Thursday, September 13, 2012

The End of the Epic Narrative?

Having just completed a novel which is a sizable beast to say the least...I find myself pondering the fate of the epic narrative. Being a voraciously regular and repeated reader of the classics, (Tolstoy, Dumas, Hugo, Melville all being particular favorites) I have an insatiable appetite for the hefty tome but wonder how many share this particular proclivity today? I would argue these classics are timeless indeed, but how many readers today would persist through narrative asides (I am thinking particularly of Hugo's extraneous chapters on the history of Waterloo in Les Miserables) or the deliciously grand prose of Melville as he describes the albatross. Dostoyevsky's masterpieces can be demanding for the modern reader, struggling as they may be with the concepts of serfdom and land ownership, for example, in mid-nineteenth century Russia (not being a scholar of this particular history myself, I find repeated readings critical and even so am certain that I am missing so much simply because I do not know enough). But of course the writing is positively luminescent and urges me onwards despite layers of allusions and references that I am indubitably missing. Charles Dickens is a decided favorite of mine - the characters of Bleak House leap off the page in all their pungent and disreputable glory. These are all 800-plus page masterpieces. Of course Dickens' works were originally published in a serial format with installments being released at intervals...but today they are read together in their entirety. With the pressures on modern society, with free time becoming increasingly marginalized, families holding down two jobs to make ends meet, and the chaotic requirements of children, and the seemingly frenzied fast-forward pace of life - how many have time to meander through Anna Karenina? And of course publishing houses are looking to their bottom line and additional pages mean greater production costs which of course also place additional pressure on prospective sales. I do not mean to suggest that my novel has anything in common with these magnificent masterpieces (length being perhaps the only associated attribute) but I hope that in reading them again and again that some of their magic will rub off on me. Some of their enviable literary polish will guide and influence my own humble works. These great classics form a benchmark of the kind of writing that we can all aspire to, ("But in pursuit of those far mysteries we dream of, or in tormented chase of that demon phantom that, some time or other, swims before all human hearts; while chasing such over this round globe, they either lead us on in barren mazes or mid-way leave us whelmed.") and hope that there are many out there who still have the leisure over some golden twilight hour to pick up one of those thick classics.

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