The definitive definition of classic literature.
Classic literature is a set of works by or about people or groups of people that predate the rise of the modern state.
The definition of the term is a tricky one.
“It depends,” says David E. Karp, professor of English at the University of Maryland and author of the definitive definition.
“It depends on what we mean by classic, and it depends on whether we’re talking about the books of Shakespeare, which were written at a time of state and empire, or the works of Tolstoy, which are much more contemporary, and are written by people who lived in Russia or the Soviet Union.”
While many books of the Victorian era, like The Jungle Book and The Taming of the Shrew, are considered classics, Karp says that “there’s nothing quite like Shakespeare to define the literary genre.”
The distinction between the two, he says, “really depends on who’s talking about them, and that’s a difficult distinction.”
Classic literature is considered to be literature that has survived for more than a century, and Karp’s definition is “not very specific,” he says.
Karp says there are several criteria to consider in defining classic.
One of the main ones is whether the author or author’s heirs had access to a large library of books in the same time period.
The other is whether or not the work was a work of fiction or prose.
Karp also points out that “the term has come into the mainstream.”
“People tend to say that classic literature is the only literature that survived,” he said.
“But it’s not.”
For example, in order to be considered classic, a work must be: “In a style that is generally considered to have survived in the literary tradition of its time, or to have been written by a person of considerable skill and talent.”
In other words, if a writer, say, Charles Dickens, wrote a story that is very similar to The Scarlet Letter, he or she is considered classic literature because of its similarities to the work of Dickens.
A work of literature that is not classic literature will have a “very different” style than the work written by Dickens, Karsp says.
The criteria for classic literature vary by subject.
Karspa points to some of the most well-known classics, like the works written by William Shakespeare, but he says the definition of classics is still fuzzy.
Karsp, who is also a professor of Classics at the College of William and Mary, says that a classic book can come from the same author as one of the works by Dickens or Shakespeare, such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but that works that are very similar are not classics.
He also points to the works, such the poems of William Shakespeare or the prose of George Bernard Shaw, that have not survived.
Karrps book, published in 2017, is one of several books published in the last decade that attempt to define classic literature for the modern era.
The books cover a wide range of topics, including: Modern art, such that of the 19th and early 20th centuries, and what it means to be modern; Modern history, such it has influenced literature and culture today; Anachronisms, such some writers such as Ernest Hemingway and Wallace Stevens; The evolution of the literary world; and The decline of the classic genre.