Winnie-the-Pooh may have secured a place in the hearts of children worldwide and made his creator a millionaire, but author AA Milne resented the way the bear of little brain undermined his reputation as a serious writer.
The revelation appears in his 1939 memoir It’s Too Late Now, which is to be republished on 21 September, 70 years after it went out of print and ahead of the release of a biopic about his son, Goodbye Christopher Robin. Despite the success of Pooh, Piglet, Tigger and friends, Milne was frustrated that his reputation as a writer for adults had been irrevocably damaged.
Prior to his children’s books, Milne had written a string of hit plays, novels and short stories for adults, as well as editing the satirical magazine Punch. But his first book of children’s verse, When We Were Very Young, sold 50,000 copies within two months of publication in 1924 and his Winnie-the-Pooh books became immediate bestsellers around the world. When the first volume Winnie-the-Pooh was published in 1926, it sold 150,000 copies by the end of the year in the US alone. It has never been out of print since.
In It’s Too Late Now, Milne claims that he had tired of children’s writing after 70,000 words (“the number of words in the average-length novel”), but was trapped. “I wanted to escape from [children’s books] as I had once wanted to escape from Punch; as I have always wanted to escape,” he writes. “In vain. England expects the writer, like the cobbler, to stick to his last.”
In one waspish passage, to which today’s bestselling authors would no doubt relate, Milne adds: “It is inevitable that a book that has had very large sales should become an object of derision to critics and columnists.” In a swipe at literary snobs, he adds: “We all write books, we all want money: we who write want money from our books. If we fail to get money, we are not so humble, nor so foolish, as to admit that we have failed in our object. Our object, we maintain, was artistic success.”
The book also reveals a fraught relationship with literary critics. In his sights was the famously acid critic Dorothy Parker, writing as the Constant Reader for the New Yorker. The House at Pooh Corner resulted in one of Parker’s most famous putdowns: “Tonstant Weader Fwowed up”.