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!
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.