Authors Affecting Authors

Austen - BurneyAll 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 The latest piece — about a high school graduating class that went through a lot — is here.

40 thoughts on “Authors Affecting Authors

  1. Pingback: Writer’s Lift Wednesday #31 – (armedwithcoffee)

  2. This was a really great post. Every time I get influenced by another author, I was always afraid it would be considered as plagiarism (even though my plot and narrative weren’t in any way relatable to that author’s writing). This post just helped me realise that this is a natural phase that every author goes through to find their own true voice. Thank you for writing this!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This really resonates with me, as I’ve just written a post which mentions how my first four novels were influenced by other authors and genres I was reading at the time. I’m hoping I don’t make the same mistake with my fifth, but I suspect authorial influence is something that’s very hard to escape from once it gets imbued into a writer.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Brian! Will look at your post!

      I think it’s inevitable — and not a problem — for authors to be influenced by other authors, especially in the influenced authors’ earlier work. I’m not sure any writer is totally unique and original.

      Good luck with your fifth novel!


  4. Sorry to come so late to the party!

    Homer, by way of Heinrich Schliemann, by way of Samuel Butler, had a big influence on the structure and goal of James Joyce’s “Ulysses”.

    Hemingway, I believe, was more influenced by Carroll John Daly, an early and popular crime fiction writer, than most today may know. See “Three Gun Terry” for example. Daly’s character Race Williams was credited by Mickey Spillane as inspiration for Mike Hammer.

    Hemingway, to my surprise, was credited for having an influence by PG Wodehouse, for having showed how to get at things directly and plainly in prose– I confess I can see little if any difference in Wodehouse’s “Jill the Reckless” (published before 1920, and before Hemingway had published anything) and his later works, but he said what he said. Evelyn Waugh also credited Hemingway, but I think slightly more credibly.

    Mallarme was an acknowledged influence on Faulkner, and whatever influence Poe might have had on French writers can be laid at the feet of Baudelaire, his translator, and no small power in French letters himself.

    “The Monk”, by Matthew Gregory Lewis, inspired German Gothic writer ETA Hoffmann to embark on his literary course, Lewis’ influence most obvious in the riotous and bewildering novel “The Devil’s Elixirs”.

    And lastly, without the collection of German Gothic tales contained in “Phantasmagoria”, translated into French, we might never have had Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Also to blame: a dark and stormy night.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Not too late at all, jhNY! Thanks for those interesting, diverse literary connections from various times and various genres.

      The possible Hemingway influence on Wodehouse surprised me as well — partly because I consider the former a mostly serious writer and the latter a mostly comedic writer. But I guess I can see how both had very direct prose.


    • Thank you, Sarath!

      I also read “The Namesake” before reading Gogol (his fascinating “Dead Souls” novel and then “The Overcoat” short story).

      I have to admit I wasn’t familiar with Harold Bloom’s “anxiety of influence” theory until seeing your comment and then doing some googling a few minutes ago. Very relevant to this blog topic! Not having read “The Anxiety of Influence” book, I can’t offer an intelligent opinion on Bloom’s premise. Any thoughts you have about it?

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I really enjoyed this post, Dave. There’s always something fun about finding these connections in literature, almost like little Easter eggs left in history. It’s even more fun when you’ve read the author that was an inspiration and can trace the pattern. That said, I’ve always wondered how seriously to take author’s judgement on what is worth reading. Obviously, if you like their writing, it’s worth thinking through the recommendation. On the other hand, we all have our pedestals, and what I put up on mine is probably going to be different than what Jane Austen put up on hers, much as I adore her writing. I have yet to find a metric for figuring out what to bother reading and what to smile and nod at. Do you have a method?

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Nimbus of a Writer! All well said.

      “There’s always something fun about finding these connections in literature, almost like little Easter eggs left in history” — great line, and I agree! I definitely enjoy reading an author/a novel and thinking “hmm…that reminds me of (fill in the blank).”

      Good question about whether to go along with authors’ reading recommendations. I tend to not use them to determine what to read; I often go with the recommendations of commenters here on this blog, or get interested in an author or book by reading articles or reviews. And of course if I like one novel by an author, I may very well then read others novels by that author. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Whenever I teach essay writing, I ask students to find several authors whom they admire and to try, as an exercise, to write like them for awhile. Eventually, I contend, one’s own style will emerge from one’s own self plus from an amalgamation of the styles of others. The list of writers who have influenced me is long. That includes the consistent clarity of Dave Astor.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Bill! That’s an interesting exercise you offer as a teacher, and you’re absolutely right that eventually “one’s own style will emerge from one’s own self plus from an amalgamation of the styles of others.”

      I appreciate the kind words about my writing; the feeling is mutual!


