Seeing or Not Seeing Authors’ Lives in Their Books

When we read fiction, how much do we see of an author’s life situation, personality, emotions, and neuroses? Her or his happiness or unhappiness?

In a way, all fiction is somewhat autobiographical, because the content is emerging from and filtered through the author’s brain. Even “neutral” facts can be given a spin that’s individual to each writer. Yet it’s interesting how much or how little a particular literary work reflects its author’s psyche.

Case in point: Edgar Allan Poe was often depressed, haunted, frustrated, and broke — with much of his brilliantly disturbing work reflecting that state of mind. Similar situation for another accomplished horror writer: the Poe-admiring H.P. Lovecraft.

But we’re not just talking about masters of the macabre. The fact that Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath had bouts of depression is apparent in their writing, whether directly or indirectly. For instance, there’s something of Woolf in Mrs. Dalloway‘s suicidal Septimus Smith character.

Also, the melancholy of loner protagonist Lucy Snowe in the melancholy Villette novel is clearly a reflection of Charlotte Bronte’s devastation at having lost her siblings Emily and Anne.

Then of course there’s Fyodor Dostoyevsky — whose near-execution, imprisonment, health issues, and money problems profoundly influenced his darkly transcendent writing.

And Erich Maria Remarque’s traumatic World War I experiences, departure from Germany after the Nazis publicly burned his anti-war novels, and devastating knowledge that the Third Reich beheaded his youngest sister Elfriede (partly to punish Erich) all had a major impact on his riveting, heartbreaking novels.

Having a mentally husband may have been one of the factors indirectly contributing to the downbeat nature of some of Edith Wharton’s great novels.

L.M. Montgomery also had a mentally ill husband — and sued her publisher AND became somewhat tired of writing the many Anne of Green Gables sequels her adoring readers wanted. Yet while Montgomery included harsh realities in her novels, many of the chapters were quite sunny. Obviously, countless authors write at least somewhat about how they (and their readers) would like life to be — putting wish fulfillment in the pages they produce.

Another example of that would be Jane Austen, whose life wasn’t as cheery as that of the couples experiencing happy endings in her novels. Yet Austen was of course not totally sentimental in her books; some of her characters never became content, and she often depicted sadness, death, hypocrisy, materialism, and other negative things.

Then there are authors who seem happy — with some of those writers creating upbeat work and others going darker. An example of the latter would be Stephen King, who’s rich and famous and seemingly well-adjusted yet continues tapping inner demons to write his scary/spooky stuff. But, like almost everyone, King’s life has not been without difficulties — including early struggles to get published, being wrongly considered just a mass-market writer when he also has some literary chops, and getting badly hurt in 1999 when a vehicle hit him as he walked.

Charles Dickens’ adult life was also full of wealth and success, but the author never forgot the childhood trauma of having his father and other family members thrown into debtors’ prison. All of which could help explain the mix of hilarity and calamity in many of Dickens’ novels.

Finally, we can’t forget how the racism, sexism, and/or homophobia experienced by various authors sparked legitimate anger that often showed up overtly or covertly in their work. Think of novels by Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Kate Chopin, Margaret Atwood, Margaret Drabble, Marge Piercy, Rita Mae Brown, and many others.

Who are your favorite authors whose personalities, feelings, life situations, etc., match or don’t match their fictional works? What are some of those works?

Thanks to “Clairdelune” for inspiring the idea for this column!

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone else.)

I’m 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, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net 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.

112 thoughts on “Seeing or Not Seeing Authors’ Lives in Their Books

  1. William Burroughs worked for a spell as an exterminator, so he, it would seem, would have had the proper background to write “The Metamorphosis”.

    So what in his own life prepared Kafka to inhabit the thoughts, and eventually the exoskeleton, of Gregor Samsa?

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  2. I think it may be somewhat difficult to exactly see the lives of authors in their ow imaginative works of literature. Mark Twain may be also enigmatic in what he depicts as life and what he does not depict as life and family values of people living along the Mississippi River in many of his novels and short stories.

