Writing Quote: The Classics

Today’s Writing Quote comes to us from the author of one of those old classic novels, Ethan Frome, as well as of many other works: Edith Wharton.  It is perhaps an irony that her quote concerns the nature of the classics of literature – considering that she was herself the writer of what may now be viewed as a classic.

A classic is classic not because it conforms to certain structural rules, or fits certain definitions (of which its author had quite probably never heard). It is classic because of a certain eternal and irrepressible freshness.

~Edith Wharton

Allow me to translate:  The classics are the classics not because they belong to some vaunted category of “classic literature” – a circular defintion, of course.  They are classics because they are good.  They’re classics because they’re still relevant.  They’re classics because there’s still something to learn from reading them.

And this observation makes this quote the perfect compliment to a post from about a month ago in which I try to demonstrate the absurdity of dismissing genre fiction that happen to be classics because they are classics.  What makes them classics – and worthy of reading and admiration – is that they can’t be dismissed so easily!

It’s kind of my belief that every writer secretly hopes that his or her work will one day bear the label of “classic”.  I won’t lie: I secretly hope it for my work.  How awesome would it be, ten or twenty or a hundred years after my death, if school children were still reading what I wrote?

I give myself a 12% chance of achieving that level of classic-hood.