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Title: The Craft of Fiction
Author: Lubbock, Percy, 1879-1965
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Jonathan Cape
Eleven Gower Street, London
First Published 1921.



To grasp the shadowy and fantasmal form of a book, to hold it fast, to
turn it over and survey it at leisure--that is the effort of a critic
of books, and it is perpetually defeated. Nothing, no power, will keep
a book steady and motionless before us, so that we may have time to
examine its shape and design. As quickly as we read, it melts and
shifts in the memory; even at the moment when the last page is turned,
a great part of the book, its finer detail, is already vague and
doubtful. A little later, after a few days or months, how much is
really left of it? A cluster of impressions, some clear points
emerging from a mist of uncertainty, this is all we can hope to
possess, generally speaking, in the name of a book. The experience of
reading it has left something behind, and these relics we call by the
book's name; but how can they be considered to give us the material
for judging and appraising the book? Nobody would venture to criticize
a building, a statue, a picture, with nothing before him but the
memory of a single glimpse caught in passing; yet the critic of
literature, on the whole, has to found his opinion upon little more.
Sometimes it is possible to return to the book and renew the
impression; to a few books we may come back again and again, till they
do in the end become familiar sights. But of the hundreds and hundreds
of books that a critic would wish to range in his memory, in order to
scrutinize and compare them reflectively, how many can he expect to
bring into a state of reasonable stability? Few indeed, at the best;
as for the others, he must be content with the shapeless, incoherent
visions that respond when the recollection of them is invoked.

It is scarcely to be wondered at if criticism is not very precise, not
very exact in the use of its terms, when it has to work at such a
disadvantage. Since we can never speak of a book with our eye on the
object, never handle a book--the real book, which is to the volume as
the symphony to the score--our phrases find nothing to check them,
immediately and unmistakably, while they are formed. Of a novel, for
instance, that I seem to know well, that I recall as an old
acquaintance, I may confidently begin to express an opinion; but when,
having expressed it, I would glance at the book once more, to be
satisfied that my judgement fits it, I can only turn to the image,
such as it is, that remains in a deceiving memory. The volume lies
before me, no doubt, and if it is merely a question of detail, a name
or a scene, I can find the page and verify my sentence. But I cannot
catch a momentary sight of the book, the book itself; I cannot look
up from my writing and sharpen my impression with a straight,
unhampered view of the author's work; to glance at a book, though the
phrase is so often in our mouths, is in fact an impossibility. The
form of a novel--and how often a critic uses that expression too--is
something that none of us, perhaps, has ever really contemplated. It
is revealed little by little, page by page, and it is withdrawn as
fast as it is revealed; as a whole, complete and perfect, it could
only exist in a more tenacious memory than most of us have to rely on.
Our critical faculty may be admirable; we may be thoroughly capable of
judging a book justly, if only we could watch it at ease. But fine
taste and keen perception are of no use to us if we cannot retain the
image of the book; and the image escapes and evades us like a cloud.

We are so well accustomed to this disability that I may seem to make
too much of it. In theory, certainly, the book is never present in the
critic's mind, never there in all its completeness; but enough of it,
in a commonly good memory, remains to be discussed and criticized--the
book as we remember it, the book that survives, is sufficient for
practical purposes. Such we assume to be the case, and our criticism
is very little troubled by the thought that it is only directed at
certain fragments of the book which the author wrote, the rest of it
having ceased to exist for us. There is plenty to say of a book, even
in this condition; for the hours of our actual exposure to it were
full and eventful, and after living for a time with people like
Clarissa Harlowe or Anna Karenina or Emma Bovary we have had a lasting
experience, though the novels in which they figured may fall away into
dimness and uncertainty. These women, with some of the scenes and
episodes of their history, remain with us as vividly as though we had
known them in life; and we still keep a general impression of their
setting and their fortunes, a background more or less undefined, but
associated with the thought of them. It all makes a very real and
solid possession of a kind, and we readily accept it as the book
itself. One does not need to remember the smaller detail of the story
to perceive the truth and force of the characters; and if a great deal
is forgotten, the most striking aspects of the case will linger in the
mind as we look back. Dramatic episodes, fine pieces of description,
above all the presence of many interesting and remarkable
people--while there is so much that instantly springs to light when
the book is mentioned, it seems perverse to say that the book is not
before us as we write of it. The real heart and substance of the book,
it might even be urged, stands out the more clearly for the obscurity
into which the less essential parts of it subside.

And true it is that for criticism of the author's genius, of the power
and quality of his imagination, the impressions we are able to save
from oblivion are material in plenty. Of Richardson and Tolstoy and
Flaubert we can say at once that their command of life, their grasp of
character, their knowledge of human affections and manners, had a
certain range and strength and depth; we can penetrate their minds and
detect the ideas that ruled there. To have lived with their creations
is to have lived with them as well; with so many hours of familiar
intercourse behind us we have learnt to know them, and it matters
little that at any particular moment our vision of their work is bound
to be imperfect. The forgotten detail has all contributed to our sense
of the genius which built up and elaborated the structure, and that
sense abides. Clarissa and Anna and Emma are positive facts, and so
are their authors; the criticism of fiction is securely founded upon
its object, if by fiction we mean something more, something other,
than the novel itself--if we mean its life-like effects, and the
imaginative gifts which they imply in the novelist. These we can
examine as long and as closely as we choose, for they persist and grow
more definite as we cultivate the remembrance of them. And to these,
accordingly, we find our criticism always tending; we discuss the
writer, we discuss the people in his book, we discuss the kind of life
he renders and his success in the rendering. But meanwhile the book,
the thing he made, lies imprisoned in the volume, and our glimpse of
it was too fleeting, it seems, to leave us with a lasting knowledge of
its form. We soon reach the end of so much as we have to say on that

Perhaps we should have more to say of it if we read the book
differently in the first place. I scarcely think we could any of us
claim that in reading a novel we deliberately watch the book itself,
rather than the scenes and figures it suggests, or that we seek to
construct an image of the book, page by page, while its form is
gradually exposed to us. We are much more inclined to forget, if we
can, that the book is an object of art, and to treat it as a piece of
the life around us; we fashion for ourselves, we objectify, the
elements in it that happen to strike us most keenly, such as an
effective scene or a brilliant character. These things take shape in
the mind of the reader; they are recreated and set up where the mind's
eye can rest on them. They become works of art, no doubt, in their
way, but they are not the book which the author offers us. That is a
larger and more complex form, one that it is much more difficult to
think of as a rounded thing. A novel, as we say, opens a new world to
the imagination; and it is pleasant to discover that sometimes, in a
few novels, it is a world which "creates an illusion"--so pleasant
that we are content to be lost in it. When that happens there is no
chance of our finding, perceiving, recreating, the form of the book.
So far from losing ourselves in the world of the novel, we must hold
it away from us, see it all in detachment, and use the whole of it to
make the image we seek, the book itself.

It is difficult to treat a large and stirring piece of fiction in
this way. The landscape opens out and surrounds us, and we proceed to
create what is in effect a novel within the novel which the author
wrote. When, for example, I try to consider closely the remnant that
exists in my memory of a book read and admired years ago--of such a
book as Clarissa Harlowe--I well understand that in reading it I was
unconsciously making a selection of my own, choosing a little of the
story here and there, to form a durable image, and that my selection
only included such things as I could easily work into shape. The girl
herself, first of all--if she, though so much of her story has faded
away, is still visibly present, it is because nothing is simpler than
to create for oneself the idea of a human being, a figure and a
character, from a series of glimpses and anecdotes. Creation of this
kind we practise every day; we are continually piecing together our
fragmentary evidence about the people around us and moulding their
images in thought. It is the way in which we make our world;
partially, imperfectly, very much at haphazard, but still perpetually,
everybody deals with his experience like an artist. And his talent,
such as it may be, for rounding and detaching his experience of a man
or a woman, so that the thing stands clear in his thought and takes
the light on every side--this can never lie idle, it is exercised
every hour of the day.

As soon as he begins to hear of Clarissa, therefore, on the first page
of Richardson's book, the shaping, objectifying mind of the reader is
at work on familiar material. It is so easy to construct the idea of
the exquisite creature, that she seems to step from the pages of her
own accord; I, as I read, am aware of nothing but that a new
acquaintance is gradually becoming better and better known to me. No
conscious effort is needed to make a recognizable woman of her, though
in fact I am fitting a multitude of small details together, as I
proceed to give her the body and mind that she presently possesses.
And so, too, with the lesser people in the book, and with their
surroundings; so, too, with the incidents that pass; a succession of
moments are visualized, are wrought into form by the reader, though
perhaps very few of them are so well made that they will last in
memory. If they soon disappear, the fault may be the writer's or the
reader's, Richardson's if he failed to describe them adequately, mine
if my manner of reading has not been sufficiently creative. In any
case the page that has been well read has the best chance of survival;
it was soundly fashioned, to start with, out of the material given me
by the writer, and at least it will resist the treachery of a poor
memory more resolutely than a page that I did not thoroughly recreate.

But still, as I say, the aspects of a book that for the most part we
detach and solidify are simply those which cost us no deliberate
pains. We bring to the reading of a book certain imaginative faculties
which are in use all the day long, faculties that enable us to
complete, in our minds, the people and the scenes which the novelist
describes--to give them dimensions, to see round them, to make them
"real." And these faculties, no doubt, when they are combined with a
trained taste, a sense of quality, seem to represent all that is
needed for the criticism of fiction. The novel (and in these pages I
speak only of the modern novel, the picture of life that we are in a
position to understand without the knowledge of a student or a
scholar)--the modern novel asks for no other equipment in its readers
than this common gift, used as instinctively as the power of
breathing, by which we turn the flat impressions of our senses into
solid shapes: this gift, and nothing else except that other, certainly
much less common, by which we discriminate between the thing that is
good of its kind and the thing that is bad. Such, I should think, is
very nearly the theory of our criticism in the matter of the art of
fiction. A novel is a picture of life, and life is well known to us;
let us first of all "realize" it, and then, using our taste, let us
judge whether it is true, vivid, convincing--like life, in fact.

The theory does indeed go a little further, we know. A novel is a
picture, a portrait, and we do not forget that there is more in a
portrait than the "likeness." Form, design, composition, are to be
sought in a novel, as in any other work of art; a novel is the better
for possessing them. That we must own, if fiction is an art at all;
and an art it must be, since a literal transcript of life is plainly
impossible. The laws of art, therefore, apply to this object of our
scrutiny, this novel, and it is the better, other things being equal,
for obeying them. And yet, is it so very much the better? Is it not
somehow true that fiction, among the arts, is a peculiar case,
unusually exempt from the rules that bind the rest? Does the fact that
a novel is well designed, well proportioned, really make a very great
difference in its power to please?--and let us answer honestly, for if
it does not, then it is pedantry to force these rules upon a novel. In
other arts it may be otherwise, and no doubt a lop-sided statue or an
ill-composed painting is a plain offence to the eye, however skilfully
it may copy life. The same thing is true of a novel, perhaps, if the
fault is very bad, very marked; yet it would be hard to say that even
so it is necessarily fatal, or that a novel cannot triumphantly live
down the worst aberrations of this kind. We know of novels which
everybody admits to be badly constructed, but which are so full of
life that it does not appear to matter. May we not conclude that form,
design, composition, have a rather different bearing upon the art of
fiction than any they may have elsewhere?

And, moreover, these expressions, applied to the viewless art of
literature, must fit it loosely and insecurely at best--does it not
seem so? They are words usurped from other arts, words that suppose a
visible and measurable object, painted or carved. For criticizing the
craft of fiction we have no other language than that which has been
devised for the material arts; and though we may feel that to talk of
the colours and values and perspective of a novel is natural and
legitimate, yet these are only metaphors, after all, that cannot be
closely pressed. A book starts a train of ideas in the head of the
reader, ideas which are massed and arranged on some kind of system;
but it is only by the help of fanciful analogies that we can treat the
mass as a definite object. Such phrases may give hints and suggestions
concerning the method of the novelist; the whole affair is too
nebulous for more. Even if a critic's memory were infallible, as it
can never be, still it would be impossible for him to give a really
scientific account of the structure of the simplest book, since in the
last resort he cannot lay his finger upon a single one of the effects
to which he refers. When two men stand looking at a picture, at least
their two lines of vision meet at a point upon the canvas; they may
dispute about it, but the picture stands still. And even then they
find that criticism has its difficulties, it would appear. The
literary critic, with nothing to point to but the mere volume in his
hand, must recognize that his wish to be precise, to be definite, to
be clear and exact in his statements, is hopelessly vain.

It is all undeniable, no doubt; from every side we make out that the
criticism of a book--not the people in the book, not the character of
the author, but the book--is impossible. We cannot remember the book,
and even if we could, we should still be unable to describe it in
literal and unequivocal terms. It cannot be done; and the only thing
to be said is that perhaps it can be approached, perhaps the book can
be seen, a little more closely in one way than in another. It is a
modest claim, and my own attempt to assert it will be still more
modest. A few familiar novels, possibly a dozen, by still fewer
writers--it will be enough if I can view this small handful with some
particularity. And I shall consider them, too, with no idea of
criticizing all their aspects, or even more than one. How they are
made is the only question I shall ask; and though indeed that is a
question which incidentally raises a good many others--questions of
the intention of the novelist, his choice of a subject, the manner of
his imagination, and so forth--these I shall follow no further than I
can help. And as for the few novels that I shall speak of, they will
be such as appear to illustrate most plainly the various elements of
the craft; one need not range widely to find them, nor does it matter
if the selection, from any other point of view, should seem arbitrary.
Many great names may be passed over, for it is not always the greatest
whose method of work gives the convenient example; on the other hand
the best example is always to be found among the great, and it is
essential to keep to their company.

But something may first be said of the reading of a novel. The
beginning of criticism is to read aright, in other words to get into
touch with the book as nearly as may be. It is a forlorn
enterprise--that is admitted; but there are degrees of unsuccess.


A book has a certain form, we all agree; what the form of a particular
book may be, whether good or bad, and whether it matters--these are
points of debate; but that a book _has_ a form, this is not disputed.
We hear the phrase on all sides, an unending argument is waged over
it. One critic condemns a novel as "shapeless," meaning that its shape
is objectionable; another retorts that if the novel has other fine
qualities, its shape is unimportant; and the two will continue their
controversy till an onlooker, pardonably bewildered, may begin to
suppose that "form" in fiction is something to be put in or left out
of a novel according to the taste of the author. But though the
discussion is indeed confusingly worded at times, it is clear that
there is agreement on this article at least--that a book is a thing to
which a shape is ascribable, good or bad. I have spoken of the
difficulty that prevents us from ever seeing or describing the shape
with perfect certainty; but evidently we are convinced that it is
there, clothing the book.

Not as a single form, however, but as a moving stream of impressions,
paid out of the volume in a slender thread as we turn the pages--that
is how the book reaches us; or in another image it is a procession
that passes before us as we sit to watch. It is hard to think of this
lapse and flow, this sequence of figures and scenes, which must be
taken in a settled order, one after another, as existing in the
condition of an immobile form, like a pile of sculpture. Though we
readily talk of the book as a material work of art, our words seem to
be crossed by a sense that it is rather a process, a passage of
experience, than a thing of size and shape. I find this contradiction
dividing all my thought about books; they are objects, yes, completed
and detached, but I recall them also as tracts of time, during which
Clarissa and Anna moved and lived and endured in my view. Criticism is
hampered by the ambiguity; the two books, the two aspects of the same
book, blur each other; a critic seems to shift from this one to that,
from the thing carved in the stuff of thought to the passing movement
of life. And on the whole it is the latter aspect of the two which
asserts itself; the first, the novel with its formal outline, appears
for a moment, and then the life contained in it breaks out and
obscures it.

But the procession which passes across our line of sight in the
reading must be marshalled and concentrated somewhere; we receive the
story of Anna bit by bit, all the numerous fragments that together
make Tolstoy's book; and finally the tale is complete, and the book
stands before us, or should stand, as a welded mass. We have been
given the material, and the book should now be there. Our treacherous
memory will have failed to preserve it all, but that disability we
have admitted and discounted; at any rate an imposing object ought to
remain, Tolstoy's great imaginative sculpture, sufficiently
representing his intention. And again and again, at this point, I make
the same discovery; I have been watching the story, that is to say,
forgetful of the fact that there was more for me to do than to watch
receptively and passively, forgetful of the novel that I should have
been fashioning out of the march of experience as it passed. I have
been treating it as life; and that is all very well, and is the right
manner as far as it goes, but my treatment of life is capricious and
eclectic, and this life, this story of Anna, has suffered accordingly.
I have taken much out of it and carried away many recollections; I
have omitted to think of it as matter to be wrought into a single
form. What wonder if I search my mind in vain, a little later, for the
book that Tolstoy wrote?

But how is one to construct a novel out of the impressions that
Tolstoy pours forth from his prodigious hands? This is a kind of
"creative reading" (the phrase is Emerson's) which comes instinctively
to few of us. We know how to imagine a landscape or a conversation
when he describes it, but to gather up all these sights and sounds
into a compact fabric, round which the mind can wander freely, as
freely as it strays and contemplates and loses its way, perhaps, in
Tolstoy's wonderful world--this is a task which does not achieve
itself without design and deliberation on the part of the reader. It
is an effort, first of all, to keep the world of Anna (I cling to this
illustration) at a distance; and yet it must be kept at a distance if
it is to be impressed with the form of art; no artist (and the skilful
reader is an artist) can afford to be swayed and beset by his
material, he must stand above it. And then it is a further effort,
prolonged, needing practice and knowledge, to recreate the novel in
its right form, the best form that the material, selected and disposed
by the author, is capable of accepting.

The reader of a novel--by which I mean the critical reader--is himself
a novelist; he is the maker of a book which may or may not please his
taste when it is finished, but of a book for which he must take his
own share of the responsibility. The author does his part, but he
cannot transfer his book like a bubble into the brain of the critic;
he cannot make sure that the critic will possess his work. The reader
must therefore become, for his part, a novelist, never permitting
himself to suppose that the creation of the book is solely the affair
of the author. The difference between them is immense, of course, and
so much so that a critic is always inclined to extend and intensify
it. The opposition that he conceives between the creative and the
critical task is a very real one; but in modestly belittling his own
side of the business he is apt to forget an essential portion of it.
The writer of the novel works in a manner that would be utterly
impossible to the critic, no doubt, and with a liberty and with a
range that would disconcert him entirely. But in one quarter their
work coincides; both of them make the novel.

Is it necessary to define the difference? That is soon done if we
picture Tolstoy and his critic side by side, surveying the free and
formless expanse of the world of life. The critic has nothing to say;
he waits, looking to Tolstoy for guidance. And Tolstoy, with the help
of some secret of his own, which is his genius, does not hesitate for
an instant. His hand is plunged into the scene, he lifts out of it
great fragments, right and left, ragged masses of life torn from their
setting; he selects. And upon these trophies he sets to work with the
full force of his imagination; he detects their significance, he
disengages and throws aside whatever is accidental and meaningless; he
re-makes them in conditions that are never known in life, conditions
in which a thing is free to grow according to its own law, expressing
itself unhindered; he liberates and completes. And then, upon all this
new life--so like the old and yet so different, _more_ like the old,
as one may say, than the old ever had the chance of being--upon all
this life that is now so much more intensely living than before,
Tolstoy directs the skill of his art; he distributes it in a single,
embracing design; he orders and disposes. And thus the critic receives
his guidance, and _his_ work begins.

