Beyond the Book: Background information when reading Homer & Langley

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Homer & Langley

by E.L. Doctorow

Homer & Langley
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2009, 224 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2010, 224 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Natasha Vargas-Cooper

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Beyond the Book

The Real Homer and Langley
The Collyer brothers of Doctorow's novel, like many of his fictional characters, are based on historical personalities. Though he shifts the time-period up a few decades and re-imagines the brothers, the bones of the narrative can be found in the headlines of decades past.
The real Homer Collyer (b. 1881) was found dead in his dilapidated Fifth Avenue mansion in Harlem in 1943. Homer and his younger brother Langley (b. 1885) had become infamous in Manhattan for their exorbitant wealth and reclusive lifestyle during the early 1930’s. For close to two decades neighbors and municipal officers tried to have the brothers evicted due to their refusal to dispose of rubbish and pay taxes, but the two remained in their brownstone their entire lives. Eventually living without water, power, or plumbing, it was up to Langley to scavenge subsistence for the two. The newspapers regularly covered the habits and eccentricities of the Collyer brothers throughout the...

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