A Manual of the Art of Fiction
by Clayton Hamilton
1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

[Transcriber's Note: In this text, words or phrases that were printed in italics are surrounded with underscore symbols like this and words or phrases that were printed in bold type are set off with equal signs like this.]


Other Books by Clayton Hamilton

ON THE TRAIL OF STEVENSON . . . . $3.50 net

Published by Doubleday, Page & Company

THE THEORY OF THE THEATRE . . . . $1.60 net

STUDIES IN STAGECRAFT . . . . . . $1.60 net


Published by Henry Holt & Company

A Manual of


Prepared for the Use of Schools and Colleges



Member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters; Extension Lecturer in English, Columbia University

With an Introduction by


Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters; Professor of Dramatic Literature, Columbia University




Copyright, 1918, by

Doubleday, Page & Company

All rights reserved, including that of translation into foreign languages, including the Scandinavian.






This MANUAL OF THE ART OF FICTION is a revised and amplified edition of "Materials and Methods of Fiction," by Clayton Hamilton, which was first published in 1908. The earlier work was immediately recognized as an important piece of constructive criticism and has held its position ever since as one of the leading books in its field. On the tenth anniversary of its appearance, the publishers have asked the author to prepare this annotated and enlarged edition, particularly for the use of students and teachers in schools and colleges.

DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY. Garden City, New York, 1918.




I. THE PURPOSE OF FICTION 3 Fiction a Means of Telling Truth—Fact and Fiction—Truth and Fact—The Search for Truth—The Necessary Triple Process—Different Degrees of Emphasis—The Art of Fiction and the Craft of Chemistry—Fiction and Reality—Fiction and History—Fiction and Biography—Biography, History, and Fiction—Fiction Which Is True—Fiction Which Is False—Casual Sins against the Truth in Fiction—More Serious Sins against the Truth—The Futility of the Adventitious—The Independence of Created Characters—Fiction More True Than a Casual Report of Fact—The Exception and the Law—Truthfulness the only Title to Immortality—Morality and Immorality in Fiction—The Faculty of Wisdom—Wisdom and Technic—General and Particular Experience—Extensive and Intensive Experience—The Experiencing Nature—Curiosity and Sympathy.

II. REALISM AND ROMANCE 25 Two Methods of Exhibiting the Truth—Every Mind Either Realistic or Romantic—Marion Crawford's Faulty Distinction—A Second Unsatisfactory Distinction—A Third Unsatisfactory Distinction—Bliss Perry's Negative Definition—The True Distinction One of Method, Not of Material—Scientific Discovery and Artistic Expression—The Testimony of Hawthorne—A Philosophic Formula—Induction and Deduction—The Inductive Method of the Realist—The Deductive Method of the Romantic—Realism, Like Inductive Science, a Strictly Modern Product—Advantages of Realism—Advantages of Romance—The Confinement of Realism—The Freedom of Romance—Neither Method Better Than the Other—Abuses of Realism—Abuses of Romance.

III. THE NATURE OF NARRATIVE 44 Transition from Material to Method—The Four Methods of Discourse—1. Argumentation; 2. Exposition; 3. Description; 4. Narration, the Natural Mood of Fiction—Series and Succession—Life Is Chronological, Art Is Logical—The Narrative Sense—The Joy of Telling Tales—The Missing of This Joy—Developing the Sense of Narrative—The Meaning of the Word "Event"—How to Make Things Happen—The Narrative of Action—The Narrative of Character—Recapitulation.

IV. PLOT 60 Narrative a Simplification of Life—Unity in Narrative—A Definite Objective Point—Construction, Analytic and Synthetic—The Importance of Structure—Elementary Narrative—Positive and Negative Events—The Picaresque Pattern—Definition of Plot—Complication of the Network—The Major Knot—"Beginning, Middle, and End"—The Sub-Plot—Discursive and Compacted Narratives—Telling Much or Little of a Story—Where to Begin a Story—Logical Sequence and Chronological Succession—Tying and Untying—Transition to the Next Chapter.

V. CHARACTERS 77 Characters Should Be Worth Knowing—The Personal Equation of the Audience—The Universal Appeal of Great Fictitious Characters—Typical Traits—Individual Traits—The Defect of Allegory—The Defect of Caricature—Static and Kinetic Characters—Direct and Indirect Delineation—Subdivisions of Both Methods—I. Direct Delineation: 1. By Exposition; 2. By Description; [Gradual Portrayal]; 3. By Psychological Analysis; 4. By Reports from other Characters—II. Indirect Delineation: 1. By Speech; 2. By Action; 3. By Effect on other Characters; 4. By Environment.

VI. SETTING 99 Evolution of Background in the History of Painting—The First Stage—The Second Stage—The Third Stage—Similar Evolution of Setting in the History of Fiction: The First Stage—The Second Stage—The Third Stage: 1. Setting as an Aid to Action—2. Setting as an Aid to Characterization—Emotional Harmony in Setting—The Pathetic Fallacy—Emotional Contrast in Setting—Irony in Setting—Artistic and Philosophical Employment—1. Setting as a Motive toward Action—2. Setting as an Influence on Character—Setting as the Hero of the Narrative—Uses of the Weather—Romantic and Realistic Settings—A Romantic Setting by Edgar Allan Poe—A Realistic Setting by George Eliot—The Quality of Atmosphere, or Local Color—Recapitulation.

VII. THE POINT OF VIEW IN NARRATIVE 120 The Importance of the Point of View—Two Classes, The Internal and the External—I. Subdivisions of the First Class: 1. The Point of View of the Leading Actor; 2. The Point of View of Some Subsidiary Actor; 3. The Points of View of Different Actors; 4. The Epistolary Point of View.—II. Subdivisions of the Second Class:—1. The Omniscient Point of View; 2. The Limited Point of View; 3. The Rigidly Restricted Point of View—Two Tones of Narrative, Impersonal and Personal: 1. The Impersonal Tone; 2. The Personal Tone—The Point of View as a Factor in Construction—The Point of View as the Hero of the Narrative.

VIII. EMPHASIS IN NARRATIVE 139 Essential and Contributory Features—Art Distinguishes Between the Two by Emphasis—Many Technical Devices: 1. Emphasis by Terminal Position; 2. Emphasis by Initial Position; 3. Emphasis by Pause [Further Discussion of Emphasis by Position]; 4. Emphasis by Direct Proportion; 5. Emphasis by Inverse Proportion; 6. Emphasis by Iteration; 7. Emphasis by Antithesis; 8. Emphasis by Climax; 9. Emphasis by Surprise; 10. Emphasis by Suspense; 11. Emphasis by Imitative Movement.

IX. THE EPIC, THE DRAMA, AND THE NOVEL 157 Fiction a Generic Term—Narrative in Verse and Narrative in Prose—Three Moods of Fiction: I. The Epic Mood—II. The Dramatic Mood: 1. Influence of the Actor; 2. Influence of the Theatre; 3. Influence of the Audience—[Dramatized Novels]—III. The Novelistic Mood.

X. THE NOVEL, THE NOVELETTE, AND THE SHORT-STORY 172 Novel, Novelette, and Short-Story—The Novel and the Novelette—The Short-Story a Distinct Type—The Dictum of Poe—The Formula of Brander Matthews—Definition of the Short-Story—Explanation of This Definition: 1. "Single Narrative Effect"; 2. "Greatest Economy of Means"; and 3. "Utmost Emphasis"—Brief Tales That Are Not Short-Stories—Short-Stories That Are Not Brief—Bliss Perry's Annotations—The Novelist and the Writer of Short-Stories—The Short-Story More Artistic Than the Novel—The Short-Story Almost Necessarily Romantic.

XI. THE STRUCTURE OF THE SHORT-STORY 189 Only One Best Way to Construct a Short-Story—Problems of Short-Story Construction—The Initial Position—The Terminal Position—Poe's Analysis of "The Raven"—Analysis of "Ligeia"—Analysis of "The Prodigal Son"—Style Essential to the Short-Story.

XII. THE FACTOR OF STYLE 207 Structure and Style—Style a Matter of Feeling—Style an Absolute Quality—The Twofold Appeal of Language—Concrete Examples—Onomatopoetic Words—Memorable Words—The Patterning of Syllables—Stevenson on Style—The Pattern of Rhythm—The Pattern of Literation—Style a Fine Art—Style an Important Aid to Fiction—The Heresy of the Accidental—Style an Intuitive Quality—Methods and Materials—Content and Form—The Fusion of Both Elements—The Author's Personality—Recapitulation.



In our time, in these early years of the twentieth century, the novel is the prosperous parvenu of literature, and only a few of those who acknowledge its vogue and who laud its success take the trouble to recall its humble beginnings and the miseries of its youth. But like other parvenus it is still a little uncertain of its position in the society in which it moves. It is a newcomer in the literary world; and it has the self-assertiveness and the touchiness natural to the situation. It brags of its descent, although its origins are obscure. It has won its way to the front and it has forced its admission into circles where it was formerly denied access. It likes to forget that it was once but little better than an outcast, unworthy of recognition from those in authority. Perhaps it is still uneasily conscious that not a few of those who were born to good society may look at it with cold suspicion as though it was still on sufferance.

