It’s hard to imagine that the definitive icons of literature could have been subject to the same iciness of the high-gated publishing-house “no” machines that we know all too well. Of course, even down-to-earth publishers can miss a great work sitting on their desks; with thousands of titles of varying merit clogging editors’ mailboxes, it’s impossible to skim every page of every slush-pile manuscript, let alone give it its proper consideration. Furthermore, some of our most adored geniuses churned out well-spotted crap before maturing into the artists we remember.
Prescience is no hard science, but hindsight can be a kick in the shins nonetheless, especially for the editors who sent these rejection letters to writers who would later become the bestselling, influential giants of their day — and ours.
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There has been a great deal of hand wringing over Dmitri Nabokov’s decision to publish his father’s unfinished novel The Original of Laura. Dmitri recognizes this by dedicating the book to “all the worldwide contributors of opinion, comment, and advice, of whatever its stripe, who imagined that their views, sometimes deftly expressed, might somehow change mine.” Poppa Vladimir made it perfectly clear to his wife that he wanted her to burn the manuscript if he died before finishing it, but she wavered and then died herself. The decision fell to Dmitri, who explains in the introduction that he feels that his father did not really want him to burn it. The obvious retort here is that he did want that, and said as much to his wife, explicitly. But dead men make no complaints, and Dmitri and Knopf have seen fit to publish a beautiful book from the messy little… Read More