'The Biographical Dictionary Of Literary Failure' Hilariously Mocks Literary Culture And Author Idolatry

Hilarious Biographies Of Forgotten 'Literary Greats'

You've read the works of Franz Kafka, but what about Hans Kafka (no relation), who penned a groundbreaking novel about a beetle that turns into a man? According to The Biographical Dictionary of Literary Failure, a book that invents fictional writers doomed never to be published, he was "unaware of the fate of his almost homonymous former neighbor," and was therefore baffled by rejection letters citing his shoddy pseudonym.

Kafka joins poet Robert Roberts and Red Scare victim Simon Sigmar (who, after suffering from "some kind of aneurysm," "knew everything but remembered nothing") in an anthology that cleverly calls out the ways in which we dramatize -- and idolize -- the lives of authors, successful and not.

Some writers in the collection are flops for devoting themselves too stringently to minimalism (one edits her work to the point that no words remain), while others suffer physical ailments ("hair growth" and "a constantly running nose").

Read an excerpt from The Biographical Dictionary of Literary Failure below:

Thomas Bodham
Thomas Bodham took to sea to record the tales of the adventures he would have, but the only thing we know for sure is that upon from his epic journey to exotic lands, Bodham was approached by a merchant who claimed that a published version of his great work would surely make him a fortune. Bodham, by now penniless and gaunt, was taken in by the man’s tale and handed over his great manuscript (now amounting to more than a thousand pages). No sooner had he done so when the merchant slid a thin blade between Bodham’s skinny ribs, killing the weakened traveller instantly. Bodham’s story is an epic writ small, but no less epic for that.
Felix Dodge
When Felix Dodge came upon those twin keystones of High Modernism, The Waste Land and a smuggled copy of Ulysses, their effect was like a lightning strike. Such attempts to encompass almost everything that was knowable (however much their authors may have averred this inference) led him to investigate the idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk, a notion that appealed to him greatly, and thus attempt to create his own literary work. When he discovered that the mere plan for his novel ran to over a thousand pages, before his typewriter could even begin to glean his teeming brain, he was struck by a sudden, fatal aneurysm. Was it, we wonder, the weight of all he knew that caused his grey matter to malfunction so spectacularly, and so tragically?
Ellery Fortescue
Ellery Fortescue was a sickly child, and had resorted to the world of books early on in life. By the age of twenty-eight, she found herself beset by alternating insomnia and narcolepsy, mysterious weight loss followed by baffling weight gain, aches, pains, blotchy skin, hair loss (head), hair growth (other parts of the body), a constantly running nose, bones that seemed to fracture and ligaments that sprained whenever she tried to hit so much as a single key on her IBM Wheelwriter 3500. For years, Fortescue listed all her symptoms and feelings about them in an ever-growing pile of notebooks. It was only when the pile of notebooks had begun to block the door to her bedroom that she realized she could diagnose herself. She knew what her disease was, and its name: graphomania. She banished any kind of writing implement from her flat. She has never felt better since.
Hans Kafka
Hans Kafka was born in 1883 just across the street from the other Kafka family, son to a seamstress and a successful retailer of fancy goods. He sent stories to the journals Hyperion and Arkadia but was turned down with a series of baffling rejection letters. Dear Sir, they began. We are endeavoring to publish your work. Please do not feel the necessity to send us more pieces under a clumsy pseudonym. As yet unaware of the fate of his almost homonymous former neighbor, Kafka did not let the rejections dissuade him and began work on his first full-length piece, a grotesque tale of a beetle who is transformed into a man.
Robert Roberts
Robert Robert’s first poem was composed in his early teens and concerned the death of his pet cat, which had not yet happened. He had imagined the worst thing that could have happened, put it in writing, and when, indeed, McWhiskers passed away a year later, Roberts’s belief that he had brought the event into being was formed. As many teenage boys do, he wrote long poems detailing the agonies of having been abandoned by lovers whom he had not yet met. Having perhaps overestimated his ability, he wrote a novel, John Johnson, about a teenage psychic who went on to become a novelist who won the Booker, the IMPAC, a MacArthur fellowship, then the Nobel (for peace, not literature). Unfortunately, the book was rubbish, and far from achieving its desired results, it has lain in the slush piles of numerous literary agents and publishing houses for many years now, slowly going moldy, an outcome its author had not foreseen.
Simon Sigmar
Born in Dresden in 1922, Simon Sigmar found himself interned for being a suspected Communist liberated by the Red Army. He found himself living in a city controlled by such a repressive apparatus that anything he tried to publish, or even write, was resolutely suppressed. He tried to escape by concealing himself in a large plastic bag and hiding in the boot of a car traveling west during the eighteen-hour ordeal to have suffered from some kind of aneurysm, which left him unable to remember anything that had happened longer than ten minutes previously. In some part of his still active mind he knew he had to write, to tell the story of what he could not remember. If the literature of the twentieth century was all about memory, what role could there have been for Simon Sigmar? He knew everything, and remembered nothing.
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