Story-telling has always been popular, of course; and the desire is deep-rooted in all of us to hear and to tell some new thing and to tell again something deserving remembrance. But the novel itself, and the short-story also, must confess that they have only of late been able to claim equality with the epic and the lyric, and with comedy and tragedy, literary forms consecrated by antiquity. There were nine Muses in Greece of old, and no one of these daughters of Apollo was expected to inspire the writer of prose-fiction. Whoever had then a story to tell, which he wished to treat artistically, never dreamed of expressing it except in the nobler medium of verse, in the epic, in the idyl, in the drama. Prose seemed to the Greeks, and even to the Latins who followed in their footsteps, as fit only for pedestrian purposes. Even oratory and history were almost rhythmic; and mere prose was too humble an instrument for those whom the Muses cherished. The Alexandrian vignettes of the gentle Theocritus may be regarded as anticipations of the modern short-story of urban local color; but this delicate idyllist used verse for the talk of his Tanagra figurines.

Even when the modern languages entered into the inheritance of Latin and Greek, verse held to its ancestral privileges, and the brief tale took the form of the ballad, and the longer narrative called itself a chanson de geste. Boccaccio and Rabelais and Cervantes might win immediate popularity and invite a host of imitators; but it was long after their time before a tale in prose, whether short or long, achieved recognition as worthy of serious critical consideration. In his study of Balzac, Brunetiere recorded the significant fact that no novelist, who was purely and simply a novelist, was elected to the French Academy in the first two centuries of its existence. And the same acute critic, in his "History of Classical French Literature," pointed out that French novels were under a cloud of suspicion even so far back as the days of Erasmus, in 1525. It was many scores of years thereafter before the self-appointed guardians of French literature esteemed the novel highly enough to condescend to discuss it.

Perhaps this was not altogether a disadvantage. French tragedy was discussed only too abundantly; and the theorists laid down rules for it which were not a little cramping. Another French critic, M. Le Breton, in his account of the growth of French prose-fiction in the first half of the nineteenth century, has asserted that this exemption from criticism really redounded to the benefit of the novel, since the despised form was allowed to develop naturally, spontaneously, free from all the many artificial restrictions which the dogmatists succeeded in imposing on tragedy and on comedy, and which resulted at last in the sterility of the French drama toward the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth. While this advantage is undeniable, one may question whether it was not bought at too great a price and whether there would not have been a certain profit for prose-fiction if its practitioners had been kept up to the mark by a criticism which educated the public to demand greater care in structure, more logic in the conduct of events, and stricter veracity in the treatment of characters.

However much it might then be deemed unworthy of serious consideration, the novel in the eighteenth century began to attract to itself more and more authors of rich natural endowment. In English literature especially, prose-fiction tempted men as unlike as Defoe and Swift, Richardson and Fielding, Smollett and Sterne, Goldsmith and Johnson. And a little earlier the eighteenth century essayists, with Steele and Addison at the head of them, had developed the art of character-delineation, a development out of which the novelists were to make their profit. The influence of the English eighteenth-century essay on the growth of prose-fiction, not only in the British Isles, but also on the continent of Europe, is larger than is generally admitted. Indeed, there is a sense in which the successive papers depicting the character and the deeds of Sir Roger de Coverley may be accepted as the earliest of serial stories.

But it was only in the nineteenth century that the novel reached its full expansion and succeeded in winning recognition as the heir of the epic and the rival of the drama. This victory was the direct result of the overwhelming success of the Waverley novels and of the countless stories written more or less in accordance with Scott's formula, by Cooper, by Victor Hugo and Dumas, by Manzoni, and by all the others who followed in their footsteps in every modern language. Not only born story-tellers but writers who were by natural gift poets or dramatists, seized upon the novel as a form in which they could express themselves freely and by which they might hope to gain a proper reward in money as well as in fame. The economic interpretation of literary history has not received the attention it deserves; and the future investigator will find a rich field in his researches for the causes of the expansion of the novel in the nineteenth century simultaneous with the decline of the drama in the literature of almost every modern language except French.

As the nineteenth century drew toward its maturity, the influence of Balzac reinforced the influence of Scott; and realism began to assert its right to substitute itself for romance. The adjustment of character to its appropriate background, the closer connection of fiction with the actual facts of life, the focussing of attention on the normal and the usual rather than on the abnormal and the exceptional—all these steps in advance were more easily taken in the freer form of the novel than they could be in the more restricted formula of the drama; and for the first time in its history prose-fiction found itself a pioneer, achieving a solidity of texture which the theatre had not yet been able to attain.

The novel revealed itself at last as a fit instrument for applied psychology, for the use of those delicate artists who are interested rather in what character is than in what it may chance to do. In the earliest fictions, whether in prose or verse, the hero had been merely a type, little more than a lay-figure capable of violent attitudes, a doer of deeds who, as Professor Gummere has explained, "answered the desire for poetic expression at a time when an individual is merged in the clan." And as the realistic writers perfected their art, the more acute readers began to perceive that the hero who is a doer of deeds can represent only the earlier stages of culture which we have long outgrown. This hero came to be recognized as an anachronism, out of place in a more modern social organization based on a full appreciation of individuality. He was too much a type and too little an individual to satisfy the demands of those who looked to literature as the mirror of life itself and who had taught themselves to relish what Lowell terms the "punctilious veracity which gives to a portrait its whole worth."

Thus it was only in the middle years of the nineteenth century, after Stendhal, Balzac, and Flaubert, after Thackeray and George Eliot, and Hawthorne, that the novel found out its true field. And yet it was in the middle years of the seventeenth century that the ideal to which it was aspiring had been proclaimed frankly by the forgotten Furetiere in the preface to his "Roman Bourgeois." Furetiere lacked the skill and the insight needful for the satisfactory attainment of the standard he set up—indeed, the attainment of that standard is beyond the power of most novelists even now. But Furetiere's declaration of the principles which he proposed to follow is as significant now as it was in 1666, when neither the writer himself nor the reader to whom he had to appeal was ripe for the advance which he insisted upon. "I shall tell you," said Furetiere, "sincerely and faithfully, several stories or adventures which happened to persons who are neither heroes nor heroines, who will raise no armies and overthrow no kingdoms, but who will be honest folk of mediocre condition, and who will quietly make their way. Some of them will be good-looking and others ugly. Some of them will be wise and others foolish; and these last, in fact, seem likely to prove the larger number."


The novel had a long road to travel before it became possible for novelists to approach the ideal that Furetiere proclaimed and before they had acquired the skill needed to make their readers accept it. And there had also to be a slow development of our own ideas concerning the relation of art to life. For one thing, art had been expected to emphasize a moral; there was even a demand on the drama to be overtly didactic. Less than a score of years after Furetiere's preface there was published an English translation of the Abbe d'Aubignac's "Pratique du Theatre" which was entitled the "Whole Art of the Stage" and in which the theory of "poetic justice" was set forth formally. "One of the chiefest, and indeed the most indispensable Rule of Drammatick Poems is that in them Virtues always ought to be rewarded, or at least commended, in spite of all the Injuries of Fortune; and that likewise Vices be always punished or at least detested with Horrour, though they triumph upon the Stage for that time."

Doctor Johnson was so completely a man of his own century that he found fault with Shakespeare because Shakespeare did not preach, because in the great tragedies virtue is not always rewarded and vice is not always punished. Doctor Johnson and the Abbe d'Aubignac wanted the dramatist to be false to life as we all know it. Beyond all peradventure the wages of sin is death; and yet we have all seen the evil-doer dying in the midst of his devoted family and surrounded by all the external evidences of worldly success. To insist that virtue shall be outwardly triumphant at the end of a play or of a novel is to require the dramatist or the novelist to falsify. It is to introduce an element of unreality into fiction. It is to require the story-teller and the playmaker to prove a thesis that common sense must reject.

Any attempt to require the artist to prove anything is necessarily cramping. A true representation of life does not prove one thing only, it proves many things. Life is large, unlimited, and incessant; and the lessons of the finest art are those of life itself; they are not single but multiple. Who can declare what is the single moral contained in the "OEdipus" of Sophocles, the "Hamlet" of Shakespeare, the "Tartufe" of Moliere? No two spectators of these masterpieces would agree on the special morals to be isolated; and yet none of them would deny that the masterpieces are profoundly moral because of their essential truth. Morality, a specific moral—this is what the artist cannot deliberately put into his work without destroying its veracity. But morality is also what he cannot leave out if he has striven only to handle his subject sincerely. Hegel is right when he tells us that art has its moral—but the moral depends on him who draws it. The didactic drama and the novel-with-a-purpose are necessarily unartistic and unavoidably unsatisfactory.

This is what the greater artists have always felt; this is what they have often expressed unhesitatingly. Corneille, for one, though he was a man of his time, a creature of the seventeenth century, had the courage to assert that "the utility of a play is seen in the simple depicting of vices and virtues, which never fails to be effective if it is well done and if the traits are so recognizable that they cannot be confounded or mistaken; virtue always gets itself loved, however unfortunate, and vice gets itself hated, even though triumphant." Dryden, again, a contemporary of d'Aubignac and a predecessor of Johnson, had a clearer vision than either of them; and his views are far in advance of theirs. "Delight," he said, "is the chief if not the only end of poesy," and by poesy he meant fiction in all its forms; "instruction can be admitted but in the second place, for poetry only instructs as it delights." And once more, when we pass from the seventeenth century of Corneille and Dryden to the nineteenth century when the novel has asserted its rivalry with the drama, we find the wise Goethe declaring to Eckermann the doctrine which is now winning acceptance everywhere. "If there is a moral in the subject it will appear, and the poet has nothing to consider but the effective and artistic treatment of his subject; if he has as high a soul as Sophocles, his influence will always be moral, let him do what he will."

