Do you picture an archetypal author as a bearded man who smells of pipe tobacco, clacking away at a typewriter in his lone cabin in the mountains? Or perhaps you envision a bluestocking woman in Paris copying memoirs by hand, a new man staying in her artist’s studio every evening? Who comes to mind when you picture the quintessential writer: Jack London, Virginia Woolf, Salman Rushdie or maybe Gabriel Garcia Marquez?
Readers usually focus on the fictional characters within an author’s works, but oftentimes the writers themselves have an aura or mythos surrounding their real-life self. Take for instance the tumultuous lifestyles of artists like Hemingway, Pablo Neruda, and Silvia Plath, just to name a few. Some of the images we conjure in our minds may be accurate, but other elements of an author’s real-life “persona” include legends crafted by the media or even by the authors themselves.
Would it change your reading of Ezra Pound’s poems to know that he was also a fascist? Or does the image of Jane Austen living out her days as a spinster effect the way we read her stories that tend to end in happy marriages? What do you think…are the personas built around authors themselves something to cultivate or is it all just smoke and mirrors?