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  Lectures on the Harvard Classics.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Prose Fiction
I. General Introduction
By Professor W. A. Neilson

  WHEN the literary historian seeks to assign to each age its favorite form of literature, he finds no difficulty in dealing with our own time. As the Middle Ages delighted in long romantic narrative poems, the Elizabethans in drama, the Englishman of the reigns of Anne and the early Georges in didactic and satirical verse, so the public of our day is enamored of the novel. Almost all types of literary production continue to appear, but whether we judge from the lists of publishers, the statistics of public libraries, or general conversation, we find abundant evidence of the enormous preponderance of this kind of literary entertainment in popular favor.

  Though the instinct for a good story, on which the interest in fiction is based, is of immemorial antiquity, and may well be as old as human speech, the novel, as we understand it, is comparatively modern. The unsophisticated folk tale, represented by the contents of such collections as that of the brothers Grimm, 1 lacks the element of lifelikeness both in incident and character, and is too limited in scale to be regarded as anything but a very remote ancestor. The “Fables” ascribed to Æsop 2 are mere anecdotes with a moral. The myths 3 of both the Mediterranean and the Northern nations are not primarily concerned with human life at all. Epic poetry, 4 besides deriving from its verse a sustained emotional elevation usually impossible in prose, finds its central interest, not in individual personality or the passion of love, but in some great national or racial issue. The romances 5 of the Middle Ages, though usually centering in the fortunes of individuals and often dealing with love, and superficial in treatment, loose in construction, and primarily interesting as marvelous adventure. The fabliaux 6 of the same period, which, with the novelle 7 of the Renaissance, belong to the ancestry of the short story of the modern magazine, are concerned with single situations, and do not attempt to display a whole phase of life in its subtlety and complexity. All these forms contain, in the imaginative nature of their material, an element common to them and the novel; but the negative statements which have been made regarding each show how much they fall short or go beyond our modern conception of prose fiction.

  Yet, though differing in these important and often fundamental respects from the modern novel, these earlier varieties of imaginative narratives contributed in a number of ways to the making of the type dominant to-day. In the sixteenth century, for instance, we find appearing, first in Spain and then in England, the so-called picaresque novel, 8 a story told in the first person by a roguish servant, who passes from master to master and exposes both his own rascality and the seamy side of the more fashionable life of his time. Many of the episodes are of the kind narrated in the fabliaux and novelle, but they are strung together by the history of the rogue hero. This type has persisted with variations, especially the loss of the servant element, down to our own time, and reached its highest pitch of art in English in Thackeray’s “Barry Lyndon.”
  The Elizabethan romance, represented by such a work as Sir Philip Sidney’s “Arcadia,” is in respect of realism much farther from our novel than the picaresque tale. But in its abundance of sentiment and frequency of moral purpose, it has elements which the novel of roguery lacked. Characterization, which so far had rarely been a prominent feature in any form of fiction except the drama, was developed in the seventeenth century in a peculiar species of writing known as the Character, 9 outside of fiction altogether. The character was a short sketch of a typical figure of the time, used largely for purposes of social satire, apparently general in its application, but not infrequently written with an individual in view.  4
  We find this form elaborated in a slight setting of situation and narrative in the De Coverley papers 10 contributed by Addison and Steele to the “Spectator”; and when the novel in the modern sense arose about a generation later, the practice in the analysis and presentation of typical human beings which the character had afforded proved of considerable service.  5

  Perhaps more contributive than either the older story of romantic adventure or the character sketch, was the drama. The seventeenth century had seen, especially in comedy, the drama descending from heroic themes of kings and princes to pictures of contemporary life in ordinary society, not highly realistic as we understand the term, yet reproducing many of the types and much of the atmosphere existing around the author. It had cultivated the sense of a well-knit plot, of effective situation, and of the interplay of character and action—all elements transferable to prose narrative. And when, in the middle of the eighteenth century, we find the novel beginning to take the place of the stage as the dominant kind of imaginative entertainment, it is easy to see how much the younger form owed to the elder. There had long been an interchange of material between the two species. In the time of Shakespeare, to go no farther back, the playwrights frankly dramatized familiar stories from history, romance, and novella, and occasionally the story of a popular play was retold in prose narrative. Both processes are familiar to-day. Many successful novels appear later on the stage, and not a few successful plays are “novelized.” There are, of course, marked differences in the kind of thing that can be best told by narrative or action respectively, and the failure to recognize these differences accounts for the frequent ill success of this kind of translation. But, after all allowance for this has been made, many of the elements of effective story-telling remain common to both novel and play.

