The Pyramid of Influence

If asked to name 'highly original' works of fiction you'd probably go for the more seemingly obscure narratives that seem to be trail blazers.  George Orwell's 1984 is a good example.  However, it was 'heavily influenced by Yevgeny Zamyatin's, We (1920) the story of a futuristic dystopia which prophesies Stalinism and the failure of the revolution. A rigid society people are referred to only as numbers.  When two lovers have 'irrational' urges the State becomes hostile.  It is also written in an experimental style.  Unsurprisingly, the novel was actually reviewed by Orwell.

 

You may also mention Anthony Burgess as a highly original author, yet he was well known for being overly influenced by others; Orwell being one of them.  Burgess published 1985 in 1976, which, obviously, was heavily influenced by Orwell.

 

Zadie Smith has also been more open about her 'hommage' to E M Forster by her use of elements of Howard's End for her third novel, On Beauty.  She is also known to have been influenced by Salman Rushdie in her first novel, White Teeth, and Hanif Kureishi.  Ian McEwan's Amsterdam was also heavily influenced by Evelyn Waugh. 

 

It reminds me of T S Eliot's Tradition and the Individual Talent, on which I rambled on in an earlier blog.  Eliot claimed that, in literature, tradition was hardly spoken of.  Perhaps it's that word.  Tradition.  It conjures up images of brass bands being played in grey towns where 'every day is like Sunday', as Morrissey would say.  Yet when we think of it as being open to and open about the long line of our own particular influences I think most writers would be surprised at the extent to which they adhere, or pay homage without acknowledgement. 

 

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