Famous Novelists of Yesterday Who Are Underappreciated Today

Some deceased authors are more famous, as famous, or nearly as famous as they were when alive. Just a few among the many in this group would be Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, George Eliot, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Henry James, George Orwell, John Steinbeck, Mark Twain, and Virginia Woolf.

The reasons for their enduring popularity can include the quality of their work and/or having had outsized personalities and/or writing in a universal enough way that what they penned back then still strongly resonates today. (And, heck, it doesn’t hurt that Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four inspired the widely used term “Orwellian,” and that Woolf’s name became part of the title of a famous play.) Whatever the reasons, some long-dead authors are still remembered for a number of books apiece — and remain widely read.

But then there are deceased authors nowhere near as famous as they used to be. In many cases, they’re remembered chiefly for one or two novels while the rest of their canons have largely faded from public consciousness.

Why? Tastes changes, and not all writing ages well — some of it can eventually seem old-fashioned and too “of” a bygone era. Also, many past authors were “merely” great rather than GREAT great. But often there’s no easy explanation for why certain authors fall out of favor. Their writing may be wonderful and even timeless, yet they no longer get as much love as they deserve.

Sometimes, critics are at least partly to blame. For instance, the somewhat-faded luster of Sir Walter Scott and James Fenimore Cooper might have something to do with them both being slammed to an unfair degree by the influential Mark Twain.

Scott is still widely known for Ivanhoe and perhaps Rob Roy, but many of his other novels are barely remembered even though some (like Old Mortality and The Heart of Midlothian) are better than the two more famous ones I just mentioned. Cooper still gets present-day props for The Last of the Mohicans (the Daniel Day-Lewis movie adaptation helped πŸ™‚ ), even as the other four of his “Leatherstocking Tales” and the rest of his plentiful canon have mostly faded to a Wikipedia list.

Colette is now mostly recalled for Gigi, but she wrote many better novels — including The Vagabond. When hearing Willa Cather’s name, you might think of My Antonia and Death Comes for the Archbishop, but that accomplished author wrote a number of other great novels now undeservedly obscure. Mary Shelley remains justifiably famous for Frankenstein, but she wrote a half dozen more novels (including the amazing apocalyptic work The Last Man set in the year 2092) that most people would now be hard pressed to name.

Erich Maria Remarque also remains justifiably famous for All Quiet on the Western Front, but his other novels — some of them extraordinary, like Arch of Triumph and The Night in Lisbon — are not on the tip of most current readers’ tongues. Same for Aldous Huxley, with millions of people aware of Brave New World even as his excellent non-futuristic novels (such as Point Counter Point) are mostly forgotten.

I could go on and on. Other deceased authors who I think don’t get full kudos these days include Honore de Balzac, Anne Bronte, Erskine Caldwell, Theodore Dreiser, James Hilton, Sinclair Lewis, Bernard Malamud, W. Somerset Maugham, and Emile Zola, to name a few.

Of course, each author has her or his “story” explaining why they’re not better known. For instance, the very talented Anne Bronte was overshadowed by her even more talented sisters Charlotte and Emily.

Balzac and Zola remain literary stars in their home country of France and certain other places but are not as widely read in the U.S. Hilton’s Goodbye, Mr. Chips and Lost Horizon are still kind of famous (again, film versions helped) but few people could identify Hilton as the author of those two novels or name his other quality books (such as We Are Not Alone). The movie versions of Elmer Gantry and The Natural have helped Sinclair Lewis and Bernard Malamud remain somewhat known these days, plus the religious hypocrisy Lewis exposed in Elmer Gantry still strongly resonates in the 21st century.

Then there are authors who were famous for part of their lives before falling into obscurity that they were rescued from only years after they died. Herman Melville is one prime example, and another is Zora Neale Hurston — whose writing returned to the public eye with a big assist from Alice Walker.

Who are some deceased, once-famous authors you feel aren’t known as much as they should be these days? And, if you’d like, you could also mention great authors (past or present) who have NEVER gotten the recognition they deserve.

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area β€” unless you’re replying to someone else.)

I’m writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

210 thoughts on “Famous Novelists of Yesterday Who Are Underappreciated Today

  1. k this one doesn’t really count because he’s still super-famous among German writers, but Thomas Mann is the man. People usually read his Magic Mountain and Buddenbrooks, but he actually considered his very long novel Joseph and His Brothers to be his masterwork. I’ve been gearing up to read it for a while now but it’s just so long…

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    • Thanks for that Thomas Mann mention, jshupac! An author who’s been on my list for a very long time, and I look forward to trying his work.

      Interesting how certain deceased authors are still widely read in their home countries, but might not have as much worldwide readership as some other writers.

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  2. You did such a good job with this post that I find it hard to add something different. There are authors whose work holds up no matter the epoch-Sir Arthur Conan Doyle does well with Sherlock Holmes and The Lost World but the rest of his work goes unnoticed by most people.

    I think besides a few like Dr. Seuss or J. K. Rowling children or adolescent writers go underappreciated. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier comes to mind, mob mentality, bullying-topics very relevant for teens today. I was shocked to find out it was banned list on my nephew’s school. As I recall Robert Cormier was well received but goes uncelebrated today. Did I stray too much?

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    • Thanks for the kind words, Jack! Much appreciated. πŸ™‚

      Very true about Arthur Conan Doyle. He — like many other authors — is known for a certain amount of his canon while the rest of his canon is much less known. I’ve read that Doyle tried to stop writing the Sherlock Holmes stories, but eventually brought them back because of fan demand and so on.

      Also, terrific point about kid and YA authors! Their books are often harder to write (and draw) then they look, and many of those authors are extremely talented creators who don’t get appreciated enough. I used to freelance proofread YA books (about 30 years ago), and some of them were excellent yet the authors are unknown or barely known today.

      Hope you survived the massive snow okay!

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        • HA…no one can beat you in humor department Dave πŸ™‚
          How is your situation with snow ? We had a grand escape in OH one and half…and I might be able to go to my Tai Chi class after all.
          Be careful, on gentleman fell in his driveway on Wednesday and cracked several his ribs.
          See you later πŸ™‚

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          • Thanks, bebe. πŸ™‚ I thought your response to Jack was very funny, too!

            So glad Ohio didn’t get hit worse, and that you might be able to go to your class. But a shame about that man getting injured. Scary to slip and fall.

            Looks like we got about two feet here, but I haven’t ventured out yet. Luckily, the snow doesn’t seem wet or icy. And as an apartment dweller with my car having an inside-a-garage parking space, I don’t have to shovel like I used to as a homeowner. So I’m luckier than many people.

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            • That is fantastic..don`t go out. Spoke with our friend in Maryland…they have condo with no garage. The have enough food and seemed to be enjoying the moment with 20 inches last afternoon with more to come. She was getting cozy with a Grisham book she wants to finish Sycamore Row ..I have passed that one.

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              • Wish I didn’t have to go out, bebe, but my younger daughter has a tennis lesson and then a birthday party today — neither canceled. But the roads look pretty good.

                Sounds like your Maryland friend is making the best of the situation, but I imagine she still wouldn’t mind a garage. πŸ™‚

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                • Price is the factor..there..Another I know keeps the garage empty and parks the car outside. There are all kinds Dave.
                  Have a safe adventure outside today..sunny here and tomorrow 45 and sunny as well which is rare in OH.

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                  • Very true about price, bebe. We pay $100 a month for the space in the apartment complex’s garage. Not everyone can afford that, but it’s worth it to us. Plus my town doesn’t allow overnight street parking without a pricey permit, so one has to put a car somewhere.

                    Tennis canceled but party still on — so I only have to go out once rather than twice. Actually, I’m going to also try to take a walk soon, which should be interesting. πŸ™‚

                    Sounds like some nice Sunday and Monday weather where you are. Glad to hear it!

