Posted by: kimberlysullivan | May 13, 2016

Novels over authors

novels“I am more interested in works than authors.”

-E.M. Forster

“What is important is ‘Hamlet’ and ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ not who wrote them.”

-William Faulkner

An interesting observation from the great novelist, E.M. Forster (1879-1970), who has  a soft spot in  my heart for all the novels he set in Italy. And something very similar coming from another (very different) favorite author of mine, William Faulkner (1897-1962).

Of course, one would assume Faulkner’s comment is focused more over the debate as to whether Shakespeare truly was one person, whereas Forsters’ comment seems to be more on the ‘cult of the author’ that may have developed in more modern times.

I think both quotes have merit. We love books because of the story, because of the characters that continue to live on in our minds after we close the last page. The authors themselves may or may not be of interest to us, or an author may have written one or two brilliant books that live on, while the rest are forgotten with time. That does not make the one or two novels that live on any less brilliant.

And you, readers and writers, what do you think when it comes to works vs authors?


  1. I think authors can be a lot like actors… sometimes you don’t want to know them because it can taint how you feel about their work if the author is one who “behaves badly”. I can think of at least a couple that way who have turned me off of their books. On the flip side, of course, I can love what I know of an author and that helps me like their books that much more.

    I think in the end, I wouldn’t care (too much, ha) if I knew people just loved my books without really remembering that I was the one that wrote them.

    • Great points, Janet. Like the analogy with actors. Sometimes I just enjoy reading an author’s books without knowing much about him/her, other times I see them at a talk and their personality helps me to appreciate their work more. But in the end, I do agree that it’s the novel that’s the most important.

  2. I tend to agree that work is more important than the author. Take Elena Ferrante. Who really knows who she is? We still adore her work.
    When I was a kid I didn’t look at the name of the author. I loved the story first. Then of course when I understood that the same person wrote other books I looked for the name. But I still care more for the genre than who wrote such or such book. Interesting question, Kimberly.

    • Thanks for the comments, Evelyne. Yes, Ferrante is a great (although unusual) example.Most authors couldn’t get away with her unique marketing strategy of truly letting the novel speak for itself. But still, it works (brilliantly!) for her, so who’s to say?

      • I wanted to ask you if you read In Other Words by Jumpha Lahiri? She spent two years in Roma and wrote this gorgeous and moving short memoir about the acquisition of the Italian language. It’s both in Italian (her writing) and translated in English by a translator. I think you would love it. I did find so many similarities with my own journey with American English.

  3. Hi Evelyne. No, I read about it and I read her short related piece in ‘The New Yorker’ – I also saw her speak here while she was living in Rome. I didn’t quite connect with her ideas related to learning Italian as she expressed them in the ‘New Yorker’ article, which surprised me because I’ve moved around so much and always love the process of learning a new language and identifying with the new culture. And, of course, I’m so in love with my ‘seconda patria’. However, maybe I should give it another try and read the book, especially since I know you enjoyed it so much.

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