Those of us who love literature also love to hear about encounters between literary greats — whether those encounters were short or long or in-between.
Author interactions can be mutually beneficial, stir competition, result in enmity, develop into lifelong friendships, be memorable, be awkward, be inconsequential, or various other things.
Let’s start with two situations involving Mark Twain: He was in the audience when Charles Dickens did an 1868 reading in New York City, and he later lived next door to Harriet Beecher Stowe for 18 years in Hartford, Conn.
Until an estrangement, Dickens was good friends with novelist Wilkie Collins — who collaborated on stories with Dickens, wrote for the older author’s publications, and participated in Dickens’ amateur theatricals. Collins’ brother even married one of Dickens’ daughters.
Like Dickens, Henry James was in contact with various iconic authors. He and Edith Wharton shared a close friendship, and, as a young man, the American-born James made sure to visit George Eliot — the English novelist he greatly admired. Meanwhile, Eliot and the aforementioned Stowe corresponded by mail many times across the Atlantic.
Another encounter involved Charlotte Bronte, a William Thackeray fan who visited the Vanity Fair author in London after Jane Eyre made her famous. Bronte, so intelligent and passionate in her writings, was less adept socially; Thackeray’s daughter Anne reported that Charlotte’s shyness and quietness made the evening a dud.
Two other iconic 19th-century authors, Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne, were friends for a while — with the former dedicating Moby-Dick to the latter. Earlier in the 1800s, American writers James Fenimore Cooper and Washington Irving separately met Sir Walter Scott in Europe — with Irving and Scott developing a years-long friendship.
Over in France, Gustave Flaubert of Madame Bovary fame knew Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, Russian author Ivan Turgenev, and other novelists.
Anton Chekhov and Leo Tolstoy met in Russia, and Boris Pasternak as a kid knew Tolstoy because the father of the future Doctor Zhivago author illustrated some of Tolstoy’s books.
Moving back to English authors, Aldous Huxley briefly taught George Orwell (then Eric Blair) at Eton — an interaction between two men who would write literature’s two most famous dystopian novels: Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four. Also, it’s well known that J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were close pals for many years.
Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes were also pals — collaborating on a play called Mule Bone that wasn’t staged in their lifetimes because they had a falling out.
F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway were friends, too, and The Great Gatsby may have helped inspire Hemingway to write a famous novel of his own: The Sun Also Rises. But their relationship mostly cooled later on.
Hemingway and James Joyce were acquainted with each other, and the former was a big fan of the latter’s work.
James Baldwin and Toni Morrison were friends, starting when Morrison worked as a book editor — and she would write a memorable New York Times eulogy to Baldwin after his 1987 death. Earlier, Baldwin and Richard Wright also had a good relationship until Baldwin, in a published essay, criticized some aspects of Wright’s Native Son.
Speaking of criticizing a fellow writer, Mary McCarthy during a 1980 TV appearance slammed Lillian Hellman (“every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the'”) — and Hellman retaliated by filing a massive lawsuit. The two authors had met here and there before 1980.
On a more positive note, Carson McCullers and Isak Dinesen were mutual admirers — which inspired McCullers to host a 1959 luncheon for Dinesen that included guests Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe (who had a strong interest in literature).
Harper Lee and Truman Capote were childhood pals in Alabama, with the Dill character in To Kill a Mockingbird partly based on Capote and Lee helping Capote research In Cold Blood. Their friendship soured after Capote didn’t give Lee enough credit for that research assistance.
Then there are authors who of course know/knew each other from being related by blood or marriage. They include — to name just a few — the Bronte sisters, the sisters A.S. Byatt and Margaret Drabble, father and son Kingsley Amis and Martin Amis, father and son Andre Dubus II and Andre Dubus III, spouses Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne, Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin and their daughter Mary Shelley (whose husband was poet Percy Bysshe Shelley), and Stephen King and Tabitha King and their author sons Owen King and Joe Hill. Also, Daphne du Maurier was the granddaughter of George du Maurier (whose Trilby novel gave the world the term “Svengali”), but she was born 11 years after George died.
Who are other past or present authors related by blood or marriage? Other unrelated authors who encountered each other in some way? Any information or anecdotes you’d like to offer about those encounters — or about author encounters I mentioned in my post?
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I’m also writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in New York City and Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.