Partly Autobiographical Literature Is More Than Partly Interesting

The semi-autobiographical novel can be the best of both worlds for authors and their readers. That mix of memoir and fiction takes facts and embellishes them and/or dramatizes them and/or smooths them into more coherent form, etc.

A partly autobiographical approach also allows authors to potentially pen very heartfelt books — after all, they lived the emotions — and perhaps provides those writers with some mental therapy, too. Meanwhile, readers learn stuff about an author’s life that they might not learn otherwise. (Of course, many memoirs also have some fictional elements, but that’s a topic for another day.)

Often, a semi-autobiographical work is an author’s first novel. After all, that kind of book can be easier to write because the author just has to remember aspects of her or his own life. And perhaps such a novel psychologically declutters an author’s brain so that s/he can more easily move on to writing novels with fewer or no autobiographical elements.

Examples of semi-autobiographical debut novels include James Baldwin’s Go Tell It On the Mountain (teen has problems with religion and harsh stepfather), Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle (growing up lesbian), Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club (Chinese-American immigrant experience), F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise (college years), and Herman Melville’s Typee (tropical island adventure).

(Melville went on to pen several other partly autobiographical novels — Omoo, Redburn, and White-Jacket — before writing that little thing you may have heard of called Moby-Dick.)

In other cases, authors don’t go the selfie route until later in their literary careers, as did Charlotte Bronte with Villette (English loner teaches in France) and W. Somerset Maugham with Of Human Bondage (personal and professional struggles of a would-be doctor). Authors might want to wait until their writing is developed enough to best convey their own experiences, or wait to become famous/established enough to risk writing something more personal, or wait for enough years to go by to have more perspective on what they’re writing about, etc.

Nathaniel Hawthorne let a decade pass before penning The Blithedale Romance, a fictionalized version of his experiences living on a communal farm. But Charles Bukowski waited only two years to write Hollywood — a minimally disguised account of doing the screenplay for, and seeing the making of, the movie Barfly starring Mickey Rourke in a Bukowski-ish role. (I read the very funny Hollywood this month.)

Occasionally, disguising is a necessity. It’s obvious to readers that Fyodor Dostoevsky was part-fictionally recounting his own Siberian internment experiences in Notes From a Dead House, but to get the novel approved by Russian government censors he couched it as the recollections of a murderer rather than those of a political prisoner like Dostoevsky had been. (I’m in the middle of reading the fascinating Dead House now.)

Other semi-autobiographical works written in early, mid, or late career? George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss (Maggie and Tom’s troubled sibling relationship was partly based on the dynamics between Eliot and her brother), Willa Cather’s My Antonia (Cather channeled male character Jim Burden), Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield (the author reversed his CD initials to DC), Jack London’s Martin Eden (the ME initials signify the London “me”), Colette’s The Vagabond (partly based on the author’s time performing in music halls), L.M. Montgomery’s Emily trilogy (the struggle to become a successful writer), and Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God (set in the hometown of the author’s youth and featuring a relationship inspired by a real-life relationship Hurston had).

Also: Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Tom is an amalgam of the young Twain and two of his schoolmates), John Steinbeck’s East of Eden (which includes characters based on the author’s ancestors and features a brief cameo by a young John himself), Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front (World War I trauma), Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree (living down-and-out in Tennessee), Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine (small-town Illinois childhood), E.L. Doctorow’s World’s Fair (growing up in the Bronx during the 1930s), Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar (depression), and Joanne Greenberg’s I Never Promised You a Rose Garden (schizophrenia).

What are your favorite semi-autobiographical novels?

(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.

103 thoughts on “Partly Autobiographical Literature Is More Than Partly Interesting

  1. Another novel that draws from an author’s personal background is the excellent novel I just finished re-reading yesterday, Flaubert’s ‘Sentimental Education’. While the Flaubert surrogate character, Frederick Moreau, is not strictly the same kind of person that Flaubert himself probably was, his background and early vocational (and recreational) pastimes are very close. Unlike most author’s first novels, there was an early version of this novel that was probably what he honed his craft on before turning to less autobiographical works such as ‘Madame Bovary’ and ‘Salambo’. The final, published version of ‘Sentimental Education’ is actually more like his third full-length novel and definitely shows the maturity that came with years of experience of living and writing. It is unjustly neglected in favor of ‘Madame Bovary’. But I will have more to say about that when I write and post my review (hopefully tomorrow).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Brian! Interesting comment. I looked for “Sentimental Education” in my local library after you mentioned it a while back, but unfortunately it wasn’t there. I’m VERY curious to read a Flaubert novel other than “Madame Bovary.” I look forward to your review!

