Gloria: My mother died when I was six.
Arthur: Jesus! Don't they know what they do to kids?
Gloria: My father raped me when I was twelve.
Arthur: So, you would say you had six relatively good years?
--From "Arthur" 1981
What experiences in childhood forges a person? What experiences do writers use when hammering out a work? Even the most fantastical literary journey is ground in some reality. No one invents a character. Not really. Characters are hodgepodges. They are bits and pieces of experience stirred together.
Below are five writers' early lives. See if you can guess the writer based on the thumbnail sketch.
1) His mother keep his son from contact with the outside world. She treated him like a girl, and made him wear his hair long until the age of six. His father, a traveling salesman went mad, probably from syphilis, and had to be institutionalized. He died when his son was five. The son would suffer from terrifying nightly disturbances and nightmares which lasted until his own death.
2) This writer never forgave his mother for dressing him as a little girl in his youth. His father, perhaps to compensate, taught his son to love the out-door life. Unfortunately, his father committed suicide after losing his health to diabetes and his money to a bad real estate venture. The son went to public school, showed some promise as a writer, and abandoned a career as a reporter to join an Italian ambulance unit during WWI.
3) During her early childhood, her father suffered from a lengthy illness. When he finally saw a doctor, a case of diabetes was diagnosed but by that time his illness was advanced. His end was fraught with suffering which included the amputation of a leg. He died a few days past her 8th birthday. Her mother was twenty some years younger than her father; they had a cordial relationship. She did well in school and thrived as a writer, but never seemed happy. The guilt of her depression led her to suicide attempts. She spent a period of time institutionalized.
4) One of ten children, life was a struggle for the Edinburgh family. They were poor, and his Scottish father was an alcoholic. His father viewed himself as a failure compared to siblings who achieved some artistic and financial distinction in the empire. He was schooled by the Jesuits, noted having received a fair share of corporal punishment (ah the good old days) and almost became one of the order. He instead went on to become a doctor, writing in the quiet days when he was still building a practice.
Scroll down for the answers....
1) H.P. Lovecraft (of course)
2) Hemingway (what's with the little girls' clothes and these guys?)
3) Sylvia Platt (Cheer up)
4) Arthur Conan Doyle.