RARA-AVIS: Re: RARA-AVIS Digest V5 #423

From: Moorich2@aol.com
Date: 17 Dec 2003

In a message dated 12/17/03 4:01:14 AM Eastern Standard Time, owner-rara-avis@icomm.ca writes:

 Date: Tue, 16 Dec 2003 09:09:12 -0800
 From: Kevin Burton Smith < kvnsmith@thrillingdetective.com>
 Subject: RARA-AVIS: Re: Chandler, Hammett, etc....
 I think you guys are baying up the wrong tree -- I wasn't suggesting
 that Hammett was a wuss or anything, merely that Chris' friend
>"Chandler's atmospherics mesmerize, but Chandler's sense of evil is,
>at best, window-shopping. Dash has seen the furnace."
 ... ignored the fact that Chandler had indeed seen just as much, if
 not more, of "the furnace" as Hammett ever did. And in fact I find
 Chandler in many ways more concerned about evil than Hammett was --
 partly because Marlowe was a sensitive guy, more easily prone to
 introspection, or at least more so than Spade and the Op, who barely
 had time to catch their breath, much less philosophize.
 And Richard wrote:
>But I think we can fall prey to putting on the authors the sins of their
>admirers. While much may have been made of the Pinkerton past of Hammett by
>Captain Shaw and others, lets face it, this was inevitable. I do not recall
>(although I have not researched this by rereading biographies) that
>Hammett overly
>harped on this.
 I don't know that Hammett "overly" harped on it (certainly many of
 his admirers did -- and do) but he did write that 1923 article. "From
 the Memoirs of a Private Detective" for SMART SET (located, for your
 convenience at http://www.thrillingdetective.com/trivia/hammett2.htm
 ), so he did contribute at least partially -- and knowingly -- to his
 own myth.
 It's a goofy little article, a collection of true anecdotes, tall
 tales and probably a few whoppers, that probably took him six minutes
 to write.
 Oh, and Richard also wrote:
>Chandler was turned down for health reasons in the US and went up to Canada
>to enlist--
 I never heard he first applied to the American Army, or that he was
 rejected for health reasons (what were they?). In Tom Hiney's
 biography of Chandler, which goes a little deeper into his war
 experience than the McShane book, there's no mention of him applying
 to the U.S. Army at all, but it's suggested that he joined the
 Canadian army because he was more likely to see action (the U.S. had
 only just entered the bloody fray while the Brits and Canadians had
 already been fighting for a couple of years); that he felt strong
 ties to the Commonwealth; that it was, in Hiney's words, an
 "honorable way out of Los Angeles" and that they offered an allowance
 to dependents (in Chandler's case, his mom).

I still don't see anything wrong or worthy of criticism with admirers of Hammett discussing his real world experience as a detective and certainly not with Hammett turning out an article on the same way back in 1923 when he was scrambling for every buck he could manage. I rather think he had his next meal on his mind more than "mythmaking." Given the (especially back then) unusually
"on-point" experience that directly transferred to the Continental Op stories, it is hard to imagine it not being a subject of some discussion. For Shaw and editors of the other magazines publishing his stories, they had a vested interest in such promotions because they were thought to attract readers. The pulps are full of bylines that include military rank because editors thought it signified realism that would impress the, mostly male, readers.

As for his attempt to join the American Army before going to Canada, that is covered in the MacShane biography. MacShane says Chandler made this statement to friends after the war but from his phrasing MacShane leaves open the possibility that Chandler was not being truthful. Here is the quote:

"Yet whatever tranquillity Chandler may have felt was disrupted by America's declaration of war in 1917. As an American, he had not joined up in 1914, but in August 1917, together with Gordon Pascal, Julian's son, he went up to Victoria, British Columbia, and enlisted in the Canadian army. After the war he told some of his friends that he had tried to join the American Army, only to be rejected for bad eyesight; but it is more likely that he preferred the Canadians because, as he admitted, "'it was still natural for me to prefer a British uniform,' which his dual nationality permitted. Moreover, the Canadian army paid a separation allowance to his mother, which the American would not do, and this was an important consideration."

Looking at the Tom Hiney biography, I don't see the statement that joining the Canadian army was a quicker way to the front, although at war for three years by 1917 that is certainly true. Hiney does make a good case that Chandler was restless as a 28 year old accountant living with his mother and joining the army was an honorable way for him to leave his mother alone in L.A. without feeling guilty about it.

Chandler's occasional mentions of his service are powerful as when he noted that after leading a platoon into direct machine gun fire "nothing is ever the same again."

Richard Moore

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