the dark side of the most famous writers in history

Updated:27/11/2020 01: 00h


Talk about authors like Charles Dickens it evokes an infinity of feelings in the reader, all of them pleasant. The same occurs with as many authors as Arthur Conan Doyle O Agatha Christie. After all, who hasn’t had a good time soaking up the adventures of Oliver Twist, Sherlock Holmes o Hércules Poirot? What has not transpired so much is that these and many other writers hid a darker and darker side. The first, without going any further, was a misogynist who made fun of his wife in public, while the Scotsman was the target of ridicule in the press for his obsession with him. supernatural world.

For this reason, to illuminate that most forgotten facet of a dozen classic authors, the writer Jose Luis Hernandez Garvi just published “The disappearance of Agatha Christie and other stories about mysterious, eccentric and heterodox writers” (Almuzara, 2020). A work in which, as he explains to ABC, he pursues a double objective. On the one hand, diving into the forgotten past of characters recognized in history books; but also to publicize the work (and the excesses) of as many as George Trakl (a poet addicted to drugs who had a relationship with his own sister).

-Have we idealized the classic writers?

Throughout the history of literature they have been mythologized. But in reality, they have been and are people who have the same virtues, defects and vices as any normal human being. In the nineteenth century there were not the number of writers today, we are witnessing a real “boom” of authors (in fact, we should speak of people who publish, rather than writers); then it was people with a certain intellectual level who could read and shape a book. I don’t think they were unusual people, but they turned to literature and writing to scare away certain personal and other people’s ghosts. We can find in them extraordinary or heterodox features. This is what I have tried to reflect in the chapters: to capture those somewhat tormented personalities that inspired great works.

– Do you have to be, then, disturbed or tormented to be a good author?

More than disturbed, he must distinguish reality from another perspective, a personal, introspective one … Then he has to be able to capture that overall vision, that panorama that surrounds him, in books. I like to compare them to artists. That way they see light or atmospheres. As a writer, I don’t mean to say that we are special. We are not different people, we are like any other mortal (in fact, probably poorer), but we have a different way of capturing reality and we feel the need to put it down on paper.

-Has the less controversial side of the most famous writers prevailed in our society?

The reader always tends to mythologize the authors he admires. He sees them as flawless beings. But many writers were real rogues and scoundrels. That is what I have wanted to raise with some of the I analyze; that, above that personality that idolizes himself, there was sometimes a tormented person not admirable and full of vices and defects. I am the first to be surprised when researching their biographies. I have found data that gave me goose bumps. I have come across characters who had very few virtues and were obnoxious. When you inquire, you come across your darker and darker side.

-Perhaps the clearest case is that of Charles Dickens, a misogynist, according to his work.

Indeed. He had an absolute contempt for women. He was a writer capable of illuminating masterpieces, but in his personal life he humiliated his wife in front of her friends and abused her psychologically. But it didn’t just happen with him, it happened with many of the male authors that appear in my work. The most striking case was that of Mary Shelley. She started writing at the age of 19, produced a masterpiece like “Frankenstein” and, even today, her ability as an author is doubted. Some experts attribute it to her husband.

-Any other extravagance that has surprised you about this author?

His fondness for the supernatural and mesmerism, an antecedent to hypnosis that claimed that there was a dark force in nature that could be used at will. Dickens, who advocated that not everyone knew how to apply it, was obsessed with using it to control the will of women. He claimed that he could cure them of ills such as hysteria or psychological problems, but, in reality, he sought to attract them to his person.

Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens

-Arthur Conan Doyle, author of Sherlock Holmes, was another of the great followers of the supernatural …

Yes. It is surprising that she was able to give birth to a character who used logic and did not go beyond the parameters of reason to solve her crimes. He, on the other hand, was gullible in everything that had to do with the paranormal. At the end of his life he concentrated on these issues and put aside his literary side.

-¿A credulo…?

Any supernatural story told to him was believed. It was related in one way or another to many of the scandals of spiritism that occurred at the time. The clearest example was that of Cottingley’s fairies, some supposed photographs in which these little beings were seen dancing with girls in a forest. They went around the world although, later, it was discovered that everything was a montage made through superimposed images. The author always assumed that it was a real case.

He was also an advocate of spiritism. His wife, who sold herself as a medium, was convinced that she could come into contact with ghosts. The belief cost him some friendship, such as that of the escapist Houdini, with whom he had a strong discussion on the subject.