    But the greatest mystery of all, may, in seeing the life of an author in his or her work, rest with William Shakespeare, since there is so little, maybe 35 pieces of evidence that he existed and produced or performed plays, to gather from his works any telling signs of what kind of a man he was inside those works. Most books on his life have 10 pages of facts, and 300 pages of hypotheses and conjecture.

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    • Great to hear from you again, Eric! Hope things are going well with your teaching and everything else!

      Mark Twain was indeed an enigmatic author in many ways — combining fact, exaggeration, and fiction, and leaving readers guessing the proportion/percentage of each. But his work is of course fun and interesting and often profound — so we’re not that concerned about what’s real and what’s made up, and what might be drawn from his life or not.

      Excellent observations about Shakespeare — an almost total mystery as a person. Heck, as you know, there are some who even wonder if it was him who created all those iconic works.

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      • Now that things are quieting down about here in Ningbo, China, and I am becoming more settled, I briefly thought of Sylvia Plath.She may be seen in some of her more dour works of poetry: the despair, the beaten, the downtrodden of a mind that is seeking solace.

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        • Glad things are quieting down for you in China, Eric. How has the job been compared to the teaching positions you had in Japan and South Korea?

          And thanks for your eloquent words about Sylvia Plath, who definitely comes to mind when thinking of authors whose personal angst and despair are part of their written works.

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          • China is nothing what I had envisioned before I got here. China is indeed booming with industrial projects all around, but accompanied with heavy smog is somewhat of a challenge for sensitive people. It tends to be more exotic and picturesque the more you move into rural areas, because if you look at a map and see where most people live, on the East Coast, it can be a little claustrophobic living in a high rise and having 10-15,000 people in the complete complex can seem like a small town in itself. But the courses are going well; it is a much smaller school than in Korea; 30-35 Korean “robots” (in a good way) per class is what I am used to; here, about 10-15 per class. Now I am coming up on a well-needed vacation.

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            • Interesting, Eric. Sounds like there are positives and negatives. Great that the class sizes are much smaller for you than in Korea, but not easy that so many people are living in your high rise and in that part of the country in general. And the awful smog! 😦 All that industrialization and all those cars do take a toll. It must be a nice relief to visit the more rural areas once in a while. Hope you have a great vacation!

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                  • It is nothing like back home, which I think you can say for just about everything. Though, one good thing about China, is that I can basically import anything I want or need from the US, which I thought was not possible here. And now, I have to brush up on my Chinese literature. I had my fill of Murakami.

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                    • Even much closer to the U.S., I found Mexican food in Mexico significantly different from Mexican food in the U.S. — or at least the Northeast U.S.

                      I didn’t realize, Eric, that it was easy to get American things in China.

                      And good luck with reading Chinese literature! I’m trying to think if I’ve read a novel by a Chinese author (as opposed to a Chinese-American author). Can’t think of one!

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  3. Dashiell Hammett spent a few years employed as a private detective before he turned to the writing of crime fiction for the pulps– good preparation, I’d say.

    Anne Holt, a Norwegian crime fiction writer (see “Blind Goddess”, and other novels featuring policewoman Hanne Wilhemsen), worked as a journalist and news anchor, then worked for the Oslo police department, founded her own law firm, and served as Norway’s minister of justice for two years– needless to say, I hope, her background is one she must draw on constantly in her fiction– and is easily the most impressive and extensive prepapartion for crime writing I know of.

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  4. James M. Cain trained to become an opera singer, like his mother had been. After he had completed his studies, she informed him he didn’t have the talent it would take to compete and succeed in that arena. He became a writer, and we are all richer for it.

    He drew on his opera and all-around musical background for his novel “Serenade”.

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      • Raymond Chandler wrote poetry first; spent most of his professional life as an oil industry exec— I think it was loss of that job that eventually drove him to writing for the pulps.

