I found this (blog) article very interesting, especially because I've been reading about one particular near-miss in Bulgarian literature and wondering how many more are lost forever, here and everywhere else, because of various regimes' censorship (as is the case with the author I've been reading about) or just because it was only a handful of people who were the arbitres of what's worthy of widespread access and what's not. It's astounding to what extent national canons, and the western canon - and extrapolating from there, the history of reading itself, - are a reflection of constructs of social power, while it's widely held that the classics reflect the values, ideals, zeitgeist recordings of the entirety of their respective societies. Here's a particularly insightful (IMO) except:
We often talk about good books 'passing the test of time': in fact, that's sometimes how people define a classic. [...] But in order to be able to do that, they have to pass a different kind of test of time: they have to survive. And that doesn't happen simply because books are good; it happens because people keep reprinting them, keep reviewing them, keep writing critical works on them, invest time and money and energy on maintaining the presence of these books [...].
Raymond Williams, who invented cultural studies, calls this the 'selective tradition'; Jane Tompkins, who helped rediscover The Wide, Wide World, writes:
"Works that have attained the status of classic, and are therefore believed to embody universal values, are in fact embodying only the interests of whatever parties or factions are responsible for maintaining them in their preeminent position… The literary works that now make up the canon do so because the groups that have an investment in them are culturally the most influential" (1985: 618)