      Like

      • If your local library doesn’t carry ‘A Sentimental Education’, then you can support your local Interlibrary Loan service and request that they borrow one from another library. That’s how I’ve obtained the last three books that I’ve read. I’m finding that it’s the only alternative as most public libraries stop carrying books that don’t circulate regularly and, unfortunately, they weed out many of the classics. My local library only carries two Balzac novels now, thanks to me checking them out within the last year. They have NO Emile Zola any more and only ‘Madame Bovary’ by Flaubert. If you can get these somehow from academic libraries that’s the only way to access them these days (other than purchasing them through Amazon).

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks, bobess48! Great advice, and I might do that. I have so many novels on my to-read list that when one isn’t at the library, I just move down the list to another one. 🙂 (Once in a while, I’ll buy the book or request it as a present if someone asks what I want for my birthday or the holidays.)

          You’re right that libraries often weed out their collections, including various works of classic authors. I remember 10 or so years ago my local library carrying many of the lesser-known novels from famous authors’ canons in addition to the better-known ones. Now it’s mostly the better-known ones, sometimes with multiple copies.

          A shame about the lack or near-lack of Zola, Balzac, and Flaubert at your local library. Nineteenth-century French authors might get a complex…

          Like

      • Haven’t read A Sentimental Education but I have read Salammbo, one of the more interesting and diverting works of fiction to come out of 19th century France– by way of ancient Carthage. Want to spend time in a place literally unimaginable before arrival? That’s the ticket!

        Also re the autobiographical element in Flaubert’s fiction, I provide one of Flaubert’s most quoted utterances: “Madame Bovary c’est moi.” But then, as I have written elsewhere in the blogs, he also said “Stupidity is the wish to conclude.”

        Liked by 1 person

        • “Madame Bovary c’est moi” — can’t get more semi-autobiographical than that, jhNY! And “Salammbo” sounds great.

          Speaking of 19th-century French lit, it just occurred to me that the most semi-autobiographical Zola novel is probably “The Masterpiece” — in which the author friend of the artist protagonist plays a prominent secondary role. (Very) loosely based on the friendship between Zola and Cezanne.

          Like

          • As I am stacks behind, I make no promises, but if a fellow were to read Zola, which one of all?

            Salammbo is great and strange– and for the time of its creation, up to date archeologically, and I’m not as certain, historically. I may have mentioned it before, but Flaubert also had his hand in an archeological project, helping, with the rest of his party, to clear away the sand obscuring Abu Simbel– when he toured Egypt as a young man.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Thanks, jhNY, for that additional “Salammbo” and Flaubert info!

              “Germinal” is probably Zola’s best novel — and my personal favorite of his. About miners, a miners’ strike, and more.

              Like

  2. ooh, also Burmese Days by Orwell. very good, very semi-autobiographical, and another case where an author’s first novel is the one that draws most closely on his or her own life experiences

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, jshupac! GREAT example of a partly autobiographical first novel. Like many people, all I’ve read of Orwell is “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” “Animal Farm,” and a few nonfiction pieces here and there. I just enthusiastically added “Burmese Days” to my list.

      Like

  3. Ernest Hemingway, ambulance driver among the Italians during the First World War, as author drew on his experiences in the field and off to write A Farewell to Arms. Later as war correspondent in Spain during the civil war there, he drew on the settings and his tours of the lines to write For Whom the Bell Tolls, a good novel which has drawn at least one unhelpful enthusiast (see S. Palin’s enabler).

    Dashiell Hammett was a private detective for several years, and out of that experience created The Continental Op, a nameless detective who features in several short stories, and my favorite of his novels, Red Harvest.

    F. Scott Fitzgerald mingled with the glitterati of his day on the beaches and in the bars and lounges of the great hotels in the south of France, making friends sometimes and an awful lot of acquaintances– all of which and all of whom became grist for the mill that became Tender Is the Night. His Pat Hobby stories, and his unfinished novel The Last Tycoon drew on his time of toil in Tinseltown.

    Far less well known, and known primarily for one novel/memoir is American writer Frank Conroy, author of Stop-Time, a coming-of-age novel coming out in the late 60’s. Of Stop-Time Norman Mailer wrote, “Stop-Time is unique, an autobiography with the intimate unprotected candor of a novel. What makes it special, however, is the style, dry as an etching, sparse, elegant, modest, cheerful. Conroy has that subtle sense of the proportion of things which one usually finds only in established writers just after the mellowing of their career.” Haven’t read it in decades, but Mailer’s right– at least about this book, anyway.

