Thinking, thinking after the LMM journals and the Laura Ingalls Wilder class* just what it means to capture a life on the page.
- Is it ever really possible to get distance and perspective?
- Are memoir and autobiography ever fully “true”?
- How much can a writer truly reveal in public or even private writings?
- Are these things fully known to the author herself?
- How much do emotion and distance color things?
- In the shaping of a life story, should a reader “listen in” on what is omitted?
- Where is the moment autobiography shifts to autobiographical fiction?
I keep circling back to the ideas of infallibility and omniscience — two things no one has, but two things that would be needed to fully recored a “true” life. I don’t write memoir or autobiography so I am no expert, but I can’t help thinking what a challenge both formats would be. Memoir allows for more artistic license, (focusing on portions of a life rather than a whole life, for example, or in arranging events for thematic purposes), but both genres are expected to speak truth.
Perhaps the windows autobiography and memoir afford us are enough to catch a glimpse of a true life. Perhaps journals, though they don’t tell the whole story, remove the public filter enough for a reader to know the author intimately. Maybe fictionalized accounts like the Little House books can give readers as strong a sense of a life as non-fiction.
Thinking, thinking, thinking.
* Laura Ingalls Wilder herself used fictionalized accounts of her childhood to get at greater truths. She said about her book, BY THE SHORES OF SILVER LAKE, “All I have told is true, but it’s not the whole truth.”
Joanne Fritz says
Lovely thoughts, Caroline. I always found it fascinating that Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books are considered fiction, yet are based so completely on her own life that most people think of them as nonfiction.
As a kid who thought Laura took each piece of paper in my books and fed it through a typewriter, I don’t think I could have handled knowing about autobiography vs. autobiographical fiction back then.
In the memoirs I’ve read, I’ve often been caught up in the wondering about what’s NOT said. What can one little book, or a whole series of them, really say about a person’s life? It’s barely scratching the surface.
Yes! This exactly. What’s not said especially fascinated me while reading Lucy Maud Montgomery’s journals. She stated regularly she wanted her journals to be an accurate look at her life and allowed herself to sometimes be seen in an unflattering light. But there were things — important things — she never discussed (or only talked about after things resolved in a “manageable” way).
Sandy Carlson says
I read this post with fascination and when I went to your “real” post, was surprised that 1) it was from months ago, and 2) why I hadn’t read it back then. I feel like I’m in a time loop.
As I write historical fiction, I found your thoughts quite interesting. Not sure myself what do to with this besides think more upon it. Thanks for the opportunity.
Hi there, Sandy! This felt like a good one to revisit while I’m on my blog sabbatical…especially after finishing the second half of the Laura Ingalls Wilder class.
Margaret Simon says
What I loved most about the Laura Ingalls Wilder book was their fictional truth. I didn’t really care about facts. I wanted to just be Laura. That’s what fiction and memoir bring to us, a sitting with that person. Connections are important.
That’s why Laura will always be a personal friend…and why most of us readers feel we can claim this intimacy with her.