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Explain the meaning of this quote by John Hershey: "The final test of a work of...

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sohail718 | Student, Grade 10 | eNotes Newbie

Posted November 17, 2008 at 9:11 AM via web

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Explain the meaning of this quote by John Hershey: "The final test of a work of art is not whether it has beauty, but whether it has power." (support with 2-4 stories)

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted November 17, 2008 at 11:23 AM (Answer #1)

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Many works of literature contain a unique beauty that is not recognized by contemporaries of the author.  For instance, "Wuthering Heights" originally criticized for its complex structure, imagery and ambiguity is now lauded for these elements because the power of the novel has lasted the test of time.  Likewise, Melville's "Moby Dick" met with negative comments on the lengthy passages about the physiognomy of the whale.  This negativity was so strong that Melville remarked that "the true test of greatness is failure." Later, after Melville died, his novel became a powerfully metaphysical study of Nature and what lies "behind the pasteboard mask."

Aldous Huxley's prophetic "Brave New World" met with negative reviews.  But the power of this novel propelled it into becoming a classic. For, its message of the affects of the advancement of science on human beings, the fact that science can bring about the love of servitude in human minds is, indeed, powerful. Another novel which has often been criticized for lack of character development has an unforgettable character: Madame deFarge.  Who can forget this vengeful, sinister, knitting-evil woman?  She is powerful in her hatred for all aristocrats because of the actions of one.

A reader may or may not appreciate the beauty of a classical novel.  But, he/she will be moved by the power of that novel regardless.  This test of a literary work remains in the reader.

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