    Conroy was also a fairly accomplished jazz pianist– I met him at a party in the late ’70’s and we got along musically pretty well– me singing, and him at the piano. I’m sure we both enjoyed ourselves, as we both said so. His later novel, Body and Soul, I also read, but found it not the book of wonder that Stop-Time is, though it does have a musician for its central character, and some insightful passages about music, making it too at least semi-autobiographical.

    Lastly, there’s my current obsession, Stendahl, whose account in The Charterhouse of Parma of the battle of Waterloo, where he wasn’t, was based on his first-hand experience of other battles, mostly in Russia serving on Napoleon’s staff, where he was. (His eyewitness description of the siege of Moscow was lost with all his effects in a baggage train abandoned during the headlong retreat that followed– a tragedy for scholars.) Interestingly, Stendahl’s Waterloo battlefield descriptions proved inspirational to Tolstoy as he wrote War and Peace.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lots of great information here, jhNY! For instance, I didn’t know that the memorable battlefield moments in “The Charterhouse of Parma” had some influence on Tolstoy’s “War and Peace.” Wow! And such a shame Stendhal’s siege of Moscow description was lost.

      John McCain being a fan of “For Whom the Bell Tolls” makes me doubt my feeling that it’s Hemingway’s best novel. 🙂 As I might have mentioned, my wife’s father (who died before I met her) was an Abraham Lincoln Brigade member who fought in the Spanish Civil War. Wonder if he ever ran into Hemingway, Orwell, Dorothy Parker, Paul Robeson, etc.

      I agree — a number of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s works are partly autobiographical.

      Last but not least, thanks for all the interesting thoughts about Frank Conroy — including your remembrances of meeting him!

      Like

      • It was Stendahl’s account of Moscow and the Russian campaign that was lost— not Waterloo (he wasn’t around for Waterloo).

        As for the Lincoln Brigade, no, I don’t recall you mentioning him before, and I hope he met some or all of the people listed– while your father-in-law was fighting, my father, a teen, was raising money for them on the streets of NYC. The mother of a neighbor in my apartment building was also active around these parts raising money for them. I sometime wonder if his mother and my father ever crossed paths…

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks, jhNY! I fixed my reply. I obviously zoned out — your previous comment was totally clear.

          Great that your father raised money for the Brigade as a teen!

          My wife doesn’t have a lot of information about her father’s experiences in Spain. Like a lot of men of his generation, he apparently didn’t want to talk about his war experiences much. He ended up getting blacklisted in the 1950s, and I’m sure having been a member of the Brigade didn’t help. So admirable to have bravely volunteered for the Brigade, but many communism-obsessed reactionaries saw that differently.

          Like

          • “Like a lot of men of his generation, he apparently didn’t want to talk about his war experiences much. ”

            One of my girlfriends’ fathers was a Marine that landed on Iwo Jima– and though I knew him for a few years, and he was generally a gregarious and affable sort, that remains all I know about his experience on that bloody island.

            My grandfather was a hero, minor scale, in the Mexican Revolution– but he fought against the revolutionaries. When I was a tiny boy, he would make me practice my fast-draw with my cap gun, because, he said, if ever I was stranded in the desert, I’d need to draw quickly, so that I could hit jack rabbits. Only later, from my father, did I learn my grandfather had escaped from capture by overpowering a guard and taking his pistol. He then hid out in the desert and lived till he found friendly troops– by shooting jack rabbits.

            I miss those old strong and silent types.

            Liked by 1 person

            • The “strong and silent types” — exactly! Their reticence may have been partly modesty, partly not wanting to dredge up painful memories, or some combination of that and/or other things. As for your grandfather, he sounds like a character out of a novel!

              Like

              • My grandfather was an amazing man in many ways– his love of music was large and central in his life, and so, my own– he had an extensive collection of classical 78’s, (a portion of which may still exist in a family house in Mexico; they were still there to be heard and enjoyed 35 years ago), and a number of of professionals– composers, performers– as friends during his many years here in NYC. But he was also a master of languages– he could read seven, and made money at the end of his life as a translator, mostly of technical material. He was found to have been working on a translation of a huge refrigeration unit’s technical manual the day he died– don’t know, if I ever did, from English into which language of his many.

