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Raymond Chandler Biography

(1888–1959), Black Mask, The Big Sleep, Farewell, My Lovely, The High Window

American crime writer, born in Chicago, but brought up from the age of seven in England, where he was educated at Dulwich College. He returned to America in 1912 and, after serving in the Canadian Army and the Royal Air Force during the First World War, settled in California and became an executive for an oil company. Sacked for drunkenness in 1932, he wrote detective stories for pulp magazines, including Black Mask, gradually developing the figure of the detective narrator who emerged as Philip Marlowe in his first novel, The Big Sleep (1939; filmed by Howard Hawks with Humphrey Bogart as Marlowe, 1946). This was followed by his highly acclaimed Farewell, My Lovely (1940), The High Window (1942), The Lady in the Lake (1943), The Little Sister (1949; republished in the USA as Marlowe), The Long Goodbye (1953), and Playback (1958). He was also employed as a screenwriter in Hollywood, working on the screenplays for Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity (1944; from the novel by James M. Cain) and Alfred Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train (1951; from the novel by Patricia Highsmith). Greatly influenced by Dashiell Hammett, whom he much admired, he strove to take the detective novel further than had his predecessor, to give it an extra dimension and turn it into literature; in the process he romanticized Hammett's hero, who became a kind of modern knight errant: ‘Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid’, he wrote in the essay ‘The Simple Art of Murder’ (1944). His influence on later writers of private eye novels has been immense, though his works have been perhaps critically more valued in Britain than in America: in an appreciation (Harper's, 1948) Auden spoke for many when he wrote that Chandler's novels were ‘serious studies of a criminal milieu, the Great Wrong Place, and his powerful but extremely depressing books should be read and judged, not as escape literature, but as works of art’. There is a life by Frank MacShane (1976); see also Miriam Gross (ed.), The World of Raymond Chandler (1977) and Jerry Speir, Raymond Chandler (1981). (See detective fiction.)

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Henry Carey Biography to Chekhov Biography