Literary One-Hit Wonders

Ever wonder about those literary one-hit wonders? Who thinks of F. Scott Fitzgerald and recalls more than just The Great Gatsby? Charlotte Bronte and anything but Jane Eyre? Her sister Emily and not Wuthering Heights? (To be fair to Emily, she didn’t exactly have a chance to try for another hit. After publishing Wuthering Heights and getting bad reviews, she promptly died — following her brother’s funeral, and taking her sister, Anne, with her.)

So, how do we feel about these one-hit wonders? On the one hand, they’ve achieved with one work what most of humanity never will. Their names are known, their fame resonates, their work endures. On the other hand, many of them must’ve suffered terrible disappointments at never being able to replicate their one success.  F. Scott Fitzgerald, for instance, tried for all of his life to achieve the commercial and literary success of his early work. His humiliation at failing to do so, in fact, failing to write and publish much of anything at all after The Great Gatsby, was not helped by his unstable domestic situation, extravagant financial needs, and relentless pressure (however well meaning) by his editor, critics, and literary circle of friends.

Overall, I cannot really feel bad for these writers, no more than I can feel badly for, say, Anna Kournikova or Micheal Chang, both athletes who did not quite live up to their brilliant debut. My pity, insofar as I’m in a position to pity any one, rests squarely in the corner of Edgard Allan Poe, a man who, during his lifetime, was a zero-hit wonder.

If you can feel bad for Ms. Kournikova, you’re a much better woman than I am.

In any case, it seems that when we speak of literary one-hit wonders, our attention is focused solely on the fiction writers. Were are any nonfiction writers who carry the label to having a lone hit? (And yes, I think nonfiction writing can be literary.) Is it because a lot nonfiction writers have full-time day jobs — as journalists, professors, pundits –that  we are hard pressed to think of any who falls in this category?

(Photo from Lights Camera Click.)

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2 Responses to Literary One-Hit Wonders

  1. Esa says:

    There is a book prize in Canada that celebrates literary non-fiction, and though I am predominately a fiction reader, I do have a few biographies on my shelves.

    I’m surprised you found a headshot of Anna.

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