Meme, The Classics Club

The Classics Club – July 2014 Meme

Classics ClubEvery month I wonder if I’m going to keep up with the memes but then I remember that I’ve fallen so far behind on books that I might as well stay active through the memes… Perhaps I’ll read another classic next month, or the month after. I’m in no real rush these days and am enjoying reading whatever I want at the moment.

For July the hosts of The Classics Club have asked members

Have you ever read a biography on a classic author? If so, tell us about it. If you had already read works by this author, did reading a biography of his/her life change your perspective on the author’s writing? Why or why not? // Or, if you’ve never read a biography of a classic author, would you? Why or why not?

As far as I can recall, I have never read a literary bio. I have three or four Jane Austen and at least one (but probably two) Brontë sibling biographies sitting on my shelf, so clearly I would read one.* This harkens back to the August 2013 meme about reading forwards and my answer is similar.

Unlike, many readers, I do think it’s important to take into account an author’s life when reading their works. It doesn’t necessarily have to influence how you read the book or even how you interpret the book, but it can definitely change how you judge the book. Finding out an author was very young or old when they wrote a book or was incredibly sick or just married or any other number of extenuating factors can affect how you look at a book.

One of the reasons I love Austen and the Brontës so much is they were all writing ahead of their time and about taboo subjects that they’d never (presumably) experienced. I’d also probably consider reading a biography about an author I’m not a fan of (like Dickens) to find out what it is in their life that may have made/influenced them to write in such a way that I just can’t stand it!

*I do love the fan-fiction novels where authors are blurred together with their novels or fictionalized accounts of their lives, like the books Becoming Jane Eyre and The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen or the film Becoming Jane.

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6 thoughts on “The Classics Club – July 2014 Meme”

  1. The only literary bio I’ve read was the Kurt Vonnegut one that came out a few years ago. In my college lit class, I really enjoyed learning about the authors we were reading; I think knowing about the author’s life and experiences and the context of a book are really important. I get so much more out of classics when I know a little bit about when/how/why they were written.

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    1. It really does help! Very few, if any, authors wrote in a vacuum and having the references are really great, but not vital to a work. The ones that are timeless don’t need them, but are boosted/enhanced by them.

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  2. I’ve never actually read an autobiography of Dickens, but knowing that he grow up as a working-class boy, more-or-less in my backyard (Great Expectations is set in the countryside around my small and otherwise uninteresting hometown), massively increases my enjoyment of his works, which I would otherwise find rather dusty and dull. It makes him more.. I don’t know, relatable? I think it’s worth knowing things about the life of the author, if only so you understand where they’re coming from.

    Sometimes it doesn’t help, though. I bought my dad a biography of PG Wodehouse, who is one of his favourite authors; it just made him sad, because Wodehouse lived quite a difficult life, and he felt like he could no longer enjoy his books as much because the humour sounds like trying to put a brave face on things. (Buying it was a massive fail on my part, in hindsight).

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    1. Oh most definitely, if an author grew up in the southern US or writes about the south I always feel more comfortable reading them. It really is about relating to the work.
      I don’t know if I’d call the Wodehouse a massive fail. It could just be your dad’s interpretation – he could’ve had the option to look at it, as wow he was able to find/create humor in all of that, so rather than a facade more of a finding the best or becoming the best out of a bad situation? Who knows though.

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