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The World of Raymond Chandler: In His Own Words

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Overview

 Raymond Chandler never wrote a memoir or autobiography. The closest he came to writing either was in—and around—his novels, shorts stories, and letters. There have been books that describe and evaluate Chandler’s life, but to find out what he himself felt about his life and work, Barry Day, editor of The Letters of Noël Coward (“There is much to dazzle here in just the way we expect . . . the book is meticulous, artfully structured—splendid” —Daniel Mendelsohn; The New York Review of Books), has cannily, ...

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Overview

 Raymond Chandler never wrote a memoir or autobiography. The closest he came to writing either was in—and around—his novels, shorts stories, and letters. There have been books that describe and evaluate Chandler’s life, but to find out what he himself felt about his life and work, Barry Day, editor of The Letters of Noël Coward (“There is much to dazzle here in just the way we expect . . . the book is meticulous, artfully structured—splendid” —Daniel Mendelsohn; The New York Review of Books), has cannily, deftly chosen from Chandler’s writing, as well as the many interviews he gave over the years as he achieved cult status, to weave together an illuminating narrative that reveals the man, the work, the worlds he created.

Using Chandler’s own words as well as Day’s text, here is the life of “the man with no home,” a man precariously balanced between his classical English education with its immutable values and that of a fast-evolving America during the years before the Great War, and the changing vernacular of the cultural psyche that resulted. Chandler makes clear what it is to be a writer, and in particular what it is to be a writer of “hardboiled” fiction in what was for him “another language.” Along the way, he discusses the work of his contemporaries: Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Agatha Christie, W. Somerset Maugham, and others (“I wish,” said Chandler, “I had one of those facile plotting brains, like Erle Gardner”).

Here is Chandler’s Los Angeles (“There is a touch of the desert about everything in California,” he said, “and about the minds of the people who live here”), a city he adopted and that adopted him in the post-World War I period . . . Here is his Hollywood (“Anyone who doesn’t like Hollywood,” he said, “is either crazy or sober”) . . . He recounts his own (rocky) experiences working in the town with Billy Wilder, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, and others. . .We see Chandler’s alter ego, Philip Marlowe, private eye, the incorruptible knight with little armor who walks the “mean streets” in a world not made for knights (“If I had ever an opportunity of selecting the movie actor who would best represent Marlowe to my mind, I think it would have been Cary Grant.”) . . . Here is Chandler on drinking (his life in the end was in a race with alcohol—and loneliness) .  .  . and here are Chandler’s women—the Little Sisters, the “dames” in his fiction, and in his life (on writing The Long Goodbye, Chandler said, “I watched my wife die by half inches and I wrote the best book in my agony of that knowledge . . . I was as hollow as the places between the stars.” After her death Chandler led what he called a “posthumous life” writing fiction, but more often than not, his writing life was made up of letters written to women he barely knew.)

Interwoven throughout the text are more than one hundred pictures that reveal the psyche and world of Raymond Chandler. “I have lived my whole life on the edge of nothing,” he wrote.  In his own words, and with Barry Day’s commentary, we see the shape this took and the way it informed the man and his extraordinary work.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
08/11/2014
As he did previously with the work of Noel Coward, P.G. Wodehouse, and Dorothy Parker, editor Day has assembled the letters and published writings of Raymond Chandler to create not a biography, but a portrait of the writer “in his own words.” While the volume mentions Chandler’s education, life prior to becoming a writer, and wife Cissy (18 years his senior), the focus here is on Philip Marlowe, Los Angeles and Hollywood, and writing. Day includes some juicy tidbits from Chandler’s letters about Hemingway and Veronica “Moronica” Lake, and from the writer’s experiences with Hollywood productions like The Big Sleep, Double Indemnity, and Strangers on a Train. However, most of the book consists of Chandler’s quotes on a host of topics ranging from smoking to cracking wise to cops. Day also gives an inventory of Chandler’s hard-boiled argot and famously ornate similes, and explores minutiae, such as the evolution of Marlowe’s office decor over the course of the novels featuring him. This encyclopedic mastery of Chandler’s work is impressive in small doses, but becomes tedious taken as a whole. When Chandler’s letters are being quoted, though, on anything from the philosophy of a private eye “earning a meager living in a corrupt world” to trends in Los Angeles architecture, the book sparkles. 115 illus. (Nov.)
From the Publisher
Praise for
THE WORLD OF RAYMOND CHANDLER
Edited by Barry Day
 
“Compelling . . . The World of Raymond Chandler is an excellent companion to the works of the writer. It teleports fans back into Chandler's universe and offers an invaluable introduction for those new to his work.”
                                                -Biographile
 
“This collection of Raymond Chandler's reflections and witticisms, edited into themed chapters, will equally satisfy his fans and readers unfamiliar with the noir master.”
                                                -Shelf Awareness
 
