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can anyone tell me what defines a classic

Can anyone tell me what really defines whether a book is a classic or not?

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Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Re: can anyone tell me what defines a classic

Definitions of "classic" literature keep shifting as reading habits and reader preferences change.


"Classics" can refer to Greek or Latin works like The Iliad, The Aeneid, Ovid's Metamorphoses, etc. and early works of the major world religions


A loose definition of "classic" literature is a work "over 100 years old that has stood the test of time" (that is a direct quote from an old BritLit teacher).  However, genre works from authors like Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, Georgette Heyer, or Agatha Christie are often referred to as "classic" because they set the standard for writing in the genre.


Critically-acclaimed writing is often referred to as "instant classic" or "modern classic".

Melissa W.
I read and knit and dance. Compulsively feel yarn. Consume books. Darn tights. Drink too much caffiene. All that good stuff.
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Re: can anyone tell me what defines a classic

Although you have to watch out for those "instant classic" designations.  I inherited a book, a treasury of "Masterpieces of World Literature in digest form", a 2-4 page summary of each work, published around 1950.  Although most of it is genuine classics, there are also some works from the first half of the 20th century that have definitely not stood the test of time, even though they were highly regarded once. (The Apple of the Eye by Glenway Wescott, anyone?)

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Re: can anyone tell me what defines a classic

I think it's a combination of critical acclaim and popularity- not necessarily do they occur at the same time, or necessarily in that order. That is, the critical acclaim may come before the popularity, or vice versa. For example, although published @1850, Melville's "Moby Dick" became a classic in the 1920's after critical acclaim and a revival of the "classics."



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Re: can anyone tell me what defines a classic

You said it perfectly.

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Re: can anyone tell me what defines a classic

There are many reasons that books are considered "classic." Some books, such as On the Road  and The Magnificent Ambersons are snapshots of a generation. Others, like Lolita are so well written that the reader can seep into the mind of the character (even a despicable one like Humbert Humbert) Some classics such as The Grapes of Wrath and To Kill a Mockingbird paint pictures of the struggle of the common man and push for social change.  Books like Catch-22 address the human condition and universal truths (sometimes, there isn't a way to win...we just have to stop playing the game...)