The Quality and Nature of Classic Fiction

I read the Count of Monte Cristo (an abridged version) for school and was struck by how much the plot resembled that of a Korean drama even if it was more eloquent and complex.

So why are most popular novelists and novels often panned by critics (for example apparently Stephen King receiving a literery award faced condemnation from many people) even though their plots and characters are often more realistic than stuff by Dickens or Dumas? Many popular novelists do raise important themes and questions just like Dumas dwelled on themes of revenge and God in CMC. And that makes me ask two more questions: Are there any writers considered a truly living class writer today who writes largely straightforward fiction rather than being symbolic, using stream-of-consciousness, and otherwise being nontraditional in their narrative methods? Also should writers who consider truly original and creative fictional worlds (such as HP Lovecraft) or create ingenious techniques of crime be considered good writers just like writers who create memorable characters or use good imagery?

The most critically acclaimed American novelist of the 19th century was Mrs. E.D.E.N. Southworth. I doubt you’ve heard of her. The most critically reviled was probably Herman Melville, for that piece of crap novel, Moby Dick. Whaling? Really?

My point is that critical tastes change over time. Critics can only judge works based upon the standards of their time. So they’ll miss some books that later become popular.

Also, when you say panned by critics, what critics do you mean? There are plenty of serious literary critics who are coming around the view that King may be a major American writer. And there are plenty of literary critics who are happy with straightforward fiction. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay won a Pulitzer, after all, and Chabon has a very strong literary reputation and has also won a Hugo Award and a Nebula Award.

I think that ultimately, you can’t generalize about what literary fiction is (John Cheever, Philip Roth, and John Updike were not “symbolic, using stream-of-consciousness, and otherwise being nontraditional in their narrative methods,” while John Barth, who does, has seen his reputation diminish after** Letters**.)

Ok, but how did such a schlocky writer like Dickens enter the canon? His themes are a joke: they boil down to, “Life would be better if everyone were nicer to one another.” Cite, from an author who admittedly had a richer perspective than myself. Bah.

I haven’t read CMC, but there’s no denying the work’s influence. It’s been imitated and remade a bazzillion times after all.

I think Dickens gets included because he is representative of something - and a well written version of the something he is representative of. Dickens wrote popular literature of his time, but 150 years later, people still read Dickens, probably more important for Dickens they still experience Dickens - through plays and film. Had A Christmas Carol not entered holiday tradition, he probably would have faded to obscurity.

Stephen King may end up similar - ask in 100 years or so. (And I disagree slightly with RealityChuck - there are American critics and academics who have been calling King “major” for thirty years already - not just as millionaire writer of best selling schlock, but as a writer whose schlock is going to stick around, as Dickens has, you don’t hear the same things about Michael Crichton or John Grisham or Tom Clancy).