Taking the meme (although it wasn’t a meme) from Tom at Wuthering Expectations, I thought I’d name 10 writers I’d never read; but it took me a long time to come up with any (I was convinced for five minutes that I’d never read any Victor Hugo, but then I suddenly remembered that I had) – not, I think, because I am well-read (not so, as Tom), but that I am broadly read, since for years now I have set about trying to read at least something by everyone. I even have a tacit rule, broken every year, that I’m not allowed to read two books by a single author.
But the idea struck me to create a more representational list, where each literary figure would stand for a vast swathe of further ignorance, so here it is:
- Alcuin – A c8th British poet, probably the most influential literary figure at the time in Western Europe – and what’s more, another Virgil obsessive – he isn’t much celebrated in the English canon, primarily because he wrote in Latin. Taken to represent the extent of my ignorance of the whole of medieval and renaissance Latin literature, despite it being – I’m guessing – incomparably more vast that the surviving ancient texts (and despite, by virtue of having read maybe 50 poems which might be so classified, being in terms relative to my peers, in fact remarkably well-read).
- Murasaki Shikibu – I’ve been reading over the last 5 years every single book from Heian Japan I can get my hands on, but at the same time I’ve been carefully avoiding that key – and mammoth – work The Tale of Genji (I’ve read the first 30 pages a few times). Taken to represent almost all long novels.
- Dante Alighieri – I’ve read about the first 30 lines of Paradise, (or does it begin with Inferno?) but that’s the extent of my knowledge of Dante. Taken to represent all poetry in translation, which unlike prose I’ve always avoided, feeling that with poetry style – the particular use of language – is everything (despite my recognition of the success of the very few translated poems I have actually read).
- Samuel Richardson – I’ve read some Fielding and Defoe, John Cleland and Tobias Smollett, but there’s always been something about Richardson which has warded me off. Perhaps, like Genji, it is sheer size; but taken here to represent the whole field of the early novel in English (most of which are these days, of course, entirely unheard-of and out of print).
- Immanuel Kant – I’ve no idea even whether Kant is readable (is he hard, or easy – at least, in philosophical terms?). Taken to represent the whole of human philosophy, which I’m rarely inclined to limit my mind to.
- William Wordsworth – Aside from the few bits of poems everyone knows, I know nothing about Wordsworth. There’s something called The Prelude, which is quite long and from what I’ve heard might be quite interesting. Taken to represent the whole of poetry written in English, of which I am largely ignorant (but nonetheless convinced that around 99.999999% of it is worthless doggerel).
- Dmitry Merezhkovsky (or, as one of my books spells it, Dmitri Merejkowski) – Founder of the Russian Symbolist movement, and hence Russian Modernism, I may have read a poem at some point, but I’ve never read any of his novels. – I know, you’re taken aback by this admission. Taken to represent all foreign literature which is neglected by English-speakers due to habitual incuriosity, ignorance or occlusion beneath the shadow of Kafka.
- George Bernard Shaw – Convinced he was greater than Shakespeare, Shaw’s literary fall is now more or less complete, made piquant by the fact that he is only any longer known through the musical My Fair Lady (like Shakespeare, he stole the plot from someone else, so it seems fair enough). Taken to represent only George Bernard Shaw. (Or perhaps plays in general).
- Agatha Christie – Existing in my mind as the ultimate genre writer, she here represents all popular novel-writing, none of which holds any interest for me (though, now I think of it, I can imagine myself actually liking Christie).
- Martin Amis – I’ve never read a thing by Martin Amis, and I never intend to. Taken to represent more or less all the fiction being published today (and in this country, for at least the last 50 years).