Authors: Raymond Chandler

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist and short-story writer

Author Works

Long Fiction:

The Big Sleep, 1939

Farewell, My Lovely, 1940

The High Window, 1942

The Lady in the Lake, 1943

The Little Sister, 1949

The Long Goodbye, 1953

Playback, 1958

The Raymond Chandler Omnibus: Four Famous Classics, 1967

The Second Chandler Omnibus, 1973

Poodle Springs, 1989 (incomplete manuscript finished by Robert B. Parker)

Later Novels and Other Writings, 1995

Short Fiction:

Five Murderers, 1944

Five Sinister Characters, 1945

Finger Man, and Other Stories, 1946

Red Wind, 1946

Spanish Blood, 1946

Trouble Is My Business, 1950

The Simple Art of Murder, 1950

Pick-up on Noon Street, 1952

Smart-Aleck Kill, 1953

Pearls Are a Nuisance, 1958

Killer in the Rain, 1964 (Philip Durham, editor)

The Smell of Fear, 1965

The Midnight Raymond Chandler, 1971

The Best of Raymond Chandler, 1977

Stories and Early Novels, 1995

Nonfiction:

The Blue Dahlia, 1946 (Matthew J. Bruccoli, editor)

Raymond Chandler Speaking, 1962 (Dorothy Gardiner and Katherine Sorely Walker, editors)

Chandler Before Marlowe: Raymond Chandler’s Early Prose and Poetry, 1973 (Bruccoli, editor)

The Notebooks of Raymond Chandler and English Summer, 1976 (Frank MacShane, editor)

Selected Letters of Raymond Chandler, 1981 (MacShane, editor)

The Raymond Chandler Papers: Selected Letters and Non-fiction, 1909-1959, 2000 (Tom Hiney and MacShane, editors)

Biography

Raymond Thornton Chandler was one of the most significant writers of detective fiction in the United States. Like Dashiell Hammett, Chandler took the murder story out of the English drawing room and put it back on the mean streets, where violence and mayhem generally took place. He was the son of Maurice Benjamin Chandler, an engineer from Philadelphia, and Florence Thornton, from Waterford, Ireland. His father, who was an alcoholic, worked for various railroads, and the family lived a peripatetic existence. After his parents divorced, Chandler and his mother moved to London, living with her family. In 1900, he entered Dulwich College, one of the better English public schools. After leaving Dulwich, he sought a literary career and composed poetry and wrote reviews, but he met with only marginal success. In 1913, shortly before World War I, he returned to the United States and settled in Los Angeles.{$I[AN]9810001269}{$I[A]Chandler, Raymond}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Chandler, Raymond}{$I[tim]1888;Chandler, Raymond}

Raymond Chandler

(Library of Congress)

In 1917, Chandler joined the Canadian army and fought on the western front. After the war, he returned to Southern California, and, although he still wanted to pursue a literary career, he became a businessman. Rootless in the most rootless of places, he married Cissy Pascal, who was eighteen years his senior. During the 1920’s, Chandler was a successful oil executive, but by the early 1930’s his life was in turmoil. He began drinking heavily, and in 1932, in the depths of the Great Depression, he was fired. He again turned to literature.

At the age of forty-five, literary success seemed unlikely. Yet Chandler began to write, and in December, 1933, he published “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot.” During the next six years, he produced approximately twenty short stories, many of which appeared in the pulp magazine Black Mask. Never making much money during those years, Chandler explored the genre of the detective story and found his own voice. He experimented with various creations for his main character and finally settled on Philip Marlowe, a private detective. Chandler also discovered that a first-person narrative worked best for him. Chandler’s stories were in the mainstream of hard-boiled detective fiction of the 1930’s. They emphasized blackmail and kidnapping, with money and sex as motives, and violence, actual and potential, was always in the background.

Chandler was more of a literary stylist than many of his pulp-magazine contemporaries. His English education had perhaps inculcated in him a greater awareness of the craft of writing, and his experience as an outsider–first in England and then in the United States–may have given him a sensitivity for language and its uses. Influenced by Hammett and Ernest Hemingway, Chandler attempted to improve the reputation of a lightly regarded field of literature. He used metaphor and simile in dazzling ways, and his stories had an immediately recognizable tone and voice. He has often been imitated but never equaled. Philip Marlowe became Chandler’s knight-errant. In his essay “The Simple Art of Murder,” published in 1944, Chandler described his detective as “a man of honor–by instinct . . . without thought of it, and certainly without saying it.” However, Marlowe was no saint, and he evolved over time, though the code he followed remained recognizable, hard-boiled but sentimental.

