A Novel Idea

The novel is a work “..in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best–chosen language.”  (Northanger Abbey, Chapter 5, by Jane Austen)

Dear Jane,

I shudder to think what you would make of most novels today.  Few, if any, aspire to the heights of grandeur with which you credit the novels of your day.  Of course, many critics and literary professionals will say you were being witty, or clever, or tongue-in-cheek when you wrote that.  Maybe so.  But let’s think about it for a moment.

How many of us can remember the first time we met Elizabeth Bennet?  Alice in Wonderland?  Dorothy Gale?  What about Captain Nemo or Ivanhoe or The Scarlet Pimpernel?  How thrilling to see these characters come to life through the words of the authors!  How exciting to be courted by Mr. Darcy, to have tea with the Mad Hatter, or to outwit the French regime at the side of Sir Percy Blakeney!

Some novels, the enduring ones, do display such greatness, bringing to life ourselves through the lives of its characters.  Are there any such novels, such writers, today, or are they all, now, relegated to “the classics,” and doomed to extinction because no one reads them?  Heaven forbid!  I think of Maeve Binchey, J. K. Rowling, Amy Tan – these writers show us humankind with “wit and humour,” and show us ourselves in their creations.  Who do you think aspires to this grandeur that Jane Austen describes?  I would love to hear from you!



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