Many a notable scribe has donned the face lace. From weavers of absurdities, to creators of magical tales, to macabre tales and the creator of the ultimate super sleuth. Please note that this is by no means and extensive list, but rather just a little taster to get you reading some motastic writers.
We start our list with what we think is a perfect pairing of Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut. Those unfamiliar with their work and only seeing them for the first time may feel that on visual similarities alone this grouping is a good call. But there are many other links apart from the mos and curls. Both courted significant controversy due to the content of their books. Both were men who, although making a name for themselves in the realm of letters, were knowledgeable and passionate supporters of science. But what makes them the perfect pair is that they each viewed their respective centuries with wit and compassion. Both had a satirical edge that makes them amongst the funniest writers to have lived, but that did not mean their writing descended into the abyss of mockery or cruelty. In Twain’s case much of the controversy came later for his use of racial slurs in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which is regularly included in discussions of the “Great American Novel”. Other notable works include The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and his more directly satirical works like The Gilded Age: A Tale of To-day and his travel logs like A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court. For Vonnegut much of the controversies came as a result of the ‘vulgar’ language he used in Slaughterhouse Five. Although Slaughterhouse is his best known work, his other works are all worth a read and equally posses his compassionate wit. Of all his works, Cat’s Cradle is perhaps his most superb, with undertone’s reminiscent of Dr Strangelove and echoes of real world events like the Cuban-Missile Crisis.
James Joyce is remembered as one of the greatest stylist in the English language in the 20th century. Born in Ireland, Joyce would live most of his life in Paris and became the key figure of modernist literature and saw him create numerous masterpieces of the twentieth century. The Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, a heavily autobiographical coming-of-age novel, gives a precursor of much of the techniques he would use in later works. Much of his following work revolve around Ireland and more specifically Dublin, including the short story collection Dubliners and his greatest and most intimidating work is Ulysses, a very loose retelling of Homer’s The Odyssey set in Dublin on a single day, 16 June 1904. With its evocative yet puzzling language, rich allusions, stream-of-consciousness approach, the work has become both the high mark of modernist prose literature, but also embodies the many frustrations that readers experience when reading the texts. Those who find Ulysses a breeze may want to have a crack at Finnegan’s Wake, which saw Joyce take the techniques Ulysses to their logical conclusion, creating an even more dense style which disregards even conventional elements of plot and characterisation.
Two giants of the Southern Renaissance. William Faulkner came to prominence with his charged works like The Sound and the Fury, and As I Lay Dying. Although using similar techniques to Joyce and other modernist, most notably stream-of-consciousness, It was his use of multiple narrators, with his prose was often drenched in regional dialects. This allowed Faulkner to make the most of his multiple narrators and oft’ non-linear exposition. It adds to the sense of uncertainty inherent in memory, with all of Faulkner’s narrators unreliable, but not due to a compulsion to lie, but simply because of their own unique perspectives. His experimental style and approach to narrative would eventually see him awarded the Nobel prize in literature with the committee noting “his powerful and artistically unique contribution to the modern American novel”. Tennessee Williams is one of the foremost playwrights of the twentieth-century alongside Arthur Miller and Eugene O’Neill. Williams’ plays like A Streetcar Named Desire, which one the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, established new approach in the American theater scene, but in many ways came to haunt Williams who was never able to reach the heights he had with that play, leading to much substance abuse. But his work is still strongly remembered, with many of his classic plays adapted into equally successful films, including Streetcar, starring Marlon Brando in a career defining performance, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman.
