iUniverse knows it is intimidating to think that there are writers like Dickens, Twain, Stephen King, and JK Rowling who seem to be able to write book after book – and successful ones, at that! Nevertheless, all it takes to achieve literary fame – and a good financial return – is one book. Here, in a two-part series, we discuss books of various genres that have been “one-hit wonders”. As with music, most of these authors have released other work, though it is only for the ones here that they are celebrated.
Wuthering Heights: Unlike her literary sisters, who were also novelists, Emily Bronte only published one book. Wuthering Heights competes with Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre as the most famous of the Bronte sisters’ novels. Set in the dark, mysterious Yorkshire moors, it is a story of passionate and sometimes brutal romance. The book also tends to provoke very polar reactions from readers: many critics assail it as being hard to follow, due to many characters with similar names and a storytelling structure that contains too much quoting of other characters. Still, the novel is here to stay, and has also been made into a film starring Laurence Olivier.
The Monk: published by Matthew Lewis in 1796 – when he was only 19 — this book was an early entry the Gothic novel genre, and was largely responsible for bringing the genre to a wide audience. The novel includes nearly all of the traditional elements which embellish many of our horror movies today: cemeteries, dark winding passages, secret rooms in old abbeys and castles, magic, evil chants, seduction, and death. The Monk has been made into a film several times, and there are also various stage versions.
The Life of Samuel Johnson: although this is not a novel, the Life exalted its writer, James Boswell, to the literary pantheon, and is in fact the main reason for the continuing popularity of its subject, Dr. Samuel Johnson. While the latter compiled the first English dictionary and was the leading authority on Shakespeare, English poetry, and literature in general during the 1700s, it is Boswell’s biography that brings him to life. Boswell recorded conversations and personalities with a novelist’s ability to paint pictures with his words. His other works, all nonfiction, have not stood the test of time, but the Life of Johnson remains for many “the best biography ever written” according to Thomas Macaulay and “a book beyond any other product of the 20th century” in the words of Thomas Carlyle.
Special Mention: To Kill a Mockingbird: While Harper Lee has recently published another book, which has been successful, the book (Go Set a Watchman) would probably have never been published if she hadn’t had pressure from outside forces. Hence, as To Kill a Mockingbird was her only book for nearly 55 years, we consider it to be related to this category. To Kill a Mockingbird won the Pulitzer Prize for 1961 and remains a deep and enjoyable read for people of all age groups. The book explores childhood and its innocence encountering the harsh realities of the adult world, all told through the eyes of a perceptive narrator. It was even made into a successful movie starring Gregory Peck, one of the most famous actors of the 1960s. In baseball terms, Lee hit a home run on the first pitch!
We’ll be back with Part Two. In the meantime, can you think of any authors who, in your opinion, are “One-Hit Wonders”?