Raymond Chandler, Private Eye
IN READING Raymond Chandler Speaking,* a collection of the late mystery writer’s letters and literary fragments, one gets a sense of the peculiar loneliness of the writer of integrity who works in a popular genre that attracts few writers like himself and that the American literary culture tends to dismiss with easy, contemptuous generalizations. Chandler was a talented and devoted craftsman, one who spent his life either in spurts of hard work on his novels or in long periods of lying fallow and brooding about the lack of serious understanding and appreciation with which his work was received. Of non-literary topics, only cats–traditional companions of the lonely and disaffected- appear to have interested Chandler very deeply.
It is from the letters in this volume-about two hundred in all, addressed mainly to publishers, agents, and fellow writers of popular fiction-that one senses the kind of isolation that Chandler experienced during his career. In one letter he writes as follows:
A thriller writer in England, if he is good enough, is just as good as anyone else. There is none of that snobbism which makes a fourth-rate serious novelist, without style or any real talent, superior to the mystery writer…. I don’t think somehow we shall ever reach that status in America…. I’m afraid our instinct for classification is too strong.
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