SERIOUS LITERATURE and literary fiction are terms to describe the most artistic and enduring novels that have ever been written.
They are also terms to describe writing by living authors who hope that their novels will achieve a lasting status, something that is not determined until after an author’s death.
Defining what makes literary fiction enduring is easier than defining what makes it artistic, but even the easier part of the definition is tricky because novels can endure for reasons as different as the readers who love them.
SIMPLY PUT, literary novels outlast fashion because new generations continue to find power in them. “The Brothers Karamazov,” “Anna Karenina” and “Don Quixote” are novels by writers of the past that speak wisdom today because Dostoevsky and Tolstoy and Cervantes shared a vision about the purpose of the novel and the purpose of the artist writing it.
Because these authors were most interested in enduring questions of truth, beauty and eternity, their novels are focused less on matters of the moment and more on themes of all time.
Getting to the artistry that defines these masterpieces as literary fiction is difficult, although there are a few common characteristics:
A moral vision
A transcendental warrant