Raymond Chandler Interview

Steve Powell has an interesting post at the Venetian Vase quoting Chandler telling Ian Fleming how a gangland killing might be arranged. The interview took place in London, and Chandler refuses to be drawn on whether there is anyone in England he might like to kill. Chandler was drunk from the start, and much of the interview is indistinct, but the post pulls out one of its great moments. Link

A Gimlet for Ray and Cissy

Today, on Valentine’s Day, thanks to the efforts of Loren Latker, his wife, Dr. Annie Thiel, and lawyer Alyssa Wayne, the ashes of Raymond Chandler and his wife, Cissy, are to be reunited at the Mount Hope Cemetery in San Diego. Much as I would have liked to attend the ceremony and the celebratory dinner afterwards, the distance involved was too great, but I’ll be raising a Gimlet to them here in England. The Gimlet is one of my favourite cocktails, and after much experimentation, the following recipe seems to work out well:


Four parts gin (Chandler favoured Gordons),

One part Rose’s lime cordial,

Shaken over ice.

Served on the rocks, or ‘up’, depending on personal preference.

Raymond Chandler on BBC Radio 4

Here in the UK, BBC Radio 4 is running a season of Raymond Chandler adaptations, producing the entire canon (well, the novels anyway) as radio plays. Quite a few visitors are arriving here having searched for Chandler, so I thought I’d pull together all my Chandler links.

Raymond Chandler’s Early Life. Putting right a few longstanding errors in Chandler’s accepted biography.

Raymond Chandler on Writing. Article from The Reader magazine.

Raymond Chandler: A Matter of Disguise. Academic article on Chandler which appeared in Studies in the Novel in 1997.

Raymond Chandler at Dulwich College.

Raymond Chandler’s Advice to Writers.

Philip Marlowe on Freelancing. Pengin book covers and a great quotation.

Raymond Chandler and Google. It looks like Chandler coined the word ‘Google,’ and envisaged it as a source of information, in 1953.

Readers near to San Diego might like to know that the ashes of Raymond and Cissy Chandler are to be reunited on February 14th, 2011. If you would like to attend the ceremony and the celebratory drinks and dinner, follow the RSVP instructions on Loren Latker’s website.

Ray and Cissy Chandler to be Reunited

A note to say that Loren Latker’s campaign to have the ashes of Cissy Chandler moved from a storage facility to the grave of her husband, crime writer Raymond Chandler, has been successful. The San Diego court granted the petition yesterday. Thanks to anyone who signed the petition which headed this blog over the summer. More at The Venetian Vase.

Digitisation, Copyright, and the British PhD Thesis

In the autumn of 1997 I submitted a PhD thesis, with the snappy title Modernity and Identity in the Detective Novels of Raymond Chandler, for assessment at Newcastle University. Some time later, after it had been examined, copies were deposited in the university library in Newcastle, and at the British Library. In the days of paper and hard covers nobody gave a second thought to handing them over. Now though there is a plan to digitise and make available online every British PhD thesis written since the 1600s. I am happy to be included in the scheme, but I have misgivings.

The vast majority of PhDs–mine included no doubt–lie unopened and unread in one of the British Library’s vast warehouses. In truth, few are worth reading in their raw form, though many are later rewritten as books. PhD theses are pedantic and technical, written for the examiners to prove the writer’s ability to corral a set of knowledge and sustain an argument. Books are written for their audience, whoever that may be, but PhD theses are no fun at all. They are written to meet a set of academic requirements, not for wide public consumption or the all-seeing eyes of Google and Bing.

It is natural to be a little bit afraid of having such a stunted, constrained, and raw piece of work on display, but the real issue here is one of choice. What I find irksome is the assumption that everyone will be happy to have work published online even though it was never intended for publication. This is work some writers may no longer endorse, or feel comfortable about. There is a way to opt out, but it depends on authors knowing they are involved in the first place, and university libraries do not seem to feel obliged to tell them. There is also the question of whether the choice needs to be a binary one. Why have PhD authors not been given the chance to license their work, allowing different levels of freedom to share and copy, rather than just the option to remove their work from the digitisation scheme?

