The Best Novels About Your Favourite Writers

The Best Novels About Your Favourite Writers

 

While there is nothing like a good novel, there are often made even better when their stories are rooted in true life, or events that really happened. Of course, many novels have been inspired by characters and happenings in history. We’ve rounded up a list of the best novels that have taken inspiration from real writer’s lives and spun them into fantastic stories. There’s even a few surprising classics on here that you might not realise were plucked directly from the writer’s lives themselves!

Read on for our list of the best novels about writers, and comment below with your favourites!

 

Love and Ruin by Paula McLain

Love and Ruin is the novelisation of the whirlwind romance of journalist and travel writer Martha Gellhorn and novelist and short-story writer, Ernest Hemingway.

The two met in Key West, Florida in 1936. Soon after they travelled to Spain together to report on the civil war. They would be together for next fifteen years. But there relationship was fraught with tension. Martha was an ambitious and fearless writer, who thought nothing of pretending to be a nurse so she could be the only female reporter at the D-Day landings. Hemingway had truly met his match with her.

 

Martha in Sun Valley, Utah, 1941

They spent the beginning of their married life in Cuba, but before long Gellhorn left for Europe to report on the war. After much cajoling, Hemingway relented to join her in London, and signed on to write at the same paper, The Collier. He evidently resented that she placed war reporting as more important than him, and they divorced in 1945. Post-Hemingway, Gellhorn’s journalism career would continue span nearly forty more years and take her around the world. She reported on nearly every major conflict of the second half of the 20th century, reporting into her eightieth decade.

McLain had previously written The Paris Wife, the novelisation of the life of Paula Hadley, Hemingway’s first wife. As in that novel, in Love and Ruin McLain centres a woman who has been sidelined by history as “Hemingway’s wife” and tells their own remarkable story.

 

Z: A Novel by Therese Anne Fowler

 

In this novel, the author takes another maligned woman from history and places her own story front and centre. It is the novelisation of the life of Zelda Fitzgerald, dancer and artist who was married to F. Scott Fitzgerald. 

Zelda was a wealthy socialite from a prominent family when she met Fitzgerald. She was a talented ballet dancer, painted and wrote short stories as well as diligently keeping a diary.

 

Young Zelda in a Flowerbed, 1919

 

Whilst talented in her own right, Zelda also suffered from mental illness, what we would now call bipolar disorder, which worsened as she got older. She was forced to drop her creative pursuits, and was eventually hospitalised, where she would remain until her untimely death.

It is well known that Zelda inspired some of F. Scott’s characters, and it is even suggested that he lifted passages directly from her diaries or things she had said to him verbatim. The novel endeavours to find the real woman behind the Jazz Age muse, and liberate her story.

 

The Hours by Michael Cunningham 

Unlike the other two novels already mentioned, The Hours does not follow a traditional format. The last days in the life of writer Virginia Woolf is interspersed with stories of contemporary characters whose lives are indelibly influenced by that of her 1923 novella, Mrs Dalloway. “The Hours” refers to the fact that all the stories take place in the course of one day, mirroring the events that happen in Mrs Dalloway. The novel has also been made into an award-winning film starring Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore and Nicola Kidman.

 

Nicole Kidman playing Virginia Woolf in "The Hours" (2004)

The novel touches on themes that Woolf wrote about and experienced in her own life — struggles with mental illness, feminism and the passage of time.

 

The Master by Henry James

The Master is a novel about one of the 19th century’s greatest writers, Henry James. Writer of classics such as Wings of a Dove and The Turn of the Screw, James was born into a privileged intellectual family in Boston, Massachusetts. He moved to Europe as a young man to write and would spend the rest of his life between the England and Italy. 

 

Young Henry James

 

The novel covers four years of the author's life, a period of personal and professional turmoil. The debut of his play, Guy Domville, had bombed badly in the London theatre, leaving him extremely despondent and depressed. After the death of his dear sister Alice and several close friends, the struggling James reflects back on his childhood and fraught early relationships. James was a complicated and private person of ambiguous sexuality, and the book carefully extrapolates on what could have been pivotal moments in his life, surmising that a life of concealment and chosen isolation could have influenced his intricately layered and detailed writings. In this lonely period of his life, he would write The Turn of the Screw, The Awkward Age and The Sacred Fount.

