Sometimes we feel bound to answer a question in the very terms
it has been formulated without deciding first whether the question
itself poses a formulation problem. This is what I would call "a
poorly defined question."
I find that any direct answer to "the best English novel"
implies a subjective choice that automatically strikes off a very
large number of outstanding works. The English novel has a long
tradition and evolution. We cannot compare 19th century English
novels to experimental, early 20th century works, mid-20th century
postmodernism, or late 20th century political thrillers. I find it
as irrational as comparing oranges and chairs.
Following the changes to the canon of the novel, shouldn't we
first reduce the scope of the question and then answer accordingly,
justifying our choice?
I agree that Great Expectations is probably
the best 19th century novel, but find no valid standards to compare
it to, for example, Mrs. Dalloway, nor can I
compare either of them to John Fowles's The
I'd love some feedback on the above.
Well, then, and "best" is further complicated by the question of
the literary definition of "best": story? crafting? mastery of
English? enjoyment, moral quality, psychological effect, social
value, all of the above, some of the above, definitely notsome of
the above? Defining what is good in literature is very complicated
and, it seems to me, the current definition(s) is vague, ambiguous,
and perhaps too all-inclusive. For instance, the more I analyze
Hemingway's works, the more I recognize him as a great writer,
though I still decline to read anymore of his books because I don't
like the psychological effect they produce. The end result is that
the only answer that can be given to "the best English novel" must
be derived from "in your opinion" and "based on your criterion."
For instance, I say Spenser's Epithalamion is the best
English poetry, ever, based on all of the above; and I say Austen's
Pride and Prejudice is the best English novel based on all
of the above and because I can read it year after year without
being bored stiff by the language. But, who agrees with me? Not too
many, I think. [That was fun.]