A high soul is not given to all writers of fiction, and yet there is an obligation on them all to aspire to the praise bestowed on Sophocles as one who "saw life steadily and saw it whole." Even the humblest of story-tellers ought to feel himself bound, not to preach, not to point a moral ostentatiously, not to warp the march of events for the sake of so-called "poetic justice," but to report life as he knows it, making it neither better nor worse, to represent it honestly, to tell the truth about it and nothing but the truth, even if he does not tell the whole truth—which is given to no man to know. This is an obligation that not a few of the foremost writers of fiction have failed to respect. Dickens, for example, is delighted to reform a character in the twinkling of an eye, transforming a bad man into a good man over night, and contradicting all that we know about the permanence of character.

Other novelists have asked us to admire violent and unexpected acts of startling self-sacrifice, when a character is made to take on himself the responsibility for the delinquency of some other character. They have invited our approbation for a moral suicide, which is quite as blameworthy as any physical suicide. With his keen insight into ethics and with his robust common sense, Huxley stated the principle which these novelists have failed to grasp. A man, he tells us, "may refuse to commit another, but he ought not to allow himself to be believed worse than he actually is," since this results in "a loss to the world of moral force which cannot be afforded." The final test of the fineness of fiction lies in its veracity. "Romance is the poetry of circumstance," as Stevenson tells us, and "drama is the poetry of conduct"; we may be tolerant and easy-going in our acceptance of a novelist's circumstances, but we ought to be rigorous as regards conduct. As far as the successive happenings of his story are concerned, the mere incidents, the author may on occasion ask our indulgence and tax our credulity a little; but he must not expect us to forgive him for any violation of the fundamental truths of human nature.

It is this stern veracity, unflinching and inexorable, which makes "Anna Karenina" one of the noblest works of art that the nineteenth century devised to the twentieth, just as it is the absence of this fidelity to the facts of life, the twisting of character to prove a thesis, which vitiates the "Kreutzer Sonata," and makes it unworthy of the great artist in fiction who wrote the earlier work. It is not too much to say that the development of Tolstoi as a militant moralist is coincident with his decline as an artist. He is no longer content to picture life as he sees it; he insists on preaching. And when he uses his art, not as an end in itself, but as an instrument to advocate his own individual theories, although his great gifts are not taken from him, the result is that his later novels lack the broad and deep moral effect which gave his earlier studies of life and character their abiding value.

Stevenson had in him "something of the shorter catechist"; and the Scotch artist in letters, enamored of words as he was, seized firmly the indispensable law. "The most influential books, and the truest in their influence, are works of fiction," he declared. "They do not pin their reader to a dogma, which he must afterward discover to be inexact; they do not teach a lesson, which he must afterward unlearn. They repeat, they rearrange, they clarify the lessons of life; they disengage us from ourselves, they constrain us to the acquaintances of others, and they show us the web of experience not as we can see it for ourselves, but with a singular change—that monstrous, consuming ego of ours being, for the nonce, struck out. To be so, they must be reasonably true to the human comedy; and any work that is so serves the turn of instruction." This is well thought and well put, although many of us might demand that novels should be more than "reasonably true." But even if Stevenson was here a little lax in the requirements he imposed on others, he was stricter with himself when he wrote "Markheim" and the "Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde."

Another story-teller, also cut off before he had displayed the best that was in him, set up the same standards for his fellow-craftsmen in fiction. In his striking discussion of the responsibility of the novelist, Frank Norris asserted that the readers of fiction have "a right to the Truth as they have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is not right that they be exploited and deceived with false views of life, false characters, false sentiment, false morality, false history, false philosophy, false emotions, false heroism, false notions of self-sacrifice, false views of religion, of duty, of conduct, and of manners."


Even if there may have been a certain advantage to the novel, as M. Le Breton maintains, because it was long left alone unfettered by any critical code, to expand as best it could, to find its own way unaided and to work out its own salvation, the time has now come when it may profit by a criticism which shall force it to consider its responsibilities and to appraise its technical resources, if it is to claim artistic equality with the drama and the epic. It has won its way to the front; and there are few who now question its right to the position it has attained. There is no denying that in English literature, in the age of Victoria, the novel established itself as the literary form most alluring to all men of letters and that it succeeded to the place held by the essay in the days of Anne and by the play in the days of Elizabeth.

And like the play and the essay in those earlier times, the novel now attracts writers who have no great natural gift for the form. Just as Peele and Greene wrote plays because play-writing was popular and advantageous, in spite of their inadequate dramaturgic equipment, and just as Johnson wrote essays because essay-writing was popular and advantageous in spite of his deficiency in the ease and lightness which the essay demands, so Brougham and Motley and Froude adventured themselves in fiction. We may even doubt whether George Eliot was a born story-teller and whether she would not have been more successful in some other epoch when some other literary form than the novel had happened to be in fashion. In France the novel tempted Victor Hugo, who was essentially a lyric poet, and the elder Dumas, who was essentially a playwright. There are not lacking signs of late that the drama is likely in the immediate future to assert a sharper rivalry with prose-fiction; and novelists like Sir James Barrie and the late Paul Hervieu have relinquished the easier narrative for the more difficult and more dangerous stage-play. But there is no evidence that the novel is soon to lose its vogue. It has come to stay; and as the nineteenth century left it to the twentieth so the twentieth will probably bequeath it to the twenty-first unimpaired in prosperity.

Perhaps the best evidence of the solidity of its position is to be found in the critical consideration which it is at last receiving. Histories of fiction in all literatures and biographies of the novelists in all languages are multiplying abundantly. We are beginning to take our fiction seriously and to inquire into its principles. Long ago Freytag's "Technic of the Drama" was followed by Spielhagen's "Technic of the Novel," rather Teutonically philosophic, both of them, and already a little out of date. Studies of prose-fiction are getting themselves written, none of them more illuminative than Professor Bliss Perry's. The novelists themselves are writing about the art of fiction, as Sir Walter Besant did, and they are asking what the novel is, as the late Marion Crawford has done. They are beginning to resent the assertion of the loyal adherents of the drama, that the novel is too loose a form to call forth the best efforts of the artist, and that a play demands at least technical skill whereas a novel may be often the product of unskilled labor.

Questions of all kinds are presenting themselves for discussion. Has the rise of realism made romance impossible? Is there a valid distinction between romance and romanticism? Is the short-story a definite form, differing from the novel in purpose as well as in length? What is the best way to tell a story—in the third person, as in the epic—in the first person, as in an autobiography—or in letters? Which is of most importance, character or incident or atmosphere? Is the novel-with-a-purpose legitimate? Why is it that dramatized novels often fail in the theatre? Ought a novelist to take sides with his characters and against them, or ought he to suppress his own opinions and remain impassive, as the dramatist must? Does a prodigality in the invention of incidents reveal a greater imagination in the novelist than is required for the sincere depicting of simple characters in every-day life? Why has the old trick of inserting brief tales inside a long novel—such as we find in "Don Quixote" and "Tom Jones" and the "Pickwick Papers"—been abandoned of late years? How far is a novelist justified in taking his characters so closely from actual life that they are recognizable by his readers? What are the advantages and disadvantages of local color? How much dialect may a novelist venture to employ? Is the historical novel really a loftier type of fiction than the novel of contemporary life? Is it really possible to write a veracious novel about any other than the novelist's native land? Why is it that so many of the greater writers of fiction have brought forth their first novel only after they had attained to half the allotted three score years and ten? Is the scientific spirit going to be helpful or harmful to the writer of fiction? Which is the finer form for fiction, a swift and direct telling of the story, with the concentration of a Greek tragedy, such as we find in the "Scarlet Letter" and in "Smoke," or an ampler and more leisurely movement more like that of the Elizabethan plays, such as we may see in "Vanity Fair" and in "War and Peace"?

These questions, and many another, we may expect to hear discussed, even if they cannot all of them be answered, in any consideration of the materials and the methods of fiction. And the result of these inquiries cannot fail to be beneficial, both to the writer of fiction and to the reader of fiction. To the story-teller himself they will serve as a stimulus and a guide, calling attention to the technic of his craft and broadening his knowledge of the principles of his art. To the idle reader even they ought to be helpful, because they will force him to think about the novels he may read and because they will lead him to be more exacting, to insist more on veracity in the portrayal of life, and to demand more care in the method of presentation. Every art profits by a wider understanding of its principles, of its possibilities and of its limitations, as well as by a more diffused knowledge of its technic.


POSTSCRIPT: It is a good sign for the future of the novel that in the ten years which have elapsed since this introduction was written, the professors of literature in our colleges and in our graduate schools have been paying increased attention to the study of prose fiction. They had, first of all, to inform themselves more abundantly as to its past history, and as to the relation it has borne to the epic on the one hand and to the drama on the other. Then, secondly, they have been encouraged to pass on to the students they were guiding the results of their researches and of their reflections. And as a result the significance of the novel is day by day made more manifest.





