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The classic British public-school grooms its inmates perfectly for taking on or over the world, and not at all for that half of the world known as the other sex. Its charges are trained, in effect, to see women as a foreign country most of the old boarding-schools are still all-male , and even as they are taught just how to give or take orders, and how to bring their curious blend of stoicism and fellowship to Afghanistan or the Empty Quarter, they receive no instruction in what to do with that alien force that awaits them every night at home.
Much of 20th century English literature comes, not surprisingly, from products of these half-military, half-monastic institutions not least because self-discipline and getting things done are part of what they impart , and the result is a grand corpus of books written by men who seem at once fascinated and unsettled by that mysterious Other known as woman.
They are just regular, somewhat bookish, largely bewildered young men, in love with their parents, and not with their schools and a code of Tennysonian valor. His character George Smiley can solve any problem of espionage, but the wound and secret flaw he cannot conceal is that he does not know what to do with his misbehaving wife.
For those intrigued by this distinctly British type, played in the movies these days by Ralph Fiennes or, for Wodehousian moments, by Hugh Grant, Raymond Chandler offers a casebook of evidence. Though he moved to California at the age of 24, in , and lived there until his death at 70, Chandler held onto his Englishness as if it were all that could protect him amidst the rapacious and unstructured vacuum of Los Angeles in its early years; much of the poignancy and intensity of his depiction of the crooked world around him come from his sense of himself, wearing tweeds that smelled of mothballs, and shopping for antiques with his wife, bringing the courtly code of Rupert Brooke to a hungry young society that had no European past and was determined to set up its own hierarchy based on money, ruthlessness and greed.
In six of the seven Marlowe novels a murder is committed by a woman; and in none of the great books till the last, The Long Goodbye, does Marlowe even spend the night with a lover. The book, Freeman stresses at the outset, will not be a biography at least two solid Chandler biographies, by Frank MacShane and by the young English journalist Tom Hiney, already exist ; nor does she pick apart the novels for clues as many of his admirers, who include W.
Auden, Albert Camus and Edith Sitwell, might do. The book becomes, therefore, a series of desultory, brooding, solitary meditations in which she drives around contemporary Los Angeles, looking, often in vain, for the places where Cissy and Chandler lived, and seeing what little she can dig up of a relationship that has always been mysterious. Cissy Chandler was born Pearl Eugenia Hurlburt, in Perry, Ohio, though from an early age she seems to have had a rich sense of the theatrical. She was on her second marriage by the time she met Chandler, among a group of cultured Bohemians in L.
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