The current copyright system clearly doesn’t work well with this new environment in which vast quantities of data are being made public, and the Library’s attempts to reassure with talk of copyright agreements, and tracking the recipients of downloads, miss the point entirely. Since most authors have not granted permission for this kind of distribution it is possible that the participating libraries themselves are the primary copyright abusers, but in any case, hard-line copyright statements are not really in the spirit of open access.

The expectation of wide availability will change the nature of the PhD thesis, and that is probably a good thing. In an open access environment there needs to be a reconsideration of who this work is for. But before that can happen we need to find a more sensible way of licensing this material, perhaps using Creative Commons licenses on all new PhDs as a matter of course. Trying to ignore the issue (and the rights holders), and hoping for the best, as the British Library seems to be doing, is not good enough. Like most people in this situation I don’t mind my thesis being part of the process, and I will be glad to get hold of an electronic copy when it becomes freely available. Even so, it would have been nice to be asked first.

Ray and Cissy: Petition to Reunite the Chandlers

Back in March I wrote about an effort to have the ashes of Cissy Chandler, the wife of Raymond Chandler, moved from their current resting place, on a shelf in a public mausoleum, to the grave of her husband, who adored and idolized her. Loren Latker, of the Shamus Town website, is taking a lot of trouble to bring them together as they wished and the case seems set to be heard by a judge in September in San Diego, near to La Jolla where the Chandlers lived. He has set up a petition which takes only a moment to ‘sign’ and which, if there are enough signatories, should be a huge boost to the chances of the court allowing the move. If you’re a Chandler fan and you have a few seconds spare to pay your respects to the great man, do go over and sign the petition, which you can find here.

More on the campaign to reunite the Chandlers is here.

Crossposted from The Venetian Vase.

Raymond Chandler Timeline Updated

Loren Latker, whose Shamus Town website is a great resource for anyone interested in Raymond Chandler and Los Angeles, has been doing some excellent research on Chandler’s early life and his family. His Chandler Timeline has just been updated with new material. Loren writes:

It now starts in 1858 with the birth of Morris, or Maurice, B Chandler. I’ve added many popup images for Ray’s birth certificate, his school records, a Laramie new item about an M Chandler attending a party in 1886, obits about his uncle Fitt’s brother and his aunt Francis Grace. I also found the document from 1927 where Ray started the process to regain his U.S. Citizenship. From that we learn that after WWI he returned to Canada, made is way to Victoria BC, boarded the Governor bound for San Francisco and arrived in March of 1919. He and Florence [Ray’s mother] were living at the West 12th Street address then. [Link to the Chandler Timeline]

My own take on Chandler’s early life is here.

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.

Dulwich College to Name Library in Honour of Raymond Chandler

The archivist at Dulwich College, where crime writer Raymond Chandler attended school from 1900 has been in touch to say that on May 5th 2009 the Lower School Library will be renamed the Chandler Library to mark the 50th anniversary of his death. The ceremony will be conducted by Tom Rob Smith, a more recent ‘Old Alleynian’ and author of Child 44, which was  longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2008. Dulwich already has a ‘Wodehouse Library’, in honour of the creator of ‘Jeeves and Wooster’ who preceded Chandler at the school. I wonder if the remaining Junior School library will eventually be named for C.S. Forester, author of The African Queen, who attended Dulwich College after Chandler and also lived and wrote in California.

Meanwhile, more information is emerging about Chandler’s life in the United States before he moved to England. Chandler researcher Loren Latker has uncovered evidence of Chandler attending school in Plattsmouth, Nebraska in 1895 and 1896 and this, combined with Nebraska census records showing he and his mother were resident in Plattsmouth in 1900, suggests that he did not move to the UK in 1895 as has been commonly thought. It seems more likely that he and his mother crossed the Atlantic in June 1900 so that he could begin his studies at Dulwich.

More on Chandler’s early life here [Updated]

Raymond Chandler’s Early Life

On the fiftieth anniversary of his death, Raymond Chandler tributes are everywhere. Of course his books are truly remarkable, but not much has been known about the early part of his life until recently–ancestry.com has made this kind of research a lot easier in the last few years. I’ve been working on a long piece about Chandler for a project unrelated to this anniversary and it seemed appropriate to offer part of it here. I confess this is a bleeding chunk from an unfinished longer piece and that it needs work, but here it is. [Later additions or annotations in square brackets].