Chandler’s first novel, The Big Sleep, was published in 1939. His decision to write longer works was partially economic, as novels had the potential to be more lucrative. Chandler also believed that his style and approach demanded a wider stage. He based his early novels on the previously produced short stories, cannibalizing their plots and stitching them together to form a whole. Many criticized his plotting abilities (there were often loose ends), but for him the portrayal of a particular milieu was paramount. The evolving environment of Southern California, the power and corruption of wealth, and the lives of those caught up in the labyrinth were the subjects of his novels.

Eventually Hollywood beckoned, and Chandler developed a love-hate relationship with the film industry. The 1946 film version of The Big Sleep, starring Humphrey Bogart, became a classic, and Chandler became a screenwriter himself. In his novel The Little Sister, he wrote about the corrupting influence of Hollywood’s greed upon traditional American values. In 1953, as his wife lay dying, Chandler finished The Long Goodbye. Featuring Marlowe, the novel was Chandler’s most ambitious attempt to stretch the possibilities of the detective genre. Longer than his early novels, The Long Goodbye is more the story of personal alienation and the fragility of friendships and family relations than a typical hard-boiled detective story. In The Long Goodbye, Chandler hints of the familial difficulties later portrayed by Ross Macdonald. His last novel, Playback, was a minor coda. By then, with his wife dead, Chandler was drinking heavily and had attempted suicide. He died in 1959.

Chandler chose to write in a field that, like science fiction, has always been suspect within literature. Although W. H. Auden argued that Chandler should be judged simply as a writer, it is as the creator of Philip Marlowe, private detective, that he will be remembered.

