What's a man to do? ask letters from Chandler to his natural blonde

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She was a blonde, a natural blonde with steel-grey eyes. He was a lonely guy looking for company. When Raymond Chandler, the doyen of American crime-writing met Sara Perceval while sharing a house in Chelsea in the late Fifties it gave rise to some of the most entertaining love letters in recent literary history.

At 69, the creator of Philip Marlowe was considerably older than the 20-year-old Belfast-born dress designer who went on to create outfits for some of the biggest names in showbusiness. But the age gap failed to deter the amorous novelist.

A correspondence of eight letters to be sold this year in London for an expected £6,600 reveals a lesser known side to the hard-drinking writer's character. Ms Perceval has always insisted the relationship was purely platonic but the letters reveal something more like gentle insistence.

In his overture dated 20 July, 1958 while they both lived at 8 Swan Walk SW3, he writes: "Mr Chandler is a very lonely gentleman and longing for company ... I hope this can be arranged."

Another, written later in the year from La Jolla, California, appears to mark the boundary of their relationship. It asks: "Do you really think you could become emotionally involved with a man of my age?

"A little mild flirtation, very mild, flirtation, but nothing more ... I am no danger to young ladies who could possibly be my grand-daughters. I have enough young ladies of twice your age, at least two or three very close to me."

In perhaps the most forceful passage he cajoles: "...be careful. Every girl has her weak moments. Save yours for me. I know how to treat you with respect and tenderness and only you could ever decide that I could go as far as I should like to. After all I am only a man."

Ms Perceval, who never married, has described how she was wooed by the novelist. "He was an absolute darling. He used to send me red roses and all sorts of beautiful things and when ever he was away in California he'd write beautiful letters and ring me up."

She declined to live in his flat in London and insists that Chandler merely wanted to make sure she was not taken advantage of by other men.

His last completed novel Playback was dedicated "To Sally [her family name], with love and kisses and whatever else might seem suitable to the occasion. A real natural blonde with grey eyes. What does a man do, darling? Ray."

Chandler died in 1959.

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