Thursday, September 27, 2007

Sternwood Mansion and Greenhouse

"The main hallway of the Sternwood place was two stories high. Over the entrance doors, which would have let in a troop of Indian elephants, there was a broad stained-glass panel showing a knight in dark armor rescuing a lady who was tied to a tree and didn't have any clothes on but some very long and convenient hair. the knight had pushed the vizor of his helmet back to be sociable, and he was fiddling with the knots on the ropes that tied the lady to the tree and not getting anywhere. I stood there and thought that if I lived in the house, I would sooner or later have to climb up there and help him. He didn't seem to be really trying." (3-4)

In this opening passage, Phillip Marlowe automatically sets a role for himself as not a hero in the traditional sense but as a helper. Throughout the novel, the detective shoots down any tangible connections with other characters, especially with women, resisting the urge to submit to a world of which he does not want to be a part.

"There were French doors at the back of the hall, beyond them a wide sweep of emerald grass to a white garage, in front of which a slim dark young chauffeur in shiny black leggings was dusting a maroon Packard convertible." (4)

Marlowe scours the city, always on a mission, but he seemingly does it for the purpose of keeping the social lines intact. In order to maintain a sense of justice, Marlowe tries to sustain a dieing hierarchy.

"The air was thick, wet, steamy and larded with the cloying smell of tropical orchids in bloom. The glass walls and roof were heavily misted and big drops of moisture splashed down on the plants. the light had an unreal greenish color, like light filtered through an aquarium tank. The plants filled the place, a forest of them, with nasty meaty leaves and stalks like the newly washed fingers of dead men. They smelled as overpowering as boiling alcohol under a blanket." (7)

Marlowe's graphically morbid response to General Sternwood's 'jungle' embodies the Depression Era's disdain towards the broken promises of a Los Angeles conceived as paradise. Paradoxically, Marlowe feels compelled to shield the General from facing the hardships of the times in order to promote his oblivious existence.

Pictures of the Doheny Mansion and Greenhouse were taken from "Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles" by Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward.

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