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  3. Great topic as always Dave some mentioned in the excellent comments deserve to be forgotten perhaps but more should many more should still be actually read and enjoyed. Fashion and taste may be fickle but to mix up a cliche cream eventually finds it’s way back to the top. I haven’t noticed if the first name that occurs to me has come up and as I’m utterly exhausted right now due to blizzard related duty I’m going to be a bit brief. John Dos Passos and his USA Trilogy was huge back in the 30s when first published and quite original in it’s literary conceits. The inter related stories of some dozen or so “average” Americans mostly down on their luck in the years surrounding WW1 interspersed throughout with Newsreel, Camera Eye and Bio sections that can be anything from advertising jingles , excellent summaries of then current historical figure , mini political histories and very cool popular song lyrics of the day. I haven’t read any of the novels in some 20 years but it’s occurred to me more than once that the project in a way resembled an excellent personal blog or even a first rate facebook page . Curious if any readers here have dipped in recently and what their opinion may be, I’d love to revisit but honestly don’t know if I’ll be impressed again or sadly disappointed. Regardless , stay inside and stay safe Dave and anyone else in the storms fury!

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    • Thanks for the kind words, Donny!

      Yes, some deceased authors deservedly fade into obscurity while others deserve so much better when it comes to being remembered.

      Great, interesting thoughts about John Dos Passos. Somehow I’ve never read his USA Trilogy, even though I’ve meant to, so I can’t give you my opinion about it. But it does sound like it was written VERY innovatively.

      Sorry about your blizzard-related exhaustion. A tough weather day. Stay safe, too!

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    • I read the Dos Passos trilogy about 40 years ago, all of it, and I do remember it with fondness and have managed to retain a few scenes– but not the sweep of the thing, or even the intended sweep. I do remember he employed an idiosyncratic style which was odd enough that it was easy to imitate, and in the attempt,instructive. The mix of media throughout was very modernist and recalled the weird juxtapositions of commercial blurbs and news items in newspapers, disjointed successions of images and subjects from newsreels. I remember feeling that his subject, if it really was the whole country, had proved an uproarious and gargantuan sprawl that could not be reliably summed or reduced to the trilogy. But I remember it was a good read and aimed high. The leftiness of it, and Dos Passos’ later rightward slant may have worked against the possibility of a large contemporary readership.

      (I did mention him in my list below, but I did not elaborate.)

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  4. Ivan Bunin was the first Russian recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature– a man once hailed as a successor in style and quality to Chekhov and Tolstoy, but, by being a favorite of the White Russians and himself an aristocrat, his works fell into disfavor in his native land– he had fled long before.

    A short story collection in paperback titled The Gentleman From San Francisco was my introduction to Bunin– the title story is especially good. I have also read The Village, a novella, and short stories from an earlier collection.

    Now Bunin is less well-known than he once was, and is seldom mentioned among the literary giants of Russia. But he should be among them, not at the top perhaps, but certainly among them.

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  5. Anonymous—

    I have isolated, by error, which is a trial, a glitch in the blog software, albeit minor. Sometimes, when you move from writing your email address in the first window below to the window into which you write your moniker, even though you click on it with vigor, the click does not take. You may type your moniker all you like but the letters land in the ether and not where you thought. This proves troublesome for a hunt and peck typist like myself, whose eyes are on the keyboard and not on the screen. You’re hitting the post comment button without looking up and suddenly you’ve become: Anonymous!

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    • Terrific point, Bill!

      I read several authors for the first time after they won the Nobel Prize for literature, and did not regret it. Alice Munro (short stories), Mario Vargas Llosa (“Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter”), J.M.G. Le Clezio (“Desert”), Wole Soyinka (“The Interpreters”) — all excellent. But, regretfully, there are many Nobel-winning authors I haven’t read.

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        • “The Interpreters” is an outstanding novel, Anonymous. Intellectual, compelling, and at times funny. “Ana,” who frequently comments here, had recommended Wole Soyinka to me. Great that you read him so early in life!

          Another well-known Nigerian novel, of course, is Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart.” I liked it but didn’t love it, though I know it’s an important piece of literature.

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    • I would check out Children of the Alley by Naguib Mafouz. I think he may be the only Arab author to have ever won the Nobel Prize…and this book specifically is very interesting (especially the beginning) and got him very nearly stabbed to death by an Egyptian Islamist (so you know it’s good).

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      • My library chose Mafouz’s ‘The Thief and the Dog’ for its ‘Big Read’ a few years ago. I read it as well as ‘Adrift on the Nile’. ‘Thief and the Dog’ was very similar to Camus’ ‘The Stranger’. I think I preferred ‘Adrift on the Nile’. They’re both short so not too much of a time investment. Can’t recall the title of his trilogy that’s supposed to be his major work. Obviously, something else I haven’t gotten around to reading.

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  6. Joyce Cary, Anthony Trollope, William Thackeray, William Dean Howells, John Dos Passos, Samuel Butler, Ford Maddox Ford, Arnold Bennett, Joseph Hergesheimer, Booth Tarkington, Fanny Hurst, Frank Norris, Rudyard Kipling, Sarah Orne Jewett– all novelists once more famous, and more read, than they are today, for reasons various and sundry.

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    • Outstanding list, jhNY! I agree with all of them (the ones I’m familiar with, anyway πŸ™‚ ).

      I read Booth Tarkington’s “The Magnificent Ambersons” relatively recently. A very good novel, but there’s something about it that’s a bit…dated.

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      • True, Donny. I also think “Vanity Fair” is still read a good amount — perhaps mostly in college lit courses. πŸ™‚

        I read a couple of Trollope novels in college, and couldn’t quite get into him. I might feel differently if I tried again decades later!

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        • Actually Dave I’d meant it as ” Trollop ” but for the record the novelist is quite fun also, loved The Eustace Diamond in particular. Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker did an excellent essay some months back on his timeless appeal and popularity.

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          • Ha — I get it now. πŸ™‚

            The Trollope novels I read (if I’m remembering right) were “The Warden” and “Barchester Towers.”

            Despite his postal job, I don’t think Trollope wrote “The Postman Always Rings Twice”…

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            • The other postal worker-writer I know off the top of my head: Charles Bukowski.

              Don’t think, beyond writing, day job and gender, that they had much in common, though.

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              • Didn’t know that about Charles Bukowski! And, yes, he and Anthony Trollope seem like they’re from different planets.

                As far as postal worker characters go, there’s Mary Minor “Harry” Haristeen of Rita Mae Brown’s “Mrs. Murphy” mysteries, whose amateur detectives include not only Haristeen but her dog and cat. πŸ™‚

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  7. Looking at my crystal ball I can tell you which author will not be remembered after ten some years , E.L. James writer of Fifty Shades Trilogy and a few more in paper backs.

    Humors aside as I see John Irving one great American Writer`s popularity already diminish in spite of his powerful spellbinding novels.
    Works of Jane Austen, Bronte Sisters hopefully will still be read could it be because BBC is still making movies of their works ? Same goes with W. Somerset Maugham , Arthur Conan Doyle with the Sherlock series . There were some attempts made in american films Bill Murray in Razor`s Edge and Robert Downey, Jr. in Sherlock.
    Rabindranath Tagore`s works from East is still being read in different parts of the world in various languages even after hundred and fifty years from his birth.

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    • I think and hope you’re right about E.L. James, bebe. πŸ™‚ I guess every generation has its best-selling authors who don’t deserve to be best-selling authors, along with excellent authors whose novels don’t sell well. 😦

      Interesting point about how some living authors are “hot” and then become not so “hot.” John Irving is certainly an example of that. Their later work might even be better than what they wrote at their popular peak, but some readers move on to other (often younger) authors.

      The often-great BBC certainly keeps some long-ago authors in the public eye. Of the ones you mentioned, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, and Arthur Conan Doyle will seemingly be read forever — which I’m glad of. Maugham’s star, as I said in my column, has faded somewhat, but I think at least one of his excellent novels — “Of Human Bondage” — will be “immortal.” “The Razor’s Edge” (which you mentioned), “The Moon and Sixpence,” and “The Painted Veil” might be read for a long time, too.

