Clifford's Notes

There are many works of art that are considered “classic”. What makes a book or play a “classic”? There seem to be no real set criteria, except to identify certain things that works of literature have in common. A “classic” play, for example, tells a great story and tells it well. We look at Shakespeare’s plays, for example, and they tell stories of love excitement, betrayal, and comedy. They tell them extraordinarily well, and include beautiful language as well as some of the most outrageous puns ever written. Mercutio’s line, in Romeo and Juliet, is a case in point. When asked how badly he is wounded, he replies, “...not as wide as a barn nor as deep as a well, but ‘twill suffice, ‘twill do...”, and on realizing that he is dying says, “…seek me tomorrow and you will find a grave man...” It is a terribly sad scene, but it is hilarious, too.

Even if a work is popular in its own time, it is not necessarily a classic. A gentleman named Edward George Bulwer-Lytton was a very popular writer during his time, but his name is now largely forgotten, except at San Jose State University, which holds a literary contest in his honor. This contest, however, awards works of bad writing, bad writing of opening lines in books. Bulwer-Lytton is best known for what many consider the worst opening sentence of a book ever written: “It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.” This writing style is now called "purple prose". Both Madeline L'Engle in "A Wrinkle in Time" and Charles Schultz, with his collected writings of Snoopy have used this line ironically.

This book was published in 1830. Just three years later, another writer began his literary career with the first installment of a books series, and in the same country: “The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby”, by Charles Dickens.

De Gustibus Non Disputandum (There is no accounting for taste).



Kevin B.

Tutor with a "Tom Sawyer" approach.

800+ hours
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