Wednesday, 24 July 2013

She was the music heard faintly at the edge of sound

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Detective novelist Raymond Chandler's wife of 30 years, Cissy, died on December 12th, 1954 after a long and painful battle with pulmonary fibrosis during which the author wrote The Long Goodbye. As can be seen in the following touching and affectionate letter, written to friend Leonard Russell shortly after Cissy's passing, Raymond was deeply affected by the loss of his wife, and it seems he never really recovered. Sadly, he died five years later a broken man, having attempted suicide and returned to the alcoholism she had previously helped him to avoid.

(Source: Selected Letters of Raymond Chandler; Image: One of the very few photos of Raymond and Cissy together, via.)

December 29, 1954

Dear Leonard:

Your letter of December 15th has just reached me, the mails being what they are around Christmas time. I have received much sympathy and kindness and many letters, but yours is somehow unique in that it speaks of the beauty that is lost rather than condoling with the comparatively useless life that continues on. She was everything you say, and more. She was the beat of my heart for thirty years. She was the music heard faintly at the edge of sound. It was my great and now useless regret that I never wrote anything really worth her attention, no book that I could dedicate to her. I planned it. I thought of it, but I never wrote it. Perhaps I couldn't have written it.

She died hard. Her body fought a hundred lost battles, any one of which would have been enough to finish most of us. Twice I brought her home from the hospital because she hated hospitals, and had her in her own room with nurses around the clock. But she had to go back. And I suppose she never quite forgave me for that. But when at the end I closed her eyes she looked very young. Perhaps by now she realizes that I tried, and that I regarded the sacrifice of several years of a rather insignificant literary career as a small price to pay, if I could make her smile a few times more.

No doubt you realize that this was no sudden thing, that it had been going on for a long time, and that I have said goodbye to my Cissy in the middle of the night in the dark cold hours many, many times. She admired and liked you very much. I'm not sure that she liked Dilys as much as I did, because possibly she suspected that I liked her too much. And it is just possible that I thought she liked you a little too much.

I hope that you are both well and prosperous and that I may have the privilege of seeing you again in the not too distant future, with or without the butler from the Ritz. And I hope I am not being too sentimental if I sign myself,

Yours affectionately,

(Signed)