Why Reclusive Writers?

Google "reclusive writers" and you'll quickly see that it's a phrase with which the online public is familiar.  Top 5 and 10 lists of individuals fitting this description emerge, along informal lists compiled by groups.  All in all at this moment it nets me 6,010 results, whereas "reclusive actors" only brings in 1,070, and "reclusive painters" 1,260.  It's worth mentioning that this last term produces a wide variety of results within the first few pages, including a reference to the "Yuan reclusive painters" from a Chinese history textbook and an OKCupid quiz.  Suffice it to say it's less of a thing.

The idea of the reclusive writer is a pervasive one.  "Recluse" is a word commonly applied to someone who doesn't like to be around other people, but also usually someone who manages to achieve that state.  It's not that far off from "hermit."  If you had a co-worker who didn't say much, you probably wouldn't describe them as a "recluse" no matter how withdrawn they were.  You would only say they were an "introvert," or "shy," or "socially anxious" if you were being PC about it.  But the fact of them being there every day in front of you would preclude them from being a recluse.

Most people can't afford to live in complete isolation these days, even if they would prefer it.  Truly successful writers, however, often do have that option.  And yet being a writer who has acquired some amount of fame also gives them the option of accepting media attention.  We're familiar with the names of those who have turned down the latter to lean more in favor of the former, Thomas Pynchon and J.D. Salinger generally hitting near the top.  Most people never have to balance these two extremes, and never have the option of choosing either.

To say I am a recluse is journalistic nonsense, as though I made an effort to stay alone, which is not the case.  I like talking to people on the phone, I like people to drop by for a coffee.  
Patricia Highsmith (1993 interview with Naim Attallah

So by what standard are "reclusive writers" being judged?  Are they supposed to be reclusive compared to other writers?  Most writers, not having reached the ranks of celebrity, would not garner any attention whatsoever for going out into the woods and living in a cabin for the rest of their lives, nor would most "normal" people.  Yet those often classed as "reclusive" are not even so, by the strictest definition.  When we refer to them that way we are simply falling into the abyss between their perceived connection to the world through their work and the reality of their lives.

I wouldn't be the first person to point out that writers' fans often expect too much of them, or expect them to fulfill some persona that extends beyond their writing.  If I were going to point it out, that is.  I do feel that people who have managed to attain that level of privacy should have it, but it's also too bad most of us who want it will probably not achieve it.  I'm inclined to consider the possibility that the labeling of writers as "recluses" might in fact be an outgrowth of an unconscious and rather innocent jealousy for what many of us want, potential recluses or no:  A modest, isolated retreat in New England, France, Switzerland.  The ability to be alone as much as we want but to invite friends over for coffee when we feel like it.  The ability to get up whenever we want and enjoy a cup of coffee in front of an unobstructed view, before starting on the day's work.

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