Born in Chicago on July 23, 1888, Chandler was the only child of Florence (Thornton) Chandler and Maurice Chandler. His mother was born in Waterford, Ireland around 1863; his father came from Philadelphia in 1859 and is believed to have been an engineer on the Union Pacific railroad. They married in 1887, [probably in Laramie, Wyoming] but the relationship was not a happy one. Maurice drank heavily and worked away from home a lot. It is probably significant that Chandler and his mother are listed as passengers on a Transatlantic crossing as early as 1889, having visited Ireland without his father while Chandler was still a baby. They also spent long periods staying with Chandler’s aunt and uncle in Plattsmouth, Nebraska while his father was away. By 1895 Chandler’s parents had divorced and he and his mother moved to London, via Waterford, where [Added 30/04/2009 Chandler’s biographers insist that he and his mother finally moved back to England in 1895, following his parents’ divorce, but school records uncovered by Loren Latker show that the Chandlers moved frequently between Chicago and Plattsmouth, where Raymond attended the East Fourth Ward School in 1895 and 1896. Chandler and his mother are recorded in the US census in Plattsmouth in 1900 and appear in the manifest for the S.S. Lake Superior, which sailed out of Montreal for Liverpool in June 1900. This would appear to be the moment they moved back to the UK.] They set up home in Upper Norwood with Chandler’s grandmother and an unmarried aunt, Ethel.

Chandler’s mother was not especially welcome in London, since her divorce [or separation from her husband] was considered a disgrace, but she had little choice other than to accept her family’s help. As biographer Frank MacShane explains, Chandler himself quickly came to be considered the ‘man of the house’ and was especially protective of his mother. [Deleted because it now seems unlikely] At first he attended a local school in Upper Norwood and In the autumn of 1900 he began as a day pupil at Dulwich College, a private school in South London. Discussion of Chandler’s early life often emphasises his immersion in English culture during this period, but the family was wealthy enough to make quite frequent visits to the United States. For example, his mother appears to have made a solo trip to the United States, perhaps to visit her sister, in 1903.

Chandler made a success of his time at Dulwich, where he followed both P.G. Wodehouse as a pupil [C.S. Forester, author of the Hornblower novels and The African Queen was a pupil soon after]. He was especially drawn to the classics, but his Uncle Ernest, who had paid for him to attend the school, would not pay for him to study law at university. Instead he prepared to enter the civil service and travelled in France and Germany, studying languages. In 1907 he became naturalised as a British subject and took his civil service examinations, placing third out of six hundred applicants. He began work at the Admiralty soon afterwards. As MacShane suggests, Chandler may have been intelligent enough for the civil service, but temperamentally he was not well suited. He began publishing poetry in the old-fashioned style he had learned at school, then left the Admiralty to work as a reporter on the Daily Express. When that did not work out he moved to the Westminster Gazette and also wrote reviews for The Academy. None of this was enough for him to earn a living—he simply did not write fast enough—and in 1912 he borrowed £500 from his Uncle Ernest and left for the United States. He was also expected to take responsibility for his mother and according to immigration records he sponsored her arrival in the United States in December that year. He later claimed to have paid off his ‘irate’ uncle in full at six percent interest.

Los Angeles, War, and the Oil Business

At first Chandler lived with his aunt and Uncle Fitt in Omaha, Nebraska but by December 1912 he was in the Bay Area of San Francisco and taking a nightschool course in bookkeeping. He was soon working for the Los Angeles Creamery, a job he acquired with the help of Warren Lloyd a lawyer he had met and befriended during his voyage to the United States. The Lloyd family became an important part of Chandler’s life and it was at one of their cultural evenings that he met Cissy Pascal, then married to the pianist Julian Pascal. She later became his wife.

Exactly where Chandler’s mother fitted into all this is unclear, but  in 1917 they were living at 1419 De la Vina Street, Santa Barbara, where Chandler was employed at the Santa Barbara branch of the creamery. He signed his United States draft registration card on June 17th, claiming exemption from the draft ‘on account mother’. However, according to MacShane ‘he told some friends that he had tried to join the American army, only to be rejected for bad eyesight’ (MacShane, 27). In August he joined the Canadian army, perhaps because he preferred to fight in a British uniform, but more likely, as MacShane surmises, because unlike the American army the Canadians paid his mother a severance allowance. He served in France and was later the sole survivor of an artillery attack on his trench, an episode he wrote up in a sketch called ‘Trench Raid’ and more indirectly in his 1953 novel The Long Goodbye.