Fiction a Means of Telling Truth—Fact and Fiction—Truth and Fact—The Search for Truth—The Necessary Triple Process—Different Degrees of Emphasis—The Art of Fiction and the Craft of Chemistry—Fiction and Reality—Fiction and History—Fiction and Biography—Biography, History, and Fiction—Fiction Which Is True—Fiction Which Is False—Casual Sins against the Truth in Fiction—More Serious Sins against the Truth—The Futility of the Adventitious—The Independence of Created Characters—Fiction More True Than a Casual Report of Fact—The Exception and the Law—Truthfulness the only Title to Immortality—Morality and Immorality in Fiction—The Faculty of Wisdom—Wisdom and Technic—General and Particular Experience—Extensive and Intensive Experience—The Experiencing Nature—Curiosity and Sympathy.

Fiction a Means of Telling Truth.—Before we set out upon a study of the materials and methods of fiction, we must be certain that we appreciate the purpose of the art and understand its relation to the other arts and sciences. The purpose of fiction is to embody certain truths of human life in a series of imagined facts. The importance of this purpose is scarcely ever appreciated by the casual careless reader of the novels of a season. Although it is commonly believed that such a reader overestimates the weight of works of fiction, the opposite is true—he underestimates it. Every novelist of genuine importance seeks not merely to divert but also to instruct—to instruct, not abstractly, like the essayist, but concretely, by presenting to the reader characters and actions which are true. For the best fiction, although it deals with the lives of imaginary people, is no less true than the best history and biography, which record actual facts of human life; and it is more true than such careless reports of actual occurrences as are published in the daily newspapers. The truth of worthy fiction is evidenced by the honor in which it has been held in all ages among all races. "You can't fool all the people all the time"; and if the drama and the epic and the novel were not true, the human race would have rejected them many centuries ago. Fiction has survived, and flourishes to-day, because it is a means of telling truth.

Fact and Fiction.—It is only in the vocabulary of very careless thinkers that the words truth and fiction are regarded as antithetic. A genuine antithesis subsists between the words fact and fiction; but fact and truth are not synonymous. The novelist forsakes the realm of fact in order that he may better tell the truth, and lures the reader away from actualities in order to present him with realities. It is of prime importance, in our present study, therefore, that we should understand at the very outset the relation between fact and truth, the distinction between the actual and the real.

Truth and Fact.—A fact is a specific manifestation of a general law: this general law is the truth because of which that fact has come to be. It is a fact that when an apple-tree is shaken by the wind, such apples as may be loosened from their twigs fall to the ground: it is a truth that bodies in space attract each other with a force that varies inversely as the square of the distance between them. Fact is concrete, and is a matter of physical experience: truth is abstract, and is a matter of mental theory. Actuality is the realm of fact, reality the realm of truth. The universe as we apprehend it with our senses is actual; the laws of the universe as we comprehend them with our understanding are real.

The Search for Truth.—All human science is an endeavor to discover the truths which underlie the facts that we perceive: all human philosophy is an endeavor to understand and to appraise those truths when once they are discovered: and all human art is an endeavor to utter them clearly and effectively when once they are appraised and understood. The history of man is the history of a constant and continuous seeking for the truth. Amazed before a universe of facts, he has striven earnestly to discover the truth which underlies them—striven heroically to understand the large reality of which the actual is but a sensuously perceptible embodiment. In the earliest centuries of recorded thought the search was unmethodical; truth was apprehended, if at all, by intuition, and announced as dogma: but in modern centuries certain regular methods have been devised to guide the search. The modern scientist begins his work by collecting a large number of apparently related facts and arranging them in an orderly manner. He then proceeds to induce from the observation of these facts an apprehension of the general law that explains their relation. This hypothesis is then tested in the light of further facts, until it seems so incontestable that the minds of men accept it as the truth. The scientist then formulates it in an abstract theoretic statement, and thus concludes his work.

But it is at just this point that the philosopher begins. Accepting many truths from many scientists, the philosopher compares, reconciles, and correlates them, and thus builds out of them a structure of belief. But this structure of belief remains abstract and theoretic in the mind of the philosopher. It is now the artist's turn. Accepting the correlated theoretic truths which the scientist and the philosopher have given him, he endows them with an imaginative embodiment perceptible to the senses. He translates them back into concrete terms; he clothes them in invented facts; he makes them imaginatively perceptible to a mind native and indued to actuality; and thus he gives expression to the truth.

The Necessary Triple Process.—This triple process of the scientific discovery, the philosophic understanding, and the artistic expression of truth has been explained at length, because every great writer of fiction must pass through the entire mental process. The fiction-writer differs from other seekers for the truth, not in the method of his thought, but merely in its subject-matter. His theme is human life. It is some truth of human life that he endeavors to discover, to understand, and to announce; and in order to complete his work, he must apply to human life an attention of thought which is successively scientific, philosophic, and artistic. He must first observe carefully certain facts of actual life, study them in the light of extended experience, and induce from them the general laws which he deems to be the truths which underlie them. In doing this, he is a scientist. Next, if he be a great thinker, he will correlate these truths and build out of them a structure of belief. In doing this, he is a philosopher. Lastly, he must create imaginatively such scenes and characters as will illustrate the truths he has discovered and considered, and will convey them clearly and effectively to the minds of his readers. In doing this, he is an artist.

Different Degrees of Emphasis.—But although this triple mental process (of scientific discovery, philosophic understanding, and artistic expression) is experienced in full by every master of fiction, we find that certain authors are interested most in the first, or scientific phase of the process, others in the second, or philosophic phase, and still others in the third, or artistic phase. Evidently Emile Zola is interested chiefly in a scientific investigation of the actual facts of life, George Eliot in a philosophic contemplation of its underlying truths, and Gabriele D'Annunzio in an artistic presentation of the dream-world that he imagines. Washington Irving is mainly an artist, Tolstoi mainly a philosopher, and Jane Austen mainly a scientifically accurate observer. Few are the writers, even among the greatest masters of the art, of whom we feel, as we feel of Hawthorne, that the scientist, the philosopher, and the artist reign over equal precincts of their minds. Hawthorne the scientist is so thorough, so accurate, and so precise in his investigations of provincial life that no less a critic than James Russell Lowell declared the "House of the Seven Gables" to be "the most valuable contribution to New England history that has yet been made." Hawthorne the philosopher is so wise in his understanding of crime and retribution, so firm in his structure of belief concerning moral truth, that it seems that he, if any one, might give an answer to that poignant cry of a despairing murderer,—

"Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased, Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow, Raze out the written troubles of the brain, And with some sweet oblivious antidote Cleanse the stuff'd bosom of that perilous stuff Which weighs upon the heart?"[1]

And Hawthorne the artist is so delicate in his sensitive and loving presentation of the beautiful, so masterly both in structure and in style, that his work, in artistry alone, is its own excuse for being. Were it not for the confinement of his fiction—its lack of range and sweep, both in subject-matter and in attitude of mind—his work on this account might be regarded as an illustration of all that may be great in the threefold process of creation.

The Art of Fiction and the Craft of Chemistry.Fiction, to borrow a figure from chemical science, is life distilled. In the author's mind, the actual is first evaporated to the real, and the real is then condensed to the imagined. The author first transmutes the concrete actualities of life into abstract realities; and then he transmutes these abstract realities into concrete imaginings. Necessarily, if he has pursued this mental process without a fallacy, his imaginings will be true; because they represent realities, which in turn have been induced from actualities.

Fiction and Reality.—In one of his criticisms of the greatest modern dramatist, Mr. William Archer has called attention to the fact that "habitually and instinctively men pay to Ibsen the compliment (so often paid to Shakespeare) of discussing certain of his female characters as though they were real women, living lives apart from the poet's creative intelligence." [It is evident that Mr. Archer, in saying "real women," means what is more precisely denoted by the words "actual women."] Such a compliment is also paid instinctively to every master of the art of fiction; and the reason is not hard to understand. If the general laws of life which the novelist has thought out be true laws, and if his imaginative embodiment of them be at all points thoroughly consistent, his characters will be true men and women in the highest sense. They will not be actual, but they will be real. The great characters of fiction—Sir Willoughby Patterne, Tito Melema, D'Artagnan, Pere Grandet, Rosalind, Tartufe, Hamlet, Ulysses—embody truths of human life that have been arrived at only after thorough observation of facts and patient induction from them. Cervantes must have observed a multitude of dreamers before he learned the truth of the idealist's character which he has expressed in Don Quixote. The great people of fiction are typical of large classes of mankind. They live more truly than do you and I, because they are made of us and of many men besides. They have the large reality of general ideas, which is a truer thing than the actuality of facts. This is why we know them and think of them as real people—old acquaintances whom we knew (perhaps) before we were born, when (as is conceivable) we lived with them in Plato's Realm of Ideas. In France, instead of calling a man a miser, they call him an Harpagon. We know Rosalind as we know our sweetest summer love; Hamlet is our elder brother, and understands our own wavering and faltering.

