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Autobiographical Elements in Novels and Short Stories: Do They Add Value or Credibility to the Book?

It is well known that those who write autobiographies tell us you base them on your personal lives. But is it really so? Are they open and honest in telling us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Whether it’s they We think they do – and if we do! – Do you really remember, in detail, many of the varied experiences that you tell us in your autobiography? Memory, we all know, is selective and is based, at least in part, on our perception. All of this raises the question, what is reality and what is fiction in a writer’s autobiography …

It is not only with autobiographies that the line between fact and fiction is often blurred. It is also like this in fiction, when the author affirms no consciously with the intention of including autobiographical elements in the novel / short story. But is it really so? And does that make a difference?

The “connection” a writer feels with another writer whose biography he writes: Stefan Zweig‘s biography Honored by Balzac

Not only are fiction and fact often blurred in an author’s writing; Sometimes there is also a blur between a biography that an author writes about someone else and that of the author. own life. Such, for example, is Stefan zweig‘s (1881-1942) biography of the French writer Honored by Balzac (1799-1850). This biography (published by Viking Press in 1946) has, according to some literary critics, elements of Zweig’s own autobiography.

However, only readers who are well acquainted with the lives of these two writers can identify these elements and enjoy the similarities, as well as the differences, in the lives of these two authors.

Feelings of “affiliation” that a writer feels with another writer whose biography she writes: Tatiana de Rosnay biography Daphne du maurier

Another case of interest that we can find in Tatiana de Rosnay biography Daphne du maurier (1907-1989). Tatiana de Rosnay (author of “Sarah’s Key”, 2008), affirms that something that has led her to write a biography of Daphne du Maurier (entitled: “Manderley for Ever”, 2015) is some affiliation she felt with famous people. British writer.

Does that feeling of “affiliation” make the book more “personal” for the writer and therefore “better”?

Did it happen or was it a dream?

A good example of autobiographical elements and fiction intermingling with each other can be seen first-hand in Pablo NerudaThe speech he gave while receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. Neruda (1904 – 1973), a Chilean poet and politician recalled his flight from Chile to Argentina in 1948, when President González Videla outlawed communism in Chile and issued an order of arrest Arrest of Neruda (for his political ideology). Neruda escaped over a mountain pass to Argentina.

In his Nobel Prize speech, Neruda recounted how he escaped on horseback and in the snow, adding that he no longer knows if this story really happened, if he dreamed it or he twisted it during his writing. But, he added, this doesn’t really matter!

Autobiographical elements in spy novels and other novels

The same is true for John the square, British author of such well-known books as “The spy who came from the cold” (1963). One of his last books (“A Perfect Spy”, 1986) – as the author himself admits – is considered his most autobiographical novel, a large part of which is a somewhat disguised account of le Carré’s own early life as intelligence. . officer of MI6, the British intelligence service.

Some literary critics point out that some of the characters in the book bear a striking resemblance to le Carré’s own life: Magnus Pym, for example, recalls the experiences Carré himself had at the beginning of his life; and Rick Pym, Magnus’s father in the novel, bears a striking resemblance to Carré’s own father (John le Carré has just published the autobiography: “The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life”, Viking, 2016, provides more examples ).

But does it make any difference to the reader to know that a book and / or character is based on some of le Carre’s own experiences? Does it give you more credibility? We can assume that the answer is NO; that most readers have no idea that there are some autobiographical elements in this and other books and still enjoy reading them.

John Cleese’s Autobiography: An Example of Conscious Creativity?

John cleeseCleese’s autobiography (John Cleese: “So, Anyway …”, 2014) strikes us with the idea that Cleese’s autobiography is told with the utmost conscientiousness, authenticity and honesty.

By recounting her life in chronological order, Cleese presents herself as a person who is self-conscious; who says things “as they are”, a person who does not hesitate to say what he thinks even when he knows that others will not like to hear what he has to say, a person who feels that there is no need for him to “fictionalize” elements of his autobiography in order to glorify his life or impress us with his unfortunate experiences.

This being the case, Cleese’s autobiography is different from other books in that it does not mix and blur fiction and autobiographical elements, but rather tells of her life as it is. As such, Cleese succeeds in portraying himself as “who he really is,” which is a compliment that not all autobiography writers can enjoy.

The conscious or unconscious autobiographical elements in a creator’s art

It is interesting to note that not only books, but many other works of creation, be they films, paintings, photographs and the like, are also based, at least in part, on segments of the creator’s autobiography, whether the creator does so. . consciously or unconsciously.

This, for example, is the case of the Spanish director Pedro Almodovar (born 1949) who is considered the most important film director after Luis Buñuel and known as “the king of Spanish melodrama” (having produced 23 films so far).

Almodóvar has never written an autobiography and has never authorized anyone to write his biography. While at Cannes in 2016, for the premiere of her new film Julieta, she said that those who want to understand her life should look at the characters portrayed in her various films, as they are the ones who form the common thread of her life.

The same goes for (some of) Woody AllenHis films, which are based – many claim – on his own (neurotic) personality.

Sometimes Allen, very consciously, decides to create a movie based on a real person. Such is the case of Annie Hall (1977). In his autobiographical book “Then again” (2011) Diane keaton says, among other things, that Allen has consciously written and directed by Annie Hall (1977) based on she.

What’s in it for us readers?

As readers, we often don’t care if the novel / story / film is based, in part, on some elements of the writer’s own life and experiences. Nor do we care if a biography written by a writer includes autobiographical elements of the writer himself.

What is important to us are issues related to the quality of the writing; the attractive power of the book; and, sometimes, its relevance to our own lives.

Would we consider a fictional book “better” when we know that it is based on (some) autobiographical elements of the author? Would we then consider it more credible?

And would we consider that a biography is more or less credible knowing that the writer has become blurred with some of his own autobiographical elements?

This is doubtful.

After all, a book, be it fiction, biography, or autobiography, is based on its own merits; its quality of style; character development; their scenes, descriptions and dialogues.

Ultimately, what readers bring with us to reading – our life experiences, our perceptions, our critical eye, and our literary taste – all of this, consciously and / or unconsciously, determines the impact a book has on us, the emotions that arise in us as we read, and subsequent thoughts that continue to follow us.

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