Best Novel of the Twentieth Century Alfred Nobel gave his last name to one of the most prestigious literature prizes today. He specified that the award should go to ‘the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in the ideal direction’ (Cited in Danson & Gupta, 2005) Over the years the criteria the prize was awarded on kept on changing along with the changing times. “In 1964, the French philosopher, novelist and playwright Jean-Paul Sarte voluntarily declined the Nobel Prize.
” (Danson and Gupta, 2005, p. 212) The prize for the best novel of the twentieth century will follow guidelines that perhaps even Sartre would consider just and accept the prize if it were offered to him. Today, the Nobel Prize is regarded as one of the highest honors in literature but there was a period in history when Sartre’s refusal threatened its universality of honor. Five years later, Samuel Beckett received the award and the Nobel Prize gained back some of its authority as a universal honor.
Becket had contemplated whether he should accept the award or not because he realized the recent controversy arisen by Sarte’s rejection but did not want to simply mimic his actions. (Danson & Gupta, 2005, p. 213-4) “The Booker Prize was launched in 1968 to provide a benchmark for the ‘best of contemporary British fiction’ by awarding a prize for what was deemed to be, in the joint opinion of the judges selected by the management committee, the most outstanding novel by a ‘British or Commonwealth writer’ in any given year.
” (Danson & Gupta, 2005, p. 295) Tom Maschler found the booker prize and can be viewed as a successful marketer of his time. His goal was to ensure that serious British fiction gains market share through public relation-ing efforts, specifically, the use of touch programs. He did for books back in the 1960’s for books, what people do for movies now: create a lot of hype before the release date, a lot of publicity, and going big at the box office.
Stated by Iyer in 1993, “the Booker [had become] London’s way of formally commemorating and coronating literary tradition … the closest thing in writing to the movies’ Academy” (cited in Danson & Gupta, 2005, p. 295) “Plato suggests that literature is not an end in itself; it has a broader social responsibility which imposes a duty on poets to make sure that their works are not immoral or untrue. Poetry and art in general have fundamental responsibilities to the society that produces them.
If poets are unwilling to tether their imitations of life to the demands of that society, Plato argues, then they should be kicked out of the republic. ” (Danson & Gupta, 2005, p. 4) This idea by Plato is the concept behind instrumentalism. If Plato was alive today, he would condone ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ all the way. Just like any big corporation should be held responsible for what its actions are outside of producing a certain product or service, Plato believed that poet was responsible for what he was producing. In reality, Corporate Social Responsibility, if analyzed in the long run, can be the best thing for a company.
If a company carries out its duties other than delivering a great product to society, it gains the people’s trust, maintains goodwill, and cashes in on the steady profits in the long term. In the same light, according to Plato, a poet must create poetry responsibly and cater to the needs and demands of his society. In doing this, the poet must create works that might eventually become simply a thing that society demands. By doing this, literature looses its essence and becomes simply what the public wants but to create continuously what the public wants and have it accepted by them is an art of its own.
To observe the cycle like this, Plato’s simple theory of producing work responsibly becomes producing work to cater to a specific demand, which then becomes a sort of artistic economics, and simply a work of beauty like Oscar Wilde’s. For this reason, instrumentalism or aestheticism alone cannot be the judge of good literature. Basically, both the Nobel and Booker were found to expand British literature, the former by means of transforming the judging criteria from time to time and the later by 21st century marketing tactics.
“A neo-Kantian might advise the Nobel or Booker judges as follows: derive your standards for judging literary works themselves rather than by following extant rules of literary judgment; look to exemplary works of genius for guidance in judging the work before you; treat such works as models, and never reduce them to a list of determinate rules, formulae or precepts. ” (Danson & Gupta, 2005, p. 203) Keeping in mind the advice given by the neo-Kantian the new prize for the best novel of the twentieth century will weigh the literatures strength according to its aesthetics, instruments, and modernist views.
The goal of the prize is not to simply canonize a work of literature or deem it best because beauty is a more important characteristic than content or vice versa. The goal is to view the work for it is, just like a human being, and appreciate what it intends to do or tell. Like the age old example of ‘apples and oranges’, the prize will look at each work for what it is. A work may not be deemed the best simply because it is more inclined towards Wilde’s criteria or Plato’s criteria.
No one will be thrown out of ‘The Republic’ but instead the competition will be different because the apples will be competing against the other apples and the oranges against the other but not against each others. In other words, a work may be the best aesthetic piece of literature or the best instrumentalist literature. The winner will be the work which tells of something deeply moving and presents new ideas that are life changing way in the most beautiful manner possible. The winner will the perfect blend of apples and oranges and the runner up will be the best apple, the best orange, or the less perfect blend of the two.
“…Writers such as Oscar Wilde and Joris-Karl Huysmans advocated a view of art which denied that it should have any moral, political or social function. ” (Danson & Gupta, 2005, p. 4) Cuddon stated in 1982 that “art for art’s sake” (cited in Danson and Gupta, 2005) was the fundamental of aestheticism. When we consider Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando, it has all the elements of beautifully portrayed writing and meaning and content. What causes this text to be the winner of the prize for the best book of the twentieth century is that as time went on, the books purpose and meaning evolved.