No selection, no arrangement is required of him; the new world that is
laid before him is the world of art, life liberated from the tangle of
cross-purposes, saved from arbitrary distortion. Instead of a
continuous, endless scene, in which the eye is caught in a thousand
directions at once, with nothing to hold it to a fixed centre, the
landscape that opens before the critic is whole and single; it has
passed through an imagination, it has shed its irrelevancy and is
compact with its own meaning. Such is the world in the book--in
Tolstoy's book I do not say; but it is the world in the book as it may
be, in the book where imagination and execution are perfectly
harmonized. And in any case the critic accepts this ordered, enhanced
display as it stands, better or worse, and uses it all for the
creation of the book. There can be no picking and choosing now; that
was the business of the novelist, and it has been accomplished
according to his light; the critic creates out of life that is already
subject to art.

But his work is not the less plastic for that. The impressions that
succeed one another, as the pages of the book are turned, are to be
built into a structure, and the critic is missing his opportunity
unless he can proceed in a workmanlike manner. It is not to be
supposed that an artist who carves or paints is so filled with emotion
by the meaning of his work--the story in it--that he forgets the
abstract beauty of form and colour; and though there is more room for
such sensibility in an art which is the shaping of thought and
feeling, in the art of literature, still the man of letters is a
craftsman, and the critic cannot be less. He must know how to handle
the stuff which is continually forming in his mind while he reads; he
must be able to recognize its fine variations and to take them all
into account. Nobody can work in material of which the properties are
unfamiliar, and a reader who tries to get possession of a book with
nothing but his appreciation of the life and the ideas and the story
in it is like a man who builds a wall without knowing the capacities
of wood and clay and stone. Many different substances, as distinct to
the practised eye as stone and wood, go to the making of a novel, and
it is necessary to see them for what they are. So only is it possible
to use them aright, and to find, when the volume is closed, that a
complete, coherent, appraisable book remains in the mind.

And what are these different substances, and how is a mere reader to
learn their right use? They are the various forms of narrative, the
forms in which a story may be told; and while they are many, they are
not indeed so very many, though their modifications and their
commixtures are infinite. They are not recondite; we know them well
and use them freely, but to use them is easier than to perceive their
demands and their qualities. These we gradually discern by using them
consciously and questioningly--by reading, I mean, and reading
critically, the books in which they appear. Let us very carefully
follow the methods of the novelists whose effects are incontestable,
noticing exactly the manner in which the scenes and figures in their
books are presented. The scenes and figures, as I have said, we shape,
we detach, without the smallest difficulty; and if we pause over them
for long enough to see by what arts and devices, on the author's part,
we have been enabled to shape them so strikingly--to see precisely how
this episode has been given relief, that character made intelligible
and vivid--we at once begin to stumble on many discoveries about the
making of a novel.

Our criticism has been oddly incurious in the matter, considering what
the dominion of the novel has been for a hundred and fifty years. The
refinements of the art of fiction have been accepted without question,
or at most have been classified roughly and summarily--as is proved by
the singular poverty of our critical vocabulary, as soon as we pass
beyond the simplest and plainest effects. The expressions and the
phrases at our disposal bear no defined, delimited meanings; they have
not been rounded and hardened by passing constantly from one critic's
hand to another's. What is to be understood by a "dramatic" narrative,
a "pictorial" narrative, a "scenic" or a "generalized" story? We must
use such words, as soon as we begin to examine the structure of a
novel; and yet they are words which have no technical acceptation in
regard to a novel, and one cannot be sure how they will be taken. The
want of a received nomenclature is a real hindrance, and I have often
wished that the modern novel had been invented a hundred years sooner,
so that it might have fallen into the hands of the critical schoolmen
of the seventeenth century. As the production of an age of romance, or
of the eve of such an age, it missed the advantage of the dry light of
academic judgement, and I think it still has reason to regret the
loss. The critic has, at any rate; his language, even now, is
unsettled and unformed.

And we still suffer from a kind of shyness in the presence of a novel.
From shyness of the author or of his sentiments or of his imagined
world, no indeed; but we are haunted by a sense that a novel is a
piece of life, and that to take it to pieces would be to destroy it.
We begin to analyse it, and we seem to be like Beckmesser, writing
down the mistakes of the spring-time upon his slate. It is an obscure
delicacy, not clearly formulated, not admitted, perhaps, in so many
words; but it has its share in restraining the hand of criticism. We
scarcely need to be thus considerate; the immense and necessary
difficulty of closing with a book at all, on any terms, might appear
to be enough, without adding another; the book is safe from rude
violation. And it is not a piece of life, it is a piece of art like
another; and the fact that it is an ideal shape, with no existence in
space, only to be spoken of in figures and metaphors, makes it all the
more important that in our thought it should be protected by no
romantic scruple. Or perhaps it is not really the book that we are
shy of, but a still more fugitive phantom--our pleasure in it. It
spoils the fun of a novel to know how it is made--is this a reflection
that lurks at the back of our minds? Sometimes, I think.

But the pleasure of illusion is small beside the pleasure of creation,
and the greater is open to every reader, volume in hand. How a
novelist finds his subject, in a human being or in a situation or in a
turn of thought, this indeed is beyond us; we might look long at the
very world that Tolstoy saw, we should never detect the unwritten book
he found there; and he can seldom (he and the rest of them) give any
account of the process of discovery. The power that recognizes the
fruitful idea and seizes it is a thing apart. For this reason we judge
the novelist's eye for a subject to be his cardinal gift, and we have
nothing to say, whether by way of exhortation or of warning, till his
subject is announced. But from that moment he is accessible, his
privilege is shared; and the delight of treating the subject is acute
and perennial. From point to point we follow the writer, always
looking back to the subject itself in order to understand the logic of
the course he pursues. We find that we are creating a design, large or
small, simple or intricate, as the chapter finished is fitted into its
place; or again there is a flaw and a break in the development, the
author takes a turn that appears to contradict or to disregard the
subject, and the critical question, strictly so called, begins. Is
this proceeding of the author the right one, the best for the subject?
Is it possible to conceive and to name a better? The hours of the
author's labour are lived again by the reader, the pleasure of
creation is renewed.

So it goes, till the book is ended and we look back at the whole
design. It may be absolutely satisfying to the eye, the expression of
the subject, complete and compact. But with the book in this condition
of a defined shape, firm of outline, its form shows for what it is
indeed--not an attribute, one of many and possibly not the most
important, but the book itself, as the form of a statue is the statue
itself. If the form is to the eye imperfect, it means that the subject
is somehow and somewhere imperfectly expressed, it means that the
story has suffered. Where then, and how? Is it because the treatment
has not started from the heart of the subject, or has diverged from
the line of its true development--or is it that the subject itself was
poor and unfruitful? The question ramifies quickly. But anyhow here is
the book, or something that we need not hesitate to regard as the
book, recreated according to the best of the reader's ability. Indeed
he knows well that it will melt away in time; nothing can altogether
save it; only it will last for longer than it would have lasted if it
had been read uncritically, if it had not been deliberately recreated.
In that case it would have fallen to pieces at once, Anna and
Clarissa would have stepped out of the work of art in which their
authors had so laboriously enshrined them, the book would have
perished. It is now a single form, and let us judge the effect of it
while we may. At best we shall have no more time than we certainly


A great and brilliant novel, a well-known novel, and at the same time
a large and crowded and unmanageable novel--such will be the book to
consider first. It must be one that is universally admitted to be a
work of genius, signal and conspicuous; I wish to examine its form, I
do not wish to argue its merit; it must be a book which it is
superfluous to praise, but which it will never seem too late to praise
again. It must also be well known, and this narrows the category; the
novel of whose surpassing value every one is convinced may easily fall
outside it; our novel must be one that is not only commended, but
habitually read. And since we are concerned with the difficulty of
controlling the form of a novel, let it be an evident case of the
difficulty, an extreme case on a large scale, where the question
cannot be disguised--a novel of ample scope, covering wide spaces and
many years, long and populous and eventful. The category is reduced
indeed; perhaps it contains one novel only, War and Peace.

Of War and Peace it has never been suggested, I suppose, that Tolstoy
here produced a model of perfect form. It is a panoramic vision of
people and places, a huge expanse in which armies are marshalled; can
one expect of such a book that it should be neatly composed? It is
crowded with life, at whatever point we face it; intensely vivid,
inexhaustibly stirring, the broad impression is made by the big
prodigality of Tolstoy's invention. If a novel could really be as
large as life, Tolstoy could easily fill it; his great masterful reach
never seems near its limit; he is always ready to annex another and
yet another tract of life, he is only restrained by the mere necessity
of bringing a novel somewhere to an end. And then, too, this mighty
command of spaces and masses is only half his power. He spreads
further than any one else, but he also touches the detail of the
scene, the single episode, the fine shade of character, with exquisite
lightness and precision. Nobody surpasses, in some ways nobody
approaches, the easy authority with which he handles the matter
immediately before him at the moment, a roomful of people, the
brilliance of youth, spring sunshine in a forest, a boy on a horse;
whatever his shifting panorama brings into view, he makes of it an
image of beauty and truth that is final, complete, unqualified. Before
the profusion of War and Peace the question of its general form is
scarcely raised. It is enough that such a world should have been
pictured; it is idle to look for proportion and design in a book that
contains a world.

But for this very reason, that there is so much in the book to
distract attention from its form, it is particularly interesting to
ask how it is made. The doubt, the obvious perplexity, is a challenge
to the exploring eye. It may well be that effective composition on
such a scale is impossible, but it is not so easy to say exactly where
Tolstoy fails. If the total effect of his book is inconclusive, it is
all lucidity and shapeliness in its parts. There is no faltering in
his hold upon character; he never loses his way among the scores of
men and women in the book; and in all the endless series of scenes and
events there is not one which betrays a hesitating intention. The
story rolls on and on, and it is long before the reader can begin to
question its direction. Tolstoy _seems_ to know precisely where he is
going, and why; there is nothing at any moment to suggest that he is
not in perfect and serene control of his idea. Only at last, perhaps,
we turn back and wonder what it was. What is the subject of War and
Peace, what is the novel _about_? There is no very ready answer; but
if we are to discover what is wrong with the form, this is the
question to press.

What is the story? There is first of all a succession of phases in the
lives of certain generations; youth that passes out into maturity,
fortunes that meet and clash and re-form, hopes that flourish and wane
and reappear in other lives, age that sinks and hands on the torch to
youth again--such is the substance of the drama. The book, I take it,
begins to grow out of the thought of the processional march of the
generations, always changing, always renewed; its figures are sought
and chosen for the clarity with which the drama is embodied in them.
Young people of different looks and talents, moods and tempers, but
young with the youth of all times and places--the story is alive with
them at once. The Rostov household resounds with them--the Rostovs are
of the easy, light-spirited, quick-tongued sort. Then there is the
dreary old Bolkonsky mansion, with Andrew, generous and sceptical, and
with poor plain Marya, ardent and repressed. And for quite another
kind of youth, there is Peter Besukhov, master of millions, fat and
good-natured and indolent, his brain a fever of faiths and aspirations
which not he, but Andrew, so much more sparing in high hopes, has the
tenacity to follow. These are in the foreground, and between and
behind them are more and more, young men and women at every turn,
crowding forward to take their places as the new generation.

It does not matter, it does not affect the drama, that they are men
and women of a certain race and century, soldiers, politicians,
princes, Russians in an age of crisis; such they are, with all the
circumstances of their time and place about them, but such they are in
secondary fashion, it is what they happen to be. Essentially they are
not princes, not Russians, but figures in the great procession; they
are here in the book because they are young, not because they are the
rising hope of Russia in the years of Austerlitz and Borodino. It is
laid upon them primarily to enact the cycle of birth and growth,
death and birth again. They illustrate the story that is the same
always and everywhere, and the tumult of the dawning century to which
they are born is an accident. Peter and Andrew and Natasha and the
rest of them are the children of yesterday and to-day and to-morrow;
there is nothing in any of them that is not of all time. Tolstoy has
no thought of showing them as the children of their particular
conditions, as the generation that was formed by a certain historic
struggle; he sees them simply as the embodiment of youth. To an
English reader of to-day it is curious--and more, it is strangely
moving--to note how faithfully the creations of Tolstoy, the
nineteenth-century Russian, copy the young people of the twentieth
century and of England; it is all one, life in Moscow then, life in
London now, provided only that it is young enough. Old age is rather
more ephemeral; its period is written on it (not very deeply, after
all), and here and there it "dates." Nicholas and Natasha are always
of the newest modernity.

Such is the master-motive that at first sight appears to underlie the
book, in spite of its name; such is the most evident aspect of the
story, as our thought brushes freely and rapidly around it. In this
drama the war and the peace are episodic, not of the centre; the
historic scene is used as a foil and a background. It appears from
time to time, for the sake of its value in throwing the nearer
movement of life into strong relief; it very powerfully and
strikingly shows what the young people _are_. The drama of the rise of
a generation is nowhere more sharply visible and appreciable than it
is in such a time of convulsion. Tolstoy's moment is well chosen; his
story has a setting that is fiercely effective, the kind of setting
which in our Europe this story has indeed found very regularly,
century by century. But it is not by the war, from this point of view,
that the multifarious scenes are linked together; it is by another
idea, a more general, as we may still dare to hope, than the idea of
war. Youth and age, the flow and the ebb of the recurrent tide--this
is the theme of Tolstoy's book.

So it seems for a while. But Tolstoy called his novel War and Peace,
and presently there arises a doubt; did he believe himself to be
writing _that_ story, and not the story of Youth and Age? I have been
supposing that he named his book carelessly (he would not be alone
among great novelists for that), and thereby emphasized the wrong side
of his intention; but there are things in the drama which suggest that
his title really represented the book he projected. Cutting across the
big human motive I have indicated, there falls a second line of
thought, and sometimes it is this, most clearly, that the author is
following. Not the cycle of life everlasting, in which the rage of
nations is an incident, a noise and an incursion from without--but the
strife itself, the irrelevant uproar, becomes the motive of the fable.
War and Peace, the drama of that ancient alternation, is now the
subject out of which the form of the book is to grow. Not seldom, and
more frequently as the book advances, the story takes this new and
contradictory alignment. The centre shifts from the general play of
life, neither national nor historic, and plants itself in the field of
racial conflict, typified by that "sheep-worry of Europe" which
followed the French Revolution. The young people immediately change
their meaning. They are no longer there for their own sake, guardians
of the torch for their hour. They are re-disposed, partially and
fitfully, in another relation; they are made to figure as creatures of
the Russian scene, at the impact of East and West in the Napoleonic

It is a mighty antinomy indeed, on a scale adapted to Tolstoy's giant
imagination. With one hand he takes up the largest subject in the
world, the story to which all other human stories are subordinate; and
not content with this, in the other hand he produces the drama of a
great historic collision, for which a scene is set with no less
prodigious a gesture. And there is not a sign in the book to show that
he knew what he was doing; apparently he was quite unconscious that he
was writing two novels at once. Such an oversight is not peculiar to
men of genius, I dare say; the least of us is capable of the feat,
many of us are seen to practise it. But two such novels as these, two
such immemorial epics, caught up together and written out in a couple
of thousand pages, inadvertently mixed and entangled, and all with an
air of composure never ruffled or embarrassed, in a style of luminous
simplicity--it was a feat that demanded, that betokened, the genius of
Tolstoy. War and Peace is like an Iliad, the story of certain men, and
an Aeneid, the story of a nation, compressed into one book by a man
who never so much as noticed that he was Homer and Virgil by turns.

Or can it perhaps be argued that he was aware of the task he set
himself, and that he intentionally coupled his two themes? He
proposed, let us say, to set the unchanging story of life against the
momentary tumult, which makes such a stir in the history-books, but
which passes, leaving the other story still unrolling for ever.
Perhaps he did; but I am looking only at his book, and I can see no
hint of it in the length and breadth of the novel as it stands; I can
discover no angle at which the two stories will appear to unite and
merge in a single impression. Neither is subordinate to the other, and
there is nothing above them (what more _could_ there be?) to which
they are both related. Nor are they placed together to illustrate a
contrast; nothing _results_ from their juxtaposition. Only from time
to time, upon no apparent principle and without a word of warning, one
of them is dropped and the other resumed. It would be possible, I
think, to mark the exact places--not always even at the end of a
chapter, but casually, in the middle of a page--where the change
occurs. The reader begins to look out for them; in the second half of
the novel they are liberally sprinkled.

The long, slow, steady sweep of the story--the _first_ story, as I
call it--setting through the personal lives of a few young people,
bringing them together, separating them, dimming their freshness,
carrying them away from hopeful adventure to their appointed
condition, where their part is only to transmit the gift of youth to
others and to drop back while the adventure is repeated--this motive,
in which the book opens and closes and to which it constantly returns,
is broken into by the famous scenes of battle (by some of them, to be
accurate, not by all), with the reverberation of imperial destinies,
out of which Tolstoy makes a saga of his country's tempestuous past.
It is magnificent, this latter, but it has no bearing on the other,
the universal story of no time or country, the legend of every age,
which is told of Nicholas and Natasha, but which might have been told
as well of the sons and daughters of the king of Troy. To Nicholas,
the youth of all time, the strife of Emperor and Czar is the occasion,
it may very well be, of the climax of his adventure; but it is no more
than the occasion, not essential to it, since by some means or other
he would have touched his climax in any age. War and peace are likely
enough to shape his life for him, whether he belongs to ancient Troy
or to modern Europe; but if it is _his_ story, his and that of his
companions, why do we see them suddenly swept into the background,
among the figures that populate the story of a particular and
memorable war? For that is what happens.

It is now the war, with the generals and the potentates in the
forefront, that is the matter of the story. Alexander and Kutusov,
Napoleon and Murat, become the chief actors, and between them the play
is acted out. In this story the loves and ambitions of the young
generation, which have hitherto been central, are relegated to the
fringe; there are wide tracts in which they do not appear at all.
Again and again Tolstoy forgets them entirely; he has discovered a
fresh idea for the unification of this second book, a theory drummed
into the reader with merciless iteration, desolating many a weary
page. The meaning of the book--and it is extraordinary how Tolstoy's
artistic sense deserts him in expounding it--lies in the relation
between the man of destiny and the forces that he dreams he is
directing; it is a high theme, but Tolstoy cannot leave it to make its
own effect. He, whose power of making a story _tell itself_ is
unsurpassed, is capable of thrusting into his book interminable
chapters of comment and explanation, chapters in the manner of a
controversial pamphlet, lest the argument of his drama should be
missed. But the reader at last takes an easy way with these maddening
interruptions; wherever "the historians" are mentioned he knows that
several pages can be turned at once; Tolstoy may be left to belabour
the conventional theories of the Napoleonic legend, and rejoined later
on, when it has occurred to him once more that he is writing a novel.

