The novel is a genre of fiction, and fiction may be defined as the art or craft of contriving, through the written word, representations of human life that instruct or divert or both. The various forms that fiction may take are best seen less as a number of separate categories than as a continuum or, more accurately, a cline, with some such brief form as the anecdote at one end of the scale and the longest conceivable novel at the other. When any piece of fiction is long enough to constitute a whole book, as opposed to a mere part of a book, then it may be said to have achieved novelhood. But this state admits of its own quantitative categories, so that a relatively brief novel may be termed a novella (or, if the insubstantiality of the content matches its brevity, a novelette), and a very long novel may overflow the banks of a single volume and become a roman-fleuveor river novel. Length is very much one of the dimensions of the genre. (see also literary genre, short story)
The term novel is a truncation of the Italian word novella (from the plural of Latin novellus, a late variant of novus, meaning "new"), so that what is now, in most languages, a diminutive denotes historically the parent form. The novella was a kind of enlarged anecdote like those to be found in the 14th-century Italian classic Boccaccio's Decameroneach of which exemplifies the etymology well enough. The stories are little new things, novelties, freshly minted diversions, toys; they are not reworkings of known fables or myths, and they are lacking in weight and moral earnestness. It is to be noted that, despite the high example of novelists of the most profound seriousness, such as Tolstoy, Henry James, and Virginia Woolf, the term novel still, in some quarters, carries overtones of lightness and frivolity. And it is possible to descry a tendency to triviality in the form itself. The ode or symphony seems to possess an inner mechanism that protects it from aesthetic or moral corruption, but the novel can descend to shameful commercial depths of sentimentality or pornography. It is the purpose of this section to consider the novel not solely in terms of great art but also as an all-purpose medium catering for all the strata of literacy.
Such early ancient Roman fiction as Petronius' Satyriconof the 1st century AD and Lucius Apuleius' Golden Ass of the 2nd century contain many of the popular elements that distinguish the novel from its nobler born relative the epic poem. In the fictional works, the medium is prose, the events described are unheroic, the settings are streets and taverns, not battlefields and palaces. There is more low fornication than princely combat; the gods do not move the action; the dialogue is homely rather than aristocratic. It was, in fact, out of the need to find--in the period of Roman decline--a literary form that was anti-epic in both substance and language that the first prose fiction of Europe seems to have been conceived. The most memorable character in Petronius is a nouveau riche vulgarian; the hero of Lucius Apuleius is turned into a donkey; nothing less epic can well be imagined. (see also Latin literature, "Golden Ass, The," , anti-hero)
The medieval chivalric romance (from a popular Latin word, probably Romanice, meaning written in the vernacular, not in traditional Latin) restored a kind of epic view of man--though now as heroic Christian, not heroic pagan. At the same time, it bequeathed its name to the later genre of continental literature, the novel, which is known in French as roman, in Italian as romanzo, etc. (The English term romance, however, carries a pejorative connotation.) But that later genre achieved its first great flowering in Spain at the beginning of the 17th century in an antichivalric comic masterpiece -- the Don Quixote of Cervantes, which, on a larger scale than the Satyricon or The Golden Ass, contains many of the elements that have been expected from prose fiction ever since. Novels have heroes, but not in any classical or medieval sense. As for the novelist, he must, in the words of the contemporary British-American W.H. Auden, (see also "Don Quixote," )
Become the whole of boredom, subject to
Vulgar complaints like love, among the Just
Be just, among the Filthy filthy too,
And in his own weak person, if he can,
Must suffer dully all the wrongs of Man.
The novel attempts to assume those burdens of life that have no place in the epic poem and to see man as unheroic, unredeemed, imperfect, even absurd. This is why there is room among its practitioners for writers of hardboiled detective thrillers such as the contemporary American Mickey Spillane or of sentimental melodramas such as the prolific 19th-century English novelist Mrs. Henry Wood, but not for one of the unremitting elevation of outlook of a John Milton.
The reader may also be interested in the analogous treatment of a comparable genre in the section Short story which follows. Critical approaches are discussed in the section Literary criticism below.
The novel is propelled through its hundred or thousand pages by a device known as the story or plot. This is frequently conceived by the novelist in very simple terms, a mere nucleus, a jotting on an old envelope: for example, Charles Dickens' Christmas Carol(1843) might have been conceived as "a misanthrope is reformed through certain magical visitations on Christmas Eve," or Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (1813) as "a young couple destined to be married have first to overcome the barriers of pride and prejudice," or Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment (1866) as "a young man commits a crime and is slowly pursued in the direction of his punishment." The detailed working out of the nuclear idea requires much ingenuity, since the plot of one novel is expected to be somewhat different from that of another, and there are very few basic human situations for the novelist to draw upon. The dramatist may take his plot ready-made from fiction or biography--a form of theft sanctioned by Shakespeare--but the novelist has to produce what look like novelties. (see also English literature)
The example of Shakespeare is a reminder that the ability to create an interesting plot, or even any plot at all, is not a prerequisite of the imaginative writer's craft. At the lowest level of fiction, plot need be no more than a string of stock devices for arousing stock responses of concern and excitement in the reader. The reader's interest may be captured at the outset by the promise of conflicts or mysteries or frustrations that will eventually be resolved, and he will gladly--so strong is his desire to be moved or entertained--suspend criticism of even the most trite modes of resolution. In the least sophisticated fiction, the knots to be untied are stringently physical, and the denouement often comes in a sort of triumphant violence. Serious fiction prefers its plots to be based on psychological situations, and its climaxes come in new states of awareness--chiefly self-knowledge--on the parts of the major characters.
Melodramatic plots, plots dependent on coincidence or improbability, are sometimes found in even the most elevated fiction; E.M. Forster's Howards End (1910) is an example of a classic British novel with such a plot. But the novelist is always faced with the problem of whether it is more important to represent the formlessness of real life (in which there are no beginnings and no ends and very few simple motives for action) or to construct an artifact as well balanced and economical as a table or chair; since he is an artist, the claims of art, or artifice, frequently prevail.
There are, however, ways of constructing novels in which plot may play a desultory part or no part at all. The traditional picaresque novel--a novel with a rogue as its central character--like Alain Lesage's Gil Blas (1715) or Henry Fielding's Tom Jones (1749), depends for movement on a succession of chance incidents. In the works of Virginia Woolf, the consciousness of the characters, bounded by some poetic or symbolic device, sometimes provides all the fictional material. Marcel Proust's great roman-fleuve, À la recherche du temps perdu (1913-27; Remembrance of Things Past), has a metaphysical framework derived from the time theories of the philosopher Henri Bergson, and it moves toward a moment of truth that is intended to be literally a revelation of the nature of reality. Strictly, any scheme will do to hold a novel together--raw action, the hidden syllogism of the mystery story, prolonged solipsist contemplation--so long as the actualities or potentialities of human life are credibly expressed, with a consequent sense of illumination, or some lesser mode of artistic satisfaction, on the part of the reader.
The inferior novelist tends to be preoccupied with plot; to the superior novelist the convolutions of the human personality, under the stress of artfully selected experience, are the chief fascination. Without character it was once accepted that there could be no fiction. In the period since World War II, the creators of what has come to be called the French nouveau roman (i.e., new novel) have deliberately demoted the human element, claiming the right of objects and processes to the writer's and reader's prior attention. Thus, in books termed chosiste(literally "thing-ist"), they make the furniture of a room more important than its human incumbents. This may be seen as a transitory protest against the long predominance of character in the novel, but, even on the popular level, there have been indications that readers can be held by things as much as by characters. Henry James could be vague in The Ambassadors(1903) about the provenance of his chief character's wealth; if he wrote today he would have to give his readers a tour around the factory or estate. The popularity of much undistinguished but popular fiction has nothing to do with its wooden characters; it is machines, procedures, organizations that draw the reader. The success of Ian Fleming's British spy stories in the 1960s had much to do with their hero, James Bond's car, gun, and preferred way of mixing a martini.
But the true novelists remain creators of characters--prehuman, such as those in William Golding's Inheritors (1955); animal, as in Henry Williamson's Tarka the Otter (1927) or Jack London's Call of the Wild (1903); caricatures, as in much of Dickens; or complex and unpredictable entities, as in Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, or Henry James. The reader may be prepared to tolerate the most wanton-seeming stylistic tricks and formal difficulties because of the intense interest of the central characters in novels as diverse as James Joyce's Ulysses (1922) and Finnegans Wake (1939) and Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy (1760-67).
It is the task of literary critics to create a value hierarchy of fictional character, placing the complexity of the Shakespearean view of man--as found in the novels of Tolstoy and Joseph Conrad--above creations that may be no more than simple personifications of some single characteristic, like some of those by Dickens. It frequently happens, however, that the common reader prefers surface simplicity--easily memorable cartoon figures like Dickens' never-despairing Mr. Micawber and devious Uriah Heep--to that wider view of personality, in which character seems to engulf the reader, subscribed to by the great novelists of France and Russia. The whole nature of human identity remains in doubt, and writers who voice that doubt--like the French exponents of the nouveau roman Alain Robbe-Grillet and Nathalie Sarraute, as well as many others--are in effect rejecting a purely romantic view of character. This view imposed the author's image of himself--the only human image he properly possessed--on the rest of the human world. For the unsophisticated reader of fiction, any created personage with a firm position in time-space and the most superficial parcel of behavioral (or even sartorial) attributes will be taken for a character. Though the critics may regard it as heretical, this tendency to accept a character is in conformity with the usages of real life. The average person has at least a suspicion of his own complexity and inconsistency of makeup, but he sees the rest of the world as composed of much simpler entities. The result is that novels whose characters are created out of the author's own introspection are frequently rejected as not "true to life." But both the higher and the lower orders of novel readers might agree in condemning a lack of memorability in the personages of a work of fiction, a failure on the part of the author to seem to add to the reader's stock of remembered friends and acquaintances. Characters that seem, on recollection, to have a life outside the bounds of the books that contain them are usually the ones that earn their creators the most regard. Depth of psychological penetration, the ability to make a character real as oneself, seems to be no primary criterion of fictional talent.
Scene, or setting.
The makeup and behaviour of fictional characters depend on their environment quite as much as on the personal dynamic with which their author endows them: indeed, in Émile Zola, environment is of overriding importance, since he believed it determined character. The entire action of a novel is frequently determined by the locale in which it is set. Thus, Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary(1857) could hardly have been placed in Paris, because the tragic life and death of the heroine have a great deal to do with the circumscriptions of her provincial milieu. But it sometimes happens that the main locale of a novel assumes an importance in the reader's imagination comparable to that of the characters and yet somehow separable from them. Wessex is a giant brooding presence in Thomas Hardy's novels, whose human characters would probably not behave much differently if they were set in some other rural locality of England. The popularity of Sir Walter Scott's "Waverley" novels is due in part to their evocation of a romantic Scotland. Setting may be the prime consideration of some readers, who can be drawn to Conrad because he depicts life at sea or in the East Indies; they may be less interested in the complexity of human relationships that he presents.
The regional novel is a recognized species. The sequence of four novels that Hugh Walpole began with Rogue Herries (1930) was the result of his desire to do homage to the part of Cumberland, in England, where he had elected to live. The great Yoknapatawpha cycle of William Faulkner, a classic of 20th-century American literature set in an imaginary county in Mississippi, belongs to the category as much as the once-popular confections about Sussex that were written about the same time by the English novelist Sheila Kaye-Smith. Many novelists, however, gain a creative impetus from avoiding the same setting in book after book and deliberately seeking new locales. The English novelist Graham Greene apparently needed to visit a fresh scene in order to write a fresh novel. His ability to encapsulate the essence of an exotic setting in a single book is exemplified in The Heart of the Matter(1948); his contemporary Evelyn Waugh stated that the West Africa of that book replaced the true remembered West Africa of his own experience. Such power is not uncommon: the Yorkshire moors have been romanticized because Emily Brontë wrote of them in Wuthering Heights(1847), and literary tourists have visited Stoke-on-Trent, in northern England, because it comprises the "Five Towns" of Arnold Bennett's novels of the early 20th century. Others go to the Monterey, California, of John Steinbeck's novels in the expectation of experiencing a frisson added to the locality by an act of creative imagination. James Joyce, who remained inexhaustibly stimulated by Dublin, has exalted that city in a manner that even the guidebooks recognize.
The setting of a novel is not always drawn from a real-life locale. The literary artist sometimes prides himself on his ability to create the totality of his fiction--the setting as well as the characters and their actions. In the Russian expatriate Vladimir Nabokov's Ada(1969) there is an entirely new space-time continuum, and the English scholar J.R.R. Tolkien in his Lord of the Rings(1954-55) created an "alternative world" that appeals greatly to many who are dissatisfied with the existing one. The world of interplanetary travel was imaginatively created long before the first moon landing. The properties of the future envisaged by H.G. Wells's novels or by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World (1932) are still recognized in an age that those authors did not live to see. The composition of place can be a magical fictional gift. (see also fantasy fiction)
Whatever the locale of his work, every true novelist is concerned with making a credible environment for his characters, and this really means a close attention to sense data--the immediacies of food and drink and colour--far more than abstractions like "nature" and "city." The London of Charles Dickens is as much incarnated in the smell of wood in lawyers' chambers as in the skyline and vistas of streets.
Narrative method and point of view.
Where there is a story, there is a storyteller. Traditionally, the narrator of the epic and mock-epic alike acted as an intermediary between the characters and the reader; the method of Fielding is not very different from the method of Homer. Sometimes the narrator boldly imposed his own attitudes; always he assumed an omniscience that tended to reduce the characters to puppets and the action to a predetermined course with an end implicit in the beginning. Many novelists have been unhappy about a narrative method that seems to limit the free will of the characters, and innovations in fictional technique have mostly sought the objectivity of the drama, in which the characters appear to work out their own destinies without prompting from the author.
The epistolary method, most notably used by Samuel Richardson in Pamela(1740) and by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in La nouvelle Héloïse (1761), has the advantage of allowing the characters to tell the story in their own words, but it is hard to resist the uneasy feeling that a kind of divine editor is sorting and ordering the letters into his own pattern. The device of making the narrator also a character in the story has the disadvantage of limiting the material available for the narration, since the narrator-character can know only those events in which he participates. There can, of course, be a number of secondary narratives enclosed in the main narrative, and this device--though it sometimes looks artificial--has been used triumphantly by Conrad and, on a lesser scale, by W. Somerset Maugham. A, the main narrator, tells what he knows directly of the story and introduces what B and C and D have told him about the parts that he does not know. (see also epistolary novel, "Julie: or, The New Eloise," )
Seeking the most objective narrative method of all, Ford Madox Ford used, in The Good Soldier(1915), the device of the storyteller who does not understand the story he is telling. This is the technique of the "unreliable observer." The reader, understanding better than the narrator, has the illusion of receiving the story directly. Joyce, in both his major novels, uses different narrators for the various chapters. Most of them are unreliable, and some of them approach the impersonality of a sort of disembodied parody. In Ulyssesfor example, an episode set in a maternity hospital is told through the medium of a parodic history of English prose style. But, more often than not, the sheer ingenuity of Joyce's techniques draws attention to the manipulator in the shadows. The reader is aware of the author's cleverness where he should be aware only of the characters and their actions. The author is least noticeable when he is employing the stream of consciousness device, by which the inchoate thoughts and feelings of a character are presented in interior monologue--apparently unedited and sometimes deliberately near-unintelligible. It is because this technique seems to draw fiction into the psychoanalyst's consulting room (presenting the raw material of either art or science, but certainly not art itself), however, that Joyce felt impelled to impose the shaping devices referred to above. Joyce, more than any novelist, sought total objectivity of narration technique but ended as the most subjective and idiosyncratic of stylists.
The problem of a satisfactory narrative point of view is, in fact, nearly insoluble. The careful exclusion of comment, the limitation of vocabulary to a sort of reader's lowest common denominator, the paring of style to the absolute minimum--these puritanical devices work well for an Ernest Hemingway (who, like Joyce, remains, nevertheless, a highly idiosyncratic stylist) but not for a novelist who believes that, like poetry, his art should be able to draw on the richness of word play, allusion, and symbol. For even the most experienced novelist, each new work represents a struggle with the unconquerable task of reconciling all-inclusion with self-exclusion. It is noteworthy that Cervantes, in Don Quixote, and Nabokov, in Lolita (1955), join hands across four centuries in finding most satisfactory the device of the fictitious editor who presents a manuscript story for which he disclaims responsibility. But this highly useful method presupposes in the true author a scholarly, or pedantic, faculty not usually associated with novelists.
Scope, or dimension.
No novel can theoretically be too long, but if it is too short it ceases to be a novel. It may or may not be accidental that the novels most highly regarded by the world are of considerable length--Cervantes' Don Quixote, Dostoyevsky's Brothers Karamazov, Tolstoy's War and Peace, Dickens' David Copperfield, Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu, and so on. On the other hand, since World War II, brevity has been regarded as a virtue in works like the later novels of the Irish absurdist author Samuel Beckett and the ficciones of the Argentine Jorge Luis Borges, and it is only an aesthetic based on bulk that would diminish the achievement of Ronald Firbank's short novels of the post-World War I era or the Evelyn Waugh who wrote The Loved One (1948). It would seem that there are two ways of presenting human character--one, the brief way, through a significant episode in the life of a personage or group of personages; the other, which admits of limitless length, through the presentation of a large section of a life or lives, sometimes beginning with birth and ending in old age. The plays of Shakespeare show that a full delineation of character can be effected in a very brief compass, so that, for this aspect of the novel, length confers no special advantage. Length, however, is essential when the novelist attempts to present something bigger than character--when, in fact, he aims at the representation of a whole society or period of history.
No other cognate art form--neither the epic poem nor the drama nor the film--can match the resources of the novel when the artistic task is to bring to immediate, sensuous, passionate life the somewhat impersonal materials of the historian. War and Peaceis the great triumphant example of the panoramic study of a whole society--that of early 19th-century Russia--which enlightens as the historian enlightens and yet also conveys directly the sensations and emotions of living through a period of cataclysmic change. In the 20th century, another Russian, Boris Pasternak, in his Doctor Zhivago (1957), expressed--though on a less than Tolstoyan scale--the personal immediacies of life during the Russian Revolution. Though of much less literary distinction than either of these two books, Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind(1936) showed how the American Civil War could assume the distanced pathos, horror, and grandeur of any of the classic struggles of the Old World.
