Literary Jerks

Did you know that many of the “great” male authors were also jerks?

I learned this while reading a poignant piece on motherhood and art called “Mother, Writer, Monster, Maid” by Rufi Thorpe. It explores the price of both being an artist and being a mother and how women may or may not be able to reconcile those roles and identities. In examining her own struggles as a mother and a writer, she mentions the latitude many male writers have had, but at the expense of their families. Here are some examples from Thorpe’s article.

*On her twelfth birthday, Faulkner’s daughter asked him not to get drunk, and he refused, telling her, “No one remembers Shakespeare’s children.”

*Tolstoy’s wife wrote in her journal:

“How little kindness he shows his family! With us he is never anything but severe and indifferent. His biographers will tell how he helped the porter by drawing his own water, but no one will know that he never once thought to give his wife a moment’s rest, or his sick child a drink of water. How in 32 years he never once sat for five minutes by his sick child’s bedside to let me have a rest, or a good night’s sleep, or go for a walk, or simply sit down for a while and recover from my labours.”

*Mark Twain: “Everytime I read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”

*Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “I am at a loss to understand why people hold Miss Austen’s novels at so high a rate, which seem to me vulgar in tone, sterile in artistic invention, imprisoned in their wretched conventions of English society, without genius, wit, or knowledge of the world. Never was life so pinched and narrow. … All that interests in any character [is this]: has he (or she) the money to marry with? … Suicide is more respectable.”

Carl_Van_Vechten_-_William_Faulkner

These stories and quotes change my perceptions of those literary greats.

I feel inclined to worship them less and pity them more.

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