RAYMOND CHANDLER immortalized 1940s Los Angeles with crime novels like THE BIG SLEEP, the now legendary protagonist, Philip Marlowe, at the center of the burgeoning metropolis
JUDITH FREEMAN, author of THE LONG EMBRACE: RAYMOND CHANDLER AND THE WOMAN HE LOVED, studied Chandler’s marriage to CISSY PASCAL, a woman twice his age and twice-divorced by the time they married.
Pretty unique relationship by 1940’s American standards, eh?
After the jump, Freeman discusses her own “detective work,” and her fascination with Chandler and Cissy with Flavorwire.
Flavorwire: What initially drew you to the subject of Raymond Chandler’s relationship with his wife, Cissy?
Judith Freeman: I was drawn to the subject of his marriage in reading his letters, intrigued by his comments about his wife, to whom he seemed so devoted. For a guy who created such an independent bachelor in his fictional private eye, Chandler was very dependent on his wife and in his own way committed to his marriage. Then I read how much older Cissy was, how she lied about her age, letting him believe she was ten years younger than she really was, and how they led such isolated and claustrophobic lives together, shunning society and moving often. Up until I started my research, the prevailing feeling was that Cissy was an enigma, unknowable because Chandler burned their letters to each other shortly before he died (in 1959) and in doing so erasing her. Looking for Cissy, for clues as to who she really was, became a kind of detective work for me. I didn’t want to write a biography of Chandler, but more a portrait of a marriage, a writer, a city, and in the end also of myself — me looking for Chandler in the city.
FW: Do you think Chandler dealt with personal struggles through the crafting of his character, Philip Marlowe?
JF: Marlowe had the morals and outlook of his creator. He was everything Chandler would liked to have been and really wasn’t — a guy who could tell the world to go to hell, who couldn’t be bought, could never be compromised, who treated rich and poor alike. Marlowe and Chandler shared one quality perhaps more than any other: they were both terribly lonely men. I think Marlowe allowed him to comment on Los Angeles and corruption, the complexity of the human condition and the relations between sexes: Marlowe became his mouthpiece, he enabled him to be funny and witty with women on the page, even if he felt awkward and shy with them in real life. In his books he could have the sorts of adventures he actually never had. Marlowe was exquisitely unavailable to women: Chandler was tied to one. In his fictional world, he could be free in a way he never really was.
FW: You say about Los Angeles: “L.A. was to America what America was to the rest of the world, a place viewed with an extraordinary mixture of envy and contempt.”
JF: L.A. is the epitome of the place to start over. Like America itself. You can reinvent yourself as anything in L.A. There’s a freedom that doesn’t exist in the same way on the East Coast. L.A. is also the city people love to trash, viewing it as superficial and banal, a place without culture or history, the capitalist ideal run rampant. L.A., more than any other city in America, is the exporter of junk culture to the rest of the world, the movie capital where pop myths get made. L.A. is the distilled version of America: It’s repulsive, all that getting and spending and speed, but it’s also attractive, formless and fun, and edgy with possibilities.