Writer and Community

Most writers feel honored by literary prizes—in the way I feel so honored by the award of the T.S. Eliot prize—whether they accept them or not. At the same time, many writers share the wish that their vocation could be carried on anonymously. By the time they have become suitably proficient at their art and have established a proper reputation among their peers and critics, they are no longer compelled by personal glory. They have often tired a little of the notion of fame. A decade or two of essaying the spectacular but exhausting Parnassian slope will do some serious damage to self-pride. This vanity is then fairly annihilated when we raise our eyes to observe how much farther up the ridges our ancestors have established themselves and with what ease they seem to have done so.

The advantages of anonymity are attractive. In the first place, if a critic had no name to point his cruelly barbed shafts at, the guilty writer could escape with a minimum of public embarrassment. He would still writhe and whimper in private, but at least his mother would not have to know the truth; he could choose some other anonymous work, one that had received only praise that rang like silver bells, and claim that one as his own. The other advantage of anonymity is that it would prevent scrutiny of the writer's personal life.

I do not propose to talk at length about the private lives of authors; they really do not bear much...

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