“In a survey of the Nobel Prize, Kjell Espmark (1999) discerns the following phases: from 1901 to 1912, prizes were given to writers who demonstrated ‘a lofty and sound idealism’; from 1912 to 1920, a ‘literary policy of [political] neutrality’ was followed; in the 1920s, award winners were marked as a possessing a classical ‘great style’; in the 1930s, ‘universal interest’ was considered key; from 1946 to 1977, writers were chosen who had made a ‘pioneering’ contribution; from 1978 to 1985, attention was given to ‘unknown masters’; from 1986 onwards, the emphasis had been on recognizing the literary productions of the ‘whole world’”(Danson & Gupta, 2005, p. 211) Unlike the Nobel prize and its changing criteria over the years, Orlando was viewed differently as time went on. “We read Orlando now most often as a feminist work that explores the boundaries of gender and sexuality and the limits of women writers within literary history, or as a sharp critique on the possibilities of biography.
But Orlando was often first read by its contemporary audience as a gossipy portrait of Vita Sackville-West. ”(Tetterton, 1995) When the novel was first written it was a mere work of comedic art with no instrumental purpose but to paint a certain portrait of someone. Virginia Woolf’s writing is difficult to read and understand because of the transitions she makes and her style of writing. Back in the day, this novel was, “…taken as the delightful joke that Woolf herself claimed it to be. It was a hugely successful joke — not just critically, but financially as well, both in England and America. It was Orlando that enabled the Woolf’s to purchase their first car, and it put them on stable financial footing for the rest of their lives.
” (Tetterton, 1995) The novel perhaps served an instrumental purpose to the Woold family but not society, it was viewed as a work of fiction and no action was taken against it because of the hints of lesbianism since the main character was a man when he fell in love the princess. This work could be simply viewed as ‘art for the sake of art’ at the time by the audience but it had a greater purpose. Some say that it was a secretly a love letter to the woman Virginia Woolf loved. When we read Orlando now we pay more attention to the gender issues present in the book. The book was not viewed as an important work I feminine and lesbian literature back in the day because none of the feminist movements had occurred yet. When we look at the work now we can’t help but get a sense of what Woolf was really trying to say. It was only in the later years that the work evolved from simply aesthetical and comical to instrumental.
Woolf shed’s light on the issue of lesbianism and gets away with it in the era where other writers were being banned for bringing up the same subjects. She fulfils the purpose of feministic liberation because after the 300 years the main character becomes a liberated and free woman in the early nineties. These demands were initially not required by society and no one but Virginia and her contemporaries who felt the same way craved the need for someone to bring about this revolution. Today, Virginia Woolf’s Orlando caters to the demands of society and the feminist revolution that is still shaping itself and the freedom of exploring one’s sexuality freely. Virginia created the perfect blend of aestheticism and instrumentalism with the aide of time.
In the century that it was written in, the novel served its aesthetic purpose and in the next century it the audience learnt to look at its real instrumental purpose. Woolf created this perfect blend and proved that she was two steps ahead of the whole world. She was a modernist because she re-evaluated where society currently stood and where it needed to go and through what means. Woolf paved a way for future writers to explore new territory and have the freedom of self expression. One argument presented by Kelly Tetterton at the The Fifth Annual Virginia Woolf Conference at Otterbein College, June 18, 1995 is that the segue the audience made from the comical to the serious category is through the publication method of the book. She points out,
“Partly yes — we are far more sensitive to issues of gender than those readers of long ago because it’s now part of our social consciousness; even those who might disagree with such a critical approach must now acknowledge the validity of the approach itself. And partly no — we are simply reacting to what we’re given to read. Take a look at the most recent paperback covers for Orlando — one from Harcourt Brace Jovanovich and one from the Quality Paperback Book Club. Anyone casually glancing at these covers is likely to suspect that issues of gender and sexuality are involved in the text beneath the covers. The 1973 HBJ paperback gives us two almost identical figures, one male and one female, divided by a clock; the 1993 QBC book cover is more abstract, but there’s a prominent pink triangle on its spine and back.
If we are better readers today, it’s because we have some help from the publishers. ” (1995) The second half of her argument is valid because the pictures or hype that surrounds a text greatly affect how a work of literature is viewed. The different publications have a sort of Booker Prize affect on the audience. The different paperback version somewhat manipulates what’s inside and this factor can be used to sway the judgment about the work greatly. Nevertheless, the publication or marketing aspects do not take away from the book itself because part one of the argument presented by Tetterton is just as valid and in sync with the entire critique of the book making it the best book of the twentieth century.
“In 1934, the first issue of the British journal Left Review published a position statement by the Writers’ International, a group of radical writers. The statement included the following thoughts on what role writers should play in the British society:…It is time for these, together with the working-class journalists and writers who are trying to express the feelings of their class, to organize an association of revolutionary writers. ” (Danson & Gupta, 2005, p. 117) Interpreting this role British writers were asked to play in society is the very fundamental of instrumentalism, producing responsibly what the society demands as a whole. The author of Sunset Song, Lewis Grassic Gibbon replied to this message in a mostly positive manner except for two discrepancies.
