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  • Re: Literary fiction - a definition?
    by Nessie at 18:02 on 07 February 2007

    Just a random idle thought

    but how much of this divide between literary (and therefore 'worth' reading) and chick-lit (lighter, packaged for the female market) has its roots way back

    dont ask me to quote the century... but was there not a time (18thc, 19th c)when ladies were sneered at for reading 'novels'... no matter who by or what about... whereas the weightier matter, the tracts, historic works, philosophical works ad naus. were mainly the male preserve?

  • Re: Literary fiction - a definition?
    by NMott at 18:05 on 07 February 2007
    Aha, Virginia Woolfe: both classic and literary.
    (Not sure about the humour, though. Not exactly a laugh a minute.)
    I'm sure a significant number of her readers must be men.
    Ditto Anne Rice's Interview with a Vampire - potential classic. Although probably not 'literary'.


    Nessie, I think it was the 'young ladies' whose reading was restricted to religious tracts, but that was a class thing. The masses still read Dickens and other serielized novels in the Penny mags.
  • Re: Literary fiction - a definition?
    by EmmaD at 18:31 on 07 February 2007
    My extremely literary grandmother read first editions of Virginia Woolf, but regarded is as idle to read novels in the morning, because you should be getting on with real life.

  • Re: Literary fiction - a definition?
    by Sappholit at 21:04 on 07 February 2007
    I have just read a fabulous lecture by Hermione Lee called 'Reading in Bed' which charts the history of the reading habits of women writers.

    Reading was generally frowned upon for both sexes, for many years.

    I've been meaning to launch chatter about this, cos it is truly great stuff, but right now, I'm too knackered.
  • Re: Literary fiction - a definition?
    by rogernmorris at 22:27 on 07 February 2007
    Thanks, Emma and Snowbell! Carry on everyone, interesting thread, btw.
  • Re: Literary fiction - a definition?
    by Nessie at 23:06 on 07 February 2007
    Reading was generally frowned upon for both sexes, for many years.

    frowned on by whom... the church, the 'educators' (including family who were trying to 'set an example'..

    it is extraordinary. Maybe it was the fear of filling ones head with things that were unreal?

  • Re: Literary fiction - a definition?
    by ashlinn at 23:22 on 07 February 2007
    My grandmother believed that eyes were designed to read a certain maximum number of words over a lifetime. She used to say to my mother about me 'you have to do something about that child, she'll have her eyes all used-up by the time she's twelve.'
  • Re: Literary fiction - a definition?
    by CarolineSG at 09:16 on 08 February 2007
    Ashlinn,that's hilarious!

    I agree, JB, about The Historian. Quite some feat, as you say to make that/i] story dull.

    Chatterton and Hawksmoor have to be two of my most favourite historical novels ever but Ackroyd's latest, Lambs of London, had the most stupidly predictable ending that left you feeling really disgruntled and cheated. I think I would have gone off him too, if I'd come across that snobby quote.


    Oh dear, random bonkers italics.
  • Re: Literary fiction - a definition?
    by EmmaD at 09:42 on 08 February 2007
    Yes, I picked up the Lamb one and rapidly decided it was lazily written and I couldn't be bothered. I think his best energy is going into his non-fiction these days. But The House of Doctor Dee is cracker too.

  • Re: Literary fiction - a definition?
    by Sappholit at 09:55 on 08 February 2007
    frowned on by whom... the church, the 'educators' (including family who were trying to 'set an example'

    A couple of my favourites from 'Reading in Bed':

    'The history of reading contains within it a conflict which recurs over and over again . . . .between what one might call vertical and horizontal reading: the first regulated, supervised, orderly, canonical, and productive, the second unlicesed, private, leisurely, disreputable, promiscuous and anarchic.'

    Young boys were warned in 1703: 'It is thought indecent and unmanly to idly chit-chat, gossip or sport in bed. Imitate not certain persons who busy themselves in reading and other matters; stay not in bed if it be not to sleep, and your virtue shall much profit from it.'

    'The wonderful Philobiblion by Richard . . . the Bishop of Durham in 1344, defending his passionate love of books against charges of ecess or profanity, has a great passage of invective against the kind of young scholar who, 'lazily lounging over his studies' on a cold winter's day, lets the snot from his nose drip down onto his book, or marks the page with the filth from his nose, or eats fruit or cheese over an open book, and then with his arms folded on the page falls into a profound nap to no small injury of the book. This is a matter not of reading n the wrong way, but of not letting the wrong people read. 'The laity, who look at a book turned upside down just as if it were open the right way, are utterly unworthy of any communin with books. Let the clerk take care that the smutty scullion reeking from his stewpot does not touch the lily leaves of the book, all unwashed.'
  • Re: Literary fiction - a definition?
    by eve at 10:15 on 08 February 2007
    Just popped into this very interesting thread to let you know - 3 Georgette Heyer books for a fiver on The Book People website. Marvelous place to grab a bargain!
  • Re: Literary fiction - a definition?
    by debac at 10:21 on 08 February 2007
    she'll have her eyes all used-up by the time she's twelve

    Although this sounds ridiculous to us, I wonder if it stemmed from the fact that some generations back people didn't have such good light sources, and thus would actually damage their eyes by reading a great deal.