Needless to say, length and weighty subject matter are no guarantee in themselves of fictional greatness. Among American writers, for example, James Jones's celebration of the U.S. Army on the eve of World War II in From Here to Eternity(1951), though a very ambitious project, repels through indifferent writing and sentimental characterization; Norman Mailer's Naked and the Dead(1948), an equally ambitious military novel, succeeds much more because of a tautness, a concern with compression, and an astringent objectivity that Jones was unable to match. Frequently the size of a novel is too great for its subject matter--as with Marguerite Young's Miss MacIntosh, My Darling (1965), reputedly the longest single-volume novel of the 20th century, John Barth's Giles Goat-Boy (1966), and John Fowles's Magus (1965). Diffuseness is the great danger in the long novel, and diffuseness can mean slack writing, emotional self-indulgence, sentimentality.
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.
Sometimes the scope of a fictional concept demands a technical approach analogous to that of the symphony in music--the creation of a work in separate books, like symphonic movements, each of which is intelligible alone but whose greater intelligibility depends on the theme and characters that unify them. The French author Romain Rolland's Jean-Christophe(1904-12) sequence is, very appropriately since the hero is a musical composer, a work in four movements. Among works of English literature, Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet(1957-60) insists in its very title that it is a tetralogy rather than a single large entity divided into four volumes; the concept is "relativist" and attempts to look at the same events and characters from four different viewpoints. Anthony Powell's Dance to the Music of Time, a multivolume series of novels that began in 1951 (collected 1962), may be seen as a study of a segment of British society in which the chronological approach is eschewed, and events are brought together in one volume or another because of a kind of parachronic homogeneity. C.P. Snow's Strangers and Brothers, a comparable series that began in 1940 and continued to appear throughout the '50s and into the '60s, shows how a fictional concept can be realized only in the act of writing, since the publication of the earlier volumes antedates the historical events portrayed in later ones. In other words, the author could not know what the subject matter of the sequence would be until he was in sight of its end. Behind all these works lies the giant example of Proust's roman-fleuve, whose length and scope were properly coterminous with the author's own life and emergent understanding of its pattern.
Myth, symbolism, significance.
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. (see also symbolism)
But the desire to give a work of fiction a significance beyond that of the mere story is frequently conscious and deliberate, indeed sometimes the primary aim. When a novel--like Joyce's Ulysses or John Updike's Centaur (1963) or Anthony Burgess' Vision of Battlements (1965)--is based on an existing classical myth, there is an intention of either ennobling a lowly subject matter, satirizing a debased set of values by referring them to a heroic age, or merely providing a basic structure to hold down a complex and, as it were, centrifugal picture of real life. Of UlyssesJoyce said that his Homeric parallel (which is worked out in great and subtle detail) was a bridge across which to march his 18 episodes; after the march the bridge could be "blown skyhigh." But there is no doubt that, through the classical parallel, the account of an ordinary summer day in Dublin is given a richness, irony, and universality unattainable by any other means.
The mythic or symbolic intention of a novel may manifest itself less in structure than in details which, though they appear naturalistic, are really something more. The shattering of the eponymous golden bowl in Henry James's 1904 novel makes palpable, and hence truly symbolic, the collapse of a relationship. Even the choice of a character's name may be symbolic. Sammy Mountjoy, in William Golding's Free Fall (1959), has fallen from the grace of heaven, the mount of joy, by an act of volition that the title makes clear. The eponym of Doctor Zhivago is so called because his name, meaning "The Living," carries powerful religious overtones. In the Russian version of the Gospel According to St. Luke, the angels ask the women who come to Christ's tomb: "Chto vy ischyote zhivago mezhdu myortvykh?"--"Why do you seek the living among the dead?" And his first name, Yuri, the Russian equivalent of George, has dragon-slaying connotations.
The symbol, the special significance at a subnarrative level, works best when it can fit without obtrusion into a context of naturalism. The optician's trade sign of a huge pair of spectacles in F. Scott Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby (1925) is acceptable as a piece of scenic detail, but an extra dimension is added to the tragedy of Gatsby, which is the tragedy of a whole epoch in American life, when it is taken also as a symbol of divine myopia. Similarly, a cinema poster in Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano (1947), advertising a horror film, can be read as naturalistic background, but it is evident that the author expects the illustrated fiend--a concert pianist whose grafted hands are those of a murderer--to be seen also as a symbol of Nazi infamy; the novel is set at the beginning of World War II, and the last desperate day of the hero, Geoffrey Firmin, stands also for the collapse of Western civilization.
There are symbolic novels whose infranarrative meaning cannot easily be stated, since it appears to subsist on an unconscious level. Herman Melville's Moby Dick (1851) is such a work, as is D.H. Lawrence's novella St. Mawr (1925), in which the significance of the horse is powerful and mysterious.
Interpretation of life.
Novels are not expected to be didactic, like tracts or morality plays; nevertheless, in varying degrees of implicitness, even the "purest" works of fictional art convey a philosophy of life. The novels of Jane Austen, designed primarily as superior entertainment, imply a desirable ordered existence, in which the comfortable decorum of an English rural family is disturbed only by a not-too-serious shortage of money, by love affairs that go temporarily wrong, and by the intrusion of self-centred stupidity. The good, if unrewarded for their goodness, suffer from no permanent injustice. Life is seen, not only in Jane Austen's novels but in the whole current of bourgeois Anglo-American fiction, as fundamentally reasonable and decent. When wrong is committed, it is usually punished, thus fulfilling Miss Prism's summation in Oscar Wilde's play The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), to the effect that in a novel the good characters end up happily and the bad characters unhappily: "that is why it is called fiction."
That kind of fiction called realistic, which has its origins in 19th-century France, chose the other side of the coin, showing that there was no justice in life and that the evil and the stupid must prevail. In the novels of Thomas Hardy there is a pessimism that may be taken as a corrective of bourgeois Panglossianism--the philosophy that everything happens for the best, satirized in Voltaire's Candide (1759)--since the universe is presented as almost impossibly malevolent. This tradition is regarded as morbid, and it has been deliberately ignored by most popular novelists. The "Catholic" novelists--such as François Mauriac in France, Graham Greene in England, and others--see life as mysterious, full of wrong and evil and injustice inexplicable by human canons but necessarily acceptable in terms of the plans of an inscrutable God. Between the period of realistic pessimism, which had much to do with the agnosticism and determinism of 19th-century science, and the introduction of theological evil into the novel, writers such as H.G. Wells attempted to create a fiction based on optimistic liberalism. As a reaction, there was the depiction of "natural man" in the novels of D.H. Lawrence and Ernest Hemingway.
For the most part, the view of life common to American and European fiction since World War II posits the existence of evil--whether theological or of that brand discovered by the French Existentialists, particularly Jean-Paul Sartre--and assumes that man is imperfect and life possibly absurd. The fiction of the former Communist Europe was based on a very different assumption, one that seems naïve and old-fashioned in its collective optimism to readers in the disillusioned democracies. It is to be noted that in the erstwhile Soviet Union aesthetic evaluation of fiction was replaced by ideological judgment. Accordingly, the works of the popular British writer A.J. Cronin, since they seem to depict personal tragedy as an emanation of capitalistic infamy, were rated higher than those of Conrad, James, and their peers.
Entertainment or escape.
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).
Any reader of fiction has a right to an occasional escape from the dullness or misery of his existence, but he has the critical duty of finding the best modes of escape--in the most efficiently engineered detective or adventure stories, in humour that is more than sentimental buffoonery, in dreams of love that are not mere pornography. The fiction of entertainment and escape frequently sets itself higher literary standards than novels with a profound social or philosophical purpose. Books like John Buchan's Thirty-nine Steps (1915), Graham Greene's Travels with My Aunt (1969), Dashiell Hammett's Maltese Falcon (1930), and Raymond Chandler's Big Sleep (1939) are distinguished pieces of writing that, while diverting and enthralling, keep a hold on the realities of human character. Ultimately, all good fiction is entertainment, and, if it instructs or enlightens, it does so best through enchanting the reader.
The desire to make the reader initiate certain acts--social, religious, or political--is the essence of all propaganda, and, though it does not always accord well with art, the propagandist purpose has often found its way into novels whose prime value is an aesthetic one. The Nicholas Nickleby (1839) of Charles Dickens attacked the abuses of schools to some purpose, as his Oliver Twist (1838) drew attention to the horrors of poorhouses and his Bleak House (1853) to the abuses of the law of chancery. The weakness of propaganda in fiction is that it loses its value when the wrongs it exposes are righted, so that the more successful a propagandist novel is, the briefer the life it can be expected to enjoy. The genius of Dickens lay in his ability to transcend merely topical issues through the vitality with which he presented them, so that his contemporary disclosures take on a timeless human validity--chiefly through the power of their drama, character, and rhetoric.
The pure propagandist novel--which Dickens was incapable of writing--quickly becomes dated. The "social" novels of H.G. Wells, which propounded a rational mode of life and even blueprinted utopias, were very quickly exploded by the conviction of man's irredeemable irrationality that World War I initiated and World War II corroborated, a conviction the author himself came to share toward the end of his life. But the early scientific romances of Wells remain vital and are seen to have been prophetic. Most of the fiction of the former Soviet Union, which either glorified the regime or refrained from criticizing it, was dull and unreal, and the same can be said of Communist fiction elsewhere. Propaganda too frequently ignores man as a totality, concentrating on him aspectively--in terms of politics or sectarian religion. When a didactic attack on a system, as in Harriet Beecher Stowe's attack on slavery in the United States in Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), seems to go beyond mere propaganda, it is because the writer makes the reader aware of wrongs and injustices that are woven into the permanent human fabric. The reader's response may be a modification of his own sensibility, not an immediate desire for action, and this is one of the legitimate effects of serious fiction. The propagandist Dickens calls for the immediate righting of wrongs, but the novelist Dickens says, mainly through implication, that all men--not just schoolmasters and state hirelings--should become more humane. If it is possible to speak of art as possessing a teaching purpose, this is perhaps its only lesson.
The division in the novelist's mind is between his view of his art as a contrivance, like a Fabergé watch, and his view of it as a record of real life. The versatile English writer Daniel Defoe, on the evidence of such novels as his Journal of the Plague Year (1722), a recreation of the London plague of 1665, believed that art or contrivance had the lesser claim and proceeded to present his account of events of which he had had no direct experience in the form of plain journalistic reportage. This book, like his Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Moll Flanders (1722), is more contrived and cunning than it appears, and the hurried, unshaped narrative is the product of careful preparation and selective ordering. His example, which could have been a very fruitful one, was not much followed until the 20th century, when the events of the real world became more terrifying and marvellous than anything the novelist could invent and seemed to ask for that full imaginative treatment that only the novelist's craft can give.
In contemporary American literature, John Hersey's Hiroshima (1946), though it recorded the actual results of the nuclear attack on the Japanese city in 1945, did so in terms of human immediacies, not scientific or demographic abstractions, and this approach is essentially novelistic. Truman Capote's In Cold Blood (1966) took the facts of a multiple murder in the Midwest of the United States and presented them with the force, reality, tone, and (occasionally) overintense writing that distinguish his genuine fiction. Norman Mailer, in The Armies of the Night (1968), recorded, in great personal detail but in a third-person narration, his part in a citizens' protest march on Washington, D.C. It would seem that Mailer's talent lies in his ability to merge the art of fiction and the craft of reportage, and his Of a Fire on the Moon (1970), which deals with the American lunar project, reads like an episode in an emergent roman-fleuve of which Mailer is the central character.
The presentation of factual material as art is the purpose of such thinly disguised biographies as Somerset Maugham's Moon and Sixpence (1919), undisguised biographies fleshed out with supposition and imagination like Helen Waddell's Peter Abelard (1933), and many autobiographies served up--out of fear of libel or of dullness--as novels. Conversely, invented material may take on the lineaments of journalistic actuality through the employment of a Defoe technique of flat understatement. This is the way of such science fiction as Michael Crichton's Andromeda Strain (1969), which uses sketch maps, computer projections, and simulated typewritten reports.
Agent of change in language and thought.
Novelists, being neither poets nor philosophers, rarely originate modes of thinking and expression. Poets such as Chaucer and Shakespeare have had much to do with the making of the English language, and Byron was responsible for the articulation of the new romantic sensibility in it in the early 19th century. Books like the Bible, Karl Marx's Das Kapital, and Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf may underlie permanent or transient cultures, but it is hard to find, except in the early Romantic period, a novelist capable of arousing new attitudes to life (as opposed to aspects of the social order) and forging the vocabulary of such attitudes.
With the 18th-century precursors of Romanticism--notably Richardson, Sterne, and Rousseau--the notion of sentiment entered the European consciousness. Rousseau's Nouvelle Héloïse fired a new attitude toward love--more highly emotional than ever before--as his Émile (1762) changed educated views on how to bring up children. The romantic wave in Germany, with Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther (1774) and the works of Jean-Paul Richter a generation later, similarly aroused modes of feeling that rejected the rational constraints of the 18th century. Nor can the influence of Sir Walter Scott's novels be neglected, both on Europe and on the American South (where Mark Twain thought it had had a deplorable effect). With Scott came new forms of regional sentiment, based on a romantic reading of history. (see also "Emile: or, On Education," )
It is rarely, however, that a novelist makes a profound mark on a national language, as opposed to a regional dialect (to which, by using it for a literary end, he may impart a fresh dignity). It is conceivable that Alessandro Manzoni's I promessi sposi (1825-27; The Betrothed), often called the greatest modern Italian novel, gave 19th-century Italian intellectuals some notion of a viable modern prose style in an Italian that might be termed "national," but even this is a large claim. Günter Grass, in post-Hitler Germany, sought to revivify a language that had been corrupted by the Nazis; he threw whole dictionaries at his readers in the hope that new freedom, fantasy, and exactness in the use of words might influence the publicists, politicians, and teachers in the direction of a new liberalism of thought and expression.
It is difficult to say whether the French Existentialists, such as Sartre and Albert Camus, have influenced their age primarily through their fiction or their philosophical writings. Certainly, Sartre's early novel Nausea (1938) established unforgettable images of the key terms of his philosophy, which has haunted a whole generation, as Camus's novel The Stranger (1942) created for all time the lineaments of "Existential man." In the same way, the English writer George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-four (1949) incarnated brilliantly the nature of the political choices that are open to 20th-century humanity, and, with terms like "Big Brother" (i.e., the leader of an authoritarian state) and "doublethink" (belief in contradictory ideas simultaneously), modified the political vocabulary. But no novelist's influence can compare to that of the poet's, who can give a language a soul and define, as Shakespeare and Dante did, the scope of a culture.
Expression of the spirit of its age.
The novelist, like the poet, can make the inchoate thoughts and feelings of a society come to articulation through the exact and imaginative use of language and symbol. In this sense, his work seems to precede the diffusion of new ideas and attitudes and to be the agent of change. But it is hard to draw a line between this function and that of expressing an existing climate of sensibility. Usually the nature of a historical period--that spirit known in German as the Zeitgeist--can be understood only in long retrospect, and it is then that the novelist can provide its best summation. The sickness of the Germany that produced Hitler had to wait some time for fictional diagnosis in such works as Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus (1947) and, later, Günter Grass's Tin Drum (1959). Evelyn Waugh waited several years before beginning, in the trilogy Sword of Honour, to depict that moral decline of English society that started to manifest itself in World War II, the conduct of which was both a cause and a symptom of the decay of traditional notions of honour and justice.
The novel can certainly be used as a tool for the better understanding of a departed age. The period following World War I had been caught forever in Hemingway's Sun Also Rises (1926; called Fiesta in England), F. Scott Fitzgerald's novels and short stories about the so-called Jazz Age, the Antic Hay (1923) and Point Counter Point (1928) of Aldous Huxley, and D.H. Lawrence's Aaron's Rod (1922) and Kangaroo (1923). The spirit of the English 18th century, during which social, political, and religious ideas associated with rising middle classes conflicted with the old Anglican Tory rigidities, is better understood through reading Smollett and Fielding than by taking the cerebral elegance of Pope and his followers as the typical expression of the period.
Similarly, the unrest and bewilderment of the young in the period after World War II still speak in novels like J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye (1951) and Kingsley Amis' Lucky Jim (1954). It is notable that with novels like these--and the beat-generation books of Jack Kerouac; the American-Jewish novels of Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, and Philip Roth; and the black novels of Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin--it is a segmented spirit that is expressed, the spirit of an age group, social group, or racial group, and not the spirit of an entire society in a particular phase of history. But probably a Zeitgeist has always been the emanation of a minority, the majority being generally silent. The 20th century seems, from this point of view, to be richer in vocal minorities than any other period in history.
Creator of life-style and arbiter of taste.
Novels have been known to influence, though perhaps not very greatly, modes of social behaviour and even, among the very impressionable, conceptions of personal identity. But more young men have seen themselves as Hamlet or Childe Harold than as Julien Sorel, the protagonist of Stendhal's novel The Red and the Black (1830), or the sorrowing Werther. Richardson's novel may popularize Pamela, or Galsworthy's Forsyte Saga (1906-22) Jon, as a baptismal name, but it rarely makes a deeper impression on the mode of life of literate families. On the other hand, the capacity of Oscar Wilde's Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) to influence young men in the direction of sybaritic amorality, or of D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928) to engender a freer attitude to sex, has never been assessed adequately. With the lower middle class reading public, the effect of devouring The Forsyte Saga was to engender genteelisms--cucumber sandwiches for tea, supper renamed dinner--rather than to learn that book's sombre lesson about the decline of the old class structure. Similarly, the ladies who read Scott in the early 19th century were led to barbarous ornaments and tastefully arranged folk songs.
Fiction has to be translated into one of the dramatic media--stage, film, or television--before it can begin to exert a large influence. Tom Jones as a film in 1963 modified table manners and coiffures and gave American visitors to Great Britain a new (and probably false) set of expectations. The stoic heroes of Hemingway, given to drink, fights, boats, and monosyllables, became influential only when they were transferred to the screen. They engendered other, lesser heroes--incorruptible private detectives, partisans brave under interrogation--who in their turn have influenced the impressionable young when seeking an identity. Ian Fleming's James Bond led to a small revolution in martini ordering. But all these influences are a matter of minor poses, and such poses are most readily available in fiction easily adapted to the mass media--which means lesser fiction. Proust, though he recorded French patrician society with painful fidelity, had little influence on it, and it is hard to think of Henry James disturbing the universe even fractionally. Films and television programs dictate taste and behaviour more than the novel ever could.
