Looking at Lots of Literary Lineage

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.

88 thoughts on “Looking at Lots of Literary Lineage

  1. Dracula – superb, though Bran Stoker couldn’t have arranged for the three O- donors for vampire bitten Lucy. Westenra.

    One of my favourite genres is historical crime fiction, especially Falco, Cadfael, and Crowner John, all of which feature professionals extending the range of their day jobs – Roman auditor, monastic herbalist. and coroner. all three with military/battleground experience.

    Older crime fiction ? Iago was around long before Ripley,
    Must be countless older influencers. Suggestions ?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Esther! Crime fiction of various kinds has definitely been around for a long time. Poe and Wilkie Collins were certainly 19th-century influencers, though they of course were influenced by earlier writers.


  2. This not only applies for writers, but for all artists. I remember how I got the inspiration for the format of my novel by reading Joyce’s Ulyses, found inspiration for my artistic manifest at the Dali museum in Figueres, got inspired by Gustav Holst for my opera, and by an essay by William James Sidis for my latest series of paintings. No artist is an island, and very often we discover that our proud inspirations are often just updated art history.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Shaharee! Very well said! You have an impressive variety of inspirations, and, yes, the various things we do can be influenced by various people who came before. And, yes again, no creator is an island — there are always things we consciously or subconsciously draw on.


  3. ETA Hoffmann should also rate as a forebear of sci-fi horror a la Mary Shelley, though more broadly, he is either a forebear or contemporary of other German Gothic horror writers, a compilation of whose works, tilted “Fantasmagoriana” translated from the German to French, was the book Shelley, Byron, Mr. Shelley and Dr. Polidori were reading aloud on that stormy night by Lake Como– after which Mary sat down to write what became “Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus” and Byron began his vampire tale, finished later by Dr. Polidori– who made his monster unmistakably Byronian.

    Hoffmann’s first foray into the Gothic was a wildly uneven and confusing/compelling tale titled “The Devil’s Elixirs” , featuring mad monks, identical cousins, and based, loosely, on one of the first of all Gothic titles: “The Monk” (1796), by Englishman Matthew Lewis.

    Borges certainly can be categorized as a proponent of magic realism, as may be his contemporary, collaborator and fellow Argentinian, Adolfo Bioy Casares, author of the “The Invention of Morel”(1940), which was illustrated by Borges’ sister. But Garcia Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936), Spanish poet murdered by nationalists during the Spanish Civil War, might take pride of place as an even earlier proponent of magic realism in such works as “Blood Wedding”. Then there’s Cervantes….

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, jhNY! I agree that Shelley and Hoffmann are each among the pioneers in both the sci-fi and horror categories.

      And those are great and astute mentions of Garcia Lorca, Cervantes, etc.! It can be tricky figuring out who’s first in line in a literary lineage trajectory…


  4. Hi Dave, I read this post yesterday but wanted to think about it a bit. I do believe that John Wyndham was influenced by HG Wells as I’m sure many sci-fi writers were. Stephen king was influenced by John Wyndham (The Dome reminded me of The Midwich Cuckoo) and The Stand was reminiscent of The Day of the Triffids. King was also influenced by Bram Stoker (Salem’s Lot) and Poe (The Breathing Method). I myself have been influenced by Enid Blyton, Dorothy Edwards, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and E Nesbit with my children’s books writing. Stephen King, Bram Stoker, Poe, and Dickens have influenced my adult writing.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I really wonder if Harper Lee’s novel To Kill A Mockingbird – the mood, the era, the locale, and the sensitive subject matter were used as somewhat of a template for Thomas Tryon’s Lady. Both books were also written from the viewpoint of an innocent child who was exposed to some troubling truths.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. It is indeed fun to look back and see the influence that earlier authors had on modern works. For example, I just finished reading the excellent book “the Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois.” As the author is normally a poet, I’m not sure what her influences were when writing. However, the book reminded me a lot of “the Count of Monte Cristo” not necessarily in story, but in writing style. Like Cristo, this book had a very wide array of characters, each with their own in depth story, and each intersecting into the overall plot in a very intricate way. You can’t appreciate the entire book without knowing each story and how it weaves in. It was truly an amazing book and I highly recommend it!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. As i have written before, there’s a lineage in California crime writing from Dashiell Hammett to Raymond Chandler to James M.Cain to Ross MacDonald to John D. McDonald– and beyond.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. A correction, from wikipedia: “”The Overcoat” (Russian: Шине́ль, translit. Shinyél’; sometimes translated as “The Cloak”) is a short story by Russian author Nikolai Gogol, published in 1842. The story and its author have had great influence on Russian literature, as expressed in a quote about Russian realist writers from Eugène-Melchior de Vogüé (often misattributed to Fyodor Dostoyevsky): “We all come out from Gogol’s ‘Overcoat’.”

