An Advent Gripe
Some Delius

Minor Novels Argument-Starter

If you don't read the blog called "Prufrock" at The American Conservative, you probably should. It's an always-interesting compendium of mostly literary and general cultural stuff. Monday's post included a list of "recommendations of favorite minor novels." There are dozens of them, of which I've read seven. Many I'd never heard of. A few I think I may have read decades ago. Of course there's no arguing with anyone's designation of a favorite, but there are many possibilities for arguing with "minor." I'm thinking there of promotions from minor to major, but I suppose one might argue that this or that book doesn't even rise to the level of minor.

For my part, of the seven I've (definitely) read, the only one for which I'd argue "major" is Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men. Some are questionable, but that's the only one that would cause me just to shrug and feel sorry for anyone who disagrees.

There's one on the list I'd recommend strongly to Catholics: J.F. Powers's Morte d'Urban. Especially Catholics who've worked for small Catholic liberal arts colleges. 


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My kids call them "Sclacs"

Took me a minute to figure out what you meant. That's good--nice and pronounceable, which is not true of HBCU.

All the King's Men is definitely major. The Powers is great, but probably inaccessible to most people.


I have also read seven for sure, but maybe two or three others. What, I wonder, are his criteria for major and minor. In some instances it seems like the books are only minor in relation to the definitely major works by the same author. I guess in another hundred years we will know if he was right.

By then, maybe I will have read more of them.


Oh, I had previously only looked at the list, but I see in the text he says what I said about minor works by authors with major works.


"or a novel one was unlikely to have read in school" I think almost everything on the list is minor by that standard. Especially for people who weren't English majors in college.

A fair number don't meet the first standard, so I guess they're admitted under the second. If Walter Miller is a major writer, which I don't really think he is by usual standards, it's only because of Canticle. I certainly don't claim extensive knowledge, but there are a lot of people on that list whom I really doubt are *major*.

I thought the same thing about All the King's Men. I don't think Silas Marner is minor either, even though it's small. There was a day when it was widely read in school, and it probably still shows up in college "introduction to English literature" classes.

Not sure about The Magnificent Ambersons either. You could make a case that Tarkington is a minor writer, I guess, but TMA is far and away his best known book.

I wish Prufrock would have stuck to the first standard -- "minor" books by major writers. I think it would have been a more interesting list.

I'm just trying to figure out what qualifies as a major work. Longevity? Popularity? Quality?


My submission was Thomas Hardy's Under the Greenwood Tree. There's no doubt that Hardy's a major novelist. but Greenwood Tree is a minor work compared to, say, Tess or Far from the Madding Crowd. That's the way I read the major/minor thing.

Separating the concept of major/minor work from major/minor author, I think of a major work as one that combines quality and "quantity," meaning by the latter some sort of scope--importance of the subject, scope of the narrative (in the case of a novel), maybe stylistic or some other technical level of achievement. Longevity will follow. Popularity may or may not. More or less the same sort of criteria would justify calling an author major.

I think I'd nominate Waugh's Helena as minor by a major. A minor author could write a major work, maybe. A major author can certainly write a minor work.

Silas Marner was certainly read in school 50-60 years ago, at least in my school. Actually it's one of those I'm not sure whether I read or not. I sort of think not. It may have been optional in one of my high school classes--one on a list of books you could do a book report on or something. I have a fairly good idea of what it's about, also a few images which, I'm embarrassed to say, may have come from a Classics Comic. If that was my only exposure it might account for my being unsure of whether or not I've read it.

I definitely did read a Classics Comic of Jane Eyre, probably around the age of 12, and didn't like it at all. It was creepy, almost scary.

I read Jane Eyre once, years ago, and recall liking it. But I've read Silas Marner 3x I think, and really enjoyed it.

I read JE once many years ago and wasn't enthusiastic. Read it again more recently and liked it a lot better.

I think Jane Eyre is the best Bronte book, a gothic masterpiece!
The reason Silas Marner was taught so much is its length. George Eliot is certainly one of the more important Victorians (perhaps the most important, considering Middlemarch), but everything else she wrote is quite long other than SM and a few stories.