  The two chief claimants for the credit of founding the modern English novel are Daniel Defoe 11 and Samuel Richardson. Defoe’s stories depend for their unity chiefly upon the personality of the leading character. They are usually series of episodes strung along the thread of the hero’s or heroine’s life. Many of them, from their pre-occupation with the criminal classes, approach the picaresque; and even “Robinson Crusoe,” justly the most popular, is more an adventure tale than a novel. His most notable characteristic is a singular realism, achieved by a skillful selection of matter-of-fact details, which produces a circumstantial effect like that of a modern newspaper report. But the realism, clever though it is, is mainly external; and comparatively little in the way of insight into character or motive is to be found in most of his stories.
  The great works of Richardson, “Pamela,” “Clarissa Harlowe,” and “Sir Charles Grandison,” are novels without question. Not only does he achieve a large unity of action, building into a shapely structure round his central figure a complex of persons, motives, and social conditions, but he deals in detail with the inner life of his characters, and he gives to passion and sentiment the pervading importance that has now become traditional in this form of literature. Sentiment, indeed, with him often enough degenerated into sentimentality, and he dwelt on the emotional and pathetic elements in his narrative with a deliberation and an emphasis successfully calculated to draw from his readers the greatest possible lachrymose response.  8

  It was largely this exaggeration of the pathetic, and the idealizing of the chief character in order to gain an opportunity for the pathetic, that led Fielding 12 to begin his first novel, “Joseph Andrews,” as a parody of Richardson’s “Pamela.” Pamela had been pictured as a virtuous maid-servant, chastely resisting the approaches of her young master, and Fielding planned the story of Pamela’s brother Joseph, placed in a corresponding position toward his mistress, to ridicule the absurdities of his predecessor’s method. But he soon became interested in his hero for his own sake, and in this novel, and still more in his masterpiece, “Tom Jones,” he treated human nature with a robust frankness that earned for him the famous compliment of his disciple, Thackeray, that he was the last English novelist who dared to draw a man.
  Some of Fielding and perhaps more of Defoe is to be found in the sordid tales of Tobias Smollett; and in Laurence Sterne we have the sentimental tendencies of Richardson carried to the last extreme, but mingled in extraordinary fashion with a conscious humor that doubles back on the sentiment, the whole related in a style of remarkable individuality and brilliant wit. In the same period, Oliver Goldsmith produced his one novel, “The Vicar of Wakefield,” a delicately drawn picture of a phase of contemporary society enriched with a group of characters, broadly typical, but delineated with an abundance of tender sympathy and gentle humor.  10

  Meantime, there had begun in England, as elsewhere, that complex reaction against the intellectualism of the eighteenth century known as the Romantic Movement. Among its more obvious phases was the revival of interest in remote places and periods, and especially in the Middle Ages. The extent to which this interest was ill-informed and merely sentimental is nowhere better illustrated than in the rise of the so-called “Gothic Romance.” This variety of fiction is usually regarded as beginning with “The Castle of Otranto” of Horace Walpole, the son of the great Whig minister, Sir Robert Walpole, and the type of the fashionable dilettante of the London of his day. Walpole had no real understanding or sympathy for the spirit of the Middle Ages, but one of his fads was mediæval armor, furniture, and architecture, and out of this arose his curious half-sincere experiment in fiction. The real leader in the production of this sort of “thriller,” however, was Mrs. Radcliffe, 13 who was followed by Clara Reeves 14 and scores of minor imitators. The novels of these ladies were set in a vaguely remote period of chivalry, their scenes were ancient castles, with concealed panels, subterranean passages, and family ghosts; their plots turned upon the usurpation of family estates by wicked uncles or villainous neighbors, and on the reparations and sufferings of missing heirs and heroines of “sensibility”; and their characters were the stereotyped figures of ordinary melodrama. A special development of this type appeared in the “School of Terror” headed by M. G. Lewis, whose nickname of “Monk” Lewis was derived from his novel of “Ambrosio, or the Monk,” in which the terrifying and, it must be said, the licentious possibilities of the Gothic romance were carried to a high pitch.
  This, on the whole, rather worthless species, which had been accompanied by many feeble attempts at a more definitely historical type of novel, culminated surprisingly in the romances of Sir Walter Scott. Scott, however, had in his training and in his vast reading a basis for historical and romantic fiction all his own. He stripped the Gothic type of romance of its sentimentality and absurdity, strengthened it with his great fund of historical and legendary information, gave it stability with his sanity and humor, and interest by his creation of a great series of vigorous and picturesque creations. The art of fiction has gained in technical dexterity since Scott’s day, stories now begin sooner and move more rapidly, conversation is reported with a greater life-likeness, the tragedy in human life is more often given its due place; but the entrancing narratives of Scott, with all their deliberation, are likely to retain their charm, and his men and women still have blood in their veins. He created the historical novel, not only for Britain but for Europe, and all its writers since have been proud to sit at his feet.  12

