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Source global Wall Street Journal     time 2022-12-17 15:04:59
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Even the long picaresque novel—which, in the hands of a Fielding or his contemporary Tobias Smollett, can rarely be accused of sentimentality—easily betrays itself into such acts of self-indulgence as the multiplication of incident for its own sake, the coy digression, the easygoing jogtrot pace that subdues the sense of urgency that should lie in all fiction. If Tolstoy’s War and Peace is a greater novel than Fielding’s Tom Jones or Dickens’ David Copperfield, it is not because its theme is nobler, or more pathetic, or more significant historically; it is because Tolstoy brings to his panoramic drama the compression and urgency usually regarded as the monopolies of briefer fiction.

Become the whole of boredom, subject to

The novelist’s conscious day-to-day preoccupation is the setting down of incident, the delineation of personality, the regulation of exposition, climax, and denouement. The aesthetic value of the work is frequently determined by subliminal forces that seem to operate independently of the writer, investing the properties of the surface story with a deeper significance. A novel will then come close to myth, its characters turning into symbols of permanent human states or impulses, particular incarnations of general truths perhaps only realized for the first time in the act of reading. The ability to perform a quixotic act anteceded Don Quixote, just as bovarysme existed before Flaubert found a name for it.

Naturalism

Must suffer dully all the wrongs of Man.

Elements

In a period that takes for granted that the written word should be “committed”—to the exposure of social wrong or the propagation of progressive ideologies—novelists who seek merely to take the reader out of his dull or oppressive daily life are not highly regarded, except by that reading public that has never expected a book to be anything more than a diversion. Nevertheless, the provision of laughter and dreams has been for many centuries a legitimate literary occupation. It can be condemned by serious devotees of literature only if it falsifies life through oversimplification and tends to corrupt its readers into belief that reality is as the author presents it. The novelettes once beloved of mill girls and domestic servants, in which the beggar maid was elevated to queendom by a king of high finance, were a mere narcotic, a sort of enervating opium of the oppressed; the encouragement of such subliterature might well be one of the devices of social oppression. Adventure stories and spy novels may have a healthy enough astringency, and the very preposterousness of some adventures can be a safeguard against any impressionable young reader’s neglecting the claims of real life to dream of becoming a secret agent. The subject matter of some humorous novels—such as the effete British aristocracy created by P.G. Wodehouse, which is no longer in existence if it ever was—can never be identified with a real human society; the dream is accepted as a dream. The same may be said of Evelyn Waugh’s early novels—such as Decline and Fall (1928) and Vile Bodies (1930)—but these are raised above mere entertainment by touching, almost incidentally, on real human issues (the relation of the innocent to a circumambient malevolence is a persistent theme in all Waugh’s writing).


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