Writing Forums

Writing Forums is a privately-owned, community managed writing environment. We provide an unlimited opportunity for writers and poets of all abilities, to share their work and communicate with other writers and creative artists. We offer an experience that is safe, welcoming and friendly, regardless of your level of participation, knowledge or skill. There are several opportunities for writers to exchange tips, engage in discussions about techniques, and grow in your craft. You can also participate in forum competitions that are exciting and helpful in building your skill level. There's so much more for you to explore!

What makes a classic a classic? (1 Viewer)

Alberich

Member
I think it true that we universally recognize some works to be classics: "Julius Caesar," "The Sorrows of Young Werther," and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" in the literary world, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and Brahms's "German Requiem" in music, and da Vinci's "Magnificat" in visual art.

But what makes a classic a classic? Is it age? (If so, we are in danger of Bulwer-Lytton becoming a "classic," while "To Kill A MockingbirD" might yet have years to wait.) Popular acclaim? (And if so, are we ready to claim that the Harry Potter works are more deserving of "classic" status than, say, Umberto Eco's or Philip Pullman's works?) Some combination of the two? Or is a classic simply an ethereal concept, a label that can get thrown over whatever syllabus high school language teachers cobble together?

Personally, I would argue that there is some combination of age and popularity required. Harry Potter is hot now, but will he stand the test of time as well as Peter, Edmund, Susan, and Lucy have? Or will the young wizard go the way of the heroes of dime baseball novellas? On the other hand, there are works that, subjectively, I find to be great. But without wider recognition, who would call Bacon's "Colours of Good and Evil" a classic?

I don't know...

At any rate, this seemed like the very forum designed for such musings/rants!

Cheers,
Alberich
 

Mr. Blix

Member
A bunch of English college profs get together in their annual meetings to write a bunch of academic papers about certain novels and to make their students read both the novels and the academic papers. Then they make their students write their own papers about how great the novels are. Poof, classic novel.

*joking*
 
blix got a point there. let me stir up the pot---just a little, with saying that in TODAY'S publishing market it is very unlikely we will see a classic come from the NY Times Bestsellers list. now i realize that certain books started out as such and (here it comes...) later transcended the confinements of mediocrity. Shakespeare, Hemingway, and some other masters who gained widespread public appeal are exceptions, but they lived in a different world. The reading culture is far different today. we are the sound-bite generation and not many people realize the detriment its had on literary quality. i say look for the next classic to be discovered drenched in piss in some basement of a poor slob who croaked believing he was a miserable failure.
 
Last edited:

aliceedelweiss

Senior Member
What I've learned is that a classic is a book with a theme or plot that stays true no matter what year its being read. Which is why you can go and read something like Romeo and Juliet (With the theme of love, still shared today) and call it a 'classic'.

I doubt harry potter will ever be a classic, or anything on the NYT best seller list (I hate best sellers....)

You could say its something just thought up by profs, or that its selling or popular demand but I believe what I have learned. If a book has a theme that can be understood and related to no matter what period it came from or who wrote it, its a classic.

Alice
 
aliceedelweiss said:
What I've learned is that a classic is a book with a theme or plot that stays true no matter what year its being read. Which is why you can go and read something like Romeo and Juliet (With the theme of love, still shared today) and call it a 'classic'.

I doubt harry potter will ever be a classic, or anything on the NYT best seller list (I hate best sellers....)

You could say its something just thought up by profs, or that its selling or popular demand but I believe what I have learned. If a book has a theme that can be understood and related to no matter what period it came from or who wrote it, its a classic.

Alice

using this standard, most every book is a classic. a classic is a book that enthralls one with its deep sense of mystery and magic, that provokes you to look at things in a different way. i can't say that about many books i've read, even though some affected me.
 

Soccah

Senior Member
Timing. The classics are not so much "classic" because they are amazing pieces of fiction, rather, genius because of the form they invented. However, that's not to say that there aren't any great works fiction that were both revolutionary in their invention and exemplarly in their fiction.

Also, we must take into consideration that these classics are by no means universal. They are, generally, the result of european cultural dominance.
 
Last edited:
Soccah said:
Timing. The classics are not so much "classic" because they are amazing pieces of fiction, rather, genius because of the form they invented. However, that's not to say that there aren't any great works fiction that were both revolutionary in their invention and exemplarly in their fiction.

Also, we must take into consideration that these classics are by no means universal. They are, generally, the result of european cultural dominance.


i agree. timing has a great deal to do with the success of a book. but then again some writers have pushed against convention and over time woke the world from its slumber.

it's a matter of time before the classics infect places like the middle east, the far east, etc. consider in Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran she describes women in burkas living in Iran who secretly gather to read the Great Gatsby and Pride and Prejudice.
 
