I just recently read a collection of Henry James’ short novels, some I haven’t heard of before and some I’ve already read. For some unknown reason, my mind has been wandering and musing (don’t be alarmed, my friends know that this happens a lot and some times really interesting ideas and thoughts come out of my drifting thoughts) about the qualities that I like and that I even dislike about British lit from this time period (the late 1800s).
First the dislikes, most pieces seem to focus on class issues, that those were seemingly the only thing that could keep loved ones apart, even though poverty, sickness, dangerous work, etc. were bigger dangers, and on either the uppper middle class or the rich. And some writers seemed to be bogged down in the details about functions around London that that was the story.
On the other hand, the writing is amazing, and you could close your eyes and see the very tea stains on a tea saucer, the laugh lines on an older woman, the dust flying in the air as the maids dusted, etc. No matter where you live, in what time period you live, what religion you practice, how much money you have, what your ethnical background is, there is some sort of invisible dividing line, an us against them mentality. And the class issues and interpersonal communication misunderstandings detailed in the British lit during the late 1800s are timeless writings that will in some sense always be understood generation to generation.
But the real point of this particular blog entry is to wonder about my generation’s authors. Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Henry James, William Shakespeare, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mark Twain, Leo Tolstoy, etc. in their lifetimes were considered to be great fiction writers, not classics, possibly critics of society and politics, but generally fiction writers. Over time, their writings and ideas have become to be known as classics, not merely fiction, good fiction, or great fiction, but works of art.
And this makes me wonder about what the future generations will say about the authors of today. With fewer and fewer readers today, publishing companies currently not accepting manuscripts from unpublished authors, literacy rates falling, will there be any “classics” from my lifetime? Sure there are “cult” hits that have sold millions and millions of books around the world, but will writers like Nora Roberts, Stephenie Meyer, J.K. Rowlings, Stephen King, David Eddings for instance ever be mentioned in the same breath as C.S. Lewis, Tolstoy, Dickens, Hawthorne, Shakespeare? Will they ever be thought of as great writers to capture a time period, a revolutionary thought, a social critique in a book that will last the ages?
In todays five minute attention span, books like the Twilight books not only sell millions and millions around the world, but also generate millions of dollars in merchandise and live action movie adaptations, but lack talent for a lack of a better word. I have read the entire series in an attempt to understand how such a bad book could sell so many copies around the world, so I feel that I can say bad things about it. I just don’t get it. I will say that Meyer has created decently memorable characters, but her writing is so jerky and unbelievably ridiculous, I can’t see how this was a best selling series in any part of the world. And the fact that she has gained such a loyal following that she’s pretty much guarenteed that all four Twilight books will be made into live action movies, while it’s not a guarentee that WaldenMedia will be make all seven Chronicles of Narnia books makes me shake my head in wonder.
Don’t get me wrong, I think that Rowlings, Eddings, King are wonderful, gifted writers that I have spent many happy mornings, afternoons, evenings, days, weeks, months, and years reading their works. But what will my children and other generations that will come when I’m long gone think?