Thursday, May 07, 2009

Hard-boiled Sentiments

I have a soft but not very developed spot for Raymond Chandler. My knowledge of his work covers an essay, a short story, and two novels, one of which I just finished. So far, I know exactly what I like about his writing.

In Farewell, My Lovely (1940), Marlowe meets a "psychic consultant" and con-man named Jules Amthor, who holds the following short speech:

I am no fool. I am in a very sensitive profession. I am a quack. That is to say I do things which the doctors in their small frightened selfish guild cannot accomplish. I am in danger at all times—from people like you. (126)

I like that on its own. But what I really appreciate is the way it resonates with Marlowe's own words not long afterwards. A police detective has just warned him about what might happen if he interferes with the murder investigation: "little by little you will build up a body of hostility in this department that will make it damn hard for you to do any work." Marlowe responds:

Every private dick faces that every day of his life ... I don't expect to go out and accomplish things a big police department can't accomplish. If I have any small private notions, they are just that—small and private. (180)

"Most serious matters are closed to the hard-boiled," says Saul Bellow's "dangling man" (1944). I'm not so sure.

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