Tag Archives: Honore de Balzac

Beware: Artistry Kills

Image result for writing at typewriter, black and white photo

As Fantine sings so gloriously in Les Miserables upon being left alone, jobless, and utterly destitute:

There was a time when men were kind
When their voices were soft
And their words inviting
There was a time when love was blind
And the world was a song
And the song was exciting
There was a time…

Then it all went wrong

Indeed, sometimes it goes horribly wrong, especially for artists who pretty much throw their souls into their work with (apparently) no interest in whether they pop up the better side of Mt. BreakMyHeart.

Emily Temple has put together a little list of authors that all you HSP writers out there should heed. In a piece titled “6 Famous Writers Injured While Writing: When Making Stuff is Hazardous to Your Health,” Ms. Temple gets straight to the point with these tragic stories about six famous writers, most of whom you know and probably respect.

Here’s the brief version of who you’ll see on this all-star ballot.

  1. If you could even begin to imagine the pain George Orwell was in as he penned the final pages of Nineteen Eighty-Four, you’d go back and read it with a lot more sympathy (not the anger that your high school English teacher aroused in you for making you read it). I don’t like using the word “literally” literally, but Orwell literally spent the last two months of his life bed-ridden with tuberculosis, coughing up blood and figuring out how to bring an end to Big Brother.
  2. If you know anything about Moby-Dick the book, then you already know a lot about Herman Melville. If not, read Nathaniel Philbrick’s excellent book In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex to see the definition of bad luck played out in slow motion. Sunk at sea? Check. Survivor of the longest rescue mission in maritime history? Yep. Forced to resort to cannibalism. See previous said book. Sunk at sea a second time while captaining a ship? Hells yeah, only to return to Nantucket and basically kill himself writing Moby-Dick.
  3. You might not know the Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi, but to reference Dr. Andrea Dinardo from yesterday’s post, the guy had a serious case of the HSP. I mean, here was a dude who lived to write – and only write, it seemed – describing himself thusly as a result of his literary predilections: “I have woefully and incurably ruined myself for the rest of my life, rendering my appearance terrible and despicable to most people.” He’d write himself dead before his 40th birthday.
  4. Are you reading this whilst enjoying a cup of morning Joe? Do you presently find yourself at a coffee shop? Then obviously Honoré de Balzac is your man. Here’s a guy who loved coffee so much, and grew so addicted to it, that by the end of the show he was eating coffee beans on an empty stomach to maximize the uptake of its caffeine. No surprise that by the age of 51, Balzac was dead of – you guessed it! – caffeine poisoning.
  5. Oh, Ayn Rand, where art thou? Rand’s dependence on Benzedrine (amphetamines) grew so severe during the writing of The Fountainhead that she was basically an eight-car pile-up of a trainwreck by the end of it, with one biographer stating that “by the time the book was complete Rand’s doctor diagnosed her as close to a nervous breakdown and ordered her to take two weeks of complete rest.”
  6. Okay, here’s a look at the daily schedule of one Franz Kafka: 8:30 am-2:30 pm (job); 2:30-7:30 pm (lunch and sleep); 7:30-11 pm (exercises, family dinner); 11 pm-1/2/3…6 am (write like a MoFo); repeat until death. As Ms. Temple writes: “This weakened state may or may not have played a role in his contraction of laryngeal tuberculosis and its subsequent ravages on his body, so it’s too much to say his work killed him, but it certainly seems relevant. His throat closed up, precluding the ingestion of any food, and so he technically died of starvation, working on his story “The Hunger Artist” to the very last.” WTF?

So there you have it. If you have plans to become a writer, get some kind of insurance policy in case you starve to death, end up on a diet of coffee beans, or need to relocate to your bedroom because you can’t stop coughing up blood.

All I have to say is this: Where have all the great writers gone! Notice that Hemingway didn’t even make that list. Man up, Papa!



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