Amid The Mass-Market Noise, These Writers Made Themselves Heard

The greatest 19th century writers were often the most popular as well. Think of Charles Dickens: the serialized novels published in magazines were read aloud to listeners on London streets; ships bearing copies of the latest Dickens chapter from England to the U.S. drew crowds at Eastern seaboard ports. In Russia, Count Leo Tolstoy was revered not only as a powerful storyteller but also as a seer and the moral conscience of his nation. No 20th century authors achieved the sort of cultural authority enjoyed by Dickens and Tolstoy. For one thing, leisure-time alternatives to reading books increased enormously: movies arrived,...

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