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NARCOTICS, BARRED WINDOWS, AND MURDER: THE MEDICAL PRACTITIONER IN THE WRITINGS OF RAYMOND CHANDLER ROBERT E. SKINNER* Writers of fiction have been fascinated with the medical man for as long as fiction has been written. It is interesting to note, however, that, more often than not, the fascination has been a morbid one. In the seventeenth century, it was typical for medical men to be depicted, as in the case of Molière, as quacks and fools. Often, they would also be the tools or partners of unholy powers, like Marlowe's Doctor Faustus. By the nineteenth century, the image of the doctor as one who used his special knowledge for unholy or unscrupulous purposes was heightened by the appearance ofsuch characters as Hawthorne's Doctor Chillingwortb, Stevenson's Doctor Jekyll, and H. G. Wells's Doctor Moreau. It has been noted by Lois DeBakey that in every age of man, "medicine has often been bitterly satirized. The specialized knowledge of physicians, . . . their demand for special privileges and prestige, and the discrepancy between their stated ideals and their actual practices have aroused considerable criticism" [I]. G. S. Rosseau also points out that "literature provides the lengthiest record and only resource in which patients and doctors can be viewed from Ancient Greece to the present. Surprisingly, it is a consistent record that impugns the physician for specific reasons: his greed, pedantry, and hubris" [2]. It is safe to say, however, that no author since Molière has had as low an opinion ofthe medical professions as that ofRaymond Chandler. In a relatively small output of 23 short stories and seven novels, Chandler depicts no less than 12 unscrupulous (or at best unpleasant) physicians, two murderous nurses, and possibly literature's only crooked veterinarThe author expresses his appreciation to Prof. Frank MacShane, without whose scholarship this study could not have been written, and to Ms. Patricia Friedmann for her editorial counsel. * Department of Medical Bibliography, Louisiana State University Medical Center, 1542 Tulane Avenue, New Orleans, Louisiana 701 12.© 1983 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. 0031-5982/84/2701-0353$01.00 Perspectives in Biology and Mediane, 27, 1 · Autumn 1983 | 127 ian. Ofcourse, medical people were not the only professional group that Chandler consistently vilified. He is, perhaps, better known for his unflattering portraits of policemen and big-city politicians, but he clearly felt a great deal of contempt for many of the areas of human endeavor that usually command respect. Of Chandler, Russell Davies has commented that "the reasons why Chandler nourished such high and necessarily doomed expectations of his fellow men are lost in his personal history, and beyond construction but beneath the social cynicism of the plot surface, there is always the story of a man who goes through life hating his fellows out of disappointment, because they are not what he wants them to be" [S]. Chandler's Doctors Chandler himself needs little introduction. Even though he did most ofhis major work during the 1940s and early 1950s, virtually everything he wrote, including his letters and previously unpublished work, is in print today. Perhaps a greater tribute to his artistry are the more than 200 books, magazine andjournal articles, and doctoral dissertations devoted to the critical commentary of his work. Chandler's most important body of work is the group of seven novels he wrote between 1939 and 1959 that center on the private detective Phillip Marlowe. Marlowe is a cynical but compassionate man whose strict adherence to moral principle and penchant for endangering himself to protect the innocent are reminiscent of the medieval chivalric code. In all but two of these novels, Marlowe is brought into contact with one or more doctors. In Chandler's second novel, Farewell My Lovely (1940), a bet with a police officer puts Marlowe on the trail of an ex-convict who has killed a man during a barroom brawl. During the course of his investigation, Marlowe is kidnapped and beaten up by two crooked policemen who place him in a private hospital to keep him out of the way. There, he is locked in a cell and repeatedly injected with narcotics to keep him unconscious . Eventually, Marlowe comes...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 127-134
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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