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Literary vs. genre fiction?

I have been meaning to ask this since watching a TV programme about a "Literary Fiction" new authors short-list.

What exactly is literary fiction and why do these people look down upon genre fiction authors?

Surely genre fiction is just … All fiction has a genre (or many overlapping genres), surely? Is it, as someone has suggested to me, "all the 'ponsy' stuff," meaning, if I am interpreting them correctly, writing that is well written and edited Queen's English (as opposed to 'common' English) and is all high-brow and know-it-all? I know that I like to write fantasy or SF settings but I do use very British English with lots of 'pretty' / 'clever' prose. That happens to be how I think and often how I speak. Does that mean that my vignettes are literary fiction which happen to also exist within a genre?

I am totally confused. I guess I should google or wikipedia for "literary fiction". The dictionary is little help. All it (dictionary.reference.com in this case) says is:

   /ˈlɪtəˌrɛri/ [lit-uh-rer-ee]
1. pertaining to or of the nature of books and writings, especially those classed as literature: literary history.
2. pertaining to authorship: literary style.
3. versed in or acquainted with literature; well-read.
4. engaged in or having the profession of literature or writing: a literary man.
5. characterized by an excessive or affected display of learning; stilted; pedantic.
6. preferring books to actual experience; bookish.

1640–50; < Latin līterārius, litterārius of reading and writing. See letter, -ary

So, all books are literary and, extrapolating from that, so is all fiction.

Grargh. Okay, sometimes English fails me. Usually when English is being as illogical as this!



( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 10th, 2011 10:40 pm (UTC)
Basically, "literary fiction" is a name for SRS BZNS fiction that is Deep and Meaningful(TM).
Mar. 11th, 2011 05:57 am (UTC)
Thank you for your reply!
Mar. 10th, 2011 11:24 pm (UTC)
Litfic is a genre like any other, but unlike any other in that it gets a great deal more critical attention. This is arguably because one plausible definition of literary fiction is that fiction which many readers will need a work of literary criticism to explain to them before they understand what the author was trying to do...

Being perhaps a little less snide, litfic tends to have as one of its aims to do something, well, novel. Art, sometimes fairly conceptual, as well as (or instead of) storytelling. It's supposed to be an intellectual exercise to read.
Mar. 11th, 2011 05:59 am (UTC)
Thank you for your reply!
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )


Nat S Ford
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