.""She gave me a smile I could feel in my hip pocket.""She jerked away from me like a startled fawn might, if I had a startled fawn and it jerked away from me.""Television is just one more facet of that considerable segment of our society that never had any standard but the soft buck.""The challenge of screenwriting is to say much in little and then take half of that little out and still preserve an effect of leisure and natural movement.""The creative artist seems to be almost the only kind of man that you could never meet on neutral ground. You can only meet him as an artist. He sees nothing objectively because his own ego is always in the foreground of every picture.""The English may not always be the best writers in the world, but they are incomparably the best dull writers.""The flood of print has turned reading into a process of gulping rather than savoring.""The law isn't justice. It's a very imperfect mechanism. If you press exactly the right buttons and are also lucky, justice may show up in the answer. A mechanism is all the law was ever intended to be.""The minute you try to talk business with him he takes the attitude that he is a gentleman and a scholar, and the moment you try to approach him on the level of his moral integrity he starts to talk business.""The moment a man begins to talk about technique that's proof that he is fresh out of ideas.""The moment a man sets his thoughts down on paper, however secretly, he is in a sense writing for publication.""The more you reason the less you create.""The streets were dark with something more than night.""When I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will stay split.""When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.""Woe, woe, woe... in a little while we shall all be dead. Therefore let us behave as though we were dead already."
Chandler was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1888, and moved to the United Kingdom in 1900 with his Irish-born mother after they were abandoned by his father, an alcoholic civil engineer who worked for a North 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 (a public school whose alumni also include the authors P.G. Wodehouse and C. S. Forester). He did not attend university, instead spending time in Paris and Munich. 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 just over a year. His first poem was published during that time.
Chandler disliked the servility of the civil service and resigned, 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 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 to be repaid with interest), and returned to North America, eventually settling in Los Angeles with his mother in 1913. 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 steady employment. In 1917, when the US 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 the United Kingdom at war’s end.
After the armistice, he returned to Los Angeles, California. He soon began a love affair with Cissy Pascal, a married woman eighteen years his senior. Cissy divorced her husband, Julian, in 1920 in an amicable separation, but Chandler's mother disapproved of the relationship and refused to sanction marriage. For four years Chandler had to support both his mother and Cissy. But when Florence Chandler died on September 26, 1923, Raymond was free to marry Cissy, and did so on February 6, 1924. By 1932, during his bookkeeping career, he became a highly-paid vice-president of the Dabney Oil Syndicate, but a year later, his alcoholism, absenteeism, and threatened suicide contributed to 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 (1944), based upon 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, an affluent coastal neighborhood of San Diego.
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 clinical depression, 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 Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved, Judith Freeman says it was “a cry for help”, given that he called the police beforehand, saying he planned to kill himself. Chandler’s personal and professional life were 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. (Unfortunately, Judith Freeman's book perpetuates errors dating back to the Frank MacShane biography relating to the death of Florence Chandler and a number of residences.)
After a respite in England (Chandler regained US citizenship in 1956.), he returned to La Jolla, where he died (according to the death certificate) in the Scripps Memorial Hospital of pneumonial peripheral vascular shock and prerenal uremia. Greene inherited the Chandler estate, after prevailing in a lawsuit vs. Fracasse.
Raymond Chandler is buried at Mount Hope Cemetery, San Diego, California, as per Frank MacShane's, The Life of Raymond Chandler. Chandler wished to be cremated and placed next to Cissy in Cypress View Mausoleum, but was buried in Mount Hope Cemetery by the County of San Diego Public Administrator's Office because he left an estate of $60,000 with no will (intestate) apparently found. The lawsuit over his estate complicated life for Helga Greene, but didn't take place until 1960.
Critics and writers from W. H. Auden to Evelyn Waugh to Ian Fleming, greatly admired Chandler's prose. In a radio discussion with Chandler, Fleming said that the former offered “some of the finest dialogue written in any prose today.” 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;" "He had a heart as big as one of Mae West's hips;" "Dead men are heavier than broken hearts;" "I went back to the seasteps and moved down them as cautiously as a cat on a wet floor." Chandler's writing redefined the private eye fiction genre, led to the coining of the adjective 'Chandleresque', and inevitably became the subject of parody and pastiche. Yet the detective Philip Marlowe is not a stereotypical tough guy, but a complex, sometimes sentimental man with few friends who attended university, speaks some Spanish and sometimes admires Mexicans, and is a student of chess and classical music. He will refuse a prospective client’s money if he is ethically unsatisfied with a job.
The high regard in which Chandler is generally held today is in contrast to the critical sniping that stung the author during 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."
Although his work enjoys general acclaim today, Chandler has been criticised for certain aspects of his work; Washington Post reviewer Patrick Anderson once described his plots as "rambling at best and incoherent at worst", and chastised his treatment of black, female, and homosexual characters, calling him a "rather nasty man". Anderson did, however, acknowledge Chandler's importance as a lyrical writer, and said that, despite his flaws, "he often wrote truly beautiful scenes and descriptions."
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 but one of his novels have been cinematically adapted. Most notable was The Big Sleep (1946), by Howard Hawks, with Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe. William Faulkner was a co-writer on the screenplay. 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.