Genre prejudice

Hallie O'Donovan hallieod at
Wed Jul 16 07:21:36 EDT 2003


>I am still looking for a fan of literary fiction who can explain to me what
>they see in it.  In some ways they are a remarkably inarticulate bunch.

I'm sure I wouldn't be the one to explain it, even if it turned out I 
was a fan of literary fiction, but I still can't even figure out if I 
am or not. :-)  I read Wolverton's article with as much interest as 
when Melissa posted it last time, though perhaps a little more 
critically this time.   And at first I thought of myself as someone 
who didn't read 'literary fiction' either (excluding 19th century 
fiction here), and then got to wondering.  I know this type of 
classification is always impossible, and I'm not looking for rules or 
a definition, or wanting to debate whatever anyone says on this - 
just a way of understand what Melissa (here, but not exclusively) is 
talking about when discussing this other genre.

Other than a working definition of literary fiction as 'something 
boring which most people can't understand that has no plot and is 
relevant to about 50 literary snobs world-wide', which doesn't seem 
too valuable, I'm kind of stuck.  Booker Prize winners 'should' 
qualify, right?  But the few on the list that I've read are about as 
unlike the things I'd expect from Wolverton's article as possible. 
Similarly with other big, important literary prizes.  And again, I'm 
not looking for a debate on the merits of any of these prizes, just 
attempting to consider characteristics of novels which one would 
assume are likely to be accepted by 'highbrow' literary types as 
literary fiction.  Mind you, I'd imagine there was some muttering 
when _Paddy Clark Ha Ha Ha_ won.


>>  But can you list some feminist texts that don't fit within the 
>>broad theory, Robyn?
>Well, a lot of the feminists texts that sprang to mind also had 
>magic realist elements. However, some authors who spring to mind are 
>(in no particular order, just ones I have read or taught recently): 
>early Jeannette Winterson, AS Byatt, Fay Weldon (who specialises in 
>overturning assumptions about literary conventions and personal 
>relationships), Carol Shields, and Angela Carter. I think there are 
>others, like Margaret Atwood, who are harder to defend.

Sorry, Robyn, I'm not so clear on Margaret Atwood: do you mean that 
she's harder to defend as not fitting with the broad theory 
(Wolverton's, right?), or harder to keep within the category of 
literary fiction because of her usual speculative fiction 
classification?  I've just finished my first Atwood, and was really 
interested to hear before reading it, that a (late) New Yorker editor 
thought she was wonderful.   The combination seemed  more than a 
little unlikely in light of Wolverton's article.

Hallie (reading _Who Got Rid of Angus Flint?_ for the first time, and 
chuckling over the aptness of 'You must watch Battered Brides.  It's 
very profound' to this discussion.)
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