Sunday, June 06, 2010

Complete Works

A while ago in a class about British literature of the Romantic and Victorian eras, my prof (a nationally-known Dickens scholar and one of my favorite teachers of all time) was talking about authors whose complete works he had read. He had done all 14 1/2 of Dickens' novels, all 7 of Austen's, most of Thomas Hardy's, among others. Currently he was (probably still is) working on Anthony Trollope, of whom there are only 47 novels to get through. This digression had the effect of making me think of which authors' complete works I wanted to read through.

Of course, saying one has read an author's "complete works" can be a bit of a tricky thing. Does this mean all novels? Novels and short stories? What if the author also wrote essays, plays, songs, screenplays? What if the author's writing in one of these genres, well, sucked? What about things that went unpublished during an author's lifetime, or manuscripts that have been completely lost?

Being a nerd, I have spent some time pondering these questions. My basic conclusion is that it's plenty impressive to have read an author's published work (meaning published in their lifetime, or generally included in the canon of critically considered work by an author), or sometimes to have read an author's major works (Thomas Hardy, for example, has several novels that are almost universally considered lesser works, and nine or so that are considered his major ones). The caveat to this is that there is the possibility of cheating: one can say "I have read all of William Golding's major works" when what one actually means is "I have read Lord of the Flies."

At any rate, the only author whose every work I intend to read (or as close as possible) is, of course, Mark Twain. I have read all of his at-all-major works except two of his later travel books; I also have a couple volumes of his more obscure newspaper columns and letters. When I have read those two travel books I can say with a clean conscience that I have read every at-all-major work by Mark Twain; after those two more obscure volumes I will have to begin digging to make sure there's nothing even more obscure I have missed.

I have also read the complete works of Laurence Sterne, which is less impressive when you realize they consist of two books: The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, and A Sentimental Journey Through France and Spain. However, the first of these is one that English professors slog through in grad school, if they finish it at all, and that I read and loved as a senior in high school.

One of my goals this year is to get through all of F. Scott Fitzgerald's major works; this consists of 4 1/2 novels and about an equal amount of short stories, 4 or 5 volumes' worth. Once I finish Tender is the Night I will only have his half-finished final novel and all his short stories left.

I have apparently read through most of Stephen Crane (author of The Red Badge of Courage), but that was mostly by accident and occurred in late middle and early high school.

According to Wikipedia, I have read about half of Ernest Hemingway, but that seems like quite enough. I have covered most or all of his major novels, some of the minor ones, and enough short stories to last me... forever. The only work of his I still consciously intend to read is A Moveable Feast, simply because of its profound influence on so many authors.

By the same reliable source, I have read 10 of 19 of Joseph Conrad's novels, and (debateably) 9 of his 12 or so at-all-major ones. Conrad is someone else I intend to read all or most of. He is another one people in college and grad school slog through; most--pretty much all--of what I have read so far I did in high school.

Other authors I want to read in some sort of full measure, just off the top of my head:

Oscar Wilde (about 1/2 read)
Jane Austen (2/7 read)
P.G. Wodehouse (just for kicks--he has 150 or so novels and story collections)
G.K. Chesterton (have read deplorably little of him so far--maybe 3 volumes)
Lord Dunsany (must research his bibliography a bit more)
Edgar Allen Poe (and I have a convenient 1-volume complete works)
Neil Gaiman (have read all of his prose, except a couple YA type books)
E.R. Eddison (1 volume out of 3 1/2)
Gene Wolfe
James Joyce (2 out of 7 or so--and the real monsters yet to be conquered)

...and this list will continue to increase. Of course, there are some notable absences: Tolkien, CS Lewis, Madeleine L'Engle, Ursula Le Guin, Connie Willis, Ray Bradbury, and Terry Pratchett are examples of authors I adore but whose utterly complete works I for various reasons do not intend to go about reading.


The Celebrated Author said...

Off-hand, did you know that Nathaniel has apparently not read any Madeleine L'Engle?

Rachel D said...

MAGGIE WHAT that is horrible

Granted though, I read three of her books (Wrinkle in Time, Wind in the Door, Swiftly Tilting Planet) which I loved, then tried to read Arm of the Starfish and HATED IT and could not finish. And Many Waters was just weird.

I was going to say something else but I forgot. Probably that I tried to read Something Wicked This Way Comes but it's so long and dry that I never finished it; the short story is better.

Rachel D said...

In all honesty, yes. And I usually love his stuff! I just seriously got halfway and was so bored; it worked a LOT better as a short story, at least in my opinion.

Also I always thought that Madeleine L'engle was fantastic, but maybe she's not your style. I dunno. Maybe you could check out A Wrinkle In Time someday when you're bored?

Nat said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nat said...

1. Ray Bradbury has written several hundred short stories sooo yeah. Also some of his later stuff is a bit disorienting.

2. I started A Wrinkle in Time at one point but somehow I didn't get very far. Note I wasn't very young at the time so I don't think I got enthralled the way some people do.

3. Ethan, what about ?

Ethan said...

1. This was why I didn't intend to read all of Bradbury. I like a lot of his later stuff, but some of the lesser-known of his short stories are just... kind of lame. ("One more for the Road," for example: kind of lame, though with a couple gems. Granted, Bradbury's lame is a lot of people's best effort, but still.)

2. I read Wrinkle, and I actually rather loved Arm of the Starfish, back when I was the intended age for it. Never been able to get into the rest of the Time Quartet, though.

3. Totally knew that one day I'd have to read Twain's massive complete autobiography; can't wait for its release.

The Celebrated Author said...

Rachel D: Yeah, Many Waters is just weird.

NFJ: Gah, you fool.