Fiction and History.—Instinctively also we regard the great people of fiction as more real than many of the actual people of a bygone age whose deeds are chronicled in dusty histories. To a modern mind, if you conjure with the name of Marcus Brutus, you will start the spirit of Shakespeare's fictitious patriot, not of the actual Brutus, of a very different nature, whose doings are dimly reported by the chroniclers of Rome. The Richelieu of Dumas pere may bear but slight resemblance to the actual founder of the French Academy; but he lives for us more really than the Richelieu of many histories. We know Hamlet even better than we know Henri-Frederic Amiel, who in many ways was like him; even though Amiel has reported himself more thoroughly than almost any other actual man. We may go a step further and declare that the actual people of any age can live in the memory of after ages only when the facts of their characters and their careers have been transmuted into a sort of fiction by the minds of creative historians. Actually, in 1815, there was but one Napoleon; now there are as many Napoleons as there are biographies and histories of him. He has been recreated in one way by one author, in another by another; and you may take your choice. You may accept the Julius Caesar of Mr. Bernard Shaw, or the Julius Caesar of Thomas De Quincey. The first is frankly fiction; and the second, not so frankly, is fiction also—just as far from actuality as Shakespeare's adaptation of Plutarch's portraiture.

Fiction and Biography.—One of the most vivid illustrations of how a great creative mind, honestly seeking to discover, to understand, and to express the truth concerning actual characters of the past, necessarily makes fiction of those characters, is given by Thomas Carlyle in his "Heroes and Hero-Worship." Here, in Carlyle's method of procedure, it is easy to discern that threefold process of creation which is undergone by the fiction-making mind. An examination of recorded facts concerning Mohammed, Dante, Luther, or Burns leads him to a discovery and a formulation of certain abstract truths concerning the Hero as Prophet, as Poet, as Priest, or as Man of Letters; and thereafter, in composing his historical studies, he sets forth only such actual facts as conform with his philosophic understanding of the truth and will therefore represent this understanding with the utmost emphasis. He makes fiction of his heroes, in order most emphatically to tell the truth about them.

Biography, History, and Fiction.—In this way biography and history at their best are doomed to employ the methods of the art of fiction; and we can therefore understand without surprise why the average reader always says of the histories of Francis Parkman that they read like novels, even though the most German-minded scientists of history assure us that Parkman is always faithful to his facts. Facts, to the mind of this model of historians, were indicative of truths; and those truths he endeavored to express with faultless art. Like the best of novelists, he was at once a scientist, a philosopher, and an artist; and this is not the least of reasons why his histories will endure. They are as true as fiction.

Fiction Which Is True.—Not only do the great characters of fiction convince us of reality: in the mere events themselves of worthy fiction we feel a fitness that makes us know them real. Sentimental Tommy really did lose that literary competition because he wasted a full hour searching vainly for the one right word; Hetty Sorrel really killed her child; and Mr. Henry must have won that midnight duel with the Master of Ballantrae, though the latter was the better swordsman. These incidents conform to truths we recognize. And not only in the fiction that clings close to actuality do we feel a sense of truth. We feel it just as keenly in fairy tales like those of Hans Christian Andersen, or in the worthiest wonder-legends of an earlier age. We are told of The Steadfast Tin Soldier that, after he was melted in the fire, the maid who took away the ashes next morning found him in the shape of a small tin heart; and remembering the spangly little ballet-dancer who fluttered to him like a sylph and was burned up in the fire with him, we feel a fitness in this little fancy which opens vistas upon human truth. Mr. Kipling's fable of "How the Elephant Got His Trunk" is just as true as his reports of Mrs. Hauksbee. His theory may not conform with the actual facts of zoological science; but at any rate it represents a truth which is perhaps more important for those who have become again like little children.

Fiction Which Is False.—Just as we feel by instinct the reality of fiction at its best, so also with a kindred instinct equally keen we feel the falsity of fiction when the author lapses from the truth. Unless his characters act and think at all points consistently with the laws of their imagined existence, and unless these laws are in harmony with the laws of actual life, no amount of sophistication on the part of the author can make us finally believe his story; and unless we believe his story, his purpose in writing it will have failed. The novelist, who has so many means of telling truth, has also many means of telling lies. He may be untruthful in his very theme, if he is lacking in sanity of outlook upon the things that are. He may be untruthful in his characterization, if he interferes with his people after they are once created and attempts to coerce them to his purposes instead of allowing them to work out their own destinies. He may be untruthful in his plotting, if he devises situations arbitrarily for the sake of mere immediate effect. He may be untruthful in his dialogue, if he puts into the mouths of his people sentences that their nature does not demand that they shall speak. He may be untruthful in his comments on his characters, if the characters belie the comments in their actions and their words.

Casual Sins Against the Truth in Fiction.—With the sort of fiction that is a tissue of lies, the present study does not concern itself; but even in the best fiction we come upon passages of falsity. There is little likelihood, however, of our being led astray by these: we revolt instinctively against them with a feeling that may best be expressed in that famous sentence of Ibsen's Assessor Brack, "People don't do such things." When Shakespeare tells us, toward the end of "As You Like It," that the wicked Oliver suddenly changed his nature and won the love of Celia, we know that he is lying. The scene is not true to the great laws of human life. When George Eliot, at a loss for a conclusion to "The Mill on the Floss," tells us that Tom and Maggie Tulliver were drowned together in a flood, we disbelieve her; just as we disbelieve Sir James Barrie when he invents that absurd accident of Tommy's death. These three instances of falsity have been selected from authors who know the truth and almost always tell it; and all three have a certain palliation. They come at or near the very end of lengthy stories. In actual life, of course, there are no very ends: life exhibits a continuous sequence of causation stretching on: and since a story has to have an end, its conclusion must in any case belie a law of nature. Probably the truth is that Tommy didn't die at all: he is living still, and always will be living. And since Sir James Barrie couldn't write forever, he may be pardoned a makeshift ending that he himself apparently did not believe in. So also we may forgive that lie of Shakespeare's, since it contributes to a general truthfulness of good-will at the conclusion of his story; and as for George Eliot—well, she had been telling the truth stolidly for many hundred pages.

More Serious Sins Against the Truth.—But when Charlotte Bronte, in "Jane Eyre," tells us that Mr. Rochester first said and then repeated the following sentence, "I am disposed to be gregarious and communicative to-night," we find it more difficult to pardon the apparent falsity. In the same chapter, the author states that Mr. Rochester emitted the following remark:—"Then, in the first place, do you agree with me that I have a right to be a little masterful, abrupt, perhaps exacting, sometimes, on the grounds I stated, namely, that I am old enough to be your father, and that I have battled through a varied experience with many men of many nations, and roamed over half the globe, while you have lived quietly with one set of people in one house?"

Such writing is inexcusably untrue. We cannot believe that any human being ever asked a direct question so elaborately lengthy. People do not talk like that. As a contrast, let us notice for a moment the poignant truthfulness of speech in Mr. Rudyard Kipling's story, "Only a Subaltern." A fever-stricken private says to Bobby Wick, "Beg y' pardon, sir, disturbin' of you now, but would you min' 'oldin' my 'and, sir"?—and later, when the private becomes convalescent and Bobby in his turn is stricken down, the private suddenly stares in horror at his bed, and cries, "Oh, my Gawd! It can't be 'im!" People talk like that.

The Futility of the Adventitious.—Arbitrary plotting, as a rule, is of no avail in fiction: almost always, we know when a story is true and when it is not. We seldom believe in the long-lost will that is discovered at last on the back of a decaying picture-canvas; or in the chance meeting and mutual discovery of long-separated relatives; or in such accidental circumstances as the one, for instance, because of which Romeo fails to receive the message from Friar Laurence. The incidents of fiction at its best are not only probable but inevitable: they happen because in the nature of things they have to happen, and not because the author wants them to. Similarly, the truest characters of fiction are so real that even their creator has no power to make them do what they will not. It has been told of Thackeray that he grew so to love Colonel Newcome that he wished ardently that the good man might live happily until the end. Yet, knowing the circumstances in which the Colonel was enmeshed, and knowing also the nature of the people who formed the little circle round about him, Thackeray realized that his last days would of necessity be miserable; and realizing this, the author told the bitter truth, though it cost him many tears.

The Independence of Created Characters.—The careless reader of fiction usually supposes that, since the novelist invents his characters and incidents, he can order them always to suit his own desires: but any honest artist will tell you that his characters often grow intractable and stubbornly refuse at certain points to accept the incidents which he has foreordained for them, and that at other times they take matters into their own hands and run away with the story. Stevenson has recorded this latter experience. He said, apropos of "Kidnapped," "In one of my books, and in one only, the characters took the bit in their teeth; all at once, they became detached from the flat paper, they turned their backs on me and walked off bodily; and from that time my task was stenographic—it was they who spoke, it was they who wrote the remainder of the story."

The laws of life, and not the author's will, must finally decide the destinies of heroes and of heroines. On the evening of February 3, 1850, just after he had written the last scene of "The Scarlet Letter," Hawthorne read it to his wife—"tried to read it, rather," he wrote the next day in a letter to his friend, Horatio Bridge, "for my voice swelled and heaved, as if I were tossed up and down on an ocean as it subsides after a storm. But I was in a very nervous state then, having gone through a great diversity of emotion while writing it for many months." Is it not conceivable that, in the "great diversity of emotion" which the author experienced while bringing his story to a close, he was tempted more than once to state that Hester and Dimmesdale escaped upon the Bristol ship and thereafter expiated their offense in holy and serviceable lives? But if such a thought occurred to him, he put it by, knowing that the revelation of the scarlet letter was inexorably demanded by the highest moral law.