        Wallace Stevens was an insurance industry exec, if I remember right. But of course, poetry pays little to none for nearly all practitioners since the 19th century, so he stayed at his day job.

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        • Hmm…Raymond Chandler and Sir Walter Scott have something in common! (Writing poetry first; Scott wasn’t an oil industry exec. 🙂 )

          Hard to wrap one’s mind around such a creative writer being an insurance exec, but, then again, T.S. Eliot and O. Henry worked in banks…

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          • Yes! I opened my first bank account in New York at a Barclay’s, just because they’d once been Eliot’s employers. That, and it was convenient to my work address…

            O Henry’s career in banking reminds me of WC Fields, who had tellers wearing their hats behind their counters– as if, once you left them with your cash, they would run off with it into the streets.

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            • Yes, I think O. Henry (when still known as William Sydney Porter) was convicted of embezzlement and served time in jail before his writing career took off.

              A convenient banking location is indeed helpful. I used to have an account at the Amalgamated labor bank in NYC, but there were only two locations. Then I moved to the suburbs, where Amalgamated had 0 locations… 😦

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  5. I read “Zorba the Greek” in college, which is a mighty long way off by now, but I still remember my impression at the time: the book seemed almost glowing with vitality and sunshine and strength, as personified, of course, by the man for whom the book is named. Some time later, I read that Kazantzakis had written “Zorba” under the most trying conditions: the German occupation of Greece, during which time food and fuel were so precious and scarce that he wrote the novel in bed, moving as little as possible, so as to conserve strength and heat.

    It seems as if the novel had nearly nothing to do with the author’s actual circumstances during its creation, yet serves as a kind of vicarious wish-fulfillment which allowed Kazantzakis to live through his earthy, able, life-affirming character “Zorba”, and thereby, to live through the occupation itself. So, in a way, readers are seeing and not seeing the author in this book– simultaneously!

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    • jhNY, terrific example of an author putting wish-fulfillment between the book covers — and SO well said. Reminds me a bit of a passage in Stanley Elkin’s “The Rabbi of Lud” (which I read last month) in which a blind character has vivid nighttime dreams of seeing, and of doing adventurous things he couldn’t do in real life.

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      • When I was a small child, we moved to Colombia for a year, so my father could research his dissertation. After a few frustrating days of incomprehensibility, I agreed to learn Spanish, and spoke it, as long I I was there. Upon re-entry Stateside, I refused to speak it again, preferring the only language I felt was ‘natural’ to me: American English. Wish I’d not been such a stubborn little fellow, in retrospect.

        Any rate, every once in a while, I dream I am speaking Spanish. But I’ll bet it’s just Spanish-sounding gibberish….

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    • Actually, Kazantzakis really knew a man named Alexis Zorba, on whom the character was based. I’m not sure to what extent the real-life Zorba resembled the fictional Zorba or how much of the novel really happened in some way, but I have seen a bio of Kazantzakis and there is a photo of Alexis Zorba. Obviously, he looks more ‘Greek’ than Anthony Quinn.

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  6. Interesting and complicated question this week Dave, It would seem obvious that an authors creation was an extension of himself by definition but I guess the point would be what is , at least attempted , objective observation and what is deeply auto-biographical. One wonders was the real Dostoevsky as conflicted and paralyzed by existential doubt as Ivan or a saint like his brother Alyosha the cynical, hedonist , buffon that was the father( and namesake as it were) or the weak willed romantic Dmitri completely in the thrall of his own emotions ? In the case of Anis Nin’s erotic fiction was she really that extreme and Bacchanalian or were the characters caricatures . Either way can an author every completely divorce their personality from their art ? Flaubert after writing Madame Bovary, a story whose protagonist was the total opposite of everything he aspired to be, famously exclaimed in shock ” C’est moi” , I think that pretty much answers the question.