                We still have a painting he had commissioned of Zapata’s army’s entrance on horseback into a small dusty Mexican town, painted from a high vantage point– the town’s church tower, where my grandfather was hiding– he was a soldier for the government at the time….

                He was a teen in military school when the revolution began, and endured many hardships– chief of which was under-nourishment, which affected the development and health of his heart. He survived on a sort of creamed corn for months on end– and later in life, understandably, would have no such dish on his table. His heart gave out after his 5th attack, age 65.

                My fast-draw, such as it was, never came into practical use, thank goodness, but he used to do a trick at my bedtime as a tiny boy: he’d blow a smoke ring (Camels– yeah, even with the bad heart) that would sail through the air for about five feet and break against my chest– I was required to lie down as it hit me. As soon I was able (age 13), I learned how to blow smoke rings. At age 38, I finally gave up smoking (yeah, Camels), and smoke rings, for good.

                By the way, because he would talk about his experiences, I did not include Mandy’s father in my short account of those strong and silent types. He was a medic in the Battle of the Bulge, and had plenty to say.

                Like

                • Your grandfather was definitely amazing — in the “Renaissance man” vicinity, plus having dealt with major hardship as a young man. All excellently described by you. And it sounds like your wife’s father had some very intense battle experiences.

                  Notable ancestors/relatives are more a part of my wife’s extended family than mine. The Abraham Lincoln Brigade dad, two Pulitzer Prize winners, etc.

                  Like

                  • Are you able to trace your family back several generations? Or do you end up in a dead end after a couple? I only ask because such dead ends are likely to be the only reason for lack of notability– the more generations you can go back, the more the thread-lines of relationships radiate out in all directions, at which point you find yourself in some remote connection with a great many, among them, several notables perhaps.

                    And inevitably, Kevin Bacon.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • Ha! Nice “punch line.” Great point about how going back far enough could reveal some notables. I don’t have much information from any earlier than my grandparents’ generation. Probably could find somewhat more info if I really worked at it, but I haven’t.

                      Like

  4. Hi Dave, another author I thought about was one I’ve mentioned many times on this blog — Albert Payson Terhune — who wrote many books about his beloved collies raised on Sunnybank Farms.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. On another note, one of my yoga friend Audrey perhaps in her mid 60`s or more, always have a smiling face and keeps connection with all in the group I am actually new in there and go only one day instead of three.

    Yesterday at the Library she came with a smile as always face and we were talking about different topics. She said with a broad smile she is Catholic but please ” don`t hold it against me”,
    I said well Pope Francis is so popular now . Her response was she is mad at him. Then she went on saying that she is an “Incest survivor” and since Francis did nothing about disciplining or firing Cardinal Law she is disappointing in him.

    The topic of our conversation then was in “Spotlight” is a 2015 American biographical drama film directed by Tom McCarthy and written by McCarthy and Josh Singer.
    Audrey went on saying the movie was extremely well done and encourages everyone to see it.

    My friend said she has evolved from her early abuse in a wonderful way and has seven children grown including one set of twins .
    Now spends hours of her time in hospice center.

    I was speechless and gave her a warm embrace.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, bebe! Such a sobering/touching story. Some people go through so much, and it’s inspiring when things end up being okay for at least some of them.

      Pope Francis is great in many ways, but he still has his blind spots — and could do more in such areas as the horrific child-abuse scandals involving priests.

      (I changed the “he is” to “she is.” 🙂 )

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh thanks…I was writing in a hurry and was tardy for not editing it.

        Hope Dave you are having a fantastic day it is your Birthday !!!!

        Have a great one with you family

        Liked by 1 person

              • Hey Dave, happy belated birthday to you! It sounds like you had a good day. I’m still muddling along, trying to get a few things done every day in anticipation for my upcoming move. The only sticking point is how much the Seller is going to do himself to fix things based on the Inspection Report, or if he’ll agree to either lower the selling price, or give me a credit at settlement. He’s kind of an odd duck, in that he’s allowing me to move into my home four days early, but only me and not my cat Jessie. I’m not sure what he thinks my 9 lb. cat will do in 4 days, but it means I’ll have to board her or get a hotel room that accepts pets. I think I mentioned this in one of my replies to bebe. These are the kind of things that drive me crazy! I spent part of the day putting things in boxes, mostly books (all my leather-bound books and other classic literature I’ve picked up at B&N) as well as a box of DVDs and half of one of CDs. There’s still so much left! I could only come up with a 1/2 garbage bag to be thrown out. But I still have at least a month to go.

