Robert McCrum lists a few “neglected masterpieces,” among them, oddly, Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address and Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener.” Or perhaps not oddly: perhaps this is just an indication of the difference between American and British schooling. Generations of American schoolchildren would have loved to neglect old Bartleby, but didn’t get the chance.
I have always been uneasy with the term “neglected masterpiece” — such a thing is really quite rare, whereas the phrase isn’t. There aren’t many books that genuinely deserve to be called “masterpieces.” Also, what counts as “neglected”? Often books so designated aren’t neglected at all, but rather are just given less attention, and less universal attention, than they deserve.
However, I will admit that “neglected masterpiece” has a certain flair to it that “pretty good book that hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves” lacks.
And I will say this: the best historical novel I have ever read, and one of my very favorite books, is almost completely forgotten now, less than thirty years after its publication: The Succession
, by George Garrett.
May 24, 2010