Chivalry and Modernity in Raymond Chandler\u2019s The Big Sleep-PRINT TAKEN (1) - Chivalry and Modernity in Raymond Chandler\u2019s The Big Sleep Ernest

Chivalry and Modernity in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep-PRINT TAKEN (1)

This preview shows page 1 - 4 out of 9 pages.

Chivalry and Modernity in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep Ernest Fontana Western American Literature, Volume 19, Number 3, Fall 1984, pp. 179-186 (Article) Published by University of Nebraska Press DOI: For additional information about this article Access provided by Jawaharlal Nehru University (23 Jul 2018 05:51 GMT)
E R N E S T F O N T A N A Xavier University Chivalry and Modernity in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep In this essay it will be assumed that the case for the literary status of Raymond Chandler’s fiction has been made.1 Most notably, perhaps, Frederick Jameson argues that the private detective — Philip Marlowe — is a significant Active invention, a figure who ties together the “separate and isolated parts” of “a new centerless city, in which various classes have lost touch with each other because each is isolated in his own geographical compartment.”2 Although the conventional, surface plot of Chandler’s fiction is directed to the solution of a murder or disappearance, the literary project of Chandler’s novels is “organizing essentially plotless material into an illusion of movement.”3 The essential contents of Chandler’s books are the “scenic” constituents of the spatially diffused post-industrial city, of which Los Angeles is the American prototype.4 Marlowe has access to the inaccessible; he connects the apparently disconnected, and he records with lucidity and stylish, verbal economy the formless immensity of a centerless metropolis.5 Like the freeway system of contemporary Los Angeles, Marlowe’s field of perception is a trustworthy and efficient connector, a means of perceptual transit through an urban and social space that has metastasized beyond the confines of the traditional novel. The Big Sleep (1939) is Chandler’s first sustained Active negotiation with post-industrial Los Angeles. Curiously, Chandler here appears to turn to the past, evoking images of chivalry and allusions to romance to define his narrator’s relation to this new urban environment and to suggest that Marlowe is not merely an observer, as Jameson argues, but a complex, subjective presence as well. These allusions to romance and chivalry have
180 Western American Literature been recently addressed by both Jerry Speir and Paul Skenazy. Speir reads The Big Sleep “as chronicle of the failure of romance,”6 while Skenazy argues that we have instead “a redefinition of romantic roles. Marlowe speaks in a new modern voice, but he is no less heroic”7 than the traditional chivalric hero of courtly romance. In this essay I intend to pursue Speir’s suggestion that The Big Sleep is a failure of romance and to examine the reasons why the completion of the chivalric quest ends, in The Big Sleep, not with a sense, for both narrator and protagonist, of closure, fulfillment, and renewal, but with a sense of “general uneasiness,”8 with the hero feel- ing he is “part of the nastiness” he had thought he was combatting. The

  • Left Quote Icon

    Student Picture

  • Left Quote Icon

    Student Picture

  • Left Quote Icon

    Student Picture