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renture; it is a perilous style I grant, but i cannot help it. When l chain my mind to ideas that are purely imaginative—for argument is a different thing—it seems to me that the sun leaves the landscape, that l think away the whole vivacity and spirit of my original conception, and that the results are cold, tame and spiritless. lt is the difference between a written oration and one bursting from the unpremeditated exertions of the speaker, which have always something of the air of enthusiasm and inspiration. l would not have young authors imitate my carelessness, however; consilium non currum cape.
The following quotation from Thackeray is even more interesting, because it has a more personal note, and one not without pathos. l give it entire, alt bough it does not at once touch upon the point, as it would be a pity to shorten it:
l tell you l would like to be able to write a story which should show no egotism whatever—in which there should be no reflections, no cynicism, no vulgarity (and so forth), but an incident in every other page, a villain, a battle, a mystery in every chapter. l should like to be able to feed a reader so spicily as to leave him hungering and thirsting for more at the end of every monthly meal.
Alexandre Dumas describes himself, when inventing the plan of a work, as lying silent on his back for two whole days on the deck of a yacht in a Mediterranean port. At the end of the two dcys he arose and called for dinner. In those two days he had built his plot. He had moulded a mighty clay to be cast presently in perennial brass. The chapters, the characters, the incidents, the combinations were all arranged in the artist's brain ere he set a pen to paper. My Pegasus won't fly, so as to let me survey the field below me. He has no wings, he is blind of one eye certainly, he is restive, stubborn, slow; crops a hedge when he ought to be galloping, or gallops when he ought to be
quiet. He never will show off when I want him. Sometimes, he goes at a pace which surprises me. Sometimes, when l most wish him to make the running, the brute turns restive, and i am obliged to let him take his own time. I wonder do other novel-writers experience this fatalism? They must go a certain way in spite of themselves. l have been surprised at the observations made by some of my characters. It seems as if an occult power was moving the pen. The personage does or says something, and I ask, "How the Dickens did he come to think of that?" (Thackeray, Roundabout Papers, "De Finibus").
Trollope, less great as a creator, has a good deal of the almost opposed gift of analysis, and he has an admirable chapter of advice to novelists very superior to the admonitions they sometimes receive. He writes thus in it:
I have never troubled myself much about the construction of plots, and am not now insisting specially on thoroughness in a branch of work in which I myself have not been very thorough. i am not sure that the construction of a perfected plot has been at any time within my power. But the novelist has other aims than the elucidation of his plot. He desires to make his reader so intimately acquainted with his characters that the creatures of his brain should be to them speaking, moving, living human creatures. This he can never do unless he know those fictitious personages himself, and he can never know them unless he can live with them in the full reality of established intimacy. They must be with him as he lies down to sleep, and as he wakes from his dreams. He must learn to hate them and to love them. He must argue with them, quarrel with them, forgive them and even submit to them. He must know of them whether they be cold-blooded or passionate, whether true or false, and how far true and how far false. The depth and the breadth, and the narrowness and the shallowness of each should be clear to him. And as here, in our outer world. we know that men and women change, become worse or better as temptation or conscience may guide them, so should these creations of his change, and every change should be noted by him. On the last day of each month recorded, every person in his novel should be a month older than on the first. lf the wouldbe novelist have aptitudes that way, all this will come to him without much struggling, but if it do not come i think he can only make novels of wood.
lt is so that l have lived with my characters, and thence has come whatever success l have obtained. There is a gallery of them, and of all in that gallery l may say that l know the tone of voice, and the color of the hair, every flame of the eye, and the very clothes they wear. Of each man l could assert whether he would have said these or the other words; of every woman whether she would then have smiled or so have frowned. When i shall feel that this intimacy ceases, then i shall know that the old horse should be turned out to grass. That l shall feel it when i ought to feel it, l will by no means say. l do not know that I am at all wiser than Gil Bias' canon; but i do know that the power indicated is one without which the teller of tales cannot tell them to any good effect.
Charlotte Bronte in a deeply-touching Preface to Wuthering Heights insists, to what might be considered almost a dangerous degree, on the helplessness of the "nominal artist" when "statue hewing." Was she not also conscious as she wrote of the strange judgments and condemnations which her own work had provoked as well as that of her dead sister? There is a singular pathos in this review and defence of a work of genins which had met with no success during the author's life. ln it we can see that the successful sister is sore at heart that Emily had passed unrecognized out of a world that had been singularly sad and lonely for them both. lt is also a fine bit of criticism.
