July 2, 2013

"For great writers, retirement is a fairly recent career option."

"There have always been writers, like Thomas Hardy and Saul Bellow, who kept at it until the very end, but there are many more, like Proust, Dickens and Balzac, who died prematurely, worn out by writing itself. Margaret Drabble may have started a trend when, in 2009, at the age of 69, she announced that she was calling it quits. [Alice] Munro said she was encouraged by the example of Philip Roth, who declared that he was done last fall, as he was getting ready to turn 80. 'I put great faith in Philip Roth,' she said, adding, 'He seems so happy now.'"

26 comments:

edutcher said...

I don't think the world missed Margaret Drabble as much as Dickens.

Lem said...

“I do things quite purposefully now to get out on the surface of life,”

If she's up on the surface she is asking for it.

Strelnikov said...

'I put great faith in Philip Roth,' she said, adding, 'He seems so happy now.'

Of course Roth seems happy. Since his retirement he has both hands free to masturbate full time.

annk said...

For all of humanity, retirementis a fairly recent career option.

Gahrie said...

For all of humanity, retirementis a fairly recent career option.

So is childhood. It used to be you started working as young as 5 years old, and you worked 12 hours a day, 6 days a week until you died, or couldn't work anymore, and so usually died.

Nathan Alexander said...

Actually, seeing how many writers kept writing up until they died is one of the reasons I aspire to be a writer: I noticed that they tended to be in the 98th percentile or higher for life-length compared to their peers.

Scott M said...

I noticed that they tended to be in the 98th percentile or higher for life-length compared to their peers.

That's because of all the cigarettes and alcohol.

Mitchell the Bat said...

If I had to write profile pieces like that for a living I'd blow my brains out.

annk said...
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roesch/voltaire said...

Alice Munro one of the great writers of our time!

annk said...
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annk said...

For all of humanity, retirement is a fairly recent career option.

So is childhood. It used to be you started working as young as 5 years old, and you worked 12 hours a day, 6 days a week until you died, or couldn't work anymore, and so usually died.

You're right, and if you're interested in the topic, Neil Postman's "The Disappearance of Childhood" is very interesting. (So is his "Amusing Ourselves to Death," about the increasing lack of seriousness in American society.)

Actually, seeing how many writers kept writing up until they died is one of the reasons I aspire to be a writer: I noticed that they tended to be in the 98th percentile or higher for life-length compared to their peers.
I'm a writer, too, and love Mickey Spillane's quote, "A writer gets more knowledge, and if he's good, the older he gets, the better he writes."

P.G. Wodehouse wrote eight hours per day for something like 62 years, including the day he died.

a psychiatrist who learned from veterans said...

If I was going to read the work of someone obscure to me I would be interested in the Polish lady, died last year, wrote a newspaper column 'Notes that Don't Need to Be Read.' Writing is I suppose like having a small business; you have to look at what you have and where you might go.

Megaera said...

Challenge of the day: list the title of a book -- any book -- by Margaret Drabble THAT YOU HAVE ACTUALLY READ< BEGINNING TO END.

Megaera said...

Challenge of the day: list the title of a book -- any book -- by Margaret Drabble THAT YOU HAVE ACTUALLY READ< BEGINNING TO END.

ricpic said...

Dickens dropped dead at an early age because he was worn out from chasing tail, not from writing. Balzac, chasing tail and gorging himself on le bon beurre. Proust? Too much rest.

William said...

I was sorry to hear of Roth's retirement. I think the reason I don't read fiction anymore is because it details how relatively young people confront the problems of life. Roth wrote about older people. Their problem was not in confronting life but in living with their irrevocable regrets. I don't know if old age is part of life's great adventure, but maybe a gifted novelist could make it so.

William said...

Poor Roth. Fifty years and umpteen novels later and he is still best remembered for jerking off.

Nathan Alexander said...

I have to admit, most of the writers I observed as living long were science fiction writers...

Robert Heinlein
Ray Bradbury
H.G. Wells
Poul Anderson
Frederick Pohl
Jack Vance
Jules Verne
Jack Williamson
J.R.R. Tolkien
Edgar Rice Burroughs

And some non-SF writers, like Louis L'Amour.

Christy said...

Megeara, I've read all of Drabble. Although she's a decade older than I, she always seemed to address the issues of my life as I moved through them. A bit like Ann Tyler in that regard. I remember being particularly struck by something she said in Realms of Gold back in 1975 about how feminists were struggling to join men in the boardroom, but not to join men shoveling shit in the sewers. Sorry for the paraphrase, Drabble is packed away in my storage unit and not handy.

I went off of her after she published a nasty anti-American screed early in the Iraq war. But then broke down and read and enjoyed The Red Queen a couple of years after it was published. Borrowed from the library. I may be weak in character, but try to maintain some standards. Although it hurt to break my first edition streak.

Christy said...

David Markson's wonderful This Is Not a Novel Is full of trivia about artists, with some focus on their deaths. A meditation on creativity.

rcocean said...

I don't know what killed Proust but it certainly wasn't overwork.

Bellow should have retired from writing at 18, and saved us all from his boring dullness.

rcocean said...

Most writers over 60 rarely produce anything approaching the quality of their earlier work.

I don't know why. You'd think that fiction writing should unaffected by age. But it seems to be.

rcocean said...
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dustbunny said...

Why no tag for the great Alice Munro?

Robert Cook said...

"Most writers over 60 rarely produce anything approaching the quality of their earlier work.

"I don't know why. You'd think that fiction writing should unaffected by age. But it seems to be."


Because by their later years many writers have said everything they have to say, and they begin to repeat themselves...almost invitably, to lesser effect.

This is not true of every writer, certainly, but seems true of most. (At least, most who had been prolific writers. Some writers produce in their lifetime what others may toss off in their leisure time. Hasn't Joyce Carol Oates written something like 989 novels at this point?)