10 Famous Authors and their Weaknesses

Many of us like to assume that our favorite literary legends led exemplary lives with a feathered quill in their hand. We imagine them to be shy, gentle bookworms. But this is a mere misperception, in reality a vast majority of renowned novelists, playwrights, poets were actually victims of their own human frailties. They had flaws and foibles of their own. Here’s a list of some popular literary luminaries and some lesser known truths about them.

10. Lord Byron

Lord Byron is regarded as one of the greatest British poets. He is acclaimed for his works such as Child Harold’s Pilgrimage and Don Juan. “Truth is always strange”, George Gordon Noel Byron once wrote, which might have been a description of his brief, scandalous, hedonistic life. Lord Byron had a rough start in life. His father drank himself to death when he was only three, his mother loathed him and called him a “lame little brat”, and also tried to beat him to death with a set of fire tongs. Even unfortunate of Byron was when his governess May Gray, reportedly molested him at the age of nine. About the only good thing to happen in his childhood was that he inherited his uncle’s wealth along with his title: Baron Byron of Rochdale. From then on, George Gordon was known as Lord Byron.

The Brad grew up into a strikingly handsome man, his only imperfection was a tendency to put on weight. Byron overcame this predisposition by starving himself and taking abundant amount of laxatives. Sex would prove to be his real nourishment anyway. He reportedly had intercourse with 250 women in Venice in one year alone. His extensive list of lovers included lady Caroline Lamb, her cousin Anne Isabella Milbanke (who became Lady Byron later on), and even his own half sister Augusta Leigh who was married at the time, but hey if you’re going to commit incest why not go all the way and commit adultery as well? Many scholars declare that Byron was the real father of Augusta’s daughter Medora. George Byron was an unusual romantic, he memorialized his lovers by placing snippets of their pubic hair in envelopes, writing each with the name of the woman immortalized within. Creepy enough? Not yet.

Byron never restricted himself to one gender. He had numerous homosexual affairs too, mostly with adolescent boys. The poet also had an uncanny affection for animals, which is why his menagerie included horses, geese, monkeys, a badger, a fox, a parrot, an eagle, a crow, a heron, a falcon, a crocodile, five peacocks, two guinea hens, and an Egyptian crane. Other than the exotic animals he kept for companionship, there didn’t seem to be too many creatures he wasn’t interested in having sex with.

9. Honoré de Balzac

The French novelist and playwright had a panoramic and witheringly satirical literary style. Among his notable works are the novels, Le Pére Goriot, La Peau de chagrin and La Cousine Bette. “I am not deep, but very wide”. Balzac once declared. It is yet to be decided if he was sardonically observing his appearance or the intellectual breadth of his work (or both).

During his early years, Balzac was no stranger to poverty. He lived in a hovel without the bare necessities of life. He had no heat or furniture in his humble abode, so the great writer supplied his own interior decor, using the power of his imagination. He simply scribbled on the walls what he wished to see there. Once, a burglar tried to rob him by picking the lock on his desk. Aroused from his slumber, Balzac just laughed and said, “What risks you take to try to find money in a desk where the legal owner can’t find any by day!”. Most of his dinners consisted of a stale roll dipped in a glass of water.

Although Balzac earned a moderate income, afterwards, the tragedian still maintained a beggarly appearance. Once, he was mistaken as a lunatic by a mutual friend because of his indiscipline while dining. He was notorious for his eccentric dress sense, coarse behaviour and gargantuan appetites. He reportedly gobbled a dozen mutton cutlets, a duck with turnips, a Normandy sole, two partridges, and more than one hundred oysters. He finished things off with a desert of twelve pears plus a variety of sweets, fruit and liquors, while dining at a restaurant in Paris. He had revolting table manners and sprayed bits of food as he chewed. The Frenchman was also very fond of coffee, he drank up to fifty thick black Turkish coffee per day. When he couldn’t get his fix in brewed form, he simply popped the beans into his mouth. Born Honoré Balssa, he changed his surname and added an aristocratic-sounding “de” to convince people he was a nobleman.

9. Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe, America’s most favorite writer, poet and critic.Among his works “ The Fall of the house of Usher”, “The tell-tale of the heart” and ‘The Raven” are very popular. He was the originator of macabre fiction. His strange and frightening stories and atmospheric poems paved the way for H.P Lovecraft and Stephen King. “I believe that demons take advantage of the night to mislead the unwary, although I don’t believe in them”. He once confessed to a friend. Poe always felt he was living under a dark cloud, which was justified, considering his fate.

Edgar’s parents died when he was just three years old. He was raised by a wealthy couple named John and Frances Allan in Richmond,Virginia. Besides affection, the other thing John Allan failed to give his stepson was money. Almost all his life, Poe spent in destitution. While studying at the University of Virginia, he ran up gambling to make both ends meet, alcohol proved to be his companion in times of hardship. He gave up his education to join the military which wasn’t a success either, as he was court martialed for “Gross Neglect of Duty”, later on.

