Can Literary Success and Quality Co-Exist?

August 19, 2010

In a fascinating and insightful article, “A Novelist Re-Imagines Shakespeare’s Juliet — and Challenges Literary Snobbery” in the Wall St. Journal, author Anne Fortier talks about her visit to her homeland of Denmark and the change of perspective about art. Ms. Fortier was having lunch with friends when words like “ambitious” and “commercial” starting to fly around…but not in a good way.This was two days before Fortier’s new novel; “Juliet” – about a young lady who thinks she might be related to the teenage Shakespeare made famous – was coming out. When the book came it was hailed as…. ambitious and commercial – oh boy. Even though critics did admit that the book was descent (according to Ms. Fortier) they went out of their way criticize the idea of the book, rather than the book itself.

To their credit, the Danes voted with their money and “Juliet” sold well.

Some critics are quick who damn literature which is not written to please the intellect of those sitting on the high throne of prize committees. However, they forgot that some the books hailed today as classics were either ostracized when they came out (“The Grapes of Wrath“, “Moby Dick” which are among these 6 Great Novels that Were Hated in Their Time) or, as in Shakespeare’s case, were meant to be more of crowd pleasers than win any medals.

After all, even Shakespeare had to eat and his meal ticket was selling seats in the Globe theatre.

One of my favorite stories, “The Three Musketeers” was, after all, a newspaper serial; hence the page to page action and a suspenseful end to each chapter. There is nothing wrong with crowd pleasers, not every novel has to be a deep, moving saga. Sometimes people need a relaxing, funny, thought free book or even a relaxing, thought provoking book that doesn’t take literature to new heights.
Heck, sometimes we need nothing but.

Of course we all have the popular books we love to hate, and that’s fine – but it’s still doesn’t mean that others aren’t allowed to love them.

Do you subscribe to the theory that everything that makes money or that is commercial is garbage?

Can Literary Success and Quality Co-Exist?

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  • Danielle August 19, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    What a thought provoking article! I don't think if something is "commercialized" that it means it is not a good book. A lot of people refuse to read books because they are popular, or a part of Oprah's book club, or they won't read entire genres. I try to be open in my choices, and not pick something based on its popularity, although it is hard to escape sometimes. I agree that not every book has to have some deep intellectual meaning. Sometimes my brain is just not up for that type of reading material. Anyway, to answer your question you posted on my blog, I think The Lady in the Tower is one of Weir's best works, alonside The Six Wives of Henry VIII. Have a great day! PS: That article you linked to was hilarious!

  • IngridLola August 19, 2010 at 7:20 pm

    Hmm, this is a good question. I think that books of literary quality require a bit more work than simply enjoying the narrative of the story. It seems that most readers today simply use books as a sort of escapism. If a book of literary quality were to become very successful today, I think it would be because the narrative appears simple and is entertaining, and that's why people would buy it. In other words, mostly a coincidence.

  • Stacy at A Novel Sou August 25, 2010 at 9:52 pm

    Great post and question! I think oftentimes the literary snobs who are so quick to judge just look for the fanciest, longest words; most complicated sentences and plots that make no sense whatsoever or are so convoluted it's crazy. That's not to say books should be written at an 8th grade level to be good. I don't believe that. But I do think some really awesome books get slighted in the award categories because the sentence structures are not difficult enough (if that makes any sense). There's several categories of novels – and there are many of us who read literary fiction, good – great lit fiction that should have its time on the red carpet and under the bright lights. I can't wait to read Juliet and if the first few lines are any indication I think its going to be a fantastic read. I'll let you know what I think! Thanks for opening up what can be a controversial topic and allowing us to voice our opinions! Us bloggers are good at that 🙂

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