Connolly 100 updated
September 17, 2004 9:43 AM   Subscribe

100 key books “Cyril Connolly chose 100 key books from England, France and America first published between 1880 and 1950 to represent ‘The Modern Movement’.”

This site asks: “How does the list look now, in the first decade of the 21st Century?” “an additional list of key books is needed for 1950 to 2000. What should be included and why? Does Connolly's selection criteria need adjusting [just England (when so many of the books are from Ireland), France and America!] and if so how should this be done, remembering that Connolly was very precise in delineating the list as Key books, not best books?”
posted by Grod (18 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Given that the Modern era was the first era where novels and poetry from other cultures really started to have an effect on western thought, I would say leaving them off the list is a drawback, yeah. Plus I haven't read the majority of those books.
posted by Hildago at 10:23 AM on September 17, 2004

posted by infidelpants at 10:23 AM on September 17, 2004

oh man, infidelpants totally beat me to it!
posted by soplerfo at 10:39 AM on September 17, 2004

Thank you, Infidelpants. Now get out of my brain.
posted by grabbingsand at 10:41 AM on September 17, 2004

Brion Gysin's The Process
posted by Satapher at 11:16 AM on September 17, 2004

I'll take a stab at it, the 1950 mark a turn towards early postmodernism. Also, I think that entering the post-colonial period pretty much requires expanding beyond England, France and America. So, I would say that some of the key books would include:

Beloved by Toni Morrison. In addition to being a good novel, I think that it is a key novel for including the Reconstruction in how we talk about slavery.

Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton. Probably the widest read post-colonial African novel and a major inspiration for the international pressure to end Apartheid.

The Lord of the Rings by Tolkien. This is a key book that probably would get knocked off the list of best books. The seismic impact this book had on Fantasy Lit. (both good and bad) is enormous.

Slaughterhouse Five by Vonnegut. Possibly not his best book, but probably his most influential. This book is not only important for its critical view of modern war, (coming from a WWII veteran) but also for its experimental narrative.

Maus by Spiegelmann. Again, not a best book, but a book that is influential for legitimizing graphic novels as a literary form.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:23 AM on September 17, 2004

From the site: "Themes: Feminism and the Position of Women, Gay Rights, Globalization, Race and Inequality."

That one sentence more or less summarizes the death of literary criticism in our time.
posted by Faze at 1:37 PM on September 17, 2004

Modern movement defined.
posted by stbalbach at 2:17 PM on September 17, 2004

I like those for this list, Kirk. Off the top of my head, I'd add:

The Amityville Horror, by Jay Anson
Elvis: What Happened?, Albert Goldman
Valley of the Dolls, Jacqueline Susann
Godel/Escher/Bach, Douglas Hofstadter

and for literary stuff:
One Hundred Years Of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Hopscotch, Julio Cortazar
Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace (What? What?)
Generation X, Douglas Coupland
Wise Blood, Flannery O'Connor
Naked Lunch, W. S. Burroughs
posted by chicobangs at 2:29 PM on September 17, 2004

invisible man by ralph ellison
but maybe not - i don't know how influential it was, but i don't know anybody else who can write about race without limiting it to just race, instead the bigger picture - the struggle between group and individual mentality which is probably the defining struggle of america
posted by klik99 at 4:24 PM on September 17, 2004

Dos Passos (the trilogy) and Dreiser (Sister Carrie) and Sinclair (Jungle) and Genet (Our Lady of the Flowers)--and Baldwin and Saramago and Laxness and Naipaul for 1950-2000, off the top of my head, certainly should have been on that list.
(and some of what kirk and chico and klik said)
posted by amberglow at 7:48 PM on September 17, 2004

From the site: "Themes: Feminism and the Position of Women, Gay Rights, Globalization, Race and Inequality."

That one sentence more or less summarizes the death of literary criticism in our time.
posted by Faze at 1:37 PM PST on September 17


100 key books. Okay. Connolly's choices are predictable and follow the usual mid-century canonical lines. I'll give him props for managing to include Apollinaire (and, later on, Ronald Firbank), but really-- couldn't he have found a single work by a woman between the years 1880 and 1920 which might have qualified? By his own criteria, as I understand it, he wants to list works that were 'key'. That means, I assume, literary works which were influential and innovative. One would imagine, then, that texts which sparked entire genres, which were wildly popular to the point of influencing the common imagination of the Western World, might qualify-- but I do not see Dracula here, for example.

