I just got back from Midnight in Paris. I know I'm a movie freak, but seriously, you have to see this movie.
In the movie, Owen Wilson (who is brilliant, by the way) plays a writer, disenchanted with his own time, who visits Paris with his fiance and happens to be taken back in time to the 1920's, where he meets Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Picaso, Degas, and even has his manuscript read and critiqued by Gertrude Stein. I won't give too much away, but suffice it to say, 1920's Paris is definitely his literary Golden Age.
Obviously it got me thinking. I don't know if there is any other time or place when literary genius was so concentrated, at least as its been passed down to us. But you know, if we can go by period's and not just one year, I don't think that would be the period I would pick. I love Hemingway and Fitzgerald and and the crew, but I've always been a huge fan of our English friends across the pond.
For me, the literary golden era is definitely England in the early to mid 1800's. I know that's pretty general, but it's hard to pick just one year because Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte only overlap from 1816-1817, and George Eliot doesn't come around for a few years still. So if I can have a few years, then think about it. Besides those three indescribably genius women, you've got Dickens, Tennyson, Hopkins, Keats, the Brownings, and if you want to travel a bit, you've got Dostoevsky and Tolstoy in Russia and Victor Hugo over in France. Not a bad crowd, eh? So I'd want to be there early for my good friend Jane, and then stick around for a few decades or so for all the rest.
There are a ton of other good choices though. I mean, what about Lewis and Tolkien? Or you could pick Steven King, Amy Tan and Dave Barry and not even have to travel back in time. Then there's Plato and Aristotle, or Chaucer and Sir Gawain guy, or Shakespeare and Milton, or crazy weird people like Joyce, Pynchon and DeLillo.
So where would you go? When you look back on literary history, where, for you, does it shine?