“Writing is utter solitude, the descent into the cold abyss of oneself.” ~ Franz Kafka
I think that many – if not all – of us agree with the concept of writing being a solitary activity. Don’t you feel distracted or uncomfortable writing when people are going about their business around you, or worse, when they try to talk to you and/or look over your shoulder?
Some of the greatest writers of our time have emphasized more than once that solitude, being alone, when writing is of utmost importance. Here’s a good read on this topic: What Great Artists Need: Solitude.
So what am I getting at?
Perhaps some of the greatest works of writing were created out of being alone and not being “shackled” by marriage.
Don’t get me wrong! I am not against marriage, but what if…?
What if being single gave some famous writers the freedom they needed to go on a writing binge without having to think of someone else?
What if not having to face marital problems – which can easily snowball to separation, the need for an attorney, and ultimately divorce – gave these writers wings to soar to creative heights without being pulled down to the ground?
What if being alone brought out the best and worst, leading to stories that stand the test of time?
Curious George that I am, I did a bit of research on famous writers who never married, and guess what? I was caught off-guard more than once.
Famous writers who never married
1. Jane Austen
I honestly didn’t know that Jane Austen, the writer of the most famous opening line of a novel, never married! With a lot of her work being romantic fiction, it can be argued that she just never found her Darcy.
2. Emily Dickinson
One of my go-to poets, Emily Dickinson was known to be reclusive. It’s not really a surprise that she never married. She never really hid her views on marriage. As The Poetry Foundation writes:
In her observation of married women, her mother not excluded, she saw the failing health, the unmet demands, the absenting of self that was part of the husband-wife relationship. The “wife” poems of the 1860s reflect this ambivalence.
3. Louisa May Alcott
Who hasn’t read Little Women? This book was the stuff children’s (or tweens’?) dreams were made of – at least back in the day.
Scholar Harriet Reisen has a good explanation of why the author didn’t marry. Her father was an idealist who went on about his business without really caring about the practical state of his family, which was dirt poor.
Alcott saw her mother as being dependent on a husband who didn’t meet the needs of the family, and she vowed she wouldn’t be like that. That she would never be poor.
Fun fact: Louisa May Alcott may never have married, but she did have the honor of learning personally from Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Theodore Parker who were friends of her family.
4. Henry David Thoreau
One of the most famous American writers, Thoreau is best known for his book Walden.
It’s not that Thoreau didn’t have any interest in getting married – he proposed to one Ellen Sewall (after his brother John did), but got rejected because her father was against the Thoreau family’s liberal religious views.
5. Walt Whitman
Poet and journalist Walt Whitman stirred up his fair share of controversy, especially with his most famous collection of verse, Leaves of Grass, which didn’t really hide its sexual theme – quite the opposite, actually. By the way, did you know that this book was self-published? Controversy notwithstanding, this writer is considered to be one of the most influential in American literature.
So why didn’t Whitman get married? His situation was not so simple.
Some assume, based on his work, that he was homosexual. Others say he was bisexual. Given the times he lived in, his romantic life was no doubt, as we say today, “complicated”.