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Dickens might actually be a good comparison because the literary analysis kind of people don't care for him as much. More beloved than admired.
I think that depends on the literary analysts in question. Dickens' technical talent has rarely been disputed, but some have always been skeptical of his value given that those talents were in service of narratives that were immediately accessible and enjoyable, and in which the social themes seemed rather superficial and in conflict with his penchant for caricatures. The devaluation of Dickens largely came with the wide acceptance of realism as the literary genre of "good taste," and, in combination with more modern techniques, allowed authors like Joyce, Faulkner, Woolf, James, etc. to flourish in popularity among critics.

Dickens may rate as second-rate given the ideals that rate these authors so high, but I have my doubts that such things will be permanent. I'd still say Dickens is the most human of all these authors (many of which I love too) and, excepting Joyce perhaps, lags behind none of them in technique. His ability to cross the "critical-popular audience" divide alone would tempt me to put him ahead of someone like Joyce and, at the end of the day, I doubt many look forward to sitting down with Joyce the way they can with Dickens and that should count for something.
 

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The point is well taken but I'm not sure I could name 6 "first rate" novelists I'd rank above Dickens. Hell, Tolstoy may be the only one I'd definitively put ahead of Dickens.
If we're going to bring Tolstoy into the conversation than I should probably mention that I once read in the liner notes of an old LP I once had of Tchaikovsky and Verdi String Quartets (Guarneri) that when Tolstoy was present at a recital of the Tchaikovsky Quartet that there were tears steaming down his face during the beautiful "Antante Cantabile"

Tchaikovsky and Tolstoy:

Tchaikovsky - A Beginners Guide
Leo Tolstoy - Books, Quotes & War and Peace - Biography
 

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The point is well taken but I'm not sure I could name 6 "first rate" novelists I'd rank above Dickens. Hell, Tolstoy may be the only one I'd definitively put ahead of Dickens.
Well, you probably COULD, but practically every published list of the world's greatest novelists, like Top Ten novelists, WILL have Dickens on it, if it's from an English-speaking country at least.
 

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Dickens might actually be a good comparison because the literary analysis kind of people don't care for him as much. More beloved than admired.
It's really difficult to find a parallel analogy in literature, cinema, or art, that compares to Tchaikovsky. In poetry you might have someone like Edgar Guest who was very popular at one time, and mostly with casual and unsophisticated readers of poetry, but was never considered by literary critics to be on the high station as the likes of Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Tennyson, Frost, Ginsburg, etc. In art you might have an artist such as Thomas Kinkade whose paintings adorn every waiting room across America and are sincerely admired in many homes as well, is almost always considered to be garbage by art critics.

Though Tchaikovsky is loved by little children who dance to the Nutcracker, and by many casual listeners who have just a few classical recordings in their music collection; I sense a great deal more integrity in Tchaikovsky's music than I detect in Guest's or Kinkade's artistic output. And that's not a slam against Guest or Kinkade; just that Tchaikovsky is a very special or even a unique kind of artist that at once manages to be both "high brow" and "low brow"; "Populist" but still "Sophisticated"; thoroughly Russian but also universal in appeal. Any snob worth his or her metal would scorn the programming of a "Star Wars Suite" or "Victory at Sea Suite" by a major orchestra, but even among honest-to-goodness snobs, Tchaikovsky remains a matter of dispute.
 

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The point is well taken but I'm not sure I could name 6 "first rate" novelists I'd rank above Dickens. Hell, Tolstoy may be the only one I'd definitively put ahead of Dickens.
As with ranking composers, there is a tendency to default to those with long-established reputations, and to ignore more recent writers who've not yet "stood the test of time" (ugh!) The literary canon tends also to graciously include the odd Irish, Russian and French novelist, but it's those who write in English that dominate. At least, that's what we Anglocentrics think.


I wonder if an academic in a South American university might have a quite different list.
 

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The holy pantheon of novelists is not as well-settled as that of composers because music is more accessible across language divides, less expensive, and because more people (wrongly, IMO) trust themselves to evaluate a novel than trust themselves to evaluate music. This leads to people in different languages reading and advocating different authors, but listening to and advocating the same composers.

