Raymond Chandler at Dulwich College

Some time ago now I was sent a pamphlet entitled A College Boy: Raymond Chandler at Dulwich College, 1900 to 1905. The pamphlet was written by Calista Lucy, the archivist at Dulwich College, to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Chandler’s death and to mark the renaming of the college’s Lower School Library the Raymond Chandler Library.

A College Boy adds quite a few new snippets of information to the early Chandler biography as well as looking at his writing from a Dulwich point of view. The college’s ledger of Entrance and Tuition Fees, for example, apparently shows that in 1900, when he enrolled at the college having just arrived in England, Chandler lived at Whitefield Lodge, 77 Alleyn Park; he and his mother are later listed in the 1901 census as living at Mount Cyra, 110 Auckland Road, Upper Norwood. As Calista Lucy points out, there is no blue plaque: there should be. There is also information about the books he borrowed from the library–Thackeray, Lamb, and Mark Twain feature–and the news that Chandler returned to Dulwich as a substitute teacher in 1910, from the start of the Michaelmas term that year through to July 1911. This was the period in which his literary ambitions were foundering through lack of money. The job apparently paid him a total of £53 6s, around a sixth of a regular Dulwich College master’s salary at the time.

Watts-galahadChandler the teacher is a tantalising prospect. He was probably a charismatic figure in the classroom, but I suspect there was a lot of ‘telling’ in his teaching style. He was helped into the teaching job by an old master of his, Henry ‘Teddy’ Hose (1876-1967), with whom he kept up a correspondence and friendship that included sending monthly food parcels in the years when food was rationed after World War II. He also did this for another ‘Old Alleynian’, McCulloch Christison.

Besides this kind of information, where the pamphlet is also interesting is in it’s highly suggestive speculations about the influence of the school on Chandler’s later life. For example it seems that in 1903 G.F. Watts’s painting of Sir Galahad (left) was hanging in the school library during Chandler’s time there. It also turns out that the cornflower is the school flower and Lucy makes a link here with the cornflower in the lapel of Lindsay Marriott in Farewell, My Lovely, and Eileen Wade’s cornflower blue eyes–‘a rare colour’–in The Long Good-Bye.

These connections might seem tenuous at face value, but Chandler stayed in contact with several people from the school and clearly saw his time there as a major influence on his later life. Lucy notes that Bill Townend, another Dulwich old boy, met Chandler in San Francisco in 1913 and found he was wearing a straw ‘boater’ with the cornflower blue Dulwich ribbon round the brim. This corroborates other evidence that Chandler’s first place of residence in California was the Bay Area, rather than the environs of Los Angeles. For example, Chandler’s mother Florence seems to be listed in a 1912 passenger manifest of the SS Merion with a final US destination of ‘Berkeley, San Francisco’.

More on the discrepancies in Chandler’s early biography here, and on Loren Latker’s Shamus Town site.

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