The Romantic movement in European literature is usually associated with those social and philosophical trends that prepared the way for the French Revolution, which began in 1789. The somewhat subjective, anti-rational, emotional currents of romanticism transformed intellectual life in the revolutionary and Napoleonic periods and remained potent for a great part of the 19th century. In the novel, the romantic approach to life was prepared in the "sentimental" works of Richardson and Sterne and attained its first major fulfillment in the novels of Rousseau. Sir Walter Scott, in his historical novels, turned the past into a great stage for the enactment of events motivated by idealism, chivalry, and strong emotional impulse, using an artificially archaic language full of remote and magical charm. The exceptional soul--poet, patriot, idealist, madman--took the place of dully reasonable fictional heroes, such as Tom Jones, and sumptuous and mysterious settings ousted the plain town and countryside of 18th-century novels.
The romantic novel must be seen primarily as a historical phenomenon, but the romantic style and spirit, once they had been brought into being, remained powerful and attractive enough to sustain a whole subspecies of fiction. The cheapest love story can be traced back to the example of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre (1847), or even Rousseau's earlier Nouvelle Héloïse. Similarly, best-selling historical novels, even those devoid of literary merit, can find their progenitor in Scott, and science fiction in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818), a romantic novel subtitled The Modern Prometheus, as well as in Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. The aim of romantic fiction is less to present a true picture of life than to arouse the emotions through a depiction of strong passions, or to fire the imagination with exotic, terrifying, or wonderful scenes and events. When it is condemned by critics, it is because it seems to falsify both life and language; the pseudopoetical enters the dialogue and récit alike, and humanity is seen in only one of its aspects--that of feeling untempered with reason.
If such early romantic works as those of Scott and of the Goethe of The Sorrows of Werther have long lost their original impact, the romantic spirit still registers power and truth in the works of the Brontës--particularly in Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights, in which the poetry is genuine and the strange instinctual world totally convincing. Twentieth-century romantic fiction records few masterpieces. Writers like Daphne du Maurier, the author of Jamaica Inn (1936), Rebecca (1938), and many others, are dismissed as mere purveyors of easy dreams. It is no more possible in the 20th century to revive the original romantic élan in literature than it is to compose music in the style of Beethoven. Despite the attempts of Lawrence Durrell to achieve a kind of decadent romantic spirit in his Alexandria Quartet, the strong erotic feeling, the exotic setting, the atmosphere of poetic hallucination, the pain, perversion, and elemental force seem to be contrivances, however well they fulfill the original romantic prescription.
Certain major novelists of the 19th century, particularly in France, reacted against romanticism by eliminating from their work those "softer" qualities--tenderness, idealism, chivalric passion, and the like--which seemed to them to hide the stark realities of life in a dreamlike haze. In Gustave Flaubert's works there are such romantic properties--his novel Salammbô; (1862), for instance, is a sumptuous representation of a remote pagan past--but they are there only to be punctured with realistic irony. On one level, his Madame Bovary may be taken as a kind of parable of the punishment that fate metes out to the romantic dreamer, and it is the more telling because Flaubert recognized a strong romantic vein in himself: "Madame Bovary, c'est moi" ("Madame Bovary is myself"). Stendhal and Balzac, on the other hand, admit no dreams and present life in a grim nakedness without poetic drapery.
Balzac's mammoth fictional work--the 20-year succession of novels and stories he published under the collective title La Comédie humaine (The Human Comedy)--and Stendhal's novels of the same period, The Red and the Black (1830) and The Charterhouse of Parma (1839), spare the reader nothing of those baser instincts in man and society that militate against, and eventually conquer, many human aspirations. Rejecting romanticism so energetically, however, they swing to an extreme that makes "realism" a synonym for unrelenting pessimism. Little comes right for the just or the weak, and base human nature is unqualified by even a modicum of good. But there is a kind of affirmative richness and energy about both writers that seems to belie their pessimistic thesis.
In England, George Eliot in her novel Middlemarch (1871-72) viewed human life grimly, with close attention to the squalor and penury of rural life. If "nature" in works by romantic poets like Wordsworth connoted a kind of divine benevolence, only the "red in tooth and claw" aspect was permitted to be seen in the novels of the realists. George Eliot does not accept any notion of Divine Providence, whether Christian or pantheistic, but her work is instinct with a powerful moral concern: her characters never sink into a deterministic morass of hopelessness, since they have free will, or the illusion of it. With Thomas Hardy, who may be termed the last of the great 19th-century novelists, the determinism is all-pervasive, and his final novel, Jude the Obscure (1896), represents the limit of pessimism. Behind him one is aware of the new science, initiated by the biologists Charles Darwin and T.H. Huxley, which displaces man as a free being, capable of choice, by a view of him as the product of blind mechanistic forces over which he has little control.
Realism in this sense has been a continuing impulse in the 20th-century novel, but few writers would go so far as Hardy in positing man's near-total impotence in a hostile universe, with the gods killing human creatures for their sport. Realism in the Existentialist fiction of 20th-century France, for instance, makes man not merely wretched but absurd, yet it does not diminish his power of self-realization through choice and action. Realism has frequently been put in the service of a reforming design, which implies a qualified optimism. War novels, novels about the sufferings of the oppressed (in prison, ghetto, totalitarian state), studies of human degradation that are bitter cries against man-made systems--in all of these the realistic approach is unavoidable, and realistic detail goes much further than anything in the first realists. But there is a difference in the quality of the anger the reader feels when reading the end of Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1891) and that generated by Upton Sinclair's Jungle (1906) or Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front (1929). In Hardy's novel, pessimistic determinism, reducing human character to pain, frustration, and impotent anger, was--paradoxically--appropriate to an age that knew no major cataclysms or oppressions. The novels of Sinclair and Remarque reflect the 20th century, which saw the origin of all wrong in the human will, and set on a program of diagnosis and reform.
The naturalistic novel is a development out of realism, and it is, again, in France that its first practitioners are to be found, with Émile Zola leading. It is difficult to separate the two categories, but naturalism seems characterized not only by a pessimistic determinism but also by a more thoroughgoing attention to the physical and biological aspects of human existence. Man is less a soul aspiring upward to its divine source than a product of natural forces, as well as genetic and social influences, and the novelist's task is to present the physical essence of man and his environment. The taste of Balzac's and Stendhal's audiences was not easily able to accommodate itself to utter frankness about the basic processes of life, and the naturalists had to struggle against prejudice, and often censorship, before their literary candour was able to prevail. The 20th century takes the naturalistic approach for granted, but it is more concerned with a technique of presentation than with the somewhat mechanistic philosophy of Zola and his followers.
Naturalism received an impetus after World War I, when novelists felt they had a duty to depict the filth, suffering, and degradation of the soldier's life, without euphemism or circumlocution. Joyce's Ulysses, when it appeared in 1922, was the first novel to seek to justify total physical candour in terms of its artistic, as opposed to moral, aim--which was to depict with almost scientific objectivity every aspect of an ordinary urban day. Though Joyce had read Zola, he seems to invoke the spirit of a very much earlier naturalistic writer--the ribald French author of the 16th century, François Rabelais--and this is in keeping with the Catholic tradition that Joyce represents. Zola, of course, was an atheist.
It would have been a sin against his aesthetic canons for Joyce to have shown Leopold Bloom--the protagonist of Ulysses--eating breakfast or taking a bath and yet not defecating or masturbating. The technique of the interior monologue, which presented the unedited flow of a character's unspoken thought and emotion, also called for the utmost frankness in dealing with natural functions and urges. Joyce, it is now recognized, had no prurient or scatological intention; his concern was with showing life as it is (without any of the didactic purpose of Zola), and this entailed the presentation of lust, perversion, and blasphemy as much as any of the traditionally acceptable human functions.
The naturalistic novelists have had their social and legal problems--obscenity indictments, confiscation, emasculation by timid publishers--but the cause was ultimately won, at least in Great Britain and the United States, where there are few limits placed on the contemporary novelist's proclaimed right to be true to nature. In comparison with much contemporary fiction the pioneer work of Zola seems positively reticent.
The desire to present life with frank objectivity led certain early 20th-century novelists to question the validity of long-accepted narrative conventions. If truth was the novelist's aim, then the tradition of the omniscient narrator would have to go, to be replaced by one in which a fallible, partially ignorant character--one involved in the story and hence himself subject to the objective or naturalistic approach--recounted what he saw and heard. But the Impressionist painters of late 19th-century France had proclaimed a revision of the whole seeing process: they distinguished between what the observer assumed he was observing and what he actually observed. That cerebral editing which turned visual data into objects of geometric solidity had no place in Impressionist painting; the visible world became less definite, more fluid, resolving into light and colour.
The German novelists Thomas Mann and Hermann Hesse, moving from the realist tradition, which concentrated on closely notated detail in the exterior world, sought the lightness and clarity of a more elliptical style, and were proclaimed Impressionists. But in England Ford Madox Ford went much further in breaking down the imagined rigidities of the space-time continuum, liquidating step-by-step temporal progression and making the visual world shimmer, dissolve, reconstitute itself. In Ford's tetralogy Parade's End (1924-28), the reader moves freely within the time continuum, as if it were spatial, and the total picture is perceived through an accumulation of fragmentary impressions. Ford's masterpiece, The Good Soldier, pushes the technique to its limit: the narrator tells his story with no special dispensation to see or understand more than a fallible being can, and, in his reminiscences, he fragments whole sequences of events as he ranges freely through time (such freedom had traditionally been regarded as a weakness, a symptom of the disease of inattention).
In the approach to dialogue manifested in a book that Ford wrote jointly with Conrad--The Inheritors (1901)--a particular aspect of literary impressionism may be seen whose suggestiveness has been ignored by other modern novelists. As the brain imposes its own logical patterns on the phenomena of the visual world, so it is given to editing into clarity and conciseness the halting utterances of real-life speech; the characters of most novels are impossibly articulate. Ford and Conrad attempted to present speech as it is actually spoken, with many of the meaningful solidities implied rather than stated. The result is sometimes exasperating, but only as real-life conversation frequently is.
The interior monologue, which similarly resists editing, may be regarded as a development of this technique. To show pre-articulatory thought, feeling, and sensuous perception unordered into a rational or "literary" sequence is an impressionistic device that, beginning in Édouard Dujardin's minor novel Les Lauriers sont coupés (1888; We'll to the Woods No More), served fiction of high importance, from Dorothy Richardson, Joyce, and Virginia Woolf to William Faulkner and Samuel Beckett.
Novelists like Ronald Firbank and Evelyn Waugh (who studied painting and was a competent draftsman) learned, in a more general sense, how to follow the examples of the Impressionist and Postimpressionist painters in their fiction. A spare brilliance of observation, like those paintings in which a whole scene is suggested through carefully selected points of colour, replaced that careful delineation of a whole face, or inventorying of a whole room, that had been the way of Balzac and other realists. In four or five brief lines of dialogue Waugh can convey as much as the 19th-century novelists did in as many pages.
Expressionism was a German movement that found its most congenial media in painting and drama. The artist's aim was to express, or convey the essence of, a particular theme, to the exclusion of such secondary considerations as fidelity to real life. The typical Expressionist play, by Bertolt Brecht, for example, concerns itself with a social or political idea that is hurled at the audience through every possible stage device--symbols, music, cinematic insertions, choral speech, dance. Human character is less important than the idea of humanity, and probability of action in the old realist sense is the least of the dramatist's concerns. The emotional atmosphere is high-pitched, even ecstatic, and the tone is more appropriate to propaganda than to art. Expressionistic technique, as the plays of Brecht prove, was an admirable means of conveying a Communist program, and it was in the service of such a program that John Dos Passos, in the trilogy of novels U.S.A. (1937), used literary devices analogous to the dramatic ones of Brecht--headlines, tabloid biographies, popular songs, lyric soliloquies, and the like.
But the Austro-Czech Franz Kafka, the greatest of the Expressionist novelists, sought to convey what may crudely be termed man's alienation from his world in terms that admit of no political interpretation. Joseph K., the hero of Kafka's novel The Trial (1925), is accused of a nameless crime, he seeks to arm himself with the apparatus of a defense, and he is finally executed--stabbed with the utmost courtesy by two men in a lonely place. The hallucinatory atmosphere of that novel, as also of his novel The Castle (1926), is appropriate to nightmare, and indeed Kafka's work has been taken by many as an imaginative forecast of the nightmare through which Europe was compelled to live during the Hitler regime. But its significance is more subtle and universal; one of the elements is original sin and another filial guilt. In the story The Metamorphosis (1915) a young man changes into an enormous insect, and the nightmare of alienation can go no further. (see also "Trial, The," , "Castle, The," )
Kafka's influence has been considerable. Perhaps his most distinguished follower is the English writer Rex Warner, whose Wild Goose Chase (1937) and Aerodrome (1941) use fantasy, symbol, and improbable action for an end that is both Marxist and Freudian; the filial guilt, however, seems to be taken directly from Kafka, with an innocent hero caught in a monstrously oppressive web that is both the totalitarian state and paternal tyranny. More recently, the American writer William Burroughs has developed his own Expressionistic techniques in The Naked Lunch (1959), which is concerned with the alienation from society of the drug addict. His later novels Nova Express (1964) and The Ticket That Exploded (1962) use obscene fantasy to present a kind of metaphysical struggle between free spirit and enslaved flesh, evidently an extrapolation of the earlier drug theme. Burroughs is a didactic novelist, and didacticism functions best in a fictional ambience that rejects the complexities of character and real-life action.
Many innovations in fiction can be classified under headings already considered. Even so revolutionary a work as Joyce's Finnegans Wake represents an attempt to show the true nature of a dream; this can be regarded as a kind of Impressionism pushed so far that it looks like Surrealism. The brief novels of Samuel Beckett (which, as they aim to demonstrate the inadequacy of language to express the human condition, become progressively more brief) seem to have a kind of Expressionist derivation, since everything in them is subordinated to a central image of man as a totally deprived creature, resentful of a God he does not believe in. The French anti-novel, dethroning man as a primary concern of fiction, perhaps represents the only true break with traditional technique that the 20th-century novel has seen. (see also avant-garde)
Dissatisfaction not only with the content of the traditional novel but with the manner in which readers have been schooled to approach it has led the contemporary French novelist Michel Butor, in Mobile, to present his material in the form of a small encyclopaedia, so that the reader finds his directions obliquely, through an alphabetic taxonomy and not through the logic of sequential events. Nabokov, in Pale Fire (1962), gives the reader a poem of 999 lines and critical apparatus assembled by a madman; again the old sense of direction (beginning at the beginning and going on to the end) has been liquidated, yet Pale Fire is a true and highly intelligible novel. In England, B.S. Johnson published similar "false-directional" novels, though the influence of Sterne makes them seem accessible, even cozily traditional. One of Johnson's books is marketed as a bundle of disjunct chapters--which may thus be dealt aleatorially and read in any order.
Available avant-garde techniques are innumerable, though not all of them are salable. There is the device of counterpointing a main narrative with a story in footnotes, which eventually rises like water and floods the other. A novel has been written, though not published, in which the words are set (rather like the mouse's tail or tale in Alice in Wonderland) to represent graphically the physical objects in the narrative. Burroughs has experimented with a tricolumnar technique, in which three parallel narratives demand the reader's attention. But the writers like Borges and Nabokov go beyond mere technical innovation: they ask for a reconsideration of the very essence of fiction. In one of his ficciones, Borges strips from the reader even the final illusion that he is reading a story, for the story is made to dissolve, the artist evidently losing faith in his own artifact. Novels, as both Borges and Nabokov show, can turn into poems or philosophical essays, but they cannot, while remaining literature, turn into compositions disclaiming all interest in the world of feeling, thought, and sense. The novelist can do anything he pleases with his art so long as he interprets, or even just presents, a world that the reader recognizes as existing, or capable of existing, or capable of being dreamed of as existing.
TYPES OF NOVEL
For the hack novelist, to whom speedy output is more important than art, thought, and originality, history provides ready-made plots and characters. A novel on Alexander the Great or Joan of Arc can be as flimsy and superficial as any schoolgirl romance. But historical themes, to which may be added prehistoric or mythical ones, have inspired the greatest novelists, as Tolstoy's War and Peace and Stendhal's Charterhouse of Parma reveal. In the 20th century, distinguished historical novels such as Arthur Koestler's The Gladiators (1939), Robert Graves's I, Claudius (1934), Zoé Oldenbourg's Destiny of Fire (1960), and Mary Renault's The King Must Die (1958) exemplify an important function of the fictional imagination--to interpret remote events in human and particular terms, to transform documentary fact, with the assistance of imaginative conjecture, into immediate sensuous and emotional experience.
There is a kind of historical novel, little more than a charade, which frequently has a popular appeal because of a common belief that the past is richer, bloodier, and more erotic than the present. Such novels, which include such immensely popular works as those of Georgette Heyer, or Baroness Orczy's Scarlet Pimpernel stories in England in the early 20th century, and Forever Amber (1944) by Kathleen Winsor in the United States, may use the trappings of history but, because there is no real assimilation of the past into the imagination, the result must be a mere costume ball. On the other hand, the American novelist John Barth showed in The Sot-Weed Factor (1960) that mock historical scholarship--preposterous events served up with parodic pomposity--could constitute a viable, and not necessarily farcical, approach to the past. Barth's history is cheerfully suspect, but his sense of historical perspective is genuine.
It is in the technical conservatism of most European historical novels that the serious student of fiction finds cause to relegate the category to a secondary place. Few practitioners of the form seem prepared to learn from any writer later than Scott, though Virginia Woolf--in Orlando (1928) and Between the Acts (1941)--made bold attempts to squeeze vast tracts of historical time into a small space and thus make them as fictionally manageable as the events of a single day. And John Dos Passos' U.S.A., which can be taken as a historical study of a phase in America's development, is a reminder that experiment is not incompatible with the sweep and amplitude that great historical themes can bring to the novel.
In Spain, the novel about the rogue or pícaro was a recognized form, and such English novels as Defoe's The Fortunate Mistress (1724) can be regarded as picaresque in the etymological sense. But the term has come to connote as much the episodic nature of the original species as the dynamic of roguery. Fielding's Tom Jones, whose hero is a bastard, amoral, and very nearly gallows-meat, has been called picaresque, and the Pickwick Papers of Dickens--whose eponym is a respectable and even childishly ingenuous scholar--can be accommodated in the category.