This declaration stated that literature “is anything but elevated, self-contained or sacrosanct, as the aesthetes had claimed; rather, for the Writers’ International, literature has the potential, even and obligation, to criticize society and to contribute to the building of a socialist future. ” (Danson & Gupta, 2005, p. 118) Gibbon said, “I hate capitalism; all my books are explicit or implicit propaganda. ”(cited in Danson & Gupta, 2005, p118) The first of the two points Gibbon disagreed with was that capitalism was perhaps dead economically but the literature was thriving, untouched, and unharmed and that there was a huge difference between the two. Second, he thought that writers should actually work for the socialist coast and not just say it. (Danson & Gibbon, 2005) The use of Scottish accents and dialects is present throughout the entire novel. This style earns him points for true instrumentalism.
He sticks to his roots, much like the writers of today who add flavorful touches of their mother tongue in their works. From the earlier point about supporting the revolutionary cause of socialism he strips away whatever he can of capitalism by staying true to his origins no matter what. “The young Chris must choose between life on the land, her Scottish identity, and the English part of her which draws her away from home towards books and education. Yet even once she has made her decision, the way of life of her community is altered forever by the Great War. ” (BBC) The story is about a little boy understanding what really is going on around him and how he must deal with everything.
The book is runner up to Orlando by Virginia Woolf because it is the best work of instrumentalism at its extreme whereas Woolf’s novel encompasses all the concepts of aesthetics to modernism to instrumentalism. Sunset Song is a great example of a believing in a cause and writing for it to change the society as a whole and lead into a revolution. “However, it is important that while Sunset Song mourns the loss of a past age, it is not hopeless. The images of light and the morning star in the closing pages of the novel anticipate the rest of the trilogy, emphasizing Gibbon’s desire to construct a future rather than simply mourn the loss of a Golden Age.
” (BBC) Gobbin, like his response to the Writers’ International delivers what he has said and paints a window to the future. He can be viewed as a modernist in the sense that he re-evaluated how society was going to reach a certain place and stuck to different ideas and did not conform to capitalistic views. “Gibbon uses the narrative device of flashforward, or prolepsis, at the start at each of the four main parts of the novel. ” (Danson & Gupta, 2005, p. 132) His style of writing and the techniques he uses also earns him points for creatively constructing the passage of work. “All Gibbon’s sympathetic characters – the Guthries, Chae Strachan, Long Rob and, more ambivalently, Ewan Tavendale – are associated with the traditional peasant way of life.
In contrast, the characters who embrace small-scale capitalist production – Ellison, Mutch, Munro and Cuddiestoun – are represented as thoroughly unattractive. ” (Danson & Gupta, 2005, p. 141) The author clearly indicated his leaning towards socialism through his characters and their analysis throughout the book. He successfully achieves his goal of taking a stance against capitalism and that lands him into the runner up spot in the best writer of the twentieth century. “An important motivation at the core of Gibbon’s writing, closely connected to his political commitment, is his desire to rescue the forgotten, unrecorded histories of Scotland’s poor. ” (Danson & Gupta, 2005, p.
150) Gibbon is one of those revolutionaries whole believes that all the toil and blood and hardship that went into making the future what it is today should never be ignored. It should be remembered and used as inspiration to move forward and achieve even greater things. (Danson & Gupta, 2005) Virginia Woolf takes away the award from Gibbon’s for first place because she is a modernist in the true sense. Gobbin beautifully portrays what an instrumentalist should do and inspires people and connects with them on a deep level from the get go. He has always presented his work seriously and believed it to bring about a change and get to the end through revolutionary socialist means.
The judgment criteria of this award is not to award a socialist when a socialist revolution is going on or a capitalist when capitalism as it its peek. The goal is to judge literature for what is no matter what guards the standards of society now. Gibbon’s is a story that can be read in the democratically inclined times of today and still have an impact and show the clarity of how one can stick to his beliefs and paint a convincing and moving piece of literature. References Brown, R. D. , & Gupta, S. (2005). Aestheticism & modernism: debating twentieth-century literature 1900-1960. Twentieth-century literature : texts and debates. London: Routledge. Brown, R. D. , & Gupta, S. (2004).
The popular and the canonical: debating twentieth-century literature 1940-2000. Twentieth-century literature : texts and debates. London: Routledge. Gibbon, L. G. (1981). Sunset song. New York: Schocken Books. Tamir, E. (2007). Gupta/Johnson’s A Twentieth-Century Reader and Johnson’s Debating Twentieth-Century Literature, 1940-2000. Science-Fiction Studies. 34, 343-345. Tetterton, Kelly (1995, June, 18). Virginia Woolf’s Orlando:. Retrieved May 18, 2008, from http://www. tetterton. net/orlando/orlando95_talk. html The Writers. BBC, Retrieved May 19, 2008, from http://www. bbc. co. uk/scotland/arts/writingscotland/writers/lewis_grassic_gibbon/works. shtml Woolf, V. (1928). Orlando: a biography. New York: Harcourt, Brace.
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