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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Moral Responsibility of the Novelist
By Anthony Trollope (1815–1882)
 
From the ‘Autobiography’

A VAST proportion of the teaching of the day—greater, probably, than many of us have acknowledged to ourselves—comes from novels which are in the hands of all readers. It is from them that girls learn what is expected from them, and what they are to expect, when lovers come; and also from them that young men unconsciously learn what are, or should be, or may be, the charms of love,—though I fancy that few young men will think so little of their natural instincts and powers as to believe that I am right in saying so. Many other lessons also are taught. In these times, when the desire to be honest is pressed so hard, is so violently assaulted by the ambition to be great; in which riches are the easiest road to greatness; when the temptations to which men are subjected dull their eyes to the perfected iniquities of others; when it is so hard for a man to decide vigorously that the pitch which so many are handling will defile him if it be touched,—men’s conduct will be actuated much by that which is from day to day depicted to them as leading to glorious or inglorious results…. The young man who in a novel becomes a hero, perhaps a Member of Parliament, and almost a prime minister, by trickery, falsehood, and flash cleverness, will have many followers, whose attempts to rise in the world ought to lie heavily on the conscience of the novelists who create fictitious Cagliostros….  1
  Thinking of all this, as a novelist surely must do,—as I certainly have done through my whole career,—it becomes to him a matter of deep conscience how he shall handle those characters by whose words and doings he hopes to interest his readers…. The writer of stories must please, or he will be nothing. And he must teach, whether he wish to teach or no. How shall he teach lessons of virtue, and at the same time make himself a delight to his readers? The novelist, if he have a conscience, must preach his sermons with the same purpose as the clergyman, and must have his own system of ethics. If he can do this efficiently, if he can make virtue alluring and vice ugly, while he charms his readers instead of wearying them, then I think Mr. Carlyle need not call him distressed, nor talk of that long ear of fiction, nor question whether he be or not the most foolish of existing mortals.  2
 
 
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