Authors Who Fail to Live up to Our Expectations

We think so much of authors in terms of what they’ve written. A reading of Twilight might lead one to believe that Stephanie Meyer has a serious fetish for sparkling vampires and glistening werewolves. But then you find out that she is Mormon. She doesn’t drink or smoke. And your view of Stephanie Meyer becomes a bit distorted.

A fellow contributor shared a recent article on Cracked.com with me that made me think about who readers perceive authors to be versus who authors actually are. For instance, Shel Silverstein, best known for his children’s book The Giving Tree, worked for Playboy for almost forty years. He drew pictures for the erotic magazine, like this one:
 

(Credit: Playboy)
Classy, right? (Credit: Playboy)


 

Shel Silverstein
Shel Silverstein

Silverstein wasn’t just an author of children’s books and illustrator of porno mags though, he was also a poet and songwriter (ever heard of “A Boy Named Sue”?) who was often inspired by weed, writing songs like “I Got Stoned And Missed It.” What would parents think if they realized the author of their child’s favorite book was not only a pothead but, well, kind of a pervert?

Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, wrote about true love, domesticity, and virtue even in the face of great wealth. In 2009 scholar Harriet Reisen said in a NPR interview:

She wrote what she called ‘moral pap for the young’ because it pays well.

Earlier in life, the author had written lesser known works about lust and revenge, quite the opposite of “moral pap.” She published these works anonymously and never claimed them as her own to the public because she knew the books could hurt the sales of her popular Little Women series. Alcott was even known as having a life-long addiction to opium, which she began using after contracting typhoid fever as a nurse in the Civil War.
 

Louisa May Alcott
Louisa May Alcott

Does these revelations make Alcott a bad person? No. Although some might argue she’s a sell-out. It’s hard to rectify these contrasting images of the authors we thought we knew. But the truth is, it’s wrong of us to assume authors must in some way or shape represent the characters and novels that they’ve written. Alcott was complicated. Though she had an addiction, it was in a time when no one really understood addiction or how to help someone in her situation. Even though her writing was sweet, dealing with marriage and true love, she herself was never married. She was a feminist and an abolitionist.

I’d rather be a free spinster and paddle my own canoe. – Louisa May Alcott

So it seems, authors, as well as books, should not be judged by their covers.

– Melanie Figueroa

Melanie Figueroa

Melanie is the Editor in Chief at The Poetics Project. Having earned a masters in writing and book publishing from Portland State University and gained experience as an in-house editor, she now works as a freelance editor and writer. Her favorite book is The Bell Jar. You can follow Melanie on Twitter or Instagram @wellmelsbells.

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Comments

  1. louisamayalcatt

    Can’t say I agree here. To say LMA was a sell-out opium addict is way more than harsh. LMA worked every day of her life as everything from a domestic servent to a successful author. She was also a huge advocate for women’s rights and first woman to cast a vote in her hometown of Concord, MA. She kept quiet about the trashy stuff she wrote because it could have cost her her career in the 1800s. You cannot compare today’s morals/ethics/social standings to ones of her time. They are not the same. Her income was needed to keep her family’s household afloat. Her father gets lots of posthumous credit as being a great Transcendentalist, but he never earned enough to put food on the Alcott table. It was LMA’s hard work and talent that finally moved her family from a life of poverty.

    In my opinion, LMA EXCEEDED our expectations!

    1. melanienicholefigueroa

      Just to be clear, I never say in my post that I think LMA is a sell-out opium addict. It is a fact that she had an addiction to opium, and it is an opinion of some (not me) that she was a sell-out. But you bring up a lot of good points here. The post’s title is a bit satirical. LMA, like most of us, was extremely complex, but because of the popularity of the Little Women series, readers feel that LMA’s own personality and life must be reflected in her writing. She isn’t what we expect because, in fact, she led quite a different life than her characters, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

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