  In the time of Doctor Johnson, Fanny Burney, the daughter of a noted musician, and lady-in-waiting to the Queen, gathered out of her experience of London society materials for her “Evelina,” a novel of manners shrewdly observed and acutely chronicled. She is the chief predecessor of Scott’s contemporary and rival, Jane Austen, the daughter of a provincial clergyman, whose knowledge of the world was practically confined to the county in which she lived and the watering places, like Bath, where she spent an occasional vacation. But she had tact enough to confine her books 15 to the life she knew; and this life, with its squires, its curates, its old ladies, its managing mothers and eligible daughters, is pictured with a minuteness and fidelity that has scarcely been surpassed. She writes smoothly, with an evasiveness in her characteristic irony that makes her personality hard to grasp, while it prevents that personality from coming between the picture and the spectator. Limited in scope, commonplace in incident, and deliberately ordinary in type of characters, her novels have the exquisite finish and perfection of a miniature.
  Parallel in some respects to Miss Austen’s novels of English provincial life are Miss Edgeworth’s, 16 dealing with the Irish, and Miss Ferrier’s 17 with the Scottish field. Together these ladies stand at the head of that still vigorous branch of fiction which in America is mapping the life of the whole country with sectional novels, like those of New England by Miss Jewett, Miss Wilkins, and Mrs. Riggs, of the South by James Lane Allen, George W. Cable, and Thomas Nelson Page, of the Middle West by Meredith Nicholson and Booth Tarkington.  14

  Fifty years ago the world of readers was divisible into the partisans of two great novelists, who, despite their limitations, made more obvious by the development of fiction on the Continent, still rank among the highest. William Makepeace Thackeray, who went back, as has been said, to the work of Fielding for his models, devoted himself chiefly to the picturing of English society, in the more restricted sense of the word, from Queen Anne to Queen Victoria. Definitely and perhaps restrictedly English in his outlook on life, his view of the human scene is somewhat insular. His natural sentiment was tempered by an acute perception of the meaner elements in human nature to such a degree that his work has a strong satirical element, and some have even been misled into thinking him characteristically a cynic. Gifted with a superb style, with profound sympathy and insight into human emotion, and with a power of rendering the picturesque aspects of a society, Thackeray remains a great master.
  The work of his contemporary, Charles Dickens, has had an even greater popular success. Dickens’s early career gave him a knowledge of a much humbler grade of society than Thackeray pictures, and at the same time left him with a vivid sense of the wrongs under which the more unfortunate members of that society suffered. This led him to devote many of his works to the redress of social grievances, and connects him with the general humanitarian movements of modern times. Powerful as was Dickens’s influence for reform in his own time, it seems clear that the very specific nature of the evils he attacked is bound to impair the permanence of his work, as it always impaired the artistic value. But we relish still his buoyant humor and geniality, the binding interest of his complex though sometimes confusing plots, and the charm of his immense throng of creations, typical to the point of caricature, but in their setting vital, appealing, and eminently memorable.  16

