Friday 22 February 2008

Keeping it in the family

I got carried away, yesterday, spreading the merits of Helen Thomas' books, and forgot to add the bit that I meant to write about afterwards. I sort of hinted at it in the title to the post - "My Husband, The Poet". Today's title might make it even more obvious - I fancied chatting about the proliferation of families which spread the wealth when it comes to authorship. Some progress alongside each other (yes, those Haworthians are the archetype); some, like Helen, emerge as a consequence of their relative's writing prowess.

So we have Emily, Charlotte and Anne scribbling away together - their lives have become romanticised more than any other authors'. I'm frankly astonished that there hasn't been a film about them in the recent spate of author-films.
Scripts must come up all the time, and they can't all be awful. Half of Hollywood's finest would be battling over the chance to play Cathy-oops-I-mean-Emily or Jane-sorry-Charlotte. Or The Other One. (What is it about the meeting of the Brontes with commercialism which brings out the cynic in me?) I'm thinking Maggie Gyllenhaal for Emily, Cate Blanchett as Charlotte, and Emily Blunt stepping into Anne's neglected shoes.

What other literary families are there? Denis Mackail and Angela Thirkell were brother and sister; Colin McInnes is the latter's son. EM Delafield's mother - Mrs. Henry de la Pasture (see where Delafield got her penname from...) - was a famous children's author. The Amises, of course. Mary and Percy Shelley. Charles Dickens and his granddaughter Monica. Leonard and Virginia Woolf. The Powys family. More recently, Jane Gordon-Cumming and Kate Fforde (Jane's novel A Proper Family Christmas, which I read a while ago, is due to come back into print at some point... will keep you posted). I'm sure I've missed out dozens of obvious ones, so do let me know...

What I find even more interesting
is the ones, like Helen, who follow in their relative's footsteps, or who starts writing as a direct and overt consequence. Christopher Robin Milne wrote his wonderful autobiographical trilogy The Enchanted Places, The Path Through The Trees, The Hollow on the Hill to banish some demons, and went on to write some other poetry and stories. Milne's niece, Angela, also wrote a few bits and pieces. You might have noticed I didn't include the Mitford sisters in the section above - would Jessica and Deborah have written if Nancy hadn't led the way? Who knows?

There is something about a famil
y writing together, or writing because of each other, which collides the private and public in a fascinating way - publishing is, of course, nothing if not public. I daresay the etymology even has something to do with it. But if they can show manuscripts to each other beforehand; discuss ideas; become influenced by someone who shared both a nursery and a mass market - just another of those lights which illuminates a little bit of authorship.

I bought Living With An Writer a while ago. Wonder what they have to say...


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Of the Mitford sisters, did any of the sisters other than Nancy write fiction? Other related writers: How about Evelyn Waugh and Alexander Waugh? There must be many others.
    nancy b t

  3. What about Adele Geras and her daughter Sophie Hannah?

  4. Christopher Tolkien has spent much of his life gathering together and finishing off his father's works. And the less said about Adam Hargreaves, the better.

  5. Three generations of Waughs, the Fleming brothers Ian and Peter, A.S Byatt and Margaret Drabble (sisters)... I'll keep thinking!

  6. Hello Simon

    I've been enjoying your blog for a while and thought you might like this on the Bronte Parsonage Blog about a possible Bronte film. The BPB is a good source of Bronte news -- I see there's to be a new exhibition on Emily this year which must be worth a(nother) visit to Haworth for!

  7. I did enjoy Helen Thomas' books, but I do think she must have been a saint to put up with her marital situation.
    Dare I mention Rosamund Pilcher and her son, Robin. Bit low-brow for your excellent site, Simon,but can't think of anyone else. The question will linger. C.B.

  8. Kingsley and Martin Amis.......C.B.

  9. The Sitwells!!!! Enough, I must sleep!!!! C.B

  10. Then there are always those relatives who say they are going to write - and even do quite a lot of writing - but then never quite get round to preparing it for publication! Now of which Thomases (Mother and son) could I be thinking? OVW


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