Skip to comments.Raymond Chandler: Master crime writer (born 125 years ago today)
Posted on 07/23/2013 7:45:26 AM PDT by Perdogg
On 23 July 1888, crime novelist Raymond Chandler - creator of Philip Marlowe - was born in Chicago. WH Auden said his novels should be judged not as escapism but as art.
When Raymond Chandler began to write for pulp magazines in the Thirties, he planned from the first to smuggle something like literature into them.
Most of these magazines hooked their readers with a mixture of sex and violence they have juxtaposed the steely automatic and the frilly panty and found that it pays off, wrote SJ Perelman. But Chandler wanted to do more than titillate: he had designs on his audiences subconscious. He planned to sneak into his stories a quality which readers would not shy off from, perhaps not even know was there
but which would somehow distil through their minds and leave an afterglow.
(Excerpt) Read more at telegraph.co.uk ...
Huge Chandler fan. Was revisiting The Big Sleep not too long ago. I think the subtext in the books - flame away - is that Marlowe and/or Chandler - maybe neither swished when they walked but I think they may have still swung from the other side of the plate. Flame away. Something just ain’t being played right down the middle there.
Great line. I’ll add him to my Celebrities in Uniform page as he served in the trenches in WWI.
Genius is in every culture.
During the Renaissance our genius went to painting.
During the years between 1750-1900 the genius went to music.
Somewhere in there our genius went to weapons.
Now it goes to computers.
The British ALWAYS won the kudos for literature.
Today, Phillip Marlow would look at the CRIME RATE of Chicago and quit, saying that Chicago is a fictional town.
Either that, or Philip Marlow would be a gay, Transgender P.I.
One of Chandler's later screenwriting jobs required him to share an office at a studio and work with director Edward Dmytryk on an adaptation of one of Chandler's novels. Dmytryk and Chandler did not get along, which Dmytryk attributed to Chandler's jealousy of the various starlets whom Dmytryk was dating and intimate with. In comparison, Chandler was out of the game, aging, drinking too much, and shackled by his marriage to an older woman in need of close attention and support due to her chronic ill health.
The faint homoerotic notes that sometimes pop up as to Marlowe seem to be no more than a reflection of such imagery as it appeared in American literature in the context of ordinary male friendship. Famously, in 1948, critic Leslie Fiedler raised the issue of such homoerotic imagery in his path breaking essay Come Back to the Raft Ag'in, Huck Honey! referring to a line from Mark Twain.
Fiedler did not argue that Twain implied a homosexual relationship between Huck Finn and his companion, the runaway slave Jim. Instead, Fiedler's point was that in American literature, homoerotic language at times attached to both ordinary male friendship and to sexually charged male relationships.
As to Marlowe, the conventions of the hard boiled detective genre of his era virtually required that Marlowe be single and unattached so that he could pursue cases with self-destructive focus and dedication. Realistically, no wife or girlfriend would ever tolerate that, leaving Marlowe and most of his hard boiled fictional contemporaries without the benefit of a female companion. Yet one finds enough appreciative descriptions of women by Marlowe to recognize that he (and Chandler) were firmly and exclusively hetero.
-- The Big Goodbye
When I first arrived in LA, reading Chandler helped me understand the place.
Seriously that has to be one of the most insightful, cogently argued, nuanced replies I’ve ever received on FR. Total respect.
When it comes to the noir fiction and the allusions to homosexuality my mind is immediately drawn to the gunsel character in Maltese Falcon but of course that is Hammet and not Chandler so that is neither a piece of evidence for or against.
But it’s not just the characters and their behaviors that I’m referring to here. On my last dive into The Big Sleep a lot of it was the description and the voice of the omniscient narrator that struck me a bit funny. A lot of talk about smells, and colors and fabrics - I don’t know. Of course you’re mesmerized by the style and the period, and of course that’s what writers do - they observe and they write that which they observe - but I still came back to thinking - would I write this way? The next time you pick up a Chandler book read 10 pages or so (picked at random) and ask yourself - are the things that Chandler noticed and chose to describe - would you have noticed those things? Leaving aside that it was the 30’s, leaving aside that he’s the master of the genre, leaving aside the unique style.
I know the issue has been raised before and it gets raised in various other contexts as well - was Lincoln gay as one example - but like I said it just sort of struck me the last time through.
A vivid, even florid writing style was common to the fiction of the era. The pulp magazines spurred this tendency -- often to the point of self-parody -- by paying by the word. I can imagine Chandler and other pulp writers deliberately stuffing in adjectives until they had enough words in their pending manuscripts to pay the next month's bills.
Chandler, with the benefit of an English public school education, knew enough though to recognize the defects of the pulp style. He was by nature a slow and careful writer, but, under the force of deadlines, he often turned to alcohol to loosen up. This did not always benefit the quality of his writing.
Chandler's last complete novel published during his life was The Long Goodbye, which he spent much time on and regarded as his best work. Comparison with his pulp stories and early novels shows this last work to be comparatively restrained in its descriptive style.