      Great that the sublime Rabindranath Tagore is still read widely — maybe less so in the U.S.?

      Thanks for the terrific comment!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes less in US but immigrants keeps Tagore`s work alive and that influences main stream Americans which is a good thing.

        I read comments below about Harper Lee and Capote.. Lee will be remembered from years to come but how many have read Capote`s work ?
        Publishing GSAW establishes one fact that Truman Capote never wrote GWTW.

        What I wrote about E.L. James didn`t we speculate the same thing about Trump and Ms. Palin?
        Guess who is back with her shrill voice and non stop verbiage πŸ˜†

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        • Another reason why immigration is so wonderful!

          And, yes, Harper Lee is thankfully more popular — and will be widely read much longer — than Truman Capote.

          True about Trump and Palin. 😦 Many people thought Trump would have imploded by now, but he can say absolutely any vile thing and just get more popular among his bigoted base. Palin possibly a vice presidential candidate again? Groan. Heck, as you allude to, maybe E.L. James WILL be read forever. 😦 😦

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              • Dave how is the snow situation in your neck of the woods ? I am home now and too quiet as if something is brewing up in there.
                The situation with election is becoming of a great concern so much so Bob Dole showed his concern on Cruz, if no one liked Ted how come his is rising in polls i wonder it that all the power of evangelists.

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                • bebe, I’ve heard it could be 6-12 inches in NJ from tomorrow through Sunday. I think the Washington, DC, area is expected more. How about where you are?

                  Bob Dole is the kind of Republican there aren’t as many of anymore. Conservative, but not nutty conservative. He is rightly appalled with people like Cruz and Trump.

                  Good question about Cruz. How can someone so unlikable be doing well in the polls? A truly religious person wouldn’t be as mean and un-compassionate as Cruz, which makes one wonder what kind of religion some evangelicals are practicing. 😦

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            • I don’t mean to denigrate Harper Lee in any way, but Truman Capote, regardless of how disagreeable a person he may have been, wrote at least a few excellent short stories and novellas in addition to ‘In Cold Blood’ which, even if it were completely fictional, would be a pretty significant novel about conscience-less murder. In that respect he’s certainly more prolific than Harper Lee, even if none of his works have the universal appeal of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. If we were ranking great literature based upon the writer’s integrity and moral fiber, most of our favorites would have pretty low marks.

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              • I just saw what i wrote up there wish I could take it back πŸ™‚ ..of course Capote wrote “Breakfast at Tiffany’s ” a classic and so many other short stories and plays. That is the only one i read and have seen the movie.

                You are absolutely correct Harper Lee wrote TKAM which is immensely popular classic and then recent addition of GSAW.

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              • Great points, Brian! I’m not a huge fan of Truman Capote, but he was at times a first-rate writer — and, as you say, he certainly produced more than Harper Lee. And you’re right that many great authors might not have been great people. Not that long ago, for instance, we discussed how Kurt Vonnegut was a much better writer than person in many ways.

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                • But that goes with so many people actors, writers, politicians also sports figures Dave. Fans get overwhelmed as if they know them personally. Now during election time same thing happens folks gets hung over some candidates as if they know them personally . We forget the fact that they are all playing a part.

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                  • Very true, bebe. Not just authors. All famous/public people are indeed playing a part — trying to make themselves seem more appealing than they might be in real life. The now-we-know-they’re-despicable Bill Cosby and Lance Armstrong are huge recent examples of that.

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        • Every candidate that Palin supports loses his/her race. It’s funny how she’s attempting to hitch on to the Trump Train.

          You remember the Wile E. Coyote cartoon character and that look of “oh know” when he’s about to go over a cliff, or a pile of rocks is about to land on him? That’s how Trump looked when Palin made her public endorsement.

          https://www.google.com/search?q=wile+e+coyote&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwigjb3xkrnKAhVC_WMKHcXMDjEQ_AUIBygB&biw=1093&bih=538#imgrc=rMXh3zI2VokopM%3A

          Trump after Palin’s endorsement. LOL.

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    • Some visitors actually planned 50 Shades tours to Seattle after that book was released.

      I won’t judge though because yours truly went with a group over to the peninsula to take pictures of John Steinbeck’s boat that is docked in an old boat harbour.

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        • And you would’ve been very welcome to join, my dear bebe:)

          I wanted to see Steinbeck’s boat before the restoration project started. My grandparents came down from Vancouver, one of my cousins from Vancouver Island was with them, of course hubby was there, and a friend of ours. We just made a whole weekend out of it. It was fun.

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                • Go ahead and shut the thread down because there’s nothing more that can be said. I can’t top this. I have officially been owned and dethroned as Queen of the Quips.

                  Ok, one more before you strip me of my title…In Dubious Bondage.

                  Hey Dave, are you familiar with the Avonlea Chronicles? I bought this today at an estate sale. Not in the best condition, but I had to get it because it was written by L.M. Montgomery.

                  Are you familiar with this collection of short stories?

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                  • Thanks, Ana! But the thread must go on, because “In Dubious Bondage” hilariously captures E.L. James magnum opus. πŸ™‚

                    I’ve heard of the Avonlea Chronicles, but have never read it. So glad you got that collection, even if not in great condition. L.M. Montgomery is so worth it.

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                    • I thumbed through it and read a couple of stories. Very charming:) What an author Montgomery was.

                      Alrighty, it’s been fun this week. Have a good weekend, see you on the next topic.

                      (can’t get 50 shades of red pony out of my mind…you are so WRONG for that one, Dave. SMH.)

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                    • Thanks, Ana! There’s something about John Steinbeck’s great book titles that make them so spoof-able. πŸ™‚

                      I agree — L.M. Montgomery is an amazing author. Will be mentioning her wonderful novel “The Blue Castle” in my next column.

                      Have a good weekend, too!

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  8. Great article! I’m planning to dive balls-deep into Balzac’s world soon (sorry for that), do you a have a suggestion on which book in his series to start with?

    I recently read this article – https://vacuouswastrel.wordpress.com/2015/12/20/jurgen-a-comedy-of-justice-by-james-branch-cabell/ – about a book called Jurgen written by an author I had never heard of, who was apparently extremely famous and well respected in his day. It sounds great.

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    • Thank you, jshupac! Glad you liked the column. πŸ™‚

      Balzac’s “Old Goriot” (“Pere Goriot”) might be my favorite of his. Also excellent are “Eugenie Grandet,” “The Magic Skin,” “Cousin Bette”…

      If I were to read one of his novels first, it might be “Eugenie Grandet” — among his shortest, and a real gem (both depressing and compelling, like most of Balzac’s books).

      Such an interesting piece about James Branch Cabell, who I hadn’t heard of before. He definitely seems sorely underappreciated today. Thanks for the link — and the comment!

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  9. Dave,
    I think we must include Mary Shelley’s husband Percy. A poet who was well known in his time, but is now even less known than his wife.

    I do think that we fail to acknowledge a large number of influential authors. When we look at modern speculative fiction many fail to see the authors between HG Wells and Asimov, or the Brother’s Grimm and Tolkien. Writers like Robert E Howard who in his short life helped define the sword and sorcery genre. And Edgar Rice Burroughs who helped to create the style of stories that give us modern comic book stories.

    My favorite forgotten author might be better considered an editor. Andrew Lang help collect and adapt many stories from around the world into what those who remember him see as the basis for the fairy tales used Walt Disney. The stories as published by Lang are at their closest to what Disney used in the shorts and movies while he was still alive. Yet he is forgotten except among those who love/study fairy tales and folk lore.

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    • Very true about Percy Bysshe Shelley, though I wonder if that might be at least partly a product of him being a creator of poetry — a mode of writing less popular today than in Shelley’s day.

