Get Access to Print and Digital for $23.99 per year.
Subscribe for Full Access

From the introduction to The Family Diary, a 2024 planner edited by Julian Rothenstein, which was published last month by Redstone Press.

If, when a child is growing up, it develops a spirit of rebellion, the closest institution to revolt against is the family. The family is where you are first misjudged, maltreated, belittled, lied to and beaten—or not. The Polish-American poet Czesław Miłosz is famously quoted making the claim: “When a writer is born into a family, the family is finished.” This seems absurdly overstated. However, there is more than a grain of truth in it.

Some kind of revolt is inevitable, because the vestigial writer or artist is seeking to express his or her individualistic vision of the world, which inevitably conflicts with that of the parent. A father doesn’t have to be tyrannical, or a mother overprotective, for them to want things to stay the same, and for the child not to grow up—or not to grow up in such a way that he or she becomes a writer.

Of course, it’s not as simple as the young writer performing a self-liberating act by writing, and then being set free. Even dysfunctional families cling together, and cling on. Georges Simenon tried to escape his mother via success and money and expatriation, writing nearly four hundred novels and becoming very rich. According to Simenon’s biographer, Patrick Marnham, in old age his mother, like some vengeful deity, came to visit him in Switzerland and returned all the money he had sent her over the decades; then cornered the servants and quizzed them about whether the house and everything in it was paid for. After she died, Simenon stopped writing novels, merely screeds of self-justifying autobiography. Had he been writing fiction all that time in the hope of impressing his mother? We are dealing here with an extreme psychological case. But one which suggests that the writer can never quite escape the family, however strong the desire.

More from

| View All Issues |

April 1998

“An unexpectedly excellent magazine that stands out amid a homogenized media landscape.” —the New York Times
Subscribe now