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August 21, 2013

I’ve never been personally passionate about Dickens the way I am about George Eliot. If for some strange reason I had to choose between them, no question: she gets my vote. But happily, as I’ve said before, literary greatness is not a zero-sum game, and it’s also not something for which there are or need to be common measures or standards. (There are also people who don’t think either of these writers is great — and while I feel kind of sorry for those people, I’m sure they are perfectly happy with their Proust or their Henry James or their Virginia Woolf or their precious Jane Austen, and we’ll just leave them be.) For me personally, Dickens is fabulous precisely for all the things he does that aren’t what Eliot does, and that’s the magic of it all. Dickens is fantastic at being Dickens, and if you get caught up in that Dickensian spirit (which, I know, not everybody does) it’s sheer delight. And sheer horror. And sheer pathos. And … well, you get the point — his is not a particularly subtle world, but gosh, it’s such a lot of fun.

That’s from Rohan Maitzen at Novel Readings, one of many excellent blogs I’ve learned about through Wuthering Expectations.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 21, 2013 12:01 pm

    That Rachel Powers letter was wonderful and moving, and I will take this opportunity to say that Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national treasure and should be much better known that he is, (I have speculations on why he’s not a Famous Public Intellectual like X, Y, and Z, but this comment box is not long enough to contain them; let’s just say that X, Y, and Z are white.) Also, for those who might not know, Nehisi is pronounced “Ne-HAH-see.”

    • August 21, 2013 7:35 pm

      I agree that TNC is a national treasure, but I have a glass-half-full picture of how prominent he is. Besides The Atlantic, NPR, and book publishing, he wrote for The New York Times and turned down a job as a columnist there. Plus bloggers like you and Jonathan Bernstein love him (though no doubt blogs are a disproportionately big deal in my world, since I spend so much time reading them). I’ll be glad if he gets even better known, but I think in his case the system properly rewarded a great writer with an underrepresented perspective and a knack for being unconventional. To me the question is why there aren’t more black writers who’ve found an audience with the white portion of the NPR/NYT intelligentsia. (I know I have a lot to learn, starting with who Ralph Wiley was.)

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