At some point during this most recent term, I began to wonder what makes a great writer. Who decides the criteria? Who determines the candidates? The answers seem illusive.
In my literature class, we read “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. It always generates strong reactions from students in the class. I was pleasantly surprised that all the men didn’t immediately take John’s side. Several of the women in class are psychology majors or work with mentally ill people and they found the story fascinating.
I’m never fascinated with this story. It makes me angry that a woman could be subjected to a “cure” that makes her crazy. I appreciate my own caring husband more after reading it. Another thing I think is, “Thank the Lord I was born in the 20th century.”
One woman in our literature class berated the story. She claimed the main character was lazy, unmotivated and unappreciative of all the wonderful things her husband did for her. She went on the state how she despised Gilman’s feministic beliefs, especially the way she used men and dumped her daughter off on her first husband instead of mothering her.
Whew! This woman was steaming. I think it’s safe to say that Gilman is not considered a great writer in this lady’s eyes.
We also read “The Open Boat” by Stephen Crane and “To Build a Fire” by Jack London. I think both of these gentlemen are considered to be great American writers. I already spent a post reflecting on Mark Twain’s genius, so I won’t embellish that any further.
We also read “The Other Two” by Edith Wharton, who was considered quite famous during her lifetime.
I’m not sure I can create an active definition from these writers. Obviously, there are similarities in their themes, but what makes them great? There were a dozen or more writers who we read this term, perhaps all of them considered “great American writers.”
Are there great writers producing work even now? Will they be considered great in their lifetime? What criteria will be used to determine their greatness?