The World of Raymond Chandler is a remarkable book.  Barry Day has gone through the Chandler canon with a sharp eye and a flensing knife.  What remains is a fascinating and convincing portrait of a writer who, using the material of his own life and his convictions, refined pulp into literature.  More than any biography I’ve read, this book stirred in me a new sympathy for Chandler to match the admiration I’ve always felt.”
-Dean Koontz, author of 77 Shadow Street and What the Night Knows
 
“I enjoyed every page.  I’ve had a collection of Chandler stories waiting unread on my shelf for years and years (The Simple Art of Murder).  Barry Day’s The World of Raymond Chandler has prompted me to pull it down and place it at the top of my queue.  I can’t think of any higher praise.”
                                                -Scott Smith
 
“Barry Day’s book is a welcome reminder of just what a great writer Raymond Chandler was, and also illuminates his life—Who knew he went to an English public school?—and the whole phenomenon of Los Angeles, and the way then and now the sleazy and the corrupt live cheek by jowl with the rich and glamorous. A pleasure to read!”
                                                -Michael Korda, author of Hero and Clouds of Glory
Library Journal
12/01/2014
When he died in 1959, Chandler (The Big Sleep; The Long Goodbye) was revered, along with Dashiell Hammett and Ross Macdonald, as a master of hard-boiled fiction. Born in Chicago in 1888 and raised and educated in England before returning to America, Chandler turned to writing in the early 1940s after scuttling a successful career in the oil industry. In chapters on Chandler's early years, his thoughts on the craft of crime writing, his immersion in American culture in Los Angeles and Hollywood, and his famous detective, Philip Marlowe, Day (The Letters of Noël Coward; Dorothy Parker: In Her Own Words) organizes a tumultuous, eventful life. The primary sources—including voluminous correspondence and passages from the novels and stories—as well as a chronology and 115 photographs present a Technicolor portrait of Chandler and the gritty, decadent Southern California culture that spawned hard-boiled fiction and film. VERDICT Veteran editor Day deftly interweaves Chandler's words ("There is nothing to write about but death, and the detective story is a tragedy with a happy ending") with his own observations on the author and his time. A particular treat for readers interested in Chandler's life and career, crime writing, or Hollywood culture up to the middle of the last century. [See Prepub Alert, 5/12/14.]—Patrick A. Smith, Bainbridge State Coll., GA
Kirkus Reviews
2014-09-21
Day (The Letters of Noel Coward, 2007, etc.) lets peerless mystery writer Raymond Chandler reveal himself through his own words—and in those of his fictional creation Philip Marlowe—while contributing structure, comment and a useful amount of connective tissue. For someone so associated with the American patois, it is ironic that Chandler generally thought of himself as a classically educated "Englishman" imbued with British tastes. Day demonstrates how the Chicago-born author, a resident of England for much of his youth, had to "learn American just like a foreign language," both customs and vernacular. Chandler was taken with the pungency of American English, admiring how it "roughed up" and enlivened the language, as Shakespeare had done. Day then shows how character, language and style superseded plot in Chandler's fiction, unlike such shallow avatars of construction as Agatha Christie. Though a man of comparatively modest literary output, Chandler mused extensively on writing in letters to colleagues and friends. Day connects Chandler's signature ideas and impulses most effectively in this correspondence. While he disclaims biographical intent, such elements abound in the book. Chandler was repatriated to Los Angeles in 1912, and the city would become as much a character in his novels as Marlowe, his alter ego. Foremost, Chandler was a sultan of similes. Delightful as they often are, however, Day drowns us in a deluge of them. Like Chandler, Day also betrays a faint whiff of condescension toward American culture—not without some justification—but he is wholly sympathetic in charting Chandler's long, happy marriage to a woman 18 years his senior, his devastation over her death and his accelerated alcoholism. Chandler wrote not about crime or detection, as George V. Higgins observed, but about the corruption of the human spirit. Day deepens our understanding of how Chandler, who cared for his legacy, balanced commitment to principle with living and prospering in the real world.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385352369
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/2/2014
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 124,938
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Raymond Chandler

BARRY DAY was born in England and received his M.A. from Balliol College, Oxford. Day has written about Dorothy Parker, Oscar Wilde, Johnny Mercer, P. G. Wodehouse, and Rodgers and Hart. He has written and produced plays and musical revues showcasing the work of Noël Coward, the Lunts, Oscar Wilde, and others. Day is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a Trustee of the Noël Coward Foundation and was awarded the Order of the British Empire. He lives in New York, London, and Palm Beach.

