Great authors are also like books; the more they are read, and read about, more is revealed about them. To understand the works of great writers, we must have a thorough understanding of their lives, and know what frame of mind they were in while they crafted their iconic works. Thus, we bring to you another edition of Kickass facts about authors, this time for the month of September.
“A person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom.”
If experience is what makes a man write, Roald Dahl is the epitome of it. Prior to his writing career, Roald Dahl landed in Egypt as a World War 2 fighter pilot, had gone on an expedition to Newfoundland, and worked for an oil company in Tanzania.
Dahl’s childhood was filled with extraordinary characters– from the Headmaster whose cane filled the hearts of young boys with dread, to the delight of holidays in Oslo with his ancient grandparents.
FACT – he had his adenoids removed at the age of 8 without any anaesthetic!
Dahl only started writing fiction when he moved to Washington D.C. as an air force attaché. It was clearly not a childhood dream of his to be a writer.
Looking back, he wrote:
“Without being asked to, I doubt if I’d ever have thought to do it.”
Though success came to him as a writer of children’s books, Dahl started his career writing stories for newspapers such as The Saturday Evening Post and The New Yorker. He and his wife had 5 kids, and the bed time stories he made up for his kids became the basis for his foray into writing books for children.
FACT: Roald Dahl also wrote screenplays for the films ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’, and the Bond film, ‘You Only Live Twice’.
While ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ propelled him towards literary superstardom, other works of his such as ‘James and the Giant Peach’, ‘Matilda’ and ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’ were also received to widespread acclaim and much fanfare.
FACT: Dahl was part of a fraternity of ‘gentlemen spies’ during the World War 2 along with Ian Fleming and David Ogilvy
While his books have been massive hits, he has also quite often received harsh criticism. Branded a racist by many in his portrayal of “Oompa-Loompas” in ‘Charlie And The Chocolate Factory’, critics have also argued that the harsh punishment received by adults from children does not set a good example. Despite this, however, Dahl continues to remain an icon and a favorite with parents and children alike.
“A little nonsense now and then, is cherished by the wisest men.”
“Very few of us are what we seem.”
Agatha, born in Torquay, was educated at home, and encouraged to write at a very young age by her mother. Interestingly enough, the first novel she wrote was a response to a challenge put forward to her by her sister.
FACT: The house where Christie was born was requisitioned during the Second World War by the United States Navy.
Growing up, she became accustomed to dealing with rejection. She had her first work, ‘The Mysterious Affair At Styles’ rejected by six publishers. However, when her first book was finally published, there was no looking back. Her unique genre of crime fiction with books such as ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’, ‘Murder On the Orient Express’, ‘A Murder Is Announced’, and ‘The Murder At Vicarage’, were all best-sellers. It is said, that she was second only William Shakespeare in terms of the number of books she sold.
FACT: Under the pen name of Mary Westmacott, she wrote the novel ‘Absent In The Spring’, over one single weekend.
She was praised for her unique characters as well. Hercule Poirot, arguably the most accomplished Belgian detective received a full page obituary in ‘The New York Times’ when he was killed off.
During the course of her life, Agatha Christie wrote 66 novels and 153 short stories. She passed away in 1976 but her works still continue to rank among the classics of literature.
“The best time to plan a book is while you’re doing the dishes.”
“Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.”
Born into an affluent family, with a quality education at Harvard, Eliot was going to be successful in whatever profession he chose to follow. What he chose to be was an avant-garde poet, and one of the best the world has even known.
While he was from Missouri, his family had their origins in New England and they visited the place quite regularly. In both places, the Nobel Prize winner recounts constantly feeling out of place. It was in poetry that he found solace.
FACT: T. S. Eliot was distantly related to three former US Presidents: John Adams, John Quincy Adams, and Rutherford B. Hayes.
After completing his education at Harvard, and then The Sorbonne in Paris, he moved to London. This is where he came under the influence of Ezra Pound who recognized his genius.
In London, he married dancer Vivienne Haigh-Wood. This led to him being estranged from his family back in the United States. He took a few jobs to support his family, and his passion for writing became secondary.
‘Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?’
In 1917, he published his first book, ‘Prufrock and Other Observations’. And with it the modernist classic “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”.The rest was history.
