Raymond Chandler vs. The Poor ‘Atlantic Monthly’ Proofreader


From what we’ve heard, being a copy editor can feel like a thankless job. No writer is ever going to be thrilled about having their grammatical errors pointed out to them. But being Raymond Chandler’s copy editor — that sounds downright frightening. In a 1947 letter to Edward Weeks, the editor of The Atlantic Monthly, the famed novelist writes the following about a piece he penned for the magazine:

“By the way, would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs and tell him or her that I write in a sort of broken-down patois which is something like the way a Swiss waiter talks, and that when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will stay split, and when I interrupt the velvety smoothness of my more or less literate syntax with a few sudden words of barroom vernacular, this is done with the eyes wide open and the mind relaxed but attentive. The method may not be perfect, but it is all I have.”

Yikes. But wait, it gets better. Chandler decided to write a poem inspired by the copy editor in question and mail it to her. Head over to Letters of Note to read the full text of his angry missive, as well as “Lines to a Lady With an Unsplit Infinitive.”