Every reader has, at one point or another, questioned whether it's okay to love a book written by a problematic author. This is a normal part of reading! Sometimes it's okay to feel uncertain about whether it's acceptable to love a certain writer's work or not.
Maybe you're a fan of Ernest Hemingway's work, but feel guilty because of the racist, sexist, and anti-semitic undertones in some of his books. Or perhaps you feel like all classics are outdated and therefore not worth reading. Let's dive into whether it's okay to love the work of problematic authors and ways you can approach their books.
Can you love the work of a problematic author?
This is a big question these days, and a very valid one. Some people believe that you should separate the artist from the art. After all, you can't control whether an artist is a good or bad person. Others believe that the best way to show an artist that you don't approve of their views is by, well, not buying their art.
While this can certainly apply to living writers, it's a different situation with dead classic authors. It's completely up to you who you want to give your money to, but with classic authors this problem is completely removed. Because a dead author can't benefit monetarily from the purchase of their work, there's genuinely nothing wrong with buying, reading, and loving classic books—even when they were written by problematic people.
Even so, you might still be feeling uncomfortable reading certain books by certain authors. Here are a few ways to approach the books you love—even when they have problematic views or were written by problematic people.
Acknowledge the views are outdated
An important step in reading any work is to know when to acknowledge that some viewpoints are no longer acceptable. Don't defend your favorite book until you're blue in the face, instead acknowledge the shortcomings—whether it's the author's or their work's.
As long as you're able to see which views are outdated and understand why they are, you can still enjoy classic books. Classics are wonderful cornerstones to our culture and valuable windows into the past. Moby-Dick may have its fair share of problems, but it also has a thing or two to teach us, even today. Likewise, timeless stories like Anna Karenina, 1984, and Hamlet are all beautifully written and have valuable lessons to offer. Acknowledge the problems, but don't feel guilty for appreciating wonderful prose and great storylines.
Celebrate how far we've come
One of the most exciting parts of reading work by past authors and comparing it to contemporary ones is that we can see how far we've come culturally. Isn't it amazing to see a greater amount of equality and a conscious shift towards a more open world?
Many times, a classic book can serve as a good reminder of what we shouldn't regress back to as a society. Isn't it wonderful that in many parts of the world women can now own their own property, earn their own wealth, and don't have to marry to find financial stability (like they do in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen)? Isn't it uplifting to know that the absurd and racist views Tom Buchanan espoused in The Great Gatsby are no longer acceptable? We've come a long way, and that should be celebrated!
And remember, you can't change the past
Classic books may be timeless works of art, but they are also firmly entrenched within the time they were written. All books—even those published today—reflect the age they're created in. (This goes for both positive and negative parts of human history.) Who knows how modern day books may be judged in 50 years?
There are many controversial points of view that were once considered acceptable. Certain language and opinions that are unacceptable today would have been commonly held, and even encouraged, at one time. Does that make it okay? Of course not. But you can't change the past. All you can do is love a book for what it is, understand the context, and appreciate the historical time in which it was written.
Are you a fan of the classics? Tell us why or why not in the comments below. 👇
And check out our wide selection of literary art prints and wall posters in the Proseposters shop—each one is created using the words from famous classic books!
There's something for every bookworm. ❤️