Biography

Raymond Thornton Chandler (1888 - 1959) was the master practitioner of American hard-boiled crime fiction. Although he was born in Chicago, Chandler spent most of his boyhood and youth in England where he attended Dulwich College and later worked as a freelance journalist for The Westminster Gazette and The Spectator. During World War I, Chandler served in France with the First Division of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, transferring later to the Royal Flying Corps (R. A. F.). In 1919 he returned to the United States, settling in California, where he eventually became director of a number of independent oil companies. The Depression put an end to his career, and in 1933, at the age of forty-five, he turned to writing fiction, publishing his first stories in Black Mask. Chandler's detective stories often starred the brash but honorable Philip Marlowe (introduced in 1939 in his first novel, The Big Sleep) and were noted for their literate presentation and dead-on critical eye. Never a prolific writer, Chandler published only one collection of stories and seven novels in his lifetime. Some of Chandler's novels, like The Big Sleep, were made into classic movies which helped define the film noir style. In the last year of his life he was elected president of the Mystery Writers of America. He died in La Jolla, California on March 26, 1959.

Author biography courtesy of Random House, Inc.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Raymond Thornton Chandler
    1. Date of Birth:
      July 23, 1888
    2. Place of Birth:
      Chicago Illinois
    1. Date of Death:
      March 26, 1959
    2. Place of Death:
      La Jolla, California

Read an Excerpt

Five
The City of the angels

Scattered diamond points at first, the lights drew together and became a jeweled wristlet laid out in the show window of the night.
—“The Man Who Liked Dogs”

“Everything’s for sale in California.”
The Lady in the Lake

“We make the finest packages in the world, Mr. Marlowe. The stuff inside it is mostly junk.”
—Harlan Potter in The Long Goodbye

“a big hard-boiled city with no more personality than a paper cup.”
“It is the same in all big cities, amigo.”
The Little Sister

I smelled Los Angeles before I got to it. It smelled stale and old like a living room that had been closed too long. But the colored light fooled you.
The Little Sister

Crime writer Ross Macdonald—considered by many to be the leading neo-Chandler—wrote that Chandler “invested the sun-blinded streets of Los Angeles with a romantic presence.” But the romance was strictly of the film noir variety.

It was a time when the city was trying to carve out an identity for itself. There are those who will tell you it still is. Hollywood was not the whole of Los Angeles; but in a very unreal sense, all of Los Angeles was Hollywood.

Architectural imagination ran riot. French châteaux sat cheek by jowl with Tudor castles and Italian villas. You might go to a restaurant like the Brown Derby, built to resemble a hat, or a bank that resembled an animal. A bottling plant a block long might have the exterior of an ocean liner with portholes for windows; a cinema posed as a Chinese pagoda—and still does. Everything was made to look like something else, and nothing seemed built to last—just like the film sets over in Hollywood.

There was money aplenty . . .

There were great silent estates, with twelve-foot walls and wrought-iron gates and ornamental hedges; and inside, if you could get inside, a special brand of sunshine, very quiet, put up in noise-proof containers just for the upper classes.
Farewell, My Lovely

The bright gardens had a haunted look, as though wild eyes were watching . . . from behind the bushes, as though the sunshine itself had a mysterous something in the light.
The Big Sleep

The house itself was not so much. It was smaller than Buckingham Palace, rather gray for California, and probably had fewer windows than the Chrysler Building . . . A man in a striped vest and gilt buttons opened the door, bowed, took my hat and was through for the day.
Farewell, My Lovely

Inside the houses—were you privileged enough to get a peep—you were likely to find the kind of room where people sit on floor cushions with their feet in their laps and sip absinthe through lumps of sugar and talk from the back of their throats in high, affected voices, and some of them just squeak. It was a room where anything could happen except work.
Farewell, My Lovely

On the floor might be “a rug as thin as silk and as old as Aesop’s aunt” (“Mandarin’s Jade”) or, alternatively, “You could just man- age to walk on the carpet without waders” (The High Window). “A peach-colored Chinese rug a gopher could have spent a week in without showing his nose above the nap” (“Mandarin’s Jade”).
When the old-money moment was past, the glow faded fast. The color scheme of the old Chateau Berry was bile green, linseed-poultice brown, sidewalk gray and monkey- bottom blue. It was as restful as a split lip.
The Little Sister

Raymond Chandler, one gathers, did not approve of the filthy rich, if only because of what they did with their money.

Chandler remembered the city as being “hot and dry when I first went there, with tropical rains in winter and sunshine at least nine-tenths of the year.”
Marlowe also has his memories . . .

“I used to like this town,” I said . . . “A long time ago. There were trees along Wilshire Boulevard. Beverly Hills was a country town. Westwood was bare hills and lots offering at eleven hundred dollars and no takers. Hollywood was a bunch of frame houses on the interurban line. Los Angeles was just a big dry sunny place with ugly homes and no style, but goodhearted and peaceful. It had the climate they just yap about now. People used to sleep out on porches. Little groups who thought they were intellectual used to call it the Athens of America. It wasn’t that, but it wasn’t a neon-lighted slum either.”
The Little Sister

It was a very different Los Angeles in those days. The 1911 Census had estimated 350,000 people but the trickle of immigrants was becoming a flood. By 1930 it would be 1.5 million and a lot of things would have changed.

