Creating a work of art is an arduous process: the conceptualization, the drafting, the endless tweaking and editing, and, finally, the intense hatred and the rampant destruction. Yes, sometimes there’s a fine line between “artistic process” and “hulking the fuck out.” Here are a few works of art we nearly lost to the blood-rage that lives within all creative types …
#5. Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita Was Barely Rescued From A Bonfire
For those who’d prefer their personal library not place them on a government watch list, Lolita is the best-selling Vladimir Nabokov novel in which the silly-sounding Humbert Humbert not-so-sillily drives his wife to suicide before taking off on an aimless, child-molesting road trip with her eponymous 12-year-old daughter.
It’s widely regarded as a masterpiece, but if reading a novel that sounds like a fantasy posted in the darkest depths of 4chan turns your stomach, you’re not alone: Nabokov himself famously hated the bulk of his own work, and that hate applied to nothing more so than Lolita. Nabokov had the odd habit of writing out all of his novels on index cards, which he’d shuffle and rearrange into piles around his home until he ended up with a completed work, sort of like a protracted, pedophiliac game of Mad Libs.
In addition to writing about 12-year-olds, he also doodled on his work like one.
Lolita took him five full years to write in this manner, and as soon as it was done, Nabokov carefully gathered up the hundreds of index cards that comprised the novel, packed them into a box, took the box out to the backyard, and set it right the fuck on fire.
Nabokov’s wife, Vera, apparently accustomed to such shenanigans, noticed the blaze, sprinted out of the house and began frantically yanking cards out of the inferno. Remarkably, she managed to rescue the bulk of the still-rough manuscript and nagged Nabokov to finish it, making this possibly the one and only time in history that a wife has gotten pissed at her husband for torching his creepy porn stash.
#4. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Wanted Sherlock Holmes To Die
Sherlock Holmes’ brilliant and often bewildering exploits have inspired a still-flowing torrent of television shows, movies, comics, books, and stage plays, not to mention an amount of Benedict Cumberbatch-Martin Freeman erotic fan art best left to the private mode of your web browser. Hell, he’s one of the few fictional creations to overstep the bounds of imagination and assert his influence onto the real world, as some have credited the (again, fictional) detective with fathering modern forensics.
And, sadly, modern forensics TV shows.
All of which means that, somewhere in England, Holmes’ creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is harrumphing in his grave.
That’s because Doyle fucking hated Holmes. Or, more accurately, he resented him. See, much like many of us who spent our younger years dreaming of being famous doctors or presidents or Evel Knievel, Doyle had big dreams of his own — and they didn’t involve inventing the preeminent detective story. Instead, he fancied himself more of a historical novelist and viewed his Holmes stories as “hack work” written for the sole purpose of making extra scratch to pay off his college loans.
“The quicker I can write this crap, the quicker I can write checks.”
In 1893 — six years after penning his very first Sherlock Holmes tale and bearing the stress of ever-more-demanding deadlines thanks to the character’s explosive popularity — Doyle concocted his plan to off the detective, swearing that unless he struck first, Holmes would kill him. And so he published the short story “The Final Problem,” which ended with Sherlock Holmes and his arch-nemesis, Moriarty, dying together after kicking each others’ asses clear off the edge of a goddamned waterfall.
The public straight-up refused to let Holmes die, virtually ignoring Doyle’s subsequent work until, a decade after Holmes’ “final” adventure, he resurrected the character for scads more stories, wishing with every last word that he’d detailed the discovery of the detective’s gory remains so that there could never have been any mystery surrounding the fact that the man was well and truly dead.
#3. Emily Dickinson Wanted Her Life’s Work Put To The Torch
Emily Dickinson, the superhero of introverts everywhere, penned more than 1,800 poems, but only a handful of highly edited ones were published prior to her death in 1886. And if it had been up to her, that’s all the world would ever have read, because she left her younger sister, Lavinia, strict instructions to go into her bedroom after her death and torch every last scrap of paper she could find.
Spinsterhood and pyromania frequently go hand-in-hand.
