First of all, can anyone name the song that this blog title references? I remember hearing it on the radio, though I admit I had to Google the lyrics to come up with the title myself.
Anyway, this weekend I finished reading Adam Bede by George Eliot (pseudonym of Mary Ann Evans). If you're not familiar with this novel, it was published in 1859 and is considered a classic of 19th century British literature. Most of the book is set in a small English town and revolves around the relationships of four people: the titular Adam Bede, a carpenter; a local squire named Arthur Donnithorne and is Adam's old friend; Hetty Sorrel, a pretty but vain seventeen-year old whom both men are attracted to; and Dinah Morris, a Methodist preacher who is Hetty's cousin. Although the book has received lots of praise since its publication, I found it hard to get into because in many ways it's different from the more recent books I normally read. I'm not even sure a traditional publisher would accept it today. Here are some of the things that I noticed about this book:
1. Sentences tend to be longer and more complex than in modern books.
2. Compared to modern books, the pace is slow. Much space is devoted to description, daily life (which is actually a feature that draws praise from critics) and to characters who don't impact the main plot--or do much of anything.
3. Dialect is spelled out, which sometimes means it's difficult to decipher.
4. Head-hopping in a single scene is common.
5. Authorial/narrator asides are common and are frequently used to "preach" at the reader.
These writing practices can work under the right circumstances, but for me and my modern tastes, they weren't that interesting. There was also a lot of overt and covert sexism and classism in the book, which is to be expected given the era it was written in. I did care enough about the characters to push my way through that book, plus I wanted to finish it so it would count for my reading challenge.
I do think this book shows how much fiction has changed in over 150 years. Will my books be read 150 years from now? Probably not. It does make me wonder how storytelling will change. I don't think our species will ever give up stories, but the mode of storytelling may be through immersive technology or something else we haven't thought of yet. The past and present stories that future generations find valuable will be translated into new forms. Let's see if this book makes the cut.