                Liked by 1 person

                • Thank you, Kat Lib! I did have a good birthday. 🙂

                  Ah, the buyer/seller post-inspection negotiation. I remember it well in 2014. Not an easy process.

                  And it’s so strange that you’re allowed to move in early but not your beloved cat!

                  Good luck with the packing — of books and everything else.

                  Like

  6. Howdy, Dave!

    — What are your favorite semi-autobiographical novels? —

    1. “The Dharma Bums,” by Jack Kerouac.
    2. “On the Road,” by Jack Kerouac.
    3. “The Subterraneans,” by Jack Kerouac.
    4. “Book of Dreams,” by Jack Kerouac.
    5. “Doctor Sax,” by Jack Kerouac.*

    *I have a feeling “Doctor Sax” should rank one or two spots higher on this listicle, but I can’t remember a thing about it. (The fault is not in our literary star author but in myself.)

    J.J. (Alias MugRuith1)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, J.J.! You are quite a Jack Kerouac fan! Like many people, I’ve only read “On the Road.”

      (Come to think of it, Mario Vargas Llosa’s excellent “Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter” — which you recommended a while back — is also semi-autobiographical.)

      Like

      • — Like many people, I’ve only read “On the Road.” —

        I like “On the Road” a lot, but I like “The Dharma Bums” a lot more, which is saying something.

        — Mario Vargas Llosa’s excellent “Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter” — which you recommended a while back — is also semi-autobiographical. —

        And funny, too!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. What a great subject! The first author that popped into my mind was Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. I adore her works about her life in Florida! She was trying to be the author of gothic romances, and they were not being welcomed by her publisher. They suggested that she write about things closer to home. The end result are the classics “The Yearling” and “Cross Creek”, plus many other works!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi Dave,

    I spent a couple of days last week reading Khaled Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner” and was hoping that your topic this week would allow me to talk about it. It’s not clear how much of Hosseini’s first novel is autobiographical (depends which website you look at) but he included a foreword in the edition that I just read which said that his life and the life of his protagonist, Amir, mirrored each other in many ways. Funnily enough, Hosseini claims that when he returned to Afghanistan, he felt that it wasn’t his first time as Amir had already had similar experiences. I’m not sure that I quite believe that, and there were parts of the novel that were a tad too incredible to digest very well, but overall it was a very compelling book that I couldn’t put down. A tiny part of me feels like I was sucked in by some overly sentimental writing, and some pretty convenient plot twists, but Khaled’s characters were completely unforgettable, and I loved spending time with them, so what more can you ask for?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Susan!

      Thanks for the excellent description of “The Kite Runner.” I agree that it’s a great novel that’s perhaps too melodramatic at times but very readable and “page-turning.” Interesting but not surprising that it had some autobiographical elements. If so, that was very honest/brave of Khaled Hosseini because in some respects Amir is a not very likable character — especially the way he treated Hassan at times.

      Amir’s trip back to Afghanistan and his encounter with that Taliban guy — yikes! 😦

      Like

    • Excellent point, Bill. Virtually all fiction emerging from authors’ brains is at least somewhat autobiographical. It’s like when Charles M. Schulz said that part of himself was in every “Peanuts” character — not just Charlie Brown. I guess I was discussing fiction that’s semi-autobiographical in a rather direct way.

      Donald Trump’s fiction-speak is not only autobiographical by kind of “psychotic-al.” 🙂

      Like

      • Then there George Herriman, the genius behind the cartoon strip Krazy Kat, who based his setting for the strip on the scenery surrounding his vacation home: Coconino County, Arizona. Don’t believe, however, there was a brickyard on site.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Ha, jhNY! Fictional bricks. 🙂

          And, yes, the background drawing in “Krazy Kat” is very “Southwest evocative.”

          As you know, William Randolph Hearst loved that iconic comic strip (distributed by the Hearst Corp.-owned King Features Syndicate) and championed it for decades despite George Herriman’s modest newspaper client list. Maybe the only thing Hearst ever did that I agree with!

          Like

          • “Maybe the only thing Hearst ever did that I agree with!”

            By coincidence, last night talking to Mandy, I said more or less the same thing– that his love of Krazy Kat was his most important achievement!

