List Of Contents | Contents of Modern Fiction, by Charles Dudley Warner
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aestheticism would probably disown any religious intention, although it
has been accused of a refined interest in Pan and Venus; but in all its
feudal sympathies it goes along with the religious art and vestment
revival, the return to symbolic ceremonies, monastic vigils, and
sisterhoods.  Years ago, an acute writer in the Catholic World claimed
Dante Gabriel Rossetti as a Catholic writer, from the internal evidence
of his poems.  The German Romanticism, which was fostered by the Romish
priesthood, ended, or its disciples ended, in the bosom of the Roman
Catholic Church.  It will be interesting to note in what ritualistic
harbor the aestheticism of our day will finally moor.  That two similar
revivals should come so near together in time makes us feel that the
world moves onward--if it does move onward--in circular figures of very
short radii.  There seems to be only one thing certain in our Christian
era, and that is a periodic return to classic models; the only stable
standards of resort seem to be Greek art and literature.

The characteristics which are prominent, when we think of our recent
fiction, are a wholly unidealized view of human society, which has got
the name of realism; a delight in representing the worst phases of social
life; an extreme analysis of persons and motives; the sacrifice of action
to psychological study; the substitution of studies of character for
anything like a story; a notion that it is not artistic, and that it is
untrue to nature, to bring any novel to a definite consummation, and
especially to end it happily; and a despondent tone about society,
politics, and the whole drift of modern life.  Judged by our fiction, we
are in an irredeemably bad way.  There is little beauty, joy, or light-
heartedness in living; the spontaneity and charm of life are analyzed out
of existence; sweet girls, made to love and be loved, are extinct;
melancholy Jaques never meets a Rosalind in the forest of Arden, and if
he sees her in the drawing-room he poisons his pleasure with the thought
that she is scheming and artificial; there are no happy marriages--
indeed, marriage itself is almost too inartistic to be permitted by our
novelists, unless it can be supplemented by a divorce, and art is
supposed fo deny any happy consummation of true love.  In short, modern
society is going to the dogs, notwithstanding money is only three and a
half per cent.  It is a gloomy business life, at the best.  Two learned
but despondent university professors met, not long ago, at an afternoon
"coffee," and drew sympathetically together in a corner.  "What a world
this would be," said one, "without coffee!"  "Yes," replied the other,
stirring the fragrant cup in a dejected aspect "yes; but what a hell of a
world it is with coffee!"

The analytic method in fiction is interesting, when used by a master of
dissection, but it has this fatal defect in a novel--it destroys
illusion.  We want to think that the characters in a story are real
persons.  We cannot do this if we see the author set them up as if they
were marionettes, and take them to pieces every few pages, and show their
interior structure, and the machinery by which they are moved.  Not only
is the illusion gone, but the movement of the story, if there is a story,
is retarded, till the reader loses all enjoyment in impatience and
weariness.  You find yourself saying, perhaps, What a very clever fellow
the author is!  What an ingenious creation this character is!  How
brightly the author makes his people talk!  This is high praise, but by
no means the highest, and when we reflect we see how immeasurably
inferior, in fiction, the analytic method is to the dramatic.  In the
dramatic method the characters appear, and show what they are by what
they do and say; the reader studies their motives, and a part of his
enjoyment is in analyzing them, and his vanity is flattered by the trust
reposed in his perspicacity.  We realize how unnecessary minute analysis
of character and long descriptions are in reading a drama by Shakespeare,
in which the characters are so vividly presented to us in action and
speech, without the least interference of the author in description, that
we regard them as persons with whom we might have real relations, and not
as bundles of traits and qualities.  True, the conditions of dramatic art
and the art of the novel are different, in that the drama can dispense
with delineations, for its characters are intended to be presented to the
eye; but all the same, a good drama will explain itself without the aid
of actors, and there is no doubt that it is the higher art in the novel,
when once the characters are introduced, to treat them dramatically, and
let them work out their own destiny according to their characters.  It is
a truism to say that when the reader perceives that the author can compel
his characters to do what he pleases all interest in them as real persons
is gone.  In a novel of mere action and adventure, a lower order of
fiction, where all the interest centres in the unraveling of a plot, of
course this does not so much matter.

