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Some Famous Rejections

By Harriet Staff

The Chicago Tribune has published this piece, which excerpts a larger piece from Missouri Review about some rather famous Knopf author rejections.

Here’s the treatment The Bell Jar received:

Sylvia Plath: “The Bell Jar,” 1962-63

First rejection:

I’m not sure what (the British literary publisher) Heinemann’s sees in this first novel unless it is a kind of youthful American female brashness. But there certainly isn’t enough genuine talent for us to take notice.

Final rejection:

This is an ill-conceived, poorly written novel, and we would be doing neither ourselves nor the late Miss Plath any good service by offering it to the American public. The heroine of the book lacks depth, sensitivity and self-knowledge — she is, in short, a rather naif prig — and thus the reader can hardly be expected to become deeply concerned with the girl’s struggle with insanity. Moreover, the author fails to make clear the psychological motives behind the heroine’s plunge into madness.— Her boyfriend is a “drip”; and she’s frustrated at not being admitted to an Advanced Writing course at college … but these are hardly grounds for suicide. Or if they are, they are hardly interesting grounds.

The prose is uncertain, and occasionally atrocious. It wanders from the “turgid-poetic” (“Mirage-grey at the bottom of their granite canyons, the hot streets wavered in the sun, the car tops sizzled and glittered, and the dry, cindery dust flew into my eyes and down my throat”), to the homely aphoristic (“There must be quite a few things a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them.”). The general effect is one of emptiness, awkwardness and banality.

If this novel could be regarded as an articulate psychological document, we might, considering the circumstances of the author’s death, and editorial loyalty, forget the book’s failings. But it tells us nothing — except that Miss Plath turned out a quite unsuccessful first novel. I don’t doubt that certain elements of the British press will puff the book nicely, but Mrs. Jones’ original four-line report strikes me as the only honest and responsible critical reaction to the work.

Full excerpted piece here.

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Posted in Poetry News on Monday, July 23rd, 2012 by Harriet Staff.