Guess the Novel


In 1851 a novelist was so convinced of the genius and wonder of his book that he was sure it would become a bestseller and carry him out of debt. By the end of that year the book had sold around 1500 copies and penury was stuck to the novelist's mast. My question is - guess the novel. Here are some contemporary reviews as clues.

The novel is 'belonging to the worst school of Bedlam literature' with a style 'disfigured by mad (rather than bad English'. It is 'an ill-confounded mixture of romance and matter-of-fact', 'a crazy sort of affair, stuffed with conceits and oddities of all kinds'.

The writer fought back in 1852 with a romantic novel called Pierre, sure he had found the common touch. It was as romantic as Edgar Allan Poe, a macabre book that didn't sell three hundred copies. The novelist went on to become a customs inspector.

His name was Herman Melville, the novel you're guessing at - Moby Dick.

I quite like the story - it shows how genius is almost necessarily out of step with the society and hence critical opinion of its time. Also that genius cannot write down to a mass audience's expectations -- he/she lives and writes beyond such confines. The world has known a host of such stories - the geniuses it is fastest to recognize are those who also have a genius for showmanship.

Was it worth writing Moby Dick, for all the trials of its creation and the critical and commercial drubbing it received?

I leave you with the question, though clearly have my own answer. It's nice to know the writer isn't necessarily wrong in thinking his / her own creation a masterpiece, even when the world does not immediately agree.

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