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Compromising Memoirs

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When a person of note has reached their autumn years they are often taken to compose their Memoirs, a record of their life for the perusal and study of those who would wish to emulate it.

In fiction, such a document is often something that others would wish was not written. It often contains details that others wish lay forgotten, such as past scandals or a dodgy deal that no one found out about. As such, there is often a plot revolving around stopping/protecting the Memoirs.

It's common (to by no means exclusive) for a lot of these plots to revolve around the world of politics, typically with the author of said Compromising Memoirs being a former politician. This is common for a number of reasons including:

  • The fact that politics is a realm that affects the lives of lots of people, meaning the stakes for these memoirs can be quite high;
  • The fact that politics often involves a lot of behind-the-scenes dealmaking that people who aren't involved tend to get curious about, and again which can result in some pretty high stakes (such as classified secrets being released);
  • The fact that high-level politicians are frequently very famous and influential people who will typically be able to sell a lot of books, meaning that publishers are likely to commission memoirs from them in the first place;
  • The fact that professional politicians frequently have a gap between their public personas and their private lives that is just ripe for embarrassing, juicy gossip; and
  • The fact that professional politicians also tend to stereotypically be the kind of two-faced hypocrites, back-stabbers and egomaniacs who will eagerly latch onto any opportunity to write a version of history that makes them look as good as possible while simultaneously allowing them to paint their many enemies in the worst possible light.

For similar (if perhaps less potentially earth-shattering) reasons, this trope may also be applied to famous celebrities and entertainers as well.

This trope covers memoirs as a plot device, not a framing device; that is, examples should be where the Compromising Memoirs are the subject of the plot, not just examples of Compromising Memoirs. For this reason (and also for reasons of avoiding unnecessary arguments), avoid including Real Life examples. However, there can be some overlap between the two; for instance, an example involving a character's Compromising Memoirs which includes in-universe excerpts from them is acceptable.


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    Comic Books 
  • The reactions to Nite Owl I's "Under the Hood" in Watchmen were like this.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In Atonement, Briony states that she would have to wait until after her cousin Lola died before she could publish her memoirs, specifically, the truth about who really raped Lola and the fates of Cecilia and Robbie.
  • A subversion of this trope is the basis for the plot in Burn After Reading. A self-important disgruntled CIA agent plans to release his memoirs, which are nothing like as scandalous to the agency as he believes. But then a bunch of other people mistake the memoirs for valuable "spy shit" and try to sell it to the Russians.
  • The movie Hopscotch is about a forcibly retired CIA agent deciding to write his memoirs, which are filled with roughly thirty years of CIA secrets. Not the dangerous stuff that could endanger national security, but the embarrassing stuff that would make an entire generation of CIA Directors and the politicians who gave them their orders look like idiots, such as some of the stupider plans the CIA had come up with when trying to whack Castro in the sixties. Most of the film is the CIA trying to stop Kendig before he can complete and publish his book, while Kendig amuses himself by making his former colleagues look even more stupid.
  • The pornographic film The Sign of the Lion is based around a pair of old women writing a Roman à Clef that amounts to their memoirs of serving under an extremely randy count. Like most good roman a clefs, it's very easy to tell who they're talking about, and the count's heir will stop at nothing to either keep said novel from being published or suing its author (they published it under one's nephew's name) for everything he's got.

