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Alert the Pope!

"The modern sense of the word 'literature' only really gets under way in the nineteenth cenutry. Literature in this sense of the word is an historically recent phenomenon: it was invented sometime around the turn of the eighteenth century, and would have been thought strange by Chaucer or even Pope," (Eagleton 16).

I find it hilariously inconceivable to think that Chaucer, himself, did not know his work would one day be great, that it would be studied by millions of scholars and be deemed worthy of criticism and praise. And yet, it must be true. It makes sense for one to not to know how good or bad his or her own work is, but to not the effect it had on his own society is a phenomenal concept. Literature must not have been thought of very highly back in Chaucer's day. It was clearly not known then how literature can be life-changing, sometimes even affecting entire societies for the better or worse with its awesomeness.

Comments (4)

Derek Tickle:

Interesting! I did not know that the word 'literature' was invented in the eighteenth century. This makes me wonder about the Bible. Some people consider the Bible to be literature and history, but some do not. I thought of this when the quote mentioned "the Pope." Literature has made societies use their great knowledge within theirselves and compose a text that will be studied for years.

Greta Carroll:

The reference to Chaucer also caught my attention. Having had Chaucer last semester my ears perked up a bit when I saw his name. I do think that people did realize that literature could change societies even when Chaucer was alive though. One of the ideas we discussed in my Chaucer class was the ability of the English language (which Chaucer chose to write in) to help unify the people of England and give them a national identity after they came out of the 100 Years War with France. One of the reasons I find this so interesting is because Eagleton talks of the English language and literature serving to replace religion as a vehicle to create order which is almost the exact same thing that English was used to do back in the 14th century when Chaucer used it.

I also don’t think Eagleton means to imply that people who read Chaucer in the 14th century were not affected by it; I think he means that it was simply not considered “literature.” Probably the only things that were considered “literature” then were things written in the classical language like Latin or Greek or even to a lesser degree Italian and French since these language had existed for longer than the English language which we use today. Also, when Eagleton mentioned Pope, I think he was referring to the poet Alexander Pope and not the Pope in Rome.

No author can know for sure what kind of imact their work is going to have on the world, let alone a solitary reader. All we can do is hope that what we have to say will impact someone. When we write we, usually or should, have certain readers in mind that we are targeting and we can only pray and hope that they will get out of the writing what we meant to put into it. The readers may see new and exciting things which even the writer had not noticed, which is bonus to the writer because it shows the depth with which they can write. I don't believe Chaucer had any idea how great his work would become, just as I don't believe Shakespeare knew either, but I do believe they hoped and wanted to impact people or someone.

Greta Carroll:

I really like how you strike a balance, Mara, between what the author intends the reader to get from the text and what the reader gets from it. I like how you view both as positive things. Since author intent focuses so much on just exactly that, what the author intends, it’s easy to get caught up in only that, and forget what the reader is getting from it. But you view the reader getting more from the text than what the author wanted to be one of those little bonuses you find in life and I really like this attitude. Sure, the author has something they want the reader to get from the text they wrote, but that doesn’t mean that is all that is in it.

As you and Bethany point out, Chaucer and Shakespeare both probably had no idea that their works would have such a huge impact on the world and the English language as they do. Especially, since Chaucer read his poetry aloud and Shakespeare’s works were mainly performed as plays, neither of them would have expected there to be so many of their works in print. Yet, when they wrote their works they were aware that what they were writing could change the world. I suppose in a lot of ways this is kind of intimidating, after all Mara, for all we know you could be the next Shakespeare: ), it makes writing almost scary. Think of how much influence you could potentially have on the world every time you write.

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