Features / Five in Bloom

FIVE IN BLOOM: Just Once

by Juhi Singhal Karan

Does the number of novels that one publishes have anything to do with being a writer, or the act of writing? We think not. This month we talk about five novels that were the only novels their writers published—some out of choice, and some having had that choice taken away by death.

Tea with Mr. Rochester by Frances Towers

 

Frances Towers died unexpectedly a year before the publication of her only book, Tea with Mr. Rochester. Angus Wilson wrote in 1949 that “[a]t first glance one might be disposed to dismiss Miss Towers as an imitation Jane Austen, but it would be a mistaken judgment.” As The Guardian put it in 2003, Towers’s stories, which are “populated by sensitive, innocent women in search of love,” “recall Katherine Mansfield and Rosamond Lehmann.” Or as Bookslut posits, “What would be an insular, sterile purgatory as rendered by a lesser writer is redeemed by Towers’s prose, by characterizations that cut to the quick without being cute and a suffusion of imagery so deft and precise that choice phrases linger with the reader like an aftertaste or impressions from a dream.”

The Green Child by Herbert Read

 

Herbert Read was a historian, a poet, an anarchist, and an “unexpectedly ardent and frighteningly prolific champion of nearly everything that was radical in the first half of the 20th century.The Green Child was the only novel that he wrote. “[A] rare blend of fantasy and reality,” that “defies easy classification,” The Green Child, as Geoffrey Wheatcroft put it, is “the kind of book to write if you are going to leave just the one novel behind: singular, odd, completely original.” The book was written in six weeks. In Herbert Read’s own words, “It was queer how the book wrote itself; I had nothing much to invent—only the local color. The details of the myth were waiting in my mind. And it was only afterwards that I began to see their significance.”

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

Anna Sewell’s crippling injury as a teenager kept her at home for most of her life. One can only speculate on what a horse-driven carriage must have done for her sense of freedom and mobility. It’s not surprising, then, that Black Beauty arose from her desire to “induce kindness, sympathy, and an understanding treatment of horses” in the world at large. Published in the last few months of her life, Black Beauty went on to become “a children’s classic and an animal rights manifesto.” As Amy Weldon put it when she wrote about Sewell here on Bloom, “The genius of Sewell’s simple conceit—what would you learn if the horse that pulled your carriage every day could speak to you?—is that it upsets adult prejudices by returning us to the moral and imaginative porousness of childhood, where empathy wasn’t a conscious effort at all.”

The District Governor’s Daughters by Camilla Collett

The District Governor's Daughters Camilla Collett

 

Camilla Collett’s The District Governor’s Daughters not only has the distinction of being Norway’s first feminist novel but is also considered to be one of the first Norwegian stories to be published in the novel form. The District Governor’s Daughters, published in two parts in 1854 and 1855, is “the story of the female heart” and the tyranny which it suffers in a patriarchal society, especially in the institution of marriage. It is the only novel Collett wrote, and after publishing a collection of short stories in 1862 she stopped writing fiction altogether. Instead, as Torill Steinfeld put it, “[Collett] used the 1860s to explore the grey area between autobiography, memoirs, and travel writing.” Collett’s influence on later writers such as Henrik Ibsen, and Alexander Kielland was immense. In a letter to Collett, Kielland wrote, “[I] do not think I have ever depicted any female circumstance without asking myself: What would Mrs. Collett say about it.”

In the Memory of the Forest by Charles T. Powers

In the Memory of the Forest is purportedly a mystery, set in a small village 100 miles outside Warsaw, but as The New York Times framed it, “In this mystery novel, the central mystery is the past, which shimmers, liquid and iridescent, determining identity and destiny.” Charles T. Powers was a foreign correspondent for The Los Angeles Times and worked for five years on In the Memory of the Forest. He died of a rare blood disease just months before the release of the book. In his last stint as a journalist, he worked out of Poland, as the head of the Times’ Eastern European Bureau, from 1986 to 1991. No surprise then that his “sense of place is astounding . . . [and that] he knows the Polish soul.” Talking about the novel in 100 Great American Novels You’ve (probably) Never Read, Karl Bridges writes that “Remarkable in its acute moral vision and in its depiction of the individual and a nation attempting to come to grips with a past of horrific proportions, this novel can be read for enjoyment as a thriller and as a brilliant meditation on the brutal realities of modern history.”

Bloom Post End

Homepage image © Makarova Olga via dreamstime

One thought on “FIVE IN BLOOM: Just Once

  1. Sherley Anne Williams, “Dessa Rose.” An amazing, accomplished novel that came out in the late ’80s about two women in the pre-Civil War South. One is black and an escaped slave, one is white and an abandoned wife. Together they come through to a new life.

    Sherley Anne died of cancer a year or two after its publication. If she’d lived, I bet her name would be much more familiar.

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