Raymond Chandler’s Way of Saying Stop All That Damn Editing

By Jack Limpert

From a letter sent by writer Raymond Chandler to Edward Weeks, editor of the Atlantic Monthly, on January 18, 1947:

By the way, would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs and tell him or her that I write in a sort of broken-down patois which is something like the way a Swiss waiter talks, and that when I split an infinite, God damn it, I split it so it will stay split, and when I interrupt the velvety smoothness of my more or less literate syntax with a few sudden words of barroom vernacular, this is done with the eyes wide open and the mind relaxed but attentive. The method may not be perfect, but it is all I have. I think your proofreader is kindly attempting to steady me on my feet, but much as I appreciate the solicitude, I am really able to steer a fairly clear course, provided I get both sidewalks and the street between.

Kindest regards,
Raymond Chandler

Some background: The letter appears in Writers and Friends, a memoir by Edward Weeks published in 1981 by Atlantic-Little, Brown. Weeks, who edited the Atlantic Monthly from 1938 to 1966, had asked Chandler to write for his magazine.

Weeks writes: “A lecture trip took me to the Pacific Coast shortly before the banquet at which the Oscars are awarded, and the press was full of the usual ballyhoo and speculation. It occurred to me to invite Raymond Chandler, the very popular mystery story writer, to do an article for us on what the Oscars stood for, and I expected it would be irreverent. Four of his novels, including The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely, had been made into successful films, and he was a member of the Motion Pictures Art and Sciences. His manuscript reached Boston as I was about to leave for England, and everyone rejoiced at his characterization of Hollywood….His manuscript was turned over to the copyeditor but I neglected to warn her, before I flew to London, not to tamper with Chandler’s prose. This was a mistake.”
At The Washingtonian, the closest we came to a Chandler moment was in 1989 when we attempted to edit Robert Hughes, the art critic and author. When I suggested a change in his copy, Howard Means, the editor handling the piece, pointed out that “Hughes was very large for an art critic and prone to operatic moments.” Howard wisely didn’t make the suggested change, as described in this earlier post.

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