The requirements for a picaresque novel are apparently length, loosely linked episodes almost complete in themselves, intrigue, fights, amorous adventure, and such optional items as stories within the main narrative, songs, poems, or moral homilies. Perhaps inevitably, with such a structure or lack of it, the driving force must come from a wild or roguish rejection of the settled bourgeois life, a desire for the open road, with adventures in inn bedrooms and meetings with questionable wanderers. In the modern period, Saul Bellow's Adventures of Augie March (1953) and Jack Kerouac's Dharma Bums (1959) have something of the right episodic, wandering, free, questing character. But in an age that lacks the unquestioning acceptance of traditional morality against which the old picaresque heroes played out their villainous lives, it is not easy to revive the novela picaresca as the anonymous author of Lazarillo de Tormes (1554) conceived it, or as such lesser Spanish writers of the beginning of the 17th century as Mateo Alemán, Vicente Espinel, and Luis Vélez de Guevara developed it. The modern criminal wars with the police rather than with society, and his career is one of closed and narrow techniques, not compatible with the gay abandon of the true pícaro.
The term sentimental, in its mid-18th-century usage, signified refined or elevated feeling, and it is in this sense that it must be understood in Laurence Sterne's Sentimental Journey (1768). Richardson's Pamela (1740) and Rousseau's Nouvelle Héloïse (1761) are sentimental in that they exhibit a passionate attachment between the sexes that rises above the merely physical. The vogue of the sentimental love novel was one of the features of the Romantic movement, and the form maintained a certain moving dignity despite a tendency to excessive emotional posturing. The germs of mawkishness are clearly present in Sterne's Tristram Shandy (1760-67), though offset by a diluted Rabelaisianism and a certain cerebral quality. The debasement by which the term sentimental came to denote a self-indulgence in superficial emotions occurred in the Victorian era, under the influence of sanctimony, religiosity, and a large commercial demand for bourgeois fiction. Sentimental novels of the 19th and 20th centuries are characterized by an invertebrate emotionalism and a deliberately lachrymal appeal. Neither Dickens nor Thackeray was immune to the temptations of sentimentality--as is instanced by their treatment of deathbed scenes. The reported death of Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol (1843) is an example of Dickens' ability to provoke two tearful responses from the one situation--one of sorrow at a young death, the other of relief at the discovery that the death never occurred. Despite such patches of emotional excess, Dickens cannot really be termed a sentimental novelist. Such a designation must be reserved for writers like Mrs. Henry Wood, the author of East Lynne (1861). That the sentimental novel is capable of appeal even in the Atomic Age is shown by the success of Love Story (1970), by Erich Segal. That this is the work of a Yale professor of classics seems to indicate either that not even intellectuals disdain sentimental appeal or that tearjerking is a process to be indulged in coldly and even cynically. Stock emotions are always easily aroused through stock devices, but both the aim and the technique are generally eschewed by serious writers.
The first Gothic fiction appeared with works like Horace Walpole's Castle of Otranto (1765) and Matthew Gregory Lewis' Monk (1796), which countered 18th-century "rationalism" with scenes of mystery, horror, and wonder. Gothic (the spelling "Gothick" better conveys the contemporary flavour) was a designation derived from architecture, and it carried--in opposition to the Italianate style of neoclassical building more appropriate to the Augustan Age--connotations of rough and primitive grandeur. The atmosphere of a Gothic novel was expected to be dark, tempestuous, ghostly, full of madness, outrage, superstition, and the spirit of revenge. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, which maintains its original popularity and even notoriety, has in overplus the traditional Gothic ingredients, with its weird God-defying experiments, its eldritch shrieks, and, above all, its monster. Edgar Allan Poe developed the Gothic style brilliantly in the United States, and he has been a considerable influence. A good deal of early science fiction, like H.G. Wells's Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), seems to spring out of the Gothic movement, and the Gothic atmosphere has been seriously cultivated in England in the later novels of Iris Murdoch and in the Gormenghast sequence beginning in 1946 of Mervyn Peake. It is noteworthy that Gothic fiction has always been approached in a spirit of deliberate suspension of the normal canons of taste. Like a circus trick, a piece of Gothic fiction asks to be considered as ingenious entertainment; the pity and terror are not aspects of a cathartic process but transient emotions to be, somewhat perversely, enjoyed for their own sake. (see also "Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus")
The psychological novel first appeared in 17th-century France, with Madame de La Fayette's Princesse de Clèves (1678), and the category was consolidated by works like the Abbé Prévost's Manon Lescaut (1731) in the century following. More primitive fiction had been characterized by a proliferation of action and incidental characters; the psychological novel limited itself to a few characters whose motives for action could be examined and analyzed. In England, the psychological novel did not appear until the Victorian era, when George Eliot became its first great exponent. It has been assumed since then that the serious novelist's prime concern is the workings of the human mind, and hence much of the greatest fiction must be termed psychological. Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment deals less with the ethical significance of a murder than with the soul of the murderer; Flaubert's interest in Emma Bovary has less to do with the consequences of her mode of life in terms of nemesic logic than with the patterns of her mind; in Anna Karenina Tolstoy presents a large-scale obsessive study of feminine psychology that is almost excruciating in its relentless probing. The novels of Henry James are psychological in that the crucial events occur in the souls of the protagonists, and it was perhaps James more than any serious novelist before or since who convinced frivolous novel-readers that the "psychological approach" guarantees a lack of action and excitement.
The theories of Sigmund Freud are credited as the source of the psychoanalytical novel. Freud was anticipated, however, by Shakespeare (in, for example, his treatment of Lady Macbeth's somnambulistic guilt). Two 20th-century novelists of great psychological insight--Joyce and Nabokov--professed a disdain for Freud. To write a novel with close attention to the Freudian or Jungian techniques of analysis does not necessarily produce new prodigies of psychological revelation; Oedipus and Electra complexes have become commonplaces of superficial novels and films. The great disclosures about human motivation have been achieved more by the intuition and introspection of novelists and dramatists than by the more systematic work of the clinicians.
The novel of manners.
To make fiction out of the observation of social behaviour is sometimes regarded as less worthy than to produce novels that excavate the human mind. And yet the social gestures known as manners, however superficial they appear to be, are indices of a collective soul and merit the close attention of the novelist and reader alike. The works of Jane Austen concern themselves almost exclusively with the social surface of a fairly narrow world, and yet she has never been accused of a lack of profundity. A society in which behaviour is codified, language restricted to impersonal formulas, and the expression of feeling muted, is the province of the novel of manners, and such fiction may be produced as readily in the 20th century as in the era of Fanny Burney or Jane Austen. Such novels as Evelyn Waugh's Handful of Dust (1934) depend on the exact notation of the manners of a closed society, and personal tragedies are a mere temporary disturbance of collective order. Even Waugh's trilogy Sword of Honour is as much concerned with the minutiae of surface behaviour in an army, a very closed society, as with the causes for which that army fights. H.H. Munro ("Saki"), in The Unbearable Bassington (1912), an exquisite novel of manners, says more of the nature of Edwardian society than many a more earnest work. It is conceivable that one of the novelist's duties to posterity is to inform it of the surface quality of the society that produced him; the great psychological profundities are eternal, manners are ephemeral and have to be caught. Finally, the novel of manners may be taken as an artistic symbol of a social order that feels itself to be secure.
The novels of Samuel Richardson arose out of his pedagogic vocation, which arose out of his trade of printer--the compilation of manuals of letter-writing technique for young ladies. His age regarded letter writing as an art on which could be expended the literary care appropriate to the essay or to fiction, and, for Richardson, the creation of epistolary novels entailed a mere step from the actual world into that of the imagination. His Pamela (1740) and Clarissa (1748) won phenomenal success and were imitated all over Europe, and the epistolary novel--with its free outpouring of the heart--was an aspect of early romanticism. In the 19th century, when the letter-writing art had not yet fallen into desuetude, it was possible for Wilkie Collins to tell the mystery story of The Moonstone (1868) in the form of an exchange of letters, but it would be hard to conceive of a detective novel using such a device in the 20th century, when the well-wrought letter is considered artificial. Attempts to revive the form have not been successful, and Christopher Isherwood's Meeting by the River (1967), which has a profoundly serious theme of religious conversion, seems to fail because of the excessive informality and chattiness of the letters in which the story is told. The 20th century's substitute for the long letter is the transcribed tape recording--more, as Beckett's play Krapp's Last Tape indicates, a device for expressing alienation than a tool of dialectic. But it shares with the Richardsonian epistle the power of seeming to grant direct communication with a fictional character, with no apparent intervention on the part of the true author. (see also "Clarissa: Or, The History of a Young Lady")
Fiction that presents rural life as an idyllic condition, with exquisitely clean shepherdesses and sheep immune to foot-rot, is of very ancient descent. Longus' Daphnis and Chloe written in Greek in the 2nd or 3rd century AD, was the remote progenitor of such Elizabethan pastoral romances as Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia (1590) and Thomas Lodge's Rosalynde (1590), the source book for Shakespeare's As You Like It. The Paul et Virginie of Bernardin de St. Pierre (1787), which was immensely popular in its day, seems to spring less from the pastoral utopian convention than from the dawning Romanticism that saw in a state of nature only goodness and innocence. Still, the image of a rural Eden is a persistent one in Western culture, whatever the philosophy behind it, and there are elements of this vision even in D.H. Lawrence's Rainbow (1915) and, however improbable this may seem, in his Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928). The more realistic and ironic pictures of the pastoral life, with poverty and pig dung, beginning with George Crabbe's late-18th-century narrative poems, continuing in George Eliot, reaching sour fruition in Thomas Hardy, are usually the work of people who know the country well, while the rural idyll is properly a townsman's dream. The increasing stresses of urban life make the country vision a theme still available to serious fiction, as even a work as sophisticated as Saul Bellow's Herzog (1964) seems to show. But, since Stella Gibbons' satire Cold Comfort Farm (1932), it has been difficult for any British novelist to take seriously pastoral lyricism. (see also pastoral literature)
The Bildungsroman or novel about upbringing and education, seems to have its beginnings in Goethe's work, Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (1796), which is about the processes by which a sensitive soul discovers its identity and its role in the big world. A story of the emergence of a personality and a talent, with its implicit motifs of struggle, conflict, suffering, and success, has an inevitable appeal for the novelist; many first novels are autobiographical and attempt to generalize the author's own adolescent experiences into a kind of universal symbol of the growing and learning processes. Charles Dickens embodies a whole Bildungsroman in works like David Copperfield (1850) and Great Expectations (1861), but allows the emerged ego of the hero to be absorbed into the adult world, so that he is the character that is least remembered. H.G. Wells, influenced by Dickens but vitally concerned with education because of his commitment to socialist or utopian programs, looks at the agonies of the growing process from the viewpoint of an achieved utopia in The Dream (1924) and, in Joan and Peter (1918), concentrates on the search for the right modes of apprenticeship to the complexities of modern life. (see also apprenticeship novel )
The school story established itself in England as a form capable of popularization in children's magazines, chiefly because of the glamour of elite systems of education as first shown in Thomas Hughes's Tom Brown's School Days (1857), which is set at Rugby. In France, Le Grand Meaulnes (1913) of Alain-Fournier is the great exemplar of the school novel. The studies of struggling youth presented by Hermann Hesse became, after his death in 1962, part of an American campus cult indicating the desire of the serious young to find literary symbols for their own growing problems.
Samuel Butler's Way of All Flesh, which was written by 1885 but not published until 1903, remains one of the greatest examples of the modern Bildungsroman; philosophical and polemic as well as moving and comic, it presents the struggle of a growing soul to further, all unconsciously, the aims of evolution, and is a devastating indictment of Victorian paternal tyranny. But probably James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), which portrays the struggle of the nascent artistic temperament to overcome the repressions of family, state, and church, is the unsurpassable model of the form in the 20th century. That the learning novel may go beyond what is narrowly regarded as education is shown in two remarkable works of the 1950s--William Golding's Lord of the Flies (1955), which deals with the discovery of evil by a group of shipwrecked middle-class boys brought up in the liberal tradition, and J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye (1951), which concerns the attempts of an adolescent American to come to terms with the adult world in a series of brief encounters, ending with his failure and his ensuing mental illness.
Roman à clef.
Real, as opposed to imaginary, human life provides so much ready-made material for the novelist that it is not surprising to find in many novels a mere thinly disguised and minimally reorganized representation of actuality. When, for the fullest appreciation of a work of fiction, it is necessary for the reader to consult the real-life personages and events that inspired it, then the work is a roman à clef, or novel that needs a key. In a general sense, every work of literary art requires a key or clue to the artist's preoccupations (the jail in Dickens; the mysterious tyrants in Kafka, both leading back to the author's own father), but the true roman à clef is more particular in its disguised references. Chaucer's "Nun's Priest's Tale" has puzzling naturalistic details that can be cleared up only by referring the poem to an assassination plot in which the Earl of Bolingbroke was involved. Swift's Tale of a Tub (1704), Dryden's Absalom and Achitophel (1681), and Orwell's Animal Farm (1945) make total sense only when their hidden historical content is disclosed. These, of course, are not true novels, but they serve to indicate a literary purpose that is not primarily aesthetic. Lawrence's Aaron's Rod requires a knowledge of the author's personal enmities, and to understand Aldous Huxley's Point Counter Point fully one must know, for instance, that the character of Mark Rampion is D.H. Lawrence himself and that of Denis Burlap is the critic John Middleton Murry. Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu becomes a richer literary experience when the author's social milieu is explored, and Joyce's Finnegans Wake has so many personal references that it may be called the most massive roman à clef ever written. The more important the clef becomes to full understanding, the closer the work has come to a special kind of didacticism. When it is dangerous to expose the truth directly, then the novel or narrative poem may present it obliquely. But the ultimate vitality of the work will depend on those elements in it that require no key.
The movement away from the traditional novel form in France in the form of the nouveau roman tends to an ideal that may be called the anti-novel--a work of the fictional imagination that ignores such properties as plot, dialogue, human interest. It is impossible, however, for a human creator to create a work of art that is completely inhuman. Contemporary French writers like Alain Robbe-Grillet in Jealousy (1957), Nathalie Sarraute in Tropisms (1939) and The Planetarium (1959), and Michel Butor in Passing Time (1957) and Degrees (1960) wish mainly to remove the pathetic fallacy from fiction, in which the universe, which is indifferent to man, is made to throw back radar reflections of man's own emotions. Individual character is not important, and consciousness dissolves into sheer "perception." Even time is reversible, since perceptions have nothing to do with chronology, and, as Butor's Passing Time shows, memories can be lived backward in this sort of novel. Ultimately, the very appearance of the novel--traditionally a model of the temporal treadmill--must change; it will not be obligatory to start at page 1 and work through to the end; a novel can be entered at any point, like an encyclopaedia.
The two terms most heard in connection with the French anti-novel are chosisme and tropisme. The first, with which Robbe-Grillet is chiefly associated, relates to the novelist's concern with things in themselves, not things as human symbols or metaphors. The second, which provided a title for Nathalie Sarraute's early novel, denotes the response of the human mind to external stimuli--a response that is general and unmodified by the apparatus of "character." It is things, the furniture of the universe, that are particular and variable; the multiplicity of human observers melts into an undifferentiable mode of response. Needless to say, there is nothing new in this epistemology as applied to the novel. It is present in Laurence Sterne (in whom French novelists have always been interested), as also in Virginia Woolf.
Such British practitioners of the anti-novel as Christine Brooke-Rose and Rayner Heppenstall (both French scholars, incidentally) are more empirical than their French counterparts. They object mainly to the falsification of the external world that was imposed on the traditional novel by the exigencies of plot and character, and they insist on notating the minutiae of the surface of life, concentrating in an unhurried fashion on every detail of its texture. A work like Heppenstall's Connecting Door (1962), in which the narrator-hero does not even possess a name, is totally unconcerned with action but very interested in buildings, streets, and the sound of music. This is properly a fresh approach to the materials of the traditional novel rather than a total liberation from it. Such innovations as are found in the nouveau roman can best show their value in their influence on traditional novelists, who may be persuaded to observe more closely and be wary of the seductions of swift action, contrived relationships, and neat resolutions.
Cult, or coterie, novels.
The novel, unlike the poem, is a commercial commodity, and it lends itself less than the materials of literary magazines to that specialized appeal called coterie, intellectual or elitist. It sometimes happens that books directed at highly cultivated audiences--like Ulysses, Finnegans Wake, and Djuna Barnes's Nightwood (1936)--achieve a wider response, sometimes because of their daring in the exploitation of sex or obscenity, more often because of a vitality shared with more demotic fiction. The duplicated typescript or the subsidized periodical, rather than the commercially produced book, is the communication medium for the truly hermetic novel.
The novel that achieves commercial publication but whose limited appeal precludes large financial success can frequently become the object of cult adulation. In the period since World War II, especially in the United States, such cults can have large memberships. The cultists are usually students (who, in an era of mass education, form a sizable percentage of the total population of the United States), or fringes of youth sharing the student ethos, and the novels chosen for cult devotion relate to the social or philosophical needs of the readers. The fairy stories of Tolkien, The Lord of the Flies of Golding, the science fiction of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., have, for a greater or lesser time, satisfied a hunger for myth, symbols, and heterodox ideas, to be replaced with surprising speed by other books. The George Orwell cult among the young was followed by a bitter reaction against Orwell's own alleged reactionary tendencies, and such a violent cycle of adoration and detestation is typical of literary cults. Adult cultists tend, like young ones, to be centred in universities, from which they circulate newsletters on Finnegans Wake, Anthony Powell's Music of Time sequence, and the works of Evelyn Waugh. Occasionally new public attention becomes focussed on a neglected author through his being chosen as a cult object. This happened when the novellas of Ronald Firbank, the anonymous comic novel Augustus Carp, Esq., and G.V. Desani's All About Mr. Hatterr got back into print because of the urging of minority devotees. Despite attempts to woo a larger public to read it, Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano obstinately remained a cult book, while the cultists performed their office of keeping the work alive until such time as popular taste should become sufficiently enlightened to appreciate it.
Detective, mystery, thriller.