Fiction More True Than a Casual Report of Fact.—We are now ready to understand the statement that fiction at its best is much more true than such careless reports of actual occurrences as are published in the daily newspapers. Water that has been distilled is much more really H_{2}O than the muddied natural liquid in the bulb of the retort; and life that has been clarified in the threefold alembic of the fiction-writer's mind is much more really life than the clouded and unrealized events that are reported in daily chronicles of fact. The newspaper may tell us that a man who left his office in an apparently normal state of mind went home and shot his wife; but people don't do such things; and though the story states an actual occurrence, it does not tell the truth. The only way in which the reporter could make this story true would be for him to trace out all the antecedent causes which led inevitably to the culminating incident. The incident itself can become true for us only when we are made to understand it.

Robert Louis Stevenson once remarked that whenever, in a story by a friend of his, he came upon a passage that was notably untrue, he always suspected that it had been transcribed directly from actual life. The author had been too sure of the facts to ask himself in what way they were representative of the general laws of life. But facts are important to the careful thinker only as they are significant of truth. Doubtless an omniscient mind would realize a reason for every accidental and apparently insignificant occurrence of actual life. Doubtless, for example, the Universal Mind must understand why the great musical-director, Anton Seidl, died suddenly of ptomaine poisoning. But to a finite mind such occurrences seem unsignificant of truth; they do not seem to be indicative of a necessary law. And since the fiction-writer has a finite mind, the laws of life which he can understand are more restrictedly logical than those undiscovered laws of actual life which pass his understanding. Many a casual occurrence of the actual world would therefore be inadmissible in the intellectually-ordered world of fiction. A novelist has no right to set forth a sequence of events which, in its causes and effects, he cannot make the reader understand.

The Exception and the Law.—We are now touching on a principle which is seldom appreciated by beginners in the art of fiction. Every college professor of literary composition who has accused a student of falsity in some passage of a story that the student has submitted has been met with the triumphant but unreasonable answer, "Oh, no, it's true! It happened to a friend of mine!" And it has then become necessary for the professor to explain as best he could that an actual occurrence is not necessarily true for the purposes of fiction. The imagined facts of a genuinely worthy story are exhibited merely because they are representative of some general law of life held securely in the writer's consciousness. A transcription, therefore, of actual facts fails of the purposes of fiction unless the facts in themselves are evidently representative of such a law. And many things may happen to a friend of ours without evidencing to a considerate mind any logical reason why they had to happen.

Truthfulness the only Title to Immortality.—It is necessary that the student should appreciate the importance of this principle at the very outset of his apprenticeship to the art. For it is only by adhering rigorously to the truth that fiction can survive. In every period of literature, many clever authors have appeared who have diverted their contemporaries with ingenious invention, brilliant incident, unexpected novelty of character, or alluring eloquence of style, but who have been discarded and forgotten by succeeding generations merely because they failed to tell the truth. Probably in the whole range of English fiction there is no more skilful weaver of enthralling plots, no more clever master of invention or manipulator of suspense, than Wilkie Collins; but Collins is already discarded and well-nigh forgotten, because the reading world has found that he exhibited no truths of genuine importance, but rather sacrificed the eternal realities of life for mere momentary plausibilities. Probably, also, there is no artist in French prose more seductive in his eloquence than Rene de Chateaubriand; but his fiction is no longer read, because the world has found that his sentimentalism was to this extent a sham—it was false to the nature of normal human beings. "Alice in Wonderland" will survive the works of both these able authors, because of the many and momentous human truths that look upon us through its drift of dreams.

Morality and Immorality in Fiction.—The whole question of the morality or immorality of a work of fiction is a question merely of its truth or falsity. To appreciate this point, we must first be careful to distinguish immorality from coarseness. The morality of a fiction-writer is not dependent on the decency of his expression. In fact, the history of literature shows that authors frankly coarse, like Rabelais or Swift for instance, have rarely or never been immoral; and that the most immoral books have been written in the most delicate language. Swift and Rabelais are moral, because they tell the truth with sanity and vigor; we may object to certain passages in their writings on esthetic, but not on ethical, grounds. They may offend our taste; but they are not likely to lead astray our judgment—far less likely than D'Annunzio, for instance, who, although he never offends the most delicate esthetic taste, sicklies o'er with the pale cast of his poetry a sad unsanity of outlook upon the ultimate deep truths of human life. In the second place, we must bravely realize that the morality of a work of fiction has little or no dependence on the subject that it treats. It is utterly unjust to the novelist to decide, as many unreasonable readers do, that such a book as Daudet's "Sapho" must be of necessity immoral because it exhibits immoral characters in a series of immoral acts. There is no such thing as an immoral subject for a novel: in the treatment of the subject, and only in the treatment, lies the basis for ethical judgment of the work. The one thing needful in order that a novel may be moral is that the author shall maintain throughout his work a sane and healthy insight into the soundness or unsoundness of the relations between his characters. He must know when they are right and know when they are wrong, and must make clear to us the reasons for his judgment. He cannot be immoral unless he is untrue. To make us pity his characters when they are vile, or love them when they are noxious, to invent excuses for them in situations where they cannot be excused, to leave us satisfied when their baseness has been unbetrayed, to make us wonder if after all the exception is not greater than the rule—in a single word, to lie about his characters—this is, for the fiction-writer, the one unpardonable sin.

The Faculty of Wisdom.—But it is not an easy thing to tell the truth of human life, and nothing but the truth. The best of fiction-writers fall to falsehood now and then; and it is only by honest labor and sincere strife for the ideal that they contrive in the main to fulfil the purpose of their art. But the writer of fiction must be not only honest and sincere; he must be wise as well. Wisdom is the faculty of seeing through and all around an object of contemplation, and understanding totally and at once its relations to all other objects. This faculty cannot be acquired; it has to be developed: and it is developed by experience only. Experience ordinarily requires time; and though, for special reasons which will be noted later on, most of the great short-story writers have been young, we are not surprised to notice that most of the great novelists have been men mature in years. They have ripened slowly to a realization of those truths which later they have labored to impart. Richardson, the father of the modern English novel, was fifty-one years old when "Pamela" was published; Scott was forty-three when "Waverley" appeared; Hawthorne was forty-six when he wrote "The Scarlet Letter"; Thackeray and George Eliot were well on their way to the forties when they completed "Vanity Fair" and "Adam Bede"; and these are the first novels of each writer.

Wisdom and Technic.—The young author who aspires to write novels must not only labor to acquire the technic of his art: it is even more important that he should so order his life as to grow cunning in the basic truths of human nature. His first problem—the problem of acquiring technic—is comparatively easy. Technic may be learned from books—the master-works of art in fiction. It may be studied empirically. The student may observe what the masters have, and have not, done; and he may puzzle out the reasons why. And he may perhaps be helped by constructive critics of fiction in his endeavor to understand these reasons. But his second problem—the problem of developing wisdom—is more difficult; and he must grapple with it without any aid from books. What he learns of human life, he must learn in his own way, without extraneous assistance.

It is easy enough for the student to learn, for instance, how the great short-stories have been constructed. It is easy enough for the critic, on the basis of such knowledge, to formulate empirically the principles of this special art of narrative. But it is not easy for the student to discover, or for the critic to suggest, how a man in his early twenties may develop such a wise insight into human life as is displayed, for example, in Mr. Kipling's "Without Benefit of Clergy." A few suggestions may, perhaps, be offered; but they must be considered merely as suggestions, and must not be overvalued.

General and Particular Experience.—At the outset, it may be noted that the writer of fiction needs two different endowments of experience:—first, a broad and general experience of life at large; and second, a deep and specific experience of that particular phase of life which he wishes to depict. A general and broad experience is common to all masters of the art of fiction: it is in the particular nature of their specific and deep experience that they differ one from another. Although in range and sweep of general knowledge Sir Walter Scott was far more vast than Jane Austen, he confessed amazement at the depth of her specific knowledge of every-day English middle-class society. Most of the great novelists have made, like Jane Austen, a special study of some particular field. Hawthorne is an authority on Puritan New England, Thackeray on London high society, Henry James on cosmopolitan super-civilization. It would seem, therefore, that a young author, while keeping his observation fresh for all experience, should devote especial notice to experience of some particular phase of life. But along comes Mr. Rudyard Kipling, with his world-engirdling knowledge, to jostle us out of faith in too narrow a focus of attention.

Extensive and Intensive Experience.—Experience is of two sorts, extensive and intensive. A mere glance at the range of Mr. Kipling's subjects would show us the breadth of his extensive experience: evidently he has lived in many lands and looked with sympathy upon the lives of many sorts of people. But in certain stories, like his "They" for instance, we are arrested rather by the depth of his intensive experience. "They" reveals to us an author who not necessarily has roamed about the world, but who necessarily has felt all phases of the mother-longing in a woman. The things that Mr. Kipling knows in "They" could never have been learned except through sympathy.

Intensive experience is immeasurably more valuable to the fiction-writer than extensive experience: but the difficulty is that, although the latter may be gained through the obvious expedients of travel and voluntary association with many and various types of people, the former can never be gained through any amount of deliberate and conscious seeking. The great intensive experiences of life, like love and friendship, must come unsought if they are to come at all; and no man can gain a genuine experience of any joy or sorrow by experimenting purposely with life. The deep experiences must be watched and waited for. The author must be ever ready to realize them when they come: when they knock upon his door, he must not make the mistake of answering that he is not at home. But he must not make the contrary mistake of going out into the highways and hedges to compel them to come within his gates.