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    • Thanks, Donny, for your excellent and thought-provoking comment!

      Great question about which brother in “The Brothers Karamazov” Dostoyevsky was most like. Of course, an author can have a little of himself or herself in every character he or she creates. I remember cartoonist Charles M. Schulz saying there was something of him in every “Peanuts” character even though many readers associated him with Charlie Brown (who was actually named after someone Schulz knew as a kid, not first-named after himself).

      I’ve never read Anais Nin, so I can’t respond to your interesting thoughts about her and her work, but I LOVED your line about Flaubert!

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  7. Dave, another author I thought about was one we’ve discussed often in the past — Albert Payson Terhune, whose books about the collies raised in his Farm are the main stories and books in the series of which he wrote about in the Sunnybank series. They were much loved by me.

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    • Thanks, Kat Lib! It’s hard to imagine Albert Payson Terhune writing such gripping, moving novels featuring dogs if he hadn’t “lived” some of that himself.

      As we’ve discussed, Terhune may be best known for “Lad: a Dog,” but I was most emotionally affected by that author’s terrific, lesser-known “His Dog.”

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    • Thank you, Claire! I haven’t read Richard Yates, but his “Revolutionary Road” has been on my list for a while. Sometimes, writers seem to create what are almost memoir/novel hybrids — with E.L. Doctorow’s “World’s Fair” being another example of that.

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    • I think you’re right, and I think it cost Yates a few times over the years when his friends found themselves in his books, thinly-disguised and often in unflattering light.

      I am a big fan of his fiction, though I find it so excoriating and unforgiving that I have to wait till I’m feeling good enough to endure its effects. But that’s just me.

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      • Definitely a risk with fiction. I’ve read that Emile Zola lost his friendship with childhood friend Paul Cezanne after Zola created a kind-of-crazy painter protagonist for the novel “The Masterpiece.” Cezanne felt the character was a negative version of himself.

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    • So true, GL! The great Mark Twain was a master at that. I’ve read that the Tom Sawyer character was an amalgam of three people Twain knew as a kid, and of course Twain’s stint as a Mississippi River riverboat pilot before the Civil War influenced “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” Also, as you know, Twain used his life as fodder for some very interesting nonfiction books.

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  8. Dave John Irving was a wrestler and a wrestling coach in his early life and several of his novels he incorporated that particularly in his last one In One Person , also I have read somewhere one of his family member is gay and the book dealt with that as the theme of the main character..
    His father was a WWII pilot and his plane was shot down in Burma but he survived Irving found out about that much later and he used that is Cider House Rules.
    Dave btw I am using iPad and hope not giving you wrong info..tomorrow I’ll fact check 🙂

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      • Wow, bebe — John Irving’s life and family experiences really DID show up in his novels. Thanks for the excellent description of that. Sounds like Irving could write an interesting autobiography, as you allude to. But, then again, his great novels are interesting enough!

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        • Still waiting for the latest of Irving and Grisham..

          Oh I started reading Steve Martini`s ” The Enemy Inside” and liking his writing style and the plot thickens Dave 😉

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          • Those library waiting lists…

            And thanks for “The Enemy Inside” update, bebe! If you’re still liking it when you’ve finished, I’ll put it on my to-read list.

            I’m now in the middle of Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying,” and am very impressed. Fractured story-telling like in his “The Sound and the Fury,” but MUCH easier to follow.

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            • Ana hellooooooooooooooo I am on a list for a few authors so i should be able to borrow the book together with some of others who are on the list. Lee Child`s ” Make Me” I was able to borrow the day it was published.
              Library has an interesting way of choosing patrons…sometimes from the beginning of the alphabet other times from the last . So who knows..I know I have a choice of buying the book but i don`t buy books any longer.

              So let`s see 🙂

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              • Choosing by alpha order is different. I always thought first come first serve was the standard for waiting lists.

