Friday, February 15, 2008

Trashy novels: a revisit

To continue on the subject of these two posts, we started reading Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey in Gothic Novel class today. One of the things Austen is doing in Northanger Abbey is parodying Gothic Novels from her time that were written by people like Anne Radcliffe. Radcliffe's novels, one of which we just read, were considered trashy at the time and are still pretty trashy now. But Austen read them all and was extremely influenced by them. We learned that she wrote straight out in some of her writings that she was highly influenced by Radcliffe. Many of Austen's novels are responses to Radcliffe's. My teacher went so far as to say that Radcliffe had to be a precursor to Austen. She said that Austen probably would not have written the novels she did if it weren't for Radcliffe and other writers like her.

If this is indeed the case, then how can one say that trashy fiction is worth nothing aside from entertaining the masses in an unintellectual manner? I am not trying to be an advocate for trashy fiction - I haven't even read any and I doubt I'd enjoy them. My point is more, how can one condemn a genre if that genre spawns something more high-browed, more literary, and more sophisticated than itself? Is it not like a stepping stone towards a more literary future? Is there room to believe that it is perfectly alright to spend one's time reading such novels because the reader may be influenced by them in a positive way, like Austen was? Austen herself advocated reading such novels. True, she did not agree with the way people got sucked into them and with the way they were read, but she never condemned the novels themselves and defends them in her books.

So are we going to be so nose-in-the-air* and spurn an entire genre? Or can we say they have an important place in society and that they are actually a comment on certain aspects of society? Perhaps they are not the most intelligent way to spend one's time, but not everyone needs to be intelligent every hour of spare time they have, do they?

I just feel that if Austen - if Jane Austen herself - read the trashy novels of her time, then I will not - I cannot - look down my nose at someone who does so today.

*Yes, I made up a phrase. So there.

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