Kafka enjoying a day at the beach. Wait a minute, it is Kafka enjoying a day at the beach!!! (Max Brod at his side)
I think it was the 19th century that gave us the idea of the “artist” that still pervades our imagination, that is, a tortured genius misunderstood by society. There were certainly characters that fitted this stereotype before the aforementioned century, but examples abound in the late 18th century and especially during the 19th : Beethoven, Byron, Poe, the French decadent poets like Rimbaud and Baudelaire, etc.
I am probably generalizing too much now, but I would dare say it was mainly during the 20th century when some great writers had to face a new and terrible reality: they had to work on random chores unrelated to writing or literature, and sometimes those took the form of rather uninspiring office work. I am aware people had to do random jobs before the 20th century in order to create (for some reason I can only think of the Dutch philosopher Spinoza right now – he worked grinding lenses – though I am sure there are plenty of other examples), but I still believe it was during the 20th century that artists expressed their dissatisfaction the loudest. Since I don’t want to make this post too long, I will only bring up one example now and maybe mention others later. My first case is Kafka; below is an entry from his diaries:
I could not live by literature if only, to begin with, because of the slow maturing of my work and its special character; besides, I am prevented also by my health and my character from devoting myself to what is, in the most favorable case, an uncertain life. I have therefore become an official in a social insurance agency. Now these two professions can never be reconciled with one another and admit a common fortune. The smallest good fortune in one becomes a great misfortune in the other. If I have written something good one evening, I am afire the next day in the office and can bring nothing to completion. This back and forth continually becomes worse. Outwardly, I fulfill my duties satisfactorily in the office, not my inner duties, however, and every unfulfilled inner duty becomes a misfortune that never leaves. And to these two never-to-be-reconciled endeavors shall I now add theosophy as a third? Will it not disturb both the others and itself be disturbed by both? Will I, at present already so unhappy a person, be able to carry the three to completion?