List Of Contents | Contents of Modern Fiction, by Charles Dudley Warner
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whether they got out of their difficulties, or what became of them.
In real life we do not call that a story where everything is left
unconcluded and in the air.  In point of fact, romances are daily
beginning and daily ending, well or otherwise, under our observation.

Should they always end well in the novel?  I am very far from saying
that.  Tragedy and the pathos of failure have their places in literature
as well as in life.  I only say that, artistically, a good ending is as
proper as a bad ending.  Yet the main object of the novel is to
entertain, and the best entertainment is that which lifts the imagination
and quickens the spirit; to lighten the burdens of life by taking us for
a time out of our humdrum and perhaps sordid conditions, so that we can
see familiar life somewhat idealized, and probably see it all the more
truly from an artistic point of view.  For the majority of the race, in
its hard lines, fiction is an inestimable boon.  Incidentally the novel
may teach, encourage, refine, elevate.  Even for these purposes, that
novel is the best which shows us the best possibilities of our lives--the
novel which gives hope and cheer instead of discouragement and gloom.
Familiarity with vice and sordidness in fiction is a low entertainment,
and of doubtful moral value, and their introduction is unbearable if it
is not done with the idealizing touch of the artist.

Do not misunderstand me to mean that common and low life are not fit
subjects of fiction, or that vice is not to be lashed by the satirist,
or that the evils of a social state are never to be exposed in the novel.
For this, also, is an office of the novel, as it is of the drama, to hold
the mirror up to nature, and to human nature as it exhibits itself.  But
when the mirror shows nothing but vice and social disorder, leaving out
the saving qualities that keep society on the whole, and family life as a
rule, as sweet and good as they are, the mirror is not held up to nature,
but more likely reflects a morbid mind.  Still it must be added that the
study of unfortunate social conditions is a legitimate one for the author
to make; and that we may be in no state to judge justly of his exposure
while the punishment is being inflicted, or while the irritation is
fresh.  For, no doubt, the reader winces often because the novel reveals
to himself certain possible baseness, selfishness, and meanness.  Of
this, however, I (speaking for myself) may be sure: that the artist who
so represents vulgar life that I am more in love with my kind, the
satirist who so depicts vice and villainy that I am strengthened in my
moral fibre, has vindicated his choice of material.  On the contrary,
those novelists are not justified whose forte it seems to be to so set
forth goodness as to make it unattractive.

But we come back to the general proposition that the indispensable
condition of the novel is that it shall entertain.  And for this purpose
the world is not ashamed to own that it wants, and always will want,
a story--a story that has an ending; and if not a good ending, then one
that in noble tragedy lifts up our nature into a high plane of sacrifice
and pathos.  In proof of this we have only to refer to the masterpieces
of fiction which the world cherishes and loves to recur to.

