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Literary merit

Literary merit is the quality shared by all works of fiction that are considered to have aesthetic value.[1]

The concept of "literary merit" has been criticized as being necessarily subjective, since personal taste determines aesthetic value, and has been derided as a "relic of a scholarly elite".[1] Despite these criticisms, many criteria have been suggested to determine literary merit including: standing the test of time, realistic characters, emotional complexity, originality, and concern with truth.[2]

In 1957, at the obscenity trial for Howl, author Walter Van Tilburg Clark was prodded into defining literary merit. His response outlines some of the popular criteria:

The only final test, it seems to me, of literary merit, is the power to endure. Obviously such a test cannot be applied to a new or recent work, and one cannot, I think, offer soundly an opinion on the probability of endurance save on a much wider acquaintance with the work or works of a writer than I have of Mr. Ginsberg's or perhaps even with a greater mass of production than Mr. Ginsberg's. ... Aside from this test of durability, I think the test of literary merit must be, to my mind, first, the sincerity of the writer. I would be willing, I think, even to add the seriousness of purpose of the writer, if we do not by that leave out the fact that a writer can have a fundamental serious purpose and make a humorous approach to it. I would add also there are certain specific ways in which craftsmanship at least of a piece of work, if not in any sense the art, which to my mind involves more, may be tested.[3]

See also


  1. ^ a b Thaler 2008, p. 68.
  2. ^ Thaler 2008, p. 69-70.
  3. ^ Morgan & Peters 2006, p. 155-156.


  • Thaler, Engelbert (2008). Teaching English Literature. UTB für Wissenschaft. p. 231. 
  • Morgan, Bill; Peters, Nancy (2006). Howl on Trial: The Battle for Free Expression. City Lights Books. p. 224. 

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