The terms detective story, mystery, and thriller tend to be employed interchangeably. The detective story thrills the reader with mysterious crimes, usually of a violent nature, and puzzles his reason until their motivation and their perpetrator are, through some triumph of logic, uncovered. The detective story and mystery are in fact synonymous, but the thriller frequently purveys adventurous frissons without mysteries, like the spy stories of Ian Fleming, for example, but not like the spy stories of Len Deighton, which have a bracing element of mystery and detection. The detective novel began as a respectable branch of literature with works like Poe's "Murders in the Rue Morgue" (1841), Dickens' unfinished Edwin Drood (1870), and Wilkie Collins' Moonstone (1868) and Woman in White (1860). With the coming of the Sherlock Holmes stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, at the beginning of the 20th century, the form became a kind of infraliterary subspecies, despite the intellectual brilliance of Holmes's detective work and the high literacy of Doyle's writing. Literary men like G.K. Chesterton practiced the form on the margin, and dons read thrillers furtively or composed them pseudonymously (e.g., J.I.M. Stewart, reader in English literature at Oxford, wrote as "Michael Innes"). Even the British poet laureate, C. Day Lewis, subsidized his verse through writing detective novels as "Nicholas Blake." Dorothy L. Sayers, another Oxford scholar, appeared to atone for a highly successful career as a mystery writer by turning to religious drama and the translating of Dante, as well as by making her last mystery novel--Gaudy Night (1935)--a highly literary, even pedantic, confection.
Such practitioners as Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Erle Stanley Gardner, Raymond Chandler, to say nothing of the highly commercial Edgar Wallace and Mickey Spillane, have given much pleasure and offended only the most exalted literary canons. The fearless and intelligent amateur detective, or private investigator, or police officer has become a typical hero of the modern age. And those qualities that good mystery or thriller writing calls for are not to be despised, since they include economy, skillful sustention of suspense, and very artful plotting.
The mystery novel was superseded in popularity by the novel of espionage, which achieved a large vogue with the James Bond series of Ian Fleming. Something of its spirit, if not its sadism and eroticism, had already appeared in books like John Buchan's Thirty-nine Steps and the "entertainments" of Graham Greene, as well as in the admirable novels of intrigue written by Eric Ambler. Fleming had numerous imitators, as well as a more than worthy successor in Len Deighton. The novels of John Le Carré found a wide audience despite their emphasis on the less glamorous, often even squalid aspects of international espionage; his works include The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963) and Smiley's People (1980). (see also spy story)
Man's concern with taming wild land, or advancing frontiers, or finding therapy in reversion from the civilized life to the atavistic is well reflected in adventure novels, beginning with James Fenimore Cooper's novels of the American frontier The Pioneers (1823) and The Last of the Mohicans (1826). As the 19th century advanced, and new tracts of America were opened up, a large body of fiction came out of the men who were involved in pioneering adventure. Mark Twain's Roughing It (1872) may be called a frontier classic. Bret Harte wrote shorter fiction, like "The Luck of Roaring Camp" (1868), but helped to spread an interest in frontier writing to Europe, where the cult of what may be termed the western novel is as powerful as in America. Owen Wister's Virginian (1902), Andy Adams' near-documentary Log of a Cowboy (1903), Emerson Hough's Covered Wagon (1922), from which the first important western film was made in 1923, Hamlin Garland's Son of the Middle Border (1917), and O.E. Rölvaag's Giants in the Earth (1927) all helped to make the form popular, but it is to Zane Grey--who wrote more than 50 western novels--that lovers of frontier myth have accorded the greatest devotion. The western is now thought of predominantly as a cinematic form, but it arose out of literature. Other frontier fiction has come from another New World, the antipodes--South Africa as well as the Australian outback--but the American West has provided the best mythology, and it is still capable of literary treatment. Sophisticated literary devices may be grafted onto the western--surrealistic fantasy or parallels to Shakespeare or to the ancient classics--but the peculiar and perennial appeal of the western lies in its ethical simplicity, the frequent violence, the desperate attempt to maintain minimal civilized order, as well as the stark, near-epic figures from true western history, such as Billy the Kid, Calamity Jane, Wyatt Earp, Annie Oakley, and Jesse James.
A distinction should be made between novels whose high sales are an accolade bestowed on literary merit and novels that aim less at aesthetic worth than at profits. The works of Charles Dickens were best-sellers in their day, but good sales continue, testifying to a vitality that was not purely ephemeral. On the other hand, many best-selling novels have a vogue that is destined not to outlast the time when they were produced. It is a characteristic of this kind of best-seller that the writing is less interesting than the content, and that the content itself has a kind of journalistic oversimplification that appeals to unsophisticated minds. The United States is the primary home of the commercial novel whose high sales accrue from careful, and sometimes cold-blooded, planning. A novel in which a topical subject--such as the Mafia, or corruption in government, or the election of a new pope, or a spate of aircraft accidents, or the censorship of an erotic book--is treated with factual thoroughness, garnished with sex, enlivened by quarrels, fights, and marital infidelities, presented in nonliterary prose, and given lavish promotion by its publisher may well become a best-seller. It is also likely to be almost entirely forgotten a year or so after its publication. The factual element in the novel seems to be necessary to make the reader feel that he is being educated as well as diverted. Indeed, the conditions for the highest sales seem to include the reconciliation of the pornographic and the didactic.
A novel with genuine aesthetic vitality often sells more than the most vaunted best-seller, but the sales are more likely to be spread over decades and even centuries rather than mere weeks and months. The author of such a book may, in time, enrich others, but he is unlikely himself to attain the opulence of writers of best-sellers such as Harold Robbins or Irving Wallace.
Fantasy and prophecy.
The term science fiction is a loose one, and it is often made to include fantastic and prophetic books that make no reference to the potentialities of science and technology for changing human life. Nevertheless, a novel like Keith Roberts' Pavane (1969), which has as a premise the conquest of England by Spain in 1588, and the consequent suppression rather than development of free Protestant intellectual inquiry, is called science fiction, though such terms as "fiction of hypothesis" and "time fantasy" would be more fitting. The imaginative novelist is entitled to remake the existing world or present possible future worlds, and a large corpus of fiction devoted to such speculative visions has been produced in the last hundred years, more of it based on metaphysical hypotheses than on scientific marvels. Jules Verne and H.G. Wells pioneered what may be properly termed science fiction, mainly to an end of diversion. Since the days of Wells's Time Machine (1895) and Invisible Man (1897), the fiction of hypothesis has frequently had a strong didactic aim, often concerned with opposing the very utopianism that Wells--mainly in his nonfictional works--built on the potentialities of socialism and technology. Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932) showed how dangerous utopianism could be, since the desire for social stability might condone conditioning techniques that would destroy the fundamental human right to make free choices. Toward the end of his life Huxley produced a cautious utopian vision in Island (1962), but the dystopian horrors of his earlier novel and of his Ape and Essence (1948) remain more convincing. Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-four (1949) showed a world in which a tyrannic unity is imposed by a collective solipsism, and contradictions are liquidated through the constant revision of history that the controlling party decrees. Anthony Burgess' Clockwork Orange (1962) and Wanting Seed (1962) portray ghastly futures that extrapolate, respectively, philosophies of crime control and population control out of present-day tendencies that are only potentially dangerous. (see also fantasy fiction, utopian literature)
A large number of writers practice prophetic fantasy with considerable literary skill and careful factual preparation--Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Ray Bradbury, Italo Calvino, Isaac Asimov, J.G. Ballard, to name only a few--and novelists whose distinction lies mainly in more traditional fields have attempted the occasional piece of future-fiction, as in the case of L.P. Hartley with his Facial Justice (1961) and Evelyn Waugh in Love Among the Ruins (1953). The fantasist who fantasizes without prophetic or warning intent is rarer, but works such as Nabokov's Ada, Tolkien's Lord of the Rings cycle, and Christine Brooke-Rose's Out (1964) represent legitimate and heartening stretching of the imagination, assurances that the novelist has the right to create worlds, as well as characters, of his own. However, the dystopian novel can have a salutary influence on society, actively correcting regressive or illiberal tendencies, and Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-four can be cherished as great didactic landmarks, not just as works of literary art.
The novel that, like Dickens' Hard Times (1854), presents the lives of workingmen or other members of the lower orders is not necessarily an example of proletarian fiction. The category properly springs out of direct experience of proletarian life and is not available to writers whose background is bourgeois or aristocratic. Consequently, William Godwin's Caleb Williams (1794), or Robert Bage's Hermsprong (1796), although, like Hard Times sympathetic to the lot of the oppressed worker, is more concerned with the imposition of reform from above than with revolution from within, and the proletarian novel is essentially an intended device of revolution. The Russian Maksim Gorky, with works like Foma Gordeyev (1900) and Mother (1907), as well as numerous short stories portraying the bitterness of poverty and unemployment (in fact, the pseudonym Gorky means "Bitter"), may be taken as an exemplary proletarian writer. The United States has produced a rich crop of working-class fiction. Such Socialist writers as Jack London, Upton Sinclair, John Dos Passos, and Edward Dahlberg, however, did not witness the triumph of the workers' revolution in their own country, as Gorky did in his, and it is the fate of the American proletarian novelist, through literary success, either to join the class he once dreamed of overthrowing or to become anarchic and frustrated. In the Soviet Union the proletarian novel was doomed to disappear in the form that Gorky knew, for it is the essence of the revolutionary novel to possess vitality and validity only when written under capitalist "tyranny." (see also American literature)
England has produced its share of working-class novelists exuding bitterness, such as Alan Sillitoe, with his Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1958), but conditions apt for revolution have not existed in Britain for more than a century. British novelists who emerged after World War II, such as John Braine (Room at the Top), Keith Waterhouse (There Is a Happy Land), Kingsley Amis (Lucky Jim), and Stan Barstow (A Kind of Loving), provided a solution to working-class frustration in a fluid system of class promotion: revolution is an inadmissible dream. Generally speaking, in the novel, which is preoccupied with individuals rather than with groups, it is difficult to make the generalized political statements that are meat and drink to the revolutionary propagandist.
The categories briefly discussed above are among the most common fictional forms. Theoretically there is no limit to the number available, since changing social patterns provide fresh subjects and fresh taxonomies, and new metaphysical and psychological doctrines may beget new fictional approaches to both content and technique.
Other categories of fictional art include the erotic novel (which may or may not be pornographic), the satirical novel, the farcical novel, the novel for or about children, the theological novel, the allegorical novel, and so on. Types of fiction no longer practiced, since their real-life referents no longer exist, include the colonial novel--such as E.M. Forster's Passage to India (1924), Henri Fauconnier's Malaisie (1930), and the African sequence of Joyce Cary--and space fantasy like H.G. Wells's First Men in the Moon (1901). One may read examples of a departed category with pleasure and profit, but the category can no longer yield more than parody or pastiche.
New kinds of fiction fill in the gaps, like the novel of negritude, the structuralist novel (following the linguistic sociologists and anthropologists), the homosexual novel, the novel of drug hallucination, and so on. So long as human society continues to exist, the novel will exist as its mirror, an infinitude of artistic images reflecting an infinitude of life patterns.
THE NOVEL IN ENGLISH
The United Kingdom.
England's chief literary achievements lie in the fields of drama and poetry, and the attitude of English novelists to their form was, for a long time, cheerfully empirical and even amateurish. Elizabethan novels, novelle rather, imitated the Spanish picaresque story, and Thomas Nashe's Unfortunate Traveller (1594) is a good, bustling, vital example of a rapidly composed commercial work more concerned with sensational incident and language than with shape or character. Daniel Defoe (1660?-1731) is often considered to be the true progenitor of the long English novel, but his Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders are loosely constructed, highly episodic, and presented as mock biography rather than real fiction. It is with Pamela, by Samuel Richardson (1689-1761), that the tradition of serious, moral fiction in English may be said to begin, but later 18th-century novelists reverted to the picaresque and comic. Henry Fielding (1707-54) wrote his first novel, Joseph Andrews, as parody on Pamela, but his masterpiece, Tom Jones, is original if shapeless, an example of English literary genius sinking thankfully back into the casual and improvisatory. Laurence Sterne (1713-68) produced a great mad work, Tristram Shandy, that, in its refusal to truckle to any rules of structure, remains still a quarry for avant-garde novelists; and Tobias Smollett (1721-71) wrote picaresque satire in Roderick Random and Peregrine Pickele, full-blooded portraits of the age that impress more with their vigour than with their art. (see also English literature, Elizabethan literature)
Romantic and Victorian novels.
The Romantic Age brought, rather paradoxically, the cool and classically shaped novels of Jane Austen (1775-1817), a major practitioner and still a model for apprentices in the craft. Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), a Scotsman who wrote about romantic historical Scotland, must be regarded as an international figure whose influence was greater even than Richardson's, since he more than anyone established the historical novel as the primary fictional form in Europe. In Scott's work, nevertheless, the traditional faults of the British novel may be descried--namely, episodic formlessness, an ebullience of texture rather than a clean narrative line.
The Victorian Age moved out of the romantic past, or, as with William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-63), stayed with it only to deromanticize it. Charles Dickens (1812-70) was indebted to the picaresque tradition but turned reformist eyes on his own age. Thackeray and Dickens are complementary in that the first attacks the upper classes while the second showers sympathy, sometimes of a mawkish kind, on the lower classes. With George Eliot (1819-80), the first true English psychological novels appear, strong in their moral content, and George Meredith (1828-1909) may be said to have anticipated--in The Ordeal of Richard Feverel and The Egoist--the approach in depth that characterized the psychological novel of the 20th century.
Both Charlotte Brontë (1816-55) and Emily Brontë (1818-48) exemplify the capacity of the English novel to achieve solitary "sports" unrelated to any current or tradition. Both Wuthering Heights--a superb evocation of the soul of a locality, with a love story that is fierce and primitive but recounted with poetic sophistication -- and Jane Eyre an exceedingly frank and still shocking study of a love that rides over Victorian conventions, are unlike any other books of their time, or of any other time, though their qualities have been diluted into hundreds of popular 20th-century romances. Later Victorians, particularly Samuel Butler (1835-1902) and Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), reflected those changes in the educated English sensibility that had been brought about by the new science. Hardy's world is one in which the Christian God has been replaced by a malevolent Providence--the poet-novelist's theologization of scientific determinism. Butler's Way of All Flesh, a work that contrives to be both bitterly realistic and highly comic, demonstrates the working of Darwinian evolution in social institutions such as the family and even the church. In many ways, Butler led English fiction into the modern age.
The modern novel.
John Galsworthy (1867-1933) showed himself interested in the processes by which old institutions, such as a great Whig family, decay as history advances, but in both style and characterization he is firmly set in the Victorian Age. Of Arnold Bennett (1867-1931) it may be said that he brought to a kind of Thackerayan social realism something of the spirit of the French novel, particularly the anglicized tones of Balzac and Zola. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965), though his most considerable achievements lie in the short-story form, wrote novels, like Of Human Bondage that are infused with the delicious acerbities of French naturalism, and all his work, long or short, is exalted by the influence of Guy de Maupassant. Early 20th-century British fiction needed the impact of an alien tradition to jolt it out of bourgeois empiricism, and perhaps the two major influences were both foreigners who had elected to write fiction in England--Joseph Conrad (1857-1924), Polish-born, to whom English was a second language, and Henry James (1843-1916), an American who had drunk deeply at French fountains and brought to the exercise of his craft a scrupulousness and a concern with aesthetic values that was almost obsessive and, it may be said, very un-English. James's influence on such major English-born novelists as Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), E.M. Forster (1879-1970), and Ford Madox Ford (1873-1939) was in the direction of that concern with style which the English novel, unlike the French, has always tried to resist, and this influence remains a potent one on succeeding generations of novelists, not only in England.
Other important Englishmen have remained more interested in content than in style, though in Graham Greene, a Catholic convert, who is primarily known for his "theological" content, there is a very interesting attempt to bring to this a Conradian concern for the solitary-man theme and a Jamesian preoccupation with style. D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930) remains the great modern English novelist who reconciles a highly traditional style (in The Rainbow, for example, he often resembles George Eliot) with a subject matter that is revolutionary in the profundity of its human relationships. And Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), though he indulged in formal experiment in Point Counter Point and Eyeless in Gaza, was always essentially a didactic writer who used the novel form somewhat casually. The same may be said of George Orwell (1903-50), who eschewed stylistic complexity in the interest of a clear message. On the other hand, Evelyn Waugh (1902-66) and Anthony Powell, in a cautious and conservative way, consulted the claims of allusive and evocative prose, as did Wyndham Lewis (1884-1957), who also brought to his novels the aesthetic of an alien art--that of painting.
Novelists like Kingsley Amis and Angus Wilson are seen to belong to traditions already old in the time of Samuel Butler. Amis derives from Fielding (Amis' Take a Girl Like You has a moral quality reminiscent of Fielding's Amelia), and Wilson never pretends to be other than a disciple of novelists like George Eliot and Dickens. The Victorian kind of novel, as practiced by writers like J.B. Priestley, satisfies large numbers of British readers, and Jamesian scrupulosity and Joycean experiment alike are regarded with amiable suspicion. Such Englishmen as have experimented in fictional technique have usually found a larger audience abroad than at home. Thus Lawrence Durrell found his Alexandria Quartet (1962) hailed as a masterpiece in France, while English readers merely liked or disliked it. A Clockwork Orange (1962) by Anthony Burgess achieved a large readership in the United States, but it recorded little positive response in the country of its origin.
Irish and Scottish novels.
The fiction of the British Isles is not clearly differentiated into national or regional groups, and to speak of Irish novelists is often to do no more than refer to an irrelevant place of birth. Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) was more French than Irish; his one novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, has no progenitors in English fiction, but it owes much to the late 19th-century French novelist Joris-Karl Huysmans. George Moore (1852-1933) was born in County Mayo, Ireland, but studied art in Paris, and works like A Modern Lover and A Mummer's Wife were intended to teach the British novel how to absorb the spirit of Flaubert and Zola. Moore's Lake, written under the influence of the Irish literary revival, is dutifully set in Ireland, but this essentially international writer was quick to move back to France for Héloïse and Abélard and on to Palestine for The Brook Kerith. James Joyce (1882-1941), conceivably the greatest novelist in English in the 20th century, never moves from his native Dublin in any of his fiction, but no less parochial writer can well be imagined. Ulysses, in the depth of its historical coverage, may be regarded as one of the last great artistic monuments of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Finnegans Wake was stimulated by the avant-garde climate of Paris, the resting place of so many Irish "wild geese." It is only perhaps negatively that Ireland shaped Joyce's literary personality; the oppressiveness of the new nationalism made him react in the direction of internationalism, and it eventually forced him to a lifelong exile. Flann O'Brien (1911-66), possibly Joyce's true successor, stayed in Dublin and drew, in works like At Swim-Two-Birds (1939) and The Hard Life (1961), on the native demotic experience, but his techniques came from Europe, not from the Anglo-Irish bourgeois stockpot. (see also Irish literature)
The Scottish novel hardly exists as a national entity; there is nothing in fiction that matches the exploitation of Lallans in the poetry of Burns or of Hugh MacDiarmid (C.M. Grieve). Scott, as has been indicated, belongs to European literature, and later novelists like Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-94) and Sir James Barrie (1860-1937), though Scottish themes and settings are featured triumphantly in their fiction, are essentially men whose literary metropolis was London rather than Edinburgh.