It's not until 1922 that a female author is namechecked (Katherine Mansfield). After this, Woolf, Ivy Compton-Burnett, and Edith Sitwell get a nod. No Jean Rhys, but then of course her reputation only really began to grow in the 1960s... at any rate, trying to argue with Connolly's list is rather hopeless. He's come up with a list of 'great books', but key works? Often it's difficult to know what the 'key work' of any era was until much later, when the generations of writers which follow begin finding, and emulating, their models. In Canada, Sheila Watson's Double Hook is a key text for Modernist Writers, but it's obscure. And thereby my suggestion: writers should be making suggestions, bringing up the works which have most influenced them. It might not be the most coherent list, but it might be more interesting than lists of works which possess other kinds of importance.

Anyway, off the top of my head:

Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer
Kerouac, On The Road (I dislike it, but you I don't think you can argue with its social importance in America)
Any collection of Alice Munro's; Mavis Gallant's From the Fifteenth District (the revival of short fiction)
Gravity's Rainbow
There's no Kafka on Connolly's list-- depends on when it was published in English, I guess
Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook
Gibson, Neuromancer (key books, not best books, right?)
Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea (and the rest of her works as they were republished after 1966)
Margaret Laurence, The Fire Dwellers
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch
Salman Rushdie, Midnight's Children
Adrienne Rich, Diving Into The Wreck
H.D., Collected Poems
Elizabeth Bishop, Collected Poems
Robert Lowell, Collected Poems (yes, I know this is cheating)
posted by jokeefe at 12:06 AM on September 18, 2004

I don't think anyone reads Connolly's The Modern Movement except for a few rare-book dealers and their clients. (Some collectors use the book as a shopping list, so inclusion in the 'Connolly Hundred' can add $$$ to a book's commercial value.)

Still, I'm happy to join in the game:

Nabokov, Lolita (1955)
Claude Levi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques (1955)
Allan Ginsberg, Howl and Other Poems (1956)
John Osborne, Look Back in Anger (1957)
Iris Murdoch, The Bell (1958)
Raymond Queneau, Zazie dans le Metro (1959)
Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961)
Sylvia Plath, Ariel (1965)
Truman Capote, In Cold Blood (1965)

And if we're going to expand the list to include literature in other languages:

Primo Levi, Si questo e un uomo (1947)
Italo Calvino, I nostri antenati (1960)
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Cien anos de soledad (1967)

In some ways a more interesting exercise would be to update Printing and the Mind of Man, the classic catalogue of 1963 'illustrating the impact of print on the evolution of Western civilisation over five centuries'.

Lists like the 'Connolly Hundred' and PMM reflect a great confidence in the power of print; a belief that all the great cultural and historical events of the last 500 years have been mediated through the written/printed word. In itself, drawing up a list of 'key books' is a fairly trivial exercise; but if it can help people recapture that sense of the power of print, it may serve a valuable and worthwhile purpose.
posted by verstegan at 3:42 AM on September 18, 2004

William Golding's list of 99 modern classics compiled in the mid-eighties makes an interesting comparison.

p.s. if you haven't read Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban, then you should.
posted by johnny novak at 6:52 AM on September 18, 2004

There's no Kafka on Connolly's list

That's because he's only covering the UK, US, and France, a bizarre restriction that doesn't make any sense to me. If you want to do only English-language, fine, but why France and not Germany, Italy, Russia...?
posted by languagehat at 9:20 AM on September 18, 2004

William Golding's list of 99 modern classics compiled in the mid-eighties makes an interesting comparison.

Interesting list-- I agree with the inclusion of the Alexandria Quartet (isn't Durrell due for a revival?), but the choice of Erica Jong's How to Save Your Own Life rather than Fear of Flying seems odd.

Interesting to also to see Mordechai Richler's first novel on this list (why not The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, though?) and Robertson Davies (not Fifth Business, odd).

LH: I did note that I was thinking of when Kafka was translated into English-- just as French critical theory didn't really take off in English speaking academe until Foucault etc. began to be available in translation in the 80s. The Metamorphosis and the Trial, at least, are key texts even in translation, I would think.

But yeah, the criteria is weird.

Hope you're doing well, btw. :)
posted by jokeefe at 2:21 PM on September 18, 2004

Golding or Burgess?
posted by Satapher at 1:00 AM on September 19, 2004


posted by johnny novak at 5:19 AM on September 19, 2004

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