                I am the total opposite when it comes to my book collection. When I go to a bookstore or book sale, I have to buy something even if it’s just a bookmark, wall map, desk globe, or shoulder bag. I feel weird leaving a bookstore/sale empty-handed.

                Oh who am I kidding…I’m always making excuses to shop:)

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                • True, but there is another first priority list, one can sign up for certain authors for any future publication. I was talking about that which starts much later. Our library has ordered 800 Grisham this time still I am sucking my thump waiting…and waiting…

                  I don`t buy anymore unless the book is a classic. For the last two years I started donation my books to the library so they sell and make some money.

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  9. Wonderful post! and thanks to “Clairdelune” for inspiring the post.This is a dynamic forum—a rare thing on the internet nowadays.

    This may seem like the obvious choice but Jack Kerouac ‘s “On the Road” leaped at me. The narrative is so raw and his turmoil bubbles. I don’t know much about the era or the beat movement which he is said to exemplify but know enough from reading On the road, my writting on drama college professor gave it to me and made a comment I won’t repeat- it was years latter I took the time to read it and understand the comment he made, that without his experiences, even if he could come-up with the concept it would be flat.

    When authors infuse their writing ( how could they not? ) by happenstance or design they begin a personal relationship with their audience, who can’t relate to their favorite author in a personal way?

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    • Great addition to this discussion, Pat! That’s a whole subcategory I could have gotten into. Herman Melville having been a sailor, Mark Twain having been a riverboat pilot, and Barbara Kingsolver having studied biology would be among countless other examples… 🙂

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  10. Speaking of LM Montgomery, did you catch today’s Google Doodle? Today would’ve been her 141st birthday. Every scene that Google is showing, I remember from Anne of Green Gables.

    http://time.com/4128836/lucy-maud-montgomery-google-doodle/

    The LMM Society of Ontario has a new statue of her in a church park. I haven’t seen it yet, but I’ve heard the statue is positioned to make it look like Montgomery is gazing across a field of flowers. I can imagine just how lovely that exhibit is. And of course, a return trip to PEI/Atlantic Canada is a must. The poster drb went earlier this year, I think. I’m sure he had a fantastic time.

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  11. Howdy, Dave!

    — Who are your favorite authors whose personalities, feelings, life situations, etc., match or don’t match their fictional works? —

    Don’t know, don’t care about an author’s life experience in relation to his or her work.

    Did I know your appropriately mentioned Edgar Allan Poe was a dipsomaniac of apparently epic proportions when I first read and loved “The Tell-Tale Heart”? I did not.

    Did I know Henryk Sienkiewicz based the descriptions of the Eastern European landscape in his awesome Trilogy — “With Fire and Sword,” “The Deluge” and “Fire in the Steppe” — in part on the sights he had seen while visiting the North American Great Plains when I first read and loved the former book? Nie.

    Did I know Marshall Saunders was not a guy but a doll when I first read and loved “Beautiful Joe”? Negative.

    Did I know Mario Vargas Llosa’s political beliefs were to the right of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Barry Goldwater and, quite possibly, Attila the Hun when I first read and loved “Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter”? Nope.

    Did I know Wallace Stevens was an insurance man when I first read and loved “The Emperor of Ice-Cream”? Unh-unh.

    And, in each case, I did not care about the extent of my ignorance when it was consigned to the dustbin of history: I love trivia, but it is irrelevant to my enjoyment of either fiction or poetry.

    That which a writer writes is one thing; that which a reader reads is quite another. To paraphrase an English author almost entirely known not for his personality but for his professionality, the work’s the thing.

    J.J. (Alias MugRuith1)

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    • VERY well said, J.J. — and I hear you. For me, what an author is like is also (mostly) irrelevant to whether I read a book and whether or not I end up liking it. But I still find the topic interesting. 🙂

      Loved all the paragraphs backing up your point, but the Mario Vargas Llosa one was my favorite. I read “Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter” a few months ago on your recommendation, and it was indeed a memorable novel. And hearing that Vargas Llosa’s politics are 180 degrees from mine doesn’t change that.

