The common misconception that literature is a weak and exclusive art form is a statement that is too often agreed upon and one that needs addressing. This is because for many, the library shelves that are home to hundreds and thousands of works, appear to be inadvertently reserved for an elitist class and culture. Although, we as individuals are also partly to blame.
it is our subconscious preferences that means we intentionally cut an opportunity to discover, short. The appeal of a book for children, for instance, is often dictated by the illustrations, font and images; meanwhile young adults – who wield plenty of free time – may choose to be ironically pedantic about the length of a book.
For the remaining group of people, in a digitalising age where the ‘grandeur’ of the novels and script is being timelessly challenged by the immediacy of plot’s in film and television, the place of literature (in the traditional sense) has become unstable and its impact on the way through which we see it is declining.
And yet, whilst there are undeniably ground-breaking novelists in looking to J.K Rowling’s realm of magical realism to Suzanne Collins dystopian fantasy, many still question its importance and relevance to our lives today. In this article, I aim to briefly underline what literature is, how it works and why the folios of playwrights, poets and novelists are still incredibly potent, even in the age of multimedia.
Literature: What is it and why is it important?
Before, unpicking why Literature is important however, one must first decide what characterises it. There is indeed a great deal of controversy that surrounds this however, today’s understanding of the term is to be loosely summarised as the expression of ideas which are of ‘permanent’ and ‘universal interest’ exhibited in the traditional forms of poetry, drama and prose.
Literature therefore, is important because it is the recorded history of ideas and society through the lens of its writer. It can (one) provide an insight to how a society operated; secondly, what was widespread belief towards a regime or behaviour but also leaves room for interpretation on the reader’s side. Dicken’s Oliver’s Twist and A Christmas Carol, for example, are both a commentary of social mannerisms and customs: they (one) gather an image of the harsh and cruel living conditions for impoverished citizens and expose the immorality of a selfish and egotistical
Dicken’s Oliver’s Twist and A Christmas Carol, for example, are both a commentary of social mannerisms and customs: they (one) gather an image of the harsh and cruel living conditions for impoverished citizens and expose the immorality of a selfish and egotistical Mr Scrooge. It then forces us to engage with receptions of these conditions: why is his writing very hyperbolic for instance? It perhaps stresses the desire and want for change by a select few.
On the other hand, Dickens himself had never lived in a workhouse and so his imagination also reflects the rumours. Finally, it forces us to reflect on own conduct that may be similar despite reading it 200 years later. However, particularly for modernist writers such as Virginia Woolf (modernism being the defining movement that broke all the traditions of an inaccessible literary culture) she summarised literature to be the narrative of our social consciousness. Each author, playwright and poet sets out with an agenda that is the crux of any literary work. It is a tool through they can expose, explore and engage with the problems of or beauty of our society.
The subtle power and genius of words
Literature however, also tackles the small and domestic issues with flair. Jane Austen, for example in her novels such as Pride and Prejudice explores the morality of 19th century Regency Britain that was egotistical, pretentious and behaved inconsiderately towards the lower classes.
“Seldom, very seldom does complete truth come to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised or a little mistaken.”
In this quotation extracted from ‘Emma’ in a world of facades and disguises Austen highlights that no human being holds complete truth. We are all fallible, prone to lying whether it be in kindness or folly. Yet, whilst Austen’s narrative seems incomprehensible, her novel cleverly discusses basic moral principles on the Christian philosophy that you should ‘love your neighbour as you love thyself’. Her novel may not ignite revolutions against the state but it encourages a revolution from within. Her readers are encouraged to reflect upon their own actions and image in society. Most important however it is the universality of her message that indicates the power of language as to show kindness remains
Her novel may not ignite revolutions against the state but it encourages a revolution from within. Her readers are encouraged to reflect upon their own actions and image in society. Most important however it is the universality of her message that indicates the power of language as to show kindness remains a fundamental.
It is in this manner, both on a large and small scale that literature remains fundamental in shaping human experience. Whilst, the selections I have discussed are specific to English literature, this does in no way undermine the genius of other literary figures such as Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Ngozi – big names in the world of African literature. Literature offers something for everyone if you remain alert and open- minded, perhaps one day going on to write a classic of your own.
By Deborah M, private English, History, Mathematics, Humanities 1 to 1 home tutor in London. Deborah is currently pursuing a BA degree course at Kings College, London.
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