T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) may have been a brilliant poet, author, and playwright, but as a judge of other authors, he was far from infallible. When given a chance to review one manuscript, in particular, he wrote off as unpublishable a work that was destined to become a classic.
Eliot was working at the publishing firm Faber & Faber in 1944. He received a manuscript from a promising author. He read it and determined it was unsuitable for publication. He wrote the rejection letter to the aspiring author, noting that the manuscript “is a distinguished piece of writing; that the fable is very skilfully handled, and that the narrative keeps one’s interest on its own plane – and that is something very few authors have achieved since Gulliver.”
Despite this, Eliot told the disappointed author that Faber & Faber would not be publishing his book. “I think my own dissatisfaction with this… is that the effect is simply one of negation. It ought to excite some sympathy with what the author wants, as well as sympathy with his objections to something: and the positive point of view… is not convincing,” he said in his letter.
Fortunately, the author was not too discouraged and sought another opinion. That is why Secker & Warburg publishers were able to release George Orwell’s Animal Farm to the public in August 1945.
Perhaps Eliot was thinking of his own limitations when he observed, “Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers.”
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