by Poppy Goad
When writing fiction, most writers draw upon the clichéd but sage advice to ‘write what you know’.
Some simply explore their native milieu and insert a fictional plot, while others write a roman à clef, skirting the border of fiction and reality. But how far does that statement transcend the setting of the story and diffuse into the characters? It is usually by coincidence that little idiosyncrasies of people the author knows end up becoming part of the characters they write, allowing them to create more vivid depictions of the world around us. It is also common for authors to base characters entirely on someone they know, perhaps as a tribute or merely because they fit into the story being told. However how much of the time do authors reflect themselves in their characters?
|Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas|
It is widely known that classic authors like Ernest Hemingway and Oscar Wilde reflected themselves in their characters. Hemingway explored his own life through fiction with the aid of his parallel self, called Nick Adams. He wrote 24 pieces of fiction on this character, later collected into a book called ‘The Nick Adams Stories’. Oscar Wilde was also speculated to have used himself as a basis for the character of Basil Hallward in ‘The Picture of Dorian Grey’. Basil’s obsession with Dorian was seen as an allusion to Wilde’s homosexuality and relationship with ‘Bosie’( Lord Alfred Douglas). Later in his life, ‘The Picture of Dorian Grey’ was actually used as a piece of evidence to prove his homosexuality in the trail to punish him for his sexual preference. It is no wonder that authors are reluctant to mirror themselves in characters, or to reveal that they have, as doing so can show so much of who they are. Hopes, dreams and insecurities and fears can be voiced through paper and if a keen and meticulous reader is able to see it then the whole façade of the characters fictional origin is broken.
|George Orwell and HG Wells|
This being said, not all authors reflect themselves in such a vivid and vulnerable way. It is often common for science fiction writers to live vicariously through their characters through their fiction. This allows them to be the hero in their own story, writing their own future to escape from the constant uncertainty that reality can hold. Orwell, Wells and Huxley can all be seen using characters of similar depiction that mirror some of their own attributes. Middle aged men of unremarkable beauty and little to no talent or resounding importance, brought up to be the unlikely protagonists with idealistic and futile dreams of social change and revolution. However, in most of the fore mentioned author’s works these dreams rarely become a reality. In Orwell’s 1984 Winston becomes broken by room 101 into submission to find love for Big Brother, accepting the growing control over every life. Huxley’s protagonist Bernard Marx in ‘Brave New World’ is sent off to an island full of individuals with controversial ideas like himself so is isolated and secluded from the society he once hoped to understand, and Huxley’s second protagonist John (the savage) becomes a recluse on the outskirts of the city, eventually driven to madness and hanging himself. While Wells’s protagonist does seem to begin to change the society of social repression that he has found himself in, the protagonist, Graham is then suddenly killed at the end of the novel, leaving the story uncertain and unfinished, the reader never truly knowing whether the revolution succeeded – although we are led to believe that it did.
These bleak endings do not seem to correlate with the idea that the protagonists were a reflection of the author’s own dreams of social revolution, although perhaps that they all ended without the exultant hero triumph was to attempt to reflect the harsh brutality of reality further through their text. Although this is all speculation it is interesting to see how a lot of the times the supposed ‘heroes’ do not come out victorious at the end of these story. This could further be a reflection of the insecurities of the authors that they are not able to see themselves flourish in this new colour and are vulnerable to the pessimism brought on by the fin de siècle(for H.G. Wells) and in the mid-1900s(for Orwell and Huxley).