Introduction to English Studies

“By and large people term ‘literature’ writing which they think is ‘good’. Assess this formulation of literature.

Within this statement there arises a problem. This problem lies within the notion of what is ‘good’. For people to term a literary work as that of a ‘good piece of writing, people must have something bad, for which they can compare it to. The concept of ‘good’ writing has been an on-going argument for many centuries now, as peoples ideas change within certain periods, and many people have differing tastes, and their own personal opinions.

It would appear that there is no universal definition of the term ‘good’ when concerned with literature, however there is a strong connection between them. It has become a fact that many people think literature writing has to be of a good quality, this quality would include the use of its language, and the way it is structured. However what it is saying and whom it is written by, also have to be taken into consideration, when defining it as a ‘good literary work’.

It appears that over the centuries attitudes towards literature have changed a great deal, and that peoples definition of what they see as ‘good’ in a piece of writing, changes according to a particular period in question. Hippolyte Taine wrote in 1863:

“A literary text must be regarded as the expression
of the psychology of an individual, which in tern is

the expression of the milieu and the period in which

the individual lived and of the race to which he belonged”.1

By this statement it becomes clear that the concept of ‘good literature writing’ has a number of influences, and these must coincide with a particular era in history, in which a text is constructed. However Taine not only comments upon a particular era, that effects the writing, but also the author plays a vital role in how a text is read. The author is seen as the sole creator of the writing, so therefore they are responsible for its contents. For example if a certain individual were to write something that goes against certain social ideologies of the time, like for instance, a person condemning religion in the seventeenth century, then that persons work may not be welcomed as ‘good’, if welcomed at all. However today it may be looked upon as a well formulated piece of writing, and people are able to look at it as ‘good’, because of attitudes that have changed.

Indeed the term ‘good’ has a lot to do with the construction of a piece of writing, and its use and positioning of language. As Terry Eagleton quotes from the Russian Formalist view on literature:

“Literature was an organised violence committed
on ordinary speech...”

“Literature transforms and intensifies ordinary speech”. 2

With this notion of literature deviating from colloquial language, it was said, by The Russian Formalist, Roman Jakobson, that language became ‘vividly renewed”. If perhaps this new structure of our everyday language is ‘renewed’ to a great deal of success, then perhaps it could be termed as ‘good literature’. The idea of ‘good’ lies within the richness and complexities of its grammatical structure. This notion is possibly the most common among people today, in regards to their idea upon literature. A piece of literature is regarded to be ‘good’ because of the way it chooses its diction and constructs it within its sentences. However what a piece of literature exhibits to its audience, in terms of story or argument is another matter. A piece may be beautifully written, but if the majority do not agree with what it has to say, it may endanger its recognition within the literary world.

Literature in contemporary society seems to be given much more scope, in terms of how it can express itself. (for example freedom of speech), and the audience it addresses is more open minded, in terms of what they can read about. This is in contrast to the past, where literature writing may have come under much closer scrutiny, especially when connecting it with the notion of ‘good’. Literature would have been judged upon a much higher level. Eagleton writes:

“Value judgements would certainly seem to have a lot to
do with what is judged literature and what isn’t – not

necessarily in the same sense