Author (23-Jul-1888 26-Mar-1959)
SUBJECT OF BOOKS
Matthew Joseph Bruccoli. Raymond Chandler: A Descriptive Bibliography. University of Pittsburgh Press. . 146pp.
Matthew Joseph Bruccoli. Raymond Chandler: A Check List. Kent State University Press. . 35pp.
J. Kenneth Van Dover. The Critical Response to Raymond Chandler. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group. . 256pp.
Philip Durham. Down These Mean Streets a Man Must Go: Raymond Chandler's Knight. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press. .
Judith Freeman. The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved. New York: Pantheon Books. . 353pp.
Tom Hiney. Raymond Chandler: A Biography. Chatto and Windus/Atlantic Monthly Press. . 310pp.
Frank MacShane. The Life of Raymond Chandler. New York: Dutton. . 306pp.
Frank MacShane (editor). Selected Letters of Raymond Chandler. Columbia University Press. . 315pp.
Edward Margolies. Which Way Did He Go? The Private Eye in Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Chester Himes, and Ross MacDonald. Holmes & Meier. . 97pp.
Robert F. Moss (editor). Raymond Chandler: A Literary Reference. Avalon Publishing Group. . 345pp.
Ralf Norrman. Wholeness Restored: Love of Symmetry as a Shaping Force in the Writings of Henry James, Kurt Vonnegut, Samuel Butler and Raymond Chandler. Peter Lang. . 283pp.
Stephen Pendo. Raymond Chandler on Screen: His Novels into Film. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. . 240pp.
James Pepper (editor). Letters: Raymond Chandler and James M. Fox. Santa Barbara, CA: Neville & Yellin. . 67pp.
Gene D. Phillips. Creatures of Darkness: Raymond Chandler, Detective Fiction and Film Noir. University Press of Kentucky. .
Robert E. Skinner. The Hard Boiled Explicator: A Guide to the Study of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ross Macdonald. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press. .
Toby Widdicombe. A Reader's Guide to Raymond Chandler. Greenwood Publishing Group. . 211pp.
Peter Wolfe. Something More than Night: The Case of Raymond Chandler. University of Wisconsin Press. .
Below are references indicating presence of this name in another database or other reference material. Most of the sources listed are encyclopedic in nature but might be limited to a specific field, such as musicians or film directors. A lack of listings here does not indicate unimportance -- we are nowhere near finished with this portion of the project -- though if many are shown it does indicate a wide recognition of this individual.
- NNDB [link]
- Encyclopaedia Britannica Online [link]
- Internet Movie Database [link]
- Wikipedia [link]
- Library of Congress Name Authority [link]
- Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of American Writers
- The Film Encyclopedia, 5th Edition (p.249)
- 20th Century Culture: A Biographical Companion (p.139)
- International Dictionary of 20th Century Biography (p.132)
- Chambers Biographical Dictionary, 5th Edition (p.288)
- Webster's American Biographies (p.190)
- Penguin Companion to the Arts in the Twentieth Century (p.74)
- New York Public Library Literature Companion (p.48)
- Cassell Companion to Cinema (p.101)
- The Oxford Companion to American Literature, 5th Edition (p.132)
- The Encyclopedia of Film (p.107)
- Twentieth Century Authors, First Supplement (p.186)
- Benet's Readers Encyclopedia, 4th Edition (p.185)
- Obituaries from the Times 1951-1960 (pp.137-38)
- Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography (p.126)
- Hutchinson Paperback Dictionary of Biography (p.100)
- St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture (vol.1, pp.473-75)
- Legends in Their Own Time (p.46)
- A Dictionary of 20th Century World Biography (Oxford) (p.115)
- The World Almanac Biographical Dictionary (p.45)
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Chandler was born in Chicago on July 23, 1888. His parents divorced when he was seven; he and his mother moved to London and he was educated at Dulwich College. As a young man he tried to make a living from self-consciously intellectual poems and reviews, before giving up and returning to America. After several nomadic years encompassing a succession of menial jobs and service in the trenches of France during the First World War, he secured a good job with an oil company, then lost it because of his heavy drinking.
In 1933, aged 45 and in desperate need of means to support himself and his wife Sissy, the poet manqué turned to the pulps. But although pulp writers needed to churn out something like a million words a year to earn a living, Chandler spent five months crafting his first story. He continued to work with painstaking slowness when he began to write novels: “I believe that all writing that has any life in it is done with the solar plexus. It is hard work.”
Ten years after his first story was published, still on the breadline with four novels behind him, he was wondering if the effort had been worth it. But by 1945 cheap reprints of his books were selling in their hundreds of thousands, and the critics who had hitherto ignored him were vying to outdo each other with superlatives.
