An author, Marcel Proust wrote the majority of his most ambitious work, In Search of Lost Time, in reclusion, writing up until his death from pneumonia in 1922 at the age of 51. He purchased and lived in his uncle's Parisian apartment at 102 Boulevard Haussmann. He spent the last three years of his life confined to his bedroom, which he lined the walls with cork to keep out the noise and outside world. He continued to write the 4215 pages of In Search of Lost Time from his bed until his death.
In vol. 2 of In Search of Lost Time, In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, he writes:
"In a recluse, the most irrevocable, lifelong rejection of the world often has as its basis an uncontrolled passion for the crowd, of such force that, finding when he does go out that he cannot win the admiration of a concierge, passers-by or even the coachman halted at the corner, he prefers to spend his life out of their sight, and gives up all activities which would make it necessary for him to leave the house."
For two years and two months, Henry David Thoreau lived in a small hut built on the edge of Walden Pond. Thoreau writes in Walden, his book about his experience living there, "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." His goal was to learn through his time in voluntary isolation. Contradicting the reclusive nature of this action, however, Thoreau included three chairs in his 10' x 16' cabin: "One for solitude, two for friendship, three for society." His time on Walden Pond allowed Thoreau precious time introspection, observing his actions and the natural world around him. He spends a chapter of Walden describing the wildlife he saw in that time, including snowshoe hares, a breed known for living in solitude, and whose fur changes throughout the year to assist them in remaining unseen.
Happiness, beauty and perfection were at the center of Agnes Martin’s art practice. The teachings of Zen and Shin author D. T. Sazuki made an impact on Martin at the beginning of her career and continued to be the focus of her work from then on. Moving to New York City in 1957, she built a reputation as a successful member of the Abstract Expressionists, setting her on a path for wealth and fame in the art world. She had the support and friendship of Barnett Newman, Ad Reinhardt, Robert Indiana and others influential artists. After ten years in New York City, she abandoned the art world going on the road to be on her own. The move was seen as wholly reclusive by the art scene in New York. She eventually settled in Galisteo, NM, where she built a home and studio. While she was no longer surrounded by the other modern art founders, she continued to paint, and did not stop until her death at the age of 92, even striving to paint in the assisted living facility she eventually died in. This continual work ethic allowed Martin to make the Zen-like paintings she set out for in the early years of her career.
In an open letter to the Whitney Museum of American Art, Martin stated “To live truly and effectively the idea of achievement must be given up. Put unsentimental piety first, turn your back on the world, and get on with it.”
Taking up the responsibility to look after her ill and bedridden mother, Emily Dickinson's reclusion was a process which grew throughout the latter part of her life. While she was very social in her youth, beginning in 1858, Dickinson withdrew from the public more as time went on, spending these last 17 years of her life removed from society. Keeping herself isolated to her childhood home, she didn't even leave the house to attend her father's funeral service. Being a writer, she corresponded frequently through letters to friends and family. Dickinson's most productive period in her career was in the years between 1861-1865, in the early parts of her reclusion, though she also continued to write and produce throughout the rest of her life.
I heard a Fly buzz - when I died -
The Stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air -
Between the Heaves of Storm -
The Eyes around - had wrung them dry -
And Breaths were gathering firm
For that last Onset - when the King
Be witnessed - in the Room -
I willed my Keepsakes - Signed away
What portion of me be
Assignable - and then it was
There interposed a Fly -
With Blue - uncertain - stumbling Buzz -
Between the light - and me -
And then the Windows failed - and then
I could not see to see -
Born Jarome David Salinger, J. D. Salinger was raised in Manhattan. Writing through his military service (in which he had the manuscript for Catcher in the Rye in his pack during the landings at Normandy on D-Day), Salinger began publishing when he arrived home after finishing his military service. Through his writing, he began to study various spiritual beliefs, leading him to withdraw himself and his family from the public. The fame brought on by his writing coupled with a cantankerous personality pushed Salinger to shield himself from his growing following. While he remained cordial and friendly to his neighbors, his misanthropic reputation grew in the literary world. Fans began to stalk, search and almost hunt for Salinger in hopes of learning more about his characters. Photos of the aging Salinger became a rarity from the level of commitment he invested in his privacy.
While he stopped publishing in 1963, he continued to write, focusing more on his fictional Glass family of seven gregarious children, than his own son and daughter. In her memoir about her father, Margaret Salinger wrote “He's detached about your pain, but God knows he takes his own pain more seriously than cancer...There is nothing remotely detached about my father's behavior towards his own pain, in his hemorrhages about anything personal being known about him.”
At the age of 20, Christopher Knight left home with his brother's car and drove into the dense woods in Maine. Always being a quiet and reserved child, his family was not surprised by this and never filed a missing persons report. Knight set up camp near North Pond where he planned to live in isolation for the rest of his life. Understanding the importance of survival, while also focusing on keeping his isolation, he took to burglarizing the hunting cabins in the surrounding area, stealing books, supplies and nonperishable food so he wouldn't need a fire to cook the food. After 27 years of searching for the person breaking and stealing from the local citizens, they caught Knight on camera and were able to find his campsite in the woods. He was charged with over a thousand counts of theft, 13 of which he confessed to. His sentenced to seven months in prison, all of which he had served except for one week. The sentence could have been much harsher, but the judge ruled that it would be cruel and unusual to make someone who so despised being near people live any longer confined to a prison full of other human beings.
When asked what his thoughts were about Henry David Thoreau, Knight responded with only one word "Dilettante" finding him to be a fraud and a phony.