The Chronicle of Higher Education
August 24th, 2015
The pros and cons of literary fame date
back to antiquity. Cicero thought superior writers, or their souls,
would survive death and enter an eternal realm "where eminent and
excellent men find their true reward." Ovid assured his wife that she
would "live for all time in my song." Horace, proud of his reputation as
a lyric poet, bragged that he was "pointed out by passers-by." His
friend Virgil, however — if we trust Suetonius — ducked into buildings
to avoid fans.
Despite Virgil’s presumed ambivalence, the notion that all literary
writers crave fame — the contemporary kind, the immortal kind, or both —
remains a cultural cliché. It’s one that H.J. Jackson, professor
emerita at the University of Toronto and distinguished scholar of
18th-century and Romantic British literature, places at the heart of Those Who Write for Immortality, her spirited and always enlightening meditation on literary fame that cites the pros and cons above.