Saturday 31 August 2013

World's longest book

Robert Sheffield (1918-2007), a former Minister and high school English teacher, lived and died in Dayton, Washington, USA. His unpublished diary runs to 37.5 million words, recording in minute detail every five minutes of his life, from 1972 until 1997 when he was disabled by a stroke and stopped writing. It's a heroically pointless achievement and the result, needless to say, of a psychological compulsion - he had a rare condition known as hypergraphia.

I'm not at all interested in merely prolific authors such as Georges Simenon (136 novels) or the American pulp writer Arthur J Burks, who regularly wrote 1.5 million words a year. It's the writers who write but have nothing to say that fascinate me - the obsessive diarists, the ones who have no choice. I'm particularly interested in non-literary figures who develop a compulsion to write. They might be called 'Outside Writers', as in 'Outsider Artists', like the extraordinary Henry Darger, a visionary self-taught artist who was also hypergraphic.

Darger (1892-1973) is the most wonderful and bizarre talent, perhaps the subject of a future blog. He was a friendless recluse who worked as a janitor in a Catholic institution. On his death his landlords discovered a 15,145-page, single-spaced manuscript called The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion, along with several hundred illustrative drawings and paintings. The epic met a need in Darger, and finds a response, if a troubled one, in the viewer. 

No comments:

Post a Comment