Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Maintaining Some Perspective

By Martha Reed

I managed to discombobulate my MAC over the weekend so out of sheer restlessness I went to my bookcase and picked out the thickest book I could find to keep my mind busy: Vanity Fair by WM Thackeray. I’ve been reading my way through English Literature (Literature with a capital “L”) and I expected a slow slog. What I discovered instead was an engaging read full of well-drawn characters plus some unexpectedly funny editorializing by the narrator in a fully developed modern novel.

Having somehow missed reading Thackeray before, I went online to find out more about him. First off, he epitomized British culture at the time having been born in Calcutta. I tend to think of English authors all living in drafty Vickerages or out on some lonely moor like the Bronte sisters. I forget that these people, especially the active middle-class that gave rise to so many Victorian authors, were international.

The other thing I tend to forget is that these writers wrote for a living. They serialized their novels for popular magazines. (Hey, where did the capital “L” go? What happened to LITERATURE? Grubbing for living?) And it wasn’t just Thackeray; Dickens used to do this, too. He invented the cliffhanger to keep his magazine readers panting for more. Of course, he needed to; he had a wife and 10 children to support.

All of this served as a reminder that the publishing world has been adaptive from the very beginning and that there is nothing wrong with striving to earn a living by writing popular fiction that may occasionally transcend to ART. Now, if I can just get my MAC back up and running, I’ll get back to it!


Joyce Tremel said...

The main difference with the changes in publishing is that they happen faster today. Ten years ago, I never knew there was such a thing as e-books. I think the popular fiction writers in Dickens' day would embrace all these newfangled ways to get published.

Ramona said...

It wasn't that long ago that novels of fiction were considered immoral, a waste of time, and bad for the brain.

Which is what makes them fun!

Martha Reed said...

Well, I've got my MAC back so I'll do my best to add to the immorality!

Patg said...

Boy, you said it about the capital L thing.
Popular fiction and the authors who make a living at it deserve more respect than they get. Think of how much thought has to go into writing on a daily basis and drumming up new ideas. I think we all know this every time we have to do a new blog. Right?