19th Century Literature

Jacob Proffitt Jacob at Proffitt.com
Mon Jul 30 18:02:24 EDT 2001

---Original Message From: Hallie O'Donovan
> Why would people exaggerate 
> their liking for older novels when we're also reading texts which are 
> a lot more modern?  If *I* wanted to sound smart, as opposed to 
> talking about which books I love and which I'd like to study, I'd 
> talk about someone other than Jane Austen.

Smart people are often depicted as those who can talk about older
novels.  Thus, talking about older novels is one way to appear smarter.
The obscurer, the better, but best are topics that are familiar enough
that people might partially recognize them without having actual

> But why the popularity of these films, tv series, etc?

Because artists commonly refer to past stories to write current art.
Shakespeare is the most popular example, but really, a lot of people
look to the power of a proven story to inspire a modern retelling.  If
you aren't sure of your own material, it makes sense to look at
something that has a track record.  Or at least, to delve for ideas in
the scrap-heap of history.

> Isn't it more 
> than common to hear the directors, screenwriters, and often actors 
> talking about how they loved the original book and were desperate to 
> be involved in the filming?

More than common?  I don't think so.  Emma Thompson aside, how many
actors do you know of who jump at a chance to be in a period piece?
Sure, the promotional material accompanying a new release talks about
how excited everyone is to be involved in their new release.  They talk
about how much they adore the original, but I find anything said in a
press release, or promotional snip suspect.

> I'm not kidding, the taxi-driver today in Edinburgh asked what I was 
> studying, and when he heard it was Literature, scoffed at the idea of 
> this as "work".  He then asked what I was reading now, and hadn't 
> heard of _Top Girls_ (1980s, British play), but knew all about _A 
> Doll's House_, (including the re-written version for the German 
> stage) and was amazed that I hadn't read all Ibsen's other plays. 
> More anecdote, I know.  But sometimes, Jacob, hard cold stats are a 
> lot less satisfying than a sense of things.  To me at least.

Frankly, I find cold hard stats less satisfying than a sense of things,
too.  It's just that my sense of things is counter to yours (and, well,
apparently a lot of people on the list).  When two people disagree with
their sense of things, then it's usually up to cold hard facts to set
them straight.  Which is kind of how the topic got started--because I
disagreed with the original statement of the popularity of Victorian
works in general and we didn't know any sales figures or studies that
would set me straight.

Jacob Proffitt

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