In My Opinion: An Inquiry into the Contemporary Novel

By Orville Prescott | Go to book overview

VIII
POPULARITY:
Sensational or Inspirational

"Popularity is a crime from the moment it is sought; it is only a virtue where men have it whether they will or no."--Sir George Savile, Marquis of Halifax

The sweeping and exaggerated generalization quoted above represents the opinion of a seventeenth-century statesman who was thinking in terms of royal courts and national politics. But it applies with considerable truth to the writing of fiction. Good, bad and indifferent books can be popular. But the novelist whose deliberate design is to write a popular book rarely writes a fine one. What kind of novels have been consistently popular during the last decade?

All kinds, of course. The best-seller lists from 1941 through 1950 include novels by such distinguished writers as Ernest Hemingway, John P. Marquand and John Hersey. And they also include in greater numbers sentimental romances by Elizabeth Goudge and Frances Parkinson Keyes and mediocre melodramas by Taylor Caldwell. And the two largest classifications are, as we should expect, historical novels and religious novels. Of the one hundred titles listed for that period by the Publishers' Weekly eighteen were religious and twenty-nine historical.

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