13 Apr 2014

The Circle of Literary Influences

Everybody knows that a good book is full of allusions to another good book. One of the most obvious examples would be my favourite John Fowles, who used to refer to Shakespeare in nearly all of his works. Of course, Fowles took his obsession over Shakespeare to an extreme - my college professor even used to say that Fowles was a Shakespeare-wanker (which is an extreme on its own, too). Nevertheless, it is true that literary history is ample with evidences of great poetic influences: Virgil, the father of Roman cultural heritage, set Homer as an example for imitation and modeled his 'Aeneid' on Homer epics. Virgil himself, in turn, was a literary 'father' to Dante, Dante to Chaucer, Chaucer to Spenser, Spenser to Milton, Blake and Wordsworth...This all only supports the fact that literary influences is a thing that should be taken into a strong consideration when reading a novel, as knowing where 'that' comes from, helps to undesrand what 'this' means.

Getting familiarized with the circle of literary influences is beneficial not only for mere readers and connoisseurs of art, but also for writers themselves. Nearly a century ago, T. S. Eliot, in his essay 'Tradition and Individual Talent', declared that a poet must 'develop or procure' an understanding of writers'predecessors, to whom we, moderns, own absolutely everything and without whom we would never exist. Which, if you think about it, is completely true.

However, the genealogical tree of literary influences is not entirely marked with solely blue-blooded signs. It is, on the opposite, a kneaded texture of allusions and borrowings from every possible form of human imagination, beyond literature: chemistry, physics, mathematics, music, cinema, philosophy, et cetera, et cetera. This one huge genealogy is a reflection of the whole heritage of artistic conceptions and perspectives on life.

The illustration presented below (source: BrainPickings) does not portray the chronological order of first and last things but is still immensely interesting as it helps to comprehend how all the forms employed by the human imagination are all puzzle pieces of the complete vision of the world, enfolded in a single circle - the circle of influences.


  1. I always enjoy reading the comments of writers who discuss their literary inffluences, and I am always delighted when i can spot those influences. In graduate school i wrote a paper on Joan dididion and noted that her prose style mimicked Hemingway. Much to my delight i found an interview of her wherein she spoke of her admiration for Hemingway and how she used to hand write pages of Hemingway's works to get a better feel for his prose style. I guess if I were to speak of the influences on my writing I would point immediately to Scott Russell Sanders, Hemingway, Twain, and Cormac McCarthy. But others have also had a huge impact like Richard bausch, John Dufresne and Frederick Bush.
    I enjoyed your post. Keep up the good work.

  2. I also love the books where there's a kind of a 'dialogue' between the two authors. For instance, Dostoevsky in his books sometimes put his opinions on subjects discussed by Tolstoi in some of his essays or newspaper articles, agreeing or disagreeing. And when you read these books, it is as if you participate in their conversation, too. I love it :)


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