An oil boom of massive proportions was under way, creating money and jobs—and it didn’t much care for whom. Money poured into the state with the encouragement of the federal government. Before long the economy was that of a fair-sized country and, since it was easy money, it easily attracted organized crime.

World War II aggravated the situation. The setting-up of factories for arms manufacturing made California the epicenter of the defense industry, and Washington—anxious to help rebuild the region after the Depression of the 1930s—gave preference in the granting of contracts.

And still people poured in. By the 1950s the city boasted an electronic sign that showed the population increase minute-by-minute. What it did not show was the range of problems that unplanned influx brought with it.

It was all too much too soon for a town that had no evolved culture of its own. What had emerged, Chandler saw as being just as much the product of bland mass production and advertising. He called it the “culture of the filter-tipped cigarette . . . leading to a steakless steak to be broiled on a heatless broiler in a non-existent oven and eaten by a toothless ghost.”

In the books Marlowe is constantly crisscrossing the terrain, noting the morphing of one aspect into another—rarely for the better—and always making us aware of the geographical context in which this amorphous new “Athens” exists. Behind it, the timeless range of mountains. Before it, “the great fat solid Pacific trudging into shore like a scrubwoman going home . . . a California ocean. California, the department store state. The most of everything and the best of nothing” (The Little Sister). “There is a touch of the desert about every- thing in California and about the minds of the people who live here.” (Letter to Blanche Knopf). We are constantly being made aware of natural beauty corrupted by unnatural man.
In more mellow mood, the sea takes on more romantic imagery . . .

Under the thinning fog the surf curled and creamed, almost without sound, like a thought trying to form itself on the edge of consciousness.
The Big Sleep

The swell is as gentle as an old lady singing hymns.
—The Long Goodbye
In the cove the waves don’t break, they slide in politely, like floor walkers.
Playback

In that mood the city itself has its own kind of beauty, though the imagery is invariably man-made: “The lights of the city were a vast golden carpet, stitched with brilliant splashes of red and green and blue and purple” (“Pick-Up on Noon Street”) . . . “The lights of Hollywood and L.A. winked at him. Searchlight beams probed the cloudless sky as if searching for bombing planes” (“The King in Yel low”) . . . “the stars were as bright and artificial as stars of chromium on a sky of black velvet” (Farewell, My Lovely) . . . “a slanting grey rain like a swung curtain of crystal beads” (The Big Sleep) . . . “The light hit pencils of rain and made silver wires of them” (“The Curtain”) . . .
The valley moonlight was so sharp that the black shadows looked as though they had been cut with an engraving tool . . . ten thou- sand lighted windows and the stars hanging down over them politely, not getting too close.
The High Window

There was loneliness and the smell of kelp and the smell of wild sage from the hills. A yellow window hung here and there, all by itself, like the last orange.

Farewell, My Lovely Spring rustling in the air like a paper bag blowing along a concrete sidewalk.
Farewell, My Lovely

We curved through the bright mile or two of the Sunset Strip past the antique shops with famous screen names on them, past the win- dows full of point lace and ancient pewter, past the gleaming new nightclubs with famous chefs and equally famous gambling rooms, run by polished graduates of the Purple Gang, past the Georgian Colonial vogue, now old hat, past the handsome modernistic buildings in which the Hollywood flesh-peddlers never stop talking money, past a drive-in lunch which somehow didn’t belong, even though the girls wore white silk blouses and drum majorettes’ shakos and nothing below the hips but glazed Hessian boots. Past all this and down a wide smooth curve to the bridle path of Beverly Hills and lights to the south, all colors of the spectrum and crystal clear in an evening without fog, past the shadowed mansions up on the hills to the north, past Beverly Hills altogether and up into the twisting foothill boulevard and the sudden cool dusk and the drift of wind from the sea.
Farewell, My Lovely

Beverly Hills was such a nice place before the Phoenicians took it over. Now it’s just a setting for an enormous confidence racket.

As time—and Marlowe—go by, another incidental dimension emerges in Chandler’s panorama of the city. Not only is it growing before our eyes but we are made aware of proximity. The bad and the beautiful exist literally cheek by jowl. Two blocks from obscene wealth is abject poverty. The dreams of Hollywood coexist happily with the worst urban nightmares . . . and nobody seems to notice or care too much.
Even Nature is not to be trusted. It’s always lying in wait for you . . .

There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those 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 husband’s necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.
—“Red Wind”

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