Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Famous look-alikes and literary doppelgangers


These images are some of the 60-plus "famous lookalikes" compiled by the Biography website. (Pictured are Hermann Rorschach/BradPitt; Zora Neale Hurston and Queen Latifah; D.W. Griffith and Alan Cumming.)
On the topic of doppelgangers, I was recently piqued by travel writer/novelist Paul Theroux's sudden introduction of himself into his novel Dead Hand: A Crime in Calcutta. In the words of the Guardian, his main character, Jerry Delfont, "finds another writer nosing around, a 'smirking, intrusive, ungenerous and insincere man' who dispenses versions of himself before disappearing 'into a thicket of half truths he hoped was art'. In other words, Paul Theroux. It's an unexpected touch and gives Theroux ample opportunity to skewer himself, Jerry and, by implication, plenty of other writers at the same time. 'He was intense,' writes Jerry after their meeting, 'And never at rest, forever uninvolved.... I knew he was going to write about me, about meeting me, and that he'd get everything wrong.' Ouch!"
Photo: Outlook India
Is Theroux working out some weird kind of psychomachia? London's Independent was also a bit thunderstruck. To them this fictional gambit "amount[s] to a diatribe by Delfont about the act of travel writing, describing it as an emotionally stunted, puerile and selfish pastime, and brutally denouncing anyone who is stupid and arrogant enough to do it. This remarkable interlude is compelling, like rubbernecking a psychological car crash….. That said, there is plenty of good writing in A Dead Hand. Thanks to a lifetime of travel writing, Theroux is adept at description and brings the insane and seedy chaos of Calcutta wonderfully alive on the page. As the plot kicks in later on, Theroux and an American diplomat friend travel to the remote Indian state of Assam, and once again Theroux is good at portraying the isolation and desperate poverty of the region."
Hmmm: Can you think of other cases in which an author introduces themselves into a work of fiction (when they weren't the main character)?

12 comments:

  1. WILHELM THADDEUS FINKJune 5, 2013 at 1:15 PM

    What a riot these doppelgangers are! The Taft/Bates and Mahler/Colbert are shockingly close... Who would your famous "twin" be?

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    1. My favorite is definitely the Pulitzer/Dustin Diamond one.

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    2. Not to mention that for my entire life, I thought Davy Jones simply WAS Walter Koenig. My gosh!!

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    3. The Millard Filmore/Alec Baldwin one is uncanny. Most of those images were really freaky! Poor Kathy Bates...

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  2. I have always been fascinated by the familiarity of faces. My favorite has to be the Ginger Rogers/Christina Aguilera comparison.

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  3. ... other cases in which an author introduces themselves into a work of fiction?

    Making my way through yet another list, Time magazine's 100 best books written in English since 1923 (I'm about 2/3 done), earlier this year I read Money (1984), where John Self, the main character, occasionally runs into the rather shabby Martin Amis (who wrote the novel). After one early encounter he says, "This writer’s name, they tell me, is Martin Amis. Never heard of him. Do you know his stuff at all?"

    p.s. Regarding our recent discussion(s) of reading: John Self, a director of TV commercials who’s trying to make his first feature film, says at one point, "Reading takes a long time, though, don’t you find? It takes such a long time to get from, say, page twenty-one to page thirty. I mean, first you’ve got page twenty-three, then page twenty-five, then page twenty-seven, then page twenty-nine, not to mention the even numbers. Then page thirty. Then you’ve got page thirty-one and page thirty-three — there’s no end to it."

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    1. You would think such an impatient fellow would prefer to work in commercials rather than provoke our impatience with the equivalent of 180 or so of his current productions. Watching movies takes a long time, don't you find?
      Actually, if you've gotten to #119 by now, reading doesn't take you any time at all!

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  4. On the topic of authors entering their own books, John Fowles in The French Lieutenant's Woman comes to mind.

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    1. Stephen King makes appearances as himself in the Dark Tower series.

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  5. Although I don't believe he wrote himself into it, I can't help but mention the just released season of Arrested Development where Ron Howard still serves as the narrator of the show, but is also a character. Throughout the season, he frequently narrates about himself without acknowledging it.

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  6. Explore here lots of cool writing related articles on the thematic of education and writing-related topics.

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