What could 'decentralization of literature' possibly mean? Is it the fact that with the rise of the novel literature became also a thing of the proletariat, the middle class and no longer only...

What could 'decentralization of literature' possibly mean? Is it the fact that with the rise of the novel literature became also a thing of the proletariat, the middle class and no longer only accessible for the bourgeois society? Or also thematic shift into more realistic themes? Or a shift in terms of narration/narrative techniques? Or can all these factors account for the decentralisation of literature?

(It is a possible exam question that I am trying to answer on my own; the authors that were discussed throughout the course were: Defoe, Pope, Richardson, Fielding, Sterne, Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Brontë's, Dickens, Hardy, G. Eliot, Henry James, Joseph Conrad, Wilde, DH Lawrence, Rupert Brooke, Edward Thomas,Owen, Sassoon, Cannan, yeats, TS eliot, Joyce, WH Auden, Larkin and Heaney).

Thank you in advance.

Expert Answers
e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The phrase, "decentralization of literature," could be taken in a number of ways. Including the list of authors in your course of study is helpful in narrowing down some possible meanings of the phrase. 

The writers on your list that were writing at the earliest date were English poets. As your list moves through time, the authors become a mix of novelists and poets. This is, in a way, a demonstration of a decentralization of form. 

From Milton to Wordsworth, poetry was the sole, vaunted form of literature. By the time Dickens and then Conrad came around, the novel had risen to enjoy a far greater status than it once had. 

Outside of this formal shift to include the novel as a legitimate form of literature, your list of authors begins (in time) as a list of exclusively English poets then expands to include authors hailing from other countries (the U.S.A - Eliot - and Ireland - Yeats, Heaney, etc.). This expansion of nationalities seems to fit nicely with what might be seen as the most "obvious" meaning of the phrase "decentralization of literature" in today's world. 

Looking especially at the late 20th century (after Foucault, Derrida and other critical theorists argued against a center of meaning or primary cultural point of view), we can see a substantial movement toward multiculturalism in literature. Debates about canonical literature and diversified course curricula can be said to characterize the recent landscape of literary discussion and literary culture, as it is. 

Acknowledging a movement toward multiculturalism in the political realm as well as the cultural realm, we might take the phrase "decentralization of literature" to refer to this trend as an expression of the "cultural moment" of the 20th century. 

"Multiculturalism values diverse identities of peoples and presumes the possibility that diverse groups can interact positively" (eNotes).

A fair question to ask here might be whether or not your list of authors serves to represent diverse identities, as opposed to preferring a single, privileged view point be it oriented by class or nationality. Certainly some of the writers on the list deal directly with issues of class (Dickens, Lawrence) and some with issues of nationality (Conrad, Heaney). And it was Yeats who famously wrote, "the center cannot hold."   

As a course looking at the gradual inclusion of the novel as a form of accepted literature and featuring authors of increasingly diverse backgrounds, the decentralization in question seems to be potentially both formal and cultural.