Wodehouse on Chandler: how do fictional detectives drink so much “yet remain in the hardest physical condition”?

The Literary Dick solves the Raymond Chandler/P.G. Wodehouse mystery that surfaced recently at About Last Night. According to Michael Wood, the two didn’t meet at Dulwich, which Chandler started attending “in September 1900 (when he was twelve), a semester after Wodehouse left.” Still, because both went to Dulwich, “scholars have sought other similarities between the writers,” Wood says.

As Benny Green writes in his biography of Wodehouse,

“Both men were academically sufficiently talented to have gone on to Oxbridge. Both were deprived of the opportunity through straitened financial circumstances. Both were at the mercy of avuncular whim. Both were put to work in uncongenial clerky jobs, Wodehouse in a bank, Chandler in the Civil Service. Both were indifferent to their temporary fate, knowing it to be temporary because of the iron resolve they shared to become writers. Both expressed their indifference to employment in the same unconcerned terms, Wodehouse remarking: ‘I didn’t know what it was all about, Chandler saying: ‘I was a bit passive about the whole thing’.” (Green, Benny. P.G. Wodehouse: A Literary Biography. New York, The Rutledge Press: 1981. Page 34)

Displaying a similiar fondness for the word ‘both’, Chandler’s biographer Tom Hiney writes,

“Both grew up with absent parents – Wodehouse’s mother and father lived in Hong Kong – and overbearing aunts; both would move to America after stints on Fleet Street, and both would be employed by Hollywood. Their literary trademarks would be an emphasis on character and wit and their style would be firmly non-intellectual.” (Hiney, Tom. Raymond Chandler: A Biography. New York, The Atlantic Monthly Press: 1997. Page 18)

Besides having some similar attributes, Chandler and Wodehouse had some friends in common, such as William Townend, another writer who went to Dulwich. In 1945, Wodehouse wrote to Townend, from Paris, “I wish I could get hold of Raymond Chandler’s stuff. It sounds from what you say just the kind of thing I like.” (Wodehouse, P.G., Performing Flea: A Self Portrait in Letters. With an Introduction and Additional Notes by W. Townend. London, Herbert Jenkins Ltd. First Printed 1953, this edition 1954. Page 124).

The following year he wrote to Townend,

“I’ve just read Raymond Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely. It’s good. But a thing I’ve never been able to understand is how detectives in fiction drink so much and yet remain in the hardest physical condition.” (Ibid., 136)

There’s more at The Literary Dick, including Wood’s assertion that Chandler, not Wodehouse, would have been the subservient party in any relationship between the two.


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