When Rebecca started a discussion on Twitter about the special problems that Classics bloggers face, I started thinking about how difficult I am finding the "spoiler" issue.
Often when I read reviews by book bloggers, I come to a section that warns the reader that the blogger is about to reveal some plot point. As a reader who doesn't care a whole lot about plot, I sometimes prefer to know what is going to happen in the story purely so I can concentrate more on how an author works--that is, how he or she develops characters, uses language, or chooses to structure the work to aid the progression of the text. But I realize I am very much in the minority. For those of you who read my comments, you may have figured out that even my long-time partner is one of those plot-driven readers who doesn't want things spoiled.
In the few reviews I've written of books where plot twists are important--such as in The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh--I wouldn't have dreamed of giving away what happens. But somehow it feels very different when books don't seem to be relying on the reader's surprise, or even the reader's gradual awakening to certain information.
I suppose the central problem is that I am not writing reviews of classic literature. It seems like a ridiculous proposition to me, honestly, to sit down to talk about the pros and cons of Homer as an author. There is definitely a place to talk about whether I enjoy certain reads or not--and I'll mention that when it seems relevant--but in general I feel like I'm here to profit from what these books can give me. If they give me absolutely nothing, it is more likely to be my own limitations than the author's. (I am reminded of the brilliant posts by Amateur Reader about what he calls appreciationism: "As an Appreciationist, I want writers to succeed, and I want to discover how they do it. As a result, I typically root for one character, the same one every time, the writer, the imagined writer.") Talking about what an author does, and how her or she does it, requires explaining some of the background. And the background, my friends, is often the plot and characterization.
I suspect that the issue of spoilers is going to loom much larger when I get to more modern literature. For now, I'm comforted by the fact that ancient authors assumed that their audience knew the basic plot line. As Anthony O'Hear says in his The Great Books: A Journey through 2,500 Years of the West's Classic Literature (which I have only begun), "Homer and the tragedians took their audience on journeys in which they saw the statuary afresh, maybe in new and dramatic lights. But the core and even the details of what they were showing their audiences, the audiences already knew."
So--I would love to hear what you think about the issue of "spoilers" in discussions of classic books. Does it upset you to be told, for example, that Patroclus is killed and that Agamemnon claims Briseis for himself? Would it bother you if I told you that ***Harry Potter Spoiler Alert: he lives***? Do you think there is a difference? And where does one draw the line?