    Hardly matters, in that the quote seems so much more significant coming from such a famous author as Dostoyevsky, and would hardly matter if it were regularly (and more accurately attributed to Melchior de Vogue, who aside from making that quote, (most likely in one of the earliest essays printed in the West pointing up Dostoyevsky’s genius), was not even Russian or a novelist, but a French diplomat, his last service in that role taking place in St. Petersburg.

    Reminds me that there are dozens of quotes, for some reason laid often at the feet of Mark Twain or Winston Churchill, which are no such thing. But I guess “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Interesting topic. At first I took it literally (literarily 😂)
    So, I was thinking like Arthur Waugh poet, critic who wrote a biography of Alfred Lord Tennyson (which I have not read) then his 2 sons Evelyn (Brideshead Revisited) & Alec (Island in the Sun).
    Then there was Auberon Waugh then Alexander.
    Anyway, outside of this line of thinking, I’m a bit lost.

    Then I thought – oh oh.. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad & Apocalypse Now. However, Apocalypse Now was a movie based on Heart of Darkness.

    Perhaps next week I’ll do better!

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Dave – a brilliant thought to view literary lineage. Just this morning I was reading about the origins of poetry – how it was be read aloud, not read, because it was a way to record history via oral traditions. Which has me thinking about how poets were influenced by those who came before. For example, Mary Oliver was profoundly influenced by Edna St. Vincent Millay when Mary lived for a brief time, in Millay’s home helping Edna’s sister, Norma, sort Edna’s papers. Which led me to Robert Frost’s influence on Edna. And then Robert Frost who was influenced by Edward Thomas, Rupert Brooke, and Robert Graves. And so on….
    And then serendipitously, your post on Literary Lineage that prompted my thoughts to wander over to J.R.R. Tolkien who was influenced, by language and Germanic heroic legends, especially its Norse and Old English forms. I read that one of his first Norse purchases was the Völsunga saga. And then there was C.S. Lewis who had many influences: Edith Nesbit, JRR Tolkien, George MacDonald, Florence Lewis, Robert Capron, and Maud Barfield. Dorothy L Sayers was influenced by Dante Alighieri and William Wordsworth.
    The question then becomes, who influences our writing. Even though we may not consider ourselves “writers”, we write letters, e-mail, blog posts. We gather words together to tell a story, even as simple as a grocery list. You may smile, but archeologists are excited when they uncover tablets that indicate daily life in the ancient past.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Speaking of creepy horror, the vile, dangerous Gov. De Santis of Florida wanting no books expressing one’s choices for one’s sexuality “don’t say gay” thus,as Ray Bradbury’s dystopian “Fahrenheit 451″ akin to burning books like the radical Republicans wanting to ban important books like Toni Morrison’s ” Beloved .”

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Dave, I lack your vast literary knowledge to add to yet another of your interesting and informative posts. Without a doubt, our great literary authors have all been influenced by those who have come before them. On the other hand, while the foundations may have changed little over time, the structures and designs take on new forms that tantalize and captivate us, thereby taking our current and future literary architects into new directions.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Rosaliene, for the kind words and comment! Well said! I agree that various authors can be influenced by predecessors while crafting their own writing into different forms. “Variations on a theme” in a way.

      Liked by 2 people

  13. Back in the 90’s, I read two others of Louis Auchincloss’s: ‘The Rector of Justin’ (in many circles regarded as his best) and ‘The Embezzler’. I found both of them very absorbing. I believe he was a cousin (?) of Jackie Kennedy Onassis and also had some connection with Gore Vidal, which is probably how I became aware of him. I think I read an article on him by Vidal, mentioning the influences of James and Wharton. Both novels were very absorbing but I think I got more involved with ‘The Embezzler’ even more gripping. I don’t remember very much about either of them but I liked them. I just never got around to reading any more of him. Interestingly, ‘Rector of Justin’ was published in 1964 with ‘Embezzler’ published next in 1966, close to the half way mark of his career.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thank you, Brian! When Louis Auchincloss was recommended to me, “The Rector of Justin” was suggested, but my local library didn’t have it. So I chose an Auchincloss novel at random and fortunately chose wisely. 🙂 The author definitely had high social connections!

      Liked by 3 people

  14. I tend to notice literary lineage with contemporary short stories than with novels–although it’s probably more accurate than “imitators” or “jumpers on the bandwagon.” In the literary canon I studied in college (is there still a literary canon???), the Bible and Shakepeare were by far the most influential.

    Liked by 5 people

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