When he is not pamphleteering Tolstoy's treatment of the second story,
the national saga, is masterly at every point. If we could forget the
original promise of the book as lightly as its author does, nothing
could be more impressive than his pictures of the two hugely-blundering
masses, Europe and Russia, ponderously colliding at the apparent
dictation of a few limited brains--so few, so limited, that the irony of
their claim to be the directors of fate is written over all the scene.
Napoleon at the crossing of the Niemen, Napoleon before Moscow, the
Russian council of war after Borodino (gravely watched by the small
child Malasha, overlooked in her corner), Kutusov, wherever he
appears--all these are impressions belonging wholly to the same cycle;
they have no effect in relation to the story of Peter and Nicholas, they
do not extend or advance it, but on their own account they are supreme.
There are not enough of them, and they are not properly grouped and
composed, to _complete_ the second book that has forced its way into the
first; the cycle of the war and the peace, as distinguished from the
cycle of youth and age, is broken and fragmentary. The size of the
theme, and the scale upon which these scenes are drawn, imply a novel as
long as our existing War and Peace; it would all be filled by Kutusov
and Napoleon, if their drama were fully treated, leaving no room for
another. But, mutilated as it is, each of the fragments is broadly
handled, highly finished, and perfectly adjusted to a point of view that
is not the point of view for the rest of the book.

And it is to be remarked that the lines of cleavage--which, as I
suggested, can be traced with precision--by no means invariably divide
the peaceful scenes of romance from the battles and intrigues of the
historic struggle, leaving these on one side, those on the other.
Sometimes the great public events are used as the earlier theme
demands that they should be used--as the material in which the story
of youth is embodied. Consider, for instance, one of the earlier
battle-pieces in the book, where Nicholas, very youthful indeed, is
for the first time under fire; he comes and goes bewildered, laments
like a lost child, is inspired with heroism and flees like a hare for
his life. As Tolstoy presents it, this battle, or a large part of it,
is the affair of Nicholas; it belongs to him, it is a piece of
experience that enters his life and enriches our sense of it. Many of
the wonderful chapters, again, which deal with the abandonment and the
conflagration of Moscow, are seen through the lives of the
irrepressible Rostov household, or of Peter in his squalid
imprisonment; the scene is framed in their consciousness. Prince
Andrew, too--nobody can forget how much of the battle in which he is
mortally wounded is transformed into an emotion of _his_; those pages
are filched from Tolstoy's theory of the war and given to his fiction.
In all these episodes, and in others of the same kind, the history of
the time is in the background; in front of it, closely watched for
their own sake, are the lives which that history so deeply affects.

But in the other series of pictures of the campaign, mingled with
these, it is different. They are admirable, but they screen the
thought of the particular lives in which the wider interest of the
book (as I take it to be) is firmly lodged. From a huge emotion that
reaches us through the youth exposed to it, the war is changed into an
emotion of our own. It is rendered by the story-teller, on the whole,
as a scene directly faced by himself, instead of being reflected in
the experience of the rising generation. It is true that Tolstoy's
good instinct guides him ever and again away from the mere telling of
the story on his own authority; at high moments he knows better than
to tell it himself. He approaches it through the mind of an onlooker,
Napoleon or Kutusov or the little girl by the stove in the corner,
borrowing the value of indirectness, the increased effect of a story
that is seen as it is mirrored in the mind of another. But he chooses
his onlooker at random and follows no consistent method. The
predominant point of view is simply his own, that of the independent
story-teller; so that the general effect of these pictures is made on
a totally different principle from that which governs the story of the
young people. In that story--though there, too, Tolstoy's method is
far from being consistent--the effect is _mainly_ based on our free
sharing in the hopes and fears and meditations of the chosen few. In
the one case Tolstoy is immediately beside us, narrating; in the other
it is Peter and Andrew, Nicholas and Natasha, who are with us and
about us, and Tolstoy is effaced.

Here, then, is the reason, or at any rate one of the reasons, why the
general shape of War and Peace fails to satisfy the eye--as I suppose
it admittedly to fail. It is a confusion of two designs, a confusion
more or less masked by Tolstoy's imperturbable ease of manner, but
revealed by the look of his novel when it is seen as a whole. It has
no centre, and Tolstoy is so clearly unconcerned by the lack that one
must conclude he never perceived it. If he had he would surely have
betrayed that he had; he would have been found, at some point or
other, trying to gather his two stories into one, devising a scheme
that would include them both, establishing a centre somewhere. But no,
he strides through his book without any such misgiving, and really it
is his assurance that gives it such an air of lucidity. He would only
have flawed its surface by attempting to force the material on his
hands into some sort of unity; its incongruity is fundamental. And
when we add, as we must, that War and Peace, with all this, is one of
the great novels of the world, a picture of life that has never been
surpassed for its grandeur and its beauty, there is a moment when all
our criticism perhaps seems trifling. What does it matter? The
business of the novelist is to create life, and here is life created
indeed; the satisfaction of a clean, coherent form is wanting, and it
would be well to have it, but that is all. We have a magnificent novel
without it.

So we have, but we might have had a more magnificent still, and a
novel that would not be _this_ novel merely, this War and Peace, with
the addition of another excellence, a comeliness of form. We might
have had a novel that would be a finer, truer, more vivid and more
forcible picture of life. The best form is that which makes the most
of its subject--there is no other definition of the meaning of form in
fiction. The well-made book is the book in which the subject and the
form coincide and are indistinguishable--the book in which the matter
is all used up in the form, in which the form expresses all the
matter. Where there is disagreement and conflict between the two,
there is stuff that is superfluous or there is stuff that is wanting;
the form of the book, as it stands before us, has failed to do justice
to the idea. In War and Peace, as it seems to me, the story suffers
twice over for the imperfection of the form. It is damaged, in the
first place, by the importation of another and an irrelevant
story--damaged because it so loses the sharp and clear relief that it
would have if it stood alone. Whether the story was to be the drama of
youth and age, or the drama of war and peace, in either case it would
have been incomparably more impressive if _all_ the great wealth of
the material had been used for its purpose, all brought into one
design. And furthermore, in either case again, the story is
incomplete; neither of them is finished, neither of them is given its
full development, for all the size of the book. But to this point, at
least in relation to one of the two, I shall return directly.

Tolstoy's novel is wasteful of its subject; that is the whole
objection to its loose, unstructural form. Criticism bases its
conclusion upon nothing whatever but the injury done to the story, the
loss of its full potential value. Is there so much that is good in War
and Peace that its inadequate grasp of a great theme is easily
forgotten? It is not only easily forgotten, it is scarcely noticed--on
a first reading of the book; I speak at least for one reader. But with
every return to it the book that _might_ have been is more insistent;
it obtrudes more plainly, each time, interfering with the book that
is. Each time, in fact, it becomes harder to make a book of it at all;
instead of holding together more firmly, with every successive
reconstruction, its prodigious members seem always more disparate and
disorganized; they will not coalesce. A subject, one and whole and
irreducible--a novel cannot begin to take shape till it has this for
its support. It seems obvious; yet there is nothing more familiar to a
novel-reader of to-day than the difficulty of discovering what the
novel in his hand is about. What was the novelist's intention, in a
phrase? If it cannot be put into a phrase it is no subject for a
novel; and the size or the complexity of a subject is in no way
limited by that assertion. It may be the simplest anecdote or the most
elaborate concatenation of events, it may be a solitary figure or the
widest network of relationships; it is anyhow expressible in ten words
that reveal its unity. The form of the book depends on it, and until
it is known there is nothing to be said of the form.


But now suppose that Tolstoy had not been drawn aside from his first
story in the midst of it, suppose he had left the epic of his country
and "the historians" to be dealt with in another book, suppose that
the interpolated scenes of War and Peace, as we possess it, were to
disappear and to leave the subject entirely to the young heroes and
heroines--what shall we find to be the form of the book which is thus
disencumbered? I would try to think away from the novel all that is
not owned and dominated by these three brilliant households, Besukhov,
Bolkonsky, Rostov; there remains a long succession of scenes, in a
single and straightforward train of action. It is still a novel of
ample size; it spreads from the moment when Peter, amiably uncouth,
first appears in a drawing-room of the social world, to the evening,
fifteen years later, when he is watched with speechless veneration by
the small boy Nicolenka, herald of the future. The climax of his life,
the climax of half a dozen lives, is surmounted between these two
points, and now their story stands by itself. It gains, I could feel,
by this process of liberation, summary as it is.

At any rate, it is one theme and one book, and the question of its
form may be further pressed. The essential notion out of which this
book sprang, I suggested, was that of the march of life, the shift of
the generations in their order--a portentous subject to master, but
Tolstoy's hand is broad and he is not afraid of great spaces. Such a
subject could not be treated at all without a generous amount of room
for its needs. It requires, to begin with, a big and various
population; a few selected figures may hold the main thread of the
story and represent its course, but it is necessary for their typical
truth that their place in the world should be clearly seen. They are
choice examples, standing away from the mass, but their meaning would
be lost if they were taken to be utterly exceptional, if they appeared
to be chosen _because_ they are exceptional. Their attachment to the
general drama of life must accordingly be felt and understood; the
effect of a wide world must be given, opening away to far distances
round the action of the centre. The whole point of the action is in
its representative character, its universality; this it must plainly

It begins to do so at once, from the very first. With less hesitation,
apparently, than another man might feel in setting the scene of a
street or parish, Tolstoy proceeds to make his world. Daylight seems
to well out of his page and to surround his characters as fast as he
sketches them; the darkness lifts from their lives, their conditions,
their outlying affairs, and leaves them under an open sky. In the
whole of fiction no scene is so continually washed by the common air,
free to us all, as the scene of Tolstoy. His people move in an
atmosphere that knows no limit; beyond the few that are to the fore
there stretches a receding crowd, with many faces in full light, and
many more that are scarcely discerned as faces, but that swell the
impression of swarming life. There is no perceptible horizon, no hard
line between the life in the book and the life beyond it. The
communication between the men and women of the story and the rest of
the world is unchecked. It is impossible to say of Peter and Andrew
and Nicholas that they inhabit a "world of their own," as the people
in a story-book so often appear to do; they inhabit _our_ world, like
anybody else. I do not mean, of course, that a marked horizon, drawn
round the action of a book and excluding everything that does not
belong to it, is not perfectly appropriate, often enough; their own
world may be all that the people need, may be the world that best
reveals what they are to be and to do; it all depends on the nature of
the fable. But to Tolstoy's fable space is essential, with the sense
of the continuity of life, within and without the circle of the book.
He never seems even to know that there can be any difficulty in
providing it; while he writes, it is there.

He is helped, one might imagine, by the simple immensity of his
Russian landscape, filled with the suggestion of distances and
unending levels. The Russian novelist who counts on this effect has
it ready to his hand. If he is to render an impression of space that
widens and widens, a hint is enough; the mere association of his
picture with the thought of those illimitable plains might alone
enlarge it to the utmost of his need. The imagination of distance is
everywhere, not only in a free prospect, where sight is lost, but on
any river-bank, where the course of the stream lies across a
continent, or on the edge of a wood, whence the forest stretches round
the curve of the globe. To isolate a patch of that huge field and to
cut it off from the encompassing air might indeed seem to be the
greater difficulty; how can the eye be held to a point when the very
name of Russia is extent without measure? At our end of Europe, where
space is more precious, life is divided and specialized and
differentiated, but over there such economies are unnecessary; there
is no need to define one's own world and to live within it when there
is a single world large enough for all. The horizon of a Russian story
would naturally be vague and vast, it might seem.

It might seem so, at least, if the fiction of Dostoevsky were not
there with an example exactly opposed to the manner of Tolstoy. The
serene and impartial day that arches from verge to verge in War and
Peace, the blackness that hems in the ominous circle of the Brothers
Karamazov--it is a perfect contrast. Dostoevsky needed no lucid
prospect round his strange crew; all he sought was a blaze of light on
the extraordinary theatre of their consciousness. He intensified it
by shutting off the least glimmer of natural day. The illumination
that falls upon his page is like the glare of a furnace-mouth; it
searches the depths of the inner struggles and turmoils in which his
drama is enacted, relieving it with sharp and fantastic shadows. That
is all it requires, and therefore the curtain of darkness is drawn
thickly over the rest of the world. Who can tell, in Dostoevsky's grim
town-scenery, what there is at the end of the street, what lies round
the next corner? Night stops the view--or rather no ordinary, earthly
night, but a sudden opacity, a fog that cannot be pierced or breathed.
With Tolstoy nobody doubts that an ample vision opens in every
direction. It may be left untold, but his men and women have only to
lift their eyes to see it.

How is it contrived? The mere multiplication of names and households
in the book does not account for it; the effect I speak of spreads far
beyond them. It is not that he has imagined so large an army of
characters, it is that he manages to give them such freedom, such an
obvious latitude of movement in the open world. Description has
nothing to do with it; there is very little description in War and
Peace, save in the battle-scenes that I am not now considering. And it
is not enough to say that if Tolstoy's people have evident lives of
their own, beyond the limits of the book, it is because he understands
and knows them so well, because they are so "real" to him, because
they and all their circumstances are so sharply present to his
imagination. Who has ever known so much about his own creations as
Balzac?--and who has ever felt that Balzac's people had the freedom of
a bigger world than that very solid and definite habitation he made
for them? There must be another explanation, and I think one may
discern where it lies, though it would take me too far to follow it.

It lies perhaps in the fact that with Tolstoy's high poetic genius
there went a singularly normal and everyday gift of experience. Genius
of his sort generally means, I dare say, that the possessor of it is
struck by special and wonderful aspects of the world; his vision falls
on it from a peculiar angle, cutting into unsuspected sides of common
facts--as a painter sees a quality in a face that other people never
saw. So it is with Balzac, and so it is, in their different ways, with
such writers as Stendhal and Maupassant, or again as Dickens and
Meredith; they all create a "world of their own." Tolstoy seems to
look squarely at the same world as other people, and only to make so
much more of it than other people by the direct force of his genius,
not because he holds a different position in regard to it. His
experience comes from the same quarter as ours; it is because he
absorbs so much more of it, and because it all passes into his great
plastic imagination, that it seems so new. His people, therefore, are
essentially familiar and intelligible; we easily extend their lives
in any direction, instead of finding ourselves checked by the
difficulty of knowing more about them than the author tells us in so
many words. Of this kind of genius I take Tolstoy to be the supreme
instance among novelists; Fielding and Scott and Thackeray are of the
family. But I do not linger over a matter that for my narrow argument
is a side-issue.

The continuity of space and of daylight, then, so necessary to the
motive of the book, is rendered in War and Peace with absolute
mastery. There is more, or there is not so much, to be said of the way
in which the long flight of time through the expanse of the book is
imagined and pictured. The passage of time, the effect of time,
belongs to the heart of the subject; if we could think of War and
Peace as a book still to be written, this, no doubt, would seem to be
the greatest of its demands. The subject is not given at all unless
the movement of the wheel of time is made perceptible. I suppose there
is nothing that is more difficult to ensure in a novel. Merely to
lengthen the series of stages and developments in the action will not
ensure it; there is no help in the simple ranging of fact beside fact,
to suggest the lapse of a certain stretch of time; a novelist might as
well fall back on the row of stars and the unsupported announcement
that "years have fled." It is a matter of the build of the whole book.
The form of time is to be represented, and that is something more than
to represent its contents in their order. If time is of the essence
of the book, the lines and masses of the book must show it.

Time is all-important in War and Peace, but that does not necessarily
mean that it will cover a great many years; they are in fact no more
than the years between youth and middle age. But though the wheel may
not travel very far in the action as we see it, there must be no doubt
of the great size of the wheel; it must seem to turn in a large
circumference, though only a part of its journey is to be watched. The
revolution of life, marked by the rising and sinking of a certain
generation--such is the story; and the years that Tolstoy treats,
fifteen or so, may be quite enough to show the sweep of the curve. At
five-and-twenty a man is still beginning; at forty--I do not say that
at forty he is already ending, though Tolstoy in his ruthless way is
prepared to suggest it; but by that time there are clear and
intelligent eyes, like the boy Nicolenka's, fixed enquiringly upon a
man--the eyes of the new-comers, who are suddenly everywhere and all
about him, making ready to begin in their turn. As soon as that
happens the curve of time is apparent, the story is told. But it must
be _made_ apparent in the book; the shape of the story must give the
reason for telling it, the purpose of the author in chronicling his

Can we feel that Tolstoy has so represented the image of time, the
part that time plays in his book? The problem was twofold; there was
first of all the steady progression, the accumulation of the years,
to be portrayed, and then the rise and fall of their curve. It is the
double effect of time--its uninterrupted lapse, and the cycle of which
the chosen stretch is a segment. I cannot think there is much doubt
about the answer to my question. Tolstoy has achieved one aspect of
his handful of years with rare and exquisite art, he has troubled
himself very little about the other. Time that evenly and silently
slips away, while the men and women talk and act and forget it--time
that is read in their faces, in their gestures, in the changing
texture of their thought, while they only themselves awake to the
discovery that it is passing when the best of it has gone--time in
this aspect is present in War and Peace more manifestly, perhaps, than
in any other novel that could be named, unless it were another novel
of Tolstoy's. In so far as it is a matter of the _length_ of his
fifteen years, they are there in the story with their whole effect.

