A new biography lays out why Susan Sontag probably wrote her ex-husband Phillip Reiff’s breakout book Freud: The Mind of the Moralist.
The Guardian reports on the new biography Sontag: Her Life, written by Benjamin Moser. In writing the book Moser was given unprecedented access to Sontag’s archives at UCLA granted by her estate and while Sontag was initially credited in Rieff’s book “with special thanks” she was also essentially a co-author. Moser claims that Rieff “almost certainly did not actually write the book upon which his career was based” and quotes friends who reported Sontag spending every afternoon “rewriting” the whole book. Her own diaries also include references to researching Freud and “worked on some rough passages in Ch. 2.”
Sontag married Rieff when she was 17, who she later called “very, very unworldly” in a 2000 profile, and the two would go on to have a son named David Rieff before divorcing in 1959. David Rieff has previously stated in the Sontag collection Reborn: Journals and Notebooks that his mother co-wrote his father’s book, but that it “appeared under PR’s sole authorship after their separation and subsequent divorce.”
The further proof in Moser’s book only adds to a depressing reality of women editing (and perhaps more than that) their husband’s books, including Vera Nabokov proof-reading, editing, and translating her husband’s work; Anna Dostoyevsky typing her husband’s work as he dictated to her; and Zelda Fitzgerald’s diary being plagiarized by her own husband. Behind many great male authors lurks an often-invisible woman performing a great deal of the literary labor, from editing to childcare to inspiration. Eventually Sontag’s fame would massively eclipse her husband’s—but many frequently-thanked literary wives did not experience the same.