I’ve been asked to do a post on some of my favourite writers and it got me thinking about why certain books and writers are favourites of mine.
It begins by discovering something beautiful, then finding out everything at all possible about the writer. This includes memoirs, diaries, articles, hearsay, everything. I make no distinction between art and writer. If the writer does not live up to my lofty expectations of the artist either by being a swot in person or having unforgivable misdemeanor- misogyny, dullness etc they are promptly removed from my list.
This has of course led to a lot anxiety for me. V.S Naipul was once unceremoniously dropped after revelations he treated his wife badly. I couldn’t read Camus or Ted Hughes the same again without thinking about their tragic wives devastated by their infidelity.
Purists will say judge a book on its merits. I think the book is a part of the artist, and to understand the book or philosophy you need to understand the life of the artist. As Nietzsche said “All philosophy (and art) is an unconscious memoir.”
Many would disagree, saying a purely imaginative work should be enjoyed on its merits without an unjustified intrusion into the private world of an author. And who are we to judge, for artists are no saints. It certainly wouldn’t be a scrutiny I myself would enjoy.
But I don’t think the creative process happens in isolation and I’m always fascinated to read of the life and experiences of the writers which you know have inspired a favourite fiction creation and how it came into being.
Would the works of the Bronte sisters or Dickens be understood in isolation from their own experiences of injustice in the society of the time? Would Oscar Wilde’s delightful extrapolations on sin and hypocrisy not be influenced his trial by Victorian puritans on sodomy charges?
The lines between reality and fiction can sometimes blur, and finding where the distinction is and the world that informs the artists you love helps you understand so much more about a book and its significance.
When you read a book are you curious to know more about the writer and their creative process?