10 Literary One-Hit Wonders

A list of 10 first books written by authors who never again churn out another. Taken from here.

1. Harper Lee – To Kill a Mockingbird
“I never expected any sort of success with [To Kill a] Mockingbird. I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of reviewers, but at the same time I hoped that maybe someone would like it enough to give me encouragement – public encouragement. I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I’d expected.”

2. Margaret Mitchell – Gone With the Wind
Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone With The Wind in secret and gave it to an editor only after a colleague laughed at the idea of her writing a novel. It won a Pulitzer, inspired that film and sold tens of millions of copies. She died in 1949 in a car accident, on the way to the cinema.

3. Emily Bronte – Wuthering Heights
Wuthering Heights is suddenly popular among French teenagers who have discovered Le Yorkshire thanks to the 21st-century vampire novels of Stephenie Meyer, which reference Bronte. Emily died of TB, the year after the publication of her only novel in 1847.

4. J.D.Salinger – Catcher in the Rye
Salinger is a member of the one-hit-wonder club only if you consider Franny and Zooey, published in 1961, as a novella. Salinger’s last published work, a short story, appeared in The New Yorker in 1965.

5. Oscar Wilde – The Picture of Dorian Gray

“Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter.” Three of the characters in Wilde’s only novel The Picture of Dorian Gray were based on Wilde himself. It was a little too racy for the critics of the times, and Wilde stuck with plays, poetry and short stories until his death a decade later.

6. John Kennedy Toole – A Confederacy of Dunces
The author committed suicide in 1969, having given up hope of seeing his comic masterpiece in print. Eventually it was published in 1980. A “second novel”, The Neon Bible, followed in 1989 – but this was actually written by Toole as a teenager and, as an adult, rejected as juvenilia.

7. Sylvia Plath – The Bell Jar
Published under a pseudonym, The Bell Jar‘s protagonist, Esther Greenwood, suffers a psychological breakdown while working as in an intern for a New York fashion magazine. She attempts suicide, receives therapy and steps back towards stability. Plath committed suicide in 1963, the year of the book’s publication.

8. Anna Sewell – Black Beauty
Anna Sewell’s mother was a children’s author but Sewell began her first novel aged 51. Black Beauty took six years to write and was intended, Sewell said, to encourage humane treatment of horses. She died in 1878, five months after its publication.

9. Boris Pasternak – Dr Zhivago
The manuscript of Dr Zhivago was smuggled out of Soviet Russia, published in Italy, and won Pasternak the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958. He accepted but was then pressured to decline the prize. He died of lung cancer in 1960.

10. Arundhati Roy – The God of Small Things
After her debut novel The God of Small Things won the Booker Prize, the Indian writer turned to nonfiction writing and political activism. In 2007 she announced that she was returning to fiction. After a ten-year hiatus, the stakes will be higher than ever before – if Roy ever finishes her sophomore effort, it will be a triumph of will over the dreaded Second Novel Syndrome.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. museditions
    Mar 29, 2009 @ 03:13:25

    It seems like, for some authors, they pour their heart and soul into their Masterpiece—and how can they top that? Of course if they die, they probably won’t write much after that! A couple of these surprised me, like Wilde and Salinger. And there was just news this week that Sylva Plath’s son also committed suicide. http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/mar/23/sylvia-plath-son-kills-himself Seems to run in her family. 😕

    nylusmilk: yes, that’s what was said in another article i read about this issue (lost that link, sorry!). before, all they think about was publishing their first novel. when that’s accomplished, suddenly they’re full-fledged writers and have to churn out other books in the same intensity and greatness of the first – that sounds like a skyscraping tall order!

    i read that news too, so sad. 😦


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