Mingling with personalities like Yeats, Butler and Marinetti broadened the Eliot’s horizons. The principle factors in the process of making his work more mature, however, were the death of his father in 1919 and his wife’s physical and mental problems. Following these two major events, Eliot suffered from a break-down. After recovering from this, however, he published, what is considered his greatest work, ‘The Waste Land’.
In the late 1920’s Eliot’s work was heavily influenced by his religious beliefs as well. While it was his ancestor who founded the stream of Unitarianism, he found peace in the Anglican Church. His works, ‘Journey of the Magi’, ‘A Song for Simeon’, ‘Animula’, ‘Marina’, and ‘Triumphal March’ all have a deep religious undertone. His ode to the Anglican Church is however contained in ‘Ash-Wednesday’ that seeks to explore the struggle a non-believer faces in initially following the faith.
The final quarter of his career saw him establish his legacy as a celebrated playwright as well. ‘Sweeney Agonistes’, ‘The Rock’, and ‘Murder At The Cathedral’ were widely watched in theatres in London, and throughout the UK.
Eliot is, however, remembered mainly as a poet. A professor at Cambridge, Harvard, and Princeton, he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948.
FACT: When T. S. Eliot gave a lecture in 1956, the audience was so large that he had to be given a basketball stadium.
Following the conclusion of World War 2, he did not write any more poems and focused more on his plays. He passed on soon after.
After his death, he has come under a fair amount of criticism for being “too academic”. He is still however, remembered as one of the foremost poets and playwrights of the modern era.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
(24/9/1896 – 21/12/1940)
“You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.”
The son of an alcoholic, Fitzgerald was born in Maryland and grew up surrounded by wealth and privilege. His mother was an adoring and intensely ambitious woman.
“Well, three months before I was born,” he wrote as an adult, “my mother lost her other two children … I think I started then to be a writer.”
He joined Princeton University in 1913, where he became a close friend of future writers and critics Edmund Wilson and John Peale Bishop. It was here where he decided to become a writer. His writing, however, came at the expense of his studies, because of which he was placed on academic probation.
Fitzgerald left Princeton in 1917 and joined the U.S. Army. Worried he might die during World War I, he hastily wrote his first book “The Romantic Egotist.” He later used about 80 pages from the unpublished book in his first published work “This Side of Paradise.”
FACT: F. Scott Fitzgerald was a deplorable speller. He was so bad, in fact, that American literary critic Edmund Wilson called This Side of Paradise “one of the most illiterate books of any merit ever published”.
F. Scott Fitzgerald met and fell in love with Zelda Sayre in 1918 at Montgomery, Alabama, when he was based in Camp Sheridan. Zelda accepted his proposal. However, his inability to convince her and her family that he could provide for her after marriage caused her to break off the engagement.
Fitzgerald moved to New York and started a career in advertisement. His ‘This Side of Paradise’ was published on March 26, 1920 and achieved instant success. Fitzgerald sent for Zelda and the two were married on April 3, 1920.
FACT: F. Scott Fitzgerald never did experience war while serving in the army.
With the roaring twenties just beginning, Fitzgerald is called by some as the “spokesman for the decade.” He was able to capture the era’s industrial growth, prosperity and changes in lifestyle and culture in his works.Along with his wife, he frequently visited Paris, particularly the French Riviera.
There he became friends with many literary greats, most notably Ernest Hemingway. However, behind the extravagant lifestyle, there was a real struggle to earn money. His books ‘The Beautiful and the Damned’ and ‘The Great Gatsby’ did not do well and despite his celebrity status he had to resort to short stories for magazines to make ends meet.
His fourth novel, ‘Tender is the Night’ was published in 1934 and received poor reviews and bad sales.
“Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy.”
However, his poor health due to his notorious drinking caused a lot of problems. He died of heart attack in 1940, before he could complete his final novel – ‘The Last Tycoon’. It was published posthumously in 1941.
His works were, unfortunately, not truly appreciated while he was alive. At the time of his death, his publisher had unsold copies from a second printing of just 3000 books. However, around 150,000 copies of ‘The Great Gatsby’ were sent to the soldiers serving in the Second World War. Since then ‘The Great Gatsby’ has sold more 25 million and is considered one of the greatest books ever written.
“Life is essentially a cheat and its conditions are those of defeat; the redeeming things are not happiness and pleasure but the deeper satisfactions that come out of struggle.”