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An industry with the loyalty of Iago

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Iago.jpgThe New York Times magazine recently ran a profile of James Patterson, the world's best-selling author, in which his former publisher at Little, Brown, Sarah Crichton, "says she was continually surprised by the success of Patterson's books. To her, they lacked the nuance and originality of other blockbuster genre writers like Stephen King or Dean Koontz."

Lacked the nuance and originality of Dean Koontz?  That's like saying he lacks the grammatical competence of Sarah Palin. 

Whatever the legitimacy of the criticism (and I don't know because I haven't read Patterson), I have to wish - however naively - that publishers were more publicly supportive of their authors.  

Of course, authors can generate terrific material insulting their publishers (for example, Lord Byron's "Dear Doctor, I have read your play").  But such artistic impishness doesn't strike me as being as shockingly discourteous as Critchton's remark.  John Murray, after all, made money off Byron's poem mocking him.

(Gilbert Stuart's portrait of Iago from the Victoria & Albert museum)

"Dear Doctor, I Have . . ." issues with rejection

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I love George Gordon, Lord Byron's poem, "Dear Doctor, I Have Read Your Play."  It's funny, fun to read out loud, fun to imagine a play that Lord_Byron.jpg"purges the eyes and moves the bowels" - moves the bowels?!  Apparently, the good doctor of the title (Byron's friend, John William Polidori) invented an entirely new (and not-to-be-seen-again) genre: the laxative drama.

But, much as I believe the English literary canon would be diminished for its absence, I have to wonder why Lord Byron wrote the poem.  The man, after all, was a super star by 1817 when he wrote "Dear Doctor," by which time he'd long been famous for accomplishments like Childe Harold's Pilgrimage and the unpublished (but no lesser known) I Had An Incestuous Affair With My Half Sister.  

"Dear Doctor" allows the reader to infer that recent criticism of Byron's writing might have been a reason for the poem's composition:  

There's Byron, too, who once did better,
Has sent me, folded in a letter,
A sort of - it's no more a drama
Than Darnely, Ivan, or Kehama;
So alter'd since last year is pen is,
I think he's lost his wits at Venice.
Nonetheless, such cause seems a tad inadequate.  Byron was not a man unfamiliar with rejection.  His clubfoot, for instance, did not provoke an outpouring of acceptance and tolerance from his peers.  And his personal life - incest, anal sex, divorce - seems to have generated sufficient expression of social condemnation to convince him to go into self-imposed exile.

Moreover, whatever the critics opined about his work, Byron was never at a loss for either publishers, fans or sales.  

So why should Byron care about a rejection from John Murray, much less care enough to write a rhyming verse poem about it - a poem that, even for as skilled a hand as Byron, surely required more effort than the dismissive sigh of, "Well, that happened, moving on," that characterizes (for example) my reaction to rejection from publishers?

Plainly, something needled Byron into diverting poetic energies from the Romantic imperative of composing verses as aids to seduction and devoting those energies, instead, to a Philip Roth-like anxiety orgy of venting/moping/carping.  I can think of at least three motivations for this trek off Byron's beaten path:

1.    Byron was outraged, not by rejection of him, but by rejection of his friend, John William Polidari.  The poem, in this interpretation, was an expression of loyalty and friendship.
2.    Despite his experiences, Byron was unusually sensitive to criticism, to the point that he'd stoop to bashing easy targets.  According to this theory, the poem is an expression of insecurity (and possibly immaturity).
3.    Byron felt a heroic passion to expose the brutality of the publishing industry, which was inhumane in its treatment of authors and destructive to the cause of literature.  In this scenario, the poem is an expression of reality.

In proffering this critique of the publishing industry, my own motivations are, of course, transparently obvious: to bring healing to the ill.  Out of concern for what appears to be a plague of industry-wide, chronic constipation (of which reflexive rejection is a symptom), I am pioneering the laxative blog post.

(Image of Lord Byron from The Independent)

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