Spoiled Children of Divorce

Exemplary Children of Divorce – Ludwig Bemelmans

Wonder if there is a correlation between Children of Divorce and Children’s book writers. Just found a great article on Artsy.com about the writer of the Madeleine books, Ludwig Bemelmans. And, I’ve also read that the writer of “The Lonely Doll” books and Edward Gorey were children of divorce. I remember reading about Madeleine’s appendicitis when I was a child.

According to the article, Bemelmans had a very emotionally difficult childhood. He was born in Italy in 1898 and his Father ran off with a mistress in 1904. Daddy left both his wife and Bemelmans Nanny pregnant. The Nanny committed suicide and Bemelmans moved to Germany with his Mother because that’s where her family was. That is a huge amount of loss all at one time, including one’s innocence about how the world works. I’d like to say that back then no one would have paid attention to how a child feels about such situations but, in reality, they still don’t.

When he was 16, Bemelmans moved to New York City and worked in Hotels. His parents had run a hotel before his Father left. It’s interesting that Bemelmans never actually lived in France where the Madeleine books take place. He based his story on postcards which his Nanny had shared with him. Evenutally a co-worker saw his sketches and suggested he become a illustrator. His first children’s book was published in 1934 and Madeleine won a Caldecott medal in 1940.

Bemelmans married twice and had children from both marriages.

E.O. Wilson Talks About His Life During Parents’ Divorce

Sociobiologist, E.O. Wilson, on events surrounding his Parents’ divorce when he was seven:

“Who can say what events formed his own character?  Too many occur in the twilight of early childhood.  The mind lives in half-remembered experiences of uncertain valence, where self-deception twists memory further from truth with every passing year.  But of one event I can be completely sure.  It beggan in the winter of 1937, when my parents, Edward and Inez Freeman Wilson, separated and began divorce proceedings.  Divorce was still unusual at that time and in that part of the country, and there must have been a great deal of gossiping and head-shaking among other family members.  While my parents untangled their lives, they looked for a place that could offer a guarantee of security to a seven-year-old.  They chose the Gulf Coast Military Academy, a private school located on the shore road four miles east of Gulfport, Mississippi.”

Wilson’s Mother takes him to the Military Academy:

“I looked at my military-style cot, the kind you can bounce a coin on when properly made.  I listened to an outline of the daily regimen.  I examined my uniform, patterned after that at West Point.  I shook hands with my roommate, who was inordinately stiff and polite for a seven-year-old.  All dream of languor and boyhood adventure vanished.”

p. 16-17, Chapter 2:  Send Us the Boy, Naturalist by E.O. Wilson.

In the first Chapter there is also discussion but it is seens as an event that is interspersed with Wilson’s beginning interests in the Natural world.  In particular his interest seems to have been triggered by memoy of a jellyfish he sees at an aquarium.  You can sort of see how part of him froze at this age on wonder and how he turned this wonder into his life’s work.

From Page 6:

“There was trouble at home in this season of fantasy.  My parents were ending their marriage that year.  Existence was difficult for them, but not for me, their only child, at least not yet.  I had been placed in the care of a family that boarded one or two boys during months of the summer vacation.  Paradise Beach was paradise truly named for a little boy.  Each morning after breakfast I left the small shorefront house to wander alone in seach of treasures along the strand.  I waded in and out of the dependable warm surf and scrounged for anything I could find in the drift…

“I have no remembrance of the names of the family I stayed with, what they looked like, their ages, or even how may there were.  Most likely they were a married couple and, I am willing to suppose, caring and warmhearted people. They have passed out of my memory, and I have no need to learn their identity.  It was the animals of that place that cast a lasting spell.”

Sounds pretty nice.  But, Wilson goes on to explain later in the chapter how he lost his vision because of lack of parenting.  While out fishing he caught a fish that had a spiny back fin.  One of the spines poked him in the eye. Wilson ignored the pain, the family who was caring for him did nothing about it.

Months later when Wilson was back with his family his eye clouded over. His parents took him to the Doctor who performed what is described as a very traumatic surgery and as a result most of the vision in that eye was lost.  That experience also is described as a key “seed” point in Wilson’s future work.