Not long ago, in Edinburgh, I amused myself in looking up some of the
localities made famous in Scott's romances, which are as real in the mind
as any historical places.  Afterwards I read "The Heart of Midlothian."
I was surprised to find that, as a work of art, it was inferior to my
recollection of it.  Its style is open to the charge of prolixity, and
even of slovenliness in some parts; and it does not move on with
increasing momentum and concentration to a climax, as many of Scott's
novels do; the story drags along in the disposition of one character
after another.  Yet, when I had finished the book and put it away, a
singular thing happened.  It suddenly came to me that in reading it I had
not once thought of Scott as the maker; it had never occurred to me that
he had created the people in whose fortunes I had been so intensely
absorbed; and I never once had felt how clever the novelist was in the
naturally dramatic dialogues of the characters.  In short, it had not
entered my mind to doubt the existence of Jeanie and Effie Deans, and
their father, and Reuben Butler, and the others, who seem as real as
historical persons in Scotch history.  And when I came to think of it
afterwards, reflecting upon the assumptions of the modern realistic
school, I found that some scenes, notably the night attack on the old
Tolbooth, were as real to me as if I had read them in a police report of
a newspaper of the day.  Was Scott, then, only a reporter?  Far from it,
as you would speedily see if he had thrown into the novel a police report
of the occurrences at the Tolbooth before art had shorn it of its
irrelevancies, magnified its effective and salient points, given events
their proper perspective, and the whole picture due light and shade.

The sacrifice of action to some extent to psychological evolution in
modern fiction may be an advance in the art as an intellectual
entertainment, if the writer does not make that evolution his end, and
does not forget that the indispensable thing in a novel is the story.
The novel of mere adventure or mere plot, it need not be urged, is of a
lower order than that in which the evolution of characters and their
interaction make the story.  The highest fiction is that which embodies
both; that is, the story in which action is the result of mental and
spiritual forces in play.  And we protest against the notion that the
novel of the future is to be, or should be, merely a study of, or an
essay or a series of analytic essays on, certain phases of social life.

It is not true that civilization or cultivation has bred out of the world
the liking for a story.  In this the most highly educated Londoner and
the Egyptian fellah meet on common human ground.  The passion for a story
has no more died out than curiosity, or than the passion of love.  The
truth is not that stories are not demanded, but that the born raconteur
and story-teller is a rare person.  The faculty of telling a story is a
much rarer gift than the ability to analyze character and even than the
ability truly to draw character.  It may be a higher or a lower power,
but it is rarer.  It is a natural gift, and it seems that no amount of
culture can attain it, any more than learning can make a poet.  Nor is
the complaint well founded that the stories have all been told, the
possible plots all been used, and the combinations of circumstances
exhausted.  It is no doubt our individual experience that we hear almost
every day--and we hear nothing so eagerly--some new story, better or
worse, but new in its exhibition of human character, and in the
combination of events.  And the strange, eventful histories of human life
will no more be exhausted than the possible arrangements of mathematical
numbers.  We might as well say that there are no more good pictures to be
painted as that there are no more good stories to be told.

Equally baseless is the assumption that it is inartistic and untrue to
nature to bring a novel to a definite consummation, and especially to end
it happily.  Life, we are told, is full of incompletion, of broken
destinies, of failures, of romances that begin but do not end, of
ambitions and purposes frustrated, of love crossed, of unhappy issues, or
a resultless play of influences.  Well, but life is full, also, of
endings, of the results in concrete action of character, of completed
dramas.  And we expect and give, in the stories we hear and tell in
ordinary intercourse, some point, some outcome, an end of some sort.
If you interest me in the preparations of two persons who are starting on
a journey, and expend all your ingenuity in describing their outfit and
their characters, and do not tell me where they went or what befell them
afterwards, I do not call that a story.  Nor am I any better satisfied
when yon describe two persons whom you know, whose characters are
interesting, and who become involved in all manner of entanglements, and
then stop your narration; and when I ask, say you have not the least idea

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