What Makes a Novel a Classic and Who Says it is in the First Place?

Classic literature is usually marked by its popularity and longevity or by a large enough number of of erudite scholars saying that it is so. Take, for instance, Mario Puzo's The Godfather, Jane Austen's Emma, or even William Faulkner's Sound and the Fury. Each one of these novels fits someone's definition of a classic novel, even if some of us can't stand one or more of the novels I've just mentioned. I, for instance, can only stomach Jane Austen novels for more than three pages at a time before I start to get nauseous, think Puzo's books made much better movies, and understand people when they tell me that Faulkner's just too convoluted for their tastes. I don't know what makes a novel a classic, at least not definitively. Furthermore, I charge that anyone who does is probably lying to themselves and, consequently, to everyone who asks the question. There are, however, some universal factors of commonly recognized classic novels that can be used as a bell weather for finding out which novels should or should not be considered so.

In general, novels considered classics have a few things in common: first, they have to have withstood some test of time. If they're not necessarily popular right away, but have gained popularity over the years since its publication, have been read by enough people to have been taken through the ringer for general criticism. No matter whether the novel is universally liked by the folks in the know, if enough of those same people have read it and critiqued it in some way, then its long-term exposure has been tested, and enough people have read it to make it a part of a given cultural dialogue.