12 July, 2008

Raymond Chandler


Raymond Thornton Chandler was an American author of crime stories and novels of immense stylistic influence upon modern crime fiction, especially in the style of the writing and the attitudes now characteristic of the genre. His protagonist, Philip Marlowe, is synonymous with "private detective," along with Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade.

In 1900, Chandler attended Dulwich College, London, where he was classically educated. 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. He then was an unsuccessful journalist, published reviews, and continued writing Romantic poetry. Accounting for that checkered time he said that "It was the age of the clever young man, but I was distinctly not a clever young man."

In 1912, he borrowed money from his uncle, and returned to the U.S., eventually settling in Los Angeles. 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 a steady job. In 1917, when the U.S. entered World War I, he enlisted in the Canadian Army, served in France, and was in flight training 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 eighteen years his senior. Chandler's mother, who had opposed the union, died on 26 September 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 and Billy Wilder co-wrote Double Indemnity (1944), 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.

In 1954, Cissy Chandler died after a long illness, during which time Raymond Chandler wrote The Long Goodbye. Lonely and depressed, he returned to drink, never quitting it for long, and the quality and quantity of his writing suffered, after a time in England he returned to La Jolla, where he died of pneumonia peripheral vascular shock and pre-renal uremia in the Scripps Memorial Hospital per the death certificate.

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