This is the last of The Outfit’s postings on Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye. Our attention to it was inspired by the Chicago Public Library’s choice of the book for their One Book One Chicago program.
After posts on Chandler himself and the book’s content, I thought it would be appropriate to ask, “How does Chandler get his effects?” And to focus this question, we could examine Chandler’s revisions of the very end of the novel, the last couple of sentences of The Long Goodbye. The changes they passed through tell something about Chandler’s thinking and demonstrate his care for his craft.
The late Hugh Holton, a police officer who wrote thrillers centered on the Chicago Police Department, was often asked at lectures how long it took him to write a book. He would say, “Six weeks,” and when the gasping stopped, would add, “And eleven months to rewrite.” Chandler’s rewrites are so meticulous, they remind me that he began his writing career as a poet.
Mark Coggins is the Shamus and Barry-nominated author of The Immortal Game, Vulture Capital and Candy from Strangers, featuring private eye August Riordan. Bleak House Books published his fourth book, Runoff, last November. In addition to writing fiction, he is a Chandler scholar, author of the article, “Writing the Long Goodbye.” In it Coggins says, “I recently had the opportunity to examine some 200 pages of original typescript with excised or rewritten scenes while visiting the special collection of Raymond Chandler papers at the Bodleian Library at Oxford University.” What he found gives fascinating insight into how Chandler wrote.
He worked on The Long Goodbye intermittently from 1949 until May of 1952, at which point he turned it in to his agents—finished, he thought. They didn’t like it. They said Marlowe had become too sentimental.
Chandler went back to his typewriter for a couple more months.
He did, in fact, work on a typewriter, but the sheets Coggins saw were not standard typing paper. Chandler used small yellow sheets 5.5 inches wide and 8.5 inches high. Coggins says this was to limit the amount of retyping he had to do if he revised a page. Coggins was not permitted to photocopy the pages, since he could not secure permission from the Chandler estate, but he described the pages and even made mock-ups, which can be viewed in his article.
Chandler apparently rewrote drastically, underlining on a page only the material he wanted to keep, then retyping a largely new take on the scene. Whole scenes were eliminated entirely.
But to get to my example, the book’s closing words:
Coggins compared two versions of The Long Goodbye, June 24, 1953, and July 9, 1953, and the published ending, and found four different versions.
FIRST VERSION -- June 24, 1953:
He turned quickly and walked out. I watched the door close. I listened to his steps going along the hall.
They died.Then I just listened. Slow curtain.
Coggins finds this too abrupt and believes in writing it this way Chandler may have been responding to his agents’ objections to Marlowe having become too soft and sentimental.
SECOND VERSION -- July 9:
He turned away quickly and went out. I watched the door close and listened to his steps going away. After a little while I couldn’t hear them, but I kept on listening.
Don’t ask me why. I couldn’t tell you.
THIRD VERSION – also July 9:
He turned and went out. I watched the door close and listened to his steps going away. Then I couldn’t hear them, but I kept on listening anyway. As if he might come back to talk me out of it. As if I hoped he would.
But he didn’t.
Coggins notes that the second July 9 version was written in pen, which Chandler did not often use. He believes this indicates the difficulty Chandler was having striking the right tone. Coggins says “After rereading this [version three], Chandler must have felt he had overcompensated. The final sentence, ‘But he didn’t’ almost comes across with a catch in the throat.”
FOURTH VERSION -- AS PUBLISHED:
He turned and walked across the floor and out. I watched the door close. I listened to his steps going away down the imitation marble corridor. After a while they got faint, then they got silent. I kept on listening anyway. What for? Did I want him to stop suddenly and turn and come back and talk me out of the way I felt? Well, he didn’t. That was the last I saw of him.
I never saw any of them again—except the cops. No way has yet been invented to say goodbye to them.
Coggins’s view is that the extra description in the final, published version “slows the narrative and adds weight to what is occurring. It also manages to convey an appropriate depth of feeling at the parting, while at the same time retaining Marlowe’s cynical worldview.”
Okay. What do you think of his choices? I hesitate to admit I prefer the first version. It seems clean and straightforward to me. My feeling at that point in the book would be that if the reader didn’t get it by now, tying a ribbon on it wouldn’t help.
The “don’t ask me why” in the second version has a whiff of begging for sympathy.
To me, he certainly did overcompensate in version three. It’s a bit too self-pitying.
The final version ties it up nicely, but why add the cops? A late attempt to return to the tough-guy persona?
If I’d been writing the book, I would have gone with version one. Probably that shows why I’m not Chandler. But I would be really interested to know what other people think.