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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 Professional Reviewer
By Arnold Bennett (1867–1931)
 
From ‘The Truth about an Author’

THE PERFORMANCES of the expert in any craft will surprise and amaze the inexpert. Come with me into my study and I will surprise and amaze you. Have I been handling novels for bread-and-cheese all these years and not learnt to judge them by any process quicker than that employed by you who merely pick up a novel for relaxation after dinner? Assuming that your taste is fairly sound, let us be confronted with the same new novel, and I will show you, though you are a quick reader, that I can anticipate your judgment of that novel by a minimum of fifty-five minutes. The title-page—that conjunction of the title, the name of the author, and the name of the publisher—speaks to me, telling me all sorts of things. The very chapter-readings deliver a message of style. The narrative everywhere discloses to me the merits and defects of the writer; no author ever lived who could write a page without giving himself away. The whole book, open it where I will, is murmurous with indications for me. In the case of nine books of ten, to read them through would be not a work of supererogation—it would be a sinful waste of time on the part of a professional reviewer. The majority of novels—and all these remarks apply only to novels—hold no surprise for the professional reviewer. He can foretell them as the nautical almanac foretells astronomical phenomena. The customary established popular author seldom or never deviates from his appointed track, and it is the customary established popular author upon whom chiefly the reviewer is a parasite. New authors occasionally cause the reviewer to hesitate in his swift verdicts, especially when the verdict is inclined to be favorable. Certain publishers (that is to say, their “readers”) have a knack of acquiring new authors who can imitate real excellence in an astonishing manner. In some cases the reviewer must needs deliberately “get into” the book, in order not to be deceived by appearances, in order to decide positively whether the author has genuine imaginative power, and if so, whether that power is capable of a sustained effort. But these difficult instances are rare. There remains the work of the true artist, the work that the reviewer himself admires and enjoys: say one book in fifty, or one in a hundred. The reviewer reads that through.  1
  Brief reflection will convince any one that it would be economically impossible for the reviewer to fulfill this extraordinary behest of the man of the street to read every book through. Take your London morning paper, and observe the column devoted to fiction of the day. It comprises some fifteen hundred words, and the reviewer receives, if he is well paid, three guineas for it. Five novels are discussed. Those novels will amount to sixteen hundred pages of printed matter. Reading at the rate of eight words a second, the reviewer would accomplish two pages a minute, and sixteen hundred pages in thirteen hours and twenty minutes. Add an hour and forty minutes for the composition, and we have fifteen hours, or two days’ work. Do you imagine that the reviewer of a London morning paper is going to hire out his immortal soul, his experience, his mere skill, at the rate of thirty-one and sixpence per day on irregular jobs? Scarcely. He will earn his three guineas inside three hours, and it will be well and truly earned. As a journeyman author, with the ability and inclination to turn my pen in any direction at request, I long ago established a rule never to work for less than ten shillings an hour on piece-work. If an editor commissioned an article, he received from me as much fundamental brain-power and as much time as the article demanded—up to the limit of his pay in terms of hours at ten shillings apiece. But each year I raise my price per hour. Of course, when I am working on my own initiative, for the sole advancement of my artistic reputation, I ignore finance and think of glory alone. It cannot, however, be too clearly understood that the professional author, the man who depends entirely on his pen for the continuance of breath, and whose income is at the mercy of an illness or a headache, is eternally compromising between glory and something more edible and warmer at nights. He labors in the first place for food, shelter, tailors, a woman, European travel, horses, stalls at the opera, good cigars, ambrosial evenings in restaurants; and he gives glory the best chance he can. I am not speaking of geniuses with a mania for posterity; I am speaking of human beings.  2
 
 
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