Edgar Allan fit the mold of the classic falling-down drunk. Deprived of both money and family, his life was an absolute nightmare. He was also afraid of the dark, no wonder why. He literally took lessons in cemetery. In his boarding school in England, the classroom abutted a graveyard. Too poor to buy textbooks, the headmaster conducted math lessons outside among the slumbering dead. Young Allan Poe was instructed to choose a headstone and then find the deceased’s age by subtracting the year of birth from the year of death. Gym class also took place in the same cheery atmosphere. On the first day of school, each student was handed with a small wooden shovel. If a parish member died during the semester, the children were sent out to dig the grave, thereby engaging in some aerobic exercise.

8. Charles Dickens

Charles John Huffam Dickens, is regarded as one of the finest novelists of the Victorian period. His critically acclaimed works include, The Pickwick Papers, Bleak House, David Copperfield and Great Expectations. A young lad endures a miserable, joyless childhood, working in a dull, bleak workshop. This sounds like the premise of one of Dickens’ novels, but this is in fact the first line of his own biography.

In the factory he used to glue labels on bottles of shoe polish, twelve hours a day and six shillings a week. When your life is a living hell you might want to write about the plight of poor kids in factories all day, which is exactly what he did. Dickens was the Stephen king of his day, unloved by critics but revered by legions of passionate fans. Although his novels and stories remained invariably excellent over the course of more than thirty years, Dickens did have some ill fated encounters. He married Catherine Hogarth in 1836, but was unusually close to her younger sister. When Mary Hogarth died a the age of seventeen, he reacted as if his own wife died. He cut off a lock of her hair and kept it in a special case, took her ring as well and wore it for the rest of his life. He even took all the dead girl’s clothes into his possession, and also desired to be buried in the same grave as her sister in law.

Dickens was also known to have an obsessive compulsive disorder, he refused to write in a room if the tables and chairs weren’t in order. He memorialized the location of every piece of furniture in a any given room and would spend hours reorganizing to suit his whims. He was also a neat freak, who wouldn’t stand a hair out of place. Even weirder than his neatness tics was were his superstitions. He touched everything thrice for luck, considered Friday his lucky day, and always slept facing the north pole. Charles also had a creepy obsession with the Paris morgue, where he would spend days studying the corpses of drowned vagrants and other unclaimed wretches.

6. Lewis Carroll

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, who is recognized by his pen name Lewis Carroll. The creative writer of the famed novels Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. He was a timid, stammering vicar’s son from Daresbury, Cheshire. A mathematician by profession, determined to keep his writing career separate he invented the pen name Lewis Carroll for himself. He was named a church deacon, and was assumed to become an Anglican Priest. Although he never said his vows, but he certainly remained devout. He reportedly walked out of theatrical performances if anything sacred was defamed on stage.

The author was also known for his portraits of prepubescent girls. Was he a pedophile? The debate rages. He took hundreds of photographs of girls, occasionally in the nude. None depict explicitly sexual situations, although at least one girl’s mother was creeped out enough to deny her request to photograph her without a chaperone. Carroll had an especially close relationship with a ten year old Alice Liddell, the real life model for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which ended abruptly in 1863. No one is sure why. Soon his interest in photography ceased suddenly and his writings started reflecting a lifelong sense of guilt and sin.

5. Emily Dickinson

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson, the American poetess, who is known for her gnomic verses set to the meter of old hymns. Her notable works like “Wild Nights! Wild Nights!” and Because I could not stop for death, clearly reflects her literary style. Although her family had a prominent name in the community, Emily avoided limelight and would spend most of her time in reclusive isolation.

The height of her reclusive nature was such that, she often “visited” people by speaking to them behind the door of an adjoining room. Even friends who travelled great distances to see her often arrived to find her incommunicado and locked inside her room. Some people ascribed her retreat from the world to the psychological effects of a broken relationship. Scholars now believe that Dickinson suffered from rheumatic iritis, a painful eye inflammation that caused her to avoid all light. The real cause is still a mystery though. While on her death bed, diagnosed with a case of Bright’s Disease, she allowed her doctor to examine her condition through a partially closed door.

  1. Oscar Wilde

Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde, the legendary Irish playwright, poet and wit. Some of his major works are the novels,The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of being Earnest. His writings were always bitingly satirical and brimming with barbed wit.

“Cultivated leisure is the aim of man”. he once remarked. And he proved this to be true, by barely working a day in his life. Except for a brief two year stint as an editor of a magazine. Besides that, he never held a real job. Born into the house of an Irish nationalist poet and her skilled ear and eye surgeon, William (who was so skilled in his work, that a surgical incision named after him is still performed today) Yet outside the operating room, the Wilde name was ill-famed by controversy. One of his father’s patient filed a suit against Oscar for raping her while she was desensitized by anesthesia. Oscar Wilde reportedly lost the case to the woman.