Soccah said:
Timing. The classics are not so much "classic" because they are amazing pieces of fiction, rather, genius because of the form they invented. However, that's not to say that there aren't any great works fiction that were both revolutionary in their invention and exemplarly in their fiction.

Also, we must take into consideration that these classics are by no means universal. They are, generally, the result of european cultural dominance.


i agree. timing has a great deal to do with the success of a book. but then again some writers have pushed against convention and over time woke the world from its slumber.

it's a matter of time before the classics infect places like the middle east, the far east, etc. consider in Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran she describes women in burkas living in Iran who secretly gather to read the Great Gatsby and Pride and Prejudice.

i am quite sure there are "classics" that have been written going unpublished because the publishing industry is so far up mediocrity's ass it won't dare publish a book that challenges the cannons of modern literature.
 

Mungye

Senior Member
I have pondered this question since I was about sixteen. Being raised in an environment where one dressed for dinner, ate without elbows on the table and spoke to rich and poor alike with great courtesy and softness because it was expected, because this manner of behaviour was the accepted standard of the well educated and priveleged since ....well I don't know since when, I thought about it a lot because it was the 'thing' to talk about along with buying property, one's studies and the class struggles.Tolstoy, Faulkner, Hemingway,Pearl S. Buck, ,my beloved Fyodor D-they were standard reading. Wearing well cut simple yet costly clothes.The whole nine yards. I am wondering if it is just that some people with 'culture' who had a love of words and the tapestries they wove deciding in their enriched circles that this and this and no not that was the thing to read. And they brought up their children to do so and so on and so on and one day simply because they had been knocking about in so many rich people's libraries and some radical poor people's homes it somehow became general consenus. People like students who longed for the same words the priveleged read, the housewife who secretly defied her husband and learned to read and got a copy and felt wealthy beyond measure. I don't know. But since poor people traditionally(when I left home I became one of them)could not buy them or have access to them for generations it seems these 'classics' were said to be so by the scholarly and the very priveleged. Did anyone else's opinion, no matter how brilliant ever count?I don't know.
Still that doesn't tell me what a classic is. I may never know I suppose.
 
Many bestsellers do not become classics. I imagine that was true of most time periods. Perhaps modern times have a lower ratio of bestseller to classic, so to speak, but I don't think bestsellers will not become classics. Atwood strikes me as a possibility. Also, I would strongly disagree with the person who said a book will be discovered randomly and become a classic. There is a strong academic following of certain authors outside of the bestseller list. If an author is good, he can get published. She has the means to do it, as much as I don't want to admit because then I could say my works are rejected just because people don't know talent.
 
K

kat8390

all i can say is that the only books that i consider classics in my own definition are books like pride and prejudice, emma, and jane eyre and well several others with the genera, but i think a classic is what ever you want it to be and what ever you consider to be worthy of the title
 

WordBeast

Senior Member
I think what makes a classic a classic, is timelessness and universality. This is why it can be appreciated as fully three hundred years after it was written as it was the day it was first published. It communicates and connects to its readers basic themes about the human condition that they can relate to, regardless of the period and place in which the novel was set.
 

Hodge

pliable
Senior Member
Can't any book do that?


Classics are "classics" because back when they were written, only the nobility really knew how to read. Because of this, few books were produced, so when one DID come out, everyone read it. Immediately. Then they'd sit around and talk about it, and to be quite honest, it's very hard not to find something to like about a book when you analyze it.

So popularity -- aristrocratic popularity, to be precise -- is what makes a classic. Notice that while Herman Melville wrote far more than Moby Dick (and some of it was pretty good), only that book is considered a classic.
 

WordBeast

Senior Member
Hodge said:
Can't any book do that?

I don't think so. Many books that were popular when they were written are now hopelessly dated. They speak to the generation in which they were written, but somehow have lost their topical relevance and universality with the passage of time. Maybe this is a bad example-- but Valley of the Dolls was considered a classic of pulp fiction when it was written in the sixties. Today, the only value I imagine that book having to a reader, would be as a study of a bizarre period piece, or as an opportunity to have an unintentional good laugh.
 
L

Literati

Some current or recent writers I hope are studied in 80 years: Denis Johnson, Junot Diaz, Jhumpa Lahiri, Richard Ford, Annie Proulx, Philip Roth (not much doubt on Roth), Raymond Carver, Dagoberto Gilb, and Andre Dubus Sr.
 
Top