Wednesday, September 8, 2010

JDM on Literary Posterity

"Back in 1881 a cat named Feodor Mikhailovich Dostoevski died. His works of suspense and entertainment were serialized in the newspapers, eagerly read. Fifty thousand people came to his Moscow funeral services. The Russian literati were very amused at this, because he was a cheap entertainer, a clown who made too much money amusing the public. His works, they said, were worthless -- of no literary value at all.

"Eleven years earlier, the London critics had much the same thing to say about John Huffam -- otherwise known as Charles Dickens, when he went to his reward. Worthless junk, written under pressure for money for newspaper serialization.

"And if you are into historical research, try the journals of the literati when they appraised the works of Samuel Langhorne Clemens after his death in 1910.

"I am not telling you I stand tall among those fellows. I am saying only that during their lifetimes they did not think of themselves as literary landmarks. They thought of themselves as story tellers, telling stories. And I think each one of them knew that when a writer takes himself seriously, it does not mean that he is a serious writer."
- - - From a 1982 letter to Paul Thayer, published in the December 1990 issue of the JDM Bibliophile (#45)

No comments:

Post a Comment