Thursday, August 17, 2006


I've been mulling lately about autobiographical fiction. I've had no results except more mulling so I thought I would mull out loud and see what happens. When I was in school, and I mean college, though I am sure one of my high school teachers said something about it, but it didn't get hammered in until college, I was taught that there was a wall between the narrator in the poem or work of fiction and the author. Just because the poem said "I" it could not be conflated with "I" the poet. Same with fiction even if the narrator suggested s/he was the writer of the tale. I've spent years perfecting my brick laying skills. The wall I have built between narrator and author is tall and thick and even has a few green creepers growing on it to ease its starkness in my mental landscape. Then along comes Proust (Ha! You thought because I hadn't mentioned him in awhile you were safe? Think again!). In Search of Lost Time is so autobiographical that even biographers mention who some of the fictional characters were modeled after. In Proust's lifetime the people he new argued over who was who in the novel. One of them even wrote a book to prove she was a particular character. Suddenly I notice the mortar in my wall is looking a little crumbly. As I read I can't help but wonder if Proust had an obsession with being kissed good night by his Mama? Did he really whine like the narrator in the book? I'm sorry for his Mama if he did. And what about the hawthorns? The narrator goes into ecstasies over hawthorns in flower. Did Proust love hawthorns? I know it doesn't matter one way or the other, but I can't help but wondering if I am reading Proust the person or the fictional narrator. Of course, now it isn't just Proust I am thinking about. If I hear or read something about a novel, usually a first novel, as being any measure of autobiographical, I wonder what is real and what is fiction. Then there is the other side of the coin. After the James Frey affair there is the question of what has been fictionalized in the nonfiction. My mulling has pretty much centered on fiction, however. How does one read fiction if it is known to be autobiographical? Should it be read differently? And if so, what do I do with my wall? Do I fix the crumbly mortar and pretend I haven't been mulling? Should I tear the wall down? Or should I replace the wall with a split-rail fence covered in morning glories?