Sunday, February 05, 2006

When is a Writer Like a Lava Lamp?

There is an awkward period in the lives of clothes, furniture and writers, when they become something more than dated but something less than a piece of history. We call things that have reached this state ‘unfashionable’, and usually throw such stuff away without thinking any more about it ...
writes Colin Burrow in the London Review of Books, describing novelist Anthony Burgess as:
.... a 1960s sideboard of a writer ...
Tastes change. Authors fall horribly out of fashion. Never noticed it when I was younger, but I've realised that many of the writers I read back then are no longer talked about on literary pages, no longer to be found in the bookshops, not read by posers on the tube, not studied on courses. Burgess, John Fowles, William Golding and perhaps D.H. Lawrence don't seem to be enjoying too much popularity at the moment, although all are held in great respect. (Who would you say is missing from the list?)

An obituary creates a brief flurry of attention. A controversial biography revives interest for a while among the literatti if not the general public.

The Hollywoodisation of your life works best, though it seems you have to be as loopy as a carousel (ala Iris or Sylvia) if you want to achieve big-screen immortality.

But books which still have something to say to future generations will eventually be rediscovered. And that in the end is the acid-test of a classic.

6 comments:

The Great Swifty said...

Maybe because these guys have never actually appealed to the mainstream public even during their time, so even if they were being regarded highly after their deaths, they don't really get the insane popularity Dickens has today. It's not as if they're completely forgotten.

I mean, I'm sure Calvino or Eco won't really be forgotten, but since they aren't Gaiman (in terms of commercial appeal), so the masses don't really know about them that well.

Anna said...

No Sharon, you are not a postcolonial hangover. You are more of an historian trying to build a bridge between the past and the present.

bibliobibuli said...

eliar - hmmm ... i was searching my brain earlier for some more popular writers who had fallen from grace ... how about dennis wheatley? and if you say "who?", it just goes to show ... question is, will popular writers also enjoy a revival or are they so ephemeral that future readers can do without them ... to be poetic, time is the great winnowing tray ...

bibliobibuli said...

anna - thanks for your vote of confidence!

Sharanya said...

Hi Sharon,

Did you hear that Betty Friedan just passed away? :(

bibliobibuli said...

i did now!