He is the master of the changes of age in a human being. Under his
hand young men and women grow older, cease to be young, grow old, with
the noiseless regularity of life; their mutability never hides their
sameness, their consistency shows and endures through their
disintegration. They grow as we all do, they change in the only
possible direction, that which results from the clash between
themselves and their conditions. If I looked for the most beautiful
illustration in all fiction of a woman at the mercy of time, exposed
to the action of the years, now facing it with what she is, presently
betraying and recording it with what she becomes, I should surely find
it in the story of Anna Karenina. Various and exquisite as she is, her
whole nature is sensitive to the imprint of time, and the way in which
time invades her, steals throughout her, finally lays her low, Tolstoy
tracks and renders from end to end. And in War and Peace his hand is
not less delicate and firm. The progress of time is never broken;
inexorably it does what it must, carrying an enthusiastic young
student forward into a slatternly philosopher of middle life, linking
an over-blown matron with the memory of a girl dancing into a crowded
room. The years move on and on, there is no missing the sense of their

But the meaning, the import, what I should like to call the moral of
it all--what of that? Tolstoy has shown us a certain length of time's
journey, but to what end has he shown it? The question has to be
answered, and it is not answered, it is only postponed, if we say that
the picture itself is all the moral, all the meaning that we are
entitled to ask for. It is of the picture that we speak; its moral is
in its design, and without design the scattered scenes will make no
picture. Our answer would be clear enough, as I have tried to suggest,
if we could see in the form of the novel an image of the circling
sweep of time. But to a broad and single effect, such as that, the
chapters of the book refuse to adapt themselves; they will not draw
together and announce a reason for their collocation. The story is
started with every promise, and it ceases at the end with an air of
considerable finality. But between these points its course is full of

It is admirably started. Nothing could be more right and true than the
bubbling merriment and the good faith and the impatient aspiration
with which the young life of the earlier chapters of the book comes
surging upon the scene of its elders. A current of newness and
freshness is set flowing in the atmosphere of the generation that is
still in possession. The talk of a political drawing-room is stale and
shrill, an old man in his seclusion is a useless encumbrance, an
easy-going and conventional couple are living without plan or
purpose--all the futility of these people is obvious to an onlooker
from the moment when their sons and daughters break in upon them. It
was time for the new generation to appear--and behold it appearing in
lively strength. Tolstoy, with his power of making an eloquent event
out of nothing at all, needs no dramatic apparatus to set off the
effect of the irruption. Two people, an elderly man of the world and a
scheming hostess, are talking together, the room fills, a young man
enters; or in another sociable assembly there is a shriek and a rush,
and the children of the house charge into the circle; that is quite
enough for Tolstoy, his drama of youth and age opens immediately with
the right impression. The story is in movement without delay; there
are a few glimpses of this kind, and then the scene is ready, the
action may go forward; everything is attuned for the effect it is to

And at the other end of the book, after many hundreds of pages, the
story is brought to a full close in an episode which gathers up all
the threads and winds them together. The youths and maidens are now
the parents of another riotous brood. Not one of them has ended where
he or she expected to end, but their lives have taken a certain shape,
and it is unmistakable that this shape is final. Nothing more will
happen to them which an onlooker cannot easily foretell. They have
settled down upon their lines, and very comfortable and very estimable
lines on the whole, and there may be many years of prosperity before
them; but they no longer possess the future that was sparkling with
possibility a few years ago. Peter is as full of schemes as ever, but
who now supposes that he will _do_ anything? Natasha is absorbed in
her children like a motherly hen; Nicholas, the young cavalier, is a
country gentleman; they are all what they were bound to be, though
nobody foresaw it. But shyly lurking in a corner, late in the evening,
with eyes fixed upon the elders of the party who are talking and
arguing--here once more is that same uncertain, romantic, incalculable
future; the last word is with the new generation, the budding morrow,
old enough now to be musing and speculating over its own visions.
"Yes, I will do such things--!" says Nicolenka; and that is the
natural end of the story.

But meanwhile the story has rambled and wandered uncontrolled--or
controlled only by Tolstoy's perfect consistency in the treatment of his
characters. They, as I have said, are never less than absolutely true to
themselves; wherever we meet them, in peace or war, they are always the
people we know, the same as ever, and yet changing and changing (like
all the people we know) under the touch of time. It is not they, it is
their story that falters. The climax, I suppose, must be taken to fall
in the great scenes of the burning of Moscow, with which all their lives
are so closely knit. Peter involves himself in a tangle of misfortunes
(as he would, of course) by his slipshod enthusiasm; Natasha's courage
and good sense are surprisingly aroused--one had hardly seen that she
possessed such qualities, but Tolstoy is right; and presently it is
Andrew, the one clear-headed and far-sighted member of the circle, who
is lost to it in the upheaval, wounded and brought home to die. It is a
beautiful and human story of its kind; but note that it has entirely
dropped the representative character which it wore at the beginning and
is to pick up again at the end. Tolstoy has forgotten about this; partly
he has been too much engrossed in his historical picture, and partly he
has fallen into a new manner of handling the loves and fortunes of his
young people. It is now a tale of a group of men and women, with their
cross-play of affinities, a tale of which the centre of interest lies in
the way in which their mutual relations will work out. It is the kind
of story we expect to find in any novel, a drama of young
affections--extraordinarily true and poetic, as Tolstoy traces it, but a
limited affair compared with the theme of his first chapters.

Of that theme there is no continuous development. The details of the
charming career of Natasha, for example, have no bearing on it at all.
Natasha is the delightful girl of her time and of all time, as
Nicholas is the delightful boy, and she runs through the sequence of
moods and love-affairs that she properly should; she is one whose
fancy is quick and who easily follows it. But in the large drama of
which she is a part it is not the actual course of her love-affairs
that has any importance, it is the fact that she has them, that she is
what she is, that every one loves her and that she is ready to love
nearly every one. To do as Tolstoy does, to bring into the middle of
the interest the question whether she will marry this man or
that--especially when it is made as exquisitely interesting as he
makes it--this is to throw away the value that she had and to give her
another of a different sort entirely. At the turning-point of the
book, and long before the turning-point is reached, she is simply the
heroine of a particular story; what she _had_ been--Tolstoy made it
quite clear--was the heroine of a much more general story, when she
came dancing in on the crest of the new wave.

It is a change of attitude and of method on Tolstoy's part. He sees
the facts of his story from a different point of view and represents
them in a fresh light. It does not mean that he modifies their course,
that he forces them in a wrong direction and makes Natasha act in a
manner conflicting with his first idea. She acts and behaves
consistently with her nature, exactly as the story demands that she
should; not one of her impulsive proceedings need be sacrificed. But
it was for Tolstoy, representing them, to behave consistently too, and
to use the facts in accordance with his purpose. He had a reason for
taking them in hand, a design which he meant them to express; and his
vacillation prevents them from expressing it. How would he have
treated the story, supposing that he had kept hold of his original
reason throughout? Are we prepared to improve upon his method, to
re-write his book as we think it ought to have been written? Well, at
any rate, it is possible to imagine the different effect it would show
if a little of that large, humane irony, so evident in the tone of the
story at the start, had persisted through all its phases. It would not
have dimmed Natasha's charm, it would have heightened it. While she is
simply the heroine of a romance she is enchanting, no doubt; but when
she takes her place in a drama so much greater than herself, her
beauty is infinitely enhanced. She becomes representative, with all
her gifts and attractions; she is there, not because she is a
beautiful creature, but because she is the spirit of youth. Her charm
is then universal; it belongs to the spirit of youth and lasts for

With all this I think it begins to be clear why the broad lines of
Tolstoy's book have always seemed uncertain and confused. Neither his
subject nor his method were fixed for him as he wrote; he ranged
around his mountain of material, attacking it now here and now there,
never deciding in his mind to what end he had amassed it. None of his
various schemes is thus completed, none of them gets the full
advantage of the profusion of life which he commands. At any moment
great masses of that life are being wasted, turned to no account; and
the result is not merely negative, for at any moment the wasted life,
the stuff that is not being used, is dividing and weakening the effect
of the picture created out of the rest. That so much remains, in spite
of everything, gives the measure of Tolstoy's genius; _that_ becomes
the more extraordinary as the chaotic plan of his book is explored. He
could work with such lordly neglect of his subject and yet he could
produce such a book--it is surely as much as to say that Tolstoy's is
the supreme genius among novelists.


And next of the different methods by which the form of a novel is
created--these must be watched in a very different kind of book from
Tolstoy's. For a sight of the large and general masses in which a
novel takes shape, War and Peace seemed to promise more than another;
but something a great deal more finely controlled is to be looked for,
when it is a question of following the novelist's hand while it is
actually at work. Not indeed that anybody's hand is more delicate than
Tolstoy's at certain moments and for certain effects, and a critic is
bound to come back to him again in connection with these. But we have
seen how, in dealing with his book, one is continually distracted by
the question of its subject; the uncertainty of Tolstoy's intention is
always getting between the reader and the detail of his method. What I
now want, therefore, will be a book in which the subject is absolutely
fixed and determined, so that it may be possible to consider the
manner of its treatment with undivided attention. It is not so easy to
find as might be supposed; or rather it might be difficult to find,
but for the fact that immediately in a critic's path, always ready to
hand and unavoidable, there lies one book of exactly the sort I seek,
Flaubert's Madame Bovary. Whatever this book may be or may not be,
after much re-reading, it remains perpetually the novel of all novels
which the criticism of fiction cannot overlook; as soon as ever we
speak of the principles of the art, we must be prepared to engage with

This is an accepted necessity among critics, and no doubt there is
every reason why it should be so. The art of Flaubert gives at any
rate a perfectly definite standard; there is no mistaking or
mis-reading it. He is not of those who present many aspects, offering
the support of one or other to different critical doctrines; Flaubert
has only one word to say, and it is impossible to find more than a
single meaning in it. He establishes accordingly a point in the sphere
of criticism, a point which is convenient to us all; we can refer to
it at any time, in the full assurance that its position is the same in
everybody's view; he provides the critic with a motionless pole. And
for my particular purpose, just now, there is no such book as his
Bovary; for it is a novel in which the subject stands firm and clear,
without the least shade of ambiguity to break the line which bounds
it. The story of its treatment may be traced without missing a single

It is copiously commented upon, as we know, in the published letters
of its author, through the long years in which phrase was being added
to phrase; and it is curious indeed to listen to him day by day, and
to listen in vain for any hint of trouble or embarrassment in the
matter of his subject. He was capable of hating and reviling his
unfortunate story, and of talking about it with a kind of exasperated
spite, as though it had somehow got possession of him unfairly and he
owed it a grudge for having crossed his mind. That is strange enough,
but that is quite a different affair; his personal resentment of the
intrusion of such a book upon him had nothing to do with the
difficulty he found in writing it. His classic agonies were caused by
no unruliness in the story he had to tell; his imagined book was
rooted in his thought, and never left its place by a hair's breadth.
Year after year he worked upon his subject without finding anything in
it, apparently, to disturb or distract him in his continuous effort to
treat it, to write it out to his satisfaction. This was the only
difficulty; there was no question of struggling with a subject that he
had not entirely mastered, one that broke out with unforeseen demands;
Bovary never needed to be held down with one hand while it was written
with the other. Many a novelist, making a further and fuller
acquaintance with his subject as he proceeds, discovering more in it
to reckon with than he had expected, has to meet the double strain, it
would seem. But Flaubert kept his book in a marvellous state of
quiescence during the writing of it; through all the torment which it
cost him there was no hour when it presented a new or uncertain look
to him. He might hate his subject, but it never disappointed or
disconcerted him.

In Bovary, accordingly, the methods of the art are thrown into clear
relief. The story stands obediently before the author, with all its
developments and illustrations, the characters defined, the small
incidents disposed in order. His sole thought is how to present the
story, how to tell it in a way that will give the effect he desires, how
to show the little collection of facts so that they may announce the
meaning he sees in them. I speak of his "telling" the story, but of
course he has no idea of doing that and no more; the art of fiction does
not begin until the novelist thinks of his story as a matter to be
_shown_, to be so exhibited that it will tell itself. To hand over to
the reader the facts of the story merely as so much information--this is
no more than to state the "argument" of the book, the groundwork upon
which the novelist proceeds to create. The book is not a row of facts,
it is a single image; the facts have no validity in themselves, they are
nothing until they have been used. It is not the simple art of
narrative, but the comprehensive art of fiction that I am considering;
and in fiction there can be no appeal to any authority outside the book
itself. Narrative--like the tales of Defoe, for example--must look
elsewhere for support; Defoe produced it by the assertion of the
historic truthfulness of his stories. But in a novel, strictly so
called, attestation of this kind is, of course, quite irrelevant; the
thing has to _look_ true, and that is all. It is not made to look true
by simple statement.

And yet the novelist must state, must tell, must narrate--what else
can he do? His book is a series of assertions, nothing more. It is so,
obviously, and the difference between the art of Defoe and the art of
Flaubert is only in their different method of placing their
statements. Defoe takes a directer way, Flaubert a more roundabout;
but the deviations open to Flaubert are innumerable, and by his
method, by his various methods, we mean his manner of choosing his
path. Having chosen he follows it, certainly, by means of a plain
narrative; he relates a succession of facts, whether he is describing
the appearance of Emma, or one of her moods, or something that she
did. But this common necessity of statement, at the bottom of it all,
is assumed at the beginning; and in criticizing fiction we may proceed
as though a novelist could really deal immediately with appearances.
We may talk of the picture or the drama that he creates, we may
plainly say that he avoids mere statement altogether, because at the
level of fiction the whole interest is in another region; we are
simply concerned with the method by which he selects the information
he offers. A writer like Flaubert--or like any novelist whose work
supports criticism at all--is so far from telling a story as it might
be told in an official report, that we cease to regard him as
reporting in any sense. He is making an effect and an impression, by
some more or less skilful method. Contemplating his finished work we
can distinguish the method, perhaps define it, notice how it changes
from time to time, and account for the novelist's choice of it.

There is plenty of diversity of method in Madame Bovary, though the
story is so simple. What does it amount to, that story? Charles
Bovary, a simple and slow-witted young country doctor, makes a prudent
marriage, and has the fortune to lose his tiresome and elderly wife
after no long time. Then he falls in love with the daughter of a
neighbouring farmer, a pretty and fanciful young woman, who marries
him. She is deeply bored by existence in a small market town, finds a
lover, wearies of him and finds another, gets wildly into debt,
poisons herself and dies. After her death Bovary discovers the proof
of her infidelity, but his slow brain is too much bewildered by sorrow
and worry, by life generally, to feel another pang very distinctly. He
soon dies himself. That is all the story, given as an "argument," and
so summarized it tells us nothing of Flaubert's subject. There might
be many subjects in such an anecdote, many different points of view
from which the commonplace facts might make a book. The way in which
they are presented will entirely depend on the particular subject that
Flaubert sees in them; until this is apparent the method cannot be

But the method can be watched; and immediately it is to be noted that
Flaubert handles his material quite differently from point to point.
Sometimes he seems to be describing what he has seen himself, places
and people he has known, conversations he may have overheard; I do not
mean that he is literally retailing an experience of his own, but that
he writes as though he were. His description, in that case, touches
only such matters as you or I might have perceived for ourselves, if
we had happened to be on the spot at the moment. His object is to
place the scene before us, so that we may take it in like a picture
gradually unrolled or a drama enacted. But then again the method
presently changes. There comes a juncture at which, for some reason,
it is necessary for us to know more than we could have made out by
simply looking and listening. Flaubert, the author of the story, must
intervene with his superior knowledge. Perhaps it is something in the
past of the people who have been moving and talking on the scene; you
cannot rightly understand this incident or this talk, the author
implies, unless you know--what I now proceed to tell you. And so, for
a new light on the drama, the author recalls certain circumstances
that we should otherwise have missed. Or it may be that he--who
naturally knows everything, even the inmost, unexpressed thought of
the characters--wishes us to share the mind of Bovary or of Emma, not
to wait only on their words or actions; and so he goes below the
surface, enters their consciousness, and describes the train of
sentiment that passes there.

These are the familiar resources of a story-teller, which everybody
uses as a matter of course. It is so natural to take advantage of them
that unless we purposely keep an eye upon the writer's devices,
marking them off as he turns from one to another, we hardly notice the
change. He is telling a story in the ordinary way, the obvious and
unconstrained. But in fact these variations represent differences of
method that are fundamental. If the story is to be _shown_ to us, the
question of our relation to the story, how we are placed with regard
to it, arises with the first word. Are we placed before a particular
scene, an occasion, at a certain selected hour in the lives of these
people whose fortunes are to be followed? Or are we surveying their
lives from a height, participating in the privilege of the
novelist--sweeping their history with a wide range of vision and
absorbing a general effect? Here at once is a necessary alternative.
Flaubert, as a matter of fact, gives us first a scene--the scene of
Bovary's arrival at school, as a small boy; the incident of the
particular morning is rendered; and then he leaves that incident,
summarizes the background of the boy's life, describes his parents,
the conditions of his home, his later career as a student. It is the
way in which nine novels out of ten begin--an opening scene, a
retrospect, and a summary. And the spectator, the reader, is so well
used to it that he is conscious of no violent change in the point of
view; though what has happened is that from one moment to another he
has been caught up from a position straight in front of the action to
a higher and a more commanding level, from which a stretch of time is
to be seen outspread. This, then, is one distinction of method; and it
is a tell-tale fact that even in this elementary matter our
nomenclature is uncertain and ambiguous. How do we habitually
discriminate between these absolutely diverse manners of presenting
the facts of a story? I scarcely know--it is as though we had no
received expressions to mark the difference between blue and red. But
let us assume, at any rate, that a "scenic" and a "panoramic"
presentation of a story expresses an intelligible antithesis, strictly
and technically.

There is our relation, again--ours, the reader's--with regard to the
author. Flaubert is generally considered to be a very "impersonal"
writer, one who keeps in the background and desires us to remain
unaware of his presence; he places the story before us and suppresses
any comment of his own. But this point has been over-laboured, I
should say; it only means that Flaubert does not announce his opinion
in so many words, and thence it has been argued that the opinions of a
really artistic writer ought not to appear in his story at all. But of
course with every touch that he lays on his subject he must show what
he thinks of it; his subject, indeed, the book which he finds in his
selected fragment of life, is purely the representation of his view,
his judgement, his opinion of it. The famous "impersonality" of
Flaubert and his kind lies only in the greater tact with which they
express their feelings--dramatizing them, embodying them in living
form, instead of stating them directly. It is not to this matter,
Flaubert's opinion of Emma Bovary and her history--which indeed is
unmistakable--that I refer in speaking of our relation to the writer
of the book.

It is a matter of method. Sometimes the author is talking with his own
voice, sometimes he is talking _through_ one of the people in the
book--in this book for the most part Emma herself. Thus he describes a
landscape, the trim country-side in which Emma's lot is cast, or the
appearance and manners of her neighbours, or her own behaviour; and in
so doing he is using his own language and his own standards of
appreciation; he is facing the reader in person, however careful he
may be to say nothing to deflect our attention from the thing
described. He is making a reproduction of something that is in his own
mind. And then later on he is using the eyes and the mind and the
standards of another; the landscape has now the colour that it wears
in Emma's view, the incident is caught in the aspect which it happens
to turn towards her imagination. Flaubert himself has retreated, and
it is Emma with whom we immediately deal. Take, for example, the two
figures of her lovers, Rodolphe and Léon, the florid country-gentleman
and the aspiring student; if Flaubert were to describe these men as
_he_ sees them, apart from their significance to Emma, they would not
occupy him for long; to his mind, and to any critical mind, they are
both of them very small affairs. Their whole effect in the book is the
effect they produce upon the sensibility of a foolish and limited
little woman. Or again, take the incident of Emma's single incursion
into polite society, the ball at the great house which starts so many
of her romantic dreams; it is all presented in her terms, it appears
as it appeared to her. And occasionally the point of view is shifted
away from her to somebody else, and we get a brief glimpse of what
_she_ is in the eyes of her husband, her mother-in-law, her lover.

