Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Literary Blog Hop: June 22-25

Welcome to the Literary Blog Hop hosted by The Blue Bookcase!

This blog hop is open to blogs that primarily feature book reviews of literary fiction, classic literature, and general literary discussion.

How do I know if my blog qualifies as "literary"? Literature has many definitions, but for our purposes your blog qualifies as "literary" if it focuses primarily on texts with aesthetic merit. In other words, texts that show quality not only in narrative but also in the effect of their language and structure. YA literature may fit into this category, but if your blog focuses primarily on non-literary YA, fantasy, romance, paranormal romance, or chick lit, you may prefer to join the blog hop at Crazy-for-books that is open to book blogs of all kinds.

Instructions for entering the Literary Blog Hop:

1. Grab the code for the Button.

1. Grab the code for the Button.

Literary Blog Hop

2. Answer the following prompt on your blog.
(Suggestions for future prompts? Email to them us at

Should literature have a social, political, or any other type of agenda? Does having a clear agenda enhance or detract from its literary value?

This week's answer comes from Connie:

I chose this question, because I ask it of myself quite frequently. My initial instinct is to answer (a little self-righteously), No, literature is an observation and interpretation of life, and any conscious attempt to incite social or political change taints it.

Examples that immediately come to mind are Charlotte Bron's hunk of a novel, Jane Eyre. We discussed this in the comments of Meagan's review of A Room of One's Own, but I happen to agree with Virginia Woolf when she says that Brontë's talent was made less by her digressions from the story to bemoan the female cause, like so:
Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags.
These not-so-subtle diatribes have no place in a novel, in my opinion. It interrupts and detracts from the story. So, thinking of Jane Eyre and Brontë's method of executing her agenda (whether I agree with the agenda or not, and I happen to), I am inclined to reassert that literature should NOT have an agenda.

BUT, it is not so simple, my friends. Did you really think it could be? If you remember when I listed my top ten favorite books of all time, I listed George Orwell's 1984 at the top of the list, and Orwell is one of my favorite authors. However, Orwell, a converted communist, openly acknowledges his political agenda in writing both Animal Farm and 1984:
I wanted to kill the "Russian myth:" the myth that the Soviet Union was a working model of what a socialist state would be like. That was nothing but a lie. I wrote a history of the Russian Revolution and called it Animal Farm... 
I also wanted to write a book about a totalitarian future in the real world. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, I tried to dramatize how totalitarianism could take over, even in countries like England which have a long democratic tradition.
These two books contain some unarguably pronounced agendas, and yet, 1984 in particular is one of the most profound and truly frightening commentaries on human nature ever written, not to even speak of the incomparable writing style. 

And then I think of Jane Austen, who used her writing career to subtly express her desire for social change, particularly in regards to women and marriage. 

It seems that many of the canonized works of literature have been written with an agenda, so my original inclination proves false. I must conclude, then, that though literature shouldn't necessarily be written with an agenda, it can still prove excellent literature if and only if it is executed with great skill, enhancing the story rather than detracting from it.

This post is already quite lengthy, which is a shame, because I also wanted to bring up books like Uncle Tom's Cabin or The Jungle, books that, like 1984, have a clear political agenda, but which are of a much lower quality than Orwell's work (Stowe is unbearably sentimental, and Sinclair is painfully verbose). However, they did spark such great societal and political changes, so do the effects of their publication negate their lower quality? A discussion for another day, perhaps :)

All right, it's your turn to weigh in. What do YOU think?
3. Add your link to the Linky List below.Happy Hopping!

*PLEASE NOTE: if you do not answer the question and link back to The Blue Bookcase in a post on your blog, you will be removed from the Linky list.