Why do writers write? Because it isn't there.
- Thomas Berger

What does one make of the author's role if literature is little more than a half-digested version of what the author sees, reads, experiences and then burps up?

Every now and then, typically when the culture sections are low on juicier stuff, a serious researcher or amateur enthusiast rears his (it's normally a he, for some reason) enthusiastic head in the newspapers to reveal more or less reliable tidbits of information about a famous author. And every so often this information has to do with finding real-life models for the author's literary characters. Just today I read about a Norwegian researcher claiming that Henrik Ibsen's Hedda Gabler character is modelled on a Russian aristocrat. And the journalist actually asked him how he found out who Hedda really was. I had to read that twice to make sure I got the question right.

If the viewpoint is that of literary significance and interest, there are numerous flaws in this setup already - to begin with, the use of the past tense. Hedda was not, she is, and she will continue to be, a literary character, a figment of Ibsen's literary imagination, and attempting to claim that she is nothing more than an embellished description of a real-life person,actually seems like belittling Ibsen as an artist.

Literary criticism has, long since, more or less abandoned the historical-biographical viewpoint that makes the author the centre of literary research. Knowledge about possible real-life models is neither necessary, nor necessarily a good thing, when it comes to good literature. Writings such as Hedda Gabler have been appreciated for a long time without thought to Russian aristocracy. Still, a fair amount of time is spent debating what chair in which house /insert famous author here/ was sitting on when /insert work/ was written.

Of course, it is highly possible, even normal, to be so fascinated by someone's literature that you would like to learn more about them and their lives. But however much biographical data one uncovers, this remains information outside the literary works themselves, possibly correct, but hardly what great fiction is about or a prerequisite for interpreting and enjoying it. No one knows for sure who wrote the works of William Shakespeare, but that doesn't really lessen his plays, now does it?

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