Curious as to an upbeat literature list ...

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Curious as to an upbeat literature list ...

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Dec 19, 2008, 5:30 pm

I was reviewing the list of possible reads:

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy
Cousin Bette by Honore de Balzac
Pere Goriot by Honore de Balzac
Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann
The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Jean Christophe by Romain Rolland
Runaway by Alice Munro
Moon and Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham
Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh
Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
Disquiet by Julia Leigh
Three Trapped Tigers by G. Cabrera Infante
O Pioneers by Willa Cather
The Abyss by Marguerite Yourcenar
Petals of Blood by Ngũgĩ wa Thiongʾo
The Octopus by
The Sea Wolf by Jack London

Is it possible to compile a list of great literature that is at the same time upbeat. So often one associates The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, etc. with literature.

But I am wondering is there literature out there that is upbeat and positive in nature.

In coming hard times of the economy it might be nice to know of titles that are both literary and upbeat.

Edited: Dec 19, 2008, 6:08 pm

Seems like a strange notion -- to look for the upbeat and the positive in literature. If it were there, it would be unbelievable like, perhaps, P.G. Wodehouse.

Dec 19, 2008, 6:12 pm

My sense is that P.G. Wodehouse is comedic.

I wonder if one can be positive without having to be comedic.

Dec 19, 2008, 7:00 pm

Perhaps you need to define what you mean by "positive" and "upbeat" and give us at least one example.

That is, what elements need be present for it to be considered as such?

Dec 19, 2008, 7:03 pm

And then, of course, we might also want to know why one would want such a thing. Me...I read novels for the multifariousness of life, not merely to feel good, but to feel all sorts of things.

Dec 19, 2008, 7:20 pm

Well I think that David Copperfield is for the most part a positive book. Possibly Kafka's The Trial could be considered a bit darker book.

But people are welcome to ignore the question if they wish......

Dec 19, 2008, 7:42 pm

Urquhart, I know exactly what you mean. This thread from the 1001 books group may interest you:

And this thread from Book Talk:

One book I didn't see in either thread, and which I love dearly, is Richard Russo's Straight Man. For that matter, Nobody's Fool could go on that list, as could Ben Okri's The Famished Road. I also think that Kazuo Ishiguro's novels, while they don't always end well for the protagonists, have a certain grace in the characters' awareness and acceptance of their selves and their fates that makes them uplifting for me.

Dec 19, 2008, 11:13 pm


Many thanks; most interesting to review the two threads.

Nice also to hear your sentiments; a pleasure shared is a pleasure doubled.

For the joy of a reading experience I would suggest
Marley & Me by John Grogan that I read about a year ago. It's a movie now and I don't want to see what they did to it.


Dec 20, 2008, 1:48 am

I think Jane Austen novels are generally upbeat. And despite its title, Bleak House isn't too sad. But I appreciate and understand your question. Too much "literature" is pretty grim.

Dec 20, 2008, 1:52 am

Oh, and I read Marley and Me, and went to a sneak preview of the movie last night. I thought they were pretty faithful to the book, and it was a fine movie. I went with four other people, one who had read the book, and they all loved it. But I love movies, so consider the source. I know a lot of LTers hate movies of books. I'm not one of them. Anyway, although I think John Grogan is a fine writer, I wouldn't classify Marley and Me as "literature."

Dec 20, 2008, 10:27 am


1-Yes, "grim" is a good word.

2-Yes, 'although I think John Grogan is a fine writer, I wouldn't classify Marley and Me as "literature."

Dec 20, 2008, 12:15 pm

One of the problems with upbeat and literature is that no one, not even the happiest person lives in an upbeat world. Humans have a marvelous capacity for making rubbish out of lemons. That's what makes books like Pollyanna or the Penrod stories childrens or young adolescent books rather than grown up books.

Several fairly upbeat classics I can think of are:

Huckleberry Finn
Tom Sawyer
White Fang
Pickwick Papers
The Magnificent Ambersons

Of course with the exception of White Fang and Ambersons these work as upbeat by illustrating the essential stupidity behind the satire, the schadenfreude. It's the laughter that makes them upbeat for us.
I'm sure there are many others, but most upbeat books have a tendency to be cloying, IMO.

Dec 21, 2008, 3:53 am

Moll Flanders and Tom Jones are upbeat because the main characters are so energetic.

Edited: Dec 21, 2008, 1:29 pm

pamelad, thanks for the excellent observation re the 'upbeat' a very good word and 'energetic.'

would Vanity Fair be a possible candidate here?

i do believe that a book can be upbeat and energetic without being 'cloying' but it is a challenge to find such book.

Shogun with its engergy and upbeat action is a good read. it would be interesting to have people compare and contrast it with The Tale of Gengi. if the former is not litereature, why not?

maybe Ivanhoe is another book of literature with upbeat action.

it would be interesting to have someone start a thread for literature of the 20th century. what qualifies?

Dec 21, 2008, 4:01 pm

Agree with Vanity Fair, Urquhart, but with reservations because Becky Sharp's machinations are underhand. From memory, because it has been a while, Tom Jones and Moll Flanders are openly and guiltlessly unscrupulous.

Have put The Tale of Gengi and Ivanhoe on my reading list.

Dec 21, 2008, 8:40 pm

To pamelad:

You are far better, smarter, and of greater grit than I when it comes to The Tale of Gengi. I bought it and tried very hard to read it on three occasions but just was not successful. If you or anyone is trully successful in the reading of that book I would very much like to hear what you have to say, both on the book and which translation you read. (Please to note, the choice of which translation will be a major decider for you.)

To geneg

Your use of the word 'cloying' is interesting. So much of David Copperfield is cloying beyond belief however I am not sure that stops the book from being excellent literature. By cloying, I take it to mean an excess of sentimentality that offends people. Yes David Copperfield is very cloying and arch and over the top in many instances and yet full of so many caricatures in others; however, I find it a truly magnificent book filled with pathos, humor, dark and light, brilliant insights, wisdom and so very much more.