Tuesday, April 07, 2009

One Hit Wonders

My blogging friend Philip, knowing my love of literature, shared this interesting story with me.

It's about authors that never made it "big" as they only wrote one novel. I admit--I editorialize when I say "never made it big." The writer actually simply points out who these one hit wonders were.

Here they are, author and book:

  1. Harper Lee - To Kill a Mockingbird
  2. Margaret Mitchell - Gone With the Wind
  3. Emily Bronte - Wuthering Heights
  4. J.D.Salinger - Catcher in the Rye
  5. Oscar Wilde - The Picture of Dorian Gray
  6. John Kennedy Toole - A Confederacy of Dunces
  7. Sylvia Plath - The Bell Jar
  8. Anna Sewell - Black Beauty
  9. Boris Pasternak - Dr Zhivago
  10. Arundhati Roy - The God of Small Things
Of the books above, I have read all but A Confederacy of Dunces, so I suppose I shall have to put it on my list to read.

I find this list curiously puzzling. In many instances, the reason the second novel was not written is not for lack of inspiration. Harper Lee and Margaret Mitchell had opportunity to write another novel, although Margaret Mitchell was killed when she was struck by a car, ending any possibility of a literary come-back.

Some never had a chance to write another work. Emily Bronte died one year after her masterpiece was published, and Sylvia Plath committed suicide the year The Bell Jar was published. Anna Sewell died soon after her book came out. In each of these instances, the premature death cut short any literary career or any subsequent novel.

Of course, some of the writers moved on to other forms of expression. I would never call Oscar Wilde a novelist. He is far more famous for his wit, and his having flaunted Victorian morals, famously losing his libel trial. His literary reputation stands on several successful dramas that he wrote.

Sylvia Plath, albeit short-lived, is far more famous for her stunning poetry than her auto-biographical novel.

Perhaps the most famous writing procrastinator is J.D. Salinger who has a small body of work, some longer stories collected into novella form. So, I would hardly call him a one hit wonder. In fact, I think he is as famous for his renowned reclusiveness.

Salinger and Arundhati Roy are the only two on the list still living, so there's always time for them to write another "hit."

One novelist not on the list is Ralph Ellison whose Invisible Man made his reputation. There are stories of Ellison working and working and working on his second novel. During his life, it was never published. When he died, a manuscript was found and eventually assembled for publishing--a rambling work--it never reached the proportion of acclaim Invisible Man garnered. Another one hit wonder?

I suspect there are other novelists out there whose reputation was made on the strength of one stunning work.

After reviewing the list, I can only say--if I can fail the way these writers have failed, I will be in very good company indeed.


Anvilcloud said...

To have one magnificent book in you must be a glorious thing.

NCmountainwoman said...

I agree with you that J.D. Salinger is way more than a "one-hit wonder," especially in light of "Franny and Zooey."

Another person who comes to my mind is Ross Lockridge who wrote "Raintree County." I loved the book as a teen (and still do). He committed suicide shortly after the book was published.

Beverly said...

I totally agree with your last statement there...an interesting post.

KGMom said...

An email note from a friend--a fellow lover of literature--reminds me that I need to be clear.
I do NOT agree with the assessment of the writer of the article that the 10 authors listed were somehow failures for having published only one novel.
My friend's observation:
"Oscar Wilde a one-hit wonder? The Importance of Being Ernest? The Ballad of Reading Gaol? Lady Windemere's Fan?
Sylvia Plath? What about Ariel?
Salinger? Franny and Zooey? Nine Stories?
To Kill a Mockingbird and Catcher in the Rye are still being read
in high schools all these years later."

I agree. The 10 writers on the list created wonderful masterpieces even if these works were the "only novel" of the author. And some of the authors had other literary outlets--poetry or drama.


femail doc said...

I recently finished "A Confederacy of Dunces." Mr. Toole certainly could turn a phrase, and he clearly knew his way around mania (perhaps bipolar illness was the demon that drove him to suicide). That said, what a completely obnoxious and unappealing character at the heart of this book--perhaps I have no sense of humor or the wrong sense, but I didn't laugh myself silly over Dunces as did other reviewers, I simply found it silly.