      And you’re right about certain genres having their superstars, with other very talented writers in those genres falling through the historical cracks to some degree.

      Fascinating paragraph about Andrew Lang, who I was not familiar with. Sounds like he got WAY less due than he merited.

      Well said, GL!

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    • No doubt you’re right, but I remember reading Lang’s various Fairy Books (The Blue, The Red, The Yellow) as a boy– still have at least The Blue here in my apartment someplace….

      As to PB Shelley– ’twas not so long ago (a mere forty-plus years) that Mick Jagger read a poem of his before a crowd of many thousands in London’s Hyde Park, to mark the death of Brian Jones. Tempi cambi.

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        • I was sorta agreeing with you above re Shelley (tempi cambi= times change)– but as to your reply above, I’d argue it’s worse. He wrote far more poems than Mary wrote books.

          The poem Jagger read in 1969 in Hyde Park, Adonais, though critically acclaimed and valued by Shelley as his most realized poem, is not even the most famous of his poems today, I’d argue. Ozymandias is.

          So that’s two. But since nobody reads Mary past Frankenstein, maybe, after all I wrote above, Percy is ahead.

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          • jhNY, I wish more people would read Mary Shelley’s “The Last Man.” Kind of long, with florid language, but VERY absorbing. It’s apocalyptic story features characters strongly modeled on Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, and Mary Shelley herself (in the guise of a male character).

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            • I’ll do what I can– which is to pick it up when I see it next.

              Ever read Polidori’s short story, “The Vampyre”, based on Byron’s “The End of My Journey”, Byron’s attempt at a story he left unfinished when he, Percy, Mary and Polidori decided to compete with each other in the business of writing a horror story?

              It’s been said the subject of Polidori’s story is a disguised (thinly) Byron!

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              • Well, it’s hard to read everything, but “The Last Man” might be worth your time at some point. (It’s set in the 2090s, but Mary Shelley included hardly any futuristic gadgets in the novel. πŸ™‚ )

                I haven’t read “The Vampyre,” but I’ve heard about that early 19th-century competition!

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        • Dover’s Children’s Classics sells The Red, The Blue, etc., from editions published in the last few years– I saw one listed on Amazon with a printing date of 2011.

          I have no children, and spend no time among them, so I can’t ask any under-10’s what , if anything, they read in the way of fairy tales. But I’d bet, if they read fairy tales, some of them would know Lang’s collections.

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  10. I wish I knew the whole truth about the complex relationship between Harper Lee and Truman Capote. However, whatever the truth is, I can forgive Capote. His childhood was lonely and miserable and he was shuffled off to relatives in Monroeville. I doubt that he ever felt truly cherished and loved. He took his recollections of those times and made lemonade out of lemons in his wonderful stories/novels like “A Christmas Memory”, “The Grass Harp”, and “The Thanksgiving Visitor”.

    Addressing this week’s topic, two novelists who are under appreciated today are John Hersey and Saul Bellow. Like James Hilton, their writing is simply exquisite!

    Liked by 1 person

    • A compassionate view of things, lulabelle, eloquently said. A tough childhood can do a number on a person, and cause them to behave badly as adults. Of course, some people break the mold and grow up with extra empathy, but only some.

      And thanks for adding two more authors to the might-be-underappreciated list! My reading of Hersey and Bellow is limited — just one book by each. James Hilton DOES have an exquisite writing touch, and I know you’re a big fan of the amazing “Lost Horizon.” πŸ™‚

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  11. Hi Dave, I don’t have much to offer here as far as literature goes that hasn’t already been mentioned. So I’ll focus on those mystery novelists that are either already gone from the shelves, or may soon be gone. Off the top of my head I can think of some that I never hear about any longer, e.g., Edmund Crispin, Cyril Hare, John Dickson Carr, Josephine Tey, Nicholas Blake (otherwise known as Cecil Day-Lewis), and Ellery Queen. There are some that there have been re-printings of, such as John D. MacDonald, Ross MacDonald, Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham, Rex Stout, Ngaio Marsh, and Georges Simenon. Some of these were turned into mini-series and/or reprinted, but I wonder how many were new readers or those like myself who remembered reading them many years ago. As an aside, I was packing up boxes of books and other things last weekend as I prepare to put my condo on the market, and I think it fair to say that I have the entire set of Agatha Christie novels in mass market paperback form, along with a few hardcovers of her stories. Yikes! πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Kat Lib, for sharing your expertise on mystery novelists — ranging from those who are now obscure to those who are becoming obscure to those who are still famous.

      Every Agatha Christie novel? Wow — that’s impressive! She wrote a LOT of books.

      Good luck with the packing and with putting your condo on the market!

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    • The only Cyril Hare I read is the book below, but when I read it, I thought this one paragraph did a great job of summing up the British working man’s view of politics in the pre-War (II) years, and so I typed it for later use, which is now:

      “Quite plainly, they did not believe a word of what was being said from the platform, but they were too listless to heckle, and even an incautious reference to the Government’s work for the unemployed produced no more than a few sniggers, which were meant to be sarcastic, but sounded merely melancholy. It was difficult to understand why they should have troubled to attend a political meeting, except from sheer force of habit, so clear was it that nothing that could be said from any platform would ever raise them to hope or even credulity again.”

      Cyril Hare, β€œSuicide Excepted”, p,149.

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    • Kat Lib, I FINALLY borrowed a P.D. James novel from the library today. An Adam Dalgliesh mystery called “The Lighthouse.” Is that one of the ones you’ve read? If so, what did you think?

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  12. Just my opinion, but I used to think that P.G. Wodehouse was not as popular and well known as he could have been. Maybe his style of humour was something that your average reader in my age group “didn’t get” and find very funny. I thought he was very talented and hilarious. His timing, prose, subtle humour…everything about Wodehouse was/is so on point.

    The BBC has done a wonderful job of exposing and introducing Wodehouse to a wider audience. Jeeves & Wooster and the Blandings series are great. I don’t know if the popularity of these shows has translated to increased book sales, but at least the Wodehouse name is more recognisable now.

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    • I think there’s something to that, Ana. P.G. Wodehouse is known, but perhaps not as much as he deserves to be — even with the BBC stuff. That guy WAS a hilarious writer, but, as you say, his humor might seem a bit old-fashioned to some people today. Maybe he’s somewhat better known in his native UK than in the U.S. he eventually moved to?

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      • UK-based culture (music, literature, arts, film, expressions, etc) has crossover appeal in the US and Canada. Can’t really explain why/how Wodehouse didn’t quite catch on here. I don’t know, maybe I’m in the minority on this, but I think his work is fantastic.

        Just one person’s opinion…

        Liked by 1 person

        • Very true, Ana, about UK culture being all over North America. Again, maybe P.G. Wodehouse isn’t quite as big as he should be in the U.S. and Canada because his GREAT humor now seems sort of old-fashioned. The smarter butler being sort of the boss and all that…

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        • Wodehouse did catch on here– before you or I were born, I’m guessing, unless you’re in your 80’s. He charmed quite a few US readers (my mother is but one sainted example), and sold well. Heck, he sold well all over the world– I have a Wodehouse novel printed in Czechoslovakia, and there were several Drones’ Clubs throughout for enthusiasts of his inimitable prose, not to mention the opportunity to throw dinner rolls.

          But you’re right too– recentish attempts to revive interest in the consummate prose stylist and his made-up world out of English light comedy caught on less well here than in his native land.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Yes, I can see how Wodehouse would “play” better a number of decades ago. I found him really funny when I read him for the first time a few years ago, but it’s sort of…pre-World War II humor? For me, that increased its interest as sort of a period piece as funny now as it was then, but some people just might think of it as old-fashioned.

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    • Hi Ana, I have the entire set of the Jeeves & Wooster DVDs in my home, and I’ve watched them many times. Both Hugh Laurie and Steven Fry were perfect in their roles. But I agree, I don’t know how many people actually read the books before or after the airing of these great episodes.

