Friday, June 18, 2010

Nineteenth Century Rejection Letters Or How to Be Humiliated in Print

I’m sure it will not shock you to learn that I was doing research, again, and I came across something that surprised me. So, of course, I had to share it with you!

I was perusing an online copy of the Literary Gazette from 1827. The Gazette was the premier British literary journal for much of the nineteenth century. The sixteen-page weekly featured book reviews, opinion pieces, a social column, original poems, and information on theatrical productions. When there was room, the magazine also covered the latest discoveries in archaeology, architecture, and science. Upwards of four thousand copies were sold of each issue.

If your book was reviewed favorably in the Gazette, you could count on it becoming a bestseller. On the other hand, if the review was less than favorable, you might as well burn your quill, inhale the vapors, and give it up!

What really surprised me about the Gazette, however, was that it published a column of rejection letters each month. That’s right—if you were brave enough to submit an original poem for publication, the editor of the Gazette might respond to you in print, where all four thousand plus readers would know your fate!

Some of the responses were fairly polite or kind:

  • “We are sorry not to find room for Marianne.”

  • Lines to a Goldfish in a Cage are referred to the original.”

Others provided a bit of a critique:

  • “S.Y. is not polished enough.”

  • Chevalier Brun is not so striking as to induce a preference for what we have in store.”

Still others were more pointed: “To H.A.: depends on circumstances. Not very likely at present.”

And some were downright rude: “Gommazeta’s Epithets must remain among the dead.” Ouch!

Of course, most of those four thousand people wouldn’t necessarily know the title of your poem or your initials, but the London literary society was small enough that some could guess and spread the tale. You could be assured of a red face the next time you dared poke it out into the literary world.

I never thought I’d say this, but I much prefer today’s rejection letters, which come almost anonymously to your home and allow you to weep in peace! So, would you dare brave the literary world if you knew you were going to be rejected in public?


Marissa Doyle said...

Regina, I blogged about this a million years ago! Just mind-boggling...and we modern authors think we're tough!

Jessica said...

That must have been mortifying, though I suppose you would know it was a possibility if you took the chance on submitting. I wonder if that's where the penchant for pennames may have developed? :P

AnneB said...

This makes getting rejected on Twitter ("if you queried me before June 10 and have not heard back, I'm sorry but it's a rejection") suddenly seem a lot better...

Mirella Sichirollo Patzer said...

Excellent post! I can't imagine the humiliation. Society has sure come a long way, but not far enough.

Love your blog.

ChaChaneen said...

It's amazing what history tells us isn't it? I lurve these kinds of posts, I always learn so much!! Have a great weekend!

Rachel said...

Ouch, indeed! No, I think I'd keep my writing to myself.

Thanks for the fun post ;)

Gillian Layne said...

Ouch! I submitted my work once for an on-line public critique. I figured I'd better learn how to grow a thicker skin, and thought that might be a good way to start. It worked out well, but was a little hair-raising at the time.