What is popular literature?
Walk into most bookshops and you will find fiction categories like “Crime”, “Science Fiction”, and “Horror”. You will also tend to find a section called “Literature”. But how does a book get placed here? Is there really such a thing as “Literature” (with a capital “L”), a type of writing that is categorically different from the generic and the mass produced? And who gets to decide what qualifies?
“Literary” in this sense is often seen as the opposite of “Popular”, the latter being the crime novels, romances, or fantasy sagas that sell in huge numbers. But there are obvious implications to this type of categorization. If a book sells in huge numbers, is it less likely to receive critical acclaim? If a book is to appear on university reading lists, for example, does it have to be less accessible and more elitist than your average work of genre fiction? This was certainly the case in the past but things have changed a lot in recent years. In this episode I talk to Dr Bernice Murphy, Lecturer in Popular Literature at Trinity College Dublin, and someone for whom classic fiction and popular bestsellers are equally important when we look at our culture.
From Q.D. Leavis’ Fiction and the Reading Public to Gillian Flynn’s bestselling Gone Girl, from superheroes to “genrefication”, this episode explores the contradictions and complications of popular literature and culture. The highbrow versus the lowbrow, the intellectuals versus the masses, James Joyce versus James Patterson.
Dr Bernice Murphy is Lecturer in Popular Literature in the School of English, Trinity College Dublin, and Director of the Trinity M.Phil in Popular Literature. She is the author, most recently, of Key Concepts in Contemporary Popular Fiction (Edinburgh University Press)
Bougeotte (Invisible Ink)
Night Echoes (Moscow)
Mehow’s Jig (Nouveaunoise)
Q.D. Leavis: Fiction and the Reading Public
Gillian Flynn: Gone Girl
Paul Tremblay: A Head Full of Ghosts
Cixin Liu: The Three-Body Problem
Want to know more about genre fiction? Episode 3 (listen here) is all about science fiction, and this article discusses how to define literary genres.
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