• Just how relevant is an author’s private life to our appreciation or understanding of his or her work? Many would argue that we should disregard it entirely. Others (myself included) might point out that while you can thoroughly enjoy a novel or poem without knowing who wrote it, any deeper grasp requires at least some basic information. It matters that Edna O’Brien is Irish, certainly, and it’s almost impossible to imagine how the writings of Jack Kerouac or Charles Bukowski could be separated from their life stories.
    • Disparaging a man’s looks simply doesn’t have the same impact. But a similar shame does attach itself to failures of “manhood,” such as the cuckolding of Saul Bellow, recently detailed in the Awl by Evan Hughes. In the late 1950s, Hughes explains, Bellow helped his “closest friend,” Jack Ludwig, get a job at the University of Minnesota, where Bellow himself was taking a position. Ludwig, unbeknownst to Bellow, was having an affair with Bellow’s wife, Sondra, who vented her frustration with the grim role of faculty spouse by adopting the “habit of criticizing Bellow’s sexual prowess to their friends,” most of whom were aware of the affair.
    • Bellows’ marital problems and sexual potency may seem as irrelevant to his writing as Wharton’s looks are to hers, but only if all biographical facts are ruled equally superfluous. Byron’s clubfoot, Flannery O’Connor’s lupus, Coleridge’s opium addiction and whatever was wrong with Hemingway do interest many readers because these factors shaped the life experiences from which the great work sprang.
    • I have a hard time writing off Franzen as biased against women writers per se, given that I only learned about geniuses like Christina Stead and Paula Fox because of his energetic efforts on behalf of their neglected books. The way I read it, he wants to see Wharton as, at heart, “an isolate and a misfit, which is to say a born writer,”

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

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