Saturday, 6 August 2005

Another damned, thick, square, book…

“…always scribble, scribble, scribble! Eh, Mr Gibbon?"
This was the Duke of Gloucester’s less than gracious comment upon receiving the second volume of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire from the author in 1781.

D and F of the RE does go on a bit, but actually Gibbon was not particularly prolific; the output of top scribblers is of a different order. Other Men's Flowers (mine, not Wavell's) now contains 70,000 words, which I thought of as serious labour until it was pointed out to me that this is only the length of a shortish novel and that Georges Simenon wrote 220 novels, sometimes at the rate of one a fortnight.

He also claimed in his autobiography to have had sex with 20,000 different women but this is a suspiciously round figure and must have been mere guesswork. There could hardly have been time to ask their names, let alone note them down, so that precision was impossible: if anyone had made a careful check it might well have been discovered that, for example, the big redhead in Amsterdam had been counted twice. Odd that such a man should have created the most contented husband in all detective fiction, though Mme Maigret had to put up with his fits of abstraction, his long hours away at the Quai des Orfévres and his smelly pipe, her only reward being his appreciation of her cassoulet and choucroute.

But I digress; this post was supposed to be about prolific writers. Among those I admire are the dramatic critic, essayist, novelist and diarist James Agate, who liked to tot up his output by the million words, and of course Samuel Johnson. In the years before he became modestly famous and comfortably off, he scraped a living from translation, biography and every kind of hack journalism: in poor health, in a squalid garret by the light of a single candle, he often churned out 10,000 words a night. Now that really was serious labour.


Storm in a Teacup said...

I have always been suspicious of Wilt Chamberlain's tally of 20k as well. Perhaps he only got the idea after having read George's autobiography. Hmmm.

Tony said...

"Wilt"? Hardly an appropriate moniker for a priapic basketball player, is it?

Anonymous said...

I wanted a correct wording for the "damned, thick, square book" quote so I googled it thinking "here goes nothing." And I found it in your blog. I need the quote for a blog I am writing. I will record that I found the quote on your blog. Thanks!

Tony said...

Glad to have been of help.
Do drop in again.