Furthermore, whether the voice is that of the author or of his
creature, there is a pictorial manner of treating the matter in hand
and there is also a dramatic. It may be that the impression--as in the
case of the marquis's ball--is chiefly given as a picture, the
reflection of events in the mirror of somebody's receptive
consciousness. The reader is not really looking _at_ the occasion in
the least, or only now and then; mainly he is watching the surge of
Emma's emotion, on which the episode acts with sharp intensity. The
thing is "scenic," in the sense in which I used the word just now; we
are concerned, that is to say, with a single and particular hour, we
are taking no extended, general view of Emma's experience. But though
it is thus a _scene_, it is not dramatically rendered; if you took the
dialogue, what there is of it, together with the actual things
described, the people and the dresses and the dances and the
banquets--took these and placed them on the stage, for a theatrical
performance, the peculiar effect of the occasion in the book would
totally vanish. Nothing could be more definite, more objective, than
the scene is in the book; but there it is all bathed in the climate of
Emma's mood, and it is to the nature of this climate that our interest
is called for the moment. The lords and ladies are remote, Emma's
envying and wondering excitement fills the whole of the foreground.
The scene is pictorially treated.

But then look on to the incident of the _comices agricoles_, the
cattle-show at Yonville, with the crowd in the market-place, the
prize-giving and the speech-making. This scene, like the other, is
rendered on the whole (but Flaubert's method is always a little mixed,
for reasons to be noted presently) from Emma's point of view; she sits
beside Rodolphe, while he makes his advances to her under cover of the
councillor's eloquence, and she looks out upon the assembly--and as
she sees it, so the throng and the glare are imparted to the reader.
But remark that on this occasion the facts of the scene are well to
the fore; Emma's mood counts for very little, and we get a direct view
of the things on which her eyes casually rest. We hear the
councillor's rhetorical periods, Rodolphe's tender speeches, Emma's
replies, with the rumour of the crowd breaking through from time to
time. It is a scene which might be put upon the stage, quite
conceivably, without any loss of the main impression it is made to
convey in the book--an impression of ironic contrast, of the bustle
and jostle round the oration of the pompous dignitary, of the
commonplace little romance that is being broached unobserved. To
receive the force of the contrast the reader has only to see and hear,
to be present while the hour passes; and the author places him there
accordingly, in front of the visible and audible facts of the case,
and leaves it to these to tell the story. It is a scene treated

This is a difference of method that constantly catches a critic's eye
in reading a novel. Is the author writing, at a given moment, with his
attention upon the incidents of his tale, or is he regarding primarily
the form and colour they assume in somebody's thought? He will do
both, it is probable, in the course of his book, on the same page,
perhaps, or even in the same sentence; nothing compels him to forego
the advantage of either method, if his story can profit in turn from
both. Now and then, indeed, we shall find a writer deliberately
confining himself to one method only, treating his whole book with a
rigid consistency, and this for the sake of some particular aspect of
his theme which an unmixed manner is best fitted to reveal. But
generally a novelist retains his liberty to draw upon any of his
resources as he chooses, now this one and now that, using drama where
drama gives him all he needs, using pictorial description where the
turn of the story demands it. The only law that binds him throughout,
whatever course he is pursuing, is the need to be consistent on
_some_ plan, to follow the principle he has adopted; and of course it
is one of the first of his precepts, as with every artist in any kind,
to allow himself no more latitude than he requires. A critic, then,
looks for the principle on which a novelist's methods are mingled and
varied--looks for it, as usual, in the novelist's subject, and marks
its application as the subject is developed.

And so with the devices that I distinguish as scenic and
panoramic--one watches continually to see how this alternation is
managed, how the story is now overlooked from a height and now brought
immediately to the level of the reader. Here again the need of the
story may sometimes seem to pull decisively in one direction or the
other; and we get a book that is mainly a broad and general survey, or
mainly a concatenation of particular scenes. But on the whole we
expect to find that the scene presently yields to some kind of
chronicle or summary, and that this in turn prepares the way and leads
into the occasion that fulfils it. The placing of this occasion, at
the point where everything is ready for it, where it will thoroughly
illuminate a new face of the subject and advance the action by a
definite stage, is among the chief cares of the author, I take it, in
planning his book. A scene that is not really wanted, and that _does_
nothing in particular--a scene that for lack of preparation fails to
make its effect--is a weakness in a story that one would suppose a
novelist to be always guarding against. Anyhow there is no doubt that
the scene holds the place of honour, that it is the readiest means of
starting an interest and raising a question--we drop into a scene on
the first page and begin to speculate about the people concerned in
it: and that it recurs for a climax of any sort, the resolution of the
question--and so the scene completes what it began. In Madame Bovary
the scenes are distributed and rendered with very rare skill; not one
but seems to have more and more to give with every fresh reading of
it. The ball, the _comices_, the evening at the theatre, Emma's
fateful interview with Léon in the Cathedral of Rouen, the remarkable
session of the priest and the apothecary at her deathbed--these form
the articulation of the book, the scheme of its structure. To the next
in order each stage of the story is steadily directed. By the time the
scene is reached, nothing is wanting to its opportunity; the action is
ripe, the place is resonant; and then the incident takes up the story,
conclusively establishes one aspect of it and opens the view towards
the next. And the more rapid summary that succeeds, with its pauses
for a momentary sight of Emma's daily life and its setting, carries
the book on once more to the climax that already begins to appear in
the distance.

But the most obvious point of method is no doubt the difficult
question of the centre of vision. With which of the characters, if
with any of them, is the writer to identify himself, which is he to
"go behind"? Which of these vessels of thought and feeling is he to
reveal from within? I suppose his unwritten story to rise before him,
its main lines settled, as something at first entirely objective, the
whole thing seen from without--the linked chain of incident, the men
and women in their places. And it may be that the story can be kept in
this condition while it is written, and that the completed book will
be nothing but an account of things seen from the point of view of the
author, standing outside the action, without any divulging of
anybody's thought. But this is rare; such restraint is burdensome,
unless in a very compact and straightforward tale. Somewhere the
author must break into the privacy of his characters and open their
minds to us. And again it is doubtless his purpose to shift the point
of view no more often than he need; and if the subject can be
completely rendered by showing it as it appears to a single one of the
figures in the book, then there is no reason to range further.
Haphazard and unnecessary plunges into the inner life of the
characters only confuse the effect, changing the focus without
compensating gain. But which _is_ the centre, which is the mind that
really commands the subject? The answer is not always evident at once,
nor does it seem to be always correctly divined in the novels that we
read. But of course in plenty of stories there can be little doubt;
there is somebody in the middle of the action who is clearly the
person to interpret it for us, and the action will accordingly be
faced from his or her position. In Flaubert's Bovary there could be no
question but that we must mainly use the eyes of Emma herself; the
middle of the subject is in her experience, not anywhere in the
concrete facts around her. And yet Flaubert finds it necessary, as I
said, to look _at_ her occasionally, taking advantage of some other
centre for the time being; and why he does so a nearer inspection of
his subject will soon show.

Here we have, then, the elements of the novelist's method--essentially
few and simple, but infinite in their possibilities of fusion and
combination. They are arranged in a new design to suit every new theme
that a writer takes in hand; we see them alternated, united, imposed
one on another, this point of view blended with that, dramatic action
treated pictorially, pictorial description rendered dramatically--and
these words I use throughout, it will be understood, in the special
sense that I have indicated. In well-fashioned work it is always
interesting to discover how method tends to be laid upon method, so
that we get, as it were, layers and stratifications in the treatment
of a story. Some of these I shall try to distinguish, and the search
is useful, I think, for an understanding of the novelist himself. For
though it is true that a man's method depends upon the particular
story he is engaged in telling, yet the story that occurs to him, the
subject he happens upon, will be that which asks for the kind of
treatment congenial to his hand; and so his method will be a part of
himself, and will tell us about the quality of his imagination. But
this by the way--my concern is only with the manner in which the thing
is done; and having glanced at some of the features of that manner in
Flaubert's Bovary, I may now seek the reason of them in a more
attentive handling of the book.


If Flaubert allows himself the liberty of telling his story in various
ways--with a method, that is to say, which is often modified as he
proceeds--it is likely that he has good cause to do so. Weighing every
word and calculating every effect so patiently, he could not have been
casual and careless over his method; he would not take one way rather
than another because it saved him trouble, or because he failed to
notice that there were other ways, or because they all seemed to him
much the same. And yet at first sight it does seem that his manner of
arriving at his subject--if his subject is Emma Bovary--is
considerably casual. He begins with Charles, of all people--Charles,
her husband, the stupid soul who falls heavily in love with her
prettiness and never has the glimmer of an understanding of what she
is; and he begins with the early history of Charles, and his
upbringing, and the irrelevant first marriage that his mother forces
upon him, and his widowhood; and then it happens that Charles has a
professional visit to pay to a certain farm, the farmer's daughter
happens to be Emma, and so we finally stumble upon the subject of the
book. Is that the neatest possible mode of striking it? But Flaubert
seems to be very sure of himself, and it is not uninteresting to ask
exactly what he means.

As for his subject, it is of course Emma Bovary in the first place;
the book is the portrait of a foolish woman, romantically inclined, in
small and prosaic conditions. She is in the centre of it all,
certainly; there is no doubt of her position in the book. But _why_ is
she there? The true subject of the novel is not given, as we saw, by a
mere summary of the course which is taken by the story. She may be
there for her own sake, simply, or for the sake of the predicament in
which she stands; she may be presented as a curious scrap of
character, fit to be studied; or Flaubert may have been struck by her
as the instrument, the victim, the occasion, of a particular train of
events. Perhaps she is a creature portrayed because he thinks her
typical and picturesque; perhaps she is a disturbing little force let
loose among the lives that surround her; perhaps, on the other hand,
she is a hapless sufferer in the clash between her aspirations and her
fate. Given Emma and what she is by nature, given her environment and
the facts of her story, there are dozens of different subjects, I dare
say, latent in the case. The woman, the men, all they say and do, the
whole scene behind them--none of it gives any clue to the right manner
of treating them. The one irreducible idea out of which the book, as
Flaubert wrote it, unfolds--this it is that must be sought.

Now if Emma was devised for her own sake, solely because a nature and
a temper like hers seemed to Flaubert an amusing study--if his one aim
was to make the portrait of a woman of that kind--then the rest of the
matter falls into line, we shall know how to regard it. These
conditions in which Emma finds herself will have been chosen by the
author because they appeared to throw light on her, to call out her
natural qualities, to give her the best opportunity of disclosing what
she is. Her stupid husband and her fascinating lovers will enter the
scene in order that she may become whatever she has it in her to be.
Flaubert elects to place her in a certain provincial town, full of odd
characters; he gives the town and its folk an extraordinary actuality;
it is not a town _quelconque_, not a generalized town, but as
individual and recognizable as he can make it. None the less--always
supposing that Emma by herself is the whole of his subject--he must
have lit on this particular town simply because it seemed to explain
and expound her better than another. If he had thought that a woman of
her sort, rather meanly ambitious, rather fatuously romantic, would
have revealed her quality more intensely in a different world--in
success, freedom, wealth--he would have placed her otherwise; Charles
and Rodolphe and Homard and the rest of them would have vanished, the
more illuminating set of circumstances (whatever they might be) would
have appeared instead. Emma's world as it is at present, in the book
that Flaubert wrote, would have to be regarded, accordingly, as all a
_consequence_ of Emma, invented to do her a service, described in
order that they may make the description of _her_. Her world, that is
to say, would belong to the treatment of the story; none of it, not
her husband, not the life of the market-town, would be a part of the
author's postulate, the groundwork of his fable; it would be possible
to imagine a different setting, better, it might be, than that which
Flaubert has chosen. All this--_if_ the subject of the book is nothing
but the portrait of such a woman.

But of course it is not so; one glance at our remembrance of the book
is enough to show it. Emma's world could not be other than it is, she
could not be shifted into richer and larger conditions, without
destroying the whole point and purpose of Flaubert's novel. She by
herself is not the subject of his book. What he proposes to exhibit is
the history of a woman like her in just such a world as hers, a
foolish woman in narrow circumstances; so that the provincial scene,
acting upon her, making her what she becomes, is as essential as she
is herself. Not a portrait, therefore, not a study of character for
its own sake, but something in the nature of a drama, where the two
chief players are a woman on one side and her whole environment on the
other--that is Madame Bovary. There is a conflict, a trial of
strength, and a doubtful issue. Emma is not much of a force, no doubt;
her impulses are wild, her emotions are thin and poor, she has no
power of passion with which to fight the world. All she has is her
romantic dream and her plain, primitive appetite; but these can be
effective arms, after all, and she may yet succeed in getting her way
and making her own terms. On the other hand the limitations of her
life are very blank and uncompromising indeed; they close all round
her, hampering her flights, restricting her opportunities. The drama
is set, at any rate, whatever may come of it; Emma marries her
husband, is established at Yonville and faced with the poverty of her
situation. Something will result, the issue will announce itself. It
is the mark of a dramatic case that it contains an opposition of some
kind, a pair of wills that collide, an action that pulls in two
directions; and so far Madame Bovary has the look of a drama. Flaubert
might work on the book from that point of view and throw the emphasis
on the issue. The middle of his subject would then be found in the
struggle between Emma and all that constitutes her life, between her
romantic dreams and her besetting facts. The question is what will

But then again--that is not exactly the question in this book.
Obviously the emphasis is not upon the commonplace little events of
Emma's career. They might, no doubt, be the steps in a dramatic tale,
but they are nothing of the kind as Flaubert handles them. He makes it
perfectly clear that his view is not centred upon the actual outcome
of Emma's predicament, whether it will issue this way or that; _what_
she does or fails to do is of very small moment. Her passages with
Rodolphe and with Léon are pictures that pass; they solve nothing,
they lead to no climax. Rodolphe's final rejection of her, for
example, is no scene of drama, deciding a question that has been held
in suspense; it is one of Emma's various mischances, with its own
marked effect upon _her_, but it does not stand out in the book as a
turning-point in the action. She goes her way and acts out her
history; but of whatever suspense, whatever dramatic value, there
might be in it Flaubert makes nothing, he evidently considers it of no
account. Who, in recalling the book, thinks of the chain of incident
that runs through it, compared with the long and living impression of
a few of the people in it and of the place in which they are set? None
of the events really matter for their own sake; they might have
happened differently, not one of them is indispensable as it is. Emma
must certainly have made what she could of her opportunities of
romance, but they need not necessarily have appeared in the shape of
Léon or Rodolphe; she would have found others if these had not been at
hand. The _events_, therefore, Emma's excursions to Rouen, her
forest-rides, her one or two memorable adventures in the world, all
these are only Flaubert's way of telling his subject, of making it
count to the eye. They are not in themselves what he has to say, they
simply illustrate it.

What it comes to, I take it, is that though Madame Bovary, the novel,
is a kind of drama--since there is the interaction of this woman
confronted by these facts--it is a drama chosen for the sake of the
picture in it, for the impression it gives of the manner in which
certain lives are lived. It might have another force of its own; it
might be a strife of characters and wills, in which the men and women
would take the matter into their own hands and make all the interest
by their action; it might be a drama, say, as Jane Eyre is a drama,
where another obscure little woman has a part to play, but where the
question is how she plays it, what she achieves or misses in
particular. To Flaubert the situation out of which he made his novel
appeared in another light. It was not as dramatic as it was pictorial;
there was not the stuff in Emma, more especially, that could make her
the main figure of a drama; she is small and futile, she could not
well uphold an interest that would depend directly on her behaviour.
But for a picture, where the interest depends only on what she
_is_--that is quite different. Her futility is then a real value; it
can be made amusing and vivid to the last degree, so long as no other
weight is thrown on it; she can make a perfect impression of life,
though she cannot create much of a story. Let Emma and her plight,
therefore, appear as a picture; let her be shown in the act of living
her life, entangled as it is with her past and her present; that is
how the final fact at the heart of Flaubert's subject will be best

Here is the clue, it seems, to his treatment of the theme. It is
pictorial, and its object is to make Emma's existence as intelligible
and visible as may be. We who read the book are to share her sense of
life, till no uncertainty is left in it; we are to see and understand
her experience, and to see _her_ while she enjoys or endures it; we
are to be placed within her world, to get the immediate taste of it,
and outside her world as well, to get the full effect, more of it than
she herself could see. Flaubert's subject demands no less, if the
picture is to be complete. She herself must be known thoroughly--that
is his first care; the movement of her mind is to be watched at work
in all the ardour and the poverty of her imagination. How she creates
her makeshift romances, how she feeds on them, how they fail her--it
is all part of the picture. And then there is the dull and limited
world in which her appetite is somehow to be satisfied, the small town
that shuts her in and cuts her off; this, too, is to be rendered, and
in order to make it clearly tell beside the figure of Emma it must be
as distinct and individual, as thoroughly characterized as she is. It
is more than a setting for Emma and her intrigue; it belongs to the
book integrally, much more so than the accidental lovers who fall in
Emma's way. They are mere occasions and attractions for her fancy; the
town and the _curé_ and the apothecary and the other indigenous
gossips need a sharper definition. And accordingly Flaubert treats the
scenery of his book, Yonville and its odd types, as intensely as he
treats his heroine; he broods over it with concentration and gives it
all the salience he can. The town with its life is not behind his
heroine, subdued in tone to make a background; it is _with_ her, no
less fully to the front; its value in the picture is as strong as her

Such is the picture that Flaubert's book is to present. And what,
then, of the point of view towards which it is to be directed? If it
is to have that unity which it needs to produce its right effect there
can be no uncertainty here, no arbitrary shifting of the place from
which an onlooker faces it. And in the tale of Madame Bovary the
question of the right point of view might be considerably perplexing.
Where is Flaubert to find his centre of vision?--from what point,
within the book or without, will the unfolding of the subject be
commanded most effectively? The difficulty is this--that while one
aspect of his matter can only be seen from within, through the eyes of
the woman, another must inevitably be seen from without, through
nobody's eyes but the author's own. Part of his subject is Emma's
sense of her world; we must see how it impresses her and what she
makes of it, how it thwarts her and how her imagination contrives to
get a kind of sustenance out of it. The book is not really written at
all unless it shows her view of things, as the woman she was, in that
place, in those conditions. For this reason it is essential to pass
into her consciousness, to make her _subjective_; and Flaubert takes
care to do so and to make her so, as soon as she enters the book. But
it is also enjoined by the story, as we found, that her place and
conditions should be seen for what they are and known as intimately as
herself. For this matter Emma's capacity fails.

Her intelligence is much too feeble and fitful to give a sufficient
account of her world. The town of Yonville would be very poorly
revealed to us if Flaubert had to keep within the measure of _her_
perceptions; it would be thin and blank, it would be barely more than
a dull background for the beautiful apparition of the men she desires.
What were her neighbours to her? They existed in her consciousness
only as tiresome interruptions and drawbacks, except now and then when
she had occasion to make use of them. But to us, to the onlooker, they
belong to her portrait, they represent the dead weight of provincial
life which is the outstanding fact in her case. Emma's rudimentary
idea of them is entirely inadequate; she has not a vestige of the
humour and irony that is needed to give them shape. Moreover they
affect her far more forcibly and more variously than she could even
suspect; a sharper wit than hers must evidently intervene, helping out
the primitive workings of her mind. Her pair of eyes is not enough;
the picture beheld through them is a poor thing in itself, for she can
see no more than her mind can grasp; and it does her no justice
either, since she herself is so largely the creation of her

It is a dilemma that appears in any story, wherever the matter to be
represented is the experience of a simple soul or a dull intelligence.
If it is the experience and the actual taste of it that is to be
imparted, the story must be viewed as the poor creature saw it; and
yet the poor creature cannot tell the story in full. A shift of the
vision is necessary. And in Madame Bovary, it is to be noted, there is
no one else within the book who is in a position to take up the tale
when Emma fails. There is no other personage upon the scene who sees
and understands any more than she; perception and discrimination are
not to be found in Yonville at all--it is an essential point. The
author's wit, therefore, and none other, must supply what is wanting.
This necessity, to a writer of Flaubert's acute sense of effect, is
one that demands a good deal of caution. The transition must be made
without awkwardness, without calling attention to it. Flaubert is not
the kind of story-teller who will leave it undisguised; he will not
begin by "going behind" Emma, giving her view, and then openly,
confessedly, revert to his own character and use his own standards.
There is nothing more disconcerting in a novel than to _see_ the
writer changing his part in this way--throwing off the character into
which he has been projecting himself and taking a new stand outside
and away from the story.

