Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Doyle and French


[Marilyn French, The Women’s Room (1977).]

Not long ago I remembered, out of nowhere, that my professor Jim Doyle once mentioned that he was a minor character in Marilyn French’s novel The Women’s Room. Like French, Jim had a doctorate from Harvard (where the novel’s protagonist Mira Ward goes to grad school); I never knew anything more of the backstory than that. But sure enough, there he is on page 346, the (nameless) possessor of a BA from Providence College. Is he elsewhere in the novel too? I would have to reread it to know. I think though that Jim appears in just this one bit of conversation, which I marked years ago in my paperback copy.

Reader, have you known or met a real-life character — in other words, the model for a fictional character? I can think of three I’ve met: William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg (Old Bull Lee and Carlo Marx in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road), and someone who became a character in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. (That last one is not for publication.) Jim Doyle though is the only real-life character I’ve known.

Other Jim Doyle posts
Department-store Shakespeare
From the Doyle edition
Jim Doyle (1944–2005)
A Jim Doyle story
Teaching, sitting, standing

comments: 4

Barnaby Capel-Dunn said...

Michael, yes, I can think of one - my father! It's stretching a point a little as I was less than a year old when he died.
Anthony Powell's Widmerpool in A Dance to the Music of Time is based on my father, and I have to say it's not a very flattering portrait. to say that, when Powell acknowledged as much, many people who knew and worked with my father sprang to his defence.
Here's an article:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denis_Capel-Dunn

Michael Leddy said...

Barnaby, I don’t know what to say, only that I’m speechless.

Fresca said...

In the early '80s, I knew cartoonist Alison Bechdel, then composing the comic "Dykes to Watch Our For" every 2 weeks (more recently, the graphic book "Fun House"). That was my introduction to how writers use the people around them, as I watched many people I knew show up in her strip.

Usually the people were pleased to be so used, if they even knew.
My discomfort with that, however--(and later with David Sedaris and co.)––shaped how I write. It was hard, but I decided not to use friends and family as my *primary* subject matter. Hard, because of course they provide the best source material for a certain kind of writing.


Michael Leddy said...

Yes, I thought about that when I read David Sedaris’s new piece about his sister.