Nobody is more embittered than the neglected writer and, obviously, allowed a certain recognition, I am a happier and more generous man than I would otherwise be. But nothing I have done to win this recognition appals me, has gone against my nature. I fervently believe that all a writer should send into the marketplace to be judged is his own work; the rest should remain private. I deplore the writer as personality, however large and undoubted the talent, as is the case with Norman Mailer. I also do not believe in special license for so-called artistic temperament. After all, my problems, as I grudgingly come within spitting distance of middle age, are the same as anybody else’s. Easier maybe. I can bend my anxieties to subversive uses. Making stories of them. When I’m not writing, I’m a husband and a father of five. Worried about pollution. The population explosion. My sons’ report cards.
From Mordecai Richler, “Why I Write” in Shovelling Trouble (1972).
On a basic level, I share Richler’s conviction that “all a writer should send into the marketplace to be judged is his own work” and that “the rest should remain private.” But I am left with questions. Is it possible to act consistently with this conviction in the contemporary marketplace and still sell a reasonable number of books? Richler managed to keep his family life scrupulously private throughout his career. But it seems to me that, at least in the Canadian context, he ultimately came to embody the “writer as personality” that he once deplored. Did this happen in spite of him, or did he contribute to the cult of personality? His public profile had as much to do with his political writing as with his fiction but that’s still “his own work” not “the rest.” Of course, it also had to do with his predilection for stirring up trouble. Where exactly does the line between one’s “own work” and “the rest” fall? This seems to me a very complicated question, particularly for those who write non-fiction as well as fiction.