  7. The quote that came to mind, Dave – and you know how I love my quotes – is by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.” Writers do indeed influence other writers, much to our benefit. Indeed to the benefit of our world. What is even more remarkable to me, is how they influence readers. There is unfathomable power in words that change the course of history. Think of the great stoic, Marcus Aurelius – his words calmed me down during difficult times, created space for me to explore, to see problems from different angles and know that solutions that may escape my notice, would come from another. We are all writers, perhaps not in the traditional sense, but we write letters, scribble in diaries, send e-mails. Writing is a precious gift, one that we must cherish, use wisely and be humble in our approach, recognizing that what we write can change circumstances, offer new possibilities and choices. I look forward to every one of your posts. You always provide me with many layers of thought to consider in the week ahead.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Clanmother, for the kind words and terrific comment!

      That Emerson quote is VERY appropriate for this topic. (BTW, my elementary school was named after Ralph Waldo. 🙂 )

      And great point about writers not only influencing writers but readers as well.

      Last but not least, I appreciate your thoughtful eloquence about the importance of writing, whatever the form.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Anonymous! I don’t know if Lee Child himself has ever mentioned being influenced by Hemingway, but I see some resemblance in prose style. 🙂 (I know he chose his Child pen name partly because it’s alphabetically between Raymond Chandler and Agatha Christie on bookstore or library shelves.)

      John D. MacDonald? Unfortunately, I’ve yet to read him. 😦

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Great post. Probably Stoker influenced every vampire novel written. There’s one I can think of off the top of my head. Robinson Crusoe prob led to Gulliver’s Travels which created Swiss Family Robinson which in turn spawned a ton of island castaway stories from The Coral Island to Lord of the Flies and also let’s not forget the popular Lost in Space TV prog. I often think readers read to read. Writers even from an early age read to read and write. We may also from an early age just spew the words onto the page but even then books that have struck a chord somehow weave their way into the creation.

    Liked by 4 people

  9. I happen to concur with your line of thought that literature follows an evolutionary path. I would only add that North American literature is the Bible’s way to produce more Bibles and is not only influenced by European values but also by those of the North American Indigenous tribes. In the end, the trending subject line in north american fiction reached a bifurcation point in 1965, with the themes of bestselling fiction since then almost flat-lining, slightly oscillating between social and spiritual issues. I also strongly believe that the cycles of bestselling fiction and nonfiction evolves along a pattern that follows a cycle that can be mathematically described.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thank you for the comment, cryptomathecian!

      Interesting thoughts. I definitely agree that “literature follows an evolutionary path,” and that U.S. fiction has influences that are European, native to the U.S., and from elsewhere. I’m not following or don’t agree with some of the other things you said.

      Liked by 2 people

      • There is much resistance in literary circles against the mathematization of their field of interest. I’ve dedicated a whole chapter to it in my book that you can download for free from my website till next Saturday (see my last post Bestselling lists however don’t offer any canonical judgement about literature but only insights in what subjects interest the readers at a certain time. This interest can be mathematically plotted and the subjects (themes) in fiction reached a bifurcation point in 1965.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks for your reply. I agree that math and numbers can apply to literature (and almost anything else) to a certain degree. In book sales, definitely; in what readers gravitate toward in different eras; and to some extent in the content itself. But I don’t think literature can be mathematically plotted in every way — which is probably not what you’re saying, anyhow. 🙂 (I couldn’t get your link to work, so I don’t know what you wrote in the post.)

          Liked by 2 people

          • Our knowledge of mathematics is still very limited and holds many unresolved issues but when we want to think-the-world-together, mathematics is the only concept that can unite science, art and religion. The Fibonacci sequence is one example of an algorithm that runs through all three of them, and I have made a case to apply Fourier’s theorem on the trend-evolution of subjects and types of main protagonists in bestselling literature. Some great works of literature have been plotted in a mathematically way in similar ways as some painters conceive their work around some geometrically designs and then let their creativity run free, being sure that the result be aesthetically pleasing.

            Liked by 1 person

  10. So happy you gave so many great examples of your theme, Dave, because I’m abysmal at this. In the past every time I guess or at least wonder about such influences and proceed to investigate, I’m wrong or at least thwarted. Authors often list their influences, and my hunch is never among them. Even with musicians. I shouldn’t feel too bad though, even professional critics get that wrong sometimes. Taking the time to read an author’s avowed influences is a wonderful exercise, however. Camus was influenced by Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky, and their philosophies and sensibilities are definitely on display in Camus’ works, even though their particular styles are not. So I guess it’s not only genres which get passed on or down. Dickens, of course, has an adjective as a legacy. Not too shabby!

    Liked by 6 people

    • Thank you, Mary Jo!

      Having an adjective as a legacy — “Dickensian” in the case of Dickens — is indeed not too shabby! I guess there’s also Kafka-esque…

      And that’s a great point about how authors can have certain similarities despite vastly different styles. I haven’t read Kierkegaard, but I can see what you mean about what Dostoyevsky’s and Camus’ work have in common that might not immediately meet the eye.

      Liked by 4 people

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