When I was twelve and playing Authors with my friends, Victor Hugo was a major literary figure, but so too were Stevenson and Longfellow. After many years in the study of literature, Hugo (and Stevenson and Longfell0w) were moved to a lesser rung and received that academic curse that relegates them to the wire rack down and the drugstore .. popular writers. Many people rebel against this somewhat subjective (but hardly permanent) designation: there are good reasons why Stephen King is not dominating the Freshman syllabus in the English Department at the University. Unfortunately too many readers blame the academics for not recognizing the wealth of literary excellence to be found in Harry Potter. I’m certain I could find a dozen readers who would insist that Fifty Shades of Gray be taught in an honors seminary at the university (in the English Department, not Health Sciences). Fifty or a hundred years from now if Anne Rice is still remembered, her works just might be read, studied, and overanalyzed by academics … but a safer bet would be that no one will remember Anne Rice.
It is a typically American condition to have a part-time grocery clerk know more about literature (or anything else) than the experts in the field. I know the brain surgeon in this area always calls me up for advice just before a tricky operation.
The opposite is also true: there are many works of fiction that are receiving a great deal of academic attention today that may fade and sink fast (ask the estate of Thomas Wolfe).
What current authors will withstand the test of time and have their works become true classics? I’ll start a list of authors but I’m guessing they won’t all survive:
- Don DeLillo
- Stephen Boyd
- Philip Roth
- Beryl Bainbridge
- Elizabeth Taylor
- Saul Bellow
- John Barth
- Raymond Federman
- Thomas Pynchon
- J. D. Salinger
- Anne Rice
- William T. Vollmann
- Steven King
- Jean Auel
- John Updike
- Stephen Dixon
- T. C. Boyle
- Joyce Carol Oates
I could go on and on and everyone has their own authors to add to the list. Which of today’s authors do you think will still be read in 2112? Which will be forgotten?
So I nominate Victor Hugo as being a popular writer of fiction which still thrills readers to this day. Unfortunately, like so many other authors of that time period, Hugo’s works are big fat books and require some dedication to read them. They also require patience with the prose styles of 19th century romanticism. One last point: for the most part the works of Victor Hugo depict lives that seldom were filled with sunshine and giggles.
When I was a senior in High School one of the girls in the English class gave an oral book report on Les Misérables and everyone listening to the harrowing story of Jean Valjean was not too cheery. I must say that it sounded worse than The Vicar of Wakefield which has always been my most depressing novel. So what did I get for Christmas this year?
There is a connection: on Christmas Day the Ladies of the Cul-de-Sac and I all went to the movies and saw the newest rendition of Victor Hugo’s classic, Les Misérables in technicolor and surround sound. The cinematography was finest-kind and the movie was only a little boring (unless you’re getting tired of all the CGI), but the ladies all got to see oodles of Hugh Jackman so they loved it. The trick in this movie was not only did all the actors sing their own parts but the singing was also done in real-time and not dubbed in afterwards. The women in the movie—Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, and Samantha Barks—were all quite good and showed some color in their singing that was at times tender, poignant, or stirring. But I still haven’t decided if two and a half hours of Russell Crow “singing” in a near monotone was worth enduring. Add to that an almost equally tedious Hugh Jackman and I was hurting. And then I found that the modern movie theater seats are demonically designed to make it impossible to get out of your seat and head to the crying room for a few fast games of Angry Birds. What if I had had to go to the men’s room?
I don’t often go to the movies and I seldom find a film I really want to see that I can’t wait for on Netflix or cable, but I thought this one was interesting because it was from a book I never was able to finish. Should I give it another try or maybe one of those other Hugo novels on the shelf or on the iPad. I’d read it in French but I would assuredly be dead before I ever finished it. Maybe some day when I’m feeling bubbly I’ll let old Jean Valjean destroy my good mood with his pathos.
Can you imagine in today’s world a group of insurgents throwing up a barricade on Times Square and threatening the overthrow of the government with a dozen Bushmaster .223 assault rifles? Don’t kid yourself; they’re out there.
11 thoughts on “Victor Hugo and Company”
Interesting, WP just blitzed my comment and I am forced to start over.
My website is the more complete “list” I was referring to. I have keep a record of reading and books for 17 years now (the weblog is a recent addition). Look around.
Not liking Acker is fine but she is far more than a naughty book writer … she is also an inventive plagiarist. Compare her works to those of Angela Carter and William S. Burroughs .. and don’t forget her college mentor, David Antin.
