John Barth? Mary McCarthy? Apocryphal? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: I am trying to locate a statement made by the prominent metafictionalist author John Barth. The quotation was similar to the following:
Everyone is the hero of his own life story.
Do you know where this appeared?
Quote Investigator: John Barth did scribe a closely matching sentence in a short story titled “The Remobilization of Jacob Horner” published in Esquire magazine in 1958. The central character named Jacob Horner was a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University who suffered from bouts of paralysis caused by a malady he called “cosmopsis”. On occasion Horner experienced a disorienting cosmic viewpoint which seemed to render his actions purposeless, and he became temporarily immobile.
A physician that Horner met serendipitously had developed a variety of therapies to help individuals afflicted with psychologically induced paralysis. The doctor explained “Mythotherapy” with the following introductory words. Bold face has been added: 1
“In life,” he said, “there are no essentially major or minor characters. To that extent, all fiction and biography, and most historiography, is a lie. Everyone is necessarily the hero of his own life story.
The physician asserted that Horner’s paralysis occurred because he no longer perceived himself as a major or minor character within his own life story. To prevent this paralysis Horner must learn to assume a sharply defined mask or role and then dramatize the situation within which he was embedded.
Precursors of the quotation under examination were written in the 1800s as shown below.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1958 July, Esquire, “The Remobilization of Jacob Horner” by John Barth (Short story), Start Page 54, Quote Page 59, Publisher by Arnold Gingrich, Esquire Inc., Chicago, Illinois. (Verified on microfilm) ↩