Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Understanding Thomas Carlyle being tired of his own books

As I've mentioned on this blog before—many times, actually—I'm a fan of the writing of Thomas Carlyle, especially his letters. Two themes come through these over and over. One, despite his writing thousands of letters, he thought himself a delinquent correspondent and apologized in seemingly every letter about how slow he was in responding. He must have learned more ways of saying "sorry I didn't reply sooner" than any other writer.

Second, Carlyle frequently writes how tired he is of working on his own books. It seems to have been that way on every one of them. Sometimes it began at the research phase, sometimes partly through the writing, but always by the time he get to checking galley proofs. Here's a sample.
In fact you must know, Sir, that one month is going to satisfy me here: the people, particularly the Lady, seem still more tired of the place than I am; they are going down to Edinr about the first of Feby to stay there for a month—meaning to return again, and then set out for London in April. I do not return. Meister must begin printing whenever I arrive, and I must push it thro' as fast as possible. Woe to this Schiller! I have absolutely taken up a horror at it. Would you believe that I but began it three nights ago, and am not yet half thro' the first copy of it. My mind absolutely will not fasten on it...

Meister refers to Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, which Carlyle translated to English and published. "This Schiller" refers to the Schiller's Life and Writings, the work Carlyle was currently engaged with. However, this wasn't a book from scratch. Rather, it was taking his own articles on Schiller and his writing that had already appeared in The London Magazine and reworking them a little, with some expansions, and putting them in book form. In other words, he was mainly editing them. And three days into the process he was already tired of it.

As I say, Carlyle seems to have felt that was on each book—at least so far as my reading of his letters can detect. I find that I'm a little like that too. On Thursday last I finished revision three of my current novel, originally titled China Tour but finally titled Operation Lotus Sunday. I say it was finished because I added the last scene to it, a scene suggested by my prior readings. On Friday I went through my wife's suggested edits, made decisions on each, and added them to my copy. On Saturday I typed them all, officially declaring Rev 3 as done and ready for printing.

Why print it? Because I had enough changes from Rev 2 to Rev 3 that I think I need to read it one more time, reading it quickly, as a reader hopefully would, and see if the story really hangs together well, and if there's any repetition I haven't noticed before. In truth, I'm almost tired of reading it. I think I can get through it in two days of dedicated reading. But I've read it through about three times already. I don't know that I particularly want to read it a fourth time, at least not right now.

But read it I must, and hope that my mind will fasten on it. I'll start that either tonight or tomorrow, and see where it takes me.

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