“I would thereafter celebrate the little things of the world, the animals that can be picked up between thumb and forefinger and brought close for inspection.”

– p. 15

from Chapter 1, “Paradise Beach”

I’ve discussed very briefly Wilson’s life after this.  He spent much of it wondering from caretaker to caretaker, sometimes living with his Mother whose finances were difficult and then living with his Father and Step-Mother.  He says he had a normal boyhood.  And he discusses how he doesn’t remember much of it.

Kind of interesting quote:  “always prone to closing and repeating circles in my life.”  p. 60

Exemplary Children of Divorce – E.O. Wilson

In 1937, his parents divorced and he was passed from relative to relative before being returned to his alcoholic father, experiences that profoundly shaped his life. ‘A nomadic existence made Nature my companion of choice, because the outdoors was the one part of my world I perceived to hold rock steady. Animals and plants I could count on; human relationships were more difficult.’


Sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson whose parents divorced when he was 7 years old found a creative outlet for his expression through the life style brought on by his parents’ divorce.  The year of the divorce he was blinded in one eye during a fishing accident.  The eyesight in his other eye began to lose vision and he began to lose the ability to hear in the upper registers, so lost the ability to hear bird songs.

Because he obviously is incredibly adaptable (and adaptable) he continued his love of the observation of nature by focusing on the study of insects later on in college.  They were small and could be observed close up.

Exemplary Children of Divorce – Edgar Allen Poe

“Once upon a midnight dreary”

was written by a Child of D.  I suppose it makes sense…

Last week’s New Yorker magazine published an article about Poe’s life called “The Humbug” written by Jill Lepore.


Edgar Allen Poe was born to an actress.  A year after he was born his Father left.  Two years after Poe was born his Mother died.  Poe and his siblings were separated and Poe was raised by a wealthy merchant and his wife.  He was never adopted by these people.  It seems that wild swings in financial fortunes and power plays dominated the household of Poe’s childhood and  Poe was out on his own by the time he was 17. 

He also had drinking and gambling problems from very early on. Financially strapped, Poe joined the military for a while and then attended West Point.  He wrote for money. It seems he moved around a lot.  His love life seems equally difficult.  The women in his life seemed to have suffered illnesses and to have passed away.  At age 27 Poe married his 13 year old cousin.  The marriage lasted about 12 years before Virginia, his wife, died of tuberculosis.  Poe died at Age 40.

Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edgar_Allan_Poe

Fathers Who Kill Because of Divorce
April 5, 2009, 10:18 pm
Filed under: Abandonment, indifferent parents, Raised by non-relatives, Violence

On Friday night James Harrison and his 16 year old daughter found their wife/mother in a store with another man.  The wife is said to have argued with Harrison and told him that she was leaving him for this other man.  On Saturday afternoon the neighbors called the police to check on the Harrison’s five children.  The police found the 5 children in their home, shot dead.  Harrison later killed himself.


This is probably a common attitude towards the children in a marriage that is falling apart. It’s great when the media reports these stories because the Psychology community likes to keep them private.

The Yahoo article linked to says that Harrison had a controlling personality and was often heard yelling at his kids.  Mrs. Harrison had 1st become pregnant when she was 13.

From the little that I can tell of these people’s lives I can say this is a good argument for using birth control and for bothering to continue to parent kids when they are in their teens so that they don’t get caught making mistakes that they won’t be able to handle later on in life.

It would also be great if parents who are planning on leaving their spouses make plans to get their children out of the house before making the Big Announcement.  This is something that one needs to put some thought into.  If the spouse is abusive the behavior will only direct itself in ten times worse ways towards the kids after he/she is dumped.  Being dumped hurts even if you’re an abusive jerk.  Leave the kids with relatives or friends or neighbors.  Do not leave them with the dumped parent.  Do not let them see their parent in that state.

Exemplary Children of Divorce – Clifford Geertz

I’ve found my first openly outed Child of D from off the Guardian’s Top 100 Intellectuals (2005)! Honest to God, I was about to give up, this is so time consuming.