BibliographyBabener, Liahna K. “Raymond Chandler’s City of Lies.” In Los Angeles in Fiction, edited by David Fine. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1984. The chapter on Chandler is a study of the image patterns in his novels. The volume as a whole is an interesting discussion of the importance of a sense of place, especially one as mythologically rich as Los Angeles. Includes notes.Bruccoli, Matthew J., and Richard Layman, eds. Hardboiled Mystery Writers: Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Ross Macdonald. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2002. Compilation presents interviews, articles, letters, and previously published studies about the three writers. Lavishly illustrated with personal photographs, reproductions of manuscript pages, print advertisements, film promotional materials, dust jackets, and paperback covers.Chandler, Raymond. Raymond Chandler Speaking. Edited by Dorothy Gardiner and Katherine Walker. 1962. Reprint. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997. Chandler discusses a wide range of subjects, including his life, the mystery novel in general, his mystery novels in particular, the craft of writing, his character Philip Marlowe, and cats. Includes a chronology.“Chandler, Raymond.” In Mystery and Suspense Writers: The Literature of Crime, Detection, and Espionage, edited by Robin W. Winks and Maureen Corrigan. New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1998.Freeman, Judith. The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved. New York: Pantheon Books, 2007. Interesting work illuminates Chandler’s personality and psyche. Freeman believed that Chandler’s life was a greater mystery than his novels, so she traveled to the almost two dozen Southern California houses and apartments where he and his wife lived and uncovered information about Chandler’s wife, Cissy, who played a crucial role in his understanding of women and of himself.Gross, Miriam, ed. The World of Raymond Chandler. New York: A and W Publishers, 1978.Hamilton, Cynthia S. “Raymond Chandler.” In Western and Hard-Boiled Detective Fiction: From High Noon to Midnight. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1987. This study provides an unusual insight into Chandler’s detective fiction from the historical and generic perspective of the American Western novel. It includes three chapters on the study of formula literature. Complemented by a bibliography and an index.Hiney, Tom. Raymond Chandler: A Biography. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1997. Brief biography discusses Chandler’s education in England, his relationship to Los Angeles, and the plots and characters of his most important detective novels and stories.Jameson, F. R. “On Raymond Chandler.” In The Poetics of Murder: Detective Fiction and Literary Theory, edited by Glenn W. Most and William W. Stowe. San Diego, Calif.: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983. Critical essay starts with the observation that Chandler’s English upbringing in essence gave him an outsider’s view of American life and language. Presents an informative discussion of the portrait of American society that emerges from Chandler’s works.Knight, Stephen. “’A Hard Cheerfulness’: An Introduction to Raymond Chandler.” In American Crime Fiction: Studies in the Genre, edited by Brian Docherty. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988. This is a discussion of the values and attitudes that define Philip Marlowe and that make him unusual in the genre of hard-boiled American crime fiction.Lehman, David. “Hammett and Chandler.” In The Perfect Murder: A Study in Detection. New York: Free Press, 1989. Describes Chandler as one of the authors who brought out the parable at the heart of mystery fiction. Part of a comprehensive study of detective fiction that is valuable both for its breadth and for its unusual appendixes, one a list of further reading and the other an annotated list of the critic’s favorite mysteries.Luhr, William. Raymond Chandler and Film. Rev. ed. New York: F. Ungar, 1991.MacShane, Frank. The Life of Raymond Chandler. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1976. Standard biography draws on Chandler’s interviews and correspondence with colleagues and lovers to describe the author’s life and to provide insights into his novels.Marling, William H. The American Roman Noir: Hammett, Cain, and Chandler. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1995. Interprets the works of the three writers of hard-boiled detective fiction within the context of American social and cultural history of the 1920’s and 1930’s. Includes three chapters about Chandler: one a biography and the other two analyses of The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely.Marling, William. Raymond Chandler. Boston: Twayne, 1986. Both a brief biographical summary and a literary analysis of Chandler’s work.Moss, Robert F., ed. Raymond Chandler: A Literary Reference. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2003. An extremely useful compilation of primary documents relating to Chandler’s life and work. Includes letters, interviews, and other documents produced both by Chandler and by friends and colleagues. Extensive bibliographic resources and index.Norrman, Ralf. Wholeness Restored: Love of Symmetry as a Shaping Force in the Writings of Henry James, Kurt Vonnegut, Samuel Butler and Raymond Chandler. New York: Peter Lang, 1998. Discusses Chandler’s The Long Goodbye. Examines his use of symmetry in narrative, comparing Chandler’s employment of the device to writers of genres other than detective fiction.Phillips, Gene D. Creatures of Darkness: Raymond Chandler, Detective Fiction, and Film Noir. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2000. Focuses largely on Chandler’s Hollywood output but also presents some discussion of his novels.Preiss, Byron, ed. Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe: A Centennial Celebration. New York: Knopf, 1988.Simpson, Hassell A. “‘So Long, Beautiful Hunk’: Ambiguous Gender and Songs of Parting in Raymond Chandler’s Fictions.” Journal of Popular Culture 28 (Fall, 1994): 37-48. Discusses the sexual ambiguity of Chandler’s Philip Marlowe.Skinner, Robert E. The Hard-Boiled Explicator: A Guide to the Study of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ross Macdonald. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 2002. This volume is indispensable for the scholar interested in tracking down unpublished dissertations as well as mainstream criticism. Brief introductions of each author are followed by annotated bibliographies of books, articles, and reviews.Steiner, T. R. “The Origin of Raymond Chandler’s ‘Mean Streets.’” ANQ, n.s. 7 (October, 1994): 225-227. Suggests that the origin of the expression “mean streets” is Arthur Morrison’s Tales of Mean Streets, a classic of late Victorian slum literature. The phrase referred to the lack of purpose and joy in the East End of London.Van Dover, J. K., ed. The Critical Response to Raymond Chandler. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995. Collection of essays includes discussions of Chandler’s Los Angeles, The Big Sleep (both the novel and the film), Farewell, My Lovely, and the function of simile in Chandler’s novels. Includes bibliographical references and index.Widdicombe, Toby. A Reader’s Guide to Raymond Chandler. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2001. Features entries, arranged alphabetically, on Chandler’s works, characters, places, allusions, and major topics. Appendixes contain information on Chandler’s screenwriting, other writers’ adaptations of Chandler, and the portrayal of the character of Philip Marlowe in film, radio, and television.Wolfe, Peter. Something More than Night: The Case of Raymond Chandler. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1985.
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