The great mystery is not that we should have been thrown down here at random between the profusion of matter and that of the stars; it is that from our very prison we should draw, from our own selves, images powerful enough to deny our own nothingness.
One must conform to the baseness of an age or become neurotic.
325. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë *reread*
326. The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin
327. Summa Theologica, Vol. 1 by St. Thomas Aquinas
328. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
329. Farewell by Sergei Kostin and Eric Raynaud
330. The Wonderful Adventures of Nils by Selma Lagerlöf
331. The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets by Jane Addams
332. The Beans of Egypt, Maine by Carolyn Chute
333. Ann Veronica by H. G. Wells
334. All’s Well that Ends Well by William Shakespeare
335. Three Bedrooms in Manhattan by Georges Simenon
Having just recently finished reading Jonathan Franzen’s last novel Freedom, I was reminded of the curious publicity stunt Time magazine orchestrated at its publication proclaiming Franzen a/the “Great American Novelist.” (link). I honestly question whether a person who has only written four novels over the course of a quarter century should technically be considered a “Novelist” but that little line of inquiry lead me to the creation of the unconventional infographic above: a representation of the novelistic careers of major British (and Irish) authors from Defoe to Woolf. Being too simplistic to think simply in terms of the number of books published, I thought it would prove more instructive to examine each writers output in pages as a measure their respective productivity. One caveat upfront: published page counts for individual titles do vary wildly from edition to edition but as a universal condition of the medium I feel this is as fair a presentation of novel length as can practicably managed. Also, in the interest of scale, I’ve decided that any work under 160 pages couldn’t be effectively included (and are generally covered under the umbrella of novella in all events — no Rihanna jokes.) The authors’ work most underrepresented in this aspect are James and Conrad (the two immigrant authors) who both wrote numerous and superior brief narratives. I’ve also clearly left out a handful of notable writers — especially toward the turn of the century — in the interest of space but, that said, I feel content with the general scope and inclusiveness of the exercise.
While Dickens is most likely to be cited for his prolific penmanship, when it comes to one-handed industry, there is Anthony Trollope and then there is everybody else. Aside from the 47 novels I’ve cited (only 15 of which clock in at under 400 pages), Trollope published 18 non-fiction books and at least six short story collections. At the peak of his output it appears he was producing somewhere on the order of 100 pages a month and effectively doubled Dickens output over the course of his career. And while both Trollope and Dickens wrote numerous self-hogs weighing at around or above 1000 pages, the longest novel in the English language (and one of the earliest) remains Samuel Richardson’s Clarrisa at a monumental 2,792 pages.
One of the more surprising discoveries was exactly how brief most of the examined authors lives were. Illness made famously early claims on the Brontës, Austen, Gissing and Stevenson but very few of the others managed to escape their early sixties and only rarely achieved that milestone. Interestingly, all of the longest lived writers effectually retired from the trade before reaching old age: George Meredith (81), Frances Burney (87), Thomas Hardy (87), and E.M. Forster (91).
At any rate I hope my holiday production provides a little interest and insight to my Tumblr followers (and a word from the newly wise — never use Photoshop when organizing statistical data :P)
For the record: Jonathan Franzen has written four novels with 2,267 generously spaced pages. I’ll be perfectly happy to extend Herr Franzen the credit of being a capital “N” variety Novelist upon publication of book number five — barring illness, death, or assassination by Victorian propriety (see Oscar Wilde.) Propriety is eternally pernicious, you never know when it will strike next.
EDIT: It appears Tumblr has a maximum image size limit; I’m afraid this will have to do (its still readable if you squint at it.)
I have dreamt in my life, dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas; they have gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the color of my mind. And this is one: I’m going to tell it - but take care not to smile at any part of it.
—Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights
Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette c.1900
313. I, Mary MacLane by Mary Maclane
314. Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford
315. Sermons of a Buddhist Abbot by Soyen Shaku
316. Landlocked by Doris Lessing
317. Fragments by Heraclitus
318. The Voyage of the ‘Fox’ in the Arctic Seas by Fancis L. McLintock
319. Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore
320. Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life by Jonathan Sperber
321. Introduction to Metaphysics by Martin Heidegger
322. My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin
323. Six Days of War by Michael B. Oren
324. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
My Brilliant Career (1979/dir. Gillian Armstrong)
Whoever cannot seek the unforeseen sees nothing, for the known way is an impasse.