Authors who hated their most successful work | Mechanics' Institute

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Authors who hated their most successful work

Some authors want more than just success. Although many writers express some regrets about some part of their published writing, a few come to dislike, and even hate their most successful and well-known work. Here are some examples I found, organized into 4 categories. 

1. They thought some (or all) of their other writings were much better

Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange

In the introduction to the 1986 reprinting of his classic dystopian novel about a sadistic criminal teenager and his gang of thugs, their misdeeds, and the main character's capture and "rehabilitation" Burgess explains his dislike for his best-known work. He points out that his American publisher in 1962 decided to omit the final chapter and Stanley Kubrick, in the movie version, did the same. This profoundly changed the book. "The American or Kubrickian Orange is a fable; the British or world one is a novel." The author laments that his most famous work "seems likely to survive, while other works of mine that I value more bite the dust." 

The Library has a DVD of the movie starring Malcolm McDowell and a CD audiobook read by Tom Hollander plus the later edition that includes the last chapter both in print and eAudiobook (Fic Burgess). 


Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes

Doyle wanted to be known for his histories and theologies. But all anyone wanted to talk about was his Sherlock Holmes stories. He even tried to kill off his literary invention -- Holmes and Moriarty fell off a cliff together at the end of The Final Problem. But alas, his fans, so disappointed over Holmes' untimely demise, felt moved to write the author and cancel their subscriptions to The Strand magazine that published the stories. Bowing to public pressure, Doyle wrote some "backdated" stories, ones that took place before the final fight with Moriarity. Then he committed a deus ex machina to bring Holmes into the present for a few more stories. And to this day few people even know about his non-fiction work and few libraries have any of these writings. 

The Mechanics Institute Library has a book that includes an essay on his spiritualism: 

The Sir Arthur Conan Doyle reader: from Sherlock Holmes to Spiritualism (820.81 D754 Level 2A) 

We do have all of the Sherlock Holmes novels and stories in various formats.


A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh.

Milne wrote 3 other novels, a collection of mystery stories, a non-fiction book, 4 screenplays and 18 plays. His nonfiction book, Peace with Honour, published in 1934, implored European people and their leaders to prevent the next war. He grew bitter about the best known of his work being a children's book. 

The library has all of his novels and most of his plays. Some noteworthy titles: 

A table near the band (mystery stories) -- 2nd floor Fic Milne

Chloe Marr  -- Basement Fic Milne 

Two people, a novel -- Basement Fic Milne

Mr. Pim -- 2nd floor Fic Milne

Peace with Honour  -- Basement 172.4 M65


2. Religious conversion 

Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited

Waugh wrote his most well known novel over six months in 1944 as he recovered from a training injury while serving in the British Army. Biographers indicate that he likely based the story of a complex relationship of a young man named Charles Ryder and a strictly Catholic aristocratic English family living in Brideshead Castle on a real family with which he spent much time in the 1930s. Brideshead Revisited, though not expressly anti-Catholic, does show in very stark relief the conflicts, both inner as well as between individuals, that rigid social-religious rules can either cause or make worse. He returned to very conservative Catholicism late in life then renounced the novel, having found himself so uncomfortable with the "anti-Catholic" aspects that he wrote a revised edition of it, taking out much of what made it so affecting in the first place. 

The 1981 mini-series starring Jeremy Irons based on the original version of the book, proved one of the most popular television shows in the UK of all time. 

The library has the novel in print (Fic Waugh), and a CD-audiobook, as well as a DVD of the television series. We do not have the revised edition. 


Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

Similarly to Waugh, Tolstoy came to a religious conversion later in life, turning from a rejection of God and faith (having called himself a Nihilist) to a radical version of Christian faith that rejected organized religion. He saw his earlier works as at odds with his new found values. He hated some of his other novels as well, not just this one. 

The library has three print copies of War and Peace by different translators (Fic Tolstoy) and the eBook version translated by Aylmer and Louise Maude, friends of Tolstoy and the people who first translated his writings into English. 

The library also has 3 DVDs of television or film adaptations: an English language BBC mini-series and 2 copies of the Russian epic by Sergei Bondarchuk, one issued by Mosfilm and the other from the Criterion collection.  


3. What someone else did with it 

Some writers expressed anger and resentment over the form their work took when adapted for stage or screen. I admit this looks like a "borderline" category, but include it here because an adaptation is still a manifestation of the work -- and the authors hated these. 


P.L. Travers, Mary Poppins.

The movie Saving Mr. Banks has given us a dramatic re-enactment of the very difficult relationship between the author of the Mary Poppins stories and Walt Disney. If anything, this movie downplays the degree to which Travers despised the "Disney-fication" of her work. I'm sure Dick Van Dyke's notoriously, dreadfully, fake Cockney accent did not help any, (although not the only element of the movie that enraged Travers). 

The library has a DVD of the Disney movie plus print books of the Mary Poppins stories (call number: U Travers, in the section on the 2nd floor we have renamed "Universal").


 Annie Proulx, Brokeback Mountain.

The movie based on this short story led to some unforeseeable consequences. Proulx does not hate the story so much as the trite, smutty fanfiction she keeps receiving in the mail after the movie appeared in theaters.

You can read the story in Brokeback Mountain : story to screenplay (813 P968 level 2A)  

and a compilation of Proulx's short stories in Close range : Wyoming stories (Fic Proulx)  


4. Consequences (or Yikes! What have I done!) 

Peter Benchley, Jaws.

In interviews Benchley expressed surprise and distress over the "shark phobia" that his novel (but mostly the Steven Spielberg movie adaptation) inspired. I recall in the 1970s the subsequent popularity of sport fishing for sharks ("shark hunting") stemming from public perception of them as a menace to be eradicated led to some species entering the threatened category on the endangered species list. Benchley fully understood that sharks are nature's garbage disposals of the sea and without them our ecosystem could go dangerously out of balance. He spent much of the rest of his life working to protect sharks. 

The library has a DVD of the movie, a print copy of the book (Fic Benchley) and a copy of his nonfiction book, Shark Trouble (597.3 B45  level 2B) that provides factual information and practical safety advice about all manner of sea creatures, not just sharks.


Karl Ove Knausgaard, The My Struggle books. 

This Swedish author alienated his friends and family with a magnum opus we could most kindly describe as literature's biggest over-share. He presently lives in a remote part of Sweden with his wife and the children who are currently still talking to him.

The Library has all 6 of the My Struggle novels. 


William Powell, The Anarchist Cookbook.

Powell has disavowed this book that he wrote between the ages of 18 and 19 in the late 1960s. He soon found out that it has critically dangerous inaccuracies and also inspires violence, quoted by and/or read by murderers. He wants it out of print. Unfortunately, the publisher holds the copyright and subsequent publishers who bought out the previous ones have kept the book in print. 

Unfortunately, the library does not have a copy of this book. 

Posted on Jul. 10, 2024 by Steven Dunlap