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  13. “…Zora Neale Hurston β€” whose writing returned to the public eye with a big assist from Alice Walker.”

    As much as I admire and love Richard Wright’s work, I will always fault him for initiating Hurston’s decline. He was the most respected voice of black America in the early to mid 20th century. Very influential in the social and political movements of that time. His opinion carried a lot of weight.

    Once he started attacking Ms. Hurston for the use of black dialect in her writing, and criticising her for failing to address social injustice as passionately as he did, her popularity began to slide. People started judging her more harshly, not just her literary career, but her personal life as well.

    The competition for patronage support during the Harlem Renaissance wasn’t healthy for Ms. Hurston either. The intra-fighting between her, Langston Hughes, and Alain Locke affected her creatively and financially. Then the false molestation charges and suicide attempt pretty much destroyed what was left of her career.

    I get that artists critique each other, but the way Richard Wright went after her was brutal. Black Americans turned their backs on Hurston and attacked her relentlessly, all because they felt she was a “sell-out” to the race. Wright’s opinion held a lot of sway, so it’s no coincidence that Zora Neale Huston’s road to obscurity began shortly after Wright’s criticism.

    Alice Walker deserves a ton of credit for Hurston’s posthumous success, and for introducing her to a new generation of readers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great, history-laden comment, Ana! As wonderful and (mostly) progressive as some of Zora Neale Hurston’s African-American-male writing peers were, there was a strain of sexism there (which could also be said for most white male writers back then). And a certain rigidity about what should be in fiction by African-American writers. It was great that some writers addressed social injustice, and, since relatively few African-American writers were published, one could somewhat understand the push to have most of what WAS published be positive and/or instructional and/or socially aware. But, still, why couldn’t Richard Wright and others have been more open to a variety of authorial approaches, including using dialect at times? Also, Hurston DID address social injustice, but often in a more oblique way.

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      • Richard Wright used black dialect all the time, which made his criticism of Zora Neale Hurston so odd.

        I think her exploration of sub-cultures outside of African American culture was not well-received. People generally didn’t understand that direction she took; it confused them.

        Hurston did not want to be remembered as a one trick pony in literature. For awhile, her methods worked. But after Wright’s public criticism…you know the rest.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Richard Wright wouldn’t be the first person to practice a double standard. 😦

          When done right, dialect can be very effective in literature. Other authors who used the vernacular well included George Eliot and Mark Twain (as you know).

          It’s admirable when authors refuse to be a one-trick pony!

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    • Ana, I purchased “Mules and Men” when you mentioned it a couple of times. I’m not familiar with Zora N Hurston but wanted to read that novel after you described it. Some of the tall tales made me burst out laughing. I really enjoyed the parts where Zora was at the sawmill and swamp with the crew. One of the funniest pieces of literature I’ve ever read.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Dave, thanks for the very interesting topic. As you pointed out, and one of my favs: Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans. When I was a child, there was also a movie series on tv done about this book. It was not even close to accurate, as I recall, but it had the family’s full attention. It may have been put on by Disney. Cannot recall. Great book! Cannot believe I am this old, but writing does not care about our age. It lives on if we take the time to read it. At least for as long as we live. Too bad life is so short.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome, hopewfaith — and, as I said in another reply, great to see you here again!

      “The Last of the Mohicans” IS an excellent book, and part of an excellent series. On commenter glmeisner’s recommendation, I read “Mohicans” and James Fenimore Cooper’s other four “Leatherstocking” novels in 2014 — and following Natty Bumppo and his adventures from a young man to an old man was fascinating. My favorite was “The Deerslayer,” which wasn’t written first but showed Natty at his youngest (late teens or early 20s).

      As you say, movies often do take major liberties with novels.

      Very eloquent/sobering conclusion to your comment.

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  15. Howdy, Dave!

    β€” Who are some deceased, once-famous authors you feel aren’t known as much as they should be these days? β€”

    A homonymic phrase recalling the nom de plume of Solomon Naumovich Rabinovich is very well known today, on the lips of many people in many places around the world. However, the author’s pseudonym qua pseudonym is mainly recollected β€” every once in a great while β€” only in association with a certain Broadway musical replete with sunrises, sunsets and at least one shtetl, as opposed to its terrific source material.

    Personally, though, I remember it in the context of many great hours spent in the Learning Resource Center of one of my colleges β€” apparently, nobody in the administration could spell β€œL-i-b-r-a-r-y” (Two β€œr”s? Are you sure?) β€” listening with headphones to the Beatles’ β€œSgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album spinning on a turntable and reading the likes of β€œTevye’s Daughters: Collected Stories of Sholom Aleichem.”

    Happy days! (Despite the occasional pogrom.)

    J.J. (Alias MugRuith1)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hadn’t realized Sholom Aleichem was a pen name! I learned something new today, and it’s still only 10:15 a.m. eastern time. πŸ™‚ And, yes, if he’s mostly remembered for his stories being turned into “Fiddler on the Roof,” that’s a pretty major thing.

      Sholom Aleichem and The Beatles? That’s quite a combination. Sunrise, Sunset, Here Comes the Sun (the next morning)…

      Thanks for the interesting, elegantly phrased comment, J.J.!

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      • β€” I hadn’t realized Sholom Aleichem was a pen name! β€”

        As I understand its derivation, it is the Yiddish adaptation of the Hebrew phrase, β€œShalom aleichem,” meaning, β€œPeace be with you.” Given the author’s day job from time to time, I actually like his real name even more than his pen name: Rabbi Rabinovich! Joseph Heller must have loved it.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks for the explanation of that alias, J.J.! And, yes, Rabbi Rabinovich is a very alliterative title/name reminiscent of Catch-22’s Doc Daneeka — and perhaps Catch-22’s Milo Minderbinder and Lolita’s Humbert Humbert as well.

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        • A timely coincidence: On my way the doctor’s for a physical this very afternoon, I happened to notice that I was crossing Sholom Aleichem Street– we name portions of streets for the famed herein NYC– but I can’t now remember whether I was at 33rd or 34th and Park Ave. Nobody was fiddling on anybody’s roof. Which makes sense as nowadays most of the fiddling goes in indoors, behind the big brass doors of banks.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Loved your comment, jhNY! Those banksters…um…bankers…

            Interesting the way some NYC streets have supplemental names. W. 106th St. is also Ellington Boulevard, after the Duke — and Adam Langer’s “Ellington Boulevard” novel is quite good.

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          • Howdy, jhNY!

            β€” On my way the doctor’s for a physical this very afternoon, I happened to notice that I was crossing Sholom Aleichem Street β€”

            Thanks for mentioning this thoroughfare! During my days as one of the dharma bums sidestepping the subterraneans of New York β€” as if it were even possible one could sidestep one’s self β€” I recall being on the road in the wild borderlands between Kips Bay and Murray Hill where I saw a street sign, substantially similar to the one to which you allude, quite appropriately in the vicinity of the old offices of β€œThe Forward,” but, as I was then in my cups and later unable to locate an official record of it in the β€œNYC Street Signs” database (http://bit.ly/23cb5i3), I came to the conclusion either the sign had been put there by one of those urban literary guerrillas with their sharpened sticks (called pencils, I believe) so common in that place at that time or it was just another picture on a page in my book of dreams.

            J.J.

            Liked by 1 person

  16. There are entire genres of writing that may one day fade away. The Westerns of Louis L’Amour, the hard-boiled detectives of Mickey Spillane will all pass with time, as will many of the great voices of 20th century literature.

    Tastes change, fads come and go… but I am quite concerned that college literature classes have turned against dead white men.

    Good Lord, don’t get me wrong, the efforts to include more diverse voices in literature is both wonderful and necessary – but I have noticed that since the 1970’s there has been a growing hostility to the greats… one that has hurt all of literature.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Almost Iowa! So well said!

