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Raymond Chandler and War Noir: The Detective as Veteran in American Fiction
Swansea University Author: Sarah Trott
Raymond Chandler created the detective Philip Marlowe not as an idealisation of heroic individualism, as is commonly perceived, but rather as an authentic individual exhibiting very real psychological frailties resulting from his traumatic experiences during World War One. Marlowe’s characterisation...
University Press of Mississippi
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Raymond Chandler created the detective Philip Marlowe not as an idealisation of heroic individualism, as is commonly perceived, but rather as an authentic individual exhibiting very real psychological frailties resulting from his traumatic experiences during World War One. Marlowe’s characterisation is more sophisticated than the traditional chivalric readings and can instead be read as an authentic representation of a traumatised veteran in American society. Substituting the horror of the trenches for the corruption of the city, Chandler’s disillusioned protagonist and his representation of an unsympathetic American society resonate strongly with the dislocation of the ‘Lost Generation.’ Consequently, Chandler should be considered, not simply a generic writer, but as an important American literary figure. This thesis discusses for the first time revealing primary documents as well as revisiting and re-examining archival sources. This research highlights extensive discrepancies in existing biographical accounts of Chandler’s war experience, revealing the trauma that troubled Chandler throughout his life. The application of psychological behavioural interpretation to interrogate Chandler’s novels demonstrates the variety of post-traumatic symptoms that tormented both Chandler and his protagonist. A close reading of his personal papers reveals the psychological symptoms of PTSD that were encoded, consciously or otherwise, into Marlowe’s characterisation. Marlowe can be best understood as a character shaped by Chandler’s own experiences. This conflation of the hard-boiled style and the experience of war have influenced many contemporary crime writers, particularly in the troubled aftermath of the Vietnam War. The sum of this work offers a new understanding of Chandler’s traumatic war experience, how that experience informed the creation and development of American hard-boiled detective fiction, and how such readings of his work permits Chandler to transcend generic limitations and be recognised as a key twentieth century literary figure.
College of Arts and Humanities