“Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.”
In these few words Chandler conjures up the atmosphere of romantic urban noir in which his quintessential Private Investigator, Philip Marlowe, operates as a modern knight errant. Now, as part of the Bodleian’s programme of retrospective conversion of its finding aids, the formerly in-house catalogue of the Library’s Chandler collection has just gone online.
At the time of his death in 1959, Chandler’s British literary agent was Helga Greene, and it is from the Helga Greene Literary Agency that the majority of the papers derive. They give unparalleled information about the author’s business transactions, but also include some important literary and personal papers. Of particular interest are Chandler’s working notebooks; drafts and fair copies of poems and short stories; three hundred discarded leaves from The Long Goodbye, and three film scripts of an acrimoniously failed collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock for Strangers on a Train. In 2009-10 the Bodleian mounted a small exhibition commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Chandler’s death, which featured some of these manuscripts and a selection of the archive’s 140 photographs of Chandler from babyhood until the last year of his life.
The collection was placed on long-term deposit in the Bodleian by Helga Greene’s son, Graham Carleton Greene. Chandler aficionados already know that a small but significant archive is also held by The Charles E. Young Research Library at UCLA. Both the Bodleian and Charles Young have been involved in recent research enquiries which have speculated on the identification of Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade with a real life private eye called Samuel Marlowe, one of the first black PIs.