      Genres do ebb — though I see them as changing rather than fading away. For instance, some of Cormac McCarthy’s novels (“Blood Meridian,” the three Border Trilogy books, “No Country for Old Men”) are Westerns in a way, but much different than the Westerns of Louis L’Amour or Owen Wister or… And detective fiction still flourishes, though again in a different way. Maybe there’s more irony (among other things) in some of it now, just like Charles Portis’ “True Grit” is sort of a Western and sort of a spoof of a Western.

      I’m glad there’s more diversity in literature, and that college profs and critics are thinking about that. But there’s no reason that can’t co-exist with continuing to appreciate the many great classics by dead white men. πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

    • Like Louis L’Amour (and Zane Gray),Edgar Rice Burroughs was once a major selling force in American fiction– science and adventure fiction– nowadays, his Tarzan endures, but his John Carter of Mars laid a major box office egg not long ago– probably because nearly nobody reads the series nowadays, so there was no fanbase awaiting the would-be blockbuster that fizzled.

      Liked by 1 person

    • You have stated it so accurately. The authors may not even be known by many of today’s college professors. I’ve noticed amazing changes in what our teaching professionals are taught, in the first place. We can no longer (embarrassed to say it) expect them to be focused on intelligent discourse and instructing for the sake of intellectual outcomes. We’ve lost a great art form – the intimate education of the young mind. Some people educating today have no business even being in the field, but we can only try to insist on better systems, when today, most of education is about raising money for the colleges, not about educating. I wish it weren’t true.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for your comment, hopewfaith! I guess it varies — some profs (including lecturers and adjuncts) are excellent and some aren’t. I’ve heard all about that range of talent from my wife, who’s a prof and a former department chair (2012-15). Also, some excellent profs face certain pressures from college administrators, politicians, etc., that force them to not be as good a teacher as they can be. And, yes, some universities are all about the money more than the education — and then there are the warped priorities of paying football and basketball coaches obscene salaries while paying adjuncts dirt. 😦

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        • indeed. i could not agree more about the coaches. disgusting. and what it is doing to education is not positive at all, overall. my brothers played for Tex A&M and both had full scholarships. Things changed rapidly. Remember Shelby Metcalf? Well, he was their coach. Horrors. Their experiences in education were only as positive as THEY made them. My older brother did come out on top. He ended his beautiful working career as a wildlife biologist (Fed Gov-loved his job) and retired to become a full time photographer, training many, many other people in how to photograph wildlife. He’s had a very happy life, because of his very good eduction. He’s one of the lucky ones.

          I have friends who are profs. Some are doing very special work, and one other, not so much. Some take advantage, some do not. It’s a more and more rigged system. I wish your wife only good outcomes! Totally agree on the “admins”… It can go so wrong so quickly.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Thanks for the follow-up comment, hopewfaith! You know a lot about the university experience through yourself, your brothers, and friends. Great that your older brother has had such a satisfying work life, both before and after “retirement.” Some students do benefit greatly from the education they receive at universities that might mostly want them for their athletic prowess.

            So many universities are administration-heavy these days, even as they might try to cut back on academic spending (but almost never on sports spending). Few colleges are the mostly education-focused utopias they make themselves out to be.

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  17. Hi Dave … I agree with Joseph Domino regarding Ambrose Bierce. I had to read him in high school. I don’t think he’s required reading anymore, sadly. Also, in another comment Truman Capote was mentioned in relation to Gore Vidal. In my opinion, Truman Capote is another who doesn’t get his due, and I think a lot of that has to do with his aggressively shallow pursuit of celebrity toward the end of his life; his inane behavior as he spiraled deeper into drugs and alcohol didn’t help to endear him to the public. With Truman Capote, there came a general feeling of “Your fifteen minutes are over.” That’s too bad, because his work is enduring.

    I hope you have a great week, Dave πŸ™‚

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks for the comment, Pat, including your excellent point about Truman Capote! If an author is unlikable (and you certainly mentioned several ways that was the case with Capote), it can turn readers off — even if the work is enduring, as you noted. Plus Capote was seen by most as the “bad guy” in his complex friendship/work relationship/end of friendship with Harper Lee.

      Of course, some unlikable authors don’t lose that many readers. One example would be Norman Mailer, whose disturbing sexism, machismo, etc., seemed to make him more perversely appealing to many of his fans.

      I wonder if Ambrose Bierce’s dark personality may have had something to do with his loss of popularity. Maybe the darkness of a lot of his work, too. I agree that his writing was often outstanding.

      Have a great week as well! πŸ™‚

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      • Dave, you make an excellent point about the end-relationship between Truman Capote and Harper Lee, and the impact it may have had on public opinion. Until I saw the movie “Capote”, I didn’t realize what a heel he was toward the end of that relationship. He was definitely a self-absorbed bitter little man. Harper Lee is a national treasure … mistreating her is a hard thing to forgive.

        Ambrose Bierce is dark and, in high school, difficult to read. I think the point, back then, of introducing us to Ambrose Bierce, and others, was to at least have them somewhere in our consciousness; I think it was more of a preparation for later reading in life, and college. Once upon a time it was actually a common educational goal to inspire a love of reading. But that was before the focus shifted to the all-important (NOT!) standardized testing process.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Well said, Pat!

          From what I’ve read, Truman Capote didn’t give Harper Lee adequate credit for all the work she did helping him research “In Cold Blood,” and Capote also reportedly never tried to debunk false rumors that he had a significant hand in writing “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

          Makes sense to introduce high school students to a writer like Ambrose Bierce — a valuable lesson in cynicism, etc.

          And, yes, making yearly standardized testing more important than things like enjoying/learning from literature is unforgivable. But there are profits to be made for the testing companies ( 😦 ) and most corporations want students to become docile workers who don’t think too much ( 😦 ).

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          • Maybe it’s time for another 1960s style social revolution in this country … but that would take away precious time from viewing the latest Instragram of Kim Kardashian’s butt … and then tweeting about it πŸ˜‰

            Liked by 1 person

            • Ha, Pat! Yes, there are priorities… πŸ™‚

              What’s often called “corporate reform” in education (demonizing teacher unions, getting private companies more involved, opening for-profit charter schools that siphon badly needed tax money from public schools, etc.) is something I devote a lot of space to lampooning in my local weekly newspaper column. “Reformers” have been beaten back somewhat in my town, but they’re still plugging away — at least partly bankrolled by an ultra-rich local resident. 😦

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                • So true, jhNY. For instance, charter schools are a perfect vehicle for “reformers” — they get taxpayer money and don’t have to deal with any government oversight as a lot of that money goes in their own pockets. It’s much more about $$$ than about educating students. And the bonus for those bloodsuckers is that most charter school teachers are not unionized, so educator unionization goes down.

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                    • Yup, disaster capitalism it is — as explained in Naomi Klein’s influential 2007 book “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.” And you’re absolutely right about New Orleans, jhNY. Efforts to privatize as many schools as possible are also going on in Newark, Camden, Los Angeles, etc. 😦 “Reformers” call charter schools “public,” but they really aren’t despite using public (our) money.

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        • I don’t think you mischaracterize Capote, and I do think in all likelihood he treated Lee shabbily re In Cold Blood and her unattributed work therein.

          But I’ve also read that Lee got a year to write what became TKAM thanks to a Christmas gift made to her by a well-heeled Broadway lyricist who was a friend of Capote’s. The lyricist asked her how much she made a year at her job and gave her that amount as a sort of person-to-person grant. Capote, I believe, had much to to with his making her that gift.