They only disagreed over whether it was Chandler’s dialogue or his similes that were more relishable. When Marlowe describes one Colonel Carne as having “as much charm as a pair of steel-puddler’s underpants”, you have to admit that, in terms of choice and arrangement of words, he evokes an image that is pretty nigh perfect, even if you aren’t quite sure what a steel-puddler is.
Some critics praised him for capturing contemporary demotic American, although Chandler – who, after years of exile in England, felt he “had to learn American just like a foreign language” – claimed to have invented a lot of the slang in his books himself.
Judith Freeman, the author of The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved, thinks it is Chandler’s eye for detail that gives the novels their feel of authenticity: “Chandler got women’s clothing and the interior of houses so right, and he spent much time describing both … Unlike some hard-boiled writers, Chandler took time to take note of the world and all its lush details.”
Consider Marlowe on Vivian Regan in The Big Sleep: “Her black hair was glossy under a Robin Hood hat that might have cost 50 dollars and looked as if you could have made it with one hand out of a desk blotter.” Reading that conjures up a vision not only of the hat but of the sort of milieu in which women wore them.
It must be admitted that this eye for detail often failed him when he came to construct plots. When Howard Hawks, filming The Big Sleep, asked Chandler to clarify who was responsible for the death of the chauffeur Owen Taylor, the author couldn’t tell him.
The detective-story writer John Dickson Carr felt that if he had bothered with the “fatigue of construction and clues” he might have written better books, but in his essay The Simple Art of Murder Chandler pours scorn on those crime writers whose primary aim was to construct puzzles, not so much writing as “assembling an eggbeater”. Reading his attack on A?A Milne’s feather-light Red House Mystery is like watching Moose Malloy set on the old lady in Farewell, My Lovely, a real brains-on-the-bedpost job. He goes on to praise the pioneering hard-boiled writer Dashiell Hammett for giving “murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse; and with the means at hand, not with hand-wrought duelling pistols, curare, and tropical fish.”
But Chandler felt there were limits to the effectiveness of realism in literature. The novelist Robert B Parker (author of his own Marlowe novel, Perchance to Dream) points out that Marlowe is far too good to be true: “He is of course idealised. He is immune to the forces that shape most of us. He cannot be deterred by fear, bought for money, or sex, or love. Update Sir Gawain to the 20th century and plunk him down in Los Angeles, a real knight in an illusory Camelot.”
Chandler once wrote that “the real-life private eye … has about as much moral stature as a stop-and-go sign”, but he felt that by creating an incorruptible hero he gave his work the “quality of redemption” that all true art required. When Time magazine called Marlowe “amoral” he was furious, writing that his novels represented “the struggle of all fundamentally honest men to make a decent living in a corrupt society. It is an impossible struggle; he can’t win.”
Raymond Chandler. PHOTO: Alamy
The crime novelist Mark Billingham says that we have to look to Marlowe to explain Chandler’s enormous influence on other writers: “For all his smart one-liners it is the Marlowe behind the black mask that remains so compelling, the lonely ‘shop-soiled Galahad’ who plays chess and reads poetry and keeps the biggest bruises hidden. Chandler’s creation is first in a line that has gone on to give us Lew Archer, Travis McGee, Dave Robicheaux, Harry Bosch, and crossed the pond to produce the likes of John Rebus … Without Chandler and his heirs, those of us who write crime fiction might still be setting the majority of our work in country houses or vicarages.”
Chandler’s influence, not just on crime fiction but on hundreds of films and comic books, amounts almost to a stranglehold: hopes are high therefore that the comic book guru Frank Miller’s forthcoming film of Chandler’s novella Trouble Is My Business might just turn out to be the best thing since Bogey in The Big Sleep.
But only Chandler himself can pull off that mixture of cynicism and soppiness to be found in, say, the opening lines of The Little Sister. Marlowe delivers a lyrical description of a spring morning in California, ending “The call houses that specialise in 16-year-old virgins are doing a land office business. And in Beverly Hills the jacaranda trees are beginning to bloom.”
Marlowe never forgets that the world is simultaneously a horrible and beautiful place. You might say that he (or Chandler) had a poet’s eye for beauty, although Auden’s remark about Chandler’s books being “extremely depressing” shows that poets sometimes have faulty eyes. The novels continually celebrate the fact that even the most disillusioned cynic can find reasons to get up off the dirt after being blackjacked for the umpteenth time, whether it’s pleasure in a wisecrack or a sunset.
No wonder readers are still happy to follow Marlowe down those mean streets.