19th Century Literature

Hallie O'Donovan hallieod at indigo.ie
Tue Jul 31 15:21:13 EDT 2001

>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

Well, I got the point about showing off, but was actually disputing 
the idea that these 19th C novels are the kinds of books people are 
really likely to use to make themselves appear smarter.  I think that 
day is probably fairly long gone.  Hence my comment about Jane 
Austen.  If I wanted to use a book I'd not actually read and enjoyed 
to make myself look smart, I'd go for something gloomy and 20th C, 
preferably French <ducks to avoid flying missiles from er, well, from 
fans of the gloomy and French. :) >, or something very modern and 
incomprehensible. And, whatever the reason that Jane Austen, Dickens 
and the like are being read, they are still being read enough that 
many will have familiarity with them.  You'd want to get a lot more 
obscure to be safe from discovery as a reading fraud, IMO.

>>  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.

I don't buy that.  If *nobody* read, say JA, except for a few 
ultra-elitist types and all the poor miserable school children forced 
to, why would a producer choose to redo a JA?  I can see how this 
point might hold for say, "Clueless", which is a retelling, but not 
for the myriad "straight" JAs, Dickens, Jane Eyre's, Mary Gaskell's 
etc, which have come out in recent years (this side of the Atlantic, 

>>  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.

Ok, I don't know any big-name actors personally (I did sit on Richard 
Burton's lap when I was far too young to appreciate it, but those 
were glory days long gone), so you'll likely discount anything I say 
as suspect.  But the recent film version of Little Women was a pretty 
good example, with a lot of interviews with several of the actresses 
(and the director, though I'm drawing a complete blank on the name 
now) actually going into a fair amount of detail about their reaction 
to the book as children.  The general response to this film was such 
that it was virtually impossible that everyone who had an opinion was 
faking knowledge of the book!  At least, what I heard.

Also, I'm thinking of _The Making of Pride and Prejudice_, and what 
Jennifer Erle said about wanting to play Elizabeth, in a book 
released after the dramatisation was such a huge success.  And a 
variety of others who have played in some of the other Dickens and 
Austen adaptations.  This is coming from someone who never reads any 
of the celebrity mags, either - so you can discount a small 
proportion less for source, maybe. :)

>  > 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.

Fair enough.  But I get a strong feeling that you could come up with 
one study or statistic which you'd feel justified your viewpoint, and 
I could come up with another which I'd feel would justify mine, and 
then we'd be no better off.  Besides, what kind of sales figure would 
you accept as proving your point or setting you straight?  Where 
would you draw a cut-off on percentage of people "claiming" to have 
read a 19th Century classic for pleasure to decide they were or 
weren't popular?  And what about people who were forced into reads 
but then ended up liking the books?  (Becca can supply anecdotes 
here, as a number of her classmates had to choose a few books from a 
class-generated and teacher-supplied combo list.  She'd read _Jane 
Eyre_ already and liked it a lot, but several of her good friends 
ended up loving it (one pretty much only read ballet stories before). 
Lots of the fellas wouldn't go for the "girlie stuff", but were 
really enthusiastic about Mark Twain.)

I'm working on finding the statistics for borrowing from British 
library figures.  There was a small comment in Locus about the 
figures, which offered the tantalizing snippet that only 12 authors 
were over the million-borrowing figures.  Classics were ranked 
separately (as this is about royalties paid based on borrowing 
figures), and A.A. Milne ws top of the list and did make it over the 
million-mark.  But there were no figures to indicate how sharply the 
figures dropped off after Milne, and I couldn't find anything on 
google on a first try.

Anyway, enough disputation for the moment!  Perhaps I've given you 
some understanding of the reason I thought I'd likely be INTJ like 
you lot.  :)

Hallie (who *had* to read a collection of short stories by 
Maupassant, and _L'Etranger_, both in French, for French Leaving Cert 
and would never, never do so again by choice!)

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