Westward Ho! is about the colonisation of America and the defeat of the Armada. Its hero- a blond sea-dog called Amyas Leigh- is chivalrous, pious and chaste. It is, I'm told, full of historical inaccuracy. Charles Kingsley, its author, was an exemplar of that weird mode of being known as "muscular Christianity" and an admirable public intellectual of the sort who if he were alive today would never be off the telly. His best known book is The Water Babies.
Books like Westward Ho! don't exactly die. No-one reads them for pleasure any more- or even- as I did- out of a sense of duty- but their one-time popularity has made a mark in the collective unconscious that is never going to be erased- and they continue to enjoy a cultural half-life. They are known to the compilers of crossword puzzles and pub quizzes- and historians of their era are bound to take them into account. They have become zombie classics. You want to take the temperature of mid-Victorian England? Westward Ho! will give you as accurate a reading as Bleak House- and without the distracting flourishes of genius.
Good news then for Dan Brown: his work will never die. He may not have the respect of posterity (actually, who knows?) but there'll always be someone who'll need to read him for the light his enormous sales undoubtedly cast on the taste and obsessions of our time.