Writers Gone Wild: The Feuds, Frolics, and Follies of Literature’s Great Adventurers, Drunkards, Lovers, Iconoclasts, and Misanthropes, by Bill Peschel; published 2010 by Penguin
Oh yeah, be excited.
They’re the writers you think you know because you’ve read their works. They’re the writers whose masterpieces will live forever in our literary canon. They’re the writers we all wish we could be.
…Maybe not so much.
Writers Gone Wild reveals all of the dirty secrets of the authors we know and love so well. As author Bill Peschel blatantly admits, it’s gossip. These stories do give us more complete views of the lives from which some of our best-loved literature arose. But let’s be honest. “They’re great fun to read.”
I’ll just give you a taste of the mishaps our authors got into:
When Voltaire was beaten, his friend just said, “You are a poet and you have been beaten. This is the order of things.” Ain’t that the truth.
Stuart Little was banned from the New York Public Library for “interspecies miscegenation.” Oh dear.
Upton Sinclair published an obituary for one of his characters to gain public attention. See, even back then authors had to market themselves.
William Faulkner worked at the post office and would go through people’s mail, throwing away what he thought they didn’t need and keeping the magazines for himself. Sometimes I wish I had a William Faulkner to go through my mail—but I’ll keep my magazines, thank you.
Virginia Woolf dressed up as an Abyssinian prince and fooled the British Royal Navy.
Honestly, most of these stories will make you laugh. Some are disgusting. I have a lot less respect for Ernest Hemingway and a few others. Some authors are examples of how very thin the line can be between genius and madness. I felt sorry for these and several authors, whose talent went unnoticed or ignored, or whose great writing arose from great personal struggle.
My favorite story is about Fyodor Dostoevsky, whose book The Brothers Karamazov changed my faith completely. Dostoevsky lived in communist Russia but was part of a group that wanted to spread Western ideas like democracy, women’s rights, etc. Dostoevsky was arrested and pled guilty to every charge. He was sentenced to death by lead poisoning.
He was brought out to watch three others sentenced to die by firing squad. The guns were loaded, the soldiers prepared, and just as they were about to shoot, an officer stopped them. He announced that the prisoners were actually going to be sent to a Siberian prison camp for four years, and then they had to serve in the army for six years. Dostoevsky’s life was spared, and he became a Christian while in Siberia. It’s because of these experiences with intense suffering that he was able to write novels like The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment.
I really enjoyed this collection because it does give us a more realistic picture of some of these authors. In a way, it’s nice to know that they had to deal with life just as we do. Some caved under the pressure, but others channeled their experiences into their work. I guess it’s all about what you do with what you’re given.