Redheaded Neanderlady

Redheaded Neanderlady
This is a photoshopped version of something I found in National Geographic about the time I started researching

Thursday, December 31, 2009

How to define a classic?

but, I I like to get responses to my blogs, and I'm happy to toot my own horn in these last few hours of 2009 by saying that I've gotten a fair number of responses, some critical, some supportive, and some that made me think.  One of these came from my Instant Classics post.  This post generated a fair amount of response, because, I suspect, some people came across it, and thought I was somehow dismissing or demeaning Maud Hard Lovelace's Betsy-Tacy series.  I wasn't.  I loved reading her when I first stumbled on, I think, it was Betsy, Tacy and Tib Go Over The Hill, when I was in the third grade.  I thought it was a wonderful story, and, just as I often do now when I come across a writer I like, I looked for more books.  I ended up reading the entire series, and am glad I did!  What some Betsy-Tacy Society members took for "grumpiness" being excessively "critical" was more a degree of puzzlement about why the series turned up in the "literature" section of my local Barnes & Noble outlet.  I just hadn't thought of it as a series "for adults", nor had I ever thought it would get reprinted, but there it was.  And I must confess, I'd never heard of the Betsy-Tacy series until that very moment about two weeks ago. 


One of the respondents to this post, asked me what I though constituted a "classic".  This is a very fair question, and I must confess that, even after giving it thought for several days, I still haven't come up with an answer.  Even if I had, my answers would no doubt irritate at least some people.  Some of my posts obviously did, but that's another story.  I suppose this is just part of what goes with the territory when you blog.  In any case, this writer asked me if I thought Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books were classics, or Little Women.  I suppose it's easy to answer "yes" for Little Women, since it has kept getting reprinted practically since the time it was first published.  But then, so has the Little House  series.  I read many of the Little House series to my daughter at a certain age.  I don't know what she "got" out of them.  But then, I read the Narnia books to her, too.  I loved the Narnia books as a younger person, and love them still, though there are parts of them that make me cringe now(e.g., just for one example, all wolves are bad and evil, but foxes are "all right").  There are many people who consider the Narnia books and the Little House books to be classic literature, though both are, in some other areas, "problematic" in certain ways, though I would never, ever say one "shouldn't" read them.  So I think, yes, they can certainly be called "classic children's literature", and to qualify, these stories must also be satisfying to the adults who read them.  Good "children's" literature, generally does satisfy any adult who reads it, and that is one way I judge these things.  It's not the only way, but that's again another story. 


I think, and I must emphasize here that this is what I think, and anyone reading this should feel free to disagree, the Betsy-Tacy series occupies a kind of gray area.  The series was very good, and Maud Hart Lovelace was an excellent writer, whose work, showing Betsy and Tacy as they grew toward adulthood, was very insightful(in certain ways, and for her time), as well as entertaining.  I have to reserve judgment about the "classic" nature of her work, but at the same time, I recognize that the roots of the kind of material she(and, to some extent Laura Ingalls Wilder, as well), actually stretch back to Jane Austen and her work, which was aimed at adults and were "novels of manners".  They centered around description of relatively "small" incidents, and character development, rather than lots of action and changes of scene.  Now, personally, I don't much care for Austen, but she has millions of fans.  Perhaps many in the Betsy-Tacy Society also like Austen, but I certainly can't speak for  them.  I will say this, however.  Austen, and Laura Ingalls Wilder, seem to have had a considerable influence on at least one person I know, who is a good friend of Again I emphasize that I have no problem with this, other than, I prefer much larger, more complex canvases, and that's the way I write.  It's one reason why I ended up writing a "romantic science fiction" trilogy set in medieval England, around some very real events and people.  Which can be frustratingly difficult at times. 


I also mentioned in the Instant Classics? post, that there were a number of reissues of books(mostly historical novels, but also some science fiction), by authors such as Norah Lofts, and Anya Seton.  I loved these books too, and it was from these authors, I think, that I conceived the desire to write something set in medieval England.  Here, too, I'm glad that they're being reissued, but again, in my opinion, these books occupy the same "gray area" that the Betsy-Tacy series does;  they are very, very good, but weren't considered anything but "entertaining literature" at the time I remember reading them(but then, historical novels weren't taken terribly seriously, and sometimes still aren't, unless they were, or are, written by men).  Are they "classics"?  Again, I don't know.  And as I said, I'm glad these books are being reissued.  There is definitely a readership thirsty for them, and I'm glad of that, too. 


But, dear blog readers, I've probably said enough about this.  I will leave to everyone's individual judgment, what they consider a "classic" to be, whether it's written for children or adults.  In the meantime, I wish you all a prosperous and Happy New Year, and please, feel free to drop in any time during the coming year.  There will be many exciting literary and other things going on(I'm sure there will be a bunch more interesting stories about wolves, tee hee!)  I extend this invitation especially to members of the Betsy-Tacy Society, and anyone else who thinks I have been overly critical of certain aspects of writing and the writing process.


Looking forward to 2010,

Anne G


Anonymous said...

I invite you to look back at your post: "In this case, it turned out that there is a Betsy-Tacy society, dedicated to preserving Ms. Lovelace's books for posterity. These are people(I imagine mostly middle-class, white women of a certain age), who in some way see "themselves" in a much more "innocent" time and are fond, as many people nowadays claim to be, of "innocent" books. I don't have any quarrel with this per se, but on the other hand, I don't exactly consider the Betsy-Tacy series, nor Maude Hart Lovelace, to be "classic" books, nor is she a "classic" writer, again in my opinion."

So you stated that the Betsy-Tacy Society is made up of people who are interested in these books because they're innocent, although they aren't "classic". (The only part you "imagined" was that they are middle class white women of a certain age. I'm curious about what the point of saying that was.) I'm not sure how that ISN'T dismissive of either the people who read these books or the books themselves (and their author). Yes, you mention your confusion at finding them in the adult section. Lots of people, including fans, have been confused by that, and I see that others explained in the comments.

I'm interested in your internal debate about what constitutes a classic; it's something we can all think about. But I think you're continuing to be dismissive of an author whose work you apparently haven't read since you were a child. Don't you see how it's demeaning to say that Maud Hart Lovelace's work was insightful "for her time"? Especially when you haven't reread the books?

I have no issue with you not considering these books "classic", but I think most people who commented rolled their eyes at the idea that we would only enjoy these books and want them republished because they're "innocent", and not because the writing is excellent.

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

Radhika Breaden said...

Just as a follow-up (I am the Asian Indian physician who posted on your previous post), on our Betsy-Tacy email book list (called MAUD-L) which has been in existence since 1997, most of the members are NOT Betsy-Tacy Society members. The BTS is a Mankato organization dedicated to local BT house preservation, which is not the sole or primary goal of many people who like the works of Maud Hart Lovelace. Many of the people remarking on your posts (including me) are simply kidlit lovers who are NOT members of the BTS, nor does anything we say therefore represent the views of the Betsy-Tacy Society.

Anne Gilbert said...


Thank you for enlightening me further on this subject. Some people who wrote here about my remarks, kind of took umbrage at them, which I felt was unnecessary. The thing about blogs in general is they tend to be the opinions of the blogger. I was not, or so I thought, being disrespectful of Maud Hart Lovelace or her writing when I made the remarks I did, but merely expressing my own wonderment, in a way. I hadn't thought about these books for years, though I remember reading them and loving them. So I was rather surprised at the reactions of some people who wrote. BTW, I never heard of MAUD-L, either, but that's another story. There are a great many things I've never heard of, yet they exist.

As I said, thanks once again for enlightening me, and I hope you're having a happy New Year so far.
Anne G