We can also recognize in the character of an alcoholic writer in The Long Goodbye a painfully self-aware reference to the toll of alcohol on Chandler himself. Yet if Chandler were to be judged on a few lines of work, I would pick on his behalf what he wrote in 1938 in the opening of his short story The Red Wind:
There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.Chandler thus makes the pulp style convey in a single paragraph a sense of existential menace and disorder, but then draws us firmly into a story that begins with a visit to a bar. Write like that and you get most of your work continuously in print over the nearly five decades since your death and issued in two volumes for the Library of America.
I have to echo 2 Kool’s compliment. Very interesting remarks on Chandler. But your follow-up to 2 Kool’s remarks impels me to echo Emperor Wilhelm in Heinlein’s DOUBLE STAR and ask, “By the way, who are you?” No names, of course ... but are you a teacher? Fellow writer? This fellow Chandler fan is doggone curious! ;o)
I am just a Chandler fan, with a good memory and many years of voracious reading behind me.
In fairness, not all the charges come wholly out of thin air. The gay rumors, for instance, began during Chandlers life, when he was attacked for writing gay-coded prose by the marvelously named Gershon Legman. And theres no question that Chandler was a drunk, a depressive, a failed suicidethese things are well known.
Then, after reading it a further visit to his prose sort of made sense. I'll try to look for examples from the texts.
Some of Chandler's female characters, like Anne Riordan in Farewell, My Lovely, are memorable and genuinely appealing even if, in the same novel, there is also a description of a boatman on the waterfront as having pretty eyes. The soundest explanation though for such bad writing is alcohol, the pressure of a publisher's deadline, and that gaydar was not yet widely deployed.
The age gap in Chandler's marriage invites speculation, but the real story is unlikely to be that Chandler was gay. I once knew a couple with a similar disparity in age in which the wife was a vivacious mid forties, with the husband quiet and in his mid twenties.
They were happily married, with cats instead of children. The truth of their relationship was that the husband had been badly beaten by his mother when he was a child and sexually abused by a male teacher in high school. The chemistry of a good marriage to a loving and caring older woman had gotten him past the deep hurts of a miserable youth.
Was there a similar theme to Chandler's marriage? He was raised by his mother and packed off to an English boarding school. That cannot have made for an easy upbringing, and, despite Chandler's philandering, by all accounts, he was genuinely devoted to his wife. No gay lover or relationship by Chandler has ever surfaced.
I can wholeheartedly concur with your last comment. The writing can sometimes seem to have a whiff of lavender. Beyond that - all his basically speculation and in the eye of the beholder. Certainly alcohol played a part as you point out.
The boy spun towards me and his right hand darted up to go inside the jerkin. Hes eyes were a wet shine in the glow of the round electroliers. Moist dark eyes shaped like almonds, and a pallid handsome face with wavy black hair growing low on the forehead in two points. A very handsome boy indeed, the boy from Geiger's store.
and then later:
He said: "Go ----- yourself." His hand moved inside the jerkin. I pressed harder on his stomach. He let out a long soft sigh, took his hand away from the jerkin and let it fall limp at his side. His wide shoulders sagged. "What you want?" he whispered.
Mind you I found this text after a very short time of flipping through The Big Sleep. I would submit that there are overtones, or undertones, or allusions aplenty in those two paragraphs and I personally could never write those paragraphs for two reasons - I don't have Chandler's talent, obviously, but also I don't swing that way.
First of all Bogie played that scene that way because it fit the story. There was a dramatic reason why it made sense for Marlowe to walk into that store in that way - it was totally plot driven.
You can’t make that same sort of argument for the passage I cited.
Second of all I’m not saying that Chandler *was* gay. I’m just saying that the writing was - I don’t know - a certain way. At times In places. That’s all. Just a textual analysis is all. Your mileage may vary.
Looming in the shadows of our discussion is an enduring issue in art and literary criticism as to how the personal life of an author, artist, or performer relates to his work. If there is any wisdom to be distilled on the subject, it is that large claims ought not to be founded on thin evidence.
As to Chandler, his work was usually written quickly, often when he was under the influence, and thinly edited before publication. We both recognize a few lavender scented bits in Chandler's work. To me, those bits are too thin to offer reliable insights as to Chandler and are best categorized as sloppy writing.
That was not how Chandler wrote the scene, but it was how the screenwriter crafted it, and Bogie hilariously played it that way. And one must ask how that does not count, but any similar instances are held against Chandler as to his personal life?
I do agree with your last two paragraphs - and I think we’re rapidly converging on consensus.
I guess I’d make one additional point and one that is probably pretty worth making. If nothing else I think Chandler, being the acute and astute observer that he was particularly of the LA scene in the 30’s and 40’s - is probably telling us to what degree homosexuality was, in its own way, as pervasive then as it is now. It’s more out in the open now - as is pornography (Geiger’s real business). But in reading Chandler I think we are given a window as to how such a topic was handled, thought about, how it fit into society as a larger whole. For example Geiger’s roommate (who later turns up dead as do so many others in aptly named novel) and indeed, Geiger himself.
BTW - one of the screenwriters for the movie was none other than William Faulkner (but you probably knew that).