Wales sedulously cultivates Welsh as a living artistic medium, but few novels by Welshmen reach the English or international market, unless--like Emyr Humphreys--they write their works in English as well as Welsh. The English-language novel from Wales hardly exists, except in the form of best-sellers like Richard Llewellyn's How Green Was My Valley (1940)--a deliberate capitalization on Welsh picturesqueness--and the exceedingly Joycean prose of the poet Dylan Thomas (1914-53), whose one novel, Adventures in the Skin Trade, has very little of Wales in it. (see also Welsh literature)
The United States.
If the American novel appears to begin with the Wieland and Edgar Huntly of Charles Brockden Brown (1771-1810), then the fiction of the mother country may be said to have no start on that of the newly independent daughter. Admittedly, Brown owes something to the English Gothic novel, but already a typically American note is struck in the choice of a violent and bizarre form that, in various mutations, was to prove fruitful in the development of American fiction. James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851) struck out, in the pentateuch called the "Leatherstocking" tales, in another direction suitable to the American genius and experience: The Last of the Mohicans and The Prairie, though their prose style is perhaps overelaborate, are full of the spirit of a young nation confronting the wilderness and advancing its frontiers. Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-96) produced, in Uncle Tom's Cabin, an antislavery novel whose sensational devices owe something to the Gothic movement but whose style is rooted in that European romantic tradition fathered by Scott. Even Edgar Allan Poe (1809-49) and Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-64) are incompletely emancipated from Europe, though Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter shows a preoccupation with sin that finds no fictional counterpart in the mainstream of the European novel. America, aware of the darkness and mystery of a land still mainly undiscovered, was correspondingly aware, in both Gothic and eschatological fiction, of the dark places of the mind. (see also Stowe, Harriet Beecher)
The true emancipation from Europe comes in the works of Hawthorne's friend Herman Melville (1819-91), whose Moby Dick creates a totally American fusion by combining plain adventure with a kind of Manichaean symbolism--implying a belief that the universe is under the dominion of two opposing principles, one good and the other evil. Mark Twain (1835-1910) brought the Mississippi frontier region into the literary geography of the world with Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, combining very American humour with harsh social criticism, as also in the unique Pudd'nhead Wilson. From Twain on, the new regions of the United States become the materials of a wealth of fiction. Thus, while Bret Harte (1836-1902) wrote about California and George W. Cable (1844-1925) on Louisiana, Indiana was celebrated in The Hoosier Schoolmaster of Edward Eggleston (1837-1902) and the Penrod stories of Booth Tarkington (1869-1947).
But America could not wholly turn its back on Europe, and the early 20th century was characterized by the discovery of the phenomenon called American "innocence" in confrontation with the decadent wisdom and sophistication of the Old World. If, in Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain and his fellow travellers remained unimpressed by Europe, Henry James (1843-1916) devoted millions of words to the response of impressionable Americans to the subtle deciduous culture their ancestors had abandoned in the search for a new life. Zolaesque realism entered the American novel with William Dean Howells (1837-1920). Theodore Dreiser (1871-1945) shocked his audiences with the candour and pessimism of Sister Carrie and An American Tragedy, while Stephen Crane (1871-1900) and Frank Norris (1870-1902) made realism enter, respectively, the traditionally romantic field of war (The Red Badge of Courage) and the pastoral life of the promised land of California (The Octopus). American innocence ceased to be a fictional property. The brutality in Jack London (1876-1916) joins hands with the depictions of "natural man" in the works of Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), while the urban fiction of James T. Farrell (1904-79) and John O'Hara (1905-70) has a wholly American realism that leaves the naturalism of Zola far behind.
The 20th-century American novel is "compartmentalized" in a manner that seems to give the lie to any allegation of cultural unity. The cult of the regional novel has continued. Ohio came under the microscopic scrutiny of Sherwood Anderson (1876-1941) in Winesburg, Ohio just as the small-minded hypocrisy and materialism of the Midwest fired the brilliant sequence of Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951) from Main Street on. But the best regional fiction has come from the South, with William Faulkner (1897-1962), whose technical master is Joyce, Ellen Glasgow (1874-1945), Flannery O'Connor (1922-64), Eudora Welty, Erskine Caldwell, and Robert Penn Warren. The immigrant communities of Nebraska were the subject of My Ántonia, by Willa Cather (1873-1947), while O.E. Rölvaag (1876-1931) dealt with the South Dakota Norwegians in Giants in the Earth. The urban Jew has become the very spokesman of the contemporary American experience with writers like Saul Bellow, Herbert Gold, and Bernard Malamud; while the black American has been made highly articulate in works like Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, and Home to Harlem by Jamaican-born Claude McKay (1890-1948).
Meanwhile, the fiction of social criticism that derives from Howells and was made popular by men like Upton Sinclair (1878-1968) goes on, either in "muckraking" best-sellers or in such specialized attacks on the American ethos as are exemplified by war books like Joseph Heller's Catch-22 and Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five. American realism has gained a reputation for candour unequalled in any other literature of the world, so that the Tropic of Cancerand Tropic of Capricorn of Henry Miller (1891-1980) remain models for sexual frankness that encouraged writers like Hubert Selby, Jr. (Last Exit to Brooklyn), and Philip Roth (Portnoy's Complaint) to uncover areas of eroticism still closed to the European novel.
To balance the concern with naked subject matter, American fiction has also fulfilled the promise of its earlier expatriates beginning with Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) to match the French in a preoccupation with style. The distinction of F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) lay in the lyrical intensity of his prose as much as in his "jazz age" subject matter, and writers like Truman Capote and John Updike have dedicated themselves similarly to perfecting a prose instrument whose effects (like those of Joyce) touch the borders of poetry. Perhaps the glories and potentialities of American fiction are best summed up in the novels of Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977). His early works belonged to Europe, but when he took to writing in English he created a sophisticated, cosmopolitan, and highly poetic style. His work, as in Lolita and Pale Fire, concentrates with unparalleled intensity on the immediacies of American life in the 20th century.
The British Commonwealth.
Canada has two literatures--one in French as well as one in English--and, in the taxonomy of this article, it will be as well to forget the course of history and consider French-Canadian novelists along with those of the separated, and officially abandoned, mother country. The Canadian novel in English begins, appropriately enough, with a Richardson--John Richardson (1796-1852), author of Wacousta, a story of the Indian uprising led by Pontiac. But, with the exception of James DeMille (1836-80), author of a remarkable novel, A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder, and William Kirby (1817-1906), whose Golden Dog is an interesting long romance of 18th-century Quebec, no novelist of stature emerged in what was a great period of literary expansion in the United States. The historical novels of Sir Gilbert Parker (1862-1932), the western romances of Ralph Connor (1860-1937), and the world-famous Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery (1874-1942) exhibit a stylistic tameness, along with that jejune oversimplification of psychology that is a mark of the deliberately "popular" novel. (see also Canadian literature, "Wacousta; or, The Prophecy", "Golden Dog: A Legend of Quebec, The")
More distinctive Canadian work came in the early 20th century, as in the prairie novels of Robert Stead (1880-1959) and Frederick Philip Grove (1871-1948). Morley Callaghan, a chronicler of urban life, may be seen as a writer approaching international stature, and that tough "European" realism that braces his work is also to be found, along with a rather exotic elegance, in the novels of Robertson Davies. Although some younger novelists, like Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro, deal with growing up and rites of passage in Canada, others, like Brian Moore and Mordecai Richler, have sought artistic stimulation outside Canada, and they show general uneasiness about the lack of a cultivated audience in their great but underpopulated land.
A similar complaint may be heard in Australia and New Zealand, where the fictional tradition has long accommodated itself to the simple literary needs of unsophisticated settlers. The first true Australian novel was probably For the Term of His Natural Life by Marcus Clarke (1846-81), which dealt, appropriately, considering the penal origins of the Australian settlements, with life in prison; and Rolf Boldrewood, the pseudonym of Thomas A. Browne (1826-1915), had a cognate approach of excessive simplicity and melodrama to the days of the gold rush in his Robbery Under Arms. Australian farm life was the theme of the novels that Arthur Hoey Davis (1868-1935) wrote under the pen name of Steele Rudd, beginning with On Our Selection But something that can only be termed native Australianism--which has less to do with trades and scenic backgrounds than with a whole new language and collective philosophy of life--appears for the first time in My Brilliant Career (1901), by Miles Franklin (1879-1954). The expression of a national personality is not, however, enough. (see also Australian literature, "Robbery Under Arms")
Progressive 20th-century Australian novelists look hungrily toward Europe, aware that native conservatism will not support the kind of experimentalism in literature that it is prepared to take for granted in painting and architecture. The most considerable modern Australian novelist is Patrick White, but even such massive achievements as Voss and Riders in the Chariot are set firmly in the Dostoyevskian tradition. Morris West is Australian only by birth; he seeks international themes and the lure of the American best-seller market. It seems that an Australian writer can succeed only if he renounces his Australianism and goes into exile. It is still a source of humiliation to Australian litterateurs that the finest novel about Australia was written by a mere visitor--Kangaroo (1923), by D.H. Lawrence.
New Zealand, with its much smaller population, presents even greater problems for the native novelist seeking an audience, and this--along with New Zealand's closer tie with the mother country--explains why such fiction writers as Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923) and Dame Ngaio Marsh (1899-1982) made London their centre. Young novelists like Janet Frame, Ian Cross, and Maurice Shadbolt show, however, a heartening willingness to render the New Zealand scene in idioms and techniques more progressive than anything to be found in Australia, and they are prepared to resist the temptations of the expatriate life.
Inevitably, territories like India and Africa entered the federation of English literature very much later than those dominions founded on the English language. With few exceptions, African and Indian novelists employ English as a second language, and one of the charms of their novels lies in a creative tension between the adopted language and the native vernacular (needless to say, this is usually self-consciously exploited--often for poetic, but more frequently for comic, effect). (see also Indian literature)
Of Indian novelists, R.K. Narayan, in works like The English Teacher (U.S. title Grateful to Life and Death) and The Man-Eater of Malgudi, exhibits an individual combination of tenderness and humour, as well as a sharp eye for Indian foibles. Raja Rao, whose best known novel is The Serpent and the Rope, achieves remarkable prosodic effects through allowing Sanskrit rhythm and idiom to fertilize English. Of younger Indian novelists, Balachandra Rajan is notable, in The Dark Dancer and Too Long in the West, for an ability to satirize the Anglo-American way of life with the same suave elegance that informs his tragicomic view of the East. Khushwant Singh presents, in I Shall Not Hear the Nightingale, a powerful chronicle of Sikh life during that period of imperial dissolution that began with World War II. English seems established as the medium for the Indian novel, and it is interesting to note an ability on the part of nonnative Indian residents who have practiced the form to be absorbed into a new "Indo-Anglian" tradition. Rudyard Kipling's Kim is respected by Indian writers, and E.M. Forster's Passage to India is a progenitor of one kind of Indian novel. The novels of Paul Scott (1920-78)--such as the tetralogy The Raj Quartet (1976)--spring out of a love of the country and an understanding of its complexities not uncommon among former British soldiers and administrators. The Indian novel is perhaps a product of territory rather than of blood.
The most important of the new African writers come from the West Coast, traditional fount of artists, and they are mostly characterized by immense stylistic vigour, a powerful realism, and, often, a satirical candour unseduced by the claims of the new nationalism. Chinua Achebe, in Things Fall Apart and No Longer at Ease, renders remarkably the tones of Umuaro speech and thought, and exhibits, as also in Arrow of God, a concern for that rich native culture whose extirpation is threatened by imported Western patterns of life and government. His Man of the People deals sharply with corruption and personality cult in a newly independent African state modelled on his own Nigeria. A fellow Nigerian, Amos Tutuola, has gained an international reputation with The Palm-Wine Drinkard--a richly humorous novel permeated with the spirit of folklore. Cyprian Ekwensi is best known for his Jagua Nana, a wry study of the impact of the new materialism (symbolized by the "Jagua" car of the title) on the tribal mind. Onuora Nzekwu, in Blade Among the Boys has a graver theme: conflict between Ibo religion and imported Christianity in the upbringing of a sensitive and confused young man. (see also African literature)
South African novels have, traditionally, dealt with those pioneering themes still exemplified in the work of Laurens van der Post and Stuart Cloete, but the territory has made its entry into world literature comparatively recently chiefly because the official racist policies have inspired a powerful fiction of protest. William Plomer (1903-73) may be regarded as the father of anti-apartheid literature, although his Turbott Wolfe appeared in 1925, long before the state doctrine was articulated. The theme of this novel was the necessity for white and black blood to mix and ensure a liberal South African future not given over purely to white domination. Alan Paton, in Cry, the Beloved Country has produced the most popular novel of protest, but Dan Jacobson, Nadine Gordimer, and especially Doris Lessing have amplified mere protest into what may be termed a kind of philosophical fiction, often distinguished enough to rank with the best work of Europe and America. Lessing's sequence Children of Violence finds in the South African system of government a starting point for denunciation of wrongs that turn out to be social and sexual as well as racial.
The varied fictional achievements of the Caribbean are large. Trinidad has produced the two best known West Indian writers--Samuel Selvon and V.S. Naipaul, both of East Indian descent. Selvon's work (A Brighter Sun, An Island Is a World, The Lonely Londoners) is grim, bitter, capable of vivid evocation of the Trinidadian scene, but Naipaul, after A House for Mr. Biswas, has shown signs of habituation to his English exile, so that his Mr. Stone and the Knights Companion seems to be a novel totally nourished by the London world in which it is set. Most Caribbean novelists, finding their publishers and their audiences in England, transfer themselves thither and cut themselves off from all but remembered roots. This is true of Edgar Mittelhölzer (1909-65), an ebullient and prolific writer whose later books all had English settings. Wilson Harris has, in English exile, created an astonishing Guianan tetralogy in which poetry and myth and symbolic difficulty have a place. George Lamming and John Hearne are both notable for firm and economical prose and masterly scene painting. The aesthetic prospects for the West Indian novel seem excellent, but the absorption of its practitioners into the larger English-speaking world represents a symptom that plagues the practice of literature in so many Commonwealth countries--the lack of adequate publishing facilities and, more than that, the failure of a cultivated readership to emerge. It is undoubtedly unhealthy for an author to have to seek primary communication with foreigners.
The Russian novel properly begins with Nikolay Karamzin (1766-1826), who introduced into Russian literature not only the exotic sentimental romanticism best seen in his novels Poor Lisa and Natalya, the Boyar's Daughter but that large Gallic vocabulary that was to remain a feature of the literary language. But those qualities that best distinguish Russian fiction--critical realism and spirituality--first appeared in the work of Mikhail Lermontov (1814-41), whose Hero of Our Time is the pioneering Russian psychological novel. Nikolay Gogol (1809-52), satirizing provincial mores in Dead Souls ushered in, perhaps unintentionally, a whole fictional movement--the "literature of accusation." Vissarion Belinsky (1811-48), the father of Russian literary criticism, formulated the theory of literature in the service of society, and Ivan Turgenev (1818-83), produced a classic "accusatory" novel in A Sportsman's Sketches. But he, and the other major novelists who emerged in the mid-19th century, can hardly be considered in terms of literary movements. Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-81), with The Possessed, The Idiot, Crime and Punishment, and The Brothers Karamazov, affirmed with idiosyncratic power the great spiritual realities, and Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) produced two of the greatest novels of all time--War and Peace and Anna Karenina, revelatory of the Russian soul but also of the very nature of universal man and human society.
The later days of the 19th century saw a shift in fictional radicalism. The theories of Karl Marx influenced the accusatory writers in the direction of the plight of the proletariat, not, as had been the old way, that of the peasantry. Maksim Gorky (1868-1936), Leonid Andreyev (1871-1919), Aleksandr Kuprin (1870-1938), and the Nobel Prize winner (1933) Ivan Bunin (1870-1953) wrote of the Russian urban experience and helped to create the literary climate of the Soviet regime. Generally, since the beginning of the first five-year plan in 1928, there had been a division between what the regime regarded as valuable in the practice of the novel and what the rest of the world thought. Mikhail Sholokhov (1905-84) depicted, with no evident propagandist slanting, the Revolution and civil war in Quiet Flows the Don, and Fyodor Gladkov (1883-1958) was one of the few novelists readable outside the ranks of the Soviet devout in the new category of economic or industrial fiction. The Russian novel of the age following World War II, however, underwent a dramatic schism, in which writers like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Boris Pasternak (1890-1960) could receive the Nobel Prize but be officially condemned in the Soviet Union, while the fictional darlings of the regime were recognized, in the non-Communist world, as possessing little or no aesthetic merit.
Goethe (1749-1832), who practiced so many arts with such notable brilliance, may be regarded as the first major novelist of Germany. His life covers the whole period of the Enlightenment, with its insistence on a national literary spirit, the Sturm und Drang movement, and that phase of Weltschmerz which The Sorrows of Young Werther fostered. It was Werther more than any other work that carried German literature into the world arena; it remained influential in Europe when German Romanticism had already burned itself out. The German reaction against Romanticism was expressed in the regionalism of Theodor Storm (1817-88) and Fritz Reuter (1810-74), who sought to render with objective fidelity the life of their native provinces (northwestern and northeastern Germany, respectively). Swiss writers like Gottfried Keller (1819-90) belonged to the movement of mainstream German regional realism, featuring the picturesque solidities of Switzerland. But the post-Goethean major achievements in the novel had to wait for the Impressionist movement, which produced the works of Thomas Mann (1875-1955) and Hermann Hesse (1877-1962)--fiction concerned less with a roughly hacked slice of life than with form and aesthetic delicacy. World War I brought Expressionism--the nightmares of the German-Czech Franz Kafka (1883-1924) and the psychoanalytical novels of Jakob Wassermann (1873-1934), with their pleas for humanity and justice.
