If you have not already done so, you may wish to read the
Introduction to Gnomica.
Sunday 2 September 2012
Read gnomica 1-100 here!
We are nauseated by the sight of
trivial personalities decomposing in the eternity of print.
Virginia Woolf (25 Jan 1882 – 28 Mar 1941)
Just exactly what Ms. Bloomsbury meant here is unclear to me, but perhaps its very opacity calls for some tentative light-shedding.
Implicit is the obvious truism that some writers are better than others, and its ancillary that it is not always the best who are published. And thereby hangs a tale.
A famous Nobelist in Literature was apprized by younger writers that it was almost impossible to get published, or even just have one’s ms looked at by houses to which it had been submitted. Puzzled, the laureate apparently ran a small experiment. He submitted a short volume to a publisher that had put many of his own works in print, but he submitted it not under his own name but a pseudonym. In due time the ms was returned with a xeroxed note to the effect that the publisher, while grateful for the submission, had no current needs for that kind of material. Next, the laureate resubmits the same brief work but this time uses his own name – and was fêted, cajoled, and begged once more to publish with the house in question.
It opened his eyes. And no doubt most writers trying to get a first work published by a non-vanity press can make unhappy identification with this scenario. It’s kind of like that business about a bank being willing to lend you money if you don’t need the money but turning you down if you really do. If you’re an established author (as which Nobelist is not?) the publishers will compete for the right to put their imprimatur on your work, but if your Ms. Anonymous … forget about it.
Now, back to Virginia’s unhappiness.
It takes little imagination to appreciate that a lofty modernist set like those Bloomsbury types might well have turned up their noses at the ranking literary vulgarians (E. M. Forster, Frank Leavis, Oxbridge literature dons, even T. S. Eliot at one point) of the day who now, once in print, will be around forever and, needless to say, pollute the libraries in which they by and by would, one hoped, fall into a much deserved desuetude. Alas, many of them are still very much around and very much so not superannuated!
Closer to home, it reminds me of the ridicule, perhaps even amused contempt, with which, up until the last generation or two, a hugely popular American writer like Edgar Rice Burroughs was regarded in the rarified seminar rooms and journals of ‘serious’ academic discourse. The point is, editors don’t always (perhaps, in fact, only rarely) know commercial quality when they (even bother to) read submissions, and for sure is that nobody knows who will survive in the stacks (or, these days, on the disks and flash drives), who will fade, who will revive … .
Of course, snooties like Virginia Woolf are forever.
P.S. The nobelist in question above is V. S. Naipaul.