Idol or friend?

As a kid, my focus was always on the stories.  Eventually, I figured out that some of my favorite authors had careers beyond the books I loved so much.  Or that their lives were very different from what I imagined based on their novels.  But no matter what, they were my literary idols.

My love for L. M. Montgomery was growing just as the scholarship was taking off.  Volume 1 of the journals had been published in 1985, and I received my copy in 1993 (I was 13.  Yes, I’ve been a nerd for a very long time).  I think by then I had read a biography or two, so knew that Montgomery’s life wasn’t all sweetness and light.  But the journals were still a bit of a shock.  Part of me admired her more–there are few hints of the darkness in her novels.  But another part of me realized that I probably wouldn’t have been friends with her if our paths had happened to cross.  You know, if I lived in Canada 100 years ago. . .

I’m not saying that I feel a need to be a kindred spirit with the writers I love.  But some of these writers feel so familiar and cozy, even though I’ve only “met” this one side of their life or career.  I want to know more, but it always changes the relationship a bit.

File:Louisa May Alcott.jpgI hadn’t realized that Louisa May Alcott did anything besides write children’s novels until college.  And suddenly, she was in my American Lit class and I was reading a story called “Transcendental Wild Oats.”  In the last couple of years, I’ve read a lot more of her other writing–Hospital Sketches, a few other essays, etc.  My admiration for her has only grown.  Personally, I don’t think any of Alcott’s children’s books can be fully appreciated by the average fan without taking her extraordinary life story into account.  But I don’t think this is necessarily true of Montgomery.  Sure, it’s important for scholars to dissect these intricacies of life and fiction, but I’m not sure how much more I personally get out of her stories by knowing the larger context of Montgomery’s life.

Elizabeth EnrightOne of the great things about this blog for me personally is that it is forcing me (well, force may be a bit strong of a word) to re-read books or try ones that have been on The List for a long time.  I’ve mentioned several times that I am completely head over heels in love with Elizabeth Enright and the Melendy family.  A friend who is also on the Elizabeth Enright bandwagon offered to lend me Doublefields, a combination memoir/short story collection by Enright.

I was almost nervous when I picked it up.  My love of her is new and strong–I’ve now read most of her kidlit (Thimble Summer  and all the Melendy books) and really, really liked them.  But what if that didn’t transfer to the rest of the work?  Would I be disappointed?

Umm, no.  The memoir section was fabulous. I saw traces of the Melendys in her life, and her personality really seemed to come through.  I could be completely wrong, but I think the two of us would have a great afternoon together, talking and laughing.  I think I could have been friends with Elizabeth Enright.  We have the same philosophies about kids.  Her childhood was different than most, but not heartbreaking like Montgomery’s.  She’s someone I would love to have gotten to know.

I don’t feel that way about all of the authors I love.  Most of them, I am perfectly content to love them from afar.  But, if time were not a limitation, I would be writing lots and lots of fan letters to Enright, begging her to come to my house for tea or wine.  My fan letters to Montgomery and Alcott would be very, very different.  Plenty of admiration, but not offerings of friendship.

Are there authors you wish you could be friends with?  Or is this my own strange fantasy world?

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2 thoughts on “Idol or friend?

  1. I didn’t understand why Enright committed suicide until I read her adult works. That was some depressing stuff! Growing up I would have loved to be friends with LIW, but as I grew up I realized that we probably would not have gotten along. The same with Anne. Perhaps we could have been childhood friends, but not adult friends. What do you think about Dorothy Canfield Fischer?

  2. I too love the Melendy Family and everything Elizabeth Enright wrote. I could see myself on a summer’s evening, feet in the stream outside the Four Story Mistake, sipping root beer that had been cooled in the water while talking with her. I read Enright’s books one summer in the early 70’s. They made such a lovely impact, I read them every summer for years afterwards.

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