Chandler was sent back to England and after a brief period in the Royal Air Force he returned to Los Angeles in 1919 to resume his friendship with the Lloyds and the Pascals. Soon Chandler and Cissy Pascal were in love. She divorced Julian Pascal, but she did not marry Chandler until February 6th, 1924, four months after the death of his mother. According to MacShane Cissy gave her age as forty-three but she was in fact ten years older. Chandler’s new wife was only seven years younger than his mother and it is difficult not to see similarities in his relationships with the two women, both of whom came to depend on him.

With the help of the Lloyds Chandler took a job at the Dabney Oil Syndicate and became part of the California oil boom of the 1920s. The South Basin Oil Company, of which the Dabney companies were a part, competed with Shell in the development of Signal Hill, an oil field which at the time produced a fifth of the world’s oil. Chandler proved to be a talented auditor and a brilliant office manager. According to MacShane he held several directorships and was president of three companies.

Chandler was successful in business, but he was unhappy and his personal life was a mess. His relationship with Cissy as she approached the age of sixty became increasingly difficult. She was sensitive about her age and the way she looked so Chandler often attended social events alone. He began to drink heavily and had affairs with women from the office. In February 1930 he and Cissy separated and Chandler’s drinking worsened. It is unclear how long they remained apart, but a ‘memorandum of agreement’ uncovered by Loren Latker was prepared in March that year to protect Cissy’s financial interests following the separation. Chandler continued on his destructive path and it is possible that they remained apart for most of the following two years. By 1932, when he was fired from his job, Chandler had a reputation as an unreliable drunk, but Cissy’s health was deteriorating and perhaps because of that she and Chandler were together again.

The Pulps

Not much has been made of Chandler’s reinvention as a writer. On his army papers he describes his profession as ‘journalist’ but between the war and the 1930s he wrote very little. After losing his job however, he began almost immediately to teach himself how to write fiction. He began by imitating others, including Ernest Hemingway and Erle Stanley Gardner. He created detailed synopses of the latter’s stories and rewrote them in his own words, comparing the two versions to see where Garner had succeeded and he had failed.

As a well paid oil executive Chandler must have accumulated some money of his own, but he was also supported by Paul Lloyd, who offered him $100 a month in his early years as a writer. Chandler had been earning around $1000 a month as far back the early 1920s and must have felt very insecure in these new circumstances, but he persevered. His first story, for the pulp magazine Black Mask was published in December 1933. It had taken him five months to write and earned him $180. In all in a period of around ten years he published 22 stories in magazines including Black Mask and Dime Detective Magazine. He was published alongside writers such as Gardner, Horace McCoy, W.T. Ballard, and Norbert Davis and at Black Mask he was among the most valuable of editor Joseph ‘Cap’ Shaw’s regular contributors.

During his time writing for the pulp magazines Chandler produced some great stories, but he was also learning his craft and developing a style that would become fully formed in his seven completed novels. He introduced description and style to a genre that favoured plot and sensation and succeeded in changing the expectations not only of the audience but of editors such as Shaw himself. By 1938, at the age of fifty, however, Chandler was outgrowing the possibilities offered by the short stories and ‘novelettes’ of the pulp publishers and had begun writing his first full-blown novel, The Big Sleep.

More Chandler:

Marlowe Goes to the Movies at The Rap Sheet. Great summary, with clips of Chandler adaptations.

The Penguin Blog has the tale of tracking down dust jackets from the Chandler first editions (not easy, apparently).

Judith Freeman in LA Weekly.

LA Times tribute.

James Walton in The Daily Telegraph on Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles‘.

Jake Kerridge, also in the Telegraph on the novels themselves.

By me earlier this week in The Rumpus.

And the Baltimore Sun blog Read Street ran a competition to out-simile Chandler.


Loren Latker’s Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles (Shamus Town).

Robert Moss’s Raymond Chandler Website and his blog.