I'd specified novelists because literary figures is far too broad, but even in the narrower field Luo Guanzhong, Murasaki Shikibu, Charlotte Bronte, Austen, Tolstoy, Flaubert, Woolf, Garcia Marquez, Hemingway, and Dostoyevsky all have pretty good arguments for being ranked above Dickens.
 

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The holy pantheon of novelists is not as well-settled as that of composers because music is more accessible across language divides, less expensive, and because more people (wrongly, IMO) trust themselves to evaluate a novel than trust themselves to evaluate music. This leads to people in different languages reading and advocating different authors, but listening to and advocating the same composers.

I'd specified novelists because literary figures is far too broad, but even in the narrower field Luo Guanzhong, Murasaki Shikibu, Charlotte Bronte, Austen, Tolstoy, Flaubert, Woolf, Garcia Marquez, Hemingway, and Dostoyevsky all have pretty good arguments for being ranked above Dickens.
You forgot Victor Hugo, who had five excellent novels. I would also add Falukner, William Gaddis, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Cormac McCarthy.
 

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If one does a survey of the various threads, one will find that no matter how great a composer is there will be those who think he is overrated.
Very rarely do these threads have any informative posts :(
 

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If one does a survey of the various threads, one will that no matter how great a composer is there will be those who think he is overrated.
Very rarely do these threads have any informative posts :(
Yes, there is a reasonable spread in opinions on how "great" composers are or where they should be rated. I've always wondered exactly what is meant by a 2nd rate composer. Is that someone who is below the top 10 composers? Below the top 20? Top 50? I personally view at least 50 and likely many more as 1st rate composers. Thinking of all the composers who have written classical music, there are a large number who would seem to stand out. Of course, there are a much smaller number who get most of the attention on TC.
 

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The holy pantheon of novelists is not as well-settled as that of composers because music is more accessible across language divides, less expensive, and because more people (wrongly, IMO) trust themselves to evaluate a novel than trust themselves to evaluate music. This leads to people in different languages reading and advocating different authors, but listening to and advocating the same composers.

I'd specified novelists because literary figures is far too broad, but even in the narrower field Luo Guanzhong, Murasaki Shikibu, Charlotte Bronte, Austen, Tolstoy, Flaubert, Woolf, Garcia Marquez, Hemingway, and Dostoyevsky all have pretty good arguments for being ranked above Dickens.
Everything you say in your first paragraph is very true.

As for your second, of those I'm familiar with I think I could make a case for Dickens over most of them.

Tolstoy I do agree with. I think he wrote two towering literary masterpieces that stand alongside the best of Shakespeare, Goethe, Dante, Homer, Virgil, and insert whatever pillars of literature here. War & Peace especially feels like it contains the whole universe in its pages. It's one novel I almost regretted finishing because I didn't want to leave its world and characters.

Bronte, Austen, Woolf, and Marquez all wrote masterpieces, but relatively few of them compared to Dickens. Of those I'm particularly fond of Austen and I think that given her limited sphere of subject matter she perfected her unique style of subtle irony, characterization, perspective, and social commentary. However, her novels do lack the breadth of Dickens and I don't find they have more depth. Perhaps more nuance, more detail in their small moments, but that's it. The one thing I will say about Austen is that I don't know of another author who is appreciated for such completely different reasons by casual readers (whoread her irony as straight romanticism) and critics. To this list I would've added George Elliot, whom I actually think is their equal if not superior.

Hemingway I've never been super impressed with. I get why his style was so unique and influential and while I don't think his stories were bad or poorly written they haven't moved me much. I probably would've replaced him with Melville or Faulkner.

Dostoyevsky I'm ambivalent about. At times he seems more a failed, shallow philosopher than a novelist, and even when he is focusing on narrative and characters I often can't shake the feeling his characters and events are mere mouthpieces for whatever themes he wants to talk about. Tolstoy shares some of Dosto's overt philosophizing, but Tolstoy has sense enough to keep it completely separate from the novel itself and not let it overtly infect his narrative (it's always in the background, but it's much more subtle). Dosto could write superbly when he wanted to as with much of The Brothers Karamazov, but I generally find him overrated, particularly by youngsters who are ready for literature with an overt philosophical edge.

