Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Magnificent Assembly of Liars

By Martha Reed

I found an item listed on eBay recently that I decided I had to have and since I’ve been working like a dog lately I decided to treat myself and actually buy it. It’s a 1931 edition of My Story by Mary Roberts Rinehart and I find myself looking forward to reading it although I usually cast a wary eye on autobiographies because I always wonder about the motivation that made an author want to write one.

My first thought whenever I pick up a fiction author’s autobiography is why would the author even want to publish a book of fact? My follow up question is how much of this material can I trust as fact when I know first hand how the mind of a fiction writer works and editing for content is a major part of it? As I handle the book, I wonder: how much of this can I take as gospel when I know that the author is presenting to the world their unique and personal take on the arbitrary subject of how they lived their life?

I only ask this question because I know they lie.

Dame Agatha Christie skipped an important chapter in her autobiography when she forgot to mention that she disappeared for eleven days in 1926 after her husband Archie asked for a divorce. Her disappearance resulted in a massive national manhunt until Agatha turned up in a Yorkshire hotel claiming to suffer from amnesia. At the time, some folks considered this a publicity stunt while others claim she was trying to set Archie up for her murder as an act of revenge. Sounds like a fiction writer to me!

Dorothy L. Sayers hid an illegitimate son from her family and friends who only learned of John Anthony’s existence after her death in 1957. Imagine the shock of opening the door to a twenty-year old young man who says: “Hello. I’m Dorothy’s son.”

In 1947, Mary Roberts Rinehart was involved in a bizarre personal drama. She was reading in her library when her chef Reyes came in, objecting to her orders. Pulling out a gun, he shot her a point blank range. The gun misfired and Rinehart ran for help. A young man was standing at the door, looking for work. “Young man,” Rinehart reportedly said, “You’ll have to come back later. There is a man here trying to kill me.” Wielding a carving knife in each hand, the enraged chef attacked her again before being subdued by the other servants. Reyes was arrested and hung himself in his cell. Rinehart paid for the funeral.

I leave it to you to imagine his motivation.


Jenna said...

Very cool! Makes me realize nothing that exciting ever happened in my life. No illigitimate children, no murderous chefs. Guess I'll just have to pull an Agatha and disappear for a few days to have something to put in my autobiography.

Enjoy your book, dear!

Karen in Ohio said...

Check out the Murderati post today. Louise Ure discusses a Wired writer who tried to vanish for 30 days. His story is fascinating.

Gina said...

I lead a dull and boring life, too. This morning I overheard a conversation about a young man in a coma who was, although unconscious, talking about issues in his life. What do you think we'd talk about in a coma? Anything that might launch a police investigation. "But officer," we'd moan upon regaining consciousness. "It's only a story."

Dana King said...

If I was ever to receive a blow to the head and decide to write a memoir, I'd like Tommy Flanagan. (Jon Lovitz's SNL pathological liar character.) My life has been fun and interesting--for me. I can't imagine anyone else getting any enjoyment from reading about it; not even I would get any enjoyment reading about it.

My life story would draw from Chuck Barris's CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND for inspiration.

Anonymous said...

You can understand why people would rather certain events not be brought up again and again. Particularly when it is being committed to print and will be around for a long time. Thanks for sharing this post - though I still like the Dr Who version of what happened to Agatha Christie in those missing days.

Patg said...

That's why I really don't like autobiographies, and if I care enough about anyone's life in detail, prefer biographies. And let face it, isn't it the nitty gritty we're always interested in?
So, an illigitimate child. Did he write an autobiography? Or has someone else covered the subject?