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      • Howdy, Ana!

        — You have such a whimsical way of writing that I really enjoy reading. —

        Everything I know about whimsy, I learned from Dave.

        — Definitely agree on the Trilogy. —

        OMG! Based on your commentary here as a charter member of the DAOLiterati, I knew you are well-read, but if you are an American (as opposed to a Canadian), then you would be the first of my fellow citizens (as opposed to all the Poles of my acquaintance) that I could identify as a reader of the Trilogy.

        — Out of the three, I’d say “With Fire and Sword” is my favourite. —

        I finished “With Fire and Sword” and started “The Deluge” a couple of weeks ago, so I personally have no basis of comparison yet, but I cannot imagine anything better than “WS&S.” However, I have read of certain providers of trivia, aka literary critics, who have claimed “TD” is the best of the lot. With respect to the lead female characters in those two books, I can kind of see their point.

        — It sort of reminds me of book 1 from Elie Wiesel’s “Night” trilogy. —

        Alas, this is another gap in my very holey experience as a reader, which resembles nothing so much as a big hunk of Swiss cheese.

        Vivat!

        J.J.

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        • I think you’d make a good children’s author. You have a Roald Dahl/Philip Reeve/E.B. White vibe going on… creative, witty, imaginative, yet serious.

          The Canadian and American parts of me are both major fans of Henryk Sienkiewicz. I will never understand why he is so underrated. Some readers might be intimidated by the length of his novels. WF&S is almost 1200 pages, and the title you’re currently reading is, if I’m remembering correctly, over 1200 pages (close to 1300 is more accurate).

          If the plot is good, then the length shouldn’t matter. Sienkiewicz was a master storyteller of Polish and medieval history. It’s too bad more people don’t know about him.

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          • — I think you’d make a good children’s author. —

            You are very kind to say so. And, demographically speaking, it is indisputable I am more popular in person (as opposed to on the page) among the infantile than among any other age cohort, primarily because of my uncanny impersonation of Donald Duck (“Uh-oh”) and secondarily because of my channeling of John Belushi while playing Peek-a-Boo: Three generations of babies can’t be wrong.

            — You have a Roald Dahl/Philip Reeve/E.B. White vibe going on… creative, witty, imaginative, yet serious. —

            As a big fan of both Roald Dahl and E.B. White, I am happy to be mentioned in the same sentence with them, even though I am acutely aware I do not deserve to be, especially in terms of our respective outputs, both published and unpublished. Meanwhile, I had neither heard nor read of Philip Reeve until today, so thank you for mentioning him!

            — The Canadian and American parts of me are both major fans of Henryk Sienkiewicz. —

            Nice!

            — I will never understand why he is so underrated. Some readers might be intimidated by the length of his novels. —

            In the American market, the length issue may be a big factor, but the translation issue might be an even bigger factor, at least with respect to The Trilogy. My main reason for believing so centers on the apparent difference in the history of translations between the author’s “Quo Vadis” and his Trilogy. As I understand it (through James A. Michener), the former book was originally translated from Polish to English, while the latter books were originally translated from Polish to Russian to English. Subsequent to the appearances of these translations in the U.S., “Quo Vadis” ranked No. 1 in 1897 and No. 5 in 1898 on the “Publishers Weekly” annual lists of best-selling novels in the country, while none of the other three titles made the Top 10 on the same list in even a single year.

            — WF&S is almost 1200 pages, and the title you’re currently reading is, if I’m remembering correctly, over 1200 pages (close to 1300 is more accurate). —

            My Copernicus Society of America edition’s page counts are pretty similar in the first case and pretty different in the second case, as follows:
            — “With Fire and Sword,” 1135 pages.
            — “The Deluge,” Volume I, 842 pages, and Volume II, 919 pages (1,716 pages in all).
            — “Fire in the Steppe,” 717 pages.