The Experiencing Nature.—Undoubtedly, very few people are always at home for every real experience that knocks upon their doors; very few people, to say the thing more simply, have an experiencing nature. But great fiction may be written only by men of an experiencing nature; and here is a basis for confession that, after all, fiction-writers are born, not made. The experiencing nature is difficult to define; but two of its most evident qualities, at any rate, are a lively curiosity and a ready sympathy. A combination of these two qualities gives a man that intensity of interest in human life which is a condition precedent to his ever growing to understand it. Curiosity, for instance, is the most obvious asset in Mr. Kipling's equipment. We did not need his playful confession in the "Just So Stories"—

"I keep six honest serving-men (They taught me all I knew):— Their names are What and Why and When And How and Where and Who"—

to convince us that from his very early youth he has been an indefatigable asker of questions. It was only through a healthy curiosity that he could have acquired the enormous stores of specific knowledge concerning almost every walk of life that he has displayed in his successive volumes. On the other hand, it was obviously through his vast endowment of sympathy that Dickens was able to learn so thoroughly all phases of the life of the lowly in London.

Curiosity and Sympathy.—Experience gravitates to the man who is both curious and sympathetic. The kingdom of adventure is within us. Just as we create beauty in an object when we look upon it beautifully, so we create adventure all around us when we walk the world inwardly aglow with love of life. Things of interest happened to Robert Louis Stevenson every day of his existence, because he incorporated the faculty of being interested in things. In one of his most glowing essays, "The Lantern-Bearers," he declared that never an hour of his life had gone dully yet; if it had been spent waiting at a railway junction, he had had some scattering thoughts, he had counted some grains of memory, compared to which the whole of many romances seemed but dross. The author who aspires to write fiction should cultivate the faculty of caring for all things that come to pass; he should train himself rigorously never to be bored; he should look upon all life that swims into his ken with curious and sympathetic eyes, remembering always that sympathy is a deeper faculty than curiosity: and because of the profound joy of his interest in life, he should endeavor humbly to earn that heritage of interest by developing a thorough understanding of its source. In this way, perhaps, he may grow aware of certain truths of life which are materials for fiction. If so, he will have accomplished the better half of his work: he will have found something to say.

[1] Macbeth: Act V; Scene 3.


1. What is the logical relation (1) between fact and truth, (2) between fact and fiction, and (3) between truth and fiction?

2. Define the spheres of the respective contributions of art, philosophy, and science to the search for truth.

3. In what way is a well-imagined work of fiction more true to life than a newspaper report of actual occurrences?

4. Explain the logical basis for distinguishing between morality and immorality in a work of art.


FRANK NORRIS:—"A Problem in Fiction," in "The Responsibilities of the Novelist."

CLAYTON HAMILTON:—"On Telling the Truth," in "The Art World" for September, 1917.



Two Methods of Exhibiting the Truth—Every Mind Either Realistic or Romantic—Marion Crawford's Faulty Distinction—A Second Unsatisfactory Distinction—A Third Unsatisfactory Distinction—Bliss Perry's Negative Definition—The True Distinction One of Method, Not of Material—Scientific Discovery and Artistic Expression—The Testimony of Hawthorne—A Philosophic Formula—Induction and Deduction—The Inductive Method of the Realist—The Deductive Method of the Romantic—Realism, Like Inductive Science, a Strictly Modern Product—Advantages of Realism—Advantages of Romance—The Confinement of Realism—The Freedom of Romance—Neither Method Better Than the Other—Abuses of Realism—Abuses of Romance.

Two Methods of Exhibiting the Truth.—Although all writers of fiction who take their work seriously and do it honestly are at one in their purpose—namely, to embody certain truths of human life in a series of imagined facts—they diverge into two contrasted groups according to their manner of accomplishing this purpose,—their method of exhibiting the truth. Consequently we find in practice two contrasted schools of novelists, which we distinguish by the titles Realistic and Romantic.

Every Mind Either Realistic or Romantic.—The distinction between realism and romance is fundamental and deep-seated; for every man, whether consciously or not, is either a romantic or a realist in the dominant habit of his thought. The reader who is a realist by nature will prefer George Eliot to Scott; the reader who is romantic will rather read Victor Hugo than Flaubert; and neither taste is better than the other. Each reader's preference is born with his brain, and has its origin in his customary processes of thinking. In view of this fact, it seems strange that no adequate definition has ever yet been made of the difference between realism and romance.[2] Various superficial explanations have been offered, it is true; but none of them has been scientific and satisfactory.

Marion Crawford's Faulty Distinction.—One of the most common of these superficial explanations is the one which has been phrased by the late F. Marion Crawford in his little book upon "The Novel: What It Is":—"The realist proposes to show men what they are; the romantist (sic) tries to show men what they should be." The trouble with this distinction is that it utterly fails to distinguish. Surely all novelists, whether realistic or romantic, try to show men what they are—what else can be their reason for embodying in imagined facts the truths of human life? Victor Hugo, the romantic, in "Les Miserables," endeavors just as honestly and earnestly to show men what they are as does Flaubert, the realist, in "Madame Bovary." And on the other hand, Thackeray, the realist, in characters like Henry Esmond and Colonel Newcome, shows men what they should be just as thoroughly as the romantic Scott. Indeed, it is hardly possible to conceive how any novelist, whether romantic or realistic, could devise a means of showing the one thing without at the same time showing the other also. Every important fiction-writer, no matter to which of the two schools he happens to belong, strives to accomplish, in a single effort of creation, both of the purposes noted by Marion Crawford. He may be realistic or romantic in his way of showing men what they are; realistic or romantic in his way of showing them what they should be: the difference lies, not in which of the two he tries to show, but in the way he tries to show it.

A Second Unsatisfactory Distinction.—Again, we have been told that, in their stories, the romantics dwell mainly upon the element of action, while the realists are interested chiefly in the element of character. But this explanation fails many times to fit the facts: for the great romantic characters, like Leather-Stocking, Don Quixote, Monte Cristo, Claude Frollo, are just as vividly drawn as the great characters of realism; and the great events of realistic novels, like Rawdon Crawley's discovery of his wife with Lord Steyne, or Adam Bede's fight with Arthur Donnithorne, are just as thrilling as the resounding actions of romance. Furthermore, if we should accept this explanation, we should find ourselves unable to classify as either realistic or romantic the very large body of novels in which neither element—of action or of character—shows any marked preponderance over the other. Henry James, in his genial essay on "The Art of Fiction," has cast a vivid light on this objection. "There is an old-fashioned distinction," he says, "between the novel of character and the novel of incident which must have cost many a smile to the intending fabulist who was keen about his work.... What is character but the determination of incident? What is incident but the illustration of character?... It is an incident for a woman to stand up with her hand resting on a table and look out at you in a certain way; or if it be not an incident I think it will be hard to say what it is. At the same time it is an expression of character."

A Third Unsatisfactory Distinction.—We have been told also that the realists paint the manners of their own place and time, while the romantics deal with more remote materials. But this distinction, likewise, often fails to hold. No stories were ever more essentially romantic than Stevenson's "New Arabian Nights," which depict details of London and Parisian life at the time when the author wrote them; and no novel is more essentially realistic than "Romola," which carries us back through many centuries to a medieval city far away. Thackeray, the realist, in "Henry Esmond," and its sequel "The Virginians," departed further from his own time and place than Hawthorne, the romantic, in "The House of the Seven Gables"; and while the realistic Meredith frequently fares abroad in his stories, especially to Italy, the romantic Barrie looks upon life almost always from his own little window in Thrums.

Bliss Perry's Negative Definition.—In his interesting and suggestive "Study of Prose Fiction," Professor Bliss Perry has devoted a chapter to realism and another to romance; but he has not succeeded in defining either term. He has, to be sure, essayed a negative definition of realism:—"Realistic fiction is that which does not shrink from the commonplace or from the unpleasant in its effort to depict things as they are, life as it is." But we have seen that the effort of all fiction, whether realistic or romantic, is to depict life as it really (though not necessarily as it actually) is. Does not "The Brushwood Boy," although it suggests the super-actual, set forth a common truth of the most intimate human relationship, which every lover recognizes as real? Every great writer of fiction tries, in his own romantic or realistic way, to "draw the Thing as he sees It for the God of Things as They Are." We must therefore focus our attention mainly on the earlier phrases of Professor Perry's definition. He states that realistic fiction does not shrink from the commonplace. That depends. The realism of Jules and Edmond de Goncourt does not, to be sure; but most assuredly the realism of George Meredith does. You will find far less shrinking from the commonplace in many passages of the romantic Fenimore Cooper than in the pages of George Meredith. Whether or not realistic fiction shrinks from the unpleasant depends also on the particular nature of the realist. Zola's realism certainly does not; Jane Austen's decidedly does. You will find far less shrinking from the unpleasant, of one sort, in Poe, of another sort, in Catulle Mendes—both of them romantics—than in the novels of Jane Austen. What is the use, then, of Professor Perry's definition of realism, since it remains open to so many exceptions? And in his chapter on romance the critic does not even attempt to formulate a definition.

