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The novelists of the former school are generally very severe upon those of the latter, and the curious reader of discussions of this sort will find in the letters of Flaubert many pages devoted to this theory of impersonal art to which the author of Madame Bovary appears to have attached a deceptive importance. A little reflection is sufficient to show that in this there is only a mere wordy quibble which does not touch the root of the matter ; for on the one hand the novelists, the most fanatically devoted to this impersonal art, reveal themselves throughout their works by the choice of their subjects, by their manner of dealing with their characters, by their style—that undeniable confession of our feeling-by their accent in this or that episode. Their pretended effacement is, therefore, only a literary artifice, just as the subjectivity of the others does not prevent them, if they really see their characters, from bringing them before us in full relief; witness Le Rouge et le Noir, La Petite Fadette, or François le Champi, and all the works of Balzac. No other author has surrounded his heroes with more digressions, general ideas, commentaries; no other author has created a world richer and more abounding in immortal types. It may be said, indeed, that notwithstanding the pretension of the objective novelists to a greater resemblance to reality, the method of the subjective novelists is more in conformity with what actually takes place in life. Every occurrence which is related implies a narrator who, in relating it, experiences certain emotions. It is only by design and by a voluntary effort that this narrator succeeds in dissimulating them. There is nothing more artificial, for instance, than the method employed by a novelist who is nevertheless a man of genius—I mean Tolstoi. It consists in constructing novels without any central character, under the pretext that the events of life succeed each other without coherence. He does not reflect that those events would not be the subject of a narrative if they were not known, and that they can only be known by the intellect which classifies them in becoming acquainted with them. Hence is derived that great principle which the classical masters have never disregarded, the subordination of the characters, and the central position given to one of them, from whose point of view all the others are seen.
If we wish to have a more exact classification of the novelists we should rather, it seems to me, group them according to the number and the choice of the personages they are capable of conceiving. Some do not know how to deal easily with several heroes, their dialogue consequently is weak, their action often imperfect; on the other hand, when they devote themselves to the study of the minutely diversified qualities of the human mind, they penetrate to its very depths. Just as the savant who places a tissue under the microscope perceives fibrils of infinite tenuity,so these novelists excel in resolving a passion into its cellular elements, as it were. They are akin to the psychologist but are distinguished from him by that vital faculty which enabled Benjamin Constant and Sainte-Beuve to create human beings and not abstractions. This first-named group is that of the analytical novelists. They have as antithesis the novelists of action and the novelists of manners. The last-named possess, on the other hand, the faculty of seeing many characters at once and of seeing them in movement. They are impressed by the human conflict around them, by the influence of will over will, or they note the analogies and the contrasts between individuals, their identity, or their divergence, according to their surroundings. They compose works of intrigue and dramas, or they paint social pictures. Both methods are attended by great dangers. The analytical novelists, intent as they are upon minute differences, often drift into the exceptional, into subtlety, and into mannerism. The novelists of action, intent, above all things, upon the interest of the story, are too apt to neglect causes. The novelists of manners, intent upon painting general habits, confine themselves only too frequently to the study of comonplace characters because they more closely resemble so many others, and express the ordinary triteness of daily life.
It sometimes happens, however, that the faculty of seeing far down into the depths of the human mind and the capacity for prolific creation are met with in the same writer. It is then that we have the superior novelist and that the Art of Fiction attains its most powerful form in the novel of character. It is distinguished from the analytical novel by admitting action, and from the novel of manners by its surroundings, especially affording the opportunity of offering resistance to those surroundings. It more closely resembles nature, which causes the co-existence in us of the individual and the relative life, and results in that delineation of the individual in conflict with observances which cnables types of character to be strongly drawn. For therein is the measure of our own energy. It is to the character novel that we owe Gil Blas, Marianne, Manon Lescaut, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Le Père Goriot, La Cousine Bette, Le Rouge et le Noir, Mauprat, Monsieur de Camors—in a word, works which are the most thoughtful and the most vital of romantic literature. But this indisputable superiority ought not to render us unjust towards the less complete varieties of this class of writing. Though the analytical novel may only lend powerful aid to the exact science of the human mind, the novel of manners to history and legislation, the novel of intrigue to our mere amusement, they ought not to be disdained.