            — If the plot is good, then the length shouldn’t matter. —

            I agree, especially when the characterizations are even better than the terrific plot or the terrific setting or the terrific anything else.

            — Sienkiewicz was a master storyteller of Polish and medieval history. It’s too bad more people don’t know about him. —

            Amen!

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            • Editor’s Note: Because of an error in transposition, one of the above page counts is mistaken. The relevant passage should have read: “‘The Deluge,’ Volume I, 842 pages, and Volume II, 919 pages (1,761 pages in all).”

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    • You’re VERY right about that, Bill. I really enjoyed reading Bob’s novel last year. It has so much inside political knowledge — and a romance, too! 🙂

      Speaking of columnists we know who’ve written fiction, there’s also a lot of Kathy Eliscu in the smart/harried/hilarious protagonist of her excellent novel “Not Even Dark Chocolate Can Fix This Mess.”

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  12. The work of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings draws largely on the life that she lived and the people she knew after she moved to Florida. Her characters are so rich because she was actually acquainted with these people.

    Also, I don’t think we would know Isak Dinesen at all if it weren’t for her move to Africa. And how about Pearl Buck? Her depiction of life in China won her the Nobel Prize for Literature.

    Last, but not least, I don’t believe that “To Kill A Mockingbird” would be the masterpiece that it is with Harper Lee’s reminiscences of her own childhood in Monroeville.

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    • Thanks, lulabelle! Four terrific examples of authors who put so much of themselves and their experiences in their books!

      As you know, “To Kill a Mockingbird” certainly has all kinds of semi-autobiographical elements — with Atticus partly based on Harper Lee’s father, Scout partly based on Lee herself, Dill partly based on Lee’s childhood friend Truman Capote, etc.

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  13. For an author that incorporated much of her personal life into her fiction, I am posting this Amazon link to my review of ‘The Man Who Loved Children’, which I also posted on the dysfunctional families thread.

    http://www.amazon.com/The-Man-Who-Loved-Children/product-reviews/0312280440/ref=cm_cr_dp_see_all_btm?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=1&sortBy=bySubmissionDateDescending

    Christina Stead grew up in Australia under similar circumstances as the Pollit family of ‘TMWLC’, transplanting the family to the U.S.

    Also, Thomas Wolfe drew heavily from his personal life in at least a few of his novels, such as ‘Look Homeward Angel’, the only one of his that I’ve read.

    And Ernest Hemingway, drew on his own life for the creation of the autobiographical character Nick Adams of several short stories and from his wartime experiences in ‘A Farewell to Arms’.

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    • bobess48, I read your “The Man Who Loved Children” review when on Facebook a little while ago, and it’s terrific — as are all your book reviews! Christina Stead’s novel is definitely very relevant to this week’s topic as well as to last week’s dysfunctional-families-in-lit topic.

      And thanks for the Wolfe and Hemingway mentions! There’s also a lot of Hemingway’s experiences (partly fictionalized, of course) in the Spanish Civil War content of “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”

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  14. Hi Dave, I have to admit that I’ve been feeling somewhat lonely today. I’ve called my sister and two very good friends, but no one has answered my calls or returned them, so when I heard the “ping” on my tablet, I was hoping it would be you and your latest post. 🙂 OK, now I can stop feeling sorry for myself!. Last week we discussed Jane Austen somewhat, so it was a bit weird to read an article on Salon.com yesterday that mentioned Austen in the headline. It had to do with people who buy plaques and things with the exhortations to “Be Grateful” and “Be Thankful.” For some reason the author had to bring in Austen, specifically “Mansfield Park,” to the conversation. I do agree that Fanny Price was always told that she should be grateful for being torn apart from her parents and siblings to go live with Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram, although she was often treated as more of a servant than as a member of the family, especially by Mrs. Norris. She was also treated in a very bad manner by Sir Thomas when she refused to marry Henry Crawford. However, this author had to bring up the idea that Fanny should have been aware that Sir Thomas relied on slave labor for his plantation in Antigua. I know this was made a part of the movie of this book, by showing Fanny seeing a slave ship on her way to Mansfield Park, as well as her finding drawings by her father or cousin that showed pornographic illustrations of how slave women were treated. I hate this, because I don'[t recall this topic ever being raised by Jane Austen. Please correct me if I’m wrong. As someone who commented on Salon, it was like putting 21st century England values on someone from the early 19th century.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Kat Lib! Sorry you were feeling a bit down today; I’m glad I was able to post earlier than usual. 🙂 But much more importantly, I hope you get a callback soon from your sister and friends!

