The Authors: Raymond Chandler

Raymond Thornton Chandler (1888-1959) came about writing as many other pulp authors…a series of failed professions led him to it.  After an unsuccessful try as a journalist, he put off ideas of a future in writing.  He strung tennis rackets, picked fruit and then enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force.  He saw combat in France in World War I and was hospitalized with Spanish Flu during the pandemic.  He worked as a bookkeeper and auditor working his way up to a vice presidency with Dabney Oil Syndicate.  A position which he was dismissed from due to a litany of complaints worthy of one of his characters, including alcoholism, promiscuity, absenteeism and threats of suicide.

Saddled with the aforementioned character flaws, Chandler turned to writing to earn a living during the depression.  A self-taught, yet extremely talented writer he credited Erle Stanley Gardner (creator of Perry Mason) as a huge influence in the development of his skill as a writer.  Black Mask Magazine published Chandler’s first story, Blackmailers Don’t Shoot in 1933.  Published stories in Black Mask, Dime Detective, Atlantic Monthly and others saw Chandler through the depression.  1939 finally saw the publishing of his first novel, The Big Sleep, introducing America and the rest of the world to Philip Marlowe.  Marlowe was the cynically optimistic alter-ego Chandler would revisit the rest of his life.  Marlowe is that rarity, a truly American hero for his times.  A down-on-his-luck private eye with more luck than brains and more brains than brawn.  A hero with as many flaws as the readers of his stories.  With the creation of Marlowe came the recognition Chandler deserved.

Justly credited (along with Dashiell Hammett) with mastering the mystery/detective genre.  The violent and seamy nature of the genre often excluded the author for the broader recognition he so deserved.  Based on talent, Chandler should be mentioned in the same breath as Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck and Faulkner.  Based on public influence, he vastly overshadows all the greats of twentieth-century literature.  His unrivaled dialogue created the common vernacular and slang for generations.  There is perhaps no author more in tune with what society wanted during his height.  There was a huge rise in pulp magazines in part due to Chandler’s successes, creating opportunities for countless imitators.  Film dialogue began to reflect the stylized dialogue of Chandler’s characters.  During his height of popularity there may not have been an author more responsible for directing the style of a generation, with the exception of possibly F. Scott Fitzgerald two decades earlier.  If Fitzgerald is the epitome of the roaring twenties, Chandler is the epitome of the forties pre-war America.

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