  In spite of the abundant humor in both Thackeray and Dickens, the novel with them had become a very serious form, the vehicle of important moral and social truths. In the hands of its more notable masters, serious it has remained. The prevalence of the scientific point of view, so marked since the promulgation of the theories of Charles Darwin, has left distinct traces on the history of fiction. The philosophical and scientific learning of George Eliot appears in her work in the emphasis on the reign of law in the character of the individual, and, although she too possesses a rich vein of humor, the charming playfulness in which her immediate predecessors permitted themselves to indulge is replaced by an almost portentous realization of the responsibilities of art and life. In Thomas Hardy, too, the scientific influence is plainly felt, the overwhelming power of environment and circumstance being presented with a force so crushing as to leave the reader depressed with a sense of the helplessness of the individual, without any compensating faith in a benevolence controlling the external forces which overwhelm him. Yet these writers display profound psychological insight, and make distinguished contributions to the progress of the art of fiction in its advance toward a more and more complete and penetrating portrayal of the whole of human life.
  Less somber in tone, but no less brilliant in workmanship, are the novels of George Meredith. Hampered in regard to the greater public by a style at once dazzling and obscure, Meredith has been acclaimed by his fellow craftsmen as a great master. Beginning partly under the influence of Dickens, Meredith gained for himself at length a peculiar and distinguished position as perhaps the most intellectual of the English novelists, or, at least, the novelist who concerns himself most with the intellectual processes of his character. Yet he is far from impoverished on the emotional side, and there are few scenes in fiction more poignant in their tragedy than that which closes “The Ordeal of Richard Feverel.”  18
  Besides the influence of modern science, English fiction has latterly been much affected by foreign models, especially French and Russian. The tracing of these streams, however, would bring us to the consideration of men still writing, and involve us in a mass of production which cannot be characterized here, and on which we cannot hope to have as yet a proper perspective. The great amount of distinguished writing in the field of the English novel which has been revealed even in this rapid survey of its history will have suggested to the reader why it was found hopeless to try to represent it in The Harvard Classics. But these writers are easy of access, and this is the side of literature which the modern reader is least apt to ignore. Yet it is also the side which is most likely to be read carelessly, without consideration of purpose or method; so that it may now be worth while to try to come to some understanding as to its aim and the conditions of its excellence.  19

  In considering the purpose which works of fiction may be supposed to fulfill, it will be of interest and value to note what some of the more prominent writers have said with regard to their reasons for practicing the art. The more selfishly personal motives may be passed over quickly. Money and fame have been desired and welcomed by most authors, as by most men, but they help us little to an understanding of the purpose of literature. Yet there are some who have written with neither of these in view, like Jane Austen, who died leaving a considerable part of her work unpublished, and apparently without having sought to publish it. Since the motives of men are more usually complex than simple, it is a safe assumption that even those who have frankly written for a living, or who have acknowledged the lure of ambition, have had other things in view as well, and have not found profit or honor incompatible with deeper and more altruistic aims.
  Of these last, the most commonly claimed is the moral improvement of the reader. No one has been more explicit about this than Richardson, whose preface to “Pamela” is characteristic enough to quote at length:  21
  “If to divert and entertain, and at the same time to instruct and improve the minds of the youth of both sexes;  22
  “If to inculcate religion and morality in so easy and agreeable a manner as shall render them equally delightful and profitable;  23
  “If to set forth, in the most exemplary lights, the parental, the filial, and the social duties;  24
  “If to paint vice in its proper colours, to make it deservedly odious; and to set virtue in its own amiable light, and to make it look lovely;  25
  “If to draw characters with justness and to support them distinctly;  26
  “If to effect all these good ends in so probable, so natural, so lively, a manner, as shall engage the passions of every sensible reader, and attach their regard to the story;  27
  “If these be laudable or worthy recommendations, the editor of the following letters ventures to assert that all these ends are obtained here, together.”  28
  In similar vein his “Clarissa” is “proposed as an exemplar to her sex,” and is made as perfect as is “consistent with human frailty,” her faults being put in chiefly lest there should be “nothing for the Divine grace and a purified state to do.”  29
  Fielding, though less verbose, is no less explicit. He claims for “Tom Jones” that “to recommend goodness and innocence hath been my sincere endeavour in this history,” and that he has “endeavoured to laugh mankind out of their favourite follies and vices.” Of “Amelia” he says: “The following book is sincerely designed to promote the cause of virtue.” The frequent satirical tone of Thackeray, as well as the nature of his analysis of human motive, testifies to his sharing Fielding’s desire to drive men out of their follies and vices by ridicule and contempt.  30
  Dickens characteristically combines the improvement of the individual with the reform of institutions. Of “Martin Chuzzlewit” he says: “My main object in this story was to exhibit in a variety of aspects the commonest of all the vices; to show how selfishness propagates itself, and to what a grim giant it may grow from small beginnings.” Again, “I have taken every possible opportunity of showing the want of sanitary improvements in the neglected dwellings of the poor.”  31
  In contrast to such ethical claims as these, Scott’s confession, “I write for general amusement,” sounds more than humble. Yet he frequently repeats it. He hopes “to relieve anxiety of mind,” “to unwrinkle a brow bent with the furrows of daily toil.” At times he approaches the moral aim of his more serious brethren, “to fill the place of bad thoughts and suggest better,” “to induce an idler to study the history of his country.”  32

