Friday, August 04, 2006

A Literary Cocktail Party

By tea-time, Wilfred was behaving so tiresomely that Harriet put him away in a rage and sallied out to attend a literary cocktail party. The room in which it was held was exceedingly hot and crowded, and all the assembled authors were discussing (a) publishers (b) agents, (c) their own sales (d) other people’s sales, and (e) the extraordinary behaviour of the Book of the Moment selectors in awarding their ephemeral crown to Tasker Hepplewater’s Mock Turtle. ‘I finished this book,’ one distinguished adjudicator had said, ‘with tears running down my face.’ The author of Serpent’s Fang confided to Harriet over a petite saucisse and a glass of sherry that they must have been tears of pure boredom; but the author of Dust and Shiver said, No—they were probably tears of merriment, called forth by the unintentional humour of the book; had she ever met Hepplewater? A very angry young woman, whose book had been passed over, declared that the whole thing was a notorious farce. The Book of the Moment was selected from each publisher’s list in turn, so that her own Ariadne Adams was automatically excluded from benefit, owing to the mere fact that her publisher’s imprint had been honoured the previous January. She had, however, received private assurance that the critic of the Morning Star had sobbed like a child over the last hundred pages of Ariadne, and would probably make it his Book of the Fortnight, if only the publisher could be persuaded to take advertising space in the paper. The author of The Squeezed Lemon agreed that advertising was at the bottom of it: had they heard how the Daily Flashlight had tried to blackmail Henry Quint into advertising with them? And how, on his refusal, they had said darkly, ‘Well, you know what will happen, Mr. Quint?’ And how no single Quint book had received so much as a review from the Flashlight ever since? And how Quint had advertised that fact in the Morning Star and sent up his net sales 50 per cent in consequence? Well, by some fantastic figure anyhow. But the author of Primrose Dalliance said that with the Book of the Moment crowd, what counted was Personal Pull—surely they remembered that Hepplewater had married Walton Strawberry’s latest wife’s sister. The author of Jocund Day agreed about the Pull, but thought that in this instance it was political, because there was some powerful anti-Fascist propaganda in Mock Turtle and it was well known that you could always get old Sneep Fortescue with a good smack at the Blackshirts.

From Dorothy L. Sayers, Gaudy Night (1935).

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