      And thanks for the interesting thoughts on Jane Austen that in a way continued the conversation of last week. What you said about “Mansfield Park” is an excellent example of how Austen, while writing happy endings, often addressed less-happy things before those endings.

      But, as you say, the early 19th-century wasn’t a time when any or many novels took a strong position against slavery. And Austen wasn’t the type of writer who got into major political and human-rights matters, though she dealt with those issues slightly here and there.

      Perhaps there were some anti-slavery novels during Austen’s time, but the earliest ones I’ve read are Alexandre Dumas’ “Georges” (1843) and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (1852) — both of which were published decades after Austen’s 1817 death.

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      • Of course, it’s been over 20 years since I read ‘Mansfield Park’ but the slave traders were mentioned although they were part of the backstory. I recall that around the time that Jane Austen wrote Britain had its own abolitionist movement in the form of William Wilberforce. Here’s the Wikipedia link for him:

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Wilberforce

        So I assume that at least some of that was contemporary with the time of which Austen was writing.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Great point, Brian, about abolitionism being around even in Jane Austen’s time. So, while a high percentage of people were indeed racist and pro-slavery 200 years ago, there were at least some brave and enlightened people who were otherwise. Still, as you know, Austen was not a “social justice” writer of the sort that Steinbeck or Upton Sinclair would be a century later.

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          • Another excellent point about how some authors might be against slavery personally, but not make that clear in their books — whether because of timidity or because it didn’t “fit” their writing approach.

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        • After having done some reading about “Mansfield Park” and the views of Jane Austen, it appears that the best response is from Wiki as well: “Austen manages to omit any mention of the Slave Trade Act 1807, which abolished the slave trade, though not slavery, in the British Empire. The Act passed four years before she started the novel and was the culmination of a long campaign by abolitionists, notably William Wilberforce.

          At one point, Edward Said implicated the novel in western culture’s casual acceptance of the material benefits of slavery and imperialism (a connection already made by Vladimir Nabokov in his Lectures on Literature, delivered in the 1940s although not published until 1980), citing Austen’s failure to mention that the estate of Mansfield Park was made possible only through slave labour. At another point, however, he seems to have acknowledged that Jane Austen disapproved of slavery:

          “All the evidence says that even the most routine aspects of holding slaves on a West Indian sugar plantation were cruel stuff. And everything we know about Jane Austen and her values is at odds with the cruelty of slavery. Fanny Price reminds her cousin that after asking Sir Thomas about the slave trade, “there was such a dead silence” as to suggest that one world could not be connected with the other since there simply is no common language for both. That is true.”

          I honestly didn’t remember the conversation between Fanny and Sir Thomas, but it seems clear that Jane Austen was opposed to slavery.

          Liked by 1 person

    • Morning Kat Lib arn`t we lucky to have Dave and his amazing blogs to keep us company and Dave always finds time to answer us to get away from our loneliness.
      For me also sometimes holidays make me feel lonely although this weekend I was away..but I am glad to be in my regular schedule and now enjoying my quite mornings when I hear only the birds 🙂

      Hope you are feeling much better already with everyone around you in cool Dave`s blog. 😆

      Liked by 1 person

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