He may have been a legendary wit, but he certainly wasn’t the world’s handsomest man. Most heinous among his features were his fetid, blackened teeth, a by product of the mercury treatment he had been given to alleviate the symptoms of syphilis contracted in late adolescence. Whenever someone engaged in an intimate conversation with him he covered his mouth with his hand, fearing that his rotten choppers might disgust the conversation partner.

  1. Mark Twain

Mark Twain was one of Samuel Langhorne Clemens’ many pseudonyms. The American humorist and tale teller’s notable works are The adventures of Tom Sawyer, Life on the Mississippi and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Tired of his miserable life, he left home at the age of eighteen and started working on a riverboat. His brother died a tragic death in a steamboat explosion, which left a lasting impact on Twain’s life. During the Civil War, he also served in the confederate military for a brief time.

After gaining popularity by his literary works, Twain headed out to join the lecture circuit to further cash on his success. Some people also regard him as the first stand up comic. The eccentric once delivered an entire speech on breaking the wind (farting) to an audience that included Queen Victoria. He was also known for his choice of cheap, foul and low quality cigars, even though he acquired a decent amount of wealth.

Mark was also interested in innovative gadgets, maybe because he spent a lot of time with his dear friend Nikola Tesla. His love of scientific innovations urged him to make investments in the technology sector, and a series of bad investments later, he filed for  bankruptcy. Unfortunate for him, he passed the chance on investing in Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone. He even patented three inventions, which also didn’t prove to be a success either. Except the self-pasting scrapbook, which wasn’t as disastrous as his other creations.

3. Agatha Christie

Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie, the uncrowned queen of crime mysteries. Her most famous works are The Mysterious Affair at Styles, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and Murder on the Orient Express. Agatha once said in an interview, “I am an incredible sausage machine”, I think she was talking about her prolific output and not the quality of her work.

The Dame ranks as one the most celebrated authors in the history of literature. But not once, she set pen to paper. She afflicted a learning disability called dysgraphia, which restricted her from writing legibly. As a result, she had to dictate all her novels. In her autobiography, she listed all her likes and dislikes. For the record, her major pet peeves included “crowds, being jam packed up against people, loud voices, noise altogether, protracted talking, parties, especially cocktail parties, cigarette smoke, any kind of drink except in cooking, marmalade, oysters, lukewarm food, the feet of birds and last but not the least the taste and smell of hot milk”

The greatest mystery in her life was when, the mystery writer, disappeared for eleven days. Police suspected foul play, but her husband was busy canoodling with his mistress, at the time of her disappearance. The authorities eventually found Agatha holed up in a Yorkshire hotel under an assumed name. She initially claimed to be suffering from amnesia, although years later it was revealed that the entire incident was part of a plot dreamed by Agatha to force his husband to give up his mistress.

2. Arthur Conan Doyle

The Scottish born, Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle, acclaimed for his detective fiction, featuring the character Sherlock Holmes. You might be familiar with his bona fide hit detective novels like, A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four, The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Lost World.

Arthur studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, but failed as a physician, he had trouble scrounging up patients, and relied on traffic accidents to keep his medical practice afloat. He tried his luck by becoming an opthalomogist, but his hopes of earning a good living as an eye doctor foundered for lack of patients. He hoped to win fame as an author of historical fiction, but his works were met with critical and public disdain. But he didn’t give up, and began writing crime fiction which was an unexpected success.

Later, he focused exclusively on his belief in spiritualism, communicating with the dead, and the existence of fairies. It was a bizarre turnabout for a writer long associated with rational deduction. These stances made him a laughing stock in the literary world. But he didn’t care enough, he was an ardent spiritualist and believed that tiny winged fairies were real and could be found if you looked hard enough.

R.R. Tolkien

R.R Tolkien, the prolific author who is credited for his classic fantasy works like, The Hobbit, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King.“I am in fact a Hobbit (in all but size)”, he once wrote, the author didn’t just write The Hobbit deep down he believed he was one.

For some reason, Tolkien showed antagonism towards France, the French and to French language, particularly the French cuisine. He was known to have Gallophobia. He visited Paris in his early twenties and considered the people vulgar and indecent. He also believed that the Norman Conquest by William the Conqueror, deprived Britain of a golden age of Anglo-Saxon culture, replacing it with European.

R.R Tolkien was also notorious for his bad driving skills, he often navigated one-way streets in the wrong direction. He was distrustful of automobiles and all modern conveniences. His reckless driving and lacking concern for other motorists often ended up in ramming other vehicles. His driving wasn’t the only thing that drove his wife crazy, his snoring became such a nuisance for her, that she would force him to sleep in the bathroom. It may not have been very comfortable, but it made for easy access to the morning showers.