Back in the day (a.k.a. the early 1800s), when m.snowe's favorite authors had a pulse and were actually writing and/or publishing their fiction and poetry, they were the romantic/victorian equivalents of today's celebrities. [This goes mostly for European countries, anyway.] Today, we still have literary celebs, but on nowhere near the same scale. The followers of today's literary stars are more like cult fans--underground and often unnoticed. A few days ago, m.snowe was talking to a friend about a small, cheap diner in Brooklyn, and the friend explained how she knew of the diner, and that a certain editor of The New Yorker frequented the joint (and note, this editor's name is probably only mildly recognized in most literary circles). Upon hearing this, m.snowe asked: "But how did you know what he looked like?" Apparently, this editor had paneled as a judge during a short fiction contest that m.snowe's friend attended--otherwise she would have never known the guy next to her eating plantains was anybody of literary repute.
In comparison--back in the day, you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who didn't at least have a vague idea of what Byron looked like, or Wordsworth, or Blake. Yes, these were major literary figures, but m.snowe also knows that practically no one could pick out our current poet laureate out of a line-up. Or even if the common folk living at the time of these figures didn't recognize them, at the very least, their poems were part of the canon--the popular ideology of the day. Literature used to be a bigger part of everyone's lives--now its cordoned off into niches and groups of artists themselves, and scant appreciators. Or literature is converted into movies, adapted for TV shows, or otherwise ground up into some fine powder and sprinkled on top of our pop-culture ice cream, so no one notices they're being spoon-fed. Some current fiction writers have even claimed that writing has suffered because the audience is all fiction writers, therefore making all fiction about fiction, and using stylistic and other devices to impress the obsessively learned, instead of writing to please a larger general audience (which is essentially what the writers of 2 centuries ago were doing--Dickens was a tabloid serial writer, a literary soap opera writer of sorts--not that that should diminish his stature now).
The sad part is, despite the shift in our culture to mass adoration of movie stars and reality TV, many writers still seek to gain that renown which has not truly existed much past the 1960s, in terms of the culture (in the US) being saturated with poetry or fiction. (m.snowe realizes her views are tainted by her love of older literature, but, oh well). It makes her sad to see so many strive, so many who are talented, knowing that there isn't enough room for most of them, especially in today's economy. But m.snowe also thinks that writers, unless doing it for a living, need to focus less on celebrity and exposure. She says this, all the while acknowledging writers need more credit than they get. But on second thought, perhaps its better that writers aren't as celebrated as Byron--making love to that many ladies (and lords) just isn't advisable nowadays, and would be down-right hard to live up to.