  • Blandings Castle: The memoirs of the Hon. Galahad Threepwood, younger brother of the Earl of Emsworth, which contains many salacious details from the youth of several pillars of society, some of whom were members of the notorious Pelican Club. Threatening to publish said memoirs is sometimes used in an attempt to blackmail one of the Threepwood sisters who is opposed to one of her children marrying beneath his or her station, until the manuscript is finally eaten by the Empress (Lord Emsworth's prize-winning pig).
  • Ciaphas Cain's unofficial memoirs are classified and available only to inquisitors. They don't want everyone to find out that many of the HERO OF THE IMPERIUM!!!'s more famous actions were motivated by cowardice (according to him, anyway). Cain's official memoirs are apparently propaganda and nonsense.
  • In Jeeves and Wooster, Bertie's uncle Willoughby (in the TV adaptation, Sir Watkin Bassett) writes his Memoirs and SEVERAL parties take offense at the depiction of the now respectable pillars of society as the kind of roaring youths that would not have gone out of place in the Drones Club. Oddly enough, this does not include most of the people so depicted, who seem to like the idea that the youth may recall that they too were young once.
  • In the Labyrinths of Echo novella "A Talkative Dead Man", a courtier's memoirs are published posthumously, which reveal that he was part of a secret society led by the King himself, intended to check the post-war power of the Order of the Seven-Leaf. While this revelation causes a large political storm, it is his confession to routine breaches of the Order's Ban on Magic, which his co-conspirators had then covered up, that sends Echo's populace into a frenzy of wanton magical experimentation, which threatens to unravel reality itself.
  • The Laundry Files novels by Charles Stross have a Framing Device of being Bob Howard's memoirs. They come with disclaimers indicating that they are classified under the Official Secrets Act as well as code word classified under the titles In-Universe. In The Apocalypse Codex, the characters talk about the dreadful situation the world would need to be in for the memoirs to be made public.
  • The Sherlock Holmes story "The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger" begins with Watson saying that if the person who tried to get at his case-notes does it again, he will reveal the whole story of "the politician, the lighthouse, and the trained cormorant" to the public. Several other stories have mentioned in the foreword that Watson deliberately delayed publishing them until after the deaths of the principals of the case so that they could not be harmed by any possible scandal. One other story featured a woman trying to get a hold of a deceased ex-lover's memoirs so that she could destroy anything that referenced her.
  • In the Village Tales series, the Duke's brother leaves him his very unexpurgated unpublished memoirs to use as he sees fit. They start off as a MacGuffin, as they have no use unless and until proven truthful; by the end of Evensong, they are found sufficiently reliable to become useful, and thus a Plot Device.
  • Zombies of the Gene Pool centers around a group of young sci-fi fans who imagined themselves up-and-coming legends (though only some of them became famous, most did find some measure of success in life). The group's prodigal son, Pat Malone, became infamous for writing a memoir called The Last Fandango that was a scathing indictment of the SF community and its hypocrisies. Then he turns up at a reunion of his old friends, implying that he's looking to write a sequel that will expose some of their secrets...and the next morning he's found murdered in his hotel room.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The compromising memoirs Colonel Nivin is planning to publish provide the motive for his murder in the Ellery Queen episode "The Adventure of Colonel Nivin's Memoirs".
  • In the It Takes a Thief (1968) episode "Lay of the Land", Al Mundy is assigned to steal the memoirs of a duchess who really got around in her day, just in case one of her prominent lovers let slip any state secrets. Subverted when it turns out that her memoirs are actually rather tame; she was going to have them published posthumously, and in the meantime spreading rumors about their scandalous contents helped drum up publicity (and increase her advance). Discovering this, foreign agents hold her niece hostage and force her to write in a few new chapters to make Western powers look bad.
  • Monk: In "Mr. Monk and the Astronaut", Monk at first thinks the motive for the murder is that Steve Wagner had an affair with the victim, an actress, but it turns out his wife knows all about the affair and has forgiven him. Then Monk finds out that when they were seeing each other, Wagner once beat her so badly she ended up in the hospital, and she was going to reveal it in her memoirs (she wasn't going to give names but he didn't take chances).
  • An episode of The Persuaders! was about a memoirs book from an ex-spy.
  • The Phil Silvers Show: In "Army Memoirs," Bilko insinuates that he'll write such a book after being demoted to private and bluffs about knowing his CO and fellow sergeants' Dark Secrets to get his stripes back. Most of the incidents Bilko gets people paranoid that he'll put in his Compromising Memoirs are fully explained, but for Mess Sergeant Sowici, Bilko just says "tomatoes." An agitated Sowici says that "[e]ven the general admitted they looked like peaches."
  • In Saturday Night Live former baseball star Chico Escuela wrote a tell-all called Bad Stuff 'Bout the Mets ("Tom Seaver - he once borrow Chico's soap and no give it back"). This comes back to bite him when he decides to try a comeback.
  • The Spooks episodes "The Rose Bed Memoirs" (Series One) and "The Book" (Series Four) both involve these.
  • Mentioned several times on The West Wing:
    • In "Life on Mars" multiple pieces of leaked Classified Information make their way back to the White House. An investigation reveals that the information is coming from a woman who had an affair with Vice President John Hoynes, who told her the secrets to impress her. The woman is preparing to release her memoirs detailing the affair and shared the leaks to get more press.
    • After leaving office due to the above scandal John Hoynes decides to write his own memoirs to rehabilitate his public image. C.J. Cregg worries that her own affair with Hoynes might be mentioned but he ultimately leaves her out of it.
    • As President Bartlet is just about to leave office, there's a train crash and two state governors squabble about who has to deal with it. Bartlet calls one of them and threatens that he's about to earn a paragraph in his soon-to-be-written memoirs. The governor immediately backs down.
  • In When Calls the Heart, after Elizabeth publishes her experiences as a widowed mother on the Canadian frontier, everyone in town is eager to read it. Naturally quite a few townspeople mistakenly think she wrote about them, getting upset with her over supposedly negative or inaccurate depictions.
  • In Yes, Prime Minister, the former Prime Minister writes his memoirs and Hacker tries to bar the parts that make him look bad from publication.
    • The crisis is resolved the next episode by the sudden death by heart attack of the former PM; this turns a disaster (the former PM's memoirs) into an opportunity (Hacker has an excuse to hold a big funeral and get some diplomatic business done). It also pleases Hacker immensely; for a moment after receiving the news, Hacker breaks out into one of the sincerest, happiest grins you'll ever see.
    • Make what you will of the fact that at least one tie-in book takes the form of a sort of Scrapbook Novelisation of the first two seasons, in which Hacker's own journal features heavily.
    • Much less humorous is the Memoir of Sir John Halstead, which heavily implicates Humphrey in covering up for Halstead's espionage for the Soviets. As it transpired, Humphrey was not guilty of anything other indifference towards his friend's conduct, but there was a real chance Hacker would have to have had him imprisoned before the truth came out.

  • The Goon Show: In "The Seagoon Memoirs", Grytpype encourages Seagoon to write his war memoirs, revealing the secrets of his career as a latrine orderly. Then he solicits bribes to suppress the memoirs, from the people whose secrets would be exposed. This being The Goon Show, the memoirs are written on a piano, which is subsequently repossessed and towed away by chickens.

    Western Animation 
  • The first season of Bojack Horseman focuses on the relationship between Bojack and his ghostwriter, Diane. Diane's draft of the memoir is much more revealing than Bojack is comfortable with, exposing and exploring his many flaws. Bojack wants her to rewrite it, but when Diane leaks the first few chapters online and gets an overwhelmingly positive response, Bojack relents and lets the memoir be published.
  • In The Boondocks episode "The Story of Gangstalicious Part 2", the eponymous closeted gay rapper is outed by the autobiography of a woman he pretended to romantically interested in.