Monday, September 8, 2008

A Dedication Devoutly to be Wished

by Julia Buckley

How does one dedicate a book? The writing of it is difficult, but the dedicating can seem insurmountable. P.G. Wodehouse once wrote, “I once planned a book which was to consist entirely of dedications, but abandoned the idea because I could not think of a dedication for it.”

Aye, the dedication can stymie the most eloquent author. It’s not just a matter of choosing the ‘who’ of a dedication, but the ‘what.’ What to say? How to make it profound? And to whom, really, are we the most grateful at the end of the writing?

Cornell Woolrich, famously the author of the short story “Rear Window,” dedicated The Bride Wore Black to “Remington Portable No. NC69411”—that is, his typewriter. He dedicated another novel to the hotel room in which he wrote it.

Agatha Christie dedicated her first book to her mother, but later the dedications were related to her content. Murder in Mesopotamia (1936) was dedicated “to my many archaeological friends in Iraq and Syria.”

Sara Paretsky’s P.I. may be tough, but her dedication before Killing Orders is most tender, addressed to her husband and quoting John Donne:

“For Courtenay
All other things to their destruction draw.”

Those who are literary minded (or who look it up) will note that she is quoting Donne’s “The Anniversarie,” and the full line is

“When thou and I first one another saw.
All other things to their destruction draw,
Only our love hath no decay.”

P.D. James, too, is affectionate in her dedication. While her words before The Children of Men are simple, they seem to possess worlds of meaning:

“Again, to my daughters,
Clare and Jane,
Who helped.”

A more elaborate dedication was written by Graham Green before his novella Loser Takes All:

“Dear Frere,
As we have been associated in business and friendship for a quarter of a century I am dedicating this frivolity without permission to you. Unlike some of my Catholic critics, you, I know, when reading this little story, will not mistake me for ‘I’, nor do I need to explain to you that this tale has not been written for the purposes of encouraging adultery, the use of pajama tops, or registry office marriages. Nor is it meant to discourage gambling.

Affectionately and gratefully,
Graham Greene

The great Arthur Conan Doyle wrote a similar dedication before The Hound of the Baskervilles:

"My Dear Robinson,

It was your account of a west country legend which first suggested the idea of this little tale to my mind.

For this, and for the help which you have given me in its evolution, all thanks.

Yours most truly,

A. Conan Doyle"

As all of these examples demonstrate, the dedication is an important part of the book, not only because it is a fine and permanent way of paying tribute, but because readers read dedications.

At least I do.

How about you? And do you have a favorite?


Sheila Connolly said...

Wonderful examples!

I see many dedications in which the writer thanks his or her family members, but I'd prefer that the writer use the acknowledgments for that. Dedications should refer to the source of inspiration, in my opinion. So far I've thanked Johnny Appleseed, one of my long-dead ancestors, and the college professor who instilled in my a love for medieval art (and who retired only last year).

Sandra Parshall said...

I have the opposite view, Sheila. Dedications seem very personal to me and should go to someone whose emotional support has been essential. Acknowledgments are less personal and deal only with the book itself and the business of researching, writing, and publishing it.

Julia Buckley said...

But both of your comments suggest that the person in some way inspired you--whether they inspired gratitude or the work itself.


Carola Dunn said...

I would agree with Sandra. In Acknowledgements I thank people who have helped me with research on that particular book. Dedications, which I don't always do, are for more personal thanks--for instance, Manna from Hades, the first in my new Cornish mystery series (March 09) is dedicated to my late godmother because it was through her I came to know Cornwall. She had a caravan in a farmer's field on a clifftop for many years and we used to go there every summer and often at Easter too.

Julia Buckley said...

How lovely, Carola!

Lonnie Cruse said...

Ahhh, my favorite dedication has to be by Lillian Jackson Braun. She ALWAYS dedicates her Cat Who books to Earl Bettiger, the husband who . . . but she never says who what. Husband who is wonderful or who is awful? Who takes out the trash or refuses to do same? Quite a mystery in that simple little dedication.

Julia Buckley said...

Great example, Lonnie!

And I love the mysteries that many dedications create.

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