Of course now, sadly, students of the same age are probably reading The Hunger Games. You almost have to be an English major in college to come across real classics.

Very sad but probably very true. Our cultural heritage really is being forgotten or discarded, and not necessarily or even mainly because of culture war politics, but because of generally lower standards and expectations for reading.

I think you may be unusual in preferring JE to Wuthering Heights. I'd definitely rank the latter above the former myself. The Brontes were certainly an interesting bunch.

People have been telling me at least since the '70s that I really should read Middlemarch. Maybe one of these days....

One of the advantages of homeschooling is that you can make your kids read at least some of this stuff.

Our kids read a lot of it. Not sure our grandkids will. Two of ours went to Catholic high school, and I was distressed that one of the books read in a literature class was The Poisonwood Bible. I may be misjudging it, as I haven't read it, but I have the impression that it's not something that a Catholic school should devote time to, when there is much much more important literature.

The Color Purple is sometimes on reading lists at Catholic High Schools.

I don't have an informed opinion on it but I wonder if what I said about Poisonwood would apply to it.

Rob, I really like Silas Marner, or Silas Marmer as it says on the list.

Maclin, I can see that you would like Wuthering Heights better than Jane Eyre, but the latter is the sort of book that teenage girls fall in love with and read all their lives, like Pride and Prejudice. When you are 13, you like the romance, but as you reread it, you see the depth in them. I never like Wuthering Heights.

My favorite Bronte novel is Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne.

When I took a B. Lit course about eleven years ago we read had no Austen, no Bronte, no Dickens, but some F. Engles. I'm not sure you get the real classics in a lot of colleges, and I suspect there will be fewer as time goes on. I can't remember if the above mentioned were even in the edition of Norton's that we had.

The reason I asked about criteria for Major works is this. I was thinking about books like The Moviegoer, which won the National Book Award, and which in my opinion is a major work, but how many people today would read it, or know what it was or even know who Percy is? I surely never checked out anything by Percy, or O'Connor, or anyone like that to anyone at the library. And, I am not even sure anyone ever checked out Austen or Bronte while I was there. Maybe Pride and Prejudice and Zombie. Zombie are big.

So, the books that I consider major really are having a very minimal impact now, but there are some weird people like us, and I hope that someday that get rediscovered.

It's been a long time since I read The Color Purple, but doesn't the main character, after finally getting rid of her abusive husband, end up with another woman?


Yesterday, while trying to find some music by Sleeping at Last on Amazon Music, I came across a soundtrack for a documentary they did called Many Beautiful Things. Today, I watched the documentary, and it is indeed full of many beautiful things. It is about a watercolor artist named Lilias Trotter who was a protege of John Ruskin, and who, although he thought she could be the best watercolor artist in the world, became a missionary in N. Africa. Her pictures are quite beautiful, as are her religious observations.

It is extremely well-done. The executive producer is Hisao (that might be spelled wrong) Kurosawa, so of Akira, and the voices of Trotter and Ruskin are read by Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary), and John Ryhs-Davies (Gimli).

I was wondering if any of you have ever heard of it.


No, I haven't, but it sounds intriguing. I saw Michelle Dockery in a trailer or something in which she plays an extremely un-Lady-Mary-like role and it was slightly shocking.

I will reply more later or tomorrow. I'm about to sit in on an online class about Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor. At least I hope I am--I haven't used Zoom before. I'm wondering why it took over all the other companies in that "space" so quickly (GoToMeeting, for instance). Or maybe it wasn't that quick, as I haven't needed to use any of that kind of stuff for 5 years now.

Janet, I would like to read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Perhaps that will become my favorite Bronte once I have finished it. It has been on my short list for a while, along with Edith Wharton, who I have never read. The House of Mirth is one that I have at home. I haven't gone into a 19th century English literature reading binge for a while now. Perhaps I'll just re-read Silas Marner first, and ease my way in. :-)

Middlemarch would certainly be worth your while, Mac.

