Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Lives of Our Authors

Sorry- but this is going to be a long post-

I am in my last semester of Undergrad- earning a Bachelor's Degree in English. After 2 years of college I am still ever-changing in my approach to literature. Everyone has theories and approaches of their own- but one particular idea has always been my favorite to contemplate- does the life of the author impacts their writing? Professors have different opinions and I've finally come to my conclusion.

I believe that knowing the author, knowing their struggles and sources of happiness adds a tone to their stories which are otherwise undetectable. Senses of hidden meanings and connotations are experienced more vividly when the reader possesses just a little bit of knowledge about the author.

When I initially started reading I never thought about the author (it simply never occurred to me that a little bit of information may enhance the reading experience). After some experience, I returned to read a few of the books from my past- this time having taken several literature courses which discussed the lives of some major authors-  Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Kate Chopin, and Virginia Woolf.

Below is evidence why I believe you must not rule-out the life of the author when reading their works.

**Frankenstein- I read Frankenstein during my first semester of college, I thoroughly enjoyed it, but thought of it only as a scary book. However, I recently re-read it after hearing more of the story behind Shelley's creation of Frankenstein and her own life. 

STORY- There is a scene which has always haunted me.  Victor has just given life to the creation (the monster). After the creature becomes aware of his surroundings and gains the power to walk, Victor goes into fits and becomes very ill. After weeks of sleep, he wakes up to see the creation reaching his hand out toward him, and Victor runs away.

It is this scene that always stands out when I think of Frankenstein- for the following reason:

Mary Shelley's mother died shortly after Mary's birth and her father paid very little attention to her.

Victor's response to his creation is that of Mary Shelley's father- running away from his "child/Creation."

I believe that Victor's response is symbolic of Mary's own feelings of rejection. This opinion conveys such strong and emotional feelings of sadness and pain to the reader.

** The Awakening- Another of my personal favorite moments where fiction and non-fiction intermingle is between the death of the protagonist from Kate Chopin's The Awakening and the actual life, or rather, death of Virginia Woolf.

Edna Pontellier is one of the very first feminist characters in the early 1900's. She is trapped in an oppressive marriage and is extremely unhappy. She meets a man and realizes her entrapment and leaves, takes in a lover and gets her own apartment (unheard of at the time). Anyways, at the end of her story she cannot handle the judgmental stares of her peers and she kills herself. But it is Edna Pontellier's end and Virginia Woolf's death that share a startling similarity.

Both of these women, unable to tolerate their circumstances- walk into a river a drown themselves. Now when I read The Awakening I am so much more aware of undertones of pain and sexism which I hadn't been so blatantly obvious before.

I guess the reason I'm sharing this is for one reason- the next time you pick up a work of fiction, get some information on the author and you'll have a stronger reading experience.

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