Saturday, February 14, 2009

Featured Pipe Smoker: Raymond Chandler

Raymond Thornton Chandler (1888-1959)
"Would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs and tell him or her that I write a sort of broken-down patois which is something like the way a Swiss waiter talks, and that when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will stay split and when I interrupt the velvety smoothness of my more or less literate syntax with a few sudden words of bar-room vernacular, that is done with the eyes wide open and the mind relaxed and attentive. The method may not be perfect, but it is all I have."
And what a method it was. Raymond Chandler was born in Chicago but moved to Britain with his mother several years later when his parents divorced, where he attended school and became a naturalized British citizen in 1907. He worked for the Civil Service and then as a journalist before returning to the United States in 1912, taking jobs as a bookkeeper and accountant.

In 1917, he enlisted in the Canadian army and fought in France. After the war, he moved to Los Angeles. He eventually became a vice president of Dabney Oil Syndicate in California but lost this job because of his alcoholism.

His education had included nothing particular to his becoming a writer; he didn't "study" writing. He simply began writing because he felt the creative urge and he thought he could make money at it. The Big Sleep was his first novel, published in 1939.

He renounced his British citizenship in 1948 to avoid paying income tax to the U.K.

After his wife died in 1954 he fell into depression and again began drinking heavily. He died of pneumonia in 1959.

Chandler's descriptive turns of phrase were quite original and since have been often mimicked. He achieved perhaps the supreme honor of any writer by having his name turned into an adjective: Chandleresque. All of his novels have been made into movies. He also wrote several short stories and one essay on pulp fiction titled The Simple Act of Murder.

Raymond Chandler is, of course, the creator of the famous fictional detective Philip Marlowe and is one of my favorite authors. I never tire of re-reading his works and trying to commit some of his descriptions to memory. One that has always stuck in my mind is him describing a woman's face in that it "looked like a bucket of mud." Another favorite, from The Big Sleep, is "The plants filled the place, a forest of them, with nasty meaty leaves and stalks like the newly washed fingers of dead men."

If you've never read any of his books, you should.

Amazon Search: Raymond Chandler

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