LETTER : What is great literature?

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The Independent Online
From Mr Kenneth Hudson

Sir: I have a certain amount of sympathy with Richard Hoggart's review of Libraries in a World of Cultural Change (3 August). I think it is wrong that public libraries, which are increasingly short of funds, should squander money on cheap fiction which people can perfectly well buy for themselves nowadays. But I take issue with him on two points. First, I think it is untrue that "of all British cultural achievements those in literature are the greatest". The "culture" of Britain, as of any other country, consists of everything that its citizens do and have done. Tattooing, pop festivals, football and unmarried mothers are just as much a part of modern British culture as Iris Murdoch and the Proms.

Secondly, I greatly mistrust the word "literature". Who is to decide where writing and reading ends and "literature" begins? Broadly speaking, a book seems to become "literature" when examination questions are set about it, which means that the labelling is in the hands of academics.

The professional culture merchants need to have their bluff called from time to time. I have recently, after more than 30 years, re-read Lady Chatterley's Lover, which Richard Hoggart considers a masterpiece. I found it ill-written, full of cliches, boring and more than a little pornographic. Why, from a public librarian's point of view, should Hoggart's judgement be automatically preferred to mine? It is, after all, only a novel.

I do, however, have one practical suggestion that might help to solve the library problem. It is that public libraries should buy no book costing less than pounds 15. Most of the chaff would fall through this sieve.

Yours faithfully,

Kenneth Hudson

Shepton Mallet, Somerset

4 August

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