24 June 2006

Flat banal writing, a sad way to end one's writing life.



In the Guardian, Ian Jack recalls rejecting Martha Gellhorn's last piece of journalism, with this coda: "It might have been a generous gesture to have published her last piece, however bad. Or would it? Gellhorn's own estimation of the piece comes in the final letter in [a just-published] collection. To Victoria Glendinning, June 8, 1996: "I have just finished a 42 page article, my last and very worst. It has driven me into exhaustion and despair ... There is not one sentence in it that is worth anything as writing. It is flat banal writing, a sad way to end one's writing life. I am not sure Ian Jack will take it because of the dullness of the writing which kills the subject. I am not going to try ever again, no need to suffer like that to produce work that shames me." Last week, when I read that letter for the first time, a guilt lasting 10 years was lightened. At least I hadn't made her ashamed."