These few notes do not pretend to exhaust the subject. Whenever we touch these general æsthetical problems we feel that they include an infinite number of particular problems. How, for instance, is the historical novel, as treated by Flaubert in Salammbó, to be connected with the idyllic novel as conceived by Georges Sand in her Berri stories, and the novel of manners ? What becomes of the analytical novel when it transforms itself into a novel with a purpose, or when it devotes itself to the study of morbid matters as in the queer stories of an Edgar Poe or a Hoffmann? In which nation has romantic literature most abundantly flourished, and why have the English, the Russians, and the French excelled in it, while the Germans and the Italians have merely followed at a distance ? Of what development does it appear to be still capablc, or does its apogee indicate the approach of its decline? These are unsettled questions which all deserve to be treated in minute detail. What a vast field a critic like SainteBeuve would have before him if he wished to write that Histoire des Espèces Litteraires, almost all of which remains to be traced, and which would be a history of the real modern Rhetoric.
T was announced, the other day, that certain Americans
were about to found a School for Fiction. The news furnished excellent material for the clever leader writer and the smart paragraph writer. We have heard nothing more about the proposal, and perhaps it was only invented by and for the latter, who is too often compelled in hard times to invent his news for himself. Still, when the epigrams of the leader writer and the scoffs of the paragraph writer had in some measure lost their force upon one's spirits, the proposal began to afford food for reflection. Even at the risk of drawing the barbed epigram from the subject to my own head, I venture to illustrate one or two aspects of the Science, or the Art, of Fiction by reference to this proposed School.
For, one begins to think, here is a very great and noble Art. it is an Art of which everything that has ever been said of painting, sculpture, music,and poetry, may also be said; whether of loveliness and grace, fidelity to nature, loftiness of ideal, power of moving the world to pity or to terror, to laughter or to tears, power to raise or to degrade the soul, power to advance or to lower humanity. And, like the sister Arts, it can only be practised by those who have the natural aptitude-I would rather call it genius, but the world will not allow the word to be used except of certain recognised men and women-mostly dead.
Next, not only is Fiction a great Art, but it is pursued, like the other Arts, as a profession by thousands. In every civilised country in the world there are many who work at fiction just as there are many who work at painting or at music. But for one person who can understand a good picture or a good piece of music, a landscape or a portrait well and truly painted, or a sonata well and truly played ; for one who can catch the spirit of the picture or the spirit of the music, there are thousands who can seize on a good novel when they get one, can grasp its aim, rise to its situations, and
understand its characters. Let us fully realise this statement. Thousands of men and women are at work all day writing novelsmen and women in Russia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Great Britain, America, Scandinavia, Holland, all working at this Art. Those who succeed, it is true, may be numbered by a few hundreds. In the same way the walls of the Salon, the Royal Academy, and all the galleries in the world are every year crowded with picturesthousands upon thousands of pictures—yet the true painters, those who succeed, may be numbered by a few hundreds. Perhaps there are three hundred painters out of all the countries whose works are cherished by that part of the world which understands painting. Certainly there are not three hundred artists in fiction whose books are read by those who have any understanding of the Art-as an Art.
What educational encouragements or aids are provided for those who attempt this Art? None-absolutely none. The candidate is left wholly to himself. He must find out everything. The whole of the technique must be discovered by himself. It is as if we were to take the lad who cannot keep his fingers from the pencil and were to lock him up in a room with a white canvas, an easel, a palette, and a bundle of brushes and paints, and tell him to make himself a painter. Or it is as if we were to turn him loose in a gallery and let him learn by gazing upon the finished work what it was like in its unfinished stages.
Or it is as if we were to place a young musician, whose fingers must still be running over the keys, in a room with a pianoforte in it and a pile of music, and tell him to find out for himself how to use the former and how to write the latter. Everyone acknowledges this absurdity applied to painting and music. When it is applied to Fiction no one perceives it. Why? Because the world does not believe or understand that Fiction is one of the Fine Arts. Again, for the other Fine Arts there are the encouragements and the teachings of criticism. I mean intelligent criticism, that is based on knowledge of the technique as well as an understanding of good work. No Art criticism, it seems to me, can possibly be of any value unless the critic understands the workmanship and knows the tools. What encouragement, what teaching can the young student in the Art of Fiction derive from the criticism