The Anatomy Of A Classic
To celebrate its 10th anniversary, Scribner has put together a comprehensive boxed-set of its bestselling fiction authors. The Set contains work from the award-winning writing master Richard Cohen, as well as the bestsellers The Bonjoro Diary and Between Meals. This literary feast celebrates the work of three of the most esteemed storytellers of their generation. It features an introduction by acclaimed novelist John Steinbeck and an afterword by Nobel Prize winner William Zurn. Collecting all three of these insightful volumes in one convenient package ensures that even the busiest reader can enjoy the unrivalled wisdom of these literary icons.
The Art Of Fiction
We cannot leave the subject of fiction without pausing to consider its central tenet: that art imitates life. All of us have observed this phenomenon – from the famous works of William Hogarth to the Hollywood classics – and we know that great art springs from great personal experience. It is impossible for an artist to entirely separate themselves from the events, people, and places that they so vividly depict.
Consider, for example, Tolstoy, the bestselling author whose work has sold over 100 million copies worldwide. His writing masterclass reveals that he based his signature novels, Anna Karenina and War And Peace, on the tumultuous love affairs of his own life. We can see how an unhappy marriage might provide the inspiration for a book about social injustice or how a childhood illness might serve as a basis for a story about mortality. In a letter to his publisher, Tolstoy revealed that he had originally conceived of his magnum opus, War And Peace, as a single, massive novel. He had subsequently broken it into three volumes, as the story of his own life inevitably unfolded.
The Craft Of Fiction
Even if we accept the above thesis of art imitating life, it does not diminish the creative genius that went into each of these books. Consider the following:
- Tolstoy’s War And Peace came together, as he acknowledged, “as the result of continuous effort”. Over a period of more than 15 years, he went back and forth between its three parts, constantly reworking and refining it. Even now, after so many years, he is known to reread portions of the work.
- The Bonjoro Diary, published in 1903, was started in 1899 and completed six years later, when Tolstoy was 59 years old. It occupied him fully for the last five years of his life and, as he admitted, was the result of “continuing education and self-improvement”. He revised and republished it 13 times.
- The final instalment of Tolstoy’s “educational trilogy” – the third and possibly his most influential novel, Resurrection – was begun in 1881, the year of his marriage, and completed seven years later. Much like War And Peace, the plot of Resurrection centres around a number of characters whose stories unfold in concentric circles. Like the later volumes, it too was the result of “hard work”, as Tolstoy described it, and “continuing education and self-improvement”. It too has been revised numerous times and has had numerous print runs.
Each of these books, written by the greatest novelist of all time, is a masterpiece. But did you know that even before he was an acclaimed novelist, Richard Cohen had already published five award-winning short story collections?
With work like this, it is not difficult to understand why Richard Cohen is often hailed as “the William Morris of the twentieth century”.
The Anthology Of Fiction
Scribner has also included a beautifully designed 24-page anthology, featuring all three of these authors and their wonderful work. The entire Set is presented in a limited slipcase with a marbled endpaper and hardcover dustjacket. Interspersed with critical essays by some of the greatest writers of our time, the anthology includes pieces by Henry James, Oscar Wilde, Edith Wharton, and more.
A Comprehensive Guide
As a literary anthologist, I could not resist including an overview of the whole Set in the form of a concise guide. This guide is designed to accompany the boxed set and to serve as a handy reference for all three of its readers. The guide is itself an example of exquisite craftsmanship and is, in my opinion, one of the jewels in the collection.
Some of the entries are taken from the Set’s introduction, while the rest are original pieces by various writers. The contents of this guide range from an appreciation of Tolstoy’s oeuvre to a useful chart that lists the characters and highlights the prominent themes in each of the three novels. While this piece is undoubtedly a comprehensive guide and a one-stop-shop for all three of the Set’s readers, it is also an example of literary mongering. I would like to think that Scribner, in assembling this set, has done so because they recognize the public’s keen interest in the work of these renowned authors and want to ensure that their extensive backlists remain in print and available to readers for many years to come.
The Complete Works Of William Morris
Before we leave this subject, let us not forget the great English writer, William Morris. Like the other two authors discussed here, he was a prolific and versatile writer whose work spanned many genres and reflected his interest in the social ramifications of literature and art.
Although he is now largely remembered for his epic poems, such as The Well-Earned Mint, many of his short stories are no less remarkable and his example of craftsmanship and attention to detail is something to emulate. In fact, it is arguable that Morris, had he lived longer, would have gone on to even greater triumphs. His literary executors have published an epic poem in tribute to the English writer whose centenary we are celebrating.