Literary self-flagellation

“Self-flagellation by authors is a long and distinguished tradition, with Tolstoy (who dismissed Anna Karenina as sentimental, “serving no purpose” and “bad”) and Kafka (for whom The Metamorphosis  was “imperfect almost to its very marrow”) among its illustrious exemplars.

Yet the appearance of startling ruthlessness is deceptive, as it is a younger self and his or her efforts that are usually being punished, whether by criticism or self-parody. The implicit message is: these are mistakes I wouldn’t make now.”

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