  In contrast with these older statements of purpose is the assumption prevailing among the more serious of modern novelists that fiction is primarily concerned with giving a picture of life. This aim is set forth not only in explanation of their own work, but as a test of the value of that of others, irrespective of intention. By it is displayed the peculiar danger of “novels with a purpose,” whether that purpose is moral or social. They point out that Richardson’s method of “exemplars,” whether of virtue to be imitated or vice to be shunned, is apt to result in creations snow-white or pitch black, which fail in truth because human nature, even in the best and worst, is a complex of good and evil; and which fail in effectiveness, because the reader finds no corroboration in his experience and remains unconvinced of their reality. Similarly the novelist with a theory to prove, of the stupidity or cruelty of bad poor laws, foul prisons, red tape and the law’s delays, as in Dickens; of the rights of women, the falsity of Calvinism, the wickedness of commercial marriages, as in more modern writers, is likely to drive his point home by exaggeration, false proportion, some interference with the natural way of the world. The aim to recommend virtuous action by the display of “poetic justice” is open to the same objections. In both cases there results loss of both truth and effectiveness. The same may be true of both the satirical and the merely entertaining aims: in the first, the emphasis on the traits held up to ridicule runs the risk of going beyond the bounds of the normal; in the second, the curious, the marvelous, the mysterious, or the amusing may be sought for at the expense of the natural, with the result that the reader’s skepticism prevents his submitting himself to the illusion of reality necessary for the enjoyment of the pleasure or the advantages to be derived from imaginative art.

  The zeal for true pictures of life which thus censures the older theories of “instruction and delight” is part of the modern tendency to realism, and is connected with the triumph of the scientific point of view. Indeed, its most extreme advocates are at times quite explicit about this: “We should work,” says Zola, “upon characters, passions, human and social facts, as the physicist and chemist work with inorganic bodies, as the physiologist works with living organisms.” On this theory he believed himself to have constructed his novels; and though he did not carry it out as rigorously as he supposed he did, the results of it are all too evident in the assembling in his pages of vast masses of almost statistical facts, set down without regard to taste, convention, or decency.
  But not all modern realists interpret their creed in so mechanical a manner. Many have held to the belief in true pictures of life without committing themselves to the extreme view that the record should be untinged with the personality of the writer. And, indeed, it is now fairly well agreed that such absolute objectivity, is neither possible nor desirable. It is not possible for many reasons. All the facts concerning any human episode, not to say life, cannot be recorded in a book, so infinitely numerous and complex are they, linked to thousands of others which are necessary to a full statement of them, and themselves involving a life history and an immemorial ancestry. Thus in the most severely realistic work selection is necessary, the selection of what seems significant to the author; and with this selection the personal element has already entered. Again, the sympathy of the author unconsciously determines questions of relative stress and emphasis; and intimate qualities of temperament and imagination affect the atmosphere in which the most baldly reported incidents take place.  35

  So we arrive at the important distinction between artistic and literal truth. This is a distinction which everyone is accustomed to recognize in daily intercourse, yet which even professional critics are liable to muddle at times in the discussion of art. We all know how it is possible to report the bare facts of an action or the actual words of a conversation so as to convey to the hearer a totally false impression. On the other hand, an accurate view of what was done and said, with the right implications as to character, motive, and tone, may be conveyed without any reproduction of facts, in the narrow sense, at all. The second method is clearly that at which the artist should aim. His business is with the typical, not the individual; the permanently characteristic, not the temporarily actual; the spirit, not the letter.
  Most of us have heard discussions of a book in which a critic has urged as an objection that a certain incident is not lifelike, when a friend of the author has triumphantly answered that that precise incident is the thing in the work which actually happened. Supposing that the criticism was just, we see at once that one of two things must have occurred; either the author did not understand what happened in real life, failed to see its true causes and relations, and so did not himself know the real facts; or else he reported it out of its true relations, and so deprived the reader of the means of knowing the real facts. An apparent third possibility might also be mentioned; that the episode in question was what might be called a “freak” happening, an abnormal occurrence like the birth of an eight-legged calf, which, while historically actual, is really out of the order of nature, and not in itself fit to be a link in the chain of happenings which a true picture of life represents. Of course, such an abnormality has a cause; but the obscurity of the cause makes this possibility a special case under our first explanation—it is not easily displayed in connection with its true causes.  37

