Friday, March 7, 2014

Literary periods, movements, and all sorts of other fun

I'm in the middle of a few reviews which I've had a tough time finishing, for some reason. So, I thought, why not do the meme over at the Classics Club (which I've been neglecting the past few months)?

What is your favorite "classic" literary period and why?
First, a little background on literary periods and movements in general. Some people have mentioned that they don't really know which authors belong to which periods, etc. I wouldn't call myself an expert on literary history, but I've been studying it for over 3 years, so I do know a thing or two about it.

One thing that seems to confuse people is the difference between literary periods and literary movements. So, in case you're wondering, here's my understanding of periods and movements: A period is simply a space in time, but it's often confined to a certain part of the world. So, anyone who wrote during that time period, in that particular place, was part of that period. A movement, on the other hand, is when a bunch of authors decided to write in a certain way at a certain time. So, not everyone in the country at the time is actually part of the movement.

Movements are kind of tricky, at least for me. Some people are very obviously part of a certain movement. For example, Dante Gabriel Rosetti was clearly a Pre-Raphaelite. No doubt about that. Emerson was obviously a Transcendentalist. But what about authors that didn't firmly identify with a particular movement? There are about a million and one authors that have been identified as "realists," it seems. "Modernism" is another sketchy one.

Another problem is that we often lump authors into a certain period or movement and make assumptions about them. Not all Enlightenment writers were all about science, for example. We focus on certain important aspects of the literary period and then assume that these characteristics were shared among all the authors.

For these reasons, I'm a little wary of talking about literary periods. I've never found that there was one literary period, or even literary movement, that really resonated with me. Every time I started thinking about a period I really liked, I'd immediately think, "But wait, I don't like so-and-so from that era very much..."

There are certain periods that I do feel drawn to, though. So, after that long introduction, here's my actual answer to the question:

My first response would be Modernism. I'm positively fascinated by some Modernists, like Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Forster, Woolf, and various others. On the other hand, there are Modernists I really dislike, like Faulkner, Joyce, Lawrence, and even *please do not throw stones* T.S. Eliot. I really don't like when Modernists get on their ultra-high horse. And they do. A lot.

I've also always been drawn to the Victorians. I feel like Victorianism is the first time period where the literature felt so genuine and sincere. They told things the way they were and weren't as afraid of taboo subjects. I love George Eliot, Christina Rosetti, Tennyson, Gaskell, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Matthew Arnold...and the list goes on. But I feel very lukewarm about Dickens. And I'm not sure that any person who feels lukewarm about Dickens really deserves to be called a lover of the Victorians. (Please tell me I'm wrong!)

Lower down on the list, I'm a little more interested in 18th-century literature than I used to be (Pamela and Evelina had a part in changing my mind), and I've also found more of an interest in the Romantics lately (Romanticism--period? Movement? I don't know anymore!).

Basically, I don't have a favorite literary period. (Yes, it took me this long to actually come to this conclusion. Sigh. Conciseness isn't my strong suit.) I do have some periods I emphatically do not enjoy (Classical, Postmodern, ancient). But, probably like most people, I can find something to like about most literary periods.

P.S. If you're more interested in reading what I think about the authors I've mentioned, please click the links. Aside from the first link to the Classics Club, they are all links to my own past posts, not affiliated sites or anything like that. I'm not trying to make money off you--I'm just trying to make my past content accessible. Thanks! 


  1. I'm the same; I can usually find something to like in just about every literary period. I think studying literature also helped with that. You get to try reading things you might never have thought of.

    I'm also a fan of the Victorians. I don't think it's necessary to love Dickens, though; the period is full of wonderful writers who sometimes get overshadowed by Dickens. :)

  2. Hi, I recently discovered your blog, and I love it so far. Lovely and insightful posts that you write :-D.

    Very interesting what you said about periods and movements. I think it usually happens that when you delve deeper into any subject you soon realise tags and classifications can only get you so far.

    And I can't even begin to tell you how much I agree with you regarding T.S. Eliot, so, no, you won't have me throwing stones.

    And of course it's alright not to love Dickens, it just means you have your own (informed) opinion, which is good.

    Bye :-).

    1. Thank you for coming; I'm glad you like my blog! Definitely true about classifications--there comes a point when they just don't work anymore. I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels that way about Eliot! And thank you for the reassurance about Dickens. :)

  3. You don't have to love Dickens :) Personally, I think Dickens is a bit hit and miss. There's some novels which are genius (in my mind), and others that simply don't cut it.

    "I feel like Victorianism is the first time period where the literature felt so genuine and sincere" - I love that. Exactly how I feel :)

    1. Thank you for that reassurance; I really want to love Dickens, but I just can't find it in me. Maybe someday.

      Thank you! I actually feel like I should specify that I was talking specifically about British literature; I don't see as clear a divide of sincerity in other literatures (for instance, I'm not sure that American literature got very sincere until the very end of the 19th century). I guess that's an entirely different subject...

  4. I don't love Dickens either! Half the time, I don't even like him much. We can be outcasts together :-)

  5. Hello Emily, just wanted to let you know I've nominated you for the Sunflower Blogger Award: