FANDOM


FROM time to time dialogues be¬tween enterprising reporters and authors visiting this country gladden the pages of the daily press. Among these I remember reading some years ago an opinion on novels which has always interested me. The reporter mentioned to the visit¬ing author a novel presenting a bril¬liant delineation of a newspaper- writer who becomes a drug-fiend. "The book is greatly over-rated," the visiting author replied. "Why this newspaper-writer--the hero—is only a second-rate man! I should not care to ask him to my home to lunch." Think of the "noted names of fic¬tion" who could not survive this simple test. Consider the imaginary figures that you can not picture as en- joying lunch with your relatives, and with whom your relatives could not enjoy lunching. "I should not care to ask him (her) to my home to lunch." Goneril—or Regan either—. Bill Sikes, Gilbert Osmond, Medea, Werther, Bradley Headstone, any of the people in Wuthering Heights— Without indulging myself further in regarding this or other aspects of this quick test of the value of fiction I will hasten to say that the chief reason why it seems so dismal an absurdity is perhaps because it could only serve to cut off the visiting author from the most profoundly entertaining experi¬ence fiction offers. This is, for me at least, the experience of "dreaming true," the experience of being some one else, of being a hundred, a thou¬sand other people. 2 This interest in becoming somebody lse has never seemed to me to arise "*.om seeking novels as an "escape" from real life or from one's own life, One enjoys the power of identification with the million-peopled cosmos of novels not for the negative reason of seeking an escape but because the exercise of this power is a positive pleasure in itself, comparable to the pleasure of looking at well-composed colors, or of hearing sound beautifully ordered. If one can not ask every one to lunch, if one can not meet, converse with, live with, identify oneself with every kind of human life in the pages of a novel, then there is no place in the world where one can ask every one to lunch, meet every one, converse with, live with, identify oneself with every form of human life. This is in my belief the chief dis¬tinctive contribution that the art of the novel makes to the life of the mind. In the other arts of letters the reader is more or less a listener, and part of the audience. In the art of the novel he is a participant. Yet, besides this there are of course many elements of existence—too many to mention—which are the pecu¬liar province of the novel; many kinds of truth that no other form of letters is so well fitted to express. A way of life over a long space of time; the change of community opin¬ion; the contrast of social groups; the several aspects of one man's or wom¬an's nature; a correction of vision and gradual revelation; the development of human resources; above all the free and fecund power of life, its vari¬ety, its improvisational force in virtue of which one situation grows out of another in many-colored, creative continuance—these are some of the many truths that the novel tells best. After he had been left by his thin- hearted wife, Lavretzky in Turgenev's Liza returns to live on and manage his father's estate : There under the window climbs the large-leaved burdock from the thick grass. . . . Farther away in the fields shines the rye, and the oats are al¬ready in ear, and every leaf or tree, every blade of grass on its stalk stretches out to its fullest extent. "On a woman's love my best years have been wasted," Lavretzky proceeded to think. "Well, then, let the dullness here sober me and calm me down; let it educate me into being able to work like others without hurrying." And he again betook himself to listening to the silence without expecting any¬thing, and yet, at the same time, as if expecting something. The stillness embraced him on all sides; the sun went down quietly in a calm, blue sky. . . . In other parts of the world at that very moment life was seething noisily bestirring itself. Here was the same life flowed silently along, like water over meadow-grass. It was late in the evening before Lavretzky could tear himself away from the contem¬plation of this life so quietly welling forth—so tranquilly flowing past. Sorrow for the past melted in his mind as the snow melts in spring; but strange to say, never had the love of home exercised so strong or so pro¬found an influence upon him. This has for me the singular magic of the novel's faculty for quietly well- ing forth, the profound charm of a work in which each part of the tale develops and enhances whk has gone before, and is the moving prelude of what is to come. Many instances occur to one of the genius of novelists in employing the unique opportunity the form affords for spacious original design. One thinks of the magnificent river-jour¬ney at the close of Tono-Bungay where one rides and rides past the high-piled tokens of changing civiliza¬tion out and out to the open sea from which one looks back with emotion at the lives of George and of Edward Ponderevo as seen from afar now, through a veil of reflection on the greater ways of mortal dream and and destiny. One thinks of the tremendous scene of the wild populace at the guillotin¬ing at Auxerre in The Old Wives' Tale, as contrasted with the staid persons and streets of the Five Towns whence Sophia Baines has come to stand at her hotel-window and look forth in disgust and fascination. One thinks of the wide, bright tide of world-letters and word-criticism bearing Wilhelm Meister through his Lehr-und Wanderjahre; and of Dau¬det's Sappho with the painter Corot touched in among the guests at that brilliant ball in one of the opening chapters. Vista, panorama, multi¬tude, spontaneous succession—all these the novel tells us supremely. 3 The changing world of novels is full of surprises. One will have thought that, in general, literary fashions are rather unrewarding and tend to cheap standardizations of material. Then suddenly a literary fashion will be productive of admirable results. Or perhaps it would be more precise to say that often some new theme chances to be excellently expressed at about the same time by many novelists. Thus the past season has been es¬pecially rich in the criticism of hus¬bands and fathers. Inspired expo¬sures have occurred on all sides—the exposure of Herbert Dwight Deacon, the exposure of Mr. Weemys in Vera and the exposure of Mr. Waddington. Among these Herbert Dwight Deacon is the most liberally treated by the author. This is to the good, as liber¬ality is seriously needed by the male characters of fiction where they are too often disfranchised and appear purely in a vicarious relation as sons, fathers, husbands or lovers. This vicarious discriminatory man¬ner of regarding men in fiction is es¬pecially noticeable in the character of Tito Melema. Seen solely from the standpoint of his exceedingly feeble abilities as a lover, Tito, though phys¬ical beauty is almost too richly lav¬ished upon him by his creator, has never the slightest chance as a human being. Always in a miserable subor¬dinate state as a mere adjunct of Ro mola he is never for an instant per¬mitted to come forward except on the depressing grounds of love and beauty and as a sort of male houri. His posi¬tion is far more discouraging than that of Nora in A Doll's House. And one need only compare Ninian Dea¬con's treatment as a bigamist by his creator to Tito's treatment as a biga¬mist by his creator to appreciate the increase of enfranchisement for males in fiction. Perhaps it is because of the recent overshadowing appreciation of Miss Lulu Bett that one has not heard much of an extremely beautiful and original novel of Miss Zona Gale's en¬titled Birth. It is the story of a "superfluous man" in a Wisconsin town, the story of a whole town of men and women, a place most individually perceived. Yet its outline has some of the national angles of the town that imprisoned Thoreau, and where Stephen Crane saw the • tragedy of The Monster. Years flow by and the changes of years. Death is here and love and pain, all touched with swift ironic hu¬mor. Each soul is imagined by this humor, and in the wisdom of truth intimate and profound. The neigh¬bors walk past in the evening—the wise, the silly, the generous, the small. The band plays. The trains thunder overland. And you walk in sun and rain where Burage numbers her trees by thou¬sands. In the morning the sun comes in strong gold, lavished upon the grass, save where the leaves lay their bright veils. All the narrow green strips outside the walks turn bright. In rain the town, like any other, ly¬ing folded in a visible medium, be¬comes an enclosure cut off from some¬thing. Rooms become more intimate. Something ceases, and something is present instead. You walk under the thousand-num¬bered trees over the November pave¬ments. The possibilities of your fast- flying life hurry past you unrealized; and at their passage you despair and laugh at yourself and hope again. Your heart burns at the mean injus¬tice of existence, its petty cruelty and hardness to those who are forgotten upon earth. Sometimes I have thought every splendid novel is about justice and injustice. This novel has the presence of genius. When you read it something ceases; and some¬thing is present instead. It has the power of social imagina¬tion, the light which beyond any other illumines the art of the novel; and makes us hope ever to dream more truly of all the mortal fortunes in our world.

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