Portraits by Other Means

Pity the Progeny

Pity the Progeny
Credit: Michael Donovan

According to Philip Larkin, our parents fuck us up. This is perhaps more true for children of celebrities, dictators, and renowned writers. Who can blame them?

Alina Fernandez

Both [Fidel] Castro and Fernandez’ mother, a socialite, were married to other people when they fell in love through their exchange of letters while Castro was in jail, according to Fernandez.

Castro’s visits, she said, made for a “bizarre atmosphere” that made her mother “joyful” and her grandmother angry.

“Only grandma called him the devil, so I was very confused,” she said. “I didn’t know what to think about the man.”

Cotton Mather

Cotton Mather's relationship with his well-known father, Increase Mather, was often a strained and difficult one. Increase Mather was a pastor of the Old North Church and led an accomplished life that Cotton was determined to live up to. Despite Cotton Mather's efforts, he never became quite as well known and successful in politics as his father. He did surpass his father's talents as a writer, writing over 400 books.

Dmitri Nabokov

In contrast with his father, who was said to focus on literature and lepidoptery to the exclusion of all else, Dmitri Nabokov was a bon vivant, a professional opera singer, a race car driver, and a mountain climber.

Lana Peters

Ms. Peters was said to have lived in a cabin with no electricity in northern Wisconsin; another time, in a Roman Catholic convent in Switzerland. In 1992, she was reported to be living in a shabby part of West London in a home for elderly people with emotional problems.

“You can’t regret your fate,” Ms. Peters once said, “although I do regret my mother didn’t marry a carpenter.”

Alexandra Styron

As for growing up among the rich and famous, she paints an often appealing picture of an affluent, “haute bohemian” household accustomed to Christmas piano parties at Leonard Bernstein’s and spontaneous summer visits from Ted Kennedy. But, she notes, eventually there was a price to be paid for all those easy childhood pleasures. As a young woman she beat herself up trying to find a talent that would ensure her an enduring place in the world of the famous. She landed in thrice-weekly therapy and even as she walked home from those sessions in tears, she recalls wryly, “I kept running into acquaintances who just had to tell me how Darkness Visible had changed their lives.”


TMN Editor Leah Finnegan is from Illinois by way of Texas. She splits her time between New York City and her website. More by Leah Finnegan