Tag: Mark Twain

Guest Post: The Problem with Literature

Posted October 3, 2013 by Guest Post in Guest Posts, Literature / 0 Comments

Want to be the next Shakespeare? Forget literature. Shakespeare wasn’t trying to write enlightened literary fiction. He was writing the Elizabethan equivalent of daytime television – easily digestible, relatable stories (mostly stolen from elsewhere and given a quick spit and polish to make them look and sound new) that would appeal to an audience of mostly illiterate working-class people. He didn’t care about being a great artist or creating work that would last for centuries. He just wanted to make money.

I think modern literary authors forget that. They want to create art. They want to be taken seriously. God forbid their work be mistaken for trashy pulp fiction. God forbid it be accessible. True art, according to the modern literary author, is by nature elitist. In order to understand it, one must have more sophisticated tastes than the types of people who read mass-produced romances or pulpy sci-fi thrillers. One has to be discerning. Every great literary author wants to be remembered as the next iconic genius.

Except that our last iconic genius wrote exactly the kinds of fiction these aspiring greats treat with such derision. Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth – these might be timeless classics, but to The Bard, they were how he paid the bills, and to the people who paid to see his plays performed, they were the equivalent of a good popcorn flick. We talk about Shakespeare, Kit Marlowe, Dickens, Conan Doyle as though they were trying to create enduring works of highbrow literature. They weren’t; they were writers working at their trade. It just so happens that they were very good at it, which is why we still enjoy their work today. But they had no lofty aspirations, no desire to be seen as anything more than working writers. Oh, sure, Shakespeare enjoyed the patronage of two successive monarchs. I’m not denying that he was a master wordsmith and a well-regarded one at that. But to the people who crowded into the globe to watch his work play out on stage, he was nothing more than an entertainer. Not an artiste, not a figure of reverence. He wrote theatre for the masses. He was Elizabethan England’s answer to JK Rowling, not Vonnegut.

If Shakespeare were alive today, he’d probably be writing for some wildly successful primetime drama. Dickens and Conan Doyle, were they to stick to the serial formats they preferred, would probably find a home in graphic novels. Byron was something of a poseur, but he wrote his generation’s equivalent of Harlequin romances. Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters? They’d have been penning this summer’s hottest chick lit. And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with writing things that people will enjoy just because they’re fun. There’s nothing wrong with writing to entertain, to captivate, to thrill. And just because work is engaging and accessible, doesn’t mean it can’t also be challenging, thought-provoking and enduringly popular.

The Bard was a genius at his craft, no doubt about it. I just came home from a fantastically staged production of Macbeth, a play still enjoyed by audiences around the world centuries after Shakespeare’s death. I hope to one day pass on my love of Shakespeare to my children. But I’ll also pass on my love of fantasy novels, detective mysteries, cheesy sci-fi and even the odd paranormal romance. Why not? Fiction is meant to be fun. Sure, it can also be a lot of other things, but if we don’t enjoy reading it on some level, what’s the point?

If you’re writing for an audience of people who think enjoying fiction for its own sake is below them, you’ll never be the next Shakespeare, or the next Marlowe, or the next Dickens or Mark Twain or Agatha Christie or Jane Austen. Hell, you won’t even be the next JK Rowling (and believe me – someday, we’ll talk about her work with the same reverence we reserve for the works of long-dead white men today). Don’t focus on creating literature. Focus on creating great entertainment. Take your readers somewhere new. Give them a means of escaping. Take an old story and make it sing again. Make it fun, for heaven’s sakes, because I can guarantee you that five hundred years from now, we won’t be talking about dry and dusty tomes written by pretentious poseurs with delusions of grandeur. We’ll be talking about what was popular, just like we do now. We’ll be talking about theatre for the masses. We’ll be talking about this generation’s Shakespeares. And if you’re not willing to do what he did – to write for all people, to amuse, to engage, to entertain – then you’ll never be one of them.

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The Hanging Garden and Unfinished Novels

Posted May 28, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction / 0 Comments

The Hanging Garden and Unfinished NovelsTitle: The Hanging Garden (Goodreads)
Author: Patrick White
Published: Knopf Doubleday, Random House, 2012
Pages: 224
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: Personal Copy

During my last book club gathering, we were talking about Patrick White’s unfinished novel; The Hanging Garden and this lead into a discussion of books being published after the author dies which the author never wanted to see the light of day. Patrick White never wanted this novel released; I believe he did tell someone to burn it because it wasn’t finished or anywhere near ready for readers. There are heaps of authors that have had books released that were never meant to be released including; Kurt Vonnegut, Virginia Woolf, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, Leo Tolstoy and the most famous of them all was Franz Kafka’s The Trial. This does lead to some interesting topics; do you think books that the author never intended to be released should be published? Are publishers just using them as a money making gimmick? And lastly, if those manuscripts were submitted to a publisher by an unknown author, would they still be published?

Patrick White is a two time Miles Franklin award winner and has also won the Nobel Prize for Literature. His unfinished novel The Hanging Garden was only just recently published; it feels like an old novel in the sense that, while it’s nicely written; nothing ever happens in the book. This is very much a character driven book, focusing on the two characters and a wild garden. I think I’d be alright with reading a book like this if I didn’t have the feeling that the author hated every single one of his characters; he was mean and cruel to them all, not just the key characters. As a general rule I love dark and flawed characters but this just felt mean and even the attempts of being erotic felt awkward. I spent the whole book waiting for something to happen and I was left disappointed. Also, as this is an unfinished novel, I don’t know what the overall goal was with this book and I get the feeling that maybe Patrick White doesn’t either. There are parts of this book that are beautifully written and then there are parts that felt like the author’s ramblings. This is supposed to be an unedited book but while I think there was some editing done there are also parts of the book that clearly feel unedited. Including a few paragraphs that didn’t make sense and had no punctuation and then some notes to himself reminding him to explore or research some parts later. While I’m not a fan of this book, I think a lot of people might get a kick out of it. Either for the memories of the time and the place; the memorable characters, or just to see the thought process of once of Australian top authors of all time.

On this day 100 years ago, Patrick White was born