When the true historical nightmare of the Nazi regime followed--predicted, in a sense, by Kafka and Mann--liberal German fiction was suppressed, and liberal German novelists like Mann and Erich Maria Remarque (1898-1970), author of All Quiet on the Western Front went into exile. The brutal, philistine, and nationalistic novels of the true Nazi novelists exist only as curious and frightening relics of an era of infamy. The task of postwar novelists like Günter Grass--author of The Tin Drum and Dog Years--and Uwe Johnson has been to diagnose the long sickness and force German fiction into new directions--often with the help of surrealism, irony, and verbal experiment.
Although the mid-16th-century satirical piece Gargantua and Pantagruel of François Rabelais has had, and is still having, a profound influence on the world novel, it would be wrong to place it in the line of true French fiction, which has always manifested a preoccupation with form, order, and economy--qualities totally un-Rabelaisian. The first notable French novel--The Princess of Clèves by Madame de La Fayette (1634-93)--shows none of the vices of the English novels of a century later; it is firmly constructed and takes character seriously, as does Manon Lescaut by l'Abbé Prévost (1697-1763). With such works the psychological novel was established in Europe. A keen hold on reality and a concern with the problems of man as a social being animates even the fiction of the Romantic school--works like Indiana and Lélia by George Sand (1804-76) and the heavyweight romances of Victor Hugo (1802-85). But the true glories of French fiction come with the reaction to romanticism and sentimentality, as exemplified in the novels of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78). The great fathers of realism are Stendhal (1783-1842), Balzac (1799-1850), and Flaubert (1821-80), and their influence is still active. Émile Zola (1840-1902) moved away from the artistic detachment that Flaubert preached and practiced, but, in his Chronicles of the Rougon Macquart Family, he tried to emulate the encyclopaedic approach to the novel of Balzac, whose Human Comedy is meant to be a history of society in a hundred episodes. The leader of the Naturalist school, Zola saw human character as a product of heredity and environment. (see also French literature, "Chronicles of the Rougon Macquart Family," )
It was left to the 20th-century French novel to cast doubt on a mechanistic or deterministic view of man, to affirm the irrational element in his makeup, and to emphasize the primacy of the will. The temporal treadmill of Balzac and Zola has no place in the masterpiece of Marcel Proust (1871-1922); Remembrance of Things Past, if it has a philosophy, says more about the creative élan vital of Bergson, the human essences that underlie the shifting phenomena of time and space, than the social jungle the realists had taken for reality. André Gide (1869-1951) seems to make a plea for human aloofness from environment so that the essentially human capacity for change and growth may operate. André Malraux (1901-76), the forerunner of the Existentialist novelists, demonstrated, in Man's Fate the necessity for human involvement in action as the only answer to the absurdity of his position in a huge and indifferent or malevolent universe. Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-80) and Albert Camus (1913-60) similarly emphasized man's freedom to choose, to say no to evil, to define himself through action.
Other French novelists have been more concerned with recording the minutiae of human life as a predominantly sensuous and emotional experience, like Colette (1873-1954), or with taking the religious sensibility as a fictional theme, like François Mauriac (1885-1970). The practitioners of the anti-roman--Butor, Robbe-Grillet, Nathalie Sarraute--pursue their attempts at liquidating human character in the traditional novelistic sense. Samuel Beckett, an Irishman who has turned himself into a major French stylist, goes his own way, presenting--in works like Molly, Malone Dies, Watt, and The Unnamable--mankind reduced to degradation and absurdity but somehow admirable because it survives.
French-Canadian fiction inevitably suffers from comparison with the glories of the mother country. Before 1900 there is little of value to record--except perhaps the historical romance of Philippe de Gaspé (1786-1871), Les Anciens Canadiens--but Louis Hémon (1880-1913) produced a genuine classic in Maria Chapdelaine a story of Canadian pioneer life, original, moving, and sensitive. The somewhat provincial character of French-Canadian life, dominated by the Church and by outmoded notions of morality, has not been conducive either to fictional candour or to formal experiment, and metropolitan France is unimpressed, for the most part, by the literature of the separated brethren. But there is time for an avant-garde to develop and great masters to appear. (see also French literature)
The great age known as "El Siglo de Oro," or the Golden Age, produced what is conceivably (it must contest this claim with War and Peace) the most magnificent of all novels--the Don Quixote of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547-1616). A satire on chivalry that ends as a humane affirmation of the chivalric principle, it encloses--in tender or comic distortion--other fictional forms that flourished in the Spanish Golden Age. The no- vela picaresca fathered a whole European movement, and its best monuments are perhaps the anonymous Lazarillo de Tormes (1554), Guzmán de Alfarache by Mateo Alemán (1547-c. 1614), and El diablo cojuelo (The Limping Devil) by Luis Vélez de Guevera (1579-1644). The pastoral novel, another popular but highly stylized form, was less true fiction than a sort of prose poem, in which lovers in shepherd's disguise bewailed an unattainable or treacherous mistress. But here, since the fictional lovers were often real-life personages in the cloak of a rustic name, the germs of the roman à clef are seen stirring. The novela morisca was an inimitable Spanish form, a kind of fictional documentary about the wars between Christians and Muslims, as in Guerras civiles de Granada (Civil Wars of Granada) by Ginés Pérez de Hita (c. 1544-c. 1619). (see also Spanish literature, "Don Quixote," )
The decline of Spain as a European power is associated, in literature, with feeble nostalgia for the Golden Age or feebler imitations of French classicism. The Spanish novel began to reemerge only in the early 19th century, when a journalism celebrating regional customs encouraged the development of the realistic regional novel, with Fernán Caballero (1796-1877), Armando Palacio Valdés (1853-1938), and the important Vicente Blasco Ib衰ez (1867-1928), whose Sangre y arena (Blood and Sand), Mare nostrum, and Los cuatro jinetes del Apocalipsis (The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse) achieved universal fame and were adapted for the screen in the 1920s.
The fiction of the Generation of '98--which took its name from the year of the Spanish-American War, a cataclysmic event for Spain that bereaved it of the last parts of a once great empire--wasted no time on national nostalgia or self-pity but concentrated on winning a new empire of style. Ramón María del Valle-Inclan (1866-1936) and Ramón Pérez de Ayala (1880-1962) brought a highly original lyricism to the novel, while Pío Baroja (1872-1956) concentrated on representing a world of discrete events, unbound by a unifying philosophy. The fiction that came out of the Civil War of 1936-39 returned to a kind of didactic realism, as with the novels of José Mariá Gironella, who depicted a ravaged and suffering Spain. Camilo José Cela, perhaps the most important modern Spanish novelist, combines realism with a highly original style. His Familia de Pascual Duarte--harrowing, compassionate, brilliantly economical--is a novel of towering merit. (see also "Family of Pascual Duarte, The," )
Though Italy originated the novella, it was slow in coming to the full-length novel. There is little to record before I promessi sposi (The Betrothed) by Alessandro Manzoni (1785-1873), a romantic and patriotic novel that describes life in Italy under Spanish domination in the 17th century. That combination of regionalism and realism already noted in the fiction of Germany and Spain did not appear in Italy until after the unification in 1870, when Giovanni Verga (1840-1922) celebrated his native Sicily in I malavoglia (The House by the Medlar Tree) and Antonio Fogazzaro (1842-1911) showed life in northern Italy during the struggle for unification in Picolo mondo antico (The Little World of the Past). Gabriele D'Annunzio (1863-1938) and Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936) were too original for easy classification, and both worked in all the literary media. Pirandello, especially, helped to bring Italian literature into the modern world through such philosophical novels as Il fu Mattia Pascal (e="mso-bidi-font-style:normal">The Late Matthew Pascal), which raises profound questions about the nature of human identity and yet contrives to be witty, sunny, and essentially Italianate. The importance of Italo Svevo (1861-1928) was obscured for some time because of the difficulty of Italian literati in accepting his relatively unadorned style, but works like La coscienza di Zeno (1923; Confessions of Zeno) and Senilitá (a title that James Joyce, Svevo's friend and English teacher, translated As a Man Grows Older) are generally recognized as major contributions to the international novel.
The significant fiction of the Mussolini regime was produced by anti-Fascist exiles like Giuseppe Borgese (1882-1952) and Ignazio Silone (1900-78), whose Pane e vino (Bread and Wine) is accepted as a 20th-century classic. Alberto Moravia, with La romana (The Woman of Rome) and La noia (The Empty Canvas), is perhaps the most popular Italian novelist outside Italy, but he is probably less important than Giuseppe Berto, Cesare Pavese (1908-50), and Elio Vittorini (1908-66). Giuseppe di Lampedusa (1896-1957) created a solitary masterpiece in Il gattopardo (The Leopard). The experimental writing of Italo Calvino and Carlo Emilio Gadda has become better known outside Italy, but the Italian novel remains linguistically conservative and needs the impact of some powerfully iconoclastic literary figure like James Joyce.
Norway is better known for Ibsen's contribution to the drama and Grieg's to music than for fiction of the first quality. Nevertheless, the novels of Knut Hamsun (1859-1952) earned him the Nobel Prize in 1920, and Sigrid Undset (1882-1949) received the same honour in 1928, though the work of both has failed to engage the lasting attention of world readers of fiction. In Denmark, Johannes Vilhelm Jensen (1873-1950), another Nobel Prize winner, Isak Dinesen (the pen name of Baroness Karen Blixen, 1885-1962), and Martin Nexö; (1869-1954) have contributed to their country's fictional literature but made little mark beyond. Except for the Nobel Prize winners Eyvind Johnson (1900-76) and Harry Martinson (1904-78), the achievement of Sweden's novelists is inconsiderable. The novels of Halldór Laxness have restored to Iceland some of the literary fame it once earned for its sagas. (see also Norwegian literature, Icelandic literature)
Slavic and East European languages.
The greatest novelist of Czech origin, Franz Kafka, wrote in German, but writers in the vernacular include world-famous names such as Jaroslav Hasek (1883-1923), whose The Good Soldier Schweik is acknowledged to be a comic masterpiece, and Karel Capek (1890-1938), best known for the plays R.U.R. (which gave "robot" to the world's vocabulary) and The Life of the Insects but also notable for the novels The Absolute at Large, Krakatit, and The War with the Newts. The Czech fictional genius tends to the satirical and the fantastic. Serbian fiction gained international recognition in 1961 when Ivo Andric won the Nobel Prize for his novels, notably those dealing with the history of Bosnia, which he had written during the second World War. Poland can claim two Nobel prizewinning novelists in Henryk Sienkiewicz (1846-1916), the author of Quo Vadis?, and Wladyslaw S. Reymont (1868-1925), whose novel The Peasants is an aromatic piece of bucolic realism. Witold Gombrowicz (1904-69) wrote a novel, Ferdydurke, that was subjected to two separate modes of suppression--first Fascist, later Communist. A remarkable surrealist essay on "anal tyranny" and depersonalization, it still awaits the acclaim that is due. Romania, which produced outstanding novelists in Eugen Lovinescu and Titu Maiorescu, suffered, like other Balkan countries, from the totalitarian suppression of the free creative spirit; but Dumitru Radu Popescu, author of The Blue Lion, was bold enough in the 1960s to question Communist orthodoxy through the medium of fiction. The work of the Hungarian Gusztáv Rab (1901-66) awaits recognition. His brilliant Sabaria develops very courageously the theme of the conflict between Communism and Christianity and reaches conclusions favourable to neither. It is a disturbing and beautifully composed book. (see also Czech literature, Serbian literature, Polish literature, Romanian literature)
Modern Greece, perhaps more famous for its poets George Seferis and Constantine Cavafy, has produced at least one major novelist in Níkos Kazantzákis (1885-1957), whose Zorba the Greek became famous through its film adaptation. The Last Temptation of Christ, which presents the life of Jesus as a struggle to overcome "the dark immemorial forces of the Evil One, human and pre-human," glows with the writer's personality and bristles with the dialectic that was one of the first Greek gifts to Western civilization.
The Jewish novel.
The literature of the Diaspora--the dispersion of the Jews after their exile from ancient Babylonia--records many large achievements in the languages of exile and that dialect of Low German-- Yiddish--which the Ashkenazi Jews have taken around the world. Perhaps the most interesting of modern Jewish novelists in Yiddish is Isaac Bashevis Singer, a naturalized American who refuses to be absorbed linguistically into America, unlike Bellow and Malamud, who have brought to the Anglo-American language typical tones and rhythms of the ghetto. (see also Yiddish literature)
Israel, which is producing its own rich crop of national writers, began with an existing corpus of literature in modern Hebrew, a language promoted and nurtured by such scholars as Eliezer ben Yehuda (1858-1923) and the members of the neologizing Hebrew Academy of Israel. Among the early Hebrew novelists is Abraham Mapu (1808-67); among the later ones is the brilliant Moshe Shamir. The first Nobel Prize for Literature ever awarded to a Hebrew novelist went, justly, to Shmuel Yosef Agnon (1888-1970). The contemporary Hebrew novel is notable for a fusion of international sophistication and earthy homegrown realism. (see also Hebrew literature)
ASIA, AFRICA, LATIN AMERICA
The tradition of storytelling is an ancient one in China, and the full-length novel can be found as far back as the late 16th century. The fiction of the 18th century shows a variety of themes and techniques not dissimilar to those of Europe, with social satire, chivalric romance, and adventure stories. Ts'ao Chan (1715?-63) wrote a novel called Hung lou meng (translated as Dream of the Red Chamber in 1892), which has features not unlike those of Galsworthy's The Forsyte Saga and Mann's Buddenbrooks--a story of a great aristocratic family in decline, garnished with love interest and shot through with pathos. The early days of the 20th century saw the foundation of the Chinese republic and the development of popular fiction written in the vernacular style of Chinese called pai-hua. (see also Chinese literature)
From 1917 until the Sino-Japanese War (1937-45), a period of social and intellectual ferment, there was a great influx of Western novels, and, under their influence, movements like those devoted to realism and naturalism in Europe produced a great number of didactic novels. Novels like Lao She's Rickshaw Boy and Pa Chin's Chinese Earth appeared in the postwar period, but the Communist regime has quelled all but propagandist fiction. Such novels as Liu Ching's Wall of Bronze, Chao Shu-li's Changes in Li Village, and Ting Ling's Sun Shines over the Sangkan River are typical glorifications of the Maoist philosophy and the socialist achievements of the people.
A literature that admires economy, like the Japanese, is bound to favour, in fictional art, the short story above the full-length novel. Nevertheless, some of the ancient pillow-books, with their diary jottings and anecdotes, have the ring of autobiographical novels; while Murasaki Shikibu's Tale of Genji, produced nearly a thousand years ago, is a great and sophisticated work of fictional history. The 20th-century Japanese novel has been developed chiefly under Western influence, like the work of Akutagawa Ryunosuke (1892-1927), whose short stories "Rashomon" and "Yabu no naka" became the highly applauded film Rashomon. Tanizaki Jun-ichiro (1886-1965) is well known in America and Europe for The Key, The Makioka Sisters, and Diary of a Mad Old Man. His novels, all set in a modern, Westernized Japan, are assured of universal popularity because of their frank and lavish sexual content. Mishima Yukio (1925-70), who committed ceremonial suicide at the height of his reputation, was perhaps the most successful, and certainly the most prolific, of all modern Japanese novelists. Ten of his fictions had been filmed; he had won all the major Japanese literary awards and appeared to be destined for the Nobel Prize. His works are characterized by ruthless violence and a perversity that, however much it seems to derive from the pornographic excesses of Western fiction, is certainly in the Japanese tradition. His work is hard to judge, but he was the most considerable literary figure of the East. (see also Japanese literature)
India and East Asia.
The Indian novel is a branch of British Commonwealth literature. That is to say, it is practiced by writers who have received a British literary education and, for the most part, publish their books in London. There is no evidence of any great development of fiction in any of the native Indian tongues: a taste for reading novels, as opposed to seeing films or reading short stories in the Hindi or Punjabi press, is acquired in India along with an education in English, which is still the unifying tongue of the subcontinent. In Malaysia, where the same tradition holds, short stories are being written in Malay, Chinese, and Tamil, but the full-length novel is almost exclusively written in English. It is as much a matter of literary markets as of literary education. No novel in any of the tongues of the peninsula is likely to be a remunerative publishing proposition, as Han Suyin--a best-selling Chinese woman doctor from Johore, who found large fame with A Many-Splendoured Thing--would be the first to admit, for all her dislike of the British colonial tradition. Indonesia's abandonment of all vestiges of its Dutch colonial past is associated with the encouragement of a literature in Bahasa Indonesia, a variety of Malay, and there are a number of Indonesian novelists still looking for a large educated audience--inevitably in translation, in the West. Among these Mochtar Lubis is notable; his Twilight in Djakarta is a bitter indictment of the Sukarno regime, which promptly sent him to prison. This was not the kind of fiction that the new Indonesia had in mind. (see also Indonesian literatures)
What applies to India and the East Indies applies also to Africa: there is still an insufficiently large audience for fiction written in any of the major African languages, and African novelists brought up on English are only too happy to continue working in it. Other European languages--chiefly Afrikaans (a South African variety of Dutch) and French--are employed as a fictional medium. Arthur Fula, who wrote Janie Giet die Beeld (Janie Casts the Image), is an Afrikaans novelist whose reputation has not, as yet, stretched to Europe or America, but the novelists of the former French possessions are gaining a name among serious students of the African novel. Mongo Beti, from Cameroon, is known for his Pauvre Christ de Bomba and Le Roi miraculé; the Ivory Coast has Aké Loba, and Hamidou Kane represents Senegal. This new African French deserves to be regarded as a distinct literary language, unrelated to that of Paris or Quebec, but the critical and linguistic tools for appraising the fiction of French-speaking Africans are not yet available.