Perhaps it is only Thackeray, among the great, who seems to find a
positively wilful pleasure in damaging his own story by open
maltreatment of this kind; there are times when Thackeray will even
boast of his own independence, insisting in so many words on his
freedom to say what he pleases about his men and women and to make
them behave as he will. But without using Thackeray's licence a
novelist may still do his story an ill turn by leaving too naked a
contrast between the subjective picture of what passes through Emma's
mind--Emma's or Becky's, as it may be--and the objective rendering of
what he sees for himself, between the experience that is mirrored in
another thought and that which is shaped in his own. When one has
lived _into_ the experience of somebody in the story and received the
full sense of it, to be wrenched out of the story and stationed at a
distance is a shock that needs to be softened and muffled in some
fashion. Otherwise it may weaken whatever was true and valid in the
experience; for here is a new view of it, external and detached, and
another mind at work, the author's--and that sense of having shared
the life of the person in the story seems suddenly unreal.

Flaubert's way of disguising the inconsistency is not a peculiar art
of his own, I dare say. Even in him it was probably quite unconscious,
well as he was aware of most of the refinements of his craft; and
perhaps it is only a sleight of hand that might come naturally to any
good story-teller. But it is interesting to follow Flaubert's method
to the very end, for it holds out so consummately; and I think it is
possible to define it here. I should say, then, that he deals with the
difficulty I have described by keeping Emma always at a certain
distance, even when he appears to be entering her mind most freely. He
makes her subjective, places us so that we see through her eyes--yes;
but he does so with an air of aloofness that forbids us ever to become
entirely identified with her. This is how she thought and felt, he
seems to say; look and you will understand; such is the soul of this
foolish woman. A hint of irony is always perceptible, and it is enough
to prevent us from being lost in her consciousness, immersed in it
beyond easy recall. The woman's life is very real, perfectly felt; but
the reader is made to accept his participation in it as a pleasing
experiment, the kind of thing that appeals to a fastidious
curiosity--there is no question of its ever being more than this. The
_fact_ of Emma is taken with entire seriousness, of course; she is
there to be studied and explored, and no means of understanding her
point of view will be neglected. But her value is another matter; as
to that Flaubert never has an instant's illusion, he always knows her
to be worthless.

He knows it without asserting it, needless to say; his valuation of
her is only implied; it is in his tone--never in his words, which
invariably respect her own estimate of herself. His irony, none the
less, is close at hand and indispensable; he has a definite use for
this resource and he could not forego it. His irony gives him perfect
freedom to supersede Emma's limited vision whenever he pleases, to
abandon her manner of looking at the world, and to pass immediately to
his own more enlightened, more commanding height. Her manner was
utterly convincing while she exhibited it; but we always knew that a
finer mind was watching her display with a touch of disdain. From time
to time it leaves her and begins to create the world of Homard and
Binet and Lheureux and the rest, in a fashion far beyond any possible
conception of hers. Yet there is no dislocation here, no awkward
substitution of one set of values for another; very discreetly the
same standard has reigned throughout. That is the way in which
Flaubert's impersonality, so called, artfully operates.

And now another difficulty; there is still more that is needed and
that is not yet provided for. Emma must be placed in her world and
fitted into it securely. Some glimpse of her appearance in the sight
of those about her--this, too, we look for, to make the whole account
of her compact and complete. Her relation to her husband, for
instance, is from her side expressed very clearly in her view of him,
which we possess; but there are advantages in seeing it from his side
too. What did _he_ really think of her, how did she appear to him?
Light on this question not only makes a more solid figure of her for
the reader, but it also brings her once for all into the company of
the people round her, establishes her in the circle of their
experience. Emma from within we have seen, and Yonville from the
author's point of vantage; and now here is Emma from a point by her
very side, when the seeing eye becomes that of her husband. Flaubert
manages this ingeniously, making his procedure serve a further purpose
at the same time. For he has to remember that his story does not end
with the death of Emma; it is rounded off, not by her death, but by
her husband's discovery of her long faithlessness, when in the first
days of his mourning he lights upon the packet of letters that betrays
her. The end of the story is in the final stroke of irony which gives
the man this far-reaching glance into the past, and reveals thereby
the mental and emotional confusion of his being--since his only
response is a sort of stupefied perplexity. Charles must be held in
readiness, so to speak, for these last pages; his inner mind, and his
point of view, must be created in advance and kept in reserve, so that
the force of the climax, when it is reached, may be instantly felt.
And so we have the early episodes of Charles's youth and his first
marriage, all his history up to the time when he falls in Emma's way;
and Flaubert's questionable manner of working round to his subject is
explained. Charles will be needed at the end, and Charles is here
firmly set on his feet; the impression of Emma on those who encounter
her is also needed, and here it is; and the whole book, mainly the
affair of Emma herself, is effectively framed in this other affair,
that of Charles, in which it opens and closes. Madame Bovary is a
well-made book--so we have always been told, and so we find it to be,
pulling it to pieces and putting it together again. It never is
unrepaying to do so once more.

And it is a book that with its variety of method, and with its careful
restriction of that variety to its bare needs, and with its scrupulous
use of its resources--it is a book, altogether, that gives a good
point of departure for an examination of the methods of fiction. The
leading notions that are to be followed are clearly laid down in it,
and I shall have nothing more to say that is not in some sense an
extension and an amplification of hints to be found in Madame Bovary.
For that reason I have lingered in detail over the treatment of a
story about which, in other connections, a critic might draw different
conclusions. I remember again how Flaubert vilified his subject while
he was at work on it; his love of strong colours and flavours was
disgusted by the drab prose of such a story--so he thought and said.
But as the years went by and he fought his way from one chapter to
another, did he begin to feel that it was not much of a subject after
all, even of its kind? It is not clear; but after yet another
re-reading of the book one wonders afresh. It is not a fertile
subject--it is not; it does not strain and struggle for development,
it only submits to it. But that aspect is not _my_ subject, and Madame
Bovary, a beautifully finished piece of work, is for my purpose
singularly fertile.


Of the notions on the subject of method that are suggested by Bovary,
the first I shall follow is one that takes me immediately, without any
doubt whatever, into the world of Thackeray. I start from that
distinction between the "panoramic" and the "scenic" presentation of a
story, which I noted a few pages ago; and to turn towards the
panorama, away from the scene, is to be confronted at once with Vanity
Fair, Pendennis, The Newcomes, Esmond, all of them. Thackeray saw them
as broad expanses, stretches of territory, to be surveyed from edge to
edge with a sweeping glance; he saw them as great general, typical
impressions of life, populated by a swarm of people whose manners and
adventures crowded into his memory. The landscape lay before him, his
imagination wandered freely across it, backwards and forwards. The
whole of it was in view at once, a single prospect, out of which the
story of Becky or Pendennis emerged and grew distinct while he
watched. He wrote his novel with a mind full of a surge and wash of
memories, the tenor of which was somehow to be conveyed in the outward
form of a narrative. And though his novel complies with that form
more or less, and a number of events are marshalled in order, yet its
constant tendency is to escape and evade the restrictions of a scenic
method, and to present the story in a continuous flow of leisurely,
contemplative reminiscence.

And that is evidently the right way for the kind of story that
Thackeray means to create. For what is the point and purpose of Vanity
Fair, where is the centre from which it grows? Can it be described as
a "plot," a situation, an entanglement, something that raises a
question of the issue? Of plots in this sense there are plenty in
Vanity Fair, at least there are two; Becky dominates one, Amelia
smiles and weeps in the other. They join hands occasionally, but
really they have very little to exchange. Becky and her Crawleys,
Becky and her meteoric career in Curzon Street, would have been all as
they are if Amelia had never been heard of; and Bloomsbury, too, of
the Osbornes and the Sedleys, might have had the whole book to itself,
for all that Becky essentially matters to it. Side by side they exist,
and for Thackeray's purpose neither is more important than the other,
neither is in the middle of the book as it stands. Becky seems to be
in the middle, certainly, as we think of her; but that is not where
Thackeray placed her. He meant Amelia to be no less appealing than
Becky is striking; and if Amelia fails and drops into the background,
it is not because she plays a subordinate part, but only because she
plays it with so much less than Becky's vivid conviction. They fill
the book with incident between the two of them; something is always
happening, from the moment when they drive out of Miss Pinkerton's
gate at Chiswick till the last word that is told of either. But the
book as a whole turns upon nothing that happens, not even upon the
catastrophe of Curzon Street; that scene in Becky's drawing-room
disposes of _her_, it leaves the rest of the book quite untouched.

Not in any complication of incident, therefore, nor in any single
strife of will, is the subject of Vanity Fair to be discerned. It is
now here but in the impression of a world, a society, a time--certain
manners of life within a few square miles of London, a hundred years
ago. Thackeray flings together a crowd of the people he knows so well,
and it matters not at all if the tie that holds them to each other is
of the slightest; it may easily chance that his good young girl and
his young adventuress set out together upon their journey, their paths
may even cross from time to time later on. The light link is enough
for the unity of his tale, for that unity does not depend on an
intricately woven intrigue. It depends in truth upon one fact only,
the fact that all his throng of men and women are strongly,
picturesquely typical of the world from which they are taken--that all
in their different ways can add to the force of its effect. The book
is not the story of any of them, it is the story which they unite to
tell, a chapter in the notorious career of well-to-do London. Exactly
how the various "plots" evolve is not the main matter; behind them is
the presence and the pressure of a greater interest, the mass of life
which Thackeray packs into his novel. And if that is the meaning of
Vanity Fair, to give the succession of incident a hard, particular,
dramatic relief would be to obscure it. Becky's valiant struggle in
the world of her ambition might easily be isolated and turned into a
play--no doubt it has been; but consider how her look, her value,
would in that case be changed. Her story would become a mere personal
affair of her own, the mischance of a certain woman's enterprise.
Given in Thackeray's way, summarized in his masterly perspective, it
is part of an impression of manners.

Such, I take it, is Thackeray's difference, his peculiar mark, the
distinction of his genius. He is a painter of life, a novelist whose
matter is all blended and harmonized together--people, action,
background--in a long retrospective vision. Not for him, on the whole,
is the detached action, the rounded figure, the scenic rendering of a
story; as surely as Dickens tended towards the theatre, with its
clear-cut isolation of events and episodes, its underlining of the
personal and the individual in men and women, so Thackeray preferred
the manner of musing expatiation, where scene melts into scene,
impressions are foreshortened by distance, and the backward-ranging
thought can linger and brood as it will. Every novel of his takes the
general form of a discursive soliloquy, in which he gradually gathers
up the long train of experience that he has in mind. The early
chapters of Esmond or Pendennis, the whole fragment of Denis Duval,
are perfect examples of Thackeray's way when he is most himself, and
when he is least to be approached by any other writer of fiction. All
that he has to describe, so it seems, is present to him in the hour of
recollection; he hangs over it, and his eye is caught by a point here
and there, a child with a book in a window-seat, the Fotheringay
cleaning her old shoe, the Major at his breakfast in Pall Mall; the
associations broaden away from these glimpses and are followed hither
and thither. But still, though the fullness of memory is directed into
a consecutive tale, it is not the narrative, not its order and
movement, that chiefly holds either Thackeray's attention or ours who
read; the narrative is steeped in the suffusion of the general tone,
the sensation of the place and the life that he is recalling, and it
is out of this effect, insensibly changing and developing, that the
novel is created.

For a nearer sight of it I go back to Vanity Fair. The chapters that
are concerned with Becky's determined siege of London--"How to live
well on nothing a year"--are exactly to the point; the wonderful
things that Thackeray could do, the odd lapse of his power when he had
to go beyond his particular province, both are here written large.
Every one remembers the chapters and their place in the book. Becky,
resolutely shaking off old difficulties for the moment, installs
herself with her husband in the heart of the world she means to
conquer; she all but succeeds, she just fails. Her campaign and its
untimely end are to be pictured; it is an interlude to be filled with
stir and glitter, with the sense of the passage of a certain time,
above all with intimations of insecurity and precarious fortune; and
it is to lead (this it must do) to a scene of final and decisive
climax. Such is the effect to be drawn from the matter that Thackeray
has stored up--the whole hierarchy of the Crawleys, Steyne, Gaunt
House, always with Becky in the midst and to the fore. Up to a point
it is precisely the kind of juncture in which Thackeray's art
delights. There is abundance of vivid stuff, and the picture to be
made of it is highly functional in the book. It is not merely a
preparation for a story to follow; it is itself the story, a most
important part of it. The chapters representing Becky's manner of life
in Curzon Street make the hinge of her career; she approaches her
turning-point at the beginning of them, she is past it at the end.
Functional, therefore, they are to the last degree; but up to the very
climax, or the verge of it, there is no need for a set scene of
dramatic particularity. An impression is to be created, growing and
growing; and it can well be created in the loose panoramic style which
is Thackeray's paramount arm. A general view, once more, a summary of
Becky's course of action, a long look at her conditions, a
participation in her gathering difficulties--that is the nature and
the task of these chapters, that is what Thackeray proceeds to give

He sets about it with a beautiful ease of assurance. From his height
he looks forth, takes in the effect with his sweeping vision,
possesses himself of the gradation of its tone; then, stooping nearer,
he seizes the detail that renders it. But the sense of the broad
survey is first in his thought. When he reflects upon Becky's life in
London and all that came of her attempt to establish herself there, he
is soon assailed by a score of definite recollections, tell-tale
incidents, scraps of talk that show how things were going with her;
but these, it would seem, arise by the way, they spring up in his mind
as he reviews the past. They illustrate what he has to say, and he
takes advantage of them. He brushes past them, however, without much
delaying or particularizing; a hint, a moment, a glance suffices for
the contribution that some event or colloquy is to make to the
picture. Note, for example, how unceremoniously, again and again, and
with how little thought of disposing a deliberate scene, he drifts
into his account of something that Becky said or did; she begins to
talk, you find there is some one else in the room, you find they are
in a certain room at a certain hour; definition emerges unawares in a
brooding memory. Briefly, to all appearance quite casually, the little
incident shows itself and vanishes; there is a pause to watch and
listen, and then the stream sets forward again, by so much enriched
and reinforced. Or in a heightened mood, as in the picture of the
midnight flurry and alarm of the great desolate house, when old Pitt
Crawley is suddenly struck down, still it is as though Thackeray
circled about the thought of the time and place, offering swift and
piercing glimpses of it, giving no continuous and dramatic display of
a constituted scene.

That foreshortening and generalizing, that fusion of detail, that
subordination of the instance and the occasion to the broad effect,
are the elements of the pictorial art in which Thackeray is so great a
master. So long as it is a matter of sketching a train of life in
broad free strokes, the poise and swing of his style are beyond
praise. And its perfection is all the more notable that it stands in
such contrast with the curious drop and uncertainty of his skill, so
soon as there is something more, something different to be done. For
Becky's dubious adventure has its climax, it tends towards a
conclusion, and the final scene cannot be recalled and summarized in
his indirect, reminiscential manner. It must be placed immediately
before us, the collapse of Becky's plotting and scheming must be
enacted in full view, if it is to have its proper emphasis and rightly
round off her career. Hitherto we have been listening to Thackeray, on
the whole, while he talked about Becky--talked with such extraordinary
brilliance that he evoked her in all her ways and made us see her with
his eyes; but now it is time to see her with our own, his lively
interpretation of her will serve no longer. Does Becky fail in the
end? After all that we have heard of her struggle it has become the
great question, and the force of the answer will be impaired if it is
not given with the best possible warrant. The best possible, better
even than Thackeray's wonderful account of her, will be the plain and
immediate _performance_ of the answer, its embodiment in a scene that
shall pass directly in front of us. The method that was not demanded
by the preceding phases of the tale is here absolutely prescribed.
Becky, Rawdon, Steyne, must now take the matter into their own hands
and show themselves without any other intervention. Hitherto,
practically throughout, they have been the creatures of Thackeray's
thought, they have been openly and confessedly the figures of _his_
vision. Now they must come forward, declare themselves, and be seen
for what they are.

And accordingly they do come forward and are seen in a famous passage.
Rawdon makes his unexpected return home from prison, and Becky's
unfortunate disaster overtakes her, so to say, in our very presence.
Perhaps I may seem to exaggerate the change of method which I note at
this point; but does it not appear to any one, glancing back at his
recollection of the book, that this particular scene is defined and
relieved and lighted differently, somehow, from the stream of
impressions in which it is set? A space is cleared for it, the stage
is swept. This is now no retrospective vision, shared with Thackeray;
it is a piece of present action with which we are confronted. It is
strictly dramatic, and I suppose it is good drama of its kind. But
there is more to be said of it than this--more to be said, even when
it has been admitted to be drama of rather a high-pitched, theatrical
strain. The foot-lights, it is probably agreed, seem suddenly to flare
before Becky and Rawdon, after the clear daylight that reigned in
Thackeray's description of them; they appear upon the scene, as they
should, but it must be owned that the scene has an artificial look, by
comparison with the flowing spontaneity of all that has gone before.
And this it is exactly that shows how and where Thackeray's skill
betrays him. He is not (like Dickens) naturally inclined to the
theatre, the melodramatic has no fatal attraction for him; so that if
he is theatrical here, it is not because he inevitably would be, given
his chance. It is rather because he must, at all costs, make this
climax of his story conclusively _tell_; and in order to do so he is
forced to use devices of some crudity--for him they are crude--because
his climax, his _scène à faire_, has been insufficiently prepared for.
Becky, Rawdon, Steyne, in all this matter that has been leading up to
the scene, have scarcely before been rendered in these immediate
terms; and now that they appear on their own account they can only
make a sure and pronounced effect by perceptibly forcing their note. A
little too much is expected of them, and they must make an unnatural
effort to meet it.