 

The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict

This novel focuses on the utterly strange disappearance and reappearance of acclaimed detective novelist, Agatha Christie, in which the crime author became her very own mystery story.

 

The Daily Mirror Newspaper

 

In 1926, the 36-year old Christie was dealing with issues in her marriage and struggling to write. When her abandoned car was found, the ensuing police investigation became a media frenzy and a nationwide hunt began. When she was finally spotted in a hotel in Harrogate, Yorkshire eleven days later, the strange tale was pieced together. After leaving her car in a hedgerow, Christie walked to a friend’s house. The following day she took a train to Harrogate where she checked into a hotel for the next ten days - bizarrely, under the name of the name of the women her husband was having an affair with. Christie claimed to have been in a “fugue” state and had temporary amnesia about the incident. Speculation arose that she had planned to die by suicide, that it was in order to humiliate her husband, or that the whole thing was a publicity stunt to promote herself in the face of waning public interest.

For those who find this open ending deeply puzzling and frustrating, Benedict reconstructs the story in thrilling detail, examining each of the player’s involved — Christie’s husband Archie, their young daughter, his mistress, and Christie herself. From this, she reimagines what might of happened, right down to a deeply satisfying conclusion.

 

Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald 

While the other books on this list are authors taking inspiration from other writer’s lives, often a good century later, this novel was inspired by the writer’s own life. Tender is the Night is about a glamorous couple, Dick and Nicole. They are living in the French Riviera in the final ebb of the Jazz Age. Their life consists of heavy drinking and hedonistic parties with other American expats. But Nicole, once Dick’s psychiatric patient, is deeply unwell, and their marriage crumbles under the weight of outside influence.

 

Sara and Gerald Murphy in the South of France

 

Fitzgerald did not need to reach far for inspiration for this novel. During this writing, his own wife, Zelda, deteriorated to the point where she was hospitalised - on the way down from Paris, she grabbed the steering wheel of the car and nearly drove the family off of a cliff. Scott himself was an alcoholic and in severe financial difficulty. They had once been the golden couple of the Jazz Age, flitting around Paris and the Riviera partying and living recklessly. Most of the characters in the novel are thinly disguised and very identifiable as real people in the Fitzgerald’s social milieu. The titular couple, whilst strongly resembling the Fitzgeralds themselves, were also based on glamorous socialite couple Gerald and Sara Murphy, wealthy Americans who lived on the Côte D'Azur. The character of Rosemary, whom Dick is in love with, is based on Fitzgerald’s brief affair with Hollywood actress Lois Moran.

While the book received a lukewarm response upon release, it has been reappraised as legend of the Fitzgeralds themselves grew with time. It is now considered his finest work. 

 

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Another novel based closely on her own life is the classic novel Little Women. The novel follows the lives of the four March sisters from childhood as they grow and develop into  adulthood to find their individual paths. While the girls flounder and struggle at times, they each learn to uphold the values they believe in and remain close to each other. Jo, the titular character, is spirited and independent. She writers fervently and longs to be a published author. Meg, the oldest sister, is responsible and loving. Jo is puzzled by her lack of ambition. She does not understand her until much later. Beth is the youngest sister and a talented pianist. She is shy and doted on by her sisters. Her life is stalled by illness. And lastly, there is the middle sister, Amy. Amy, like Jo, is driven and spirited. She wishes to be a painter, but her ideas about success and ambition are more grounded. 

 

The 2020 adaptation of Little Women

 

The March’s home, Orchard House, is based exactly on the Alcott’s home in Concord, Massachusetts. Her older sister Anna is the inspiration for Meg. Lizzie, her most beloved sister, was the model for Beth. Her strong-willed rival, May, was the inspiration for Amy. Their home life is strongly idealised in the book, while the reality, including the family’s financial problems, were more serious . Like Jo, Alcott began writing in earnest when is became apparent she could support her family materially this way.

Alcott had reservations about writing Little Women. She thought readers would find it boring and was not convinced it would be a wide success. However, the book instantly appealed to readers, and ever since has had a beloved readership.

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