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7 Legendary Authors Who Only Wrote a Single Novel

Readers everywhere have often experienced the profound, baffling, and exciting experience of trying to find more novels written by your favorite author just to realize there are none. 


When we think of novels and the ways in which they have shaped our literary minds and the world around us, it can be quite baffling to realize that the incredible, shocking, and intense nature of the novel isn’t always followed up by another work.   


While many novelists, from Jane Austen to Stephen King, are known for their variety of works, here are some famous authors who have only published a single novel. 


1. J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye



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Published in 1951, The Catcher in the Rye was immediately thrust into the spotlight for its haunting coming-of-age portrayal of Holden Caulfield, an angsty rebellious teen who managed to both resonate with many readers and offend others. The Catcher in the Rye, which has frequently been banned by schools all over the country, was Salinger’s only novel. 


He also released an array of novellas and short stories including the novella Franny and Zooey, and his collection of short stories Nine Stories (1953), which featured “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” and “The Laughing Man.” Salinger published his last written work, the novella Hapworth 16, 1924 in 1965. He passed away in January of 2010, leaving us with the legacy of The Catcher in the Rye.


2. Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray



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Published in 1890, The Picture of Dorian Gray was written during the Victorian Era and challenged its rigid sexual and ethical norms by portraying a seductive young man whose narcissism and scandalous behavior becomes his downfall. Though the novel’s editor reportedly removed 500 provocative words from the unpublished manuscript, the blatant sexual tones, homosexual undertones, and depictions of violent crime were met with controversy and criticism.  


While Oscar Wilde wrote an array of short stories and plays, notably The Importance of Being Earnest, The Picture of Dorian Gray was his only novel and he passed away just ten years after it was published.


3. Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights


Wuthering Heights

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Published in 1847 under the pseudonym “Ellis Bell,” Wuthering Heights was met with mixed reviews. It was criticized for the selfishness of its characters, however garnered praise for its originality and the power of the author. 


While the title is considered a classic today and is praised by readers and critics alike, Brontë was unable to experience the positive reception in her lifetime, dying just one year after the novels release. 


4. Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar


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Published in 1963 under the pseudonym “Victoria Lucas,” The Bell Jar offers fans a haunting representaion of mental illness. The novel is centered around a protagonist who falls into a spiral of insomnia, depression, anxiety, and more. The semi-autobiographical novel presented an honest and unflinching portrayal of the protagonists descent and gave readers an insight into the Plath herself who used her real-life experiences as inspiration.


Plath tragically died roughly one month after the novel’s release. She was working on a second novel, Double Exposure, at the time of her death but the unfinished novel disappeared after Plath’s husband inherited her estate. Along with a collection of short stories and much poetry, The Bell Jar remains Plath’s only published novel.


5. Arthur Golden, Memoirs of A Geisha



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Published in 1997, Memoirs of A Geisha was a long-time coming, having been written over the course of 6 years. Golden became inspired by Geisha culture while living in Japan and meeting an individual whose mother was a geisha in her younger days. The time it took to complete the novel was partially due to Golden shifting the novel’s perspective back and forth between third-person and first-person and destroying two drafts before his final unpublished draft, he told CNN.


The 6 years paid off as Memoirs of A Geisha spent two years on the New York Times bestseller list. Though the novel was a popular success, and was adapted into Academy-Award winning film, Golden never published another book. 



6. Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago



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Published in 1957, Doctor Zhivago barely made the cut, having been written under Soviet rule. The novel was originally rejected from USSR publishers because of its challenging of socialism and many of the cultural norms of the Soviet Union. 


The novel exists today because Pasternak smuggled the manuscript out of the Soviet Union and into Milan. The novel earned Pasternak a Nobel Prize in 1958, two years before his death. While Doctor Zhivago wasn’t his only written work, it remains his only novel published.


7. Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man


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Published in 1952, The Invisible Man brought issues of racial identity, perception, and division to print. It’s startling depictions were met with acclaim from critics and readers alike, and it won the US National Book Award in 1953.


Invisible Man remains Ellison’s only novel published during his lifetime until his death in 1994. Before his death he was working on a second novel, Juneteenth, however a fire destroyed the original manuscript.. Ellison re-wrote a partial manuscript beofre his death and the novel was finished by editors John Callahan and Adam Bradley. It was published in 2010 with a new title, Three Days Before the Shooting.



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