Forum — From the August 2015 issue

Notes on Some Twentieth-Century Writers

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Flannery O’Connor: No children.

Eudora Welty: No children. One children’s book.

Katherine Anne Porter: No children, many miscarriages.

Hilary Mantel, Janet Frame, Willa Cather, Jane Bowles, Patricia Highsmith, Elizabeth Bishop, Hannah Arendt, Iris Murdoch, Djuna Barnes, Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield, Mavis Gallant, Simone de Beauvoir, Barbara Pym: No children.

Jean Stafford: No children. Three husbands.

Alice Munro: Two husbands. Raised three children. First book of stories at age thirty-seven.

Toni Morrison: Two children. First novel at age thirty-nine.

Penelope Fitzgerald: Three children. First novel at age sixty. Then eight more.

John Updike: Many children. Many books.

Saul Bellow: Many children. Many wives. Many books.

Doris Lessing: Left two of her three children to be raised by their father. Later semi-adopted a teenage girl, a peer of one of her sons. Said there was “nothing more boring for an intelligent woman than to spend endless amounts of time with small children.”

Left: Hortense Nursing Paul, by Paul Cézanne © Sotheby’s/akg-images Right: First Steps, After Millet, by Vincent van Gogh © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City/Art Resource, New York City

Left: Hortense Nursing Paul, by Paul Cézanne © Sotheby’s/akg-images Right: First Steps, After Millet, by Vincent van Gogh © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City/Art Resource, New York City

Muriel Spark: One child, born in Southern Rhodesia during her marriage to Sidney Oswald Spark, who suffered from manic depression. Moved to London alone, leaving behind her husband. Her young son, also left behind, ended up in the care of some fruit sellers down the road, before he eventually moved to Scotland to live with his maternal grandparents. The child was later disinherited by his mother, who was annoyed, it is said, that he went around complaining that his mother wouldn’t admit she was Jewish. Among other things.

Rebecca West: Had one child with H. G. Wells, to whom she was not married. Tried to convince the child that she was his aunt and not his mother. In 1955, the child wrote a roman à clef, Heritage, about the son of two world-famous parents; the mother does not come off well. For twenty-nine years, West successfully blocked the novel’s publication. In 1984, when the novel was finally released, the child, aged sixty-nine, wrote an introduction to the book that further condemned his mother. The same year, the child published a laudatory biography of his father.

Shirley Jackson: Four children.

J. G. Ballard: Widowed with three young children. Drank every day, was very productive, and called all of his children, in his autobiography of the same name, “miracles of life.” In describing seeing his children newly born, he wrote, “Far from being young, as young as a human being can be, they seemed immensely old, their foreheads and features streamlined by time, as archaic and smooth as the heads of pharaohs in Egyptian sculpture, as if they had travelled an immense distance to find their parents. Then, in a second, they became young.” Ballard also wrote with fondness about his time as a child in the internment camps of Shanghai.

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