“The reading of all good books is like conversation with the finest men of past centuries,” author Rene Descartes once said. There are numerous authors who have left behind legacies and have remained influential long after they are gone. Today, we consider their works to be products of great minds, but there was a time when these famous authors did not have the means or the opportunities to showcase their work and be part of the public discourse. On the contrary, they were rejected and even ridiculed for their ideas and insights. However, with the progression of society, their thought processes and ideologies began to receive their due recognition and appreciation.
In this article, we explore the lives of 10 such famous authors, whose death heralded the beginning of their literary legacies.
Today Kate Chopin is widely recognised as the forbearer of 20th century American feminist authors. A personal tragedy pushed her to become a writer, but her articles and stories were discounted, as they were considered to be too bold and far ahead of their time. She did not receive commercial or critical success other than in magazines like Vogue, and was always seen as a columnist and not a novelist. Today, her novel The Awakening is read by thousands across the world and her unconventional writing on women’s independence is celebrated years after her death.
Very few tales of posthumous success are as spectacular as that of Jane Austen, who became one of the most widely read authors after her demise. With her work being published under an anonymous name, she achieved fame much later in life after the publication of Sense and Sensibility. Her novels, which are full of wit, satire and a true reflection of the society she lived in, have earned her a place as one of the most distinguished and influential authors today.
One of America’s greatest poets, Emily Dickinson was unrecognised in her time. It took 4 years after her passing away for the world to get introduced to her first collection of poems in 1890. Needless to say, it met with immediate success. Known for her stunning command over the expression of language and originality, Dickinson continues to be hailed as one of the world’s greatest literary geniuses. Some of her most popular poems are I’m Nobody! Who are You?, My Life Had Stood-A Loaded Gun and Besides The Autumn Poets Sing.
Zora Neale Hurston
Hurston, for the use of her Southern Black vernacular, was criticised widely. She represented the Black American life which was considered by many to be a caricature. By the time of her death she was little remembered, but her work rose to prominence in the 20th century, with the publication of several of her collected short stories and folktales. One of her most widely read novels is Their Eyes Were Watching God.
Edith Holden’s shot to fame was through her manuscript that was discovered in 1977, after her painful death in the River Thames. She led the life of a seemingly ordinary British woman who penned down her thoughts in the form of poetry and notes in the early 1900s. This manuscript was published as The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, and then went on to get adapted for the silver screen as a TV drama.
Sylvia Plath was one of the most dynamic poets of the 20th century, but her fame and the intrigue surrounding her peaked after her suicide. Her widely acclaimed novel, The Bell Jar was first published under a pseudonym in England, long before it was published in the United States. Almost 20 years after her death, Plath’s husband published her collection of poems which went on to win the prestigious Pulitzer Prize.
John Keats is often seen as the undisputed king of romantic poetry. Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes and The Letters of John Keats are some of his works that are known for their perfection and striking imagery. But during his lifetime, he received very little acclaim to the point where critics attacked his ideas and suggested he give up poetry as a craft. It was only after his death at the young age of 25 that his literary genius was recognised.
David Henry Thoreau
David Henry Thoreau was always seen as a misfit. He is best known for his book Walden, which reflects upon the idea of simple living and appreciating natural surroundings, a way of life that he himself followed. He wasn’t widely known for his works until his death in the 1860s and it wasn’t before 1900 that he received the critical acclaim that he deserved. He, as we know, is considered to be one of the finest contributors to English classic literature and is read by millions across the globe.
HP Lovecraft is another American author who achieved fame posthumously. Today, he is celebrated for his works on horror and science fiction such as At The Mountains of Madness and The Outsider and has been christened ‘The King of Weird,’ but while he lived, he could only manage to get published in pulp magazines. It was only in the last few decades that the author reached the highest levels of popularity and critical success.
Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe was among the most influential American writers of the 19th century. Best known for his short stories, poems, and critical theories, he rose to fame as a major figure in world literature through two of his most popular works, The Raven and The Tell-Tale Heart. He lived and died in poverty and obscurity and today his works are considered to be the classics of English literature. He had seen recognition with few of his works getting published but they failed to bring him fame back then, until he was found dead on the streets of Baltimore.
These are but a few names who like most artists were not fully appreciated, and led lives with little or no success. But today with their vision, art, and talent being recognised globally, their names have forever been etched in the pages of literary history.