    Or perhaps it's another myth that you can damage your eyes by reading in poor light, but I remember my Dad telling me when I was a child that I shouldn't read in poor light because his sister had done and her eyesight deteriorated. My Dad was a clever bloke but he was probably told that as a child and it's funny how you sometimes swallow things you were told as a child and still believe them as an adult unless something causes you to re-examine them.

    BTW Emma, thanks so much for your long post answering my seed question. It's really useful and I want to comment on it in more depth - will do shortly.

  • Re: Literary fiction - a definition?
    by Account Closed at 10:32 on 08 February 2007
    I think "comic novelist" is a fine and lovely term. Who do you consider to be female "comic novelist"s, Griff? I would be interested to know. Is Helen Fielding a "comic novelist" or a "chicklit writer"?

    Yes I think comic novelist is a fabulous term, and it's something I would be very proud to be one day. I have some very specific plans for writing some - now is not the time, as I'm busy trying out scripted comedy options - but one day I am definitely going to write the funniest book ever about highwaymen, for example.

    My favourite books are by "old-fashioned" comic novelists - P.G. Wodehouse, George Macdonald Fraser, Evelyn Waugh, Stephen Fry, Alan Bennett (OK not novels but...) and to a lesser extent the likes of Terry Pratchett. I'm slowly beginning to appreciate a lot of the recent American comic writers too such as David Sedaris. And I love a lot of US "comic non-fiction" like William Goldman's Hollywood memoirs or the ramblings of P.J.O'Rourke and Hunter S.Thompson.

    It's always quite an eye-opener to see who wins the P.G.Wodehouse prize for best comic novel. Looking down the list of recent winners:
    2006 - All Fun And Games Until Someone Loses An Eye, Christopher Brookmyre
    2005 - A Short History of Tractors In Ukrainian, Marina Lewycka
    2004 - The Well Of Lost Plots, Jasper Fforde
    2003 - Vernon God Little, DBC Pierre
    2002 - Spies, Michael Frayn
    2001 - The Rotters Club, Johnathan Coe
    2000 - The Mighty Waltzer, Howard Jacobson

    There's a lot of writers on there I wouldn't immediately have tagged as comic novelists, Brookmyre most of all.

    Also I guess that makes Marina Lewycka officially a successful female comic novelist.

    What's the difference between a comic novel and chick lit ? I'm not best placed to answer that.
    I would have guessed that perhaps the level of emphasis between the romance and comedy aspects.
    I don't read chick-lit but a lot of it seems to me like the print equivalent of rom-com movies, although I appreciate that many books tagged as chick-lit probably tackle female issues far more deeply than Nora Ephron or Richard Curtis.

    But yes, there's probably a level of unfairness when a male writer like David Nicholls comes out with Starter For Ten which is clearly a romantic comedy for blokes (although apparently very good) and gets a nice highbrow designation like "comic novelist", while Helen Fielding (clearly hilarious and brilliant) gets filed as chicklit.

    (thinks some more) It doesn't always work like that for male writers though. I'm glad to see that tripe-merchants like Nick Hornby, Mike Gayle and Matt Beaumont are given the suitably dismissive title of "lad lit" rather than "comic novelist" which they clearly don't deserve.

  • Re: Literary fiction - a definition?
    by EmmaD at 10:50 on 08 February 2007
    Kathy Lette's a comic novelist, isn't she? I only know her journalism, which is pretty damn funny.

    And Mary Wesley thought of herself as a comic novelist, I gather - she certainly is funny, though the humour's often pretty black too.

  • Re: Literary fiction - a definition?
    by snowbell at 10:53 on 08 February 2007
    That was a long and thoughtful answer Griff.

    David Nicholls definitely writes romcom - he says so himself along with how he struggled with the idea for a while because he wanted to write Beckettian plays (saw a talk he did, by the way at the Ed fest - not claiming he's been round to tea telling me all this stuff.)

    What's wrong with romcom? Some of the best comic films are romcoms are they not? I thought Ukrainian Tractors was funny. Is that one men are less keen on?

    Yes, but that list is interesting, isn't it?

    On another unrelated note - was thinking about how classics become seen as "literary" even when written for mass market at the time - is there something in the very superficial idea that "literary" means "difficult to read"? After all many older works become difficult to read after a while and therefore can safely fall in this category. Also with some older works, the themes become more about what you study around the book and the period and the ideas of the time and how this is manifested by the work - and not necessarily the trying to do something original of the individual book. For example I studied Frankenstein and Wuthering Heights at university - were either of these considered highbrow at the time? I'm not sure about the notion that literary fiction is trying to do more, or even that it is the heart of innovation. A lot of innovation comes from popular forms and is then "stolen" and drawn attention to by literary works. Is it not the drawing attention to that is more of the point here?

    Sorry I don't know why I'm starting this again as picking over definitions that are not absolute or even very satisfactory seems a bit of a pointless thing to do. (And I'm sure we've been here before). Let's just say rather than a battle or an either/or that i'm just flinging out some ideas here for the hell of it.

  • This 182 message thread spans 13 pages:  < <   1   2   3   4  5  6   7   8   9   10   11   12   13  > >