Analyze Marlowe as a detective in Farewell, My Lovely.

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Raymond Chandler, creator of Philip Marlowe, was born in the U.S. but educated in England. According to Magill's Survey of American Literature:

Chandler attended Dulwich College, a typical English public school. There he studied the Bible and the Greek and Roman classics, a course of study designed to teach a strict Victorian moral code emphasizing honor, public service, and self-denial. This code profoundly affected Chandler’s personality, and it formed the basis for the character of Philip Marlowe, the hero of Chandler’s best-known works.

Fairly late in life Chandler began writing for pulp detective magazines. Chandler appreciated the unadorned American prose used by Hammett, James M. Cain, Erle Stanley Gardner, and other hardboiled writers but thought it a bit too stark and simplistic. His style was more "literary," understandably so, since he had a much better education.

He chose to write his novels in the first person, as narrated by private detective Philip Marlowe himself. Marlowe shows unusual sensitivity for a private detective. He does not tell the reader what deductions he is making, but he does descirbe characters and settings in such a way as to show he is not missing anything. His descriptions of Jessie Florian and the house she lives in are worth reading many times. In contrast to the tough, whiskey-loving Jessie Florian, Marlowe's descriptions of prissy Lindsay Marriott and his artsy home above the ocean show his sensitivity and his unquenchable sense of humor.

Marlowe is a lot different from Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade, both of whom were played in movies by Humphrey Bogart (Hammett's The Maltese Falcon and Chandler's The Big Sleep). Spade is strong, silent, and ruthless. Marlowe is tough enough when he has to be, but he has a much stronger sense of morality than Spade. Marlowe is even chivalrous. He is very much a loner. Chandler's plots are extremely convoluted in comparison to Hammett's. Marlowe sets out to solve one problem and ends up involved in others. Chandler had an influence on Ross Macdonald, who became an extremely successful private eye writer. Macdonald's hero Lew Archer is almost too sensitive to be a private detective. Archer narrates his stories in the first person like Marlowe, but Archer risks becoming too poetic in his descriptions and especially in his ornate similes and and metaphors. Chandler understood that readers of murder mysteries wanted bloodshed and violence, and that he could only take sensitive characterization and description so far.

Readers who appreciate Philip Marlowe understand that he is actually Raymond Chandler in disguise. Chandler's intellect and wry sense of humor shine through in his creation. Both Chandler and Marlowe like to drink. Both like to philosophize, and both have a cynical view of humanity and a pessimistic attitude towards life.

Chandler...aimed to present a steady accumulation of concrete detail which, in its raw force, would suppress the subjective emotionality that attends the incident of a murder. Chandler called this technique the "objective method." He maintained that by focusing attention on the minutiae of the everyday world...in the midst of a murder scene, readers would realize the absurdity of life, the inconsequential nature of much human endeavor, and the often outrageous demands that the very form of the melodramatic detective story makes on the imagination. Some critics have even said that Chandler was slightly mocking the genre in which he wrote.

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