mardi 11 octobre 2011

William Dean Howells, THE WORLD OF CHANCE, New York, Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1893, 375 pages.

"It's about the career of a book; how it begins to go, and why, and when."
"Apropos of A Modern Romeo?" Ray asked, harshly.
"If you please, A Modern Romeo." Ray took the chair which Mr. Brandreth signed a clerk to bring him from without. Kane went on: "It's very curious, the history of these things, and I've looked into it somewhat. Ordinarily a book makes its fortune, or it doesn't, at once. I should say this was always the case with a story that had already been published serially; but with a book that first appears as a book, the chances seem to be rather more capricious. The first great success with us was Uncle Tom's Cabin, and that was assured before the story was finished in the old National Era, where it was printed. But that had an immense motive power behind it — a vital question that affected the whole nation."
"I seem to have come too late for the vital questions," said Ray.
"Oh no! oh no! There are always plenty of them left. There is the industrial slavery, which exists on a much more universal scale than the chattel slavery ; that is still waiting its novelist."
"Or its Trust of novelists," Ray scornfully suggested.
"Very good; very excellent good; nothing less than a syndicate perhaps could grapple with a theme of such vast dimensions."
"It would antagonize a large part of the reading public," Mr. Brandreth said; but he had the air of making a mental memorandum to keep an eye out for MSS. dealing with industrial slavery.
"So much the better! So much the better!" said Kane. "Robert Elsmere antagonized much more than half its readers by its religious positions. But that wasn't what I was trying to get at. I was thinking about how some of the phenomenally successful books hung fire at first."
"Ah, that interests me as the author of a phenomenally successful book that is still hanging fire," sighed Ray.
Kane smiled approval of his attempt to play with his pain, and went on: "You know that Gates Ajar, which sold up into the hundred thousands, was three months selling the first fifteen hundred."
"Is that so?" Ray asked. "A Modern Romeo has been three weeks selling the first fifteen." He laughed, and Mr. Brandreth with him; but the fact encouraged him, and he could see that it encouraged the publisher.
"We won't speak of Mr. Barnes of New York" —
"Oh no! Don't! " cried Ray.
"You might be very glad to have written it on some accounts, my dear boy," said Kane.
"Have vou read it?"
"That's neither here nor there. I haven't seen Little Lord Fauntleroy. But I wanted to speak of Looking Backward. Four months after that was published, the first modest edition was still unsold."
Kane rose. "I just dropped in to impart these facts to your publisher, in case you and he might be getting a little impatient of the triumph which seems to be rather behind time. I suppose you've noticed it? These little disappointments are not suffered in a corner."
"Then your inference is that at the end of three or four months A Modern Romeo will be selling at the rate of five hundred a day ? I'm glad for Brandreth here, but I shall be dead by that time."
"Oh no! Oh no!" Kane softly entreated, while he took Ray's hand between his two hands. "One doesn't really die of disappointed literature any more than one dies of disappointed love. That is one of the pathetic superstitions which we like to cherish in a world where we get well of nearly all our hurts, and live on to a hale old imbecility. Depend upon it, my dear boy, you will survive your book at least fifty years." Kane wrung Ray's hand, and got himself quickly away.
(p. 336-338)

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