To me, the argument for Dickens over all (or most) of these authors is the depth of his oeuvre. Many of these authors wrote maybe a handful of top-tier works. Dickens did that too: Bleak House, Great Expectations, David Copperfield, Our Mutual Friend... but then Dickens also wrote many more excellent novels beside that: Oliver Twist, The Pickwick Papers, A Tale of Two Cities, Hard Times, A Christmas Carroll... and even his lesser works tend to be (at least) very enjoyable.
 

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Dickens* wrote stories about small boys facing adversity with a pungent wit so laced with irony as to be almost unreadable.

But that's just my opinion.;)


[*Previously autocorrected to 'Ducking' :rolleyes:]
 

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Everything you say in your first paragraph is very true.

As for your second, of those I'm familiar with I think I could make a case for Dickens over most of them.

Tolstoy I do agree with. I think he wrote two towering literary masterpieces that stand alongside the best of Shakespeare, Goethe, Dante, Homer, Virgil, and insert whatever pillars of literature here. War & Peace especially feels like it contains the whole universe in its pages. It's one novel I almost regretted finishing because I didn't want to leave its world and characters.

Bronte, Austen, Woolf, and Marquez all wrote masterpieces, but relatively few of them compared to Dickens. Of those I'm particularly fond of Austen and I think that given her limited sphere of subject matter she perfected her unique style of subtle irony, characterization, perspective, and social commentary. However, her novels do lack the breadth of Dickens and I don't find they have more depth. Perhaps more nuance, more detail in their small moments, but that's it. The one thing I will say about Austen is that I don't know of another author who is appreciated for such completely different reasons by casual readers (whoread her irony as straight romanticism) and critics. To this list I would've added George Elliot, whom I actually think is their equal if not superior.

Hemingway I've never been super impressed with. I get why his style was so unique and influential and while I don't think his stories were bad or poorly written they haven't moved me much. I probably would've replaced him with Melville or Faulkner.

Dostoyevsky I'm ambivalent about. At times he seems more a failed, shallow philosopher than a novelist, and even when he is focusing on narrative and characters I often can't shake the feeling his characters and events are mere mouthpieces for whatever themes he wants to talk about. Tolstoy shares some of Dosto's overt philosophizing, but Tolstoy has sense enough to keep it completely separate from the novel itself and not let it overtly infect his narrative (it's always in the background, but it's much more subtle). Dosto could write superbly when he wanted to as with much of The Brothers Karamazov, but I generally find him overrated, particularly by youngsters who are ready for literature with an overt philosophical edge.

To me, the argument for Dickens over all (or most) of these authors is the depth of his oeuvre. Many of these authors wrote maybe a handful of top-tier works. Dickens did that too: Bleak House, Great Expectations, David Copperfield, Our Mutual Friend... but then Dickens also wrote many more excellent novels beside that: Oliver Twist, The Pickwick Papers, A Tale of Two Cities, Hard Times, A Christmas Carroll... and even his lesser works tend to be (at least) very enjoyable.
I don't know that any Dickens novels are "top-tier" works. They're entertaining, sometimes provocative, sometimes thoughtful, and the diction is delightful (rarely very meaningful) but there is no passage in any of them (as far as I'm aware) that could equal, for example, Jane Eyre in the attic, looking out across the fields, longing to have "more intercourse" with her kind, listening to "Grace Poole's" thrilling laughter. Or the military police executing the officers at the Tagliamento. Or Alyosha kissing Ivan.

Austen, maybe I included too hastily, but where in Dickens is there anything as harrowing and yet as realistic as Elizabeth realizing she's misjudged Darcy? Off the top of my head, I can't think of any. And although Austen has some fun now and then, does she ever descend into the kind of sentimentality that Dickens consistently wallows in?

In the end, Dickens is something like a "top-tier" prose cartoonist, lacking serious intellectual depth but eminently enjoyable, destined always to be popular, but then that is exactly the kind of faint praise with which people damn Tchaikovsky. I mean, he composed the greatest ballets ever (including his first piano concerto).
 

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I don't know that any Dickens novels are "top-tier" works. They're entertaining, sometimes provocative, sometimes thoughtful, and the diction is delightful (rarely very meaningful) but there is no passage in any of them (as far as I'm aware) that could equal, for example, Jane Eyre in the attic, looking out across the fields, longing to have "more intercourse" with her kind, listening to "Grace Poole's" thrilling laughter. Or the military police executing the officers at the Tagliamento. Or Alyosha kissing Ivan.

