Most authors have some kind of literary lineage. Their work might be quite distinctive, but clearly they’ve been influenced by some writers who came before.
I thought about this the past few days while reading Louis Auchincloss (pictured above) for the first time — namely his compelling novel The Lady of Situations starring the brainy, crafty, ambitious, strong-minded, money-conscious Natica Chauncey as she navigates an intensely patriarchal and class-stratified time.
It’s pretty obvious that Auchincloss took some cues from authors such as Jane Austen, Henry James, and Edith Wharton while also putting his own, more-modern stamp on things. There’s the upper-class milieu (though certain characters like Natica are a bit on the outside looking in) and there’s Auchincloss’ comfort with and insider knowledge of that milieu — even as there’s some satirizing of the rich going on. Specifically, The Lady of the Situations reminds me more than a little of Wharton’s The Custom of the Country, with Natica a nicer version of Undine Spragg.
Meanwhile, my brief mention of Jane Austen reminds me that she was influenced by earlier authors such as Fanny Burney.
Moving to other literature, we can see a magic-realism line from Jorge Luis Borges to Gabriel Garcia Marquez to Isabel Allende.
I read Garcia Marquez’s The General in His Labyrinth just before The Lady of Situations, and I must say I found that novel about South American hero Simon Bolivar’s last days often tedious and repetitive, albeit wonderfully written. I much prefer Garcia Marquez’s other work, including of course One Hundred Years of Solitude.
More lineage examples:
Fyodor Dostoevsky famously was said to have said, “We all came out of Gogol’s ‘Overcoat,'” referring to Nikolai Gogol’s influential short story “The Overcoat.” Alexander Pushkin also influenced subsequent Russian authors, as well as non-Russian authors.
In 19th-century France, Emile Zola took some cues from the earlier Honore de Balzac; they both created multi-book sagas in which many of the same characters appeared in different novels despite those realism-infused books not being “series” per se.
The sprawling mix of humor, earnestness, and social consciousness in John Irving’s work is partly reminiscent of Charles Dickens.
When it comes to novels of the past few decades with a strong social-conscience component, one can see Barbara Kingsolver following in some of Margaret Atwood’s footsteps.
In the creepy horror genre, there’s a trajectory from E.T.A. Hoffmann to Edgar Allan Poe to H.P. Lovecraft to Shirley Jackson to Stephen King.
A number of Cormac McCarthy’s novels show him to be a “southern gothic” disciple of William Faulkner. In a more comedic southern vein, we see certain Erskine Caldwell elements in the later work of Charles Portis.
Agatha Christie of course influenced many a subsequent mystery writer — and, in the science-fiction realm, there’s a path from Mary Shelley to Jules Verne to H.G. Wells to countless 20th-century authors ranging from Isaac Asimov to Octavia E. Butler.
Literary lineage can often be indirect and subtle and not exact, but it’s there.
I obviously just scratched the surface in this post. Any lineage examples you’d like to mention and discuss?
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 2003-started/award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com every Thursday. The latest piece — which discusses too-high buildings and a possible return of public pre-K in my town — is here.