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View Diary: Books Go Boom!   Who is the Greatest Woman Novelist since 1950? (294 comments)

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  •  Jane Austen does seem to be winning handily (4+ / 0-)

    I actually think Eliot wrote greater novels - but that's like saying Beethoven wrote greater music than Mozart, when really he just wrote heavier music. I think there's more in Eliot, because she worked long and hard to put more there. But she lacked Austen's natural grace and, as you say, Austen's immense influence on all who came after her.

    At the time she was writing, Scott was having a far greater impact on the novel. All around the world, people started writing historical novels - even Mark Twain, who hated Scott. But Austen pioneered the romance and the comedy of manners, and those had a gradual but sweeping effect on the 19th and 20th century novel.

    Woolf is brilliant, immensely original, and frequently delightful.

    "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

    by Brecht on Fri Jun 14, 2013 at 11:14:57 PM PDT

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    •  Good call on Austen, Brecht. (2+ / 0-)
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      Brecht, RiveroftheWest
    •  Look, I love & adore Middlemarch: (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Brecht, Portlaw, bookgirl, RiveroftheWest

      the question is, could Eliot have built on what Austen created, if Austen hadn't been there to create it?

      Someone undoubtedly would have created the modern novel if Austen had never published a word.

      But, in fact, she did and in so doing shaped the modern novel as we know it, and that is why she deserves to win your poll.

      What Eliot did was no mean feat -- but the substructure was already there; she didn't have to invent it.

      Same goes for Dickens, actually...and I adore Dickens. But he didn't create the modern novel.

      They all built on what Austen pioneered.

      Irony takes a worse beating from Republicans than Wile E. Coyote does from Acme. --Tara the Antisocial Social Worker

      by Youffraita on Fri Jun 14, 2013 at 11:21:03 PM PDT

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      •  You raise fascinating points. Aiming for brevity: (4+ / 0-)

        I've got no problem with Austen winning the poll for, I'd guess, her lucid readability and the size of her influence.

        In Eliot's corner, she was - amongst stiff competition - perhaps the smartest novelist of the 1800s. Fantastic autodidact, who studied widely for most of her novels, and stretched her skills as she went. She had a larger mind than Austen. But her intellectualism can get in her way, and make her ponderous.

        Austen did shape the modern novel. She didn't create it.

        In Europe, first you get Cervantes. Up through 1850, the novel is a French and English game (with Goethe, Hawthorne and Cooper, and some Russian sparks).

        In England, before Austen, you had Defoe, Fielding, Richardson, Smollett, Sterne and Swift. Austen read most of what they'd written. France had Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot and Prévost. What Austen wrote reads more like a modern novel than anything before her - but she did draw on a lot of preliminary steps.

        Stendhal made a similar leap to Austen, albeit after her and with less grace. Balzac, though, may have had as much influence on the modern novel as Austen did. Wilde said that Balzac was largely responsible for the invention of the nineteenth century. Dickens learned a huge amount from him, as did all the other English, French and Russian novelists. And then Flaubert brought a crystallization of realism, with Madame Bovary. Finally, Dickens himself advanced the novel in many respects. You have to look at Pickwick Papers and chart his course from there, seeing how he kept growing as he went, absorbing new skills. With his serialization he turned the novel from an expensive leather bound objet d'art into magazines that 20 times as many readers could afford, and he worked out the finer details of plotting and keeping readers on the edge of their seats, so they'd come back for more.

        Austen was a visionary pioneer. Balzac, Fielding, Defoe and Dickens were too.

        "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

        by Brecht on Sat Jun 15, 2013 at 01:08:14 AM PDT

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        •  Okay, my rejoinder: (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Brecht, RiveroftheWest

          You are correct in noting all the influences Austen read, and which affected her prose style.

          In England, before Austen, you had Defoe, Fielding, Richardson, Smollett, Sterne and Swift. Austen read most of what they'd written. France had Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot and Prévost. What Austen wrote reads more like a modern novel than anything before her - but she did draw on a lot of preliminary steps.
          Sure, she drew on what came before her: as those who came after drew on what she did.

          She is the mother of us all.

          Dafoe, Fielding, and Swift were nowhere near as good. I can't speak to the rest b/c...well, they aren't important enough for me to have ever run across their work.

          Voltaire? Yes, certainly. But not a modern novel. Picaresque is NOT a "modern novel." It may have its charms, but "modern novel" is not among them.

          Rousseau? Wasn't he a painter? /snark

          Irony takes a worse beating from Republicans than Wile E. Coyote does from Acme. --Tara the Antisocial Social Worker

          by Youffraita on Sat Jun 15, 2013 at 01:17:02 AM PDT

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          •  Isn't it more like a baton that is passed (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            RiveroftheWest, Brecht

            rather than a birthing of something entirely new?  Those who came before Austen were really the creators of the novel form which Austen refined with artistry and wit.  I don't see her as the "mother" of the novel, the "Queen" perhaps, but not the "mother."
            The novel continued to be shaped and reshaped in the 19th and 20th centuries.  Today, new writers are doing the same thing, picking up the baton and running with it.

            It's the Supreme Court, stupid!

            by Radiowalla on Sat Jun 15, 2013 at 09:15:53 AM PDT

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