Raymond Chandler
  • Raymond Chandler
  • Author & screenwriter; Born: August 28, 1888 in Chicago, IL; Died: March 26, 1959 in La Jolla, CA

Raymond Chandler

Education

  • Dulwich College, a Public School (i.e., private prep-school) in London, 1900-1905

Best known for his Philip Marlowe mystery novels, Chandler worked as a British civil servant, a teacher, a journalist, an accountant for a dairy in Pasadena, and an executive for an oil company south of Los Angeles.

Born to Irish-immigrant parents in Chicago, Chandler spent much of his childhood in England. Supported by an uncle, Chandler was able to attend prestigious Dulwich College in London, where he played rugby, studied Classical and modern languages, and won school prizes. Chandler read Caesar, Livy, Ovid, and Vergil in Latin, and Thucydides, Plato, Aristotle and St. Mark in Greek.

After graduation from high school, the seventeen-year-old Chandler, by then a naturalized British citizen, went to France and Germany to improve his modern languages in preparation for a Civil Service career. In 1907, he took the six-day civil service exam, placing first in classics and third overall. This gained him a clerkship in the British Admiralty. After just six months, however, he quit this position in order to pursue a literary career.

In 1912, Chandler realized that he could not make a living as a writer and emigrated to the United States. There he worked in a variety of jobs. During the First World War, he also fought with the Canadian Expeditory Force in France and became the only man from his company to survive a heavy bombardment.

In 1932, at age 44, he lost his last non-literary job because of his alcoholism. He started reading mystery novels in the Black Mask magazine and decided that writing this kind of stories might be a way to earn money.

To teach himself how to write mysteries, Chandler adapted the techniques of Latin prose composition. At Dulwich, he had had to translate texts from Latin to English and then after a while back into Latin. He approached the stories in the Black Mask in a similar way, reducing them to their bare bones and then retelling them in his own words. After five months, he was able to sell a first story of his own, "Blackmailers Don't Shoot" (1932), to the magazine for a penny a word (classiccrimefiction.com).

Two of his Black Mask stories became finally the basis for the first of several Philip Marlowe novels, The Big Sleep (1939). The book features a private detective, Philip Marlowe (whose name may have been inspired by Dulwich's Marlowe House, cf. R.W.B. Lewis) who descends into the underworld of Los Angeles like Vergil's Aeneas or the Greek mythological hero Orpheus (see Doty abstract below).

Raymond Chandler and the Classics

"A Classical education helps you from being fooled by pretentiousness, which is what most current fiction is too full of. In this country [America] the mystery writer is looked down on as sub-literary merely because he is a mystery writer, rather than for instance a writer of social significance twaddle. To a classicist -- even a very rusty one -- such an attitude is merely a parvenu insecurity" (quoted after Tom Hiney, see link below).

Links

Tom Hiney, "From Chicago to Bloomsbury", an excerpt from Tom Hiney's biography of Raymond Chandler covering his childhood and his experience at Dulwich College.

Ralph E. Doty (U of Oklahoma), "The Underworld Journey in Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep" (abstract of a paper presented at CAMWS 2004 meeting). 

William Marling (Case Western Reserve U), Raymond Chandler biography on detnovel.com.