WP ALWEAYS SEEMS TO DELETE INTERESTING COMMENTS OR IAMGERY ONE DEIGNS TO ADD TO THEIR BLOGS – FORCING ONE TO “START OVER”… BRING ME BACK TO YOUR COMMENTS R.E. PLAGIARISM… BURROUGHS WASN’T EVEN THAT GOOD A WRITER – THOUGH I DO AGREE THAT WE NEED SUCH FOLK TO CHURN THE BARREL OF INVENTIVE DESIGN ETC… I WOULDN’T BEASKING PERMISSION OF YOU, SIR, AS TO WHETHER IT WAS “FINE” FOR ME TO LIKE ACKER OR NOT… DEMOCRATIC THOUGHT ISN’T SOMETHING ONE SHOULD FEEL THREATENED ABOUT ENGAGING WITH.
I FEEL I HAVEN’T READ HALF ENOUGH AS I SHOULD HAVE. THOUGH I DO FEEL AFTER ONE HAS READ AND READ… THAT SHOULD ONE CEASE TO PICK UP A PIECE OF LITERAURE THAT THOSE CEREBRAL SPECTRES INSTIGATE DEVIOUS TRAITS WITHIN ONE’S MIND – I THINK THE AESTHETES CALL THAT “DIGESTING”… PERHAPS IT’S WISE NOT TO “DIGEST”?
ONE WOULD THINK, WHEN PLAGIARISM IS MENTIONED, THAT THE AUTHOR IN QUESTION MUST BE A JUNKIE AND HAS DELVED INTO HER SUB-CONSCIOUS TO REANIMATE THE FACTS OF VISUAL INTERACTION WITH THE WORLD…
I WILL MAKE A THOROUGH TRAWL THROUGH YOUR WEBSITE WHEN I CAN….
A LOT TO READ MAYBE I SHOULD GET TO THE NEAREST THRIFT STORE (OXFAM0 WHEN I CAN…
THE EKLEKTIK (THE BLOG NO ONE SEEMS TO BE ABLE TO COMMENT UPON)
AS TO CAPS.. YOUR PROVERBIAL HEADACHE IS NOTED… BUT COMPUTER KEYBOARD, AS I KEEP STRESSING, SEEMS TO HAVE A MIND OF ITS OWN – AND FLICKS FROM SMALL CAPS TO LARGE CAPS IRRESPECTIVE OF MY WISHES… KATHY ACKER ISN’T MY CUP OF TEA – AS I AM TIRED OF PORN MASQUERADING AS EXPERIMENTAL PROSE… I WILL CHECK OUT SOME OF THE AUTHORS YOU LISTED AND WILL GET BACK TO YOU REGARDING WHAT I THINK OF THEM… I WAS ACTUALLY LOOKING FOR SOMETHING WITTY – MY HEARTY LAUGHTER WHERE GARGANTUA AND PANTAGRUEL IS CONCERNED WAS ALSO CONDEMNED AS MY BEING OVERTLY NOISEY FOR THE SAKE OF IT.. I CAN ASSURE YOU THAT I HAVE NEVER LAUGHED SO MUCH IN ALL MY LIFE WHILST READING THIS BIT OF BAWDY PROSE… IT SHOULD, TIRESOME I KNOW, BE MADE INTO A BIT OF A CINEMATIC CLASSIC – PERHAPS DEL TORO OR GILLIAM SHOULD TRANSFER THIS FROM PAGE TO CELLULOID????
CAN YOU SEND COMPLETE LINK FOR A MORE THOROUGH TRAWL THROUGH THE AUTHORS YOU HAVE LISTED??????
P.S. IF YOU, YOURSELF, HAVE WRITTEN SOEMTHING.. I WOULDN’T MIND A READ….
WOULDN’T IT BE WORHTWHILE INDULGING WITH THE OBSCURE ARTIST? SURE DICKENS IS A POPULAR WRITER. THOUGH HE IS ACCUSED OF DEFAMING THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE AND EXPLOITING THE EMOTIVE AS A MEANS TO CREATING SYMPATHETIC LITERATURE… I MEAN IF EITHER OF YOU COULD LIST OBSCURE WRITERS WORTHY OF READING I WOULD BE UP FOR STUDYING THIS OBSCURE SLANT R.E THE LIERATURE OF WORTH AS AGAINST ACADEMIA…
THE HEARING TRUMPET IS WORTH DECIPHERING – WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THIS BOOK?
