Found  /  Exhibit

“Perhaps We’re Being Dense.” Rejection Letters Sent to Famous Writers

Some kind, some weird, some unbelievably harsh.

From Maxime du Camp to Gustave Flaubert after showing of Madame Bovary to the managing editor of the Revue de Paris:

Laurent-Pichat has read your novel and I enclose his remarks about it. As you will realize then you read them, I agree with them absolutely, for they are almost the very observations that I made before you left Paris. I sent the book on to Laurent with no comment except a warm recommendation—it is not by collusion that we think so nearly alike. The advice he gives you is good—the only advice, in fact, that you should follow. Let us take full charge of the publication of your novel in the Revue; we will make the cuts that we think are indispensable; and later you can superintend the book publication yourself, restoring anything you choose. My private opinion is that if you do not do this you will be compromising you entire career and making your first appearance with a work which is confused and muddled and to which the style alone does not give sufficient interest. Be brave, close your eyes during the operation, and have confidence—if not in our talent, at least in the experience which we have acquired in such things and also in our affection for you. You have buried your novel underneath a heap of details which are well done but utterly superfluous; they hide the essentials, and must be removed—an easy task. We shall have it done under our supervision by someone who is experienced and clever; not a word will be added to your manuscript, it will merely be cut down; the job will cost you about a hundred francs, which will be deducted from your cheque, and you will have published something really good, instead of something imperfect and padded. You are doubtless cursing me with all your might at this very moment, but you may be sure that in all this I have only your own interest at heart.

This isn’t exactly a rejection—it’s a request for edits—but it enraged Flaubert, who, according to Francis Steegmuller’s Flaubert and Madame Bovary: A Double Portrait, scrawled “Gigantesque!” on the back of the letter and sent “off another post-haste to Max, to say that if the Revue did not want Madame Bovary as it was written it was quite free not to take it at all.” The editors ultimately agreed, though they demanded that a single passage be omitted—no doubt re-inserted by Flaubert when his masterpiece was published in book form.