  It is evident, then, that the recording of mere detached fact, untouched by the author’s personality, is not only impossible, but may, when attempted, lead to the violation of actual truth. The door is thus opened to the exercise of the artistic judgment, both in the selection of material and in its manipulation and presentation. The background of this judgment, as it were, is the general view of human nature and of the world at large which the individual author entertains. This view has been arrived at by the observation and meditation which he has practised throughout his life; the conclusions which it involves affect the interpretation of everything that comes under his notice; and its first effect on his art is in determining the choice of subjects to be treated. Individual people and events will arrest his attention and suggest artistic treatment according as they are happy illustrations of what he has perceived to be general truths; and in his treatment he will not scruple to modify them to make them more apt. He will choose what Bagehot calls “literatesque” subjects, subjects fit to be put in a book, as he calls picturesque subjects those fit to be put in a picture; and he defines both as those summing up in a single instance the characteristics that mark the class as a whole to which they belong.

  Let us now compare this conclusion as to the legitimate purpose of the novel with such a moral aim as that of Richardson. As a matter of fact, the difference lies more in his way of stating his theory than in his practice. So far as his observation of life led him to believe that people of the type of Pamela and Clarissa act in general as these heroines do, and that their fortunes in general are determined by their character and their society in the manner he represents, so far he is merely using them properly as illustrations of the view of life of which experience has convinced him. So far, however, as he modifies their characters or careers to conform not to the way the world is, but to the way he wants people to believe the world is, he is artistically false, his picture fails in truth, and the modern reader declines to be interested or convinced. The whole question turns on which the author puts first, artistic truth or effect. If he is more concerned with specific effects than with truth, his “novel with a purpose” will deserve the contempt with which the phrase is usually employed. If his main concern is with truth, his “purpose,” being merely a special illustration of the truth with whatever practical result in mind, will do no harm, but may add greatly to the zest with which he paints his picture.

  Assuming the correctness of the view that the novelist’s business is to give true pictures of life, we are met by the question of the value of this result. The answer to this is twofold: there is an intellectual value and an emotional value.
  The amount and range of experience that comes to the ordinary man is of necessity limited. Most of us are tied to a particular locality, move in a society representing only a few of the myriad human types that exist, spend the majority of our waking hours attending to a more or less monotonous series of duties or enjoying a small variety of recreations. In such a life there is often no great range of opportunity; and the most adventurous career touches, after all, but a few points in the infinite complex of existence. But we have our imaginations, and it is to these that the artist appeals. The discriminating reader of fiction can enormously enlarge his experience of life through his acquaintance with the new tracts brought within his vision by the novelist, at second hand, it is true, but the vivid writer can often bring before our mental eyes scenes and persons whom we can realize and understand with a greater thoroughness than those we perceive directly through our senses. The materials for the understanding of men and life are thus greatly increased, and at the same time the data for the forming of those generalizations which collectively make up our philosophy.  41
  The basis of all sound altruistic activity is sympathy, and sympathy again depends on the imagination. We act tactfully and effectively for the relief of another’s suffering when we are able imaginatively to put ourselves in that other’s place. Now, familiarity with well-described characters in fiction not only makes us acquainted with a much wider variety of human beings and enables us to understand them, but it provides us with a kind of emotional gymnastic, increasing our capacity for putting ourselves whole-heartedly and clear-mindedly in the other man’s place. Thus such familiarity is a corrective of both provincialism and selfishness, broadening the outlook and enlarging the emotional range through the development of the imagination. Here is an ethical result more effective by far than that indicated by the old formula of “exemplars,” warnings, and poetic justice, and one that implies no forcing of the truth to bring its lessons home.  42

