Autobiographical Fiction was Jane Austen

Ven ven at
Thu Jun 7 19:01:09 EDT 2001

Melissa wrote
> < the copy of the book I
> have plays up this supposed correlation between Jane Austen and Anne Elliot.
> Why do you think they've made such a big deal about this possibility?  >>
and Jodel replied
> Unpleasant echoes of a writers' group I used to partcipate in there. We had 
> this one ignoramus (a friend of one of the hosts) who, no matter what was 
> being presented, always had to ask whether it was autobiographical. It all 
> got very intrusive and anoying after a very little while. That we were mostly 
> writing fantasy and science fiction (and trying to stretch our imaginations a 
> bit) only made it a more irritating. None of us were quite rude enough to 
> tell her "None of your damn business", though.
> - --

I must admit searching for autobiographical echoes is a bit of a bad 
habit of mine. I do enjoy authors whose work can be reliably 
treated in this way, like Nina Bawden or Delany but i have to 
remind myself firmly sometimes that people do make things up. 
What is interesting is the variations in the transformation of the 
autobiographic elements into fiction. (In taliking about this though 
I'm not sure where the dividing line is between what the author has 
experienced and what they have observed). In Nina Bawden's work 
the settings, events families etc often closely shadow those in her 
own life, she has written an autobiography in which she examines 
the various strands -- being evacuated to Wales during the war -- 
which evidently provided her with a rich vein of characters, growing 
up with family secrets, living in Islington and holidaying in Greece, 
her work as a magistrate and, very significantly, living with the 
mental illness of one of her children. Delany has also chronicled 
the material he makes into fiction (Yup, I chose these two as 
examples cos I know I'm right) so the people he observes in Grand 
Central Station, New York turn up crossing the Bridge Of Lost 
Desires In Neveryon (which as far as I can tell is a Bronze Age city 
somewhere in North Africa). In think of what he does as an attempt 
to preserve the essence of things universal in human 
nature/behaviour whilst transforming everything that changes. 
However  Atlantis, a short novel based on his father's arrival at, and 
early life in New York obviously has a much smaller shift. While 
reading it though, I kept getting echoes of an early Delany work, 
The Einstein Intersection, in which a young man from the country 
enters a city  for the first time.  

To expand on what I said about transformation I've read a novel in 
which a minor character was partly based on someone I know, who 
 was approached for research by the author. Didn't look like her, 
not the same age, not as clever, not a lot of things but 
unmistakeably Jane for all that.


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