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Does Anybody Know What Literature Is?

Tuesday, October 4, 2005
Posted in: Uncategorized

For those of you who aren’t interested in reading the entry below, let me direct you to this little masterpiece by Baby Spears courtesy of Vanessa Jaye’s blog

It is truly the work of a genius *g*

Now, for those of you who can be arsed reading on, here’s today’s stream of consciousness (The Author interview is postponed till I can be arsed)

Can anybody tell me what the definition of literature is? We’ve beaten to death the subject of defining romance, so how about enlightening me on what literature actually is?

I always thought it was a body of work written by a human being, there’s usually a beginning, a middle, and an end, and the books are printed on paper. Am I being too obvious?

When I looked up the word in Dictionary.com, I came across many definitions. For the sake of this blog, the one that I will highlight was this one:

“n 1: creative writing of recognized artistic value”

How about that?

Mark Twain’s The Prince and The Pauper is considered literature, but isn’t that just a children’s classic?

Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland is also considered literature, but once again, for all intents and purposes it’s a flaming children’s book.

Elizabeth and Darcy’s push and pull routine in Pride and Prejudice bear all the hallmarks of a romance, yet it’s ‘respectfully’ categorised as fictional literature in my local library. How come?

Even Jane Austen herself (allegedly) took the piss out of it in a letter to her sister. I bet she’s laughing her head off at the thought that her work is taken so seriously. Am I blaspheming when I say that?

Maybe it’s because P&P was written millions of years ago, before man evolved? Or maybe it’s because of the lack of gratuitous sex… hmmm, I’ll have to ruminate about that for a while.

Dickens wrote about misers, murderers, and cruel school masters, yet when was the last time you heard anybody label his work as suspense, mysteries, or children’s stories? Yet some of his work could easily be categorised in all of the above. (OK, Oliver Twist was a little dark, but hey, even Shrek was scary in parts)

When people throw the word literature around, what the hell are they actually talking about? Why can one book be labelled literature, yet others are sometimes (scornfully) referred to as romance, or mysteries even? Is a romance book not considered creative writing of recognised artistic value?

Hmmmm…. ‘tis a puzzlement.

I hope that some of you out there will be able to shed some light on this for me.