by Juhi Singhal Karan
From typing to writing by hand to sketching novels graphically, the writing process — just like writers — comes in all shapes and styles. Here we bring you the manuscripts of five notable bloomers.
Robert Frost was 39 when he published his first collection of poetry. Ten more years would pass before he published what would become perhaps the most famous of his poems, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” Quoted by President John F. Kennedy in his campaign speeches, and featured in an episode of HBO’s “The Sopranos,” this classic poem was purportedly written by Frost in under three minutes. It was part of the collection New Hampshire, a book that would win Frost the first of his four Pulitzer Prizes.
Joyce Cary’s work has been compared with Charles Dickens and Henry Fielding. He published his first book in his mid-40s and wrote his most significant works as a set of two trilogies. The second of these—the Chester Nemmo trilogy—was hailed by The New York Times as “amazing for the glittering brilliance of its characterization, for the extraordinary triangular relationship it explores, and for the wealth of its searching comments on politics, religion, love, marriage, and personal integrity or lack of it.” Working out the “big scenes” first and then building a plot around them was Cary’s modus operandi. For Not Honour More, the last book in his Chester Nemmo trilogy, Cary worked out a particular scene even before the first book in the series was sent to press.
Joseph Conrad was 21 years old when he started learning English. He was 42 when he wrote Heart of Darkness. At about 40,000 words, Heart of Darkness is a relatively short book. And yet its length is belied by the sheer mass of response it has evoked since it was published more than 100 years ago: from theatre adaptations to opera, television and film adaptations (the most famous being Francis Ford Copolla’s “Apocalypse Now”), to being re-worked into a graphic-novel format. Conrad was labeled a “bloody racist” by Chinua Achebe; more commonly, Heart of Darkness is read as a “psychological novel”— all of which brought to fruition what Conrad believed was the purpose of his writing: “before all, to make you see.”
Henry Miller was a writer who was “for obscenity and against pornography.” Miller was 42 when his first book was published and 69 when his “fictional autobiographies” Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn were finally published in the United States. The two books had been banned from publication in the United States on grounds of being “dirty” and “obscene.” According to Miller, his writing process involved a sort of “dictation,” where he felt that “[S]omeone takes over and you just copy out what is being said.” In Miller’s own words, “It occurred with Capricorn too . . . I think the passages stand out. I don’t know whether others notice or not.”
At age 57, Louis Begley was an established lawyer when he published his first novel Wartime Lies, which won the PEN/Ernest Hemingway Award. He can be credited with starting a new “coming of old age” genre when he published About Schmidt, a National Book Critics’ Circle Award finalist in 1996 and the basis of the 2002 movie of the same name. Albert Schmidt, the hero of the book, is, in the words of the Los Angeles Times Book Review a “terribly funny, touching, infuriating and complex character . . . whose self-deceptions and imprisonment by his own world-view stand not only as a devastating portrait of a disappearing world but also sound a strangely evocative cautionary tale.” About Schmidt turned out to be the first book in a trilogy that traces the life of its protagonist, who is 60 in the first book and 78 in the third.
Homepage image photo credit: Thomas Hawk via photopin cc
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening Manuscript courtesy Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (195C)
Heart of Darkness Manuscript courtesy http://fuckyeahmanuscripts.tumblr.com
All other manuscripts courtesy the Paris Review