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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.


  • Rocio
    October 5
    12:55 am

    well in all the human expression known as art, they are a few “experts” who seem to determine good from bad. Even though we all know that in taste and apreciation there’s no law!


  • Sam
    October 5
    9:51 am

    Methinks you traipse where angels fear to tread, lol.
    I would say literature is to something you can read as a painting is to something you can look at and music is to something you can hear.
    Now take in consideration the human beings penchent for putting things in catagories and trying to weed out the good from the bad, and you get confusion. I really think people get confused when they use words. They are starting to associate highbrow or intellectual literature with just plain literature – maybe because the word has more than one syllable. Romance books gets dumped on, sure, but so does anything that doesn’t please the eye, ear, or brain of the beholder who is dumping. (lol)
    I personally think that one must please oneself and not fall into the ‘Emperors New Clothes’ syndrome and go along with what everyone is raving or ranting about. It is a question of taste and education, and there are whole worlds od disparity there.
    And I don’t think anyone looks in the dictionary anymore, because then you wouldn’t get the heaving and frothing at the mouth over words like porn. 😉


  • Dawn
    October 5
    11:32 am

    Well, what is written on the back of a cornflakes box could be considered literature. Some of it is quite interesting.

    Even that I might read something that is absolute pants, it is still literature, though bad literature IMO.


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