Most of Charles Bukowski’s fictional work is the story of a character who goes by the name of Henry Chinaski, with Chinaski effectively serving as an alter ego for Bukowski. Although Bukowski drew heavily on personal experience for his work, much of Bukowski’s legendary status comes from a blurring between the real life Bukowski and the fictional Chinaski.
In essence, Bukowski used a similar approach to some of his idols, John Fante and Louis Ferdinand Celine, taking autobiographical events and characters and spicing them up through the use of exaggeration (aka poetic license) and missing out or adding in extra (made up) elements. This effectively means that as well as there being similarities, there were also key ways that the real life Bukowski differed from Chinaski in a number of respects.
Similarities between Charles Bukowski and Henry Chinaski
Interestingly Chinaski’s first name is “Henry”, which is Charles Bukowski’s actual first name (rather than his writing name). His parents named him Henry Charles Bukowski, though most of his friends called him “Hank”. Bukowski generally used fictional names that were similar sounding to the original, similar number of syllables etc., when he was writing characters that were based on real people, it’s interesting that he even extended this to himself.
Chinaski appears to have had a similar biographical life to Bukowski in terms of where he lives, the jobs he’s done, the types of relationships he has with women, his family background etc.
Both Bukowski and Chinaski were misanthropic in their outlooks. Most people who met Bukowski disliked him as much as he disliked them. Even if they got on with him at first, sooner or later he usually did or said something to upset people. He could be especially nasty towards other poets and writers, who he felt threatened by.
Differences between Charles Bukowski and Henry Chinaski
Charles Bukowski had a daughter, who he visited often and paid regular maintenance for, whereas we never generally hear of Henry Chinaski’s offspring, so we assume he doesn’t have any.
Bukowski was actually quite careful with his money, compared to the more reckless Chinaski. As I mentioned earlier, he was reliable when it came to paying maintenance for his daughter and generally kept some money set aside in the bank to fall back on.
Although Charles Bukowski had a strong slobby streak in him, he could get his act together when he needed to, photos of him looking dapper in a suit are proof of that. Henry Chinaski is pretty much a perpetual slob, however.
Chinaski appears to have had a more active and exciting sex life than Bukowski. While it’s true that Bukowski had a lot of girlfriends during the 1970s, his sex life was pretty much non-existent for long periods before he reached middle age.
Chinaski consistently consumes large quantities of beer and is a borderline/actual alcoholic, whereas Bukowski’s drinking varied throughout his life. He was certainly a big drinker in general and there were periods where he drank self-destructively, such as in the period after Jean Cooney Baker died. But this can be contrasted with what his daughter said about his drinking, that she never saw him drunk when she was growing up, and also with Linda Lee Beighle’s contention that he drank less and less in later life and had pretty much stopped altogether by the time that he died.
The real life Bukowski had a fairly traditional streak in him, as well as a wild side. This could be difficult for the people close to him to cope with as he was an uncomfortable mixture of conventional and unconventional attitudes. Like most fictional characters, however, Henry Chinaski is easier to understand and more predictable and tends very much towards an expression of Bukowski’s less conventional side.