Some authors leave their mark on the literary scene and become household names within their respective genres for generations to follow.
Numerous authors have become torch-bearers for distinct literary varieties, often setting the benchmark for future writers to follow in their footsteps.
And if you're taking a literature class, you're bound to come across at least one of their works.
One such example is George Orwell becoming the go-to authority when talking about totalitarianism. He has become the face of dystopian fiction, with the term 'Orwellian' being used to denote dystopia in modern prose.
Meanwhile, other writers use their words to describe and flush out entire magical universes. These in-depth fantasy novels give way to multi-media franchises, such as J. R Tolkien's Lord of The Rings and J.K Rowling's Harry Potter.
Let's have a look at some of the most remarkable literary figures to grace literature and prose.
One cannot talk of literary icons of English literature without mentioning William Shakespeare. No high-school literature class is complete without reading one of his works.
His influence permeates our society, and it's common to hear references to his plays often. It's not just literature where he reigns supreme.
Shakespeare is known for his comedies, tragedies, and sonnets alike. Plays like Troilus and Cressida take inspiration from Hellenic sources, while others are more recent and based on Renaissance-era Venice and Elizabethan England.
Shakespeare is also noted for his rhythm and use of the iambic pentameter, but his most significant influence on English was his expression.
He is famous for having coined new words and phrases that we still use, such as "wear my heart upon my sleeve" and "Be all and end-all."
Aside from his writing style creating the word 'Orwellian,' his work is relevant in the modern socio-political environment, where countries veer towards authoritarianism.
Some literary critics would even go so far as to say no other piece of literature is more relevant to politics than Orwell's masterpiece '1984.'
It's impossible to talk about authoritarianism, mass surveillance, state propaganda, and falsification of truth without referencing Orwell's work.
'Doublethink,' 'Thoughtcrime,' 'Newspeak,' 'Big Brother' are terms inspired by his work and have entered modern parlance as signs of a dystopian future and state-sponsored totalitarianism.
While some thought 1984 was based on the Soviet Union, it still finds relevance today and for times to come as a warning against authoritarian narratives.
Another one of his famous works - Animal Farm - talks of how revolutions can be hijacked and used by specific groups to seize power.
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Perhaps not as politically relevant as Orwell, Ernest Hemingway remains one of the most famous writers of the twentieth century, and his books continue to sell year after year.
What is remarkable about his work?
In today's world, where there is a focus on literary allusions, Hemingway's work stands out through his emphasis on raw machismo and free from intellectual subtleties.
He had a personal inkling for war, masculinity, and virility, drawing influence from his service in World War 1. And his work represented precisely that.
Ernest Hemingway's writing reflects raw, unbridled masculinity, with a simple yet tersely descriptive style. And that is where his niche lies. His work still influences many genres, imbibing them with their stoic yet tense 'in the moment' feeling.
Hemingway's work has the quality of transporting the viewer to the scene in question. He describes each setting as if the reader were there, letting them feel the tension, joy, opinion, and sense of urgency surrounding the scene.
Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Though the play is not related to the author Virginia Woolf, it still is a pretty good testament to her relevance in the literary world.
Being a part of the avant-garde Bloomsbury group, she routinely pushed boundaries to what was considered morally palatable in turn-of-the-century Victorian times and its sensibilities.
Many critics make the mistake of pigeonholing her as a 'feminist' writer. While she certainly was a feminist icon – routinely incorporating first-wave movement themes in her writing – she was much more than just a 'women's writer.'
She mastered the stream-of-consciousness writing style, often leading to an inner-monologue within her literary pieces, which many readers appreciate.
While the generation before her focused on external details in their writings, Woolf was probably the pioneer of giving voice to introspection, though without the jargon, needless psycho-analysis, or any hint of the subconscious.
She formulated a new method of expression that emphasized what it is to know ourselves from within.
Like her or not, Ms. Rowling has a writing style that has led her to become one of our generation's most recognizable authors.
Her acclaimed Harry Potter series has been globally recognized for its imaginative world-building, impeccable prose, and the multitude of themes juxtaposed within the revered seven novels.
Many literary snobs would be quick to scoff at Harry Potter being spoken of in the same conversation as classics such as Animal Farm and the Ulysses.
However, that won't change the fact that this series is probably the most popular fictitious publication of our time. It has left its mark on popular culture, spawning movies, video games, theater plays, and a religiously dedicated fandom.
J.K Rowling stands out as a writer for her sheer ingenuity in having carved out an entirely alternate universe, complete with fictional creatures, such as goblins, centaurs, and soul-sucking dementors.
What's remarkable is that most of her characters are inspired by a literary tradition, such as the centaurs and Basilisk taking inspiration from Greek mythology and Voldemort's snake Nagini taking its name from Indian folklore.
While Harry Potter may not feature in a literature class curriculum, J.K Rowling's Potterverse has become an irrevocable part of pop-culture. It holds its own as a masterpiece in modern literature.
This Russian immigrant to America made such an impact with her work and ideology that she is still relevant in US politics. And her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged, is still so famous after all these years.
While many critics label her views as sheer, unbridled capitalism, not caring who gets crushed in the search for a capital gain, her philosophy still drives many top politicians, capitalists, and business people.
Her work Atlas Shrugged is a narrative for a dystopia that draws on libertarian fears of suffocating government control. It stresses individual needs over collective, which some would argue, gives way to an 'every man for himself' frenzy of selfishness and greed.
Yet her work remains relevant as ever. Her views inspired the age of capitalism, freedom, entrepreneurship, and 'laissez-faire' market economies at their best.
At their worst, some would argue that they veer towards greed, get-rich schemes, and indifference to the poor, ignored, and underprivileged.
In a way, she can be viewed as touting Charles Darwin's theory of 'survival of the fittest' in the economic and social sphere.
Moreover, her philosophy of Objectivism is relevant to this day in America; it taps into the values of libertarianism and individualism.
That's one of the benefits of literature: readers can find allegories for social, interpersonal, and political trends in works of fiction, whether it's unbridled capitalism in Rand's work or the perils of dystopian, totalitarian regimes in Orwell's pieces.
Acquaint Yourself With These Literary Figures
Are you a literature fan looking to read up on what some of the best authors have to offer? So if you like reading and book clubs are not your thing, get in touch with a tutor at Superprof.
With Superprof, you will find a teacher who can help you dissect the different literary tropes and themes one-on-one!