-What happened to the escapist?

Houdini was a friend of his. They were mutual admirers. As he was very hurt by the death of his mother, he spoke with Doyle, who maintained that his wife could put him in contact with her. They held a séance in which the medium said she had contacted the deceased, but the escapist realized that it was all a set up when his mother addressed him in English, a language she did not speak a word of. Both had a strong discussion on the subject.

Yukio Mishima
Yukio Mishima

-In the press of the time they made fun of him …

There came a time when he was clouded, he did not see beyond. The press even scoffed at his credulity. Even if the evidence was shown to be ridiculous, he insisted that some cases were true. He got to maintain controversies in the newspapers on the subject. When Cottingley’s fairies were shown to be a montage, he argued time and again, to the point of ridicule, that those photographs were real.

-Was an author tormented by his main character?

He felt tied to Holmes. Stories about him demanded him to such an extent that he was forced, once he killed him after the fight with Moriarty, to “resurrect” him by popular request. His own mother wrote him a letter almost in insulting terms, berating him for having killed the detective and demanding that he bring him back to life. He had to come up with a prequel. But he longed to write about other things, for example, a historical novel. It is a pity that the readers did not value the rest of the work and focused only on this character.

-From the same time is Agatha Christie, who, as she states in her work, disappeared for almost two weeks from the face of the Earth when she was a star of literature

It happened in the 1920s and it caused a great upheaval in society. Even newspapers of the time offered large rewards in exchange for clues that could reveal his whereabouts. Searches were organized with dogs, airplanes … Something incredible in those years. But there was no way to find her.

His case brings together many of the elements of some of his best novels. It is very surprising that neither the writer herself nor her husband Archibald (later ex-husband) ever made any reference to what happened in those days when she was missing. She has an autobiography, almost unknown in Spain, in which she does not dedicate a single word to the subject.

Agatha Christie
Agatha Christie

-What happened?

He disappeared eleven days for various reasons that I analyze in the book. There are many theories. It is not known if she wanted to attract the attention of her husband or was seeking to get away from the media spots that surrounded her.

-Spain also has its own particular place in your work with Emilia Pardo Bazán.

Emilia Pardo Bazán is one of the great Spanish writers, much forgotten by the new generations. It is rarely read, like Benito Pérez Galdós until the recovery of his figure for the centenary. One of the lesser known personal stories is that the two had a secret romantic relationship. It was also an advance. All her life she had to fight a world dominated by men and by male literary critics. Even her husband did not see very well having to endure the criticism of the time. He put her in the position of him or literature, and she selected her life as an author. They did not divorce, because it was unthinkable at the time, but they parted amicably.

-It also dedicates a chapter to Yukio Mishima, a finalist for the Nobel Prize for Literature on two occasions and who could even become a kamikaze.

There is a certain haze about what happened during WWII. It seems that when he was young he applied for military service as Kamikaze, but was rejected. It is not known whether it was because doctors confused the symptoms of a cold with those of tuberculosis, or because he exaggerated to avoid being recruited. I think it was the second. It seems that, from that moment on, he dedicated his life to making amends for that shame.

Jose Luis Hernandez Garvi
Jose Luis Hernandez Garvi

-Mishima surprised by his sad ending …

The culmination of his madness, because we must speak of an unbalanced person with exorbitant megalomania, was what in Japan was called “the incident”. Without revealing too much, it was a highly dramatized coup attempt that aimed to show the Japanese people their decadence and demand a return to traditional values. It ended in a chilling way from a Western point of view. The images were broadcast on Japanese television almost live and the result caused an incredible commotion in society. They still find it uncomfortable to talk about it today. But it is understandable because Mishima was a superstar of the time who was always followed by a cohort of journalists.

-Has your literary work been forgotten because of this incident?

Indeed. I feel sorry for Mishima as one of my favorite authors. He has some wonderful works, but the force of this event overshadowed his talent and his significance as a writer. His figure, unknown in the West, should be remembered for other causes, and not for his end.

-What is the “cursed writer” that we cannot ignore?

George Trakl. He is very little known outside of Austria, but the truth is that his poetry is of tremendous force. His life was an ordeal in every way. He was tormented by the incestuous relationship he had with his sister and by his addiction to drugs, more specifically to cocaine. I invite you to read his work for its fascinating power. Had he lived longer he would have been more famous and recognized, but he died young.

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