Don't bother with an agent, just get yourself an adjective

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The Independent Online
I AM thinking seriously of becoming a writer. Do you have any advice for me?

Yes. Get a proper name.

You mean . . . get a name that people will remember?

No, a name that will turn easily into an adjective. If you can get a name that will become a handy epithet, you are almost home and dry. The reason that Brecht and Kafka are two of the most influential writers in the 20th century is not necessarily that they are the most widely read - indeed, they are among the least read and most talked about - but because we like to refer to things as Brechtian or Kafkaesque.

The thing to remember is that Dickens is the most famous British novelist in the 19th century because . . . because . . .

He was the best?

Don't be ridiculous. No, it was because he gave his name to Victorian London. When referring to grim backstreet scenes, we still talk about Dickensian conditions, don't we? The name of Dickens is well known, but the word Dickensian is world famous.

Yes. Of course, we also talk about jolly coaching scenes as being Dickensian, and they aren't grim at all.

A double triumph for the man] On the other hand, take the other novelists who have a claim to be representative of the century, and see how their names let them down. Scott . . . Thackeray . . . Meredith . . . you can't get a snappy adjective out of any of those. Half of them you can't even get an adjective from at all, Thackerayish sounds wrong, Scottish is already spoken for . . . No wonder Dickens is the writer of the 19th century.

Are there other names which you CAN'T make adjectives out of?

Well, you go from one extreme to the other. There are names that form adjectives so well, they take over from the name completely - I mean, millions of people use the word 'platonic' who have never read Plato or even heard of him. On the other hand, there are names that sternly refuse to yield any epithets at all. Take Sylvia Plath. She established a certain desperate, suicidal tone, which is much admired in some quarters; but it is impossible to get an adjective out of Plath. You can't say Plathian or Plathesque without getting your teeth in a tangle, so she has never quite become a byword.

Plathonic?

Pardon?

What about Plathonic as an adjective from Plath? By analogy with Platonic?

No.

All right, what about Plathetique?

No]

Sorry.

The thing is that only one man has ever been able, by sheer force of will and personality, to turn an unpromising name into a really new adjective, and that was George Bernard Shaw. Quite rightly cringing at the thought of Shawesque, he decreed that the final 'w' should become a 'v' and created the word Shavian.

Brilliant]

Yes, isn't it?

Has anyone ever emulated him?

No. You would think that classic railway timetables would be called Bradshavians after Mr Bradshaw. You could call the style of George Borrow Borrovian, though I have never seen it so called. And I am sometimes surprised that Evelyn Waugh, who was always keen to be remembered, never took the analogy of 'Shavian' and called his works 'Wavian'.

So, basically it's either -ian or

esque?

Yes. With variations, Gilbert was clever. He became Gilbertian, but we always pronounce it in that peculiarly English way, 'Gilbershun'. Mrs Thatcher was even cleverer than W S Gilbert.

That seems unlikely.

Maybe so, but she invented a totally new ending when her style became 'Thatcherite'. No one had ever put -ite on the end of a name before. Do we call Turner's paintings Turnerite? Or talk about Spenserite stanzas? Is there an Archerite style? I think not.

Do you have any final bits of advice to a young writer?

Yes. Do not call yourself Pym, as Pymian sounds silly. Don't call yourself Sim, as Simian sounds even worse. And do not call any painting by Watteau 'Watteaunic'.

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