HOW ABOUT UNICA ZURN????????
P.S. I MENTIONED FEMALE AUTHORS DUE TO MY DESIRE TOGET AWAY FROM THE OBLIGATORY BRONTE FILCH…
On selections from world literature there is always the problem of translations into English, especially from obscure authors. However, you might be surprised how some of these authors are latched onto by the academic discipline of Comparative Literature. Here they might even be read in the original language.
But whether in translation or the VO, we read and comment on a great number of more obscure authors from around the world. Here are a few suggestions from my recent reading and my overstuffed bookshelves (but check out the site for a more complete list):
William Eastlake, Evan Dara, Ben Marcus, Nicholas Mosley, Jacques Roubaud, Dimitru Tsepeneag, Ronald Firbank, Ann Quin, Horacio Castellanos Moya, Mary Caponegro, Victor Pelevin, Osman Lins, Clarice Lispector, Jim Krusoe, G. Cabrera Infante, Michel Butor, Adolfo Bioy Casares, Sandor Marai, Carole Maso, Ricki Ducornet, Kathy Acker … the list is as long as you want it to be.
None of these authors are actually obscure, especially in their own country, but far too few people around the world are reading them instead of the commercial crap publishing houses put out for profit without concern for literary or experimental value.
As a side note, ALL CAPS gives me a headache and reminds me of the IBM hegemony of the 1960s and ’70s. I suspect it is a part of your online persona and I understand … but it is the online equivalent of shouting and can get tedious.
I agree with your post, however, just occasionally an author gets reappraised. As a teen I was fond of Dickens, but here in UK academics thought little of him since he was merely a “popular write”. Latterly he’s back as a subject of serious study again.
That’s why I suggested that academic opinions are not permanent. Dickens was not well thought of when I went to college either but has since grown in status. Another US author that has lost the allure of academia is Theodore Dreiser. I do think, however, that some of the reborn interest in some authors is simply the logistics of scrambling grad students trying to find something new to write about in their theses and let’s not forget the ability of a movie tie-in to generate interest in a book and its author.
Yes, I’m sure you are correct. The Phd industry continually needs feeding with material.
MY INITIAL COMMENT BEING ALONG THE LINES OF MY NOT SEEING MUCH VIRTUE IN THE GENIUS OF HUGO.. WE COULD ACTUALLY DISCUSS HIS STANCE R.E. ROYALIST/REPUBLICAN CIRCLES… HE WAS SOMETHING OF A REACTIONARY WHEN ALL IS SAID AND DONE.. AS FOR CELINE – MY CANNONN FODDER BOOK – A COPY WHICH HAD THE WOODCUTS OF WILD BILLY CHILDISH ADDED TO IT – WAS STOLEN AFTER I CONTACTED YOU ABOUT THE WRITER AND HIS ANTI/PRO STANCE REGARDS SEMITIC PEOPLES… AS FOR THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, WHICH I SAW ONLY LAST NIGHT, MY ONLY THOUGHTS BEING:I WONDER IF THIS FILM WOULD LOOK ANY BETTER RE-COLOURED (AS THEY HAVE DONE WITH THE OLD ALI SIM’S VERSION OF SCROOGE/XMAS CAROL… ANYHOW; HAVE A HAPPY XMAS ETC ETC ETC ETC AND A DECENT 2013.
AS FOR THE BARRICADES BEING SPRUNG INTO ACTION IN AND AROUND THE USA.. NAWWW; THE ROMANTICISM OF REVOLUTION WAS DAMPENED DURING YOUR OWN CIVIL WARS… THE CARPET BAGGING NATURE OF YOUR NATION’S POPULATION SUGGESTS THAT SUFFERING IS ONLY EASED WITH THEFT AND EMPTY RHETORIC….
ALL THE BEST
Two comments: first, your statement that you are “not seeing much virtue in the genius of Hugo” opens amazing possibilities for analysis: is virtue the key word or genius? Some might consider that Lenny Bruce was a genius of value without much virtue; second, I agree that much of the romanticism of revolution has been leeched out of the American psyche but there have been a few short-lived bubbles of revolutionary spirit in recent years, which sadly were crushed by the plutocracy with sanctioned violence.
SHAME IF MY INITIAL COMMENT DIDNT GET THRU TO YOU…