Lavinia couldn’t bring herself to charbroil the 40 hand-bound volumes of poetry she discovered, and instead became obsessed with seeing them published. She first showed them to her brother’s wife, Susan Gilbert Dickinson, but when her sister-in-law didn’t offer to help, she approached her brother’s mistress, Mabel Loomis Todd, because the Dickinson family had some truly fucked-up dynamics.
“I hope you can help, because next on the depth chart is my uncle’s bastard’s alcoholic cat.”
Todd went straight to work transcribing and editing hundreds of poems and collecting them into volumes, while just next door Susan Dickinson (perhaps justifiably) stewed in her anger and sat on her considerable stash of Emily’s poetry. Then, after an unrelated lawsuit between the Todds and the Dickinsons over a land dispute, Mabel decided to sit on her stash of Emily’s poetry. Thus kicked off a drawn-out battle that delayed the bulk of the work from being released and launched decades of awkward Dickinson Thanksgivings.
#2. Woody Allen Hated Manhattan So Much He Offered To Replace It For Free
Woody Allen is famous for having married his own step-daughter and also for making some movies, we guess. One of the most well known is 1979’s Manhattan. The film was Allen’s second-biggest box office hit (right behind Annie Hall), garnered two Academy Award nominations, and — in an achievement that actually means something to our readers — holds a whopping 98 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s landed on pretty much every “Top 100 Movies” list ever compiled, and it even inspired a song by ’80s pop sensation and sentient hairstyle Richard Marx.
Above: The true measure of success.
Another thing about Manhattan? Despite it arguably being his finest work, Woody Allen hated the absolute shit out of it.
After screening the film, Allen felt it was unfit to be seen by … well, anyone. He pleaded with the executives at United Artists not to release it. Surprisingly, they weren’t too keen on flushing a brilliant, $9 million gem down the shitter, so Allen sweetened the deal by offering to make them a whole new movie for free.
“I’ll make as many movies about me dating disturbingly younger women as it takes for me to get it right!”
Because if a garbage film like the award-winning Manhattan was the best he could do, he didn’t deserve to be paid for his work at all. Probably the most surprising part of this entire story is the fact that the studio didn’t take Allen up on his “free movie” offer and then go ahead and release Manhattan anyway.
#1. Harper Lee Tossed To Kill A Mockingbird Out A Window
The 1960 novel To Kill A Mockingbird won a Pulitzer Prize, beat out the Bible as the one book every person should read before they die, and, much to the relief of every single high school student since 1962, inspired a truly great film of the same name. The novel’s author, Harper Lee, loved the book so goddamned much that she never, ever wrote another one.
End of discussion, or else your doctor will have to Go Set A Broken Jaw.
That’s probably because the process of writing the novel was like trying to sculpt Michelangelo’s David using only the teeth of a live tiger. To Kill A Mockingbird began life as a manuscript entitled Go Set A Watchman, which is now better known as the ill-advised “sequel.” The editor assigned to the book informed her that, talented writer though she may be, her book was a stinky, pilotless turd. Over the next three years the aforementioned editor, Tay Hohoff, served as Lee’s taskmaster, relentlessly leading her through draft after draft of the book, sometimes having hours-long arguments over the most piddling of changes. The process took its toll on Lee, until one day she finally snapped and tossed the whole thing out the window. Literally. Just tossed what is universally regarded as one of history’s greatest books into a snow bank, probably to be peed on by a wandering dog or something. She then collapsed into tears and called Hohoff, who was having precisely none of this bullshit.
“It’s a sin to kill To Kill A Mockingbird.”
She ordered Lee to march straight out into the snow and gather up the pages that would go on to sell more than 30 million copies worldwide. And, rumor has it, to this day you can hold your copy of the book up to your nose and still smell that dog urine — the dog urine of literary genius.
Get some more culture in your lives, you philistines! Check out 7 Lost Bodies of Work (That Would Have Changed Everything) and 6 Lost Works Of Genius (Found In The Dumbest Place Possible).