No work of art is made in a vaccum, and every artist starts out as an admirer of other artists. This is especially true of writers, who often turn to great works of the past in order to speak about their particular moment. These 6 writers took past ideas in such original directions that you may not know just where they received that special spark of inspiration—but now you will.
Zadie Smith’s 2005 novel about squabbling academic families on both sides of the pond shares several significant details and themes with E.M. Forster’s 1910 work, from Smith’s use of letters as a storytelling device to the larger focus on two very different intellectual families who can’t shake the ties that bind them.
This inspiration is fairly obvious—the titles are nearly identical! But Wolitzer goes beyond mere homage to Sylvia Plath’s autobiographical novel in this intense tale of grief and healing. Wolitzer, who read The Bell Jar as a teenager, was inspired to write a YA story in which teens at a therapeutic boarding school read Plath as a way of making sense of their inner turmoil.
His Dark Materials, Pullman’s popular (and controversial) fantasy series, takes its name directly from Milton’s equally epic poem about the fall of man from Eden. Both works tackle intense questions about the viability of innocence and the price of knowledge in a deeply flawed world (not to mention talking animals).
From the opening epigraph quoting Goethe’s landmark novel, Bulgakov repeatedly references Faust and its deal-with-devil plot (itself a take on older legends) in this darkly funny novel following the devil through his travels in ancient Jerusalem and then-contemporary Stalinist Russia. Turns out the devil has always been with us—we just weren’t paying attention.
Flaubert read Don Quixote as a child, and the novel would ultimately move him to take a stab at his own quixotic saga. Like Cervantes’s comic hero, Emma Bovary is a wealthy country resident enchanted by the sentimental romances she spends her time reading, to the point that she is willing to risk her borirng-yet-stable life for a romantic fantasy she thinks will make her happy.
What does a twentieth-century dystopian novel about test-tube babies and drug-fueled orgies have to do with a seventeenth-century play about a scorned wizard and shipwrecked royals? Well, quite a lot: the title of Huxley’s novel is taken directly from Shakespeare’s play, along with concerns about the destruction of essentially good men—John in Brave New World, Caliban in the Tempest—by a society that uses and abuses them.