The World of Raymond Chandler: In His Own Words

The World of Raymond Chandler: In His Own Words

by Raymond Chandler, Barry Day

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 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385352376
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 12/02/2014
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 288
File size: 111 MB
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About the Author

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. 

Date of Birth:

July 23, 1888

Date of Death:

March 26, 1959

Place of Birth:

Chicago Illinois

Place of Death:

La Jolla, California


Educated in England, France, and Germany

Read an Excerpt

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.

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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