My instance is a small one, no doubt, to be pressed so far; in
lingering over these shades of treatment a critic, it may be thought,
loses sight of the book itself. But I am not trying, of course, to
criticize Vanity Fair; I am looking for certain details of method, and
the small instance is surely illuminating. It shows how little
Thackeray's fashion of handling a novel allowed for the big dramatic
scene, when at length it had to be faced--how he neglected it in
advance, how he refused it till the last possible moment. It is as
though he never quite trusted his men and women when he had to place
things entirely in their care, standing aside to let them act; he
wanted to intervene continually, he hesitated to leave them alone save
for a brief and belated half-hour. It was perverse of him, because the
men and women would have acquitted themselves so strikingly with a
better chance; he gave them life and vigour enough for much more
independence than they ever enjoyed. The culmination of Becky's
adventure offered a clear opening for full dramatic effect, if he had
chosen to take advantage of it. He had steadily piled up his
impression, carefully brought all the sense of the situation to
converge upon a single point; everything was ready for the great scene
of Becky's triumph in the face of the world, one memorable night of a
party at Gaunt House. It is incredible that he should let the
opportunity slip. There was a chance of a straight, unhampered view
of the whole meaning of his matter; nothing was needed but to allow
the scene to show itself, fairly and squarely. All its force would
have been lent to the disaster that follows; the dismay, the
disillusion, the snarl of anger and defiance, all would have been made
beforehand. By so much would the effect of the impending scene, the
scene of catastrophe, have been strengthened. There would have been no
necessity for the sudden heightening of the pitch, the thickening of
the colour, the incongruous and theatrical tone.

Yet the chance is missed, the triumphal evening passes in a confused
haze that leaves the situation exactly where it was before. The
episode is only a repetition of the kind of thing that has happened
already. There are echoes of festive sound and a rumour of Becky's
brilliance; but the significant look that the actual facts might have
worn and must have betrayed, the look that by this time Thackeray has
so fully instructed his reader to catch--this is not disclosed after
all. There is still nothing here but Thackeray's amusing,
irrepressible conversation _about_ the scene; he cannot make up his
mind to clear a space before it and give the situation the free field
it cries out for. And if it is asked what kind of clarity I mean, I
need only recall another page, close by, which shows it perfectly.
Becky had made an earlier appearance at Gaunt House; she had dined
there, near the beginning of her social career, and had found herself
in a difficulty; there came a moment when she had to face the frigid
hostility of the noble ladies of the party, alone with them in the
drawing-room, and her assurance failed. In the little scene that
ensues the charming veil of Thackeray's talk is suddenly raised; there
is Becky seated at the piano, Lady Steyne listening in a dream of old
memories, the other women chattering at a distance, when the jarring
doors are thrown open and the men return. It is all over in half a
page, but in that glimpse the story is lifted forward dramatically;
ocular proof, as it were, is added to Thackeray's account of Becky's
doubtful and delicate position. As a matter of curiosity I mention the
one moment in the later episode, the evening of those strangely
ineffective charades at Gaunt House, which appears to me to open the
same kind of rift in the haze; it is a single glimpse of Steyne,
applauding Becky's triumph. He is immediately there, an actor in the
show, alive and expressive, but he is alone; none of the others so
emerges, even Becky is only a luminous spot in the dimness. As for the
relation of the three, Steyne, Becky, and her husband, which is on the
point of becoming so important, there is nothing to be seen of it.

Right and left in the novels of Thackeray one may gather instances of
the same kind--the piercing and momentary shaft of direct vision, the
big scene approached and then refused. It is easy to find another in
Vanity Fair. Who but Thackeray could have borne to use the famous
matter of the Waterloo ball, a wonderful gift for a novelist to find
in his path, only to waste it, to dissipate its effect, to get no real
contribution from it after all? In the queer, haphazard, polyglot
interlude that precedes it Thackeray is, of course, entirely at home;
there it is a question of the picture-making he delights in, the large
impression of things in general, the evocation of daily life; Brussels
in its talkative suspense, waiting for the sound of the guns, feeding
on rumour, comes crowding into the chapter. And then the great
occasion that should have crowned it, into which the story naturally
and logically passes--for again the scene is not a decorative patch,
the story needs it--the Waterloo ball is nothing, leaves no image,
constitutes no effect whatever; the reader, looking back on the book,
might be quite uncertain whether he had been there or not. Nobody
could forget the sight of Lady Bareacres, sitting under the _porte
cochère_ in her horseless carriage--of good Mrs. O'Dowd, rising in the
dawn to equip her warrior for battle--of George Osborne, dead on the
field; but these are Thackeray's flashes of revelation, straight and
sure, and they are all the drama, strictly speaking, that he extorts
from his material. The rest is picture, stirringly, vivaciously
reflected in his unfailing memory--with the dramatic occasion to which
it tends, the historic affair of the "revelry by night," neglected and

There is scarcely need for more illustration of my point, but it is
tempting to look further. In all these well-remembered books
Thackeray, in an expansive mood, opens his mind and talks it out on
the subject of some big, loosely-knit company of men and women. He
remembers, as we all remember, with a strong sense of the tone and air
of an old experience, and a sharp recollection of moments that
happened for some reason to be salient, significant, peculiarly keen
or curious. Ethel Newcome, when she comes riding into the garden in
the early morning, full of the news of her wonderful discovery, the
letter shut in the old book; Blanche Amory, when she is caught out in
her faithlessness, warbling to the new swain at the piano and whipping
her handkerchief over his jewel-case as the old one enters; Madam
Esmond, on her balcony, defying the mob with "Britons, strike home";
old Sir Pitt, toasting his rasher in the company of the char-woman: I
name them at random, they are all instances of the way in which the
glance of memory falls on the particular moment, the aspect that
hardens and crystallizes an impression. Thackeray has these flashes in
profusion; they break out unforgettably as we think of his books. The
most exquisite of all, perhaps, is in Esmond, that sight of the dusky
choir of Winchester Cathedral, the shine of the candle-light, the
clear faces of Rachel and her son as they appear to the returned
wanderer. We no longer listen to a story, no longer see the past in a
sympathetic imagination; this is a higher power of intensity, a
fragment of the past made present and actual. But with Thackeray it is
always a fragment, never to any real purpose a deliberate and
continuous enactment.

For continuity he always recurs to his pictorial summary. The Newcomes
alone would give a dozen examples of this side of his genius--in the
pages that recall the lean dignity of the refugees from revolutionary
Paris, or the pious opulence of Clapham, or the rustle of fashion
round the Mayfair chapel, or the chatter and scandal of Baden-Baden,
or the squalid pretensions of English life at Boulogne. I need not
lengthen the list; these evocations follow one upon another, and as
quickly as Thackeray passes into a new circle he makes us feel and
know what it was like to live there and belong to it. The typical look
of the place is in his mind, the sense of its habitual life, the
savour of the hours that lapse there. But Esmond again has the last
word; the early chapters of the old days at Castlewood show a subtlety
of effect that is peculiar and rare. It is more than a picture of a
place and an impression of romance, it is more than the portrait of a
child; besides all this it is the most masterly of "time-pictures," if
that is a word that will serve. The effect I am thinking of is
different from that of which I spoke in the matter of Tolstoy's great
cycles of action; there we saw the march of time recording itself,
affirming its ceaseless movement, in the lives of certain people. This
of Thackeray's is not like that; time, at Castlewood, is not
movement, it is tranquillity--time that stands still, as we say, only
deepening as the years go. It cannot therefore be shown as a sequence;
and Thackeray roams to and fro in his narrative, caring little for the
connected order of events if he can give the sensation of time, deep
and soft and abundant, by delaying and returning at ease over this
tract of the past. It would be possible, I think, to say very
precisely where and how the effect is made--by what leisurely play
with the chronology of the story, apparently careless and
unmethodical, or by what shifting of the focus, so that the house of
Castlewood is now a far-away memory and now a close, benevolent
presence. Time, at any rate, is stored up in the description of the
child's life there, quiet layers of time in which the recorded
incidents sink deep.


In dealing with the method that I find peculiarly characteristic of
Thackeray, the "panoramic" method, I have spoken of it also as
"pictorial"; and it will be noticed that I have thus arrived at
another distinction which I touched upon in connection with Bovary.
Picture and drama--this is an antithesis which continually appears in
a novel, and I shall have much to say of it. And first of the names
which I give to these contrasted manners of treatment--I do not know
that they are the best names, but they express the main point of
difference, and they also have this advantage, that they _have_ been
used technically in the criticism of fiction, with specific meaning.
In writing about novels one is so rarely handling words that have ever
been given close definition (with regard to the art of fiction, I
mean) that it is natural to grasp at any which have chanced to be
selected and strictly applied by a critic of authority. Picture and
drama, therefore, I use because Henry James used them in discussing
his own novels, when he reviewed them all in his later years; but I
use them, I must add, in a rather more extended sense than he did.
Anybody who knows the critical prefaces of his books will remember how
picture and drama, to him, represented the twofold manner towards
which he tended in his last novels, composed as they are in a regular
alternation of dramatic dialogue and pictorial description. But _his_
pictorial description was of a very special kind; and when the subject
of criticism is fiction generally, not his alone, picture will take a
wider meaning, as opposed to drama. It will be found to cover the
panoramic manner of Thackeray.

It is a question, I said, of the reader's relation to the writer; in
one case the reader faces towards the story-teller and listens to him,
in the other he turns towards the story and watches it. In the drama
of the stage, in the acted play, the spectator evidently has no direct
concern with the author at all, while the action is proceeding. The
author places their parts in the mouths of the players, leaves them to
make their own impression, leaves _us_, the audience, to make what we
can of it. The motion of life is before us, the recording, registering
mind of the author is eliminated. That is drama; and when we think of
the story-teller as opposed to the dramatist, it is obvious that in
the full sense of the word there is no such thing as drama in a novel.
The novelist may give the very words that were spoken by his
characters, the dialogue, but of course he must interpose on his own
account to let us know how the people appeared, and where they were,
and what they were doing. If he offers nothing but the bare dialogue,
he is writing a kind of play; just as a dramatist, amplifying his play
with "stage-directions" and putting it forth to be read in a book,
has really written a kind of novel. But the difference between the
story-teller and the playwright is not my affair; and a new contrast,
within the limits of the art of fiction, is apparent when we speak of
the novel by itself--a contrast of two methods, to one of which it is
reasonable to give the name of drama.

I do not say that a clear line can be drawn between them; criticism
does not hope to be mathematically exact. But everybody sees the
diversity between the talkative, confidential manner of Thackeray and
the severe, discreet, anonymous manner--of whom shall I say?--of
Maupassant, for a good example, in many of his stories. It is not only
the difference between the personal qualities of the two men, which
indeed are also as far apart as the house of Castlewood and the Maison
Tellier; it is not the difference between the kinds of story they
chose to tell. They approached a story from opposite sides, and
thought of it, consequently, in images that had nothing in common: not
always, I dare say, but on the whole and characteristically they did
so. Maupassant's idea of a story (and not peculiarly Maupassant's, of
course, but his name is convenient) would suggest an object that you
fashioned and abandoned to the reader, turning away and leaving him
alone with it; Thackeray's would be more like the idea of a long and
sociable interview with the reader, a companion with whom he must
establish definite terms. Enough, the contrast is very familiar. But
these are images; how is the difference shown in their written books,
in Esmond and La Maison Tellier? Both, it is true, represent a picture
that was in the author's mind; but the story passes into Thackeray's
book as a picture still, and passes into Maupassant's as something
else--I call it drama.

In Maupassant's drama we are close to the facts, against them and
amongst them. He relates his story as though he had caught it in the
act and were mentioning the details as they passed. There seems to be
no particular process at work in his mind, so little that the figure
of Maupassant, the showman, is overlooked and forgotten as we follow
the direction of his eyes. The scene he evokes is contemporaneous, and
there it is, we can see it as well as he can. Certainly he is
"telling" us things, but they are things so immediate, so perceptible,
that the machinery of his telling, by which they reach us, is
unnoticed; the story appears to tell itself. Critically, of course, we
know how far that is from being the case, we know with what judicious
thought the showman is selecting the points of the scene upon which he
touches. But the _effect_ is that he is not there at all, because he
is doing nothing that ostensibly requires any judgement, nothing that
reminds us of his presence. He is behind us, out of sight, out of
mind; the story occupies us, the moving scene, and nothing else.

But Thackeray--in _his_ story we need him all the time and can never
forget him. He it is who must assemble and arrange his large
chronicle, piecing it together out of his experience. Becky's mode of
life, in his story, is a matter of many details picked up on many
occasions, and the power that collects them, the mind that contains
them, is always and openly Thackeray's; it could not be otherwise. It
is no question, for most of the time, of watching a scene at close
quarters, where the simple, literal detail, such as anybody might see
for himself, would be sufficient. A stretch of time is to be shown in
perspective, at a distance; the story-teller must be at hand to work
it into a single impression. And thus the general panorama, such as
Thackeray displays, becomes the representation of the author's
experience, and the author becomes a personal entity, about whom we
may begin to ask questions. Thackeray _cannot_ be the nameless
abstraction that the dramatist (whether in the drama of the stage or
in that of the novel) is naturally. I know that Thackeray, so far from
trying to conceal himself, comes forward and attracts attention and
nudges the reader a great deal more than he need; he likes the
personal relation with the reader and insists on it. But do what he
might to disguise it, so long as he is ranging over his story at a
height, chronicling, summarizing, foreshortening, he _must_ be present
to the reader as a narrator and a showman. It is only when he descends
and approaches a certain occasion and sets a scene with due
circumspection--rarely and a trifle awkwardly, as we saw--that he can
for the time being efface the thought of his active part in the

So much of a novel, therefore, as is not dramatic enactment, not
_scenic_, inclines always to picture, to the reflection of somebody's
mind. Confronted with a scene--like Becky's great scene, once more--we
forget that other mind; but as soon as the story goes off again into
narrative a question at once arises. _Who_ is disposing the scattered
facts, whose is this new point of view? It is the omniscient author,
and the point of view is his--such would be the common answer, and it
is the answer we get in Vanity Fair. By convention the author is
allowed his universal knowledge of the story and the people in it. But
still it is a convention, and a prudent novelist does not strain it
unnecessarily. Thackeray in Vanity Fair is not at all prudent; his
method, so seldom strictly dramatic, is one that of its nature is apt
to force this question of the narrator's authority, and he goes out of
his way to emphasize the question still further. He flourishes the
fact that the point of view is his own, not to be confounded with that
of anybody in the book. And so his book, as one may say, is not
complete in itself, not really self-contained; it does not meet and
satisfy all the issues it suggests. Over the whole of one side of it
there is an inconclusive look, something that draws the eye away from
the book itself, into space. It is the question of the narrator's
relation to the story.

However unconsciously--and I dare say the recognition is usually
unconscious--the novelist is alive to this difficulty, no doubt; for
we may see him, we presently shall, taking various steps to circumvent
it. There is felt to be an unsatisfactory want of finish in leaving a
question hanging out of the book, like a loose end, without some kind
of attempt to pull it back and make it part of an integral design.
After all, the book is torn away from its author and given out to the
world; the author is no longer a wandering _jongleur_ who enters the
hall and utters his book to the company assembled, retaining his book
as his own inalienable possession, himself and his actual presence and
his real voice indivisibly a part of it. The book that we read has no
such support; it must bring its own recognisances. And in the
fictitious picture of life the effect of validity is all in all and
there can be no appeal to an external authority; and so there is an
inherent weakness in it if the mind that knows the story and the eye
that sees it remain unaccountable. At any moment they may be
questioned, and the only way to silence the question is somehow to
make the mind and the eye objective, to make them facts in the story.
When the point of view is definitely included in the book, when it can
be recognized and verified there, then every side of the book is
equally wrought and fashioned. Otherwise it may seem like a thing
meant to stand against a wall, with one side left in the rough; and
there is no wall for a novel to stand against.

That this is not a fanciful objection to a pictorial book like Vanity
Fair, where the point of view is _not_ accounted for, is proved, I
think, by the different means that a novelist will adopt to
authenticate his story--to dramatize the seeing eye, as I should
prefer to put it. These I shall try to deal with in what seems to be
their logical order; illuminating examples of any of them are not
wanting. I do not suggest that if I were criticizing Vanity Fair I
should think twice about this aspect of it; to do so would be very
futile criticism of such a book, such a store of life. But then I am
not considering it as Vanity Fair, I am considering it as a dominant
case of pictorial fiction; and here is the characteristic danger of
the method, and a danger which all who practise the method are not
likely to encounter and over-ride with the genius of Thackeray. And
even Thackeray--he chose to encounter it once again, it is true, in
Pendennis, but only once and no more, and after that he took his own
precautions, and evidently found that he could move the more freely
for doing so.

But to revert yet again for a moment to Bovary--which seemed on
scrutiny to be more of a picture than a drama--I think it is clear how
Flaubert avoided the necessity of installing himself avowedly as the
narrator, in the sight of the reader. I mentioned how he constantly
blends his acuter vision with that of Emma, so that the weakness of
her gift of experience is helped out; and the help is mutual, for on
the other hand her vision is always active as far as it goes, and
Flaubert's intervention is so unobtrusive that her point of view seems
to govern the story more than it does really. And therefore, though
the book is largely a picture, a review of many details and occasions,
the question of the narrator is never insistent. The landscape that
Thackeray controls is so much wider and fuller that even with all the
tact of Flaubert--and little he has of it--he could scarcely follow
Flaubert's example. His book is not a portrait of character but a
panorama of manners, and there is no disguising the need of some
detached spectator, who looks on from without.

It is the method of picture-making that enables the novelist to cover
his great spaces of life and quantities of experience, so much greater
than any that can be brought within the acts of a play. As for
intensity of life, that is another matter; there, as we have seen, the
novelist has recourse to his other arm, the one that corresponds with
the single arm of the dramatist. Inevitably, as the plot thickens and
the climax approaches--inevitably, wherever an impression is to be
emphasized and driven home--narration gives place to enactment, the
train of events to the particular episode, the broad picture to the
dramatic scene. But the limitation of drama is as obvious as its
peculiar power. It is clear that if we wish to see an abundance and
multitude of life we shall find it more readily and more summarily by
looking for an hour into a memory, a consciousness, than by merely
watching the present events of an hour, however crowded. Much may
happen in that time, but in extent it will be nothing to the regions
thrown open by the other method. A novelist, with a large and
discursive subject before him, could not hope to show it all
dramatically; much of it, perhaps the greater part, must be so
marshalled that it may be swept by a travelling glance. Thackeray
shows how it is done and how a vista of many facts can be made to fall
into line; but he shows, too, how it needs a mind to create that
vista, and how the creative mind becomes more and more perceptible,
more visibly active, as the prospect widens.

Most novelists, I think, seem to betray, like Thackeray, a preference
for one method or the other, for picture or for drama; one sees in a
moment how Fielding, Balzac, George Eliot, incline to the first, in
their diverse manners, and Tolstoy (certainly Tolstoy, in spite of his
big range) or Dostoevsky to the second, the scenic way. But of course
every novelist uses both, and the quality of a novelist appears very
clearly in his management of the two, how he guides the story into the
scene, how he picks it out of the scene, a richer and fuller story
than it was before, and proceeds with his narrative. On the whole, no
doubt, the possibilities of the scene are greatly abused in fiction,
in the daily and familiar novel. They are doubly abused; for the
treatment of the scene is neglected, and yet it recurs again and
again, much too often, and its value is wasted. It has to be
remembered that drama is the novelist's highest light, like the white
paper or white paint of a draughtsman; to use it prodigally where it
is not needed is to lessen its force where it is essential. And so the
economical procedure would be to hoard it rather, reserving it for
important occasions--as in Bovary, sure enough.

