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I was thinking of this when I read Nineteen-Neighty-Four, a fanfic with My Little Pony ponies in a 1984-ish world.
Parodies can be really successful as a way of challenging another work, or the ideas in it. If they're well done, they might also stand on their own as an original work and the one they parodied might be lost in history.

Works that challenged another's work is for example August Strindberg's response to Ibsen's A Doll's House.

Has a parody of a work of literature ever become more successful than the original work?

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    For a specific work? Or of a genre? For example, Don Quixote of la Mancha is a parody of the 'medieval romance' genre. Jan 18, 2017 at 23:47
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    A work. :-) Otherwise it can't attain more popularity. Unless it is a parody of a genre that no one remembers, I guess. Jan 19, 2017 at 0:12
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    Since this question has been closed as "too broad", it might help to focus it on just European literature since Antiquity.
    – Tsundoku
    Dec 5, 2017 at 17:29
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    Jane Austen's book Northanger Abbey is in part a satire on Ann Radcliffe's gothic novels. The most famous of these is The Mysteries of Udolpho, and it's certainly less well-known today than Northanger Abbey.
    – Peter Shor
    Nov 20, 2018 at 0:36
  • The answer is "yes", but since there are multiple examples of this (including Northanger Abbey, as Peter Short pointed out), the question is open-ended. It would be more acceptable if it were reworded as "What is the oldest example of literary parody that became more successful than the original (literary) work?"
    – Tsundoku
    Jan 3 at 14:10

2 Answers 2

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Yes.

For example, the didactic poem The Old Man's Comforts and How He Gained Them by Robert Southey is now known only to dedicated fans of Southey or of Victorian poetry, but the semi-nonsense poem You are Old, Father William created by Lewis Carroll as a parody of it has become much better known thanks to the enormous success of his Alice stories.

The text of the two poems is as follows:

  • Original:

    "You are old, father William," the young man cried,
    "The few locks which are left you are grey;
    You are hale, father William, a hearty old man;
    Now tell me the reason, I pray."

    "In the days of my youth," father William replied,
    "I remember'd that youth would fly fast,
    And abus'd not my health and my vigour at first,
    That I never might need them at last."

    "You are old, father William," the young man cried,
    "And pleasures with youth pass away.
    And yet you lament not the days that are gone;
    Now tell me the reason, I pray."

    "In the days of my youth," father William replied,
    "I remember'd that youth could not last;
    I thought of the future, whatever I did,
    That I never might grieve for the past."

    "You are old, father William," the young man cried,
    "And life must be hast'ning away;
    You are cheerful and love to converse upon death;
    Now tell me the reason, I pray."

    "I am cheerful, young man," father William replied,
    "Let the cause thy attention engage;
    In the days of my youth I remember'd my God!
    And He hath not forgotten my age."

  • Carrollian parody:

    "You are old, Father William," the young man said,
    "And your hair has become very white;
    And yet you incessantly stand on your head—
    Do you think, at your age, it is right?"

    "In my youth," Father William replied to his son,
    "I feared it might injure the brain;
    But now that I'm perfectly sure I have none,
    Why, I do it again and again."

    "You are old," said the youth, "As I mentioned before,
    And have grown most uncommonly fat;
    Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door—
    Pray, what is the reason of that?"

    "In my youth," said the sage, as he shook his grey locks,
    "I kept all my limbs very supple
    By the use of this ointment—one shilling a box—
    Allow me to sell you a couple?"

    "You are old," said the youth, "And your jaws are too weak
    For anything tougher than suet;
    Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak—
    Pray, how did you manage to do it?"

    "In my youth," said his father, "I took to the law,
    And argued each case with my wife;
    And the muscular strength which it gave to my jaw,
    Has lasted the rest of my life."

    "You are old," said the youth, "one would hardly suppose
    That your eye was as steady as ever;
    Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose—
    What made you so awfully clever?"

    "I have answered three questions, and that is enough,"
    Said his father; "don't give yourself airs!
    Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
    Be off, or I'll kick you down stairs!"

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    I saw the question title and this is precisely the example that came to mind! Feb 28, 2017 at 10:44
  • Mine, too — though I wouldn't be surprised if the same applied to several of Carroll's parodies…
    – gidds
    Jan 4 at 22:26
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As others have already pointed out in the comments, Jane Austen's novel Northanger Abbey, published posthumously in 1818, a parody of Gothic fiction that was popular in the 1790s. It also contains a number of allusions to other works, as Wikipedia tells us:

Several Gothic novels and authors are mentioned in the book, including Fanny Burney and The Monk. Isabella Thorpe gives Catherine a list of seven books that are commonly referred to as the "Northanger 'horrid' novels". These works were later thought to be of Austen's own invention until the British writers Montague Summers and Michael Sadleir re-discovered in the 1920s that the novels actually did exist. (…)
The most significant allusion, however, is to Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho, as it is the Gothic novel most frequently mentioned within this text. Notably, Jane Austen sold the manuscript of Northanger Abbey to the same firm that published Radcliffe's novel in 1794.


Miguel de Cervantes's Don Quixote (part 1, 1605; part 2, 1615) is a parody, or perhaps more strictly a burlesque, of the chivalric romance, a genre that was very popular during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, but which is now not nearly as popular as Cervantes's novel.

See also Don Quixote as Chivalric Satire.

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