Should a Piece of Literature Be Judged on Its Literary Merits Alone, Regardless of Its Historical Context?

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Steven Brust once wrote: “In my opinion, the proper way to judge a novel is this: Does it give one an accurate reflection of the moods and characteristics of a particular group of people in a particular place at a particular time? If so, it has value. Otherwise, it has none.” (Brust, Steven. 2005. Sethra Lavode). Brust, quite clearly has joined this debate regarding literary theories. He claims that if aspects of literary piece, aside from its own merits, are not significant then it has no worth. It is continually and widely argued by critics of literature whether a book should be based on its literary merits alone, or if only certain aspects, such as history, regarding its writing should be relevant. The relationship between history and literary work is often questioned. There are four main models that have been devised to explain this. The first regards a piece literary work as universal and belonging to no time period. The model states that historical context has no significance in literary texts, and that both should remain autonomous from each other. Critics are concerned with literary texts being artefacts in themselves that surpass the possibilities of a particular time, thus the idea of specific historical context is dismissed. R.S. Crane supports this view and in an essay said history is part of “the general history of culture” whereas literature should be “imaginative works considered with respect to those qualities which can truly be said to be timeless… quite apart from any knowledge of their origin or historical affiliation” (Crane, Ronald. 1967. ‘History versus Criticism in the study of literature’, in The idea of the Humanities and Other Essays Critical and Historical, Vol.2. Chicago: University of Chicago Press). In short, this model centres around the basis that a literary work should be judged on its, as Crane said, ‘timeless qualities’ for example the quality of its linguistic features and other aspects that give a work literary merits....
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