WEIRDLAND: The World of Raymond Chandler and F. Scott Ftzgerald's bloody romanticism

Monday, December 01, 2014

The World of Raymond Chandler and F. Scott Ftzgerald's bloody romanticism

Raymond Chandler not only helped to invent the quintessential private eye of genre fiction, he did as much as anyone to define the movies' noir sensibility, particularly the corrupt glamour of pre- and post-war Los Angeles. On Tuesday, December 2, The World of Raymond Chandler: In His Own Words, edited by Barry Day from Chandler's letters and interviews, will hit bookshelves, further illuminating the author's feelings about what it means to be a writer, his experiences working with the best filmmakers of the era, and his own moviemaking fandom: "Anyone who doesn't like Hollywood is either crazy or sober," he once wrote. The 4 Must-Sees From the Raymond Chandler Canon: "The Big Sleep" (1946), "Farewell, My Lovely" (1975), "Murder, My Sweet" (1944), "The Long Goodbye" (1973) Source: wordandfilm.com

Unlike Chandler’s first major film, The Blue Dahlia has entered film history as much for its difficult birth as for its quality. It is recognised as a good example of film noir but has never troubled the likes of Double Indemnity, The Maltese Falcon or The Big Sleep for the crown of best in genre. From the start, it is clear that The Blue Dahlia is firmly located in Raymond Chandler territory. The opening shot, after the credits have rolled, shows the destination board of a bus reading, simply: Hollywood. Raymond Chandler saw the act of writing as an act of physical endurance. In a letter to Alex Barris, a Canadian journalist, Chandler harks back to his early inspiration, Ernest Hemingway.

In a letter to Hamish Hamilton in 1951, Chandler worried about having missed out on something, expressed in similar thoughts about F. Scott Fitzgerald: "Fitzgerald is a subject no one has a right to mess up. Nothing but the best will do for him. I think he just missed being a great writer, and the reason is pretty obvious. If the poor guy was already an alcoholic in his college days, it’s a marvel that he did as well as he did. He had one of the rarest qualities in all literature, a real distinction, the word is charm – charm as Keats would have used it. Who has it today? It’s not a matter of pretty writing or clear style. It’s a kind of subdued magic, controlled and exquisite, the sort of thing you get from good string quartets. Yes, where would you find it today?" -"A Mysterious Something in the Light: The Life of Raymond Chandler" (2013) by Tom Williams

“Hawks Do Not Share,” the second Fitzgerald sketch in A Moveable Feast, introduces Zelda Fitzgerald at “a very bad lunch” in the Fitzgeralds’ “gloomy” apartment. From the start there was mutual distrust between Hemingway and Zelda Fitzgerald. Hemingway was disgusted by Zelda’s influence over Fitzgerald. Zelda may not have regarded Hemingway as a threat to her dominion, but she was immune to his charm and had reservations about his character. “Bogus” was one of her judgments on him, amplified with “materialistic mystic,” “phony he-man,” and “pansy with hair on his chest.” The encounters between Fitzgerald and Hemingway during spring-summer 1929 generated new strains from which their friendship never recovered. The animosity between Zelda and Ernest was compounded by Pauline Pfeiffer’s disapproval of the Fitzgeralds. Zelda’s intense ballet efforts in Paris left her strained and fatigued, and her behavior became markedly erratic. The Fitzgeralds were having sexual problems. Hemingway blamed Scott’s “damned, bloody romanticism” and “Irish love of defeat.” Some time later when Hemingway challenged Hammett to a spoon-bending contest in the Stork Club, Dashiell Hammett said, “Why don’t you go back to bullying Fitzgerald? Too bad he doesn’t know how good he is. The best.” -"Scott and Ernest: The authority of failure and the authority of success" (1978) by Matthew J. Bruccoli

In The Beautiful and Damned, Fitzgerald's major theme, as Edmund Wilson indicated, is the meaninglessness of life. The story shows, or was meant to show, the "decay" of his hero, Anthony Patch: "a man of delicate organization in revolt against the inexplicable tragedy of existence." As Fitzgerald was to realize later, H. L. Mencken's "idea" of literature was "ethical rather than aesthetic." All superior literature must, he thought, reflect a prescribed "tragic" attitude toward life. Since this philosophical attitude (the "fiats of destiny" are meaningless and the "mandates and vagaries of God" are unintelligible) results in an inner struggle, "the theme of the great bulk of superior fiction," Mencken concluded, is "character in decay." In this general tragic view Mencken found the common meeting ground of Dostoievsky, Balzac, Hardy, Conrad, Flaubert, Zola, Turgenieff, Goethe, Sudermann, Bennett, and Dreiser. "In nearly all first-rate novels the hero is defeated. In perhaps a majority he is completely destroyed."

Thomas Boyd’s 1922 description of Scott Fitzgerald: “His eyes were blue and clear; his jaw was squared at the end which perceptibly protruded; his nose was straight and his mouth, though sensitive looking, was regular in outline. His hair which was corn-colored, was wavy. His were the features that the average American mind never fails to associate with beauty. But there was a quality in the eye with which the average mind is unfamiliar.” That last quality is, of course, intellect, or genius, and Fitzgerald sought to portray himself as both hedonistic and intellectual at the same time. Boyd concludes, “To be with him for an hour is to have the blood in one’s veins thawed and made fluent.” Years later, when Fitzgerald could no longer control his own public persona, he was to read Michel Mok’s notorious description for The New York Post which stands in such stark and painful contrast to those of a decade earlier: “His trembling hands, his twitching face with its pitiful expression of a cruelly beaten child.” -Sources: "The Fictional Technique of F. Scott Fitzgeral" (1957) by James E. Miller and "The Cambridge Companion to F. Scott Fitzgerald" (2001) by Ruth Prigozy

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