The True Distinction One of Method, Not of Material.—We have now examined several of the current explanations of the difference between romance and realism and have found that each is wanting. The trouble with all of them seems to be that they attempt to find a basis for distinguishing between the two schools of fiction in the subject-matter, or materials, of the novelist. Does not the real distinction lie rather in the novelist's attitude of mind toward his materials, whatever those materials may be? Surely there is no such thing inherently as a realistic subject or a romantic subject. The very same subject may be treated realistically by one novelist and romantically by another. George Eliot would have built a realistic novel on the theme of "The Scarlet Letter"; and Hawthorne would have made a romance out of the materials of "Silas Marner." The whole of human life, or any part of it, offers materials for romantic and realist alike. Therefore no distinction between the schools is possible upon the basis of subject-matter: the real distinction must be one of method in setting subject-matter forth. The distinction is not external, but internal; it dwells in the mind of the novelist; it is a matter for philosophic, not for literary, investigation.

Scientific Discovery and Artistic Expression.—If we seek within the mental habits of the novelist for a philosophic distinction between realism and romance, we shall have to return to a consideration of that threefold process of the fiction-making mind which was expounded in the preceding chapter of this book. Scientific discovery, philosophic understanding, and artistic expression of the truths of human life are phases of creation common to romantics and realists alike; but though the writers of both schools meet equally upon the central ground of philosophic understanding, is it not evident that the realists are most interested in looking backward over the antecedent ground of scientific discovery, and the romantics are most interested in looking forward over the subsequent ground of artistic expression? Suppose, for the purpose of illustration, that two novelists of equal ability—the one a realist, the other a romantic—have observed and studied carefully the same events and characters of actual life; and suppose further that they agree in their conception of the truth behind the facts. Suppose now that each of them writes a novel to embody this conception of the truth, in which they are agreed. Will not the realist regard as most important the scientific process of discovery by means of which he arrived at his conception; and will he not therefore strive to make that process clear to the reader by turning back to the point at which he began his observations and then leading the reader forward through a similar scientific study of imagined facts until the reader joins him on the ground of philosophic understanding? And, on the other hand, will not the romantic regard as most important the artistic process of embodying his conception; and will he not therefore be satisfied with any means of embodying it clearly and effectively, without caring whether or not the imagined facts which he selects for this purpose are similar to the actual facts from which he first induced his philosophic understanding?

The Testimony of Hawthorne.—This thought was apparently in Hawthorne's mind when, in the preface to "The House of the Seven Gables," he wrote his well-known distinction between the Romance and the (realistic) Novel:—"When a writer calls his work a Romance, it need hardly be observed that he wishes to claim a certain latitude, both as to its fashion and material, which he would not have felt himself entitled to assume had he professed to be writing a Novel. The latter form of composition is presumed to aim at a very minute fidelity, not merely to the possible, but to the probable and ordinary course of man's experience. The former—while, as a work of art, it must rigidly subject itself to laws, and while it sins unpardonably so far as it may swerve aside from the truth of the human heart—has fairly a right to present that truth under circumstances, to a great extent, of the writer's own choosing or creation."

A Philosophic Formula.—But Hawthorne's statement, although it covers the ground, is not succinct and definitive; and if we are to examine the thesis thoroughly, we had better first state it in philosophic terms and then elucidate the statement by explanation and by illustration. So stated, the distinction is as follows: In setting forth his view of life, the realist follows the inductive method of presentment, and the romantic follows the deductive method.

Induction and Deduction.—The distinction between inductive and deductive processes of thinking is very simple and is known to all: it is based upon the direction of the train of thought. When we think inductively, we reason from the particular to the general; and when we think deductively, the process proceeds in the reverse direction and we reason from the general to the particular. In our ordinary conversation, we speak inductively when we first mention a number of specific facts and then draw from them some general inference; and we speak deductively when we first express a general opinion and then elucidate it by adducing specific illustrations. That old dichotomy of the psychologists which divides all men, according to their habits of thought, into Platonists and Aristotelians (or, to substitute a modern nomenclature, into Cartesians and Baconians) is merely an assertion that every man, in the prevailing direction of his thinking, is either deductive or inductive. Most of the great ethical philosophers have had inductive minds; from the basis of admitted facts of experience they have reasoned out their laws of conduct. Most of the great religious teachers have had deductive minds: from the basis of certain sublime assumptions they have asserted their commandments. Most of the great scientists have thought inductively: they have reasoned from specific facts to general truths, as Newton reasoned from the fall of an apple to the law of gravitation. Most of the great poets have thought deductively: they have reasoned from general truths to specific facts, as Dante reasoned from a general moral conception of cosmogony to the particular appropriate details of every circle in hell and purgatory and paradise. Now is not the thesis tenable that it is in just this way that realism differs from romance? In their endeavor to exhibit certain truths of human life, do not the realists work inductively and the romantics deductively?

The Inductive Method of the Realist.—In order to bring to our knowledge the law of life which he wishes to make clear, the realist first leads us through a series of imagined facts as similar as possible to the details of actual life which he studied in order to arrive at his general conception. He elaborately imitates the facts of actual life, so that he may say to us finally, "This is the sort of thing that I have seen in the world, and from this I have learned the truth I have to tell you." He leads us step by step from the particular to the general, until we gradually grow aware of the truths he wishes to express. And in the end, we have not only grown acquainted with these truths, but have also been made familiar with every step in the process of thought by which the author himself became aware of them. "Adam Bede" tells us not only what George Eliot knew of life, but also how she came to learn it.

The Deductive Method of the Romantic.—But the romantic novelist leads us in the contrary direction—namely, from the general to the particular. He does not attempt to show us how he arrived at his general conception. His only care is to convey his general idea effectively by giving it a specific illustrative embodiment. He feels no obligation to make the imagined facts of his story resemble closely the details of actual life; he is anxious only that they shall represent his idea adequately and consistently. Stevenson knew that man has a dual nature, and that the evil in him, when pampered, will gradually gain the upper hand over the good. In his story of the "Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," he did not attempt to set forth this truth inductively, showing us the kind of facts from the observation of which he had drawn this conclusion. He merely gave his thought an illustrative embodiment, by conceiving a dual character in which a man's uglier self should have a separate incarnation. He constructed his tale deductively: beginning with a general conception, he reduced it to particular terms. "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" is, of course, a thoroughly true story, even though its incidents are contrary to the actual facts of life. It is just as real as a realistic novel; but in order to make it so, its author, because he was working deductively, was not obliged to imitate the details of actual life which he had studied. "I have learned something in the world," he says to us: "Here is a fable that will make it clear to you."

Realism, Like Inductive Science, a Strictly Modern Product.—This philosophic distinction between the methods of romance and realism shows two manifest advantages over all the other attempts at a distinction which have been examined in this chapter: first, it really does distinguish; and secondly, it will be found in every case to fit the facts. Furthermore, it is supported in an overwhelming manner by the history of human thought. Every student of philosophy will tell you that the world's thought was prevailingly deductive till the days of Francis Bacon. Bacon was the first philosopher to insist that induction, rather than deduction, was the most effective method of searching for the truth. Science, which is based upon induction, was in its infancy when Bacon taught; since then it has matured, largely because he and his successors in philosophy pointed out the only method through which it might develop. Deduction has of course survived as a method of conducting thought; but it has lost the undisputed empery which it held over the ancient and the medieval mind. Now, if we turn to the history of fiction, we shall notice the significant fact that realism is a strictly modern product. All fiction was romantic till the days of Bacon. Realism is contemporaneous with modern science and the other applications of inductive thought. Romance survives, of course; but it has lost the undisputed empery of fiction which it held in ancient and in medieval times. If Bacon had written fiction, he would have been a realist—the first realist in the history of literature; and this is the only reply that is necessary to those who still maintain (if any do) that he was capable of writing the romantic plays of Shakespeare.

If it be granted now that the realist, by induction, leads his reader up from a consideration of imagined facts to a comprehension of truth, and that the romantic, by deduction, leads his reader down from an apprehension of truth to a consideration of imagined facts, we may next examine certain advantages and disadvantages of each method in comparison with the other.

Advantages of Realism.—In the first place, we notice, that, while the imagined facts of the romantic are selected merely to illustrate the truth he wishes to convey, the imagined facts of the realist are selected not only to illustrate, but also to support, the truth that lies inherent in them. The realist, then, has this advantage, over the romantic in his method of expressing truth: he has the opportunity to prove his case by presenting the evidence on which his truth is based. It is therefore less difficult for him to conquer credence from a skeptical and wary reader: and we must remember always that even though a story tells the truth, it is still a failure unless it gets that truth believed. The romantic necessarily demands a deeper faith in his wisdom than the realist need ask for; and he can evoke deep faith only by absolute sincerity and utter clearness in the presentation of his fable. Unless the reader of "The Brushwood Boy" and "They" has absolute faith that Mr. Kipling knows the truth of his themes, the stories are reduced to nonsense; for they present no evidence (through running parallel to actuality) which proves that the author does know the truth. Unless the reader has faith that Stevenson deeply understands the nature of remorse, the conversation between Markheim and his ghostly visitant becomes incredible and vain. The author gives himself no opportunity to prove (through analogy with actual experience) that such a colloquy consistently presents the inner truth of conscience.

1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse