It can be disheartening to discover that our favorite authors were not entirely thrilled with the whole of their creative outputs. Rare is the writer who did not have a bone to pick with at least a couple of their novels. As the old cliche goes, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. As it applies to literature, it’s safe to say one reader’s masterpiece could be the authors’s creative low-point. Here are four cases of an author disavowing their work.
Franz Kafka: Everything, ever
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You know you’ve made it in writing when you have your own adjective (Kafkaesque), although nobody is quite sure what it means anyways. Yep, this Czech realist had just about everything an aspiring writer wants: Critical praise. International recognition. A large and diverse body of work. Yep, just about everything but an appreciation for his own writing. That’s right. It wasn’t just a couple of short stories Kafka had a problem with. It was 90% of his writing, which he ended up burning. As if that wasn’t dramatic enough, he left a letter to his best friend in his writing desk, imploring him to burn the rest of his work after his death. Thankfully, his friend disobeyed the command.
Artists have been accused of inspiring violence and uncouth attitudes since the dawn of time. Most understandably don’t take the accusation lightly, claiming no one ever hurt any one because they read it in a book, saw it in a movie, heard it in a lyric etc. etc. It may come as a surprise then, that arbiter of all things obscene, Stephen King, took the opposite stance, when his first novel Rage was blamed for numerous school shootings. In one such instance, the shooter was discovered as having a copy of the novel in his bedroom. Whether he was directly inspired by the book, we will never know. King clearly preferred not to take the chance. On his decision to let Rage go out of print, King said: “I pulled it because in my judgment it might be hurting people, and that made it the responsible thing to do.”
Anthony Burgess had some choice words about his opus A Clockwork Orange in his Biography of DH Lawrence. On the popularity of the book and its critically acclaimed film adaptation, Burgess said:
“We all suffer from the popular desire to make the known notorious. The book I am best known for, or only known for, is a novel I am prepared to repudiate: written a quarter of a century ago, a jeu d’esprit knocked off for money in three weeks, it became known as the raw material for a film which seemed to glorify sex and violence. The film made it easy for readers of the book to misunderstand what it was about, and the misunderstanding will pursue me until I die.”
Ian Fleming’s ninth Bond novel was met with much befuddlement and disappointment by critics. The book is told from three perspectives, with the dominant one being Fleming’s most layered portrayal of a female character. Bond himself does not appear until a third of the way through. Most critics agreed that the character of Vivienne was boring, and not on par with the high octane stuff they’d come to expect from Fleming. If the book was a sort of experiment, it largely failed. On the departure from his traditional style, Fleming said:
“I had become increasingly surprised to find my thrillers, which were designed for an adult audience, being read in schools, and that young people were making a hero out of James Bond … So it crossed my mind to write a cautionary tale about Bond, to put the record straight in the minds particularly of younger readers … the experiment has obviously gone very much awry”
Fleming shouldn’t be too dismayed by the product. If his plan was to expose the entrenched misogyny of his readership, then The Spy Who Loved Me was a roaring success.
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