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            • I think the relationship between Truman and Harper went sour after ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ was published and became such a success that it won the Pulitzer Prize. None of Truman’s books ever did that. I think jealousy surged within Truman and he probably took solace in not dispelling the rumors about him ‘ghost-writing’ ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, almost as if he were winning the Pulitzer prize incognito. I don’t think he ever thought that a book by his childhood friend who had NO publishing experience would become such as mammoth success. This probably irked him particularly in light of the fact that he had been a successful professional writer for a few years at that point and never reached that stage of popular AND critical acclaim. From the standpoint of the friendship as well as her reaction to the infringement on her privacy, Harper was probably better off not publishing anything else; otherwise, she’d be fair game for him in his petty feuds with other pugnacious authors such as Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal, who enjoyed a fight as much as Truman did.

              Liked by 1 person

              • Not publishing anything else is one thing; not writing anything else is another– and false starts excepted, it would appear Lee made the latter choice.

                I do think your analysis of Capote’s reaction to Lee’s success is a good one.

                His feud with Vidal, if Vidal’s visceral repulsion is considered literally, must have begun at first sight, and in earnest.:

                “”Capote I truly loathed. The way you might loathe an animal. A filthy animal that has found its way into the house.”

                I sometimes think, given the era of his great fame, that Capote was braver in just being himself than in anything he managed to write.

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    • Capote, after death, was revealed to have had a similar secret to the one Joe Gould, Greenwich Village bohemian, carried with him to his grave.

      See Joseph Mitchell’s great work, titled “Joe Gould’s Secret” for clarification.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I just did some Wikipedia reading, jhNY. If I’m understanding this correctly, both Gould and Capote allegedly created immense opuses that were in fact very small and/or not pulled together much and/or partly a figment of their imaginations, etc.?

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        • You got it !
          BTW, that Joseph Mitchell story is really first-rate– as is nearly everything he wrote, at least as compiled in “Up in the Old Hotel”, which brings many of his books of essays together under one paperback roof. Highly, highly recommended.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Thanks, jhNY! I read so little nonfiction these days (except for researching things for my newspaper column and keeping up with the news in general). But when I read nonfiction in book form again, I’ll keep Joseph Mitchell in mind!

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              • Interesting. Most nonfiction has sort of a fictional tinge — it’s unavoidable. Whether consciously or subconsciously, writers mold facts into something that’s not always totally factual because of their perspective, what they include and what they leave out, etc.

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                    • Maybe he just knew a good story even when he didn’t always see one…

                      I fear I may have over-emphasized this smallish facet of Mitchell’s approach to his craft– and he does identify some of his work as having fictional elements– composite characters, non- verbatim conversation,etc. My favorite of all his stuff is Old Mr. Flood, a fantastic bit of writing in a few ways. But I believe Joe Gould’s Secret is his masterpiece.

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  18. In his own time, I think Sinclair Lewis was better known for his lacerating portrait of small town life, “Main Street,” but, as you point out, “Elmer Gantry,” largely due to Burt Lancaster’s Best Actor Oscar performance in the title role, is more the work he’s known for now. I also wonder about Sylvia Plath and “The Bell Jar,” and how it compares today with the restored edition of “Ariel,” in which her poetry is as she wished it and not as it had been originally published. (It also includes her marginalia, I’m told).

    Liked by 1 person

    • “…lacerating portrait of small town life” — perfect description of several Sinclair Lewis novels! Perhaps the decrease in small towns in our urban/suburban/overpopulated age is one reason why Lewis’ star has descended somewhat.

      Yes, the excellent “Elmer Gantry” is not Lewis’ best novel, but the movie has made the book more prominent than the author’s other works. (There was also the “Dodsworth” film, but it was not as high-profile as the “Elmer Gantry” one.)

      Interesting about Sylvia Plath — I didn’t know about the restored edition of “Ariel.”

      Thanks for the excellent comment, thepatterer!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Another Lewis film, an early talkie, as described in wikipedia:

        “Arrowsmith is a 1931 American Pre-Code film, nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. It was written by Sidney Howard from the Sinclair Lewis novel Arrowsmith, and directed by John Ford.”

        Starred Ronald Colman, Helen Hayes and Myrna Loy, among others.

        Clearly, Lewis meant more in the first half of the 20th century than the latter– and since.

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    • When I was in school 40+ years ago, “Babbitt” was more widely read than today– I would have, before reading your comment have said that it was his most famous novel. And,again, less today than a while back, according to wilikpedia:

      “The word “Babbitt” entered the English language as a “person and especially a business or professional man who conforms unthinkingly to prevailing middle-class standards”.[2]

      Any novel that creates a type that in turn becomes a word in common use has penetrated the national consciousness (again, at one time) ,more than most.

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      • jhNY, “Babbitt” is indeed an excellent novel that was once very famous well beyond the year it was published, before becoming less so. I didn’t realize “Babbitt” had entered the English language — VERY impressive when that happens — but, as you allude to, it doesn’t seem to be used much any more. It has been supplanted by…not sure…maybe organization man or yes man or corporate drone? None of those sound QUITE the same. πŸ™‚

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  19. I recall some very popular authors from earlier eras who are probably pretty deservedly obscure now such as Harold Robbins and Jacqueline Susann, probably to a lesser extent Erica Jong. Perhaps the ’50 Shades of Gray’ author, E.J. James (not to be confused with the British mystery author and also creator of ‘Children of Men’ P.D. James) will be a future Jaqueline Susann.

    There are also authors such as Gore Vidal, who was pretty famous in his time yet also wrote some excellent historical novels (the American cycle: ‘Burr’, ‘Lincoln’, ‘1876’, ‘Washington D.C.’etc.) as well as some notorious works such as ‘Myra Breckenridge’ and is still known as much because of his on-air fireworks with Wm. F. Buckley at the 1968 political conventions and talk show feuds with Norman Mailer and Truman Capote. Nevertheless, those American novels are outstanding and very readable. I haven’t read a great deal of his other novels but I certainly hope to read a few, particularly ‘Julian’, about the Roman emperor who was the lone pagan holdout. The other later ones were converting to Christianity. BTW, there are two outstanding documentaries that anyone interested in Vidal should check out: ‘Gore Vidal: United States of Amnesia’ a biographical film, as well as ‘Best of Enemies’, about that feud with Buckley. Even after Buckley had departed Vidal still hated him, saying ‘Rest in Hell’.

    Another author who while living was given some critical attention was John Gardner, author of ‘Grendel,’ ‘The Sunlight Dialogues’, ‘October Light’, ‘The Wreckage of Agathon’ and a few others. He was an English professor, a medievalist who also wrote some non-fiction works such as ‘On Moral Fiction’ and others. He was apparently a pretty fast-living fellow, finally killed in a motorcycle accident in 1982 or ’83. Anyway, his works slowly went out of print, except maybe ‘Grendel’, and no one speaks of him today. Nevertheless, at one time he was spoken of in the same breath as Saul Bellow, John Updike and a few other respected authors.

    I’ve sung the praises of Walker Percy before so be prepared because I’m going to do it again. He is known primarily as the author who made sure that John Kennedy Toole’s ‘A Confederacy of Dunces’ was published. However, while ‘Confederacy’ was a promising first novel in my opinion, the writing of Walker Percy was on another level entirely, especially his contribution to great American novels, ‘The Moviegoer’. His second novel, ‘The Last Gentleman’, is good as well, as I recall (it’s been 25 years or so since I read it) but it’s not the masterpiece that ‘The Moviegoer’ is.

    Then there’s Balzac and Zola as you mentioned, Dave. For the life of me,I can’t understand why Balzac is not as well-regarded and easily available as Charles Dickens. His depiction of French society is just as thorough and compelling as Dickens’ novels of London. And, although I haven’t yet read much Zola I know that he too was quite ambitious in depicting French society and certainly should be carried in libraries and taught in literature classes, basically the whole literary establishment, academic canon treatment.

    There are tons of others past and present. I could go on and on but I’ll stop for now, except to say that, who knows? Perhaps the Jonathan Franzen of today may be the John Gardner of 2050. Not that I’m wishing obscurity on any deserving author but it could happen, just as it did to Gardner, Herman Melville and dozens (hundreds?) of others that I’m unable to name because, to date, they’ve disappeared into that mysterious region we call OBSCURITY.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the wide-ranging comment, Brian!