Whether it is right or advisable to create beings like Heathcliff [wrote Currer Bell of the hero of Ellis Belli I do not know: i scarcely think it is. But this l know; the writer who possesses the creative gift owns something of which he is not always master— something that, at times, strangely wills and works for itself. He may lay down rules and devise principles, and to rules and principles it will perhaps for years lie in subjection; and then, haply without any warning of revolt, there comes a time when it will no longer consent to "harrow the valleys or be bound with a band in the furrow" —when it "laughs at the multitude of the city, and regards not the crying of the driver"—when, refusing absolutely to make ropes out of sea-sand any longer, it sets to work on statue-hewing, and you have a Pluto or a Jove, a Tisiphone or a Psyche, a Mermaid or a Madonna, as Fate or lnspiration direct. Be the work grim or glorious, dread or divine, you have little choice left but quiescent adoption. As for you—the nominal artist—your share in it has been to work passively under dictates you neither delivered nor could question—that would not be uttered at your prayer, nor suppressed nor changed at your caprice. lf the result be attractive, the World will praise you, who little deserve praise; if it be repulsive, the same World will blame you, who almost as little deserve blame.
A great work of fiction, in which the construction appears to have been well Mocked out except for its last chapters, is Adam Bede. lt has the unity and the development of a great musical composition, the proportions of a Gothic Cathedral, the merciless grandeur of the laws of nature. Yet we know from one of George Eliot's letters that the only materials with which she was conscious of setting out on her great task were the personality of Dinah Morris and the scene in the prison. No doubt there were in the recesses of her mind all the experiences that went to make up Adam himself. Mrs. Poyser. and all the rest of that great company, but directly they came together and became alive they wrought out the plot for themselves as we all make and mar our lives upon this earth. That is surely the great main truth of the novel which deals with human nature. if you have the power to bring human beings into life at all they will act out their lives almost independently of their authors. George Eliot watches Dinah Morris becoming very unlike her living prototype; Thackeray is astonished at the sayings of his characters and asks where did they get such notions; Charlotte Bronte groans in one of her letters because the heroine she intended to be "the most beautiful" character will give place to the very imperfect one in Villette; Scott follows his characters along the easiest road to keep up with them; and who could suppose for a moment that Dickens decided where and when David Copperfield was to meet Micawber. He was quite as surprised as any one else to find him at Salisbury with Mrs. Micawber and the twins, because that great man thought it would be rash not to visit Salisbury Cathedral.
But it is well to keep to the serious side of the question. No one will deny that we do greatly make or mar our lives by the marring or the making of character, and the greatest drama is the unfolding of the action of the will as it adheres to or thwarts the Divine purpose. Two weak wills, harmless, but pleasure loving, are the materials for awful tragedy in Adam Bede; and one soul of heroic purpose, of real saintliness, saves them both. it is the history of the human race. And the artist at the zenith of her powers was overmastered by her characters. George Eliot might deny a future life. Dinah Morris. Adam Bede and the fallen Hetty know that they are to rise again.
The working out of character is the
ordinary story of our lives and is the most appropriate subject of art—because it falls completely within the scope of human action. Anna Karenina is a supreme instance of this method of construction arising out of character. From Anna's smile when she first appears leaving the railway carriage at Moscow to the last glimpse of Anna's dead face in the ghastly tragedy of the railway station at the end, there has been no necessity of fate, no overwhelming pressure of external circumstance, it has been the awful history of the corruption of character.
There is in both books indeed—Adam Hede and Anna Kartnina—a great sense of fate, but it is of fate attending on the action of the human will. "There is a providence that shapes our ends rough hew them how we will"; still it is the ordinary working out of God's laws of justice and mercy discernible in human life, rather than His extraordinary interpositions, that best befits our feeble human workmanship.
it is not, however, intended here to deny a vast range to fiction in the delineation of circumstances, internal and external, or in depicting the insoluble mysteries any human story must present if it is true to life. There are all the mysteries of heredity, there are circumstances that seem to make the action of the will almost, but not quite, impossible. There are all the great miseries of life;—war, pestilence, as in / Promessi Sposi: superstitions as in Silas Marner; children brought up to vice, men that seem never to have seen light and others who fell away from being educated in a too religious atmosphere; false notions of honor, of duty of sacrifice;—all these make fit subject matter for innumerable novels, and are all more or less fitted for art according as they create or make real to us the men and women whom it is the object of the book to present to us.
When and how far the elements which make the life of a novel are planned and intended it is very difficult to analyze. In such a book as The Bride of Lammermoor, Scott undoubtedly started with an idea of fatality that produced an atmosphere in which the characters have very little independence, whereas in The Heart of Midlothian character is the unfailing motive power. And there can be no doubt which is the greater of the two books. Again, Silas Marner is the victim of superstition and circumstance, but the great artist draws him back to life by the working of self denial in the course of love, and that the love of a child. lt is by a change in his character produced by love that the man is brought back to his own place in creation out of which he had been thrust by the cruelty of a false religion.