            Liked by 1 person

              • wikipedia:
                “The two newspapers which ran the Yellow Kid, Pulitzer’s World and Hearst’s Journal American, quickly became known as the yellow kid papers. This was contracted to the yellow papers and the term yellow kid journalism was at last shortened to yellow journalism, describing the two newspapers’ editorial practices of taking (sometimes even fictionalized) sensationalism and profit as priorities in journalism.”

                Got to love the Yellow Kid a little; he was among the first strips– even if the term ‘yellow journalism’ will forever be attached.

                Liked by 1 person

                • Yup, that’s the origin of Yellow Journalism! As you probably also know, “Yellow Kid” cartoon creator Richard Outcault later created the “Buster Brown” comic that subsequently lent its name to shoes.

                  Like

                    • You’re welcome! (I’m surprised there’s something you didn’t know. 🙂 ) Outcault WAS quite an artist. Perhaps better at drawing than writing, as was his cartoonist contemporary Winsor McCay (“Little Nemo in Slumberland”).

                      Like

                  • Little Nemo, and McCay, I do know, a little, having seen several of his Sunday best— and Gertie the Dinosaur and another moving picture cartoon of a more sea-going sort– every line on every frame having been drawn by the artist. Great stuff!

                    Liked by 1 person

  9. Almost all of the novels by Richard Yates were autobiographical. I read his biography and when I finished the book I read many of his books and felt as though I was reading the biography all over again. Thomas Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again was autobiographical too. Right now I’m reading Swans of Fifth Avenue about Truman Capote and his entourage. Again, feel like I’ve done that.

    Like

    • Thank you, Claire! I’ve been meaning to get to Richard Yates for some time (“Revolutionary Road,” etc.). Hope to read him soon.

      And great mentions of “You Can’t Go Home Again” and Truman Capote!

      Speaking of Capote, as many know there’s some semi-autobiography in “To Kill a Mockingbird” — with Scout Finch partly based on Harper Lee, Atticus Finch partly based on Lee’s father, and Dill partly based on Lee’s childhood friend Capote.

      Like

  10. This is only tangentially related to the blog because it deals with the Bronte’s. I noticed a DVD at the library last week of a film, ‘The Bronte Sisters’, from 1979. I had never heard of it so I checked it out and watched it. The experience of watching it is somewhat disorienting. For one thing, it’s a French film, with very French, very alluring actresses. Marie-France Pisier plays Charlotte, Isabelle Adjani plays Emily and Isabelle Huppert plays Anne. The production values are pretty decent–costumes, sets and settings–it actually looks like it’s filmed on those sweeping moors. However, everyone speaks French, obviously. It’s particularly absurd when I believe Charlotte and Emily are trying to obtain teaching positions on the continent and Charlotte says something like, “I speak a little French.” IN FRENCH in a movie where nothing BUT French is spoken. Also, I think Marie-France Pisier and Isabelle Adjani look far too seductive to be plausible as the very plain Bronte’s, at least, based upon the painting by their brother Branwell, who also looks extremely Gallic. Another aspect of the production seems to be to incorporate perhaps more similarities between them and their works than perhaps actually existed. The relationship between Emily and Branwell seems a bit too similar to that between Cathy and Heathcliff. Emily wanders about the moors, a wild child, and throws Charlotte out of her room when Charlotte sneaks in and reads what sounds like a line from ‘Wuthering Heights’ to her. It’s obvious that she’s been snooping. Charlotte thinks Emily’s works are brilliant but Emily is very reclusive and opposed to being published. Finally, Charlotte and Anne go to meet a publisher who has wanted to meet the real authors, Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, without Emily, to prove that the authors are actually women. Emily dies shortly after Branwell, who appears to have died from an opium overdose. Emily refuses medical help. Anne also dies soon afterward,so Charlotte is the last survivor of the siblings. In reality, the father outlived all four of the children. Then Charlotte actually gains some degree of literary notoriety and meets William Thackeray, who invites her into his box at the opera. By this time, she is married. While I don’t doubt that all of the Bronte’s fiction contained some highly autobiographical elements, the film draws the parallels between their novels and their lives a little too neatly. Mostly after seeing the film I simply wanted to read the novels as well as a good bio of the family, which appears to be ‘The Brontes’ by Juliet Barker. So I bought it for my Kindle and will read (re-read) the major works by each of them soon and then read that massive bio. The film is worth seeing from the standpoint of literary curiosity, although not very significant otherwise.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Brian, it sounds like that film (which I wasn’t familiar with) took some MAJOR dramatic license even as I recognize some of the facts you describe so well. And the “Frenchness” of the movie definitely seems a bit strange — heck, the semi-autobiographical Englishwoman Lucy Snowe of Charlotte Bronte’s “Villette” was most certainly a fish out of water before adapting somewhat to life in France. And how many times do films based on novels star actresses and actors who are significantly better looking than the fictional characters they play? Too many times. 😦

