Scraping the Plate, or Seeking Literary Immortality the Hard Way

In her wonderful book of short-short ponderances called My Private Property, Mary Ruefle tells the story of the Earl of Staffordshire, who, so provoked by the popularity of the novels of Sir Walter Scott, decides to write his own damn book, a sequel to Scott’s Old Mortality, which the Earl entitled Old Immortality. Exhausted after 80 pages, he still felt he had accomplished Something Big. But confronted with the cruel (immortal) realities of the publishing industry yet still hungry for the undying fame rendered through Art, he had the entire text, including title page and a fancy “the-end” page, modeled onto Staffordshire china across 100 plates. He then had a series of dinner parties with a different group every time, forcing them to read for their supper. This went on until his death.

I find this a sad yet absolutely understandable story. I totally get that desire, I get the impulse to write the novel that will lead to my fame-beyond-my-lifetime, I empathize to an embarrassing degree with the outlandish effort in the face of the impervious and endlessly unimpressed publishing industry. I am shockingly on board with the act of holding hostage my friends to my writings however feeble. (Nowadays it’s called a blog. Eat up, my people.)

Almost all the plates were smashed in a wild party his grand-nephew threw (it’s always the one-generation removed that fucks everything up). Ruefle does not cite sources and perhaps the whole thing is a crock…ery. But, note to self, don’t make breakable literature. I have a grand-nephew.

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