I would say, within the context of the subject of this post, that The Moviegoer would be major for Percy while Love in the Ruins might be minor. ;-)

Love in the Ruins is up there with Moviegoer in my estimation, although they're such different books that the comparison isn't of much use.

Janet, I haven't read The Color Purple, but I do seem to recall people mentioning the importance of a lesbian relationship in it.

I was sort of half-aware that teenage girls love Jane Eyre. Not surprising. I guess Wuthering Heights is kind of scary in comparison--or maybe it's just that there's no happy ending to the romance. Charlotte Bronte said that she wasn't sure such a person as Heathcliff should be written about, or something along those lines.

"I saw Michelle Dockery in a trailer or something in which she plays an extremely un-Lady-Mary-like role and it was slightly shocking."

She plays M. McConnaghey's (sp?) tough no-nonsense wife in The Gentlemen. I don't think I've ever seen her in anything else, but I thought she was very good in that. The role was originally supposed to have been for Kate Beckinsale, who I'm sure could have pulled it off with equal aplomb, but I thought Dockery was just fine.

I read Middlemarch a few years back and was a little disappointed. To me it kind of read like Jane Austen without the comedy. Could be that I've read so much Dickens and Hardy that I need to "adjust" to Eliot. I should probably give one of her other big books a go -- Adam Bede or The Mill on the Floss.

Re-reading Hardy's The Return of the Native right now. Hardy would have to be my second favorite Victorian after Dickens, despite Jude the Obscure, which I hated and would never read again. I tried reading some Gissing a while back and found him a little dry (although his fictional autobiography 'Henry Ryecroft' was pretty good -- it was a favorite of Russell Kirk's iirc, which is probably where I heard of it). I've had almost no experience with Trollope, but I do like some of George MacDonald's non-fantasy novels. I read 'Annals of a Quiet Neighborhood' about 20 years ago while going through a rough patch and I found it very inspiring. There's a fair bit of sermonizing in it but it didn't seem bothersome to me; as the main character is a vicar/pastor of some sort you kind of expect it.

Speaking of Return of the Native, I may re-read Madison Jones's The Innocent next, as it is something of a Southern American spin on the Hardy book.

I wrote about Jones here, you may recall.

Rob - I bet you would like Adam Bede. That's the one I'd recommend for you.
Dickens is certainly a favorite, but I've also read a lot of Trollope, perhaps too much several years ago. It will be a while before I'm ready for more. Always eager to return to Dickens though.

I think I must have read nothing but Trollope for about six months once. I even read a book by his mother which was really interesting.



I really like MacDonald's non-fantasy novels. I have been listening to a recording of David Elginbrod on Librivox, but the reader is annoying, so I was planning to read or listen to Annals on the recommendation of someone in another group.

I got something by Madison Jones when you wrote that post, but never got around to reading it. I will have to look that up.


Just a day or two ago I noticed Jones's Cry of Absence sitting on my shelf, bought as a result of Rob's post, still unread. All these great novels that I've never read...and am not sure I ever will. I'm mostly reading poetry and non-fiction these days.

Yes, Michelle Dockery was good in The Gentlemen. But what I was thinking of was something else, something set in the Old West. It may be called, Godless--it's on Netflix. Description sounds kind of questionable for my taste.

Stu, I once had a nice hardcover copy of Adam Bede -- Modern Library, I think -- but I must've sold it during one my my financial low periods. I sold a lot of books during those times!

Janet, I read quite a few of MacDonald's realistic novels back in the 90's. I always felt that in general the Scottish ones were better than the English ones, although 'Annals...' would be an exception to that rule.

As racial matters figure into its plot A Cry of Absence would be an interesting read right now in light of all the stuff that has gone down in the last six months.

I think maybe I'll read Cry of Absence now. It's embarrassing, the way I buy books and don't read them.

Me too. That's one of the reasons I slowed down on book buying -- there are too many I have that remain unread. Quite a few that I don't even remember buying, which is pretty sad.

I read the first 50 pages or so of Cry of Absence. Pretty gripping. On the basis of that much I’d recommend it especially for southerners, especially those old enough to remember the way things were before the end of segregation.

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