Clifford Geertz, anthropologist, Child of Divorce. Divorce didn’t phase him a bit. Attribute this either to good genes or to the fact that he was passed off at Age 3 to be raised by a 60-year old “Foster Mother” named “Nana. Early on he realized that he was highly intelligent and that this would be his ticket out. In High School Geertz wanted to become a writer.  At Age 17 he joined the Navy in World War II. And then went directly to College where he found an inspiring teacher who helped him develop.

I know nothing about Anthropology (am having a major backspace dance with spell check trying to get the word spelled out correctly.) According to this obituary (unfortunately Mr. Geertz passed away in 2006) http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4158/is_20061103/ai_n16824591. Geertz wrote the “Most famous single essay in anthropology which sounds a bit like a fore-runner to a Chuck Palachiuk novel. It’s called “Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight.” This is supposed to be an excellent example of a concept developed by Geertz called “Thick understanding.”

Geertz was married twice and divorced once. He spent much of his life living in other cultures, most notably in Indonesia and Morocco.

Successful Children of Divorce – Augusten Burroughs

Augusten Burroughs wrote about the very popular story about his life after his parents’ divorce in Running with Scissors. His Mother was mentally ill and with the aid of her psychiatrist went completely over the edge. Burroughs went to live with the psychiatrist and his family and then bounced back and forth between the Psychiatrist’s house and his Mother’s. Haven’t read the book but saw the movie which I didn’t like very much. Crazy families are really difficult to portray “realistically.” Especially considering how much was going on in Burrough’s life at the same time. The absent Father, the crazy Mother, the crazy Family, the obnoxious authoritarian psychiatry, the molestation, and the Coming Out. It should have been filmed in the format of a perpetually exploding bomb.

Here’s a Burroughs quote from a Washington Post article about the book and talking about his childhood:

“I thought people would be bored by it, honestly,” Burroughs says. “Bored or just . . . so put off. You can’t even really describe the book without it seeming X-rated. I spent a lot of years not telling people about my childhood, because I was embarrassed or ashamed. People who grew up in nice families and went to Ivy League schools — to me that’s what’s shocking. I’m riveted by stories like that: ‘Really? You still talk to people you knew in high school? You’re on speaking terms with both your parents? Tell me more.’ “


Burroughs’ Mother is a poet and his Father was head of the Philosophy Department at University of Massachusetts (now passed). Burroughs has one older brother. Age 13 Burroughs was sodomized by the 33 year old guy who lived behind the psychiatrist’s house. At some point soon after, Burroughs dropped out of High School. Eventually he started working for an advertising company and worked his way up into Copy Writing. He developed serious addictions problems and wrote about his alcoholism in Dry.

At Age 19, changed name from Chris Robinson to Augusten Burroughs. Around Age 36, publishes memoir. Has written a number of best-sellers since.

The Psychiatrist’s family sued for mis-representation in 2007.

Success Story – Jack London

Jack London is the famous writer of White Fang and The Call of the Wild. One is a story about a wild dog who is taken in and tamed and the other is about a tame dog who becomes wild. You can see the Children of Divorce theme all the place in these themes.

London was born in San Francisco, California to a professional Astrologer and a Spiritualist in the late 19th century.  His birth was unwanted.  His Father abandonned his Mother when she announced her pregnancy.  She had suffered a childhood illness which left her weak both physically and mentally.  She resented London’s presence and passed his upbringing over to an ex-slave.  She remarried and Jack London took his stepfather’s name.  That couple had two children. London was taken out of school at the age of 10 and put to work for 10-12 hours a day.  Eventually he found the Public Library and educated himself.  After owning his own fishing boat and losing it among other adventures, London returned to High School and graduated.  He went to college for a year but dropped out due to financial problems.

London was the most commercially successful writer of his time. He was married twice, once divorced and had 2 daughters. He considered his 2d wife to be his soul-mate.  London was an Alcoholic and a womanizer and he was accused of plagiarizing some of his works.  He tried his hand at owning a Ranch and failed.  Already suffering from Kidney Failure, London either overdosed on his medication or committed Suicide at the age of 40.