One of the greatest contemporary writers of fiction, Jorge Luis Borges, is an Argentinian, but his ficciones are very short short stories and must, with regrets, be excluded from any survey of the novel. It is significant, however, that the circumstances for the creation of a great fictional literature are in existence in Latin America, signifying (unlike the case in many former British dependencies) a shedding of the old colonial provincialism, which relied on the opinion of Madrid or, in Brazil, of Lisbon. The first Latin American novel was probably El periquillo sarniento (1816; The Itching Parrot), by the Mexican José Joaquín Fernández de Lizardi (1776-1827), a picaresque work satirizing colonial conditions. In Argentina, José Mármol (1817-71) published the first major novel of the continent--Amalia (1851-55), a powerful study of the fear and degradation that were rife in Buenos Aires during the dictatorship of the corrupt and tyrannical Juan Manuel de Rosas. The Romantic period in Europe had its counterpart in the sentimental wave that overtook such novelists as the Colombian Jorge Isaacs (1837-95), while the new humanitarianism found a voice in Birds Without a Nest, a protest-novel on the conditions forced on the Indians of Peru, written by Clorinda Matto de Turner (1854-1901). Juan León Mera followed the same trend in Cumandá, a novel about the oppression of the Ecuadorian Indians. As Latin America moved toward the modern age, the inevitable novels of urban social protest made their appearance. Alberto Blest Gana (1830-1920) of Chile, Carlos Reyles (1868-1938) of Uruguay, and Gustavo Martínez Zuviría of Argentina are names of some historical significance; and Reyles's naturalistic novel La Raza de Caín (Cain's Race) is original in that it finds a parallel between the breeding of stock and the building of a human society.
A 20th-century reaction against the bourgeois novel led to the movement known as nativism, with its concentration on the land itself, the lot of the indigenous peoples, the need for an anti-racist revolution with the aim of true egalitarianism. Los de Abajo (1915; The Underdogs), by the Mexican Mariano Azuela (1873-1952), and El Señor Presidente (1946), by Miguel Angel Asturias of Guatemala, typify the new revolutionary novel. Much of the didactic energy that went to the making of such work resulted in a lack of balance between subject matter and style: the literature of revolt tends to be shrill and crude. The inevitable reaction to a more sophisticated kind of literature, in which the individual became more important than society and the unconscious more interesting than the operation of reason, led to the highly refined experimentation that is the mark of Borges, the Brazilian Érico Veríssimo, and Eduardo Barrios of Chile.
The fiction of Brazil is in many ways more interesting than the fiction of the mother country, which has produced only one major novelist in the realist José Maria de Eça de Queirós (1845-1900). Gregório de Matos Guerra, as early as the 17th century, wrote bitterly of colonial administration and painted a realistic picture of Brazilian life. Irony and keen observation have been characteristic of the Brazilian novel ever since--as in the Memórias Póstumus de Brás Cubas (1881) and Dom Casmurro of Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis (1839-1908); the Canaã (1902; Canaan ) of José Pereira da Graça Aranha (1868-1931), a remarkable study of the disillusion of German settlers in a new land; and the Os Sertões (Rebellion in the Backlands) of Euclides da Cunha (1866-1909), an account of a revolt against the newly formed Brazilian republic. The social consciousness of Brazilian novelists is remarkable, especially when it is associated with a strong concern for stylistic economy and grace. Monteiro Lobato (1882-1948), with his rustic hero Jeca Tatú; José Lins do Rêgo (1901-1957), chronicler of the decay of the old plantation life; Jorge Amado, a socialist novelist much concerned with slum life in Bahia; Érico Veríssimo, an experimental writer grounded in the traditional virtues of credible plot and strong characterization--these attest a vigour hardly to be found in the fiction published in Lisbon.
SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC ASPECTS
Though publishers of fiction recognize certain obligations to art, even when these are unprofitable (as they usually are), they are impelled for the most part to regard the novel as a commercial property and to be better pleased with large sales of indifferent work than with the mere unremunerative acclaim of the intelligentsia for books of rare merit. For this reason, any novelist who seeks to practice his craft professionally must consult the claims of the market and effect a compromise between what he wishes to write and what the public will buy. Many worthy experimental novels, or novels more earnest than entertaining, gather dust in manuscript or are circulated privately in photocopies. Indeed, the difficulty that some unestablished novelists find in gaining a readership (which means the attention of a commercial publisher) has led them to take the copying machine as seriously as the printing press and to make the composition, mimeographing, binding, and distribution of a novel into a single cottage industry. For the majority of novelists the financial rewards of their art are nugatory, and only a strong devotion to the form for its own sake can drive them to the building of an oeuvre. The subsidies provided by university sinecures sustain a fair number of major American novelists; others, in most countries, support their art by practicing various kinds of subliterature--journalism, film scripts, textbooks, even pseudonymous pornography. Few novelists write novels and novels only. (see also publishing)
There are certain marginal windfalls, and the hope of gaining one of these tempers the average novelist's chronic desperation. America has its National Book Award as well as its book club choices; France has a great variety of prizes; there are also international bestowals; above all there glows the rarest and richest of all accolades--the Nobel Prize for Literature. Quite often the Nobel Prize winner needs the money as much as the fame, and his election to the honour is not necessarily a reflection of a universal esteem which, even for geniuses like Samuel Beckett, means large sales and rich royalties. When Sinclair Lewis received the award in 1930, wealth and fame were added to wealth and fame already sufficiently large; when William Faulkner was chosen in 1949, most of his novels had been long out of print in America.
Prizes come so rarely, and often seem to be bestowed so capriciously, that few novelists build major hopes on them. They build even fewer hopes on patronage: Harriet Shaw Weaver, James Joyce's patroness, was probably the last of a breed that, from Maecenas on, once intermittently flourished; state patronage--as represented, for instance, by the annual awards of the Arts Council of Great Britain--can provide little more than a temporary palliative for the novelist's indigence. Novelists have more reasonable hopes from the world of the film or the stage, where adaptations can be profitable and even salvatory. The long struggles of the British novelist T.H. White came to an end when his Arthurian sequence The Once and Future King (1958) was translated into a stage musical called Camelot, though, by treating the lump sum paid to him as a single year's income instead of a reward for decades of struggle, nearly all the windfall would have gone for taxes if White had not taken his money into low-tax exile. Such writers as Graham Greene, nearly all of whose novels have been filmed, must be tempted to regard mere book sales as an inconsiderable aspect of the rewards of creative writing. There are few novelists who have not received welcome and unexpected advances on film options, and sometimes the hope of film adaptation has influenced the novelist's style. In certain countries, such as Great Britain but not the United States, television adaptation of published fiction is common, though it pays the author less well than commercial cinema.
When a novelist becomes involved in film-script writing--either in the adaptation of his own work or that of others--the tendency is for him to become subtly corrupted by what seems to him an easier as well as more lucrative technique than that of the novel. Most novelists write dialogue with ease, and their contribution to a film is mostly dialogue: the real problem in novel writing lies in the management of the récit. A number of potentially fine novelists, like Terry Southern and Frederic Raphael, have virtually abandoned the literary craft because of their continued success with script writing. In 70-odd years the British novelist Richard Hughes produced only three novels, the excellence of which has been universally recognized; fiction lovers have been deprived of more because of the claims of the film world on Hughes's talent. This kind of situation finds no counterpart in any other period of literary history, except perhaps in the Elizabethan, when the commercial lure of the drama made some good poets write poor plays.
The majority of professional novelists must look primarily to book sales for their income, and they must look decreasingly to hardcover sales. The novel in its traditional format, firmly stitched and sturdily clothbound, is bought either by libraries or by readers who take fiction seriously enough to wish to acquire a novel as soon as it appears: if they wait 12 months or so, they can buy the novel in paper covers for less than its original price. This edition of a novel has become, for the vast majority of fiction readers, the form in which they first meet it, and the novelist who does not achieve paperback publication is missing a vast potential audience. He may not repine at this, since the quantitative approach to literary communication may safely be disregarded: the legend on a paperback cover--FIVE MILLION COPIES SOLD--says nothing about the worth of the book within. Nevertheless, the advance he will receive from his hardcover publisher is geared to eventual paperback expectations, and the "package deal" has become the rule in negotiations between publisher and author's agent. The agent, incidentally, has become important to both publisher and author to an extent that writers like Daniel Defoe and Samuel Richardson would, if resurrected, find hard to understand. (see also paperback book)
The novelist may reasonably expect to augment his income through the sale of foreign rights in his work, though the rewards accruing from translation are always uncertain. The translator himself is usually a professional and demands a reasonable reward for his labours, more indeed than the original author may expect: the reputations of some translators are higher than those of some authors, and even the translators' names may be better known. Moreover, the author who earns most from publication in his own language will usually earn most in translation, since it is the high initial home sales that attract foreign publishers to a book. The more "literary" a novel is, the more it exploits the resources of the author's own language, the less likely is it to achieve either popularity at home or publication abroad. Best-selling novels like Mario Puzo's Godfather (1969) or Arthur Hailey's Airport (1968) are easy to read and easy to translate, so they win all around. It occasionally happens that an author is more popular abroad than he is at home: the best-selling novels of the Scottish physician-novelist A.J. Cronin are no longer highly regarded in England and America, as they were in the 1930s and '40s, but they continued to sell by the million in the U.S.S.R. several decades later. However, a novelist is wisest to expect most from his own country and to regard foreign popularity as an inexplicable bonus.
As though his financial problems were not enough, the novelist frequently has to encounter those dragons unleashed by public morality or by the law. The struggles of Flaubert, Zola, and Joyce, denounced for attempting to advance the frontiers of literary candour, are well known and still vicariously painful, but lesser novelists, working in a more permissive age, can record cognate agonies. Generally speaking, any novelist writing after the publication in the 1960s of Hubert Selby's Last Exit to Brooklyn or Gore Vidal's Myra Breckenridge can expect little objection, on the part of either publisher or police, to language or subject matter totally unacceptable, under the obscenity laws then operating, in 1922, when Ulysses was first published. This is certainly true of America, if not of Ireland or Malta. But many serious novelists fear an eventual reaction against literary permissiveness as a result of the exploitation by cynical obscenity mongers or hard-core pornographers of the existing liberal situation.
In some countries, particularly Great Britain, the law of libel presents insuperable problems to novelists who, innocent of libellous intent, are nevertheless sometimes charged with defamation by persons who claim to be the models for characters in works of fiction. Disclaimers to the effect that "resemblances to real-life people are wholly coincidental" have no validity in law, which upholds the right of a plaintiff to base his charge on the corroboration of "reasonable people." Many such libel cases are settled before they come to trial, and publishers will, for the sake of peace and in the interests of economy, make a cash payment to the plaintiff without considering the author's side. They will also, and herein lies the serious blow to the author, withdraw copies of the allegedly offensive book and pulp the balance of a whole edition. Novelists are seriously hampered in their endeavours to show, in a traditional spirit of artistic honesty, corruption in public life; they have to tread carefully even in depicting purely imaginary characters and situations, since the chance collocation of a name, a profession, and a locality may produce a libellous situation. (see also English law)
EVALUATION AND STUDY
It has been only in comparatively recent times that the novel has been taken sufficiently seriously by critics for the generation of aesthetic appraisal and the formulation of fictional theories. The first critics of the novel developed their craft not in full-length books but in reviews published in periodicals: much of this writing--in the late 18th and early 19th centuries--was of an occasional nature, and not a little of it casual and desultory; nor, at first, did critics of fiction find it easy to separate a kind of moral judgment of the subject matter from an aesthetic judgment of the style. Such fragmentary observations on the novel as those made by Dr. Johnson in conversation or by Jane Austen in her letters, or, in France, by Gustave Flaubert during the actual process of artistic gestation, have the charm and freshness of insight rather than the weight of true aesthetic judgment. It is perhaps not until the beginning of the 20th century, when Henry James wrote his authoritative prefaces to his own collected novels, that a true criteriology of fiction can be said to have come into existence. The academic study of the novel presupposes some general body of theory, like that provided by Percy Lubbock's Craft of Fiction (1921) or E.M. Forster's Aspects of the Novel (1927) or the subsequent writings of the critics Edmund Wilson and F.R. Leavis. Since World War II it may be said that university courses in the evaluation of fiction have attained the dignity traditionally monopolized by poetry and the drama. (see also literary criticism)
A clear line should be drawn between the craft of fiction criticism and the journeyman work of fiction reviewing. Reviews are mainly intended to provide immediate information about new novels: they are done quickly and are subject to the limitations of space; they not infrequently make hasty judgments that are later regretted. The qualifications sought in a reviewer are not formidable: smartness, panache, waspishness--qualities that often draw the attention of the reader to the personality of the reviewer rather than the work under review--will always be more attractive to circulation-hunting editors than a less spectacular concern with balanced judgment. A thoughtful editor will sometimes put the reviewing of novels into the hands of a practicing novelist, who--knowing the labour that goes into even the meanest book--will be inclined to sympathy more than to flamboyant condemnation. The best critics of fiction are probably novelists manqués, men who have attempted the art and, if not exactly failed, not succeeded as well as they could have wished. Novelists who achieve very large success are possibly not to be trusted as critics: obsessed by their own individual aims and attainments, shorn of self-doubt by the literary world's acclaim or their royalty statements, they bring to other men's novels a kind of magisterial blindness.
Novelists can be elated by good reviews and depressed by bad ones, but it is rare that a novelist's practice is much affected by what he reads about himself in the literary columns. Genuine criticism is a very different matter, and a writer's approach to his art can be radically modified by the arguments and summations of a critic he respects or fears. As the hen is unable to judge of the quality of the egg it lays, so the novelist is rarely able to explain or evaluate his work. He relies on the professional critic for the elucidation of the patterns in his novels, for an account of their subliminal symbolism, for a reasoned exposition of their stylistic faults. As for the novel reader, he will often learn enthusiasm for particular novelists through the writings of critics rather than from direct confrontation with the novels themselves. The essays in Edmund Wilson's Axel's Castle (1931) aroused an interest in the Symbolist movement which the movement was not easily able to arouse by itself; the essay on Finnegans Wake, collected in Wilson's Wound and the Bow (1941), eased the way into a very difficult book in a manner that no grim work of solid exegesis could have achieved. The essence of the finest criticism derives from wisdom and humanity more than from mere expert knowledge. Great literature and great criticism possess in common a sort of penumbra of wide but unsystematic learning, a devotion to civilized values, an awareness of tradition, and a willingness to rely occasionally on the irrational and intuitive.
All this probably means that the criticism of fiction can never, despite the efforts of aestheticians schooled in modern linguistics, become an exact science. A novel must be evaluated in terms of a firmly held literary philosophy, but such a philosophy is, in the final analysis, based on the irrational and subjective. If the major premises on which F.R. Leavis bases his judgments of George Eliot, Mark Twain, and D.H. Lawrence are accepted, then an acceptance of the judgments themselves is inescapable. But many students of fiction who are skeptical of Leavis will read him in order that judgments of their own may emerge out of a purely negative rejection of his. In reading criticism a kind of dialectic is involved, but no synthesis is ever final. The process of revaluation goes on for ever. One of the sure tests of a novel's worth is its capacity for engendering critical dialectic: no novel is beyond criticism, but many are beneath it.
THE FUTURE OF THE NOVEL
It is apparent that neither law nor public morality nor the public's neglect nor the critic's scorn has ever seriously deflected the dedicated novelist from his self-imposed task of interpreting the real world or inventing alternative worlds. Statistics since World War II have shown a steady increase in the number of novels published annually, and beneath the iceberg tip of published fiction lies a submarine Everest of unpublished work. It has been said that every person has at least one novel in him, and the near-universal literacy of the West has produced dreams of authorship in social ranks traditionally deprived of literature. Some of these dreams come true, and taxi drivers, pugilists, criminals, and film stars have competed, often successfully, in a field that once belonged to professional writers alone. It is significant that the amateur who dreams of literary success almost invariably chooses the novel, not the poem, essay, or autobiography. Fiction requires no special training and can be readable, even absorbing, when it breaks the most elementary rules of style. It tolerates a literary incompetence unthinkable in the poem. If all professional novelists withdrew, the form would not languish: amateurs would fill the market with first and only novels, all of which would find readership.
But the future of any art lies with its professionals. Here a distinction has to be made between the Joyces, Henry Jameses, and Conrads on the one hand, and the more ephemeral Mickey Spillanes, Harold Robbinses, and Irving Wallaces on the other. Of the skill of the latter class of novelists there can be no doubt, but it is a skill employed for limited ends, chiefly the making of money, and through it the novel can never advance as art. The literary professionals, however, are dedicated to the discovery of new means of expressing, through the experiential immediacies that are the very stuff of fiction, the nature of man and society. In the symbiosis of publishing, the best-seller will probably continue to finance genuine fictional art. Despite the competition from other art media, and the agonies and the indigence, there are indications that the serious novel will flourish in the future.
It will flourish because it is the one literary form capable of absorbing all the others. The technique of the stage drama or the film can be employed in the novel (as in Ulysses and Giles Goat-Boy), as can the devices of poetry (as in Philip Toynbee's Pantaloon and the novels of Wilson Harris and Janet Frame). In France, as Michel Butor has pointed out, the new novel is increasingly performing some of the tasks of the old essay; in America, as Capote's In Cold Blood and Mailer's Armies of the Night have shown, the documentary report can gain strength from its presentation as fictional narrative. There are few limits on what the novel can do, there are many experimental paths still to be trod, and there is never any shortage of subject matter.
For all this, periods of decline and inanition may be expected, though not everywhere at once. The strength of the American novel in the period after World War II had something to do with the national atmosphere of breakdown and change: political and social urgencies promoted a quality of urgency in the works of such writers as Mailer, Bellow, Ellison, Heller, and Philip Roth. In the same period, Britain, having shed its empire and erected a welfare state, robbed its novelists of anything larger to write about than temporary indentations in the class system, suburban adultery, and manners. An achieved or static society does not easily produce great art. France, which has known much social and ideological turmoil, has generated a new aesthetic of the novel as well as a philosophy that, as Sartre and Camus have shown, is very suitable for fictional expression. A state on which intellectual quietism or a political philosophy of art is imposed by the ruling party can, as the Soviet Union and China show, succeed only in thwarting literary greatness, but the examples of Pasternak and Solzhenitsyn are reminders that repression can, with rare artistic spirits, act as an agonizing stimulus.
Every art in every country is subject to a cyclical process; during a period of decline it is necessary to keep the communication lines open, producing minor art so that it may some day, unexpectedly, turn into major art. Wherever the novel seems to be dying it is probably settling into sleep; elsewhere it will be alive and vigorous enough. It is important to believe that the novel has a future, though not everywhere at once.