I confess that I am harassed with the incomplete romances, that leave me,
when the book is closed, as one might be on a waste plain at midnight,
abandoned by his conductor, and without a lantern.  I am tired of
accompanying people for hours through disaster and perplexity and
misunderstanding, only to see them lost in a thick mist at last.  I am
weary of going to funerals, which are not my funerals, however chatty and
amusing the undertaker may be.  I confess that I should like to see again
the lovely heroine, the sweet woman, capable of a great passion and a
great sacrifice; and I do not object if the novelist tries her to the
verge of endurance, in agonies of mind and in perils, subjecting her to
wasting sicknesses even, if he only brings her out at the end in a
blissful compensation of her troubles, and endued with a new and sweeter
charm.  No doubt it is better for us all, and better art, that in the
novel of society the destiny should be decided by character.  What an
artistic and righteous consummation it is when we meet the shrewd and
wicked old Baroness Bernstein at Continental gaming-tables, and feel that
there was no other logical end for the worldly and fascinating Beatrix of
Henry Esmond!  It is one of the great privileges of fiction to right the
wrongs of life, to do justice to the deserving and the vicious.  It is
wholesome for us to contemplate the justice, even if we do not often see
it in society.  It is true that hypocrisy and vulgar self-seeking often
succeed in life, occupying high places, and make their exit in the
pageantry of honored obsequies.  Yet always the man is conscious of the
hollowness of his triumph, and the world takes a pretty accurate measure
of it.  It is the privilege of the novelist, without introducing into
such a career what is called disaster, to satisfy our innate love of
justice by letting us see the true nature of such prosperity.  The
unscrupulous man amasses wealth, lives in luxury and splendor, and dies
in the odor of respectability.  His poor and honest neighbor, whom he has
wronged and defrauded, lives in misery, and dies in disappointment and
penury.  The novelist cannot reverse the facts without such a shock to
our experience as shall destroy for us the artistic value of his fiction,
and bring upon his work the deserved reproach of indiscriminately
"rewarding the good and punishing the bad."  But we have a right to ask
that he shall reveal the real heart and character of this passing show of
life; for not to do this, to content himself merely with exterior
appearances, is for the majority of his readers to efface the lines
between virtue and vice.  And we ask this not for the sake of the moral
lesson, but because not to do it is, to our deep consciousness,
inartistic and untrue to our judgment of life as it goes on.  Thackeray
used to say that all his talent was in his eyes; meaning that he was only
an observer and reporter of what he saw, and not a Providence to rectify
human affairs.  The great artist undervalued his genius.  He reported
what he saw as Raphael and Murillo reported what they saw.  With his
touch of genius he assigned to everything its true value, moving us to
tenderness, to pity, to scorn, to righteous indignation, to sympathy with
humanity.  I find in him the highest art, and not that indifference to
the great facts and deep currents and destinies of human life, that want
of enthusiasm and sympathy, which has got the name of "art for art's
sake."  Literary fiction is a barren product if it wants sympathy and
love for men.  "Art for art's sake" is a good and defensible phrase, if
our definition of art includes the ideal, and not otherwise.

I do not know how it has come about that in so large a proportion of
recent fiction it is held to be artistic to look almost altogether upon
the shady and the seamy side of life, giving to this view the name of
"realism"; to select the disagreeable, the vicious, the unwholesome;
to give us for our companions, in our hours of leisure and relaxation,
only the silly and the weak-minded woman, the fast and slangy girl, the
intrigante and the "shady"--to borrow the language of the society she
seeks--the hero of irresolution, the prig, the vulgar, and the vicious;
to serve us only with the foibles of the fashionable, the low tone of the
gay, the gilded riffraff of our social state; to drag us forever along
the.  dizzy, half-fractured precipice of the seventh commandment; to
bring us into relations only with the sordid and the common; to force us
to sup with unwholesome company on misery and sensuousness, in tales so
utterly unpleasant that we are ready to welcome any disaster as a relief;
and then--the latest and finest touch of modern art--to leave the whole
weltering mass in a chaos, without conclusion and without possible issue.
And this is called a picture of real life!  Heavens!  Is it true that in
England, where a great proportion of the fiction we describe and loathe
is produced; is it true that in our New England society there is nothing
but frivolity, sordidness, decay of purity and faith, ignoble ambition
and ignoble living?  Is there no charm in social life--no self-sacrifice,
devotion, courage to stem materialistic conditions, and live above them?
Are there no noble women, sensible, beautiful, winning, with the grace
that all the world loves, albeit with the feminine weaknesses that make
all the world hope?  Is there no manliness left?  Are there no homes
where the tempter does not live with the tempted in a mush of sentimental
affinity?  Or is it, in fact, more artistic to ignore all these, and
paint only the feeble and the repulsive in our social state?  The feeble,
the sordid, and the repulsive in our social state nobody denies, nor does
anybody deny the exceeding cleverness with which our social disorders are
reproduced in fiction by a few masters of their art; but is it not time
that it should be considered good art to show something of the clean and
bright side?

This is pre-eminently the age of the novel.  The development of variety
of fiction since the days of Scott and Cooper is prodigious.  The
prejudice against novel-reading is quite broken down, since fiction has
taken all fields for its province; everybody reads novels.  Three-
quarters of the books taken from the circulating library are stories;
they make up half the library of the Sunday-schools.  If a writer has
anything to say, or thinks he has, he knows that he can most certainly
reach the ear of the public by the medium of a story.  So we have novels
for children; novels religious, scientific, historical, archaeological,
psychological, pathological, total-abstinence; novels of travel, of
adventure and exploration; novels domestic, and the perpetual spawn of
books called novels of society.  Not only is everything turned into a

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