All authors are influenced by other authors, whether that influence is conscious or unconscious. Most writers are not plagiarists, of course, but their reading of other writers has an impact — often manifested in their early work before developing a more original voice.
One of the most famous quotes about authorial influence was Dostoyevsky supposedly saying, “We all come out from Gogol’s Overcoat.” Fyodor was referring to Nikolai Gogol’s nightmarishly great 1842 short story “The Overcoat,” which had an effect on some of the legendary 19th-century Russian authors whose prime writing days would follow. A group that of course included Dostoyevsky, Leo Tolstoy, Ivan Turgenev, and Anton Chekhov.
Gogol (1809-1852) was a contemporary — albeit a geographically distant one — of Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), who was also a major influence on a number of later writers. Poe managed to do this in at least three genres, being a horror-story pioneer who helped inspire the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, and others; a detective-story pioneer (with tales such as “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”) who influenced subsequent sleuth writing by Wilkie Collins (The Moonstone), Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes), etc.; and a producer of sea fiction (including The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket) that helped inspire Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick.
Staying with 19th-century influencers for a while, Mary Shelley, then Jules Verne, and then H.G. Wells were science-fiction trailblazers who paved the way for Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Octavia E. Butler, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein, Ursula K. Le Guin, and others in the 20th century.
Charles Dickens’ funny, sprawling, socially conscious novels have some ancestral elements to what we see in John Irving’s books.
One 19th-century author influencing another was Honore de Balzac, whose realism and the placing of the same characters in different novels helped inspire Emile Zola.
Going back further in time, 18th-century novelist Fanny Burney was a favorite of Jane Austen, who even found her Pride and Prejudice title in a sentence from Burney’s 1782 novel Cecilia. (Austen is pictured with that book atop this blog post.)
Moving to more recent authors, a young Toni Morrison was an avid reader of Austen and Tolstoy — and it shows in her work, along with influences from such writers as Gabriel Garcia Marquez (magic realism), Zora Neale Hurston (rural/folklore elements), and James Baldwin (a finely tuned radar on racism).
Hurston was also one of the influences on Alice Walker, who found what was believed to be Hurston’s unmarked Florida grave in 1973 and then wrote an influential 1975 Ms. magazine article about Zora that helped revive Hurston’s unfairly faded reputation.
Again mentioning Marquez, his One Hundred Years of Solitude was clearly a partial template for Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits. Both are multigenerational sagas with plenty of magic realism and political awareness.
A keen political/feminist sensibility, while almost never getting preachy, makes the 1955-born Barbara Kingsolver somewhat a literary descendant of the 1939-born Margaret Atwood.
Atwood’s canon of course includes several dystopian/speculative-fiction novels, which reminds me that George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four was obviously influenced by Aldous Huxley’s earlier Brave New World — if only to take a different approach to the future in having a society controlled by terror rather than through “pleasurable” distraction. Heck, Huxley was even briefly one of Orwell’s teachers at Eton.
Back in the USA, there’s a direct line of dark antiwar humor running from Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 (1961) to Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five (1969).
America’s Southern Gothic genre also has its connections. Cormac McCarthy, with his rich prose and unsettling situations, is a literary heir to William Faulkner. In the more humorous Southern Gothic realm, Erskine Caldwell kind of led to Charles Portis.
Ernest Hemingway’s terse prose influenced numerous writers — with one of my current favorites being Lee Child of Jack Reacher series renown.
And when it comes to modernist, often-nonlinear fiction, contemporaries James Joyce and Virginia Woolf (both with 1882-1941 life spans) had some major literary similarities.
I realize I’ve just scratched the surface here. Any authors influencing other authors you’d like to discuss — including ones I mentioned or didn’t?
My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.
In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest piece — about a high school graduating class that went through a lot — is here.