A Portrait of the Artist as a Young or Old Innovator: Measuring the Careers of Modern Novelists

David W. Galenson

NBER Working Paper No. 10213
Issued in January 2004
NBER Program(s):Labor Studies

Some important novelists have written a great novel early in their careers and have produced lesser works thereafter, whereas others have improved their work gradually over long periods and have made their major contributions late in their lives. Which of these patterns a novelist follows appears to be systematically related to the nature of his work. Conceptual writers typically have specific goals for their books, and produce novels that emphasize plot; experimental writers' intentions are often uncertain, and their novels more often stress characterization. By examining the careers of twelve important modern novelists, this paper demonstrates that conceptual novelists - including Herman Melville, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway - are generally those who have declined after writing landmark early novels, while in contrast experimental novelists - including Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Virginia Woolf - have typically arrived at their most important work later in their careers. As is the case for modern painting and poetry, the ranks of great modern novelists have included both conceptual young geniuses and experimental old masters.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w10213

Published: Galenson, David W. "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young or Old Innovator: Measuring the Careers of Modern Novelists." Historical Methods: A Journal of Quantitative and Interdisciplinary History 39, 2 (Spring 2006): 51-72.

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