  In what has been said about fiction as a picturing of life, something has already been implied as to the methods involved. There remain, however, some other important questions of technic on which we may briefly touch.
  However true a writer’s picture of life, it is of little value if it does not impress itself on the reader. The question of effectiveness is thus of great importance, and with certain classes of authors it not infrequently absorbs them to the exclusion even of the question of truth.  44
  The most comprehensive element of effectiveness is structure. A story that does not hang well together, in which the scenes are mere scattered episodes, which has no palpable thread, no climaxes, and no conclusion, is not likely to be read through, and, if it is, it rouses no deep interest, intellectual or emotional, and leaves no definite stamp on the memory. The factors which it lacks are those that give unity of structure. From this point of view, the problem of the novelist is to make as close-knit and thoroughly organized a plot as possible without violating natural probability in appearance or reality. This is the greatest of technical problems for the author, as the critical appreciation of structure is the last power to be acquired by the careless reader; yet no sound capacity for judging or enjoying fiction is possible to him who cannot thus view the work as a whole.  45
  Somewhat similar faculties are required on a smaller scale in the handling of situation and incident. Many writers are able to present these effectively in isolation; but the great writer treats them not as beads on a string, but as stones in a great building.  46
  Both plot and incident in turn must be vitally related to character. Not only must the persons stand out clearly described and recognizable as the people we know, but the things that happen and the kind of characters through and to whom they happen, must reciprocally explain each other. Much discussion has taken place with regard to the propriety of explicit analysis of character in the novel, some writers feeling bound to let a character’s words and deeds alone explain him as they do in the drama, others feeling free to come forward in their own persons and explain frankly the motives and feelings of their creatures. Much naturally depends on the way it is done. Thackeray’s friendly gossip with the reader behind the backs of his dramatis personæ is often so charming that we should be loath to lose it; and often the explicit statement of the author saves us much labor and prevents important misunderstanding. On the other hand, there is unquestionably great satisfaction in the drawing of our own inferences, and a considerable gain in the illusion of reality when the actors are allowed to exhibit their quality unaided by a talking showman.  47
  The attempt has here been made to outline some of the main principles of the art of fiction without adopting the partisan attitude of any one school. Within the limits of these principles there is room for a great variety of type, for realism and romance, for chronicles of the commonplace and annals of adventure, for stirring tales of action and subtle psychological analysis. The endless variety of human life supplies an equally endless variety of themes; and the nature of the theme will properly lead to emphasis now on the external, now on the internal, now on the ordinary, now on the extraordinary, with appropriate variation of the technical methods employed. But with all this variation the demand holds for truth to the permanent and essential traits of human nature and human life, and for vitality and interest in the presentation of this truth.  48
  But what, the reader may ask, of the pleasure from novels? naturally, since the giving of pleasure is usually assumed as the main end of fiction. Well, pleasure largely depends on who is to be pleased: there are readers who could demand no greater pleasure than that sense of enlargement of personality, of the scope of experience and sympathy, which has been put down as the chief value of the novel. It may be claimed, also, that in the demand that fiction should impress vividly and hold the interest powerfully we have provided for the seekers after pleasure. The greatest pleasure is to live broadly and intensely, to feel oneself in a world significant at every point and palpitating in response to our activities, and this the greatest fiction surely tends to give. One of the finest of modern masters of the art, Mr. Henry James, has summed up the matter in an epigram as true as it is brilliant, that we are entertained by the novelist because we live at his expense.  49
Note 1. Harvard Classics, xvii, 47ff. [back]
Note 2. H. C., xvii, 11ff. [back]
Note 3. As contained, for example, in the “Odyssey,” H. C., vol. xxii, and the “Song of the Volsungs,” xlix, 249ff. [back]
Note 4. For examples in H. C., see “Odyssey,” vol. xxii; “Æneid,” vol. xiii; “Paradise Lost” and “Paradise Regained,” iv, 87ff. and 359ff.; and cf. the lectures on Poetry. [back]
Note 5. Cf., especially Malory, H. C., xxxv, 103ff. [back]
Note 6. Such as the Tales of the Miller and the Reeve in Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales.” [back]
Note 7. Such as the stories in Boccaccio’s “Decameron.” [back]
Note 8. The earliest English example is Nash’s “Jack Wilton, or the Unfortunate Traveller.” [back]
Note 9. Among the best-known collections is that of Overbury. [back]
Note 10. H. C., xxvii, 83ff. [back]
Note 11. H. C., xxvii, 132. [back]
Note 12. H. C., xxxix, 176. [back]
Note 13. For example “The Mysteries of Udolpho.” [back]
Note 14. As in “The Old English Baron.” [back]
Note 15. E.g., “Pride and Prejudice,” “Sense and Sensibility,” “Emma.” For a satire on the Gothic Romance, cf. her “Northanger Abbey.” [back]
Note 16. E.g., “Castle Rackrent,” and “The Absentee.” [back]
Note 17. E.g., “Marriage.” [back]


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