Austen, maybe I included too hastily, but where in Dickens is there anything as harrowing and yet as realistic as Elizabeth realizing she's misjudged Darcy? Off the top of my head, I can't think of any. And although Austen has some fun now and then, does she ever descend into the kind of sentimentality that Dickens consistently wallows in?

In the end, Dickens is something like a "top-tier" prose cartoonist, lacking serious intellectual depth but eminently enjoyable, destined always to be popular, but then that is exactly the kind of faint praise with which people damn Tchaikovsky. I mean, he composed the greatest ballets ever (including his first piano concerto).
I want to preface this by noting that it has been (regretfully, for the purpose of discussions like this) well over a decade since I read most of these works, so my memory of specific passages are almost non-existent, though I remember glimpses and moments of scenes that I would be loath to try to find or recall in much detail. One I very much remember is the tempest in David Copperfield. This apparently (after a Google check) was entire chapter in the book, but it contains perhaps the most vivid description of a storm ever. More important, however, than the vividness of its depiction is its significance within the novel, as being a reminder of powers that are beyond the control of humans who have been so obsessed with controlling the minutiae and details of their life that they can control.

It reminds me of Tolstoy's own thesis in War & Peace of how humans delude themselves into thinking they have more control over their lives and outcomes than they do. Tolstoy was quick to point to this higher power as God, and while there is some religion in Dickens I appreciate how, at least in Copperfield, how the tempest sequence speaks for itself without any direct mentions of what that higher power might be, and its apocalyptic connotations is a stark contrast to the everyday rigors that its characters face elsewhere. Here's one passage from the chapter:
The tremendous sea itself, when I could find sufficient pause to look at it, in the agitation of the blinding wind, the flying stones and sand, and the awful noise, confounded me. As the high watery walls came rolling in, and, at their highest, tumbled into surf, they looked as if the least would engulf the town. As the receding wave swept back with a hoarse roar, it seemed to scoop out deep caves in the beach, as if its purpose were to undermine the earth. When some white-headed billows thundered on, and dashed themselves to pieces before they reached the land, every fragment of the late whole seemed possessed by the full might of its wrath, rushing to be gathered to the composition of another monster. Undulating hills were changed to valleys, undulating valleys (with a solitary storm-bird sometimes skimming through them) were lifted up to hills; masses of water shivered and shook the beach with a booming sound; every shape tumultuously rolled on, as soon as made, to change its shape and place, and beat another shape and place away; the ideal shore on the horizon, with its towers and buildings, rose and fell; the clouds fell fast and thick; I seemed to see a rending and upheaving of all nature.
Also, on the page I found this at it also mentions a particularly interesting thought by Tolstoy on it: “If you sift the world’s prose literature, Dickens will remain; sift Dickens, David Copperfield will remain; sift David Copperfield, the description of the storm at sea will remain.”

I do not, based on what I can recall, deny the excellence the passage you cite in Jane Eyre, or P&P: these are works I love as well (though for Austen I might be inclined to mention Emma's eventual realization of her selfishness, and the numerous passages before then that hint at her subtle, well-meaning narcissism, ahead of that more famous example from P&P); but I very much think Dickens has moments that stand alongside them; but they also have other qualities besides, like the labyrinthine complexity of Bleak House and its noir-ish like tone that it so masterfully, sets, sustains, and navigates. Bleak House especially struck me as a novel one could read a dozen times and emerge with a slightly different perspective each time.

Dickens was sentimental, yes; I tend to think that sentimentality is less a crime when there is substance and technique supporting it, and I think Dickens had both in spades. I do not deny he was also something of a talented cartoonist/caricature artist, but I simply reject the notion that such stylization is mutually exclusive with substance. There's a lot of social critique and observation in Dickens, and a lot of humanistic insight. Some of it may be a bit ham-fisted compared to the naturalistic subtlety of Austen, Elliot, or the modernists; but that doesn't mean it's not there.
 