      Like

      • As you may know, friend Elizabeth Gaskell was asked by Charlotte Bronte’s father, after her death, to write her biography– the first, I think, and probably the only biography authorized by the family. I have read her (she often appears in print as Mrs. Gaskell) only a wee bit– a good ghost story in Oxford’s collection of Victorian ghost stories and the first chapter of her novel, Cranford, which I received only last month as a gift (in a fine turn of the 20th century edition bound in red and gold). Reading the latter was pleasurable and entertaining– and as I was doing so, foremost in my thoughts was the notion that you might really enjoy Cranford.

        I plan to return to it soon– I just finished my rereading of the Charterhouse of Parma and am in the thick of a late-ish Elmore Leonard I picked up from a bookselling friend.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Interesting! I’ve never thought of reading Elizabeth Gaskell’s fiction, because it doesn’t seem to have a super-good reputation these days. But if “Cranford” is worth reading, on my list it goes. 🙂 Thanks, jhNY!

          I’ve read only one Elmore Leonard novel — possibly “LaBrava,” but not sure…it was way back in the 1980s. Had mixed feelings — too macho or too terse or something.

          Like

          • Re Leonard– he’s very good at what he does, I think, but I’ve always had the problem of never really liking anybody in his books– good guys or bad. Still, he lived around Detroit all his life, wintering in FL, I’m guessing, at least after success. And that’s where some of his fiction is set– I’m not sure how much, as it’s been decades between the book I’m reading and the previous Leonard I read. Any rate, in the ’80’s, he’s got a scene of a big industrial machine auction (the machines once made bolts and parts for Chrysler, etc.) with buyers from Japan and Mexico– I wonder if you were to read through his oeuvre start to finish if you might not be able to trace the city’s decline….

            sorta the way you learn there used to be sidewalks made of squares of rubber in Los Angeles by reading Chandler– in one of his novels, opening scene I think, there are workmen prying them up and trucking them off for the war effort.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Fascinating to pick up societal, industrial, and other changes in the “background” of an author’s novels if read chronologically. And, yes, not easy (though possible) to like a work of fiction when one doesn’t like any of the characters.

              Like

          • Will report back re Cranford when I’ve read it all, but I can say today that her ghost story was a good one, and possibly the first wherein a ghost plays an organ– see Ghostbreakers (1940’s Bob Hope movie) for something similar.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Thanks! Will look forward to hearing more about “Cranford.” And a good ghost story takes talent to write. (I loved rereading Oscar Wilde’s “The Canterville Ghost” a couple of months ago.)

              Like

        • Hi jhNY, I don’t know if you’re still checking in, but I’ve got a couple of Gaskill DVDs that I enjoyed very much. The BBC is so great at adapting these books. There’s one entitled “Wives & Daughters” that I don’t remember very well; but there is a “Cranford” production starring the one and only Judi Dench, along with other actors I know from other BBC productions. I’ll look forward to you review of “Cranford” and whether it’s worthwhile to pick up the books.

          Liked by 1 person

          • I plan to read Cranford in the next few weeks, and will report in– think I’ll wait on the BBC dramatization till I’ve got the actual book under my belt, but will look out for it after!

            Liked by 1 person

  11. Hi Dave, as someone who has suffered from depression, I’d relate most to “The Bell Jar,” by Sylvia Plath. However, the most insightful book on this subject was William Styron’s book “Visible Darkness.” I know this wasn’t a novel, but it seemed to capture the essence of being someone who was suffering from a mental illness.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Very sorry to hear that, Kat Lib. Not an easy thing. But glad you found some insight and comfort in William Styron’s book. I’ve read two of his novels — “Sophie’s Choice” and “The Confessions of Nat Turner” — but have not read “Visible Darkness.” And “The Bell Jar” IS a memorable novel, albeit not very comforting in a lot of ways. 😦

