Wednesday, December 08, 2010

That Chandler guy could crack wise, too

"`Rather wasteful of such a talent, don't you think?' Carol Pride said sweetly. She pushed her little glass along the desk top with one finger. `I really don't care for this, Mrs. Prendergast—if you'd like another—'

"`Moths in your ermine,' Mrs. Prendergast said, and threw it down the hatch."

Raymond Chandler, "Mandarin's Jade"

I suggested last month that mystery fans could startle their friends by announcing that Chandler was the first American to win the Edgar Award for best novel, after Australia's Charlotte Jay had won the first award. But I've just read that Chandler became a British citizen when he moved to England as a child and did not "regain" his American citizenship until 1956, a year after he won the Edgar for The Long Goodbye.

If that's correct, one could argue that no American won the best-novel Edgar until the award's fourth year. (Margaret Millar, who was Canadian, won for Beast in View in 1956.) Now, how many bar bets could you win with that information?

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Blogger Yvette said...

"I don't think I'd care to employ a detective that uses liquor in any form. I don't even approve of tobacco."
"Would it be all right if I peeled an orange?"
I caught the sharp intake of breath at the far end of the line. "You might at least talk like a gentleman," she said.
"Better try the University Club," I told her. "I heard they had a couple left over there, but I'm not sure they'll let you handle them." I hung up.

The Little Sister

December 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I think he uses a similar exchange in one of his short stories. He recycled (or reprocessed) material from the stories into the novels often. This can make the stories interesting for readers who know the novels of the movies based on them.

December 08, 2010  
Blogger Rebecca Chapman said...

That is a very interesting fact! As an Australian, I am more pleased to hear that Charlotte Jay won te first one!

I just finished reading the Long Goodbye a couple of weeks ago. It was the first Chandler book I had ever read. I enjoyed it, but it wasn't what I expected. The hardboiled style was at times a little bit annoying. I think that I like complete sentences, especially in speach. People don't really talk like that in real life

December 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I don't know what you expected from The Long Goodbye, but Chandler (and Hammett) are so encrusted with associations from movies, from Humphrey Bogart, from the countless crime writers and filmmakers who have ripped them off or been influenced by them, that one's expectations are inevitable colored. (I would go so far as to say that with the possible exception of Edgar Allan Poe, they are very easily the two most stylistically influential crime writers in history, and I don't regard that as an especially bold statement.)

I'm not sure we readers want characters who talk like real people. We want characters whose conversation is a distillation of the best of what we wish we had said.

But feel free to hold forth at greater length on Chandler's dialogue. I am reading some of his stories now, and I would not mind clarifying my own thoughts on this matter.

December 08, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

For me, one of the great pleasures of reading Chandler is that through both his prose and his dialogue he communicates his own great pleasure and delight in the English language. He loved what he called the "magic" of writing. He seems to be saying to the reader "I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it." This is one reason I can enjoy his stories and novels again and again.

A number of scholars have pointed out that his dialogue was written in American English vernacular while his descriptions/observations were in British English sentence structure. He moves back and forth between the two with wonderful facility.

I agree with Peter; I frankly don't enjoy reading dialogue the way "people talk in real life." If I want that kind of talk, I can go out to dinner and gab with my friends or watch "reality" TV.

On the other hand, I work with a colleague who hates old movies for their unreal dialogue. Which, of course, is part of their great appeal to me. It's just a question of taste.

December 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Amen to that. I've read "The Curtain," "Try the Girl" and "Mandarin's Jade" in recent days, and I do get the sense that Chandler enjoyed what he was doing. And why not?

A number of scholars have pointed out that his dialogue was written in American English vernacular while his descriptions/observations were in British English sentence structure. He moves back and forth between the two with wonderful facility.

That's a fascinating observation, and I'll keep it in mind as I read more.

I have read any number of novels in which situations or bits of dialogue serve no other function than as cheap, thudding, clumsy signifiers of the real. (One favorite example: Dialogue sprinkled liberally with "I mean," because, you know, real people talk that way.) God, the cult of authenticity has such a hold on viewers' and readers' minds that many probably think they liked, say, The Wire because it was realistic. Or authentic. Or something.

December 08, 2010  

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