Although his early ambition was to be a writer, Raymond Thornton Chandler did not begin the literary career that would win him fame until he was forty-five years old. This is only one of several incongruities in the life of one of America’s original literary talents.
Chandler was born in Chicago, in 1888, the only child of a railroad employee and an Irishwoman. The marriage was marred by his father’s alcoholism and ended in divorce when the boy was seven. Chandler and his mother moved to London and became dependent on his maternal uncle, a successful solicitor. Chandler went to Dulwich College, where he received the solid classical education characteristic of English public schools. He was at the head of his class in most of his subjects. After his graduation from Dulwich, Chandler claimed dual citizenship so that he could take the English civil service examinations, but he was unable to adapt to the bureaucratic environment and resigned his civil service appointment. He supported himself briefly by writing for magazines and newspapers and by publishing some undistinguished poems and a single story. He left England for the United States in 1912.
Chandler made his way to Southern California, where he began a relationship that was to dominate his literary life. Chandler despised the superficiality and pretentiousness of the California culture as well as its lack of tradition or continuity, but he intuited that this would be the culture of the future. One aim of his writing would be to record and comment on that culture. His immediate concern upon arriving was to find work, and he was involved in a variety of minor jobs until he completed a three-year bookkeeping course in six weeks. Thereafter, he was involved in various business enterprises until 1917, when he joined the Canadian army. He saw action in France during World War I; Chandler was the sole survivor of a raid on his outfit and was decorated for valor....
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