**** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE ****

Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!


Notions About Novels
by [?]

“Very simply,” said the Cynic. “A thousand per centum increase in the new public; stock of intelligence still more freely watered.”

“But you are not answering my question about the different kinds of novels,” said the lady. “Tell me why the types of fiction change.”

“Fashion, dear lady,” replied the Cynic. “It is like tight sleeves and loose sleeves. People feel comfortable when they wear what everybody is wearing and read what everybody is reading. The art of modern advertising is an appeal to the instinct of imitation. Our friend the Publisher has become a millionaire by discovering that the same law governs the sale of books and of dry-goods.”

“Not at all,” interrupted the Critic; “your explanation is too crude for satire and too shallow for science. There is a regular evolution in fiction. First comes the external type, the novel of plot; then the internal type, the novel of character; then the social type, the novel of problem and purpose. The development proceeds from outward to inward, from objective to subjective, from simplicity to complexity.”

“But,” said the lady, “if I remember rightly, the facts happened the other way. ‘Pamela’ and ‘Joseph Andrews’ and ‘Caleb Williams’ are character novels; ‘Waverley’ and ‘Ivanhoe’ are adventure novels. Kingsley wrote ‘Yeast’ and ‘Alton Locke’ before ‘Westward Ho!’ and ‘Hypatia.’ ‘Bleak House’ and ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ are older than ‘Lorna Doone’ and ‘David Balfour.’ The day before yesterday it was all character-sketching, mainly Scotch; the day before that it was all problem-solving, chiefly religious; yesterday it was all adventure-seeking, called historical because it seems highly improbable; and to-day it is a mixture of automobile-journeys and slum-life. It looks to me as if there must be somebody always ready to read some kind of fiction, but his affections are weather-cocky.”

“I don’t object to a few characters in a novel,” said the Man of Business, “provided they do something interesting.”

“Right,” said the Publisher; “the public always knows what is interesting, provided it is properly pointed out. Now here is a little list of our most profitable new books: a story of a beautiful Cow-boy, a Kentucky love-tale, a narrative of the Second Crusade, a romance about an imaginary princess and two motor-cars, a modern society story with vivid descriptions of the principal New York restaurants and Monte Carlo–all of these have passed the forty-thousand line. We send out the list with a statement to that effect, and advise people not to lose the chance of reading books that have aroused so much interest.”

“It seems to me,” put in the Doctor of Divinity, “that some of the modern books do not give me as much insight into life as I should like. I perused ‘The Prisoner on a Bender’ the other day without getting a single illustration for a sermon. But I continue to read novels from a sense of duty, to keep in touch with my young people.”

“I think,” began my Uncle Peter (and this solemn announcement made everyone attentive), “I think you have failed to discern a certain law of periodicity which governs the formal variations of fiction. This periodicity is natural to the human mind, and it also has relations to profound social movements. The popularity of the novels of Fielding, Richardson, and Smollett, whose characters were mainly drawn from humble life, was due to the rise of the same spirit of democracy that produced the American and French Revolutions. The reaction to the romantic and historical novel, under Scott and his followers, was a revival of the aristocratic spirit. It took a historical form because the past had been made vivid to the popular imagination by the great historians of the eighteenth century. The purpose novels, which took the lead in the middle of the nineteenth century, were another reaction, and came out of the social ferment of the times. The general pictures of society and manners which followed were written for a public that was fairly well-to-do and contented with itself. The later realistic studies of life in its lowest forms were the offspring of the scientific spirit. And the latest reaction to the novel of adventure, with its emphasis on daring and virility, is connected with the remarkable revival of imperialism. But while fiction is specifically the most transient of forms, generically it is the most permanent. Therefore, our young Man of Letters must write a novel. That is what the public wants.”