One-hit Wonders in Literature, Part 1
Partridge India knows it is intimidating to think that there are writers like Dickens, Twain, Stephen King, and JK Rowling who seem to be able to write book after book – and successful ones, at that! Nevertheless, all it takes to achieve literary fame – and a good financial return – is one book. Here, in a two-part series, we discuss books of various genres that have been a “one-hit wonder”. As with music, most of these authors have released other work, though it is only for the ones here that they are celebrated.
To Kill a Mockingbird: Although this list is in no particular order, this classic comes to mind first. Harper Lee unfortunately never published another book, though arguably, she didn’t have to. To Kill a Mockingbird won the Pulitzer Prize for 1961 and remains a deep and enjoyable read for people of all age groups. The book explores childhood and its innocence encountering the harsh realities of the adult world, all told through the eyes of a perceptive narrator. It was even made into a successful movie starring Gregory Peck, one of the most famous actors of the 1960s. In baseball terms, Lee hit a home run on the first pitch!
The Monk: published by Matthew Lewis in 1796 – when he was only 19 — this book was an early entry in the Gothic novel genre, and was largely responsible for bringing the genre to a wide audience. The novel includes nearly all of the traditional elements which embellish many of our horror movies today: cemeteries, dark winding passages, secret rooms in old abbeys and castles, magic, evil chants, seduction, and death. The Monk has been made into a film several times, and there are also various stage versions.
Wuthering Heights: Unlike her sisters, who were also novelists, Emily Bronte only published one book. Wuthering Heights competes with Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre as the most famous of the Bronte sisters’ novels. Set on the dark, mysterious Yorkshire moors, it is a story of passionate and sometimes brutal romance. The book also tends to provoke very polar reactions from readers: many critics assail it as being hard to follow, due to many characters with similar names and a storytelling structure that contains too much quoting of other characters. Still, the novel is here to stay, and has also been made into a film starring Laurence Olivier.
The Life of Samuel Johnson: Although this is not a novel, the Life exalted its writer, James Boswell, to the literary pantheon, and is in fact the main reason for the continuing popularity of its subject, Dr. Samuel Johnson. While the latter compiled the first English dictionary and was the leading authority on Shakespeare, English poetry, and literature in general during the 1700s, it is Boswell’s biography that brings him to life. Boswell recorded conversations and personalities with a novelist’s ability to paint pictures with his words. His other works, all nonfiction, have not stood the test of time, but the Life of Johnson remains for many “the best biography ever written” according to Thomas Macaulay and “a book beyond any other product of the 20th century” in the words of Thomas Carlyle.
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We will be back with Part Two! In the meantime, please make sure to check out the Partridge India site for more advice and blogs, and to follow us on Partridge India Facebook and Partridge India Twitter.