We now feature two French masters. Gustave Flaubert is remembered mainly for his Madame Bovary, the tale of Emma Bovary, a doctor’s wife, who begins to have numerous adulterous affairs as a way to remedy the tedium of provincial life. This of course led the novel to be decried as indecent, leading to a trial before Falubert was acquitted of the charge of obscenity. Flaubert is remembered not only for his rich, heavily detailed descriptions, but also as the leader of literary realism in France. His devotion to style and aesthetics is best summed up in his principle of “le mot juste” (“the right word”) leading him to often spend weeks on the completion of a single page. Marcel Proust is best known for À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time), which was published in seven parts between 1913 and 1927. A mammoth ode to the past, or more accurately, to the memories of it that are involuntarily conjured, In Search Lost Time saw a shift in French fiction from the realism championed by Flaubert and instead giving centre stage is shifted from plot or character development to the interplay of multiple perspectives, similar in fashion to Faulkner. And like both Faulkner and the other modernist on this list Joyce, Proust’s characters are introspective and passive, allowing themselves to become vehicles for memory and experience.
The English are just as prone to the face lace as the American’s and French. Rudyard Kipling‘s reputation continues to evolve. See originally as one of Britain’s greatest writers, he has, as the British Empire faded, been viewed more harshly. Not only did he write what many consider to be the love letter to imperialism “The White Man’s Burden” he also wrote The Jungle Books and Kim, as well as more adult adventure stories like “The Man who Would be King”. But this has shifted, with him being again, if somewhat contentiously, being viewed as a skilled storyteller and stylist. Almost working as moral opposite to Kipling is George Orwell, who view Kipling as “the prophet of British imperialism”. Orwell is the quintessential political novelist. Born Eric Arthur Blair, has the distinction of, to use Christopher Hitchen’s words, identifying the three evils of his age: imperialism, fascism and Stalinism. Although known best for his political works like Nineteen-eighty Four and the fable of the 20th century Animal Farm and writing with incredible clarity about imperialism in Burmese Days his social novels are sometimes considered his best. Down and Out in Paris and London, as well as Keep the Aspidistra Flying are especially striking critiques of the social structures of England.
We now turn to two masters of the macabre. Edgar Allan Poe is synonymous with Gothic horror. But what is not often discussed is his role as a Romanticist in American literature as well as an earlier practitioner of the short story form. He is also, although less obviously, a precursor to the science fiction genre, along with the likes of Mary Shelley. He is also (this list is potentially endless) considered the inventor of the detective story, through works which feature C. Auguste Dupin, collected in The Murders in the Rue Morgue: the Dupin Tales. An output as diverse as it is spine tingling. Although not as well known for it, the master of the modern detective story, Arthur Conan Doyle, also knew how to tell tales of devilish proportions. Granted, he may be best (read: exclusively) known for creating super sleuth Sherlock Holmes, he also wrote his fair share of horror stories like The Ghost of the Mary Celeste, and many of his other horror tales have been antholgised alongside Poe in the collections Horror Stories and Penny Dreadfuls: Sensational Tales of Terror. And, just in case you though this was an author of only horror and death, he also wrote adventure tales like The Lost World. Equally as varied and as solid entertaining as Poe himself.
We finish our list with two giants of magic realism. Günter Grass and Gabriel Garcia Marquez helped bring the magic realist style to new shores. Although Jorge Luis Borges is the spiritual father of the style, it was Garcia Marquez who brought it to prominence and linked it forever with both Latin American but also with underdeveloped nations across the world with his two main novels, Love in the Time of Cholera and One Hundred Years of Solitude. Constantly changing his style to suit the needs of the novel at hand, the coherence came from his humour and humanity within the exaggerated proportions of the magic realist mold. Across the globe, Grass fashioned the style in a distinctly European fashion with his debut novel, The Tin Drum and the Danzig Trilogy of which it forms a part. Adding in elements of fables, Grass charged the new style with folk sensibilities to tackle the social upheavals that were rolling across Germany and Europe. A figure of contention for his brazen left-wing politics during the time of Germany’s reformation following World War II, Grass courted controversy with seeming ease for works like his novel on the battle of the sexes, The Flounder. His overtly political works often frustrated some critics like John Updike, who, although critical of Grass, still considered the publication of a new Grass novel something that he had “no intention of missing”.
And there you have it. A series of authors whose works and literary styles are as varied as their marvelous moustaches. Who is your favourite moustachioed writer? Did we miss any big hitters? Let us know in the comments below.