      Like

      • Dave, it’s great that there are so many more people out there now who are willing to talk about depression and bipolar disorder. When I had my first bout of a major affective disorder back in 1988, it was still regarded as something one didn’t talk about and was seen as a weakness. When people would ask me later on about depression in a loved one, I’d always tell them to read Styron’s memoir and say to them that this is what it’s like to go through it. Anyway, I’ll probably come up with more examples of semi-autobiographical novels. As it is, I’m feeling brain-dead after spending several hours with a home inspector on Saturday (while my poor cat Jessie was traumatized after having spent 4 hours in a cat carrier, while the inspection in my condo was going on); and today I spent 2 hours with a mortgage loan officer, which was excruciating. I sometimes hear that song lyric, “Let’s call the Whole Thing Off,” but I think I’m in too deep now. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

        • Sorry you’ve had to deal with that for nearly 30 years, Kat Lib. But it IS great that discussion of depression, bipolar disorder, etc., is more out in the open now. I’ve had some personal experiences with that with my brother, my former mother-in-law, and others.

          Navigating the endless/tedious/confusing details of selling or buying a home is indeed a nightmare, not to mention watching the stress on your cat on top of that. It’s good that you have a sense of humor about it — and things will settle down soon!

          Liked by 1 person

        • Hi Kat Lib hope you and Jessie survived okay..my days are coming and already having sleepless nights thinking about placing the house in the market. Dave has already gone though that last year..it is way too much work including all the headaches . 😦

          Liked by 1 person

          • bebe, you might be putting your house on the market? If so, the best of luck with that! It IS a big headache, and the cause of sleepless nights. But when it’s over, it can be a glad-we-did-it thing. We netted a good amount of money after paying off the mortgage and other debts, we now have lower housing costs, and I don’t have to worry any more about constantly fixing a 90-year-old house.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Well my husband is talking about it for a while, now more so called an agent to come over in the weekend to suggest. So much to do…getting rid of clutter is the main thing but other works and i don`t feel up to it.
              Love this house but we need a smaller one then again move back to Nashville he thinks..don`t know.

              Liked by 1 person

              • I see — being discussed but not definite. A smaller house can definitely have some advantages. But getting rid of clutter IS daunting — it took me many months. But it was good exercise lugging large garbage bags of stuff to the curb. 🙂

                Again, the best of luck with whatever you decide.

                Liked by 1 person

                • it is definite but only a matter of time, we got the outside painted ( mainly garage and trims) last fall, now the main room. We bought this house mid `08 peak time , remember last few months of W the market was sliding daily ? Anyways…so don`t want to spend too much doing things. keep you posted…
                  lugging bags ha..two bags went to lupus foundation today need to do way more. When moved from Nashville to here..for a couple of months stuff was in storage. Then bringing them back..movers lost so much ( or stole) 😦

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • Sorry I misunderstood, bebe — so it IS definite. Great that you’ve already had some work done to make the house more ready for sale. Didn’t realize you’ve lived there only since 2008. As you said, a peak time before the economy crashed. I remember, when moving, giving away some stuff and selling some other stuff and just throwing out still other stuff. Hope you have a MUCH better experience with movers this time around. Awful what happened to your possessions back then. 😦

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • Now out water heater broke today…so comes the plummer for the umpteenth time , something else was wrong so he was back and forth a few times and took care of it. Ten year old house Dave..whole system we changes in 2013. Our house heater broke twice over the years in frigid winter . That how things goes these days 😦

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • I wish I could have clicked on a “dislike” button for your house troubles, bebe. Sorry about the water heater. Sounds like it had problems way too soon. (I had a couple of water heaters in my former house die — the second time when my basement flooded during Hurricane Irene in 2011.) Sorry about the past heating issues, too.

                      Liked by 1 person

          • Yes, we both survived that day. What Jessie doesn’t know is that we’ll have a few days between moving stuff out of my condo until we can move into our new home. The sellers’ were nice enough to let me move in a few days before settlement, but not my cat. So, I’ll have to put her in a boarding kennel for a few days, or more likely, I’ll get a hotel room that accepts pets. I know what you’re feeling now, bebe; this whole moving thing is not fun at all and I can’t wait for it to be over! Good luck if you put your home on the market!

            Liked by 2 people

            • Oh thanks..I need that a lot. Jessie will survive well, I never board my little Pomchi…when out of town I keep her across the street, I pay in her daughter`s name who does not even live there anymore and my pet lives with her other two dogs and sleeps in their bed and all. But they are not always available so I hardly go out of town these days.
              Good luck moving.

              Liked by 1 person

  12. Good evening Dave..what a week it has been and continuing…I just borrowed a book ” On the Move” by Oliver Sacks more autobiographical in nature. I have read some others saying the book is so compassionate and full of heart.
    I am looking forward in reading it.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s