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Dostoyevsky I'm ambivalent about. At times he seems more a failed, shallow philosopher than a novelist, and even when he is focusing on narrative and characters I often can't shake the feeling his characters and events are mere mouthpieces for whatever themes he wants to talk about. Tolstoy shares some of Dosto's overt philosophizing, but Tolstoy has sense enough to keep it completely separate from the novel itself and not let it overtly infect his narrative (it's always in the background, but it's much more subtle). Dosto could write superbly when he wanted to as with much of The Brothers Karamazov, but I generally find him overrated, particularly by youngsters who are ready for literature with an overt philosophical edge.
You got that exactly backwards. Tolstoy pushes his private philosophy all the time in a tiresome way. He was the failed philosopher. If one has read Dostoyevsky's five major novels it's clear that the thoughts and words of the characters usually have nothing to do with the author's beliefs. Do you think he really thought murdering rich people was justifiable? (Crime and Punishment) Or that he was a destructive nihilist? (Demons) The indeterminacy of characterization is what D is famous for.
 

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You got that exactly backwards. Tolstoy pushes his private philosophy all the time in a tiresome way. He was the failed philosopher. If one has read Dostoyevsky's five major novels it's clear that the thoughts and words of the characters usually have nothing to do with the author's beliefs. Do you think he really thought murdering rich people was justifiable? (Crime and Punishment) Or that he was a destructive nihilist? (Demons) The indeterminacy of characterization is what D is famous for.
Yeah, Nietzsche apparently thought pretty highly of Dostoyevsky.
 

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You got that exactly backwards. Tolstoy pushes his private philosophy all the time in a tiresome way. He was the failed philosopher. If one has read Dostoyevsky's five major novels it's clear that the thoughts and words of the characters usually have nothing to do with the author's beliefs. Do you think he really thought murdering rich people was justifiable? (Crime and Punishment) Or that he was a destructive nihilist? (Demons) The indeterminacy of characterization is what D is famous for.
Tolstoy pushes his philosophy in sections that are completely separate from the novel itself. Those themes are in the background of the novels events, but within the novel itself I never get the sense that characters and their thoughts/feelings are just musing on things relevant to that philosophy. When I talk about characters being mouthpieces for Dosto I do not mean it in the sense that they're expressing exactly what he feels/thinks, what I mean is that Dosto has some themes and characters are just ciphers for exploring those themes. In C&P he's Dosto is obviously very concerned about the notion that any individual can essentially declare themselves a God and above social notions of morality, so he crafts a character that attempts to rationally justify a murder. Obviously Raskolnikov isn't espousing Dosto's own philosophy, but rather he's espousing the themes that Dosto is concerned about. Now, Dosto doesn't always do this--I already mentioned there's less of that in The Brothers Karamazov. By comparison though, there aren't any characters in W&P directly expressing any theme related to Tolstoy's themes of history largely being shaped by God and the foolishness of men to think they are in control of things... rather characters tend to speak and act with no awareness of this theme.
 

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You got that exactly backwards. Tolstoy pushes his private philosophy all the time in a tiresome way. He was the failed philosopher. If one has read Dostoyevsky's five major novels it's clear that the thoughts and words of the characters usually have nothing to do with the author's beliefs. Do you think he really thought murdering rich people was justifiable? (Crime and Punishment) Or that he was a destructive nihilist? (Demons) The indeterminacy of characterization is what D is famous for.
I don't agree with this. Dostoevsky's characters are philosophical archetypes, vehicles to express particular views or psychological states he wanted to explore. Tolstoy's characters are not such representations of ideas, but actual rounded human beings.

If you come away from reading The Idiot thinking "wow, what a tiresome, failed philosopher", with all of its multi-page mouthpiece rants from characters about how the Roman Catholic Church is evil or whatever, I can understand that. If you think the same after reading Anna Karenina, I don't really know what to say.
 

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I don't really agree with this. Dostoevsky's characters are philosophical archetypes, vehicles to express particular views or psychological states he wanted to explore. Tolstoy's characters are not such representations of ideas, but actual rounded human beings.
Exactly. Though it may be sacrilegious to say I actually prefer Crime and Punishment the way Robert Bresson rendered it in Pickpocket, who is the very model of "show, don't tell" storytelling.
 

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Tchaikovsky is one of my top five favorite composers. The 5th and 6th symphonies, the violin concerto, first piano concerto, 1812, Romeo and Juliet, Capriccio Italien, Slavonic March, Nutcracker, Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty, are all highly memorable and often quoted works that are recognized by the general public. That kind of popularity would not come to a “second rate” composer.
 
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