      You recommended Walker Percy’s “The Moviegoer” a while back, and it is indeed a memorable novel that should be better known.

      Gore Vidal is definitely one of these authors who was a celebrity with a capital “C,” but also had plenty of talent. Some authors have more celebrity than talent. πŸ™‚

      I agree that the immensely talented Balzac should be much more read these days. Dickens’ larger renown might have something to do with his books being more entertaining and theatrical and sentimental (though Balzac was also plenty entertaining and theatrical while also being quite deep). And I’m a major Emile Zola fan, so I can’t disagree with anything you said about him. One of my literature-related life thrills was hearing his great-granddaughter speak in France in 2007 and then hiking up Mont Sainte-Victoire with her and a bunch of other people (long story).

      And, yes, some famous authors deserve to lapse into obscurity or semi-obscurity. I haven’t read “Fifty Shades of Grey,” but from what I’ve heard from readers I trust, hopefully its author will be little known at some point. A different James (Henry) is another matter. πŸ™‚

      Again, outstanding comment!

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      • I don’t think Vidal pursued a writerly life but for so long– where fiction is concerned. My impression is that he devoted most of his energies in the last decades of his life to the political essay, wherein he routinely excoriated our most powerful and corrupt– mostly from overseas. I miss his voice in political discourse, in person and in print.

        Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve never enjoyed a show much more than those with Buckley. Don’t get me wrong. I could not stand the man. His logic was sorely one-sided and very blind on so many issues. But the show was worthwhile. I became more aware of Mailer and Capote because of it. Some tiny gain, some would say, I suppose.

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      • Yes, William F. Buckley was a character — weird, charismatic, whip-smart, revolting, etc. He sparred with some memorable people. One amazing event was a debate, in the UK I think, Buckley had with James Baldwin (it’s on YouTube).

        I should also say that it’s great to hear from you, hopewfaith! Hope you’re doing well!

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    • Re Balzac:
      As a nation of readers, we have always been much more susceptible to Anglophilia than Francophilia, given our historical/cultural beginnings (or more precisely, the ones we honor most). And we share a language, more or less, with the Brits. Dickens toured here, wrote about the US, even wrote to specifically entice American readers from time to time. Our commercial relationship with GB was much more profound and developed than our commercial relationship with France, then and now. So: better commerce, better marketing, common language, somewhat shared culture– no wonder Dickens would win out over Balzac Stateside. Even today– Dickens was that influential and beloved by American readers over several generations that he is liable, among all British 19th century novelists, to be read more than any other– Austen excepted, though she has come to the fore comparatively recently. (The Bronte sisters can claim a large readership for one book each, and here I think, we’re talking oeuvres.)
      ,
      But in the history of French literature, which is glorious and vast, who among French novelists is read nowadays more by Americans than Balzac?

      I can’t come up with a surefire winning candidate. You?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Great insights, jhNY, into why Dickens and other British authors tend to be read more by Americans than French authors.

        “Who among French novelists is read nowadays more by Americans than Balzac?” Excellent question. Balzac might be the French author read most overall by U.S. residents, but some specific novels by other French authors are probably read more — including Dumas’ “The Three Musketeers” and “The Count of Monte Cristo” and Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “Les Miserables.” And perhaps Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary”? Zola’s “Germinal” (because of the movie)? Colette’s “Gigi” (because of the movie)? Camus’ “The Plague”? And, in the short-story area, perhaps Guy de Maupassant’s “The Necklace”?

        Not sure about all of the above — just throwing them out there. πŸ™‚

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        • I think more readers here have read Madame Bovary than any Balzac title, but few have read more Flaubert than they were assigned. (I’ve only read Salammbo after Bovary myself)

          Likewise with Camus– only I’d argue it’s The Stranger that’s read more often.

          My point was mostly about whose catalog is more deeply read by readers here, and again, I still think Balzac may win.

          Les Miserables, I’d argue, has been owned by many, finished by few.

          Liked by 1 person

          • All good points, but I did read all of “Les Miserables.” πŸ™‚

            I wonder how many people have tried even one other Flaubert novel besides “Madame Bovary.” I can’t even name one! πŸ™‚

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            • In addition to ‘Madame Bovary’ I have read ‘Sentimental Education’ and ‘Three Tales’. I plan to re-read ‘Sentimental Education’ as part of a Frech duo with Zola’s ‘Germinal’ soon. It was over 30 years ago when I read ‘Sentimental Education’ so my memory is a bit hazy but it did seem like something Balzac could write and I remember it occurring during the 1848 French riots (???). Anyway, I thought it was time to revisit. I own ‘Salambo’ but have never read it. I also have ‘Bouvard and Pecuchet’ but haven’t read that either. I read ‘Three Tales’, which was quite good as I recall but those others I will hopefully move on to after revisiting ‘Sentimental Education’.

              Liked by 1 person

              • I recommend Salammbo, if you feel like taking a total break from the here and now. Carthage BC is the setting, and Flaubert, to as great a degree as was possible at the time, made use of all the latest archaeological discoveries and theories available to him– though admittedly, the science was in its infancy. There are haunting scenes and characters, and an unrelenting otherworldliness to the book– but some of its most fanciful-seeming stuff is merely history.

                Flaubert, I learned by perusing a book titled Flaubert in Egypt, also had a literal hand in archaeological digging himself, while on a tour there as a young man. He and his traveling party helped dig away the sand obscuring the seated colossi of Ramses the Great that have since been removed to a site above the Aswan Dam (Abu Simbel).

                I will rededicate myself to the intention of reading A Sentimental Education, having my interest revived by your remairks. Thanks!

                (A confession: for some years, when I saw this title, I thought it was a sub-title, or alternate title, or early draft of Madam Bovary. Seemed to fit, at least to me.)

                Liked by 1 person

                • Thanks, jhNY and Brian! You now have me interested in trying a Flaubert novel other than “Madame Bovary.” πŸ™‚

                  Interesting that Flaubert did some archaeological digging himself. Reminds me that, later on, Agatha Christie did that as well.

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                • In that case, avoid Celine– not that I would, given my taste for black humor, but he is a bit repellent and politically incorrect, being a misanthrope, a misogynist and an anti-Semite.

                  See also Jean Genet– or rather don’t, if rough trade fantasies exquisitely rendered are a book too far.

                  Also each of these men will write a fatter book than many– though that hardly kept you from Hugo’s doorstop.

                  Liked by 1 person

              • “β€œI did read all of β€œLes Miserables.” ”

                That’s why you’re Master of the House!”

                I wish I was tech-savvy enough to figure out how to ‘like’ this comment, but I can’t, so I’ll ‘say’ it instead… I like this πŸ™‚

                Liked by 1 person

  20. >>I could go on and on. Other deceased authors who I think don’t get full kudos these days include Honore de Balzac, Anne Bronte, Erskine Caldwell, Theodore Dreiser, James Hilton, Sinclair Lewis, Bernard Malamud, W. Somerset Maugham, and Emile Zola, to name a few.<<

    Absolutely. Especially Lewis and Maugham. Although he was not a novelist, I would add Ambrose Bierce as a somewhat neglected 19th century writer of fiction. Everyone knows Melville, but "Bartleby" was ahead of its time like Bierce's "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge."

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Joe! Totally agree on Ambrose Bierce — the story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” is stunning, as is much of his other work.

      And, yes, Sinclair Lewis and W. Somerset Maugham are among the most underappreciated today of novelists who were very famous in their lifetimes. SL’s “Babbitt,” “Main Street,” “Arrowsmith,” “Dodsworth,” etc., and Maugham’s “Of Human Bondage,” “The Razor’s Edge,” “The Painted Veil,” “The Moon and Sixpence,” etc., are excellent books.

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