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Which writer smoked away half his novel?
April 3, 2006 9:19 PM   Subscribe

What literary critic is said to have used the only couple of his great work as rolling paper for his cigarettes?

Someone told me a story about a European writer who wrote his greatest work and printed two copies. One went off to the printing press, he kept the other at home. During WWII, the printing factory his copy went to was burnt down, but he didn't find out until he had used all but the last 50 pages of his book as rolling papers.

Any ideas on the identity of the writer or the authenticity of this story?
posted by munyeca to Writing & Language (5 answers total)
Ah hah!

I had read this just this weekend, in Paul Auster's The New York Trilogy --

"There is also M.M. Bakhtin, the Russian critic and literary philosopher. During the German invasion of Russia in World War II, he smoked the only copy of one of his manuscripts, a book-length study of German fiction that had taken him years to write. One by one, he took the pages of his manuscript and used the paper to roll his cigarettes, each day smoking a little more of the book until it was gone."

Turns out he does exist. Wikipedia, and the "Mikhail Bakhtin Manuscript Smoking Page".
posted by provolot at 9:27 PM on April 3, 2006

Oooh....well done for answering this one! I just sat on my couch staring into space trying to recall the name from my first-year university literary theory course. Thanks for stopping my brain from hurting!
posted by meerkatty at 9:41 PM on April 3, 2006

Yes, it's Bakhtin (I'm just reading his book on Dostoevsky this morning!) As I recall, he buried a lot of his other books under the shed in his backyard, or something similar.
posted by josh at 3:57 AM on April 4, 2006

I'd like to note that the missing manuscript was not likely (though no one will ever know), his masterwork and that much of his erratic behavior and obtuse writing style might be attributable to the fact that he was a political dissident unpopular with motherland officials.
posted by mrmojoflying at 5:57 AM on April 4, 2006

What a story! I googled around and found some more authoritative sources than Paul Auster and that phaxda page, and posted about it here. (It turns out it was Auster's wife who told him the garbled version that turns up in his writings.) Thanks for asking the question!
posted by languagehat at 11:31 AM on April 4, 2006

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