Friday, June 05, 2009

Disgraceful Dads

An old sepia portrait of Patrick Bronte, the tyrannical father of Charlotte, Emily, Anne and Branwell has come to light, and Chris Green uses the occasion to look at other famously troubled father-child relationships in literature :

Philip Larkin

The poet claimed to have had a happy upbringing, but the famous opening to This Be The Verse – "They fuck you up, your mum and dad" – seems to suggest otherwise. His father Sydney Larkin, a Coventry city treasurer, was a cultured man with a love of jazz music, a passion that he passed on to his son. However, he was also fascinated with Adolf Hitler, keeping a small statue of the dictator on the mantelpiece of the family home which raised its arm in salute at the press of a button.

Sylvia Plath

The father of the American poet and novelist was a professor of apiology and German at Boston University who wrote a book about bumblebees. Otto Plath died when Plath was eight and she would later explore her non-existent relationship with him in her poem Daddy: "Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I'm through". Plath committed suicide in 1963 while her two children slept in the next room. In March this year, Nicholas, her son with Ted Hughes, hanged himself at his home in Alaska.

Eugene O'Neill

The American playwright's masterpiece, Long Day's Journey Into Night, is an autobiographical study of his own dysfunctional family. His father, James, was a successful touring actor and O'Neill was born in a hotel and spent most of his early childhood on the road. Later he blamed his father for his difficult family life which resulted in his mother's drug addiction and both parents appear as defeated characters in Long Day's Journey. O'Neill's eldest son committed suicide aged 40.

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