More Blondes

More Blondes feet in fountainIn my post on Fictional Blondes I promised that there would be another piece on More Blondes with further consideration of the phenomenon in the works of Raymond Chandler and other 20th Century masters.

So here it is.

MORE BLONDES FROM CHANDLER

More Blondes The Long GoodbyeIn 1953, Chandler wrote what was possibly his masterpiece – The Long Goodbye. The narrator is again his honourable loner private eye, Phillip Marlowe. He still battles the forces of corruption, injustice and conflicted loyalties. He is as clever, wary and tough as usual. But he is not invincible  – and this time the police arrest him for murder.

But this is a darker book than its predecessors. It is full of damaged people. Two in particular must have been very close to what Chandler felt himself to be: the self-doubting alcoholic writer, Roger Wade, and a psychologically wounded war veteran.

And it is this book, heartfelt and dangerously close to home, in which Chandler/Marlowe has a substantial digression on blondes – and it’s not for fun.

MORE BLONDES – THE JOKE

There are blondes and there are blondes and it is almost a joke word nowadays.

Judy Holliday More BlondesEnter the Dumb Blonde. She is naïve, which gives rise to a lot of jokes at her expense, often a party girl, and very, very pretty. She hit the comic strips in 1933 in the flapper shape of Blondie Boopadoop, who went on to marry her sports-mad rich boyfriend Dagwood and, eventually grow up to be a pillar of tolerance and good sense. But even at her daffiest, she was always lovable and, of course, enchantingly pretty.

Judy Holliday, blonde and possessing a breathy, little-girl voice, played a whole series of them in 1940 and 50s romantic comedies. Sadly, the scriptwriters and directors mostly had her characters stay dumb.

And, of course, she has a whole series of dim, giggly, charming successors: Goldie Hawn’s role in the Laugh In; Lisa Kudrow as Friends’ Phoebe and in Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion; Clueless; Legally Blonde; and, arguably, one or two celebrities as they are presented in the media.

MORE BLONDES TO AVOID

More Blondes Lucrezia BorgiaThis is all Chandler, and I’m not going to apologise for quoting at length because it is so beautifully written and is so full of a whole trunk full of experience and doubts. It’s not quite misogyny, I think. Mainly because already we know Phillip Marlowe is chivalrous to a fault. But also because even in this short passage, you sense his bewilderment and vulnerability.

All blondes have their points, except perhaps the metallic ones who are as blond as a Zulu under the bleach and as to disposition as soft as a sidewalk. There is the small cute blonde who cheeps and twitters, and the big statuesque blonde who straight-arms you with an ice-blue glare. There is the blonde who gives you the up-from-under look and smells lovely and shimmers and hangs on your arm and is always very very tired when you take her home. She makes that helpless gesture and has that goddamned headache and you would like to slug her except you are glad you found out about the headache before you invested too much time and money and hope in her. Because the headache will always be  there, a weapon that never wears out and is as deadly as the bravo’s rapier or Lucrezia’s poison vial.

MORE BLONDES TO DREAD

the soft and willing and alcoholic blonde — I’m not entirely sure what Chandler has against her, she sounds like good fun, except that she wants mink and dry champagne at expensive nightclubs and being soft and willing seems to be what she’s willing to pay for it. 

More Blondes athletic and outdoors

the small perky blonde who is a little pal and wants to pay her own way and is full of sunshine and common sense and knows judo — Now, what’s wrong with her, I thought — until I got to the judo. And no, it’s not because she can fight off our hero, if she chooses. This is Phillip Marlowe, the 20th century’s answer to Sir Galahad, remember. She can fight off a truck driver. And, even worse, without missing more than one sentence out of the editorial in the Saturday Review.

Aha. This woman is omni-competent. She doesn’t leave Sir Galahad anything to do for her. Heck, you could probably say she makes the male of the species redundant. 

MORE BLONDES — FEAR OF THE INTELLECTUAL

More Blondes - Snow Queen superioritythe pale, pale blonde with anaemia of some non-fatal but incurable type. She is very languid and very shadowy and she speaks softly out of nowhere and you can’t lay a finger on her because in the first place you don’t want to, and in the second place she is reading The Waste Land… This is surely Hans Christian Anderson’s Snow Queen, implacable, powerful, fascinating — and turns you to ice. Sends chills up my spine. 

She is also, in Chandler’s nightmare, fluent in other languages, a reader of obscure and difficult poetry and has a pitch so perfect that only Toscanini can match her. This blonde is also intrinsically untouchable. She leaves intellectual and emotionally sophisticated Phillip Marlowe floundering and frozen.

More Blondes - some members of the Bloomsbury setI was reminded of the unintellectual and emotionally adolescent Bertram Wooster, falling for the beautiful profile of platinum blonde Lady Florence Craye and failing to notice that she is both bossy and an intellectual. Lady Florence is the author, you will probably remember, of Spindrift, well received by the members of the Bloomsbury set. (Jeeves doesn’t think much of it.)

