Authors Who “Debuted” After 40


Magazines are full of “20 under 20” features, extolling the virtues of youth – but there are plenty of literary greats who didn’t get started until later in life.

Here are six of the most famous:

Samuel Clemens worked as a steamboat pilot, newspaper reporter and travel writer before he finally published his first novel. He adopted the penname Mark Twain, (steamboat slang for “12 feet of water”), at age 41, when he published The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in 1876. He was 50 when The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was published as the archetypal great American novel.

Daniel Defoe published his debut novel, Robinson Crusoe at 59. Earlier in life he worked as a merchant, selling wine and wool, but went bankrupt in 1703, at age 43. He then wrote several political pamphlets in support of King William III before he turned to novels.

Laura Ingalls Wilder was a teacher who started writing a novel thanks to her daughter’s encouragement. Little House in the Big Woods, which is based on Wilder’s childhood, was published in 1932, when Wilder was aged 65. Her books later became the basis for the hugely popular TV series, Little House on the Prairie.

Raymond Chandler might have never put pen to paper if it weren’t for the Great Depression. His first career was in journalism but, after the First World War, he started working at an oil company. He lost his executive job in 1930 and began writing short stories for pulp magazines. Chandler’s first novel, The Big Sleep, was published in 1939, when he was 51.

Mary Ann Evans always knew she wanted to be a novelist, but worked as assistant editor for left-wing journal “The Westminster Review” before adopting her penname, George Eliot, aged 40. Her first novel, Adam Bede, was an instant success. Eliot went on to write six more books, including her most famous work, Middlemarch.

Despite writing a seven-volume novel À la Recherche du Temps Perdu, which is widely considered one of the greatest works in western literature, Proust didn’t publish the first volume until he was 43. He paid for the publishing costs from his own pocket after the manuscript was rejected by the publishing house N.R.F, where the Nobel Prize-winning Andre Gide was editor-in-chief. It took 15 years to publish Proust’s works. The author died before “In Search of Lost Time” was released in its entirety.

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