Reminder: William S. Burroughs Killed His Wife

Favorite people are so often problematic people, because they’re.. people

Never was a giant William S. Burroughs fan myself. I can recognize Naked Lunch as the iconic effort that it is, but it didn’t really work for me. (I prefer the band.Leela Ginelle for Bitch Magazine reminds us that William S. Burroughs killed his wife, a biographical aspect that is downplayed by admirers:

Anyone concerned at all about domestic violence might find it chilling that this homicide, which Burroughs committed publicly in Mexico before returning to the US to escape legal repercussions, has been woven into his public legend in a way that enhances, rather than detracts from, his mystique. Vollmer was herself an accomplished poet—in book The Women of the Beat Generation, Brenda Knight writes, “Her apartment in New York was a nucleus that attracted many of the characters who played a vital role in the formation of the Beat.”

In the story, as it’s commonly repeated, Burroughs fired at Vollmer during a party while enacting a “William Tell” game. Having, according to him, accidently aimed low, his bullet struck Vollmer’s head, killing her. Burroughs himself mythologized the event, claiming it was the genesis of his becoming a writer, while distancing himself from it, as well, seeing it evidence of an “invader,” or “Ugly Spirit” inside him.

This line was parroted by countless cultural gatekeepers who enshrined Burroughs as a genius and a paragon of outlaw cool, and who never once questioned whether his act of wife killing might make him someone to scorn rather than extol.

Joan Vollmer is now almost forgotten.  Sad, and sadly not surprising.

Note: I queued this post a few days ago, today I saw that Charlott at Mädchenmannschaft wrote a good piece about Joan Vollmer and other women who are most know as being “wife of” while suffering abuse from their famous partners,  and being talented artists and writers themselves. Adele Morales, was almost killed by her then husband Norman Mailer, T.S. Eliot’s partner Vivienne was abused by him,  Zelda Fitzgerald lived through a terrible marriage to F. Scott Fitzgerald, only to have his demise blamed on her by Ernest Hemingway. All famous men on the highest pedestal of modern literature, all terrible misogynist dicks.