'Fascists Who Read Dickens'

I have read Norman Podhoretz's article "Fascists Who Read Dickens and Dostoyevsky Are Still Fascists" (Op-Ed Page, Jan. 1).

The author refutes the Nobel Prize winner Joseph Brodsky's assertion that the study of literature humanizes the lives of people. Podhoretz illustrates his thesis by asserting that the reading of great authors did not humanize either Stalin or Hitler.

I don't agree with Podhoretz. It is true that the reading of literature did not humanize Stalin or Hitler, but it has humanized our Western society. Does he really think that the English social reforms during the 19th Century would have taken place without the works of Charles Dickens? Does he really think Lincoln's Act of Emancipation would have taken place without Harriet Beecher Stowe? A keen sense of compassion emanates from all the great works of literature.

I am fully aware that Podhoretz reduces literature to a more aesthetic experience. But literature is more than that. The poets and novelists, especially the great ones, are more than the dispensers of pleasures: With their sense of human sympathy they influence human attitudes and, by doing this, they create a climate of opinion which contributes to the humanization of our society.


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