Raymond Chandler Biography


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Raymond Thornton Chandler was born in Chicago on July 23, 1888. He was the only child of Maurice Benjamin Chandler, a railroad worker, and Florence Dart Chandler (né Thornton), an Irishwoman who immigrated to Plattsmouth, Nebraska. Maurice was an alcoholic, and he and Florence were divorced when their son was seven years old. Raymond and his mother moved to London to live with his severe grandmother and his unmarried Aunt Ethel. His uncle, Ernest Thornton, an Irish solicitor, reluctantly supported this entire household. Chandler felt abandoned by his father and so developed a strong loyalty to his mother and a sense of justice that manifested itself later in his novels.

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.

In 1905, when he was seventeen, Chandler graduated from Dulwich near the head of his class. He wanted to go to a university to study law, but his uncle refused to pay his tuition, deciding instead that Chandler should seek a career in the government. Chandler spent a year studying in France and Germany and became a British citizen to qualify for the civil service examination, which he passed easily. Yet, after six months in his job as an accountant for the navy, he quit to become a writer, much to the chagrin of his Uncle Ernest.

Chandler spent the next few years writing for newspapers and submitting articles and reviews to literary magazines but made very little money from his writing. In 1912, when he was twenty-three years old, he borrowed five hundred pounds from his uncle and sailed to the United States. Chandler went to St. Louis, then to Nebraska. He soon moved on to Los Angeles, however, to stay with a family he had met on his passage to America. Warren Lloyd, the father, was a Ph.D. in philosophy who became moderately wealthy from his dealings in the oil business. He found Chandler a job, and Chandler joined his social circle. There Chandler met Cissy Pascal, who was then married to one of Lloyd’s friends.

Chandler’s mother joined him in Los Angeles in 1916. In 1917, he went to Canada to join...

(The entire section is 990 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Chandler’s hero, Philip Marlowe, is a perfectionist who hates the shallow values of American society. By the time of The Long Goodbye, set in 1951, the pockets of corruption that Chandler had depicted infecting Hollywood and Bay City in the 1930’s had spread over all Los Angeles, like the smog that now blanketed the city. Marlowe has grown tired and cynical. Still, he battles on, even while questioning his own motives and integrity.

Throughout Chandler’s seven novels, the character of Marlowe becomes increasingly complex. The Long Goodbye, Chandler’s penultimate book, is concerned more with theme, characterization, and description than it is with the mechanics of a mystery novel. It represents...

(The entire section is 128 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Raymond Thornton Chandler, although he was born in Chicago and spent his first seven years in the Middle West, received an English Public School education (Dulwich College) when his mother took him to England after her divorce. He traveled in Europe, spent an unsatisfying few months in the British civil service, and set out to become a writer. After publishing a number of poems and essays, he returned to America in 1912. He worked at various jobs and in 1917 joined the Canadian Army and served in France. After the war, he became a successful oil executive in California and married Cissy Pascal, who was eighteen years his senior. Chandler’s dissatisfaction and drinking left him jobless in 1932. He turned to writing again and...

(The entire section is 195 words.)