Prehistory of The Riddle

In 2014, the editors of the Utrecht journal for literary studies Vooys:asked project leader Karina van Dalen-Oskam for a short article about the background of the project The Riddle of Literary Quality.. The editors of Vooys gave permission to post an English translation of this article on the Riddle blog. The original publication is titled ‘The Riddle of Literary Quality. Op zoek naar conventies van literariteit’ and was published in: Vooys: tijdschrift voor letteren 32 (2014), 3, p. 25-33.

The Riddle of Literary Quality: The search for conventions of literariness

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A dark and stormy night

Most people will recognize the phrase “It was a dark and stormy night” from the Peanuts comics, with Snoopy typing this sentence on his typewriter. Snoopy’s creator Charles M. Schulz, however, referred to a famous first sentence of a nineteenth-century novel written by Edward Bulwer-Lytton. The sentence even has its own Wikipedia page. The sentence is famous because it is seen as the ultimate example of what is often considered a bad style of writing. And this in itself contradictory situation makes it a perfect illustration for the project The Riddle of Literary Quality. The illustration was designed by communication expert Johan Kwantes.