How Many Fond Fools

Luciana laments in Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors:

How many fond fools serve mad jealousy!

Ben Jonson is supposed to have said that William Shakespeare could improve by writing less. So writers have a long tradition of jealousy, or at least of frequent (passing, nagging, overwhelming–the intensity can vary) envy. You and your desk commune for far too long, and then you hear something about someone you know and love who has won some marvelous award. You rejoice. You do. You tell yourself that you’re over professional envy.

Then you read something that someone (maybe someone famous and well-lauded) has written. And you find a flaw. A FLAW. A piece of dialogue that sinks like lead. A gratuitous adverb. A bit of self-indulgent prose. And there it is. That canker in your soul. That little snitty-voiced worm. It whispers, Writer-crowned-with-laurels got away with THAT? 

In Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie writes of the beginnings of jealousy–the “baby-things of bitterness”…the “rompers of resentment.” And then there was the Rushdie-Greer spat. Ideology, jealousy, or a bit of both?

In her NYT piece, Sarah Manguso reflects on getting over envy. Snippet:

All writers will envy other writers, other writing. No one who reads is immune. To write despite it I must implicate myself, to confess to myself, silently or on the page, that I am envious. The result of this admission is humility.

It’s an interesting read and something to think about when the snakes come calling.

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