A very interesting comparison might be drawn out between the two great masterpieces of Tolstoy, Ahlm Karenina and La Paix et la Guerre. The one as we have said depends on no outward catastrophe, in it there is no inevitable tragedy: it is the failure of a will that might have conquered. ln La Paix et la Guerre we have the fearful element of war as the avenging scourge of God. lt has one great tragic movement, and passes on almost regardless of individual lives, indeed, only one of its mass of personages passes alive right through the book. lt is magnificent; it has many of the most awful elements of human fate: but it leaves in my memory only one living Creation—that of the little, foolish, unloved woman, who died at the birth of her child, and on whose dead face her husband read a look at once injured and surprised.
We may be deeply impressed by such a great book, as teaching great lessons and widening our mental horizon; but what above all we ask of fiction is that touch of nature which makes us all akin. And it is in character beyond
all else, beyond the sense of fate, beyond the varieties of circumstance, beyond the sunshine or moonlight of romance that we touch the springs of life. it may be that some trifling or absurd detail, by the force of its truth, brirgs us into such close relation with a personage in fiction that he or she becomes from that moment not something of which we have read, but somebody whom we have known. Of course the whole character must be worthy of the detail that has proved to be the moment of revelation, but the detail has been the means of our touching on some vital connection between the picture and the mind of the reader. What does it matter who the characters are or where they lived, whether it be Mra Poyser scolding Dinah for being unselfish, or Louis Xl giving dinner to the Burgundian envoy, or Elizabeth Bennett refusing Mr. Collins, or Jeanie Deans realizing that Effle has become ashamed of her sister, or Levin's low spirits before his marriage with his beloved Kitty, or "La Morte" taking the poison from her husband with a smile, or Lucy Snowe concealing her birthday present from the French professor, or Claverhouse giving orders for the removal of the dead body of Habakuk Mucklewrath and the cure of his horse's shoulder, or Kim enjoying the strong language of the old lady on her pilgrimage, or the little minister jumping the gooseberry bush in the Manse garden, or Becky Sharp throwing Johnson's Dictionary into the shrubs, or Mr. Pecksniff describing the charms of his dead wife who "had a little property," or Fergus Maclvor, Vich lan Vohr, of Glennaquoich, consoling Waverley for what he himself was about to suffer? in all these things, great or small, whether they have in them tears or laughter, they have one thing undoubtedly, and that is life. No need in great things or small to draw out the moral on the author's part; all that we need ask of him is to give us life, and the rest we must do for ourselves.
it is not chiefly the enjoyment of our critical faculties or the satisfaction of our moral judgment that we ask for in a novel, although we cannot be wholly satisfied without these activities.
Nous demandons k une ceuvre de roman [writes Ren6 Bazin] qu'elle nous fasse penser, mais bien plus encore qu'elle nous fasse aimer, souffrir, esperer. II y a la un mystere. parce que nous touchons & quelque chose de semblable a. la vie et de semblable a la creation. Je ne pretends pas l'expliquer.
it is not. however, to be supposed that there is no order, no method, no composition in the work of the novelist who gives himself up to the influence of the living characters he has evoked. it is very hard to be perfectly truthful in the description of character, never to be tempted into melodrama, or weakened into false pathos, never to play up to popular morality, nor to play down to popular immorality, to be always firm and impartial to a favorite character, to be gentle with a villain. But where there is truth and life there will be organic structure, and fine proportion arising out of the moral history of the characters themselves. This is so where selfrestraint is practised and constancy to the main theme. Of course there is a liberty from rule that loses the main object in license. Who does not feel that the magnificent and adorable creations of Les Misirables would have gained not lost if Victor Hugo had
The Dublin Review.
not indulged each of his personages in turn regardless of the others, and had not neglected all his spoilt children at any moment for any passing caprice?
A critic has calculated that there are exactly 985 useless pages in that colossal novel. Yet no one, it may be said in conclusion, has said better than Victor Hugo that in literature, as in politics, order is the result of liberty— only in his latter years he was prone to forget that disorder is the inevitable consequence of license. The following passage is from the Preface of 1826 to the Odes et Ballades—a few pages of quite remarkable interest dealing with the poetic controversies of the day but applicable to prose fiction, and containing in one phrase, which we have put in italics, a lesson of supreme importance.
Ce qu'il est tres-important de fixer, c'est qu'en literature, comme en politique, l'ordre se concilie merveilleusement avec la liberty, il en est meme le resultat. Au reste, il faut bien se garder de confondre l'ordre avec la regularity. La rigVuariU ne s'attache qu'd la forme ext&rieure; Vordre risulte du fond mC'nie des chases, de la disposition intelligente des Elements intimes d'un sujet. La regularity est une combinai- son materielle et purement humaine; l'ordre est pour ainsi dire divin. Ces deux qualites si diverse dans leur essence marchent frSquemment l'une sans l'autre. Une Cathedrale gothique presente un ordre admirable dans sa natve irregularity; nos Edifices frangais modernes, auxquels on a si gauchemeut applique l'architeeture grccque on romaine. n'ofrrent qu'un desordre rGgulier.