When engaged to Bertie, she requires  him to read Types of Ethical Theory. Wodehouse’s authors, both male and female, are, on the whole, a rum lot and best avoided. But, but, but…

More Blondes PGWWhen Lady Florence moves on from Bertie to the unfortunate Stilton Cheesewright, the latter is only rescued from her lethal grip by another author. Bertie may be as dim as a Toc H lamp but of this woman he approves: “Seppings flung wide the gates, there was a flash of blond hair and a whiff of Chanel Number Five and a girl came sailing in, a girl whom I was able to classify at a single glance as pipterino of the first water.”

This is Daphne Dolores Morehead, clearly his intellectual superior in every way. But Bertie forgives her because her priorities are sound. She knows a decent man when she sees one — and she dislikes moustaches which are, after all, “on the slippery slope to beards.” And yes, she’s blonde and neither scary nor untouchable. Yay!

THE ACCEPTABLE FACE OF BLONDE

In fact Chandler/Marlowe really only seems to have one blonde in his list of whom he is whole-heartedly in favour.

More Blondes Monroe, Bacall, Grable How to Marry a Millionaire

Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall, Betty Grable, How to Marry a Millionaire, 1953

the gorgeous show piece who will outlast three kingpin racketeers and then marry a couple of millionaires at a million a head and end up with a pale rose villa at Cap Antibes, an Alfa-Romeo town car complete with pilot and co-pilot, and a stable of shopworn aristocrats, all of whom she will treat with the affectionate absent-mindedness of an elderly duke saying goodnight to his butler.

Call me cynical, but it seems to me that her main virtue is that she is not tangling with the narrator. All he has to do is stand back and watch. And watching her makes him feel warm and fuzzy — and unthreatened. Because, of course, though she may look like Marilyn, Lauren Bacall or Betty Grable, she has the simple, well-meaning, unworldly soul of… Lord Emsworth!

MORE BLONDES — NOT JUST A DOCTOR…

More Blondes Dr WhoThis is pure self-indulgence. It is great news that the current Doctor Who is blonde and looking good so far. Forget the high life Chandler despised and icy touch he so feared.

This blonde is a fully rounded (super) human being. She does have elements of the ditzy, the sunshine and common sense. Probably she reads more intellectual stuff you can shake a stick at. But she’s not going to talk about it much, unless it’s useful. And she has power — and issues about how it’s used.

Blondes have a champion!

Sophie Weston Author

Sophie

15 thoughts on “More Blondes

      1. Joanna

        It’s a very long time since I’ve read Chandler but I did enjoy them, back in the day. Sadly, I don’t think any of my original copies has survived so, since I want to reread following this blog, I’ll have to reacquire. Worth it, I’d say.

        Reply
          1. Joanna

            Well… I’ve just finished re-reading The Big Sleep bought in a 3-in-1 with Farewell, My Lovely and The Long Goodbye and, if I’m honest, I’d say that I found Chandler’s constant clever use of language both pretentious (from him) and wearing (for me) after a few chapters. Every single new location was described in detail. Ditto every single new character. Sometimes, I skipped over his descriptive paragraphs. I realise this is probably heresy for others here, but I think his original use of English simile/metaphor — and in places it is amazingly good — can pall if done too much. If he’d been more sparing with it, I’d have marvelled. As it was, I was yawning and skipping some of the time.

            Horses for courses 😉

  1. lesley2cats

    Liz – so do I. I’ve just done that very same thing with Ngaio Marsh – read the whole canon from beginning to end. Well, I’m on the second to last right now. And now I’ll have to start on Chandler. What a writer! And why, oh why, didn’t my parents have him in their collection? They had everyone else…and I’ve got the lot.

    Reply
    1. Sophie Post author

      Know the feeling, Lesley. My parents thought of Chandler as a screen writer, I think. Couldn’t see Phillip Marlowe outside those moody, dark movies. Whereas the books are so rich.

      Reply
      1. lesley2cats

        I think that was it, They didn’t have a prejudice against American authors – they had all Rex Stout’s and some others I’ve sadly forgotten. And, of course, all of Thorne Smith’s quite reprehensible novels!

        Reply
        1. Sophie Post author

          I found Thorne Smith in the library – only a couple of titles but, gosh, they made me laugh. Also they were the first books that made me feel sex might actually be doable when I grew up, instead of something I was definitely going to leave to Other People. I would have been about ten at the time.

          Reply
  2. Elizabeth Hawksley

    I just loved this post. The bit about the cool ice blonde who reads ‘The Waste Land’ made me laugh out loud. I found myself smiling as I read which, considering how chilly it is outside, left me very grateful for the warm feeling it your post me.

    Reply
    1. Sophie Post author

      Yes, I must say, that always makes me hoot, too. Not that I don’t admire The Waste Land. But TSE was very much consciously intellectual in his sensibilities and, maybe, just a bit precious, whereas Chandler was down and dirty with something a lot closer to most people’s every day life. Though I suspect he cared about his work – and his literary reputation – quite as much as Eliot.

      Reply
    1. Sophie Post author

      I always find something new in Chandler, Clare, even when it’s a story I think I know. And Bertie never disappoints, bless him.

      Reply

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