But before I deal with the question of the novelist's drama I would
follow out the whole argument that is suggested by his reflected
picture of life. This, after all, is the method which is his very own,
which he commands as a story-teller pure and simple. And for a
beginning I have tried to indicate its prime disadvantage, consisting
of the fact that in its plain form it drags in the omniscient author
and may make him exceedingly conspicuous. Why is this a disadvantage,
is it asked? It is none, of course, if the author has the power to
make us admire and welcome the apparition, or if his picture is so
dazzling that a theoretic defect in it is forgotten. But a novel in
which either of these feats is accomplished proves only the charm or
genius of the author; charm and genius do what they will, there is
nothing new in that. And I believe that the defect, even though at
first sight it may seem a trifle, is apt to become more and more
troublesome in a book as the book is re-read. It makes for a kind of
thinness in the general impression, wherever the personal force of the
writer is not remarkable. I should say that it may often contribute
towards an air of ineffectiveness in a story, which it might otherwise
be difficult to explain.

The fiction of Turgenev is on the whole a case in point, to my mind.
Turgenev was never shy of appearing in his pages as the reflective
story-teller, imparting the fruits of his observation to the reader.
He will watch a character, let us say, cross a field and enter a wood
and sit down under a tree; good, it is an opportunity for gaining a
first impression of the man or woman, it is a little scene, and
Turgenev's touch is quick and light. But then with perfect candour he
will show his hand; he will draw the reader aside and pour into his
ear a flow of information about the man or woman, information that
openly comes straight from Turgenev himself, in good pictorial form,
no doubt, but information which will never have its due weight with
the reader, because it reposes upon nothing that he can test for
himself. Who and what is this communicative participator in the
business, this vocal author? He does not belong to the book, and his
voice has not that compelling tone and tune of its own (as Thackeray's
had) which makes a reader enjoy hearing it for its own sake. This is a
small matter, I admit, but Turgenev extends it and pursues the same
kind of course in more important affairs. He remains the observant
narrator, to whom we are indebted for a share in his experience. The
result is surely that his picture of life has less authority than its
highly finished design would seem to warrant. It is evidently not a
picture in which the deeps of character are sounded, and in which the
heights of passion are touched, and in which a great breadth of the
human world is contained; it is not a picture of such dimensions. But
it has so much neat and just and even exquisite work in it that it
might seem final of its kind, completely effective in what it
attempts; and it falls short of this, I should say, and there is
something in that constant sense of Turgenev at one's elbow,
_proffering_ the little picture, that may very well damage it. The
thing ought to stand out by itself; it could easily be made to do so.
But Turgenev was unsuspecting; he had not taken to heart the full
importance of dramatizing the point of view--perhaps it was that.

The narrative, then, the chronicle, the summary, which must represent
the story-teller's ordered and arranged experience, and which must
accordingly be of the nature of a picture, is to be strengthened, is
to be raised to a power approaching that of drama, where the
intervention of the story-teller is no longer felt. The freedom which
the pictorial method gives to the novelist is unknown to the
playwright; but that freedom has to be paid for by some loss of
intensity, and the question is how to pay as little as possible. In
the end, as I think it may be shown, the loss is made good and there
is nothing to pay at all, so far may the dramatizing process be
followed. Method, I have said, can be imposed upon method, one kind
upon another; and in analyzing the manner of certain novelists one
discovers how ingeniously they will correct the weakness of one method
by the force of another and retain the advantages of both. It is
rather a complicated story, but the beginning is clear enough, and the
direction which it is to take is also clear. Everything in the novel,
not only the scenic episodes but all the rest, is to be in some sense
dramatized; that is where the argument tends. As for the beginning of
it, the first obvious step, the example of Thackeray is at hand and it
could not be bettered. I turn to Esmond.


The novelist, I am supposing, is faced with a situation in his story
where for some good reason more is needed than the simple impression
which the reader might have formed for himself, had he been present
and using his eyes on the spot. It is a case for a general account of
many things; or it is a case for a certain view of the facts, based on
inner knowledge, to be presented to the reader. Thackeray, for
example, has to open his mind on the subject of Becky's ambitions or
Amelia's regrets; it would take too long, perhaps it would be
impossible, to set them acting their emotions in a form that would
tell the reader the whole tale; their creator must elucidate the
matter. He cannot forget, however, that this report of their emotions
is a subjective affair of his own; it relies upon his memory of
Becky's or Amelia's plight, his insight into the workings of their
thought, his sense of past action. All this is vivid enough to the
author, who has seen and known, but the reader stands at a further

It would be different if this consciousness of the past, the mind
which holds the memory, should itself become for the reader a directly
perceptible fact. The author must supply his view, but he might treat
his view as though it were in its turn a piece of action. It _is_ a
piece of action, or of activity, when he calls up these old
recollections; and why should not that effort be given the value of a
sort of drama on its own account? It would then be like a play within
a play; the outer framework at least--consisting of the reflective
mind--would be immediately in front of the reader; and its relation to
the thing framed, the projected vision, would explain itself. So long
as the recorder stands outside and away from his book, as Thackeray
stands outside Vanity Fair, a potential value is wasted; the activity
that is proceeding in his mind is not in itself an element in the
effect of the book, as it might be. And if it were thus drawn into the
book it would do double duty; it would authenticate and so enhance the
picture; it would add a new and independent interest as well. It seems
that there is everything to be said for making a drama of the narrator

And so Thackeray evidently felt, for in all his later work he refused
to remain the unaccountable seer from without. He did not carry the
dramatizing process very far, indeed, and it may be thought that the
change in his method does not amount to much. In The Newcomes and its
successors the old Thackerayan display seems essentially the same as
ever, still the familiar, easy-going, intimate outpouring, with all
the well-known inflexions of Thackeray's voice and the humours of his
temperament; certainly Pendennis and Esmond and George Warrington and
Thackeray have all of them exactly the same conception of the art of
story-telling, they all command the same perfection of luminous style.
And not only does Thackeray stop short at an early stage of the
process I am considering, but it must be owned that he uses the device
of the narrator "in character" very loosely and casually, as soon as
it might be troublesome to use it with care. But still he takes the
step, and he picks up the loose end I spoke of, and he packs it into
his book; and thenceforward we see precisely how the narrator stands
towards the story he unfolds. It is the first step in the
dramatization of picture.

A very simple and obvious step too, it will be said, the natural
device of the story-teller for giving his tale a look of truth. It is
so indeed; but the interest of the matter lies in recognizing exactly
what it is that is gained, what it is that makes that look. Esmond
tells the story quite as Thackeray would; it all comes streaming out
as a pictorial evocation of old times; there is just as little that is
strictly dramatic in it as there is in Vanity Fair. Rarely, very
rarely indeed, is there anything that could be called a scene; there
is a long impression that creeps forward and forward, as Esmond
retraces his life, with those piercing moments of vision which we
remember so well. But to the other people in the book it makes all the
difference that the narrator is among them. Now, when Beatrix appears,
we know who it is that so sees her, and we know where the seer is
placed; his line of sight, striking across the book, from him the seer
to her the seen, is measurable, its angle is shown; it gives to
Beatrix a new dimension and a sharper relief. Can you remember any
moment in Vanity Fair when you beheld Becky as again and again you
behold Beatrix, catching the very slant of the light on her face?
Becky never suddenly flowered out against her background in that way;
some want of solidity and of objectivity there still is in Becky, and
there must be, because she is regarded from anywhere, from nowhere,
from somewhere in the surrounding void. Thackeray's language about her
does not carry the same weight as Esmond's about Beatrix, because
nobody knows where Thackeray is, or what his relation may be to Becky.

This, then, is the readiest means of dramatically heightening a
reported impression, this device of telling the story in the first
person, in the person of somebody in the book; and large in our
fiction the first person accordingly bulks. The characterized "I" is
substituted for the loose and general "I" of the author; the loss of
freedom is more than repaid by the more salient effect of the picture.
Precision, individuality is given to it by this pair of eyes, known
and named, through which the reader sees it; instead of drifting in
space above the spectacle he keeps his allotted station and
contemplates a delimited field of vision. There is much benefit in the
sense that the picture has now a definite edge; its value is brought
out to the best advantage when its bounding line is thus emphasized.
Moreover, it is not only the field of vision that is determined by the
use of the first person, it is also the quality of the tone. When we
are shown what Esmond sees, and nothing else, there is first of all
the comfortable assurance of the point of view, and then there is the
personal colour which he throws over his account, so that it gains
another kind of distinction. It does not matter that Esmond's tone in
his story is remarkably like Thackeray's in the stories that _he_
tells; in Esmond's case the tone has a meaning in the story, is part
of it, whereas in the other case it is related only to Thackeray, and
Thackeray is in the void. When Esmond ruminates and reflects, his
manner is the expression of a human being there present, to whom it
can be referred; when Thackeray does the same, there is no such
compactness, and the manner trails away where we cannot follow it.
Dramatically it seems clear that the method of Esmond has the
advantage over the method of Vanity Fair.

Here are sound reasons, so far as they go, for the use of the first
person in the distinctively pictorial book. David Copperfield, for
instance--it is essentially a long glance, working steadily over a
tract of years, alone of its kind in Dickens's fiction. It was the one
book in which he rejected the intrigue of action for the centre of his
design--did not reject it altogether, indeed, but accepted it as
incidental only. Always elsewhere it is his chosen intrigue, his
"plot," that makes the shape of his book. Beginning with a deceptive
air of intending mainly a novel of manners and humours, as Stevenson
once pointed out, in Bleak House or in Little Dorrit or in Our Mutual
Friend--in his later books generally--he insinuates a thread of action
that gradually twists more and more of the matter of the book round
itself. The intrigue begins to take the first place, to dominate and
at last to fill the pages. That was the form, interesting of its kind,
and one to which justice has hardly been done, which he elaborated and
made his own. In Copperfield for once he took another way entirely. It
is the far stretch of the past which makes the shape of that book, not
any of the knots or networks of action which it contains. These,
instead of controlling the novel, sink into the level of retrospect.
Copperfield has not a few lesser dramas to represent; but the affair
of Steerforth, the affair of Uriah Heep, to name a pair of them, which
might have developed and taken command of the scene, fall back into
the general picture, becoming incidents in the long rhythm of
Copperfield's memory. It was a clear case for narration in person, in
character; everything was gained and nothing lost by leaving it to the
man to give his own impression. Nothing was lost, because the sole
need is for the reader to see what David sees; it matters little how
his mind works, or what the effect of it all may be upon himself. It
is the story of what happened around him, not within. David offers a
pair of eyes and a memory, nothing further is demanded of him.

But now let me take the case of another big novel, where again there
is a picture outspread, with episodes of drama that are subordinate to
the sweep of the expanse. It is Meredith's story of Harry Richmond, a
book in which its author evidently found a demand in some way
different from that of the rest of his work; for here again the first
person is used by a man who habitually avoided it. In Harry Richmond
it seemed to Meredith appropriate, I suppose, because the story has a
romantic and heroic temper, the kind of chivalrous fling that sits
well on a youth of spirit, telling his own tale. It is natural for the
youth to pass easily from one adventure to the next, taking it as it
comes; and if Meredith proposes to write a story of loose, generous,
informal design he had better place it in the mouth of the adventurer.
True that in so far as it is romantic, and a story of youth, and a
story in which an air from an age of knight-errantry blows into modern
times, so that something like a clash of armour and a splintering of
spears seems to mingle with the noises of modern life--true that in so
far as it is all this, Harry Richmond is not alone among Meredith's
books. The author of Richard Feverel and Evan Harrington and Beauchamp
and Lord Ormont was generally a little vague on the question of the
century in which his stories were cast. The events may happen in the
nineteenth century, they clearly must; and yet the furniture and the
machinery and the conventions of the nineteenth century have a way of
appearing in Meredith's pages as if they were anachronisms. But that
is by the way; Harry Richmond is certainly, on the face of it, a
series of adventures loosely connected--connected only by the fact
that they befell a particular young man; and so the method of
narration should emphasize the link, Meredith may have concluded, and
the young man shall speak for himself.

The use of the first person, no doubt, is a source of relief to a
novelist in the matter of composition. It composes of its own accord,
or so he may feel; for the hero gives the story an indefeasible unity
by the mere act of telling it. His career may not seem to hang
together logically, artistically; but every part of it is at least
united with every part by the coincidence of its all belonging to one
man. When he tells it himself, that fact is serviceably to the fore;
the first person will draw a rambling, fragmentary tale together and
stamp it after a fashion as a single whole. Does anybody dare to
suggest that this is a reason for the marked popularity of the method
among our novelists? Autobiography--it is a regular literary form, and
yet it is one which refuses the recognized principles of literary
form; its natural right is to seem wayward and inconsequent; its charm
is in the fidelity with which it follows the winding course of the
writer's thought, as he muses upon the past, and the writer is not
expected to guide his thought in an orderly design, but to let it
wander free. Formlessness becomes actually the mark of right form in
literature of this class; and a novel presented as fictitious
autobiography gets the same advantage. And there the argument brings
us back to the old question; fiction must _look_ true, and there is no
look of truth in inconsequence, and there is no authority at the back
of a novel, independent of it, to vouch for the truth of its apparent
wilfulness. But it is not worth while to linger here; the use of the
first person has other and more interesting snares than this, that it
pretends to disguise unmeaning, inexpressive form in a story.

Now with regard to Harry Richmond, ostensibly it _is_ rather like a
chronicle of romantic adventure--not formless, far from it, but freely
flowing as a saga, with its illegitimate dash of blood-royal and its
roaring old English squire-archy and its speaking statue and its quest
of the princess; it _contains_ a saga, and even an exceedingly
fantastic one. But Harry Richmond is a deeply compacted book, and
mixed with its romance there is a novel of another sort. For the
fantasy it is only necessary that Harry himself should give a picture
of his experience, of all that he has seen and done; on this side the
story is in the succession of rare, strange, poetic events, with the
remarkable people concerned in them. But the aim of the book goes far
beyond this; it is to give the portrait of Harry Richmond, and that
is the real reason why the story is told. All these striking episodes,
which Harry is so well placed to describe, are not merely pictures
that pass, a story that Meredith sets him to tell because it is of
high interest on its own account. Meredith's purpose is that the hero
himself shall be in the middle of the book, with all the interest of
the story reflected back upon his character, his temper, his growth.
The subject is Harry Richmond, a youth of spirit; the subject is _not_
the cycle of romance through which he happens to have passed.

In the case of Copperfield, to go back to him, Dickens had exactly the
opposite intention. He found his book in the expanse of life which his
David had travelled over; Dickens's only care was to represent the
wonderful show that filled his hero's memory. The whole phantasmagoria
is the subject of the book, a hundred men and women, populating
David's past and keeping his pen at full speed in the single-minded
effort to portray them. Alone among the assembly David himself is
scarcely of the subject at all. He has substance enough, and amply, to
be a credible, authoritative reporter--Dickens sees well to that; but
he is a shadow compared with Betsy Trotwood and the Micawbers and the
Heeps, with all the hundred of them, and there is no call for him to
be more. In this respect his story, again, is contrasted with that of
Pendennis, which is, or is evidently meant to be in the first place, a
portrait of the young man--or with the story of Tom Jones perhaps,
though in this case more doubtfully, for Fielding's shrewd eye was apt
to be drawn away from the young man to the bustle of life around him.
But in Copperfield the design is very plain and is consistently
pursued; it would be a false patch in the story if at any point David
attracted more attention to himself than to the people of his
vision--he himself, as a child, being of course one of them, a little
creature that he sees in the distance, but he himself, in later years,
becoming merely the mirror of his experience, which he not unnaturally
considers worthy of being pictured for its own sake.

Look back then at Harry Richmond, and it is obvious that Harry himself
is all the subject of the book, there is no other. His father and his
grandfather, Ottilia and Janet, belong to the book by reason of him;
they stand about him, conditions of his life, phases of his career,
determining what he is and what he becomes. That is clearly Meredith's
thought in undertaking this chronicle; he proposes to show how it
makes the history, the moral and emotional history, of the man through
whom it is uttered. Harry's adventures, ambitions, mistakes,
successes, are the gradual and elaborate expression of him, complete
in the end; they round him into the figure of the man in whom Meredith
saw his book. The book started from Harry Richmond, the rest of it is
there to display him. A youth of considerable parts and attractions,
and a youth characteristic of his time and country, and a youth whose
circumstances are such as to give him very free play and to test and
prove him very effectually--there is the burden of Meredith's saga, as
I call it, and he never forgets it, though sometimes he certainly
pushes the brilliant fantasy of the saga beyond his strict needs. The
romance of the blood-royal, for instance--it would be hard to argue
that the book honestly requires the high colour of that infusion, and
all the pervading thrill that Meredith gets from it; Richmond Roy is
largely gratuitous, a piece of indulgence on Meredith's part. But that
objection is not likely to be pressed very severely, and anyhow Harry
is firmly established in the forefront. He tells his story, he
describes the company and the scenes he has lived through; and all the
time it is by them that he is himself described.

It comes to this, that the picture which Harry Richmond gives of his
career has a function essentially dramatic; it has a part to perform
in the story, a part it must undertake as a whole, over and above its
pictorial charge. It must do something as well as be, it must create
even while it is created. In Esmond and in Copperfield it is
otherwise; there the unrolling scene has little or no part to play, as
a scene, over against another actor; it holds no dialogue, so to
speak, sustains no interchange, or none of principal importance, with
the figure of the narrator. He narrates, he creates the picture; but
for us who look on, reading the book, there is nothing in the picture
to make us perpetually turn from it and face towards the man in the
foreground, watching for the effect it may produce in him. Attention
is all concentrated in the life that he remembers and evokes. He
himself, indeed, though the fact of his presence is very clear to us,
tends to remain in shadow; it is as though he leant from a window,
surveying the world, his figure outlined against the lighted square,
his features not very distinctly discerned by the reader within. It is
enough that he should make Micawber live again, make Beatrix appear on
the staircase of the old house, with her scarlet ribbon and the taper
in her hand. _They_ owe everything to the presence of the man who
calls them back from the past; they receive their being, they do
little in return.

This picture, this bright vision, spied through the clever
ministration of a narrator, is not enough for Harry Richmond. Here the
peopled view, all of it together, is like an actor in a play, and the
interlocutor, the protagonist, is the man in the foreground, Harry
himself. There is no question of simply seeing through his eyes,
sharing his memory, perhaps even a little forgetting him from time to
time, when the figured scene is particularly delightful. The thought,
the fancy, the emotion of Harry Richmond are the centre of the play;
from these to the men and women who shape his fate, from them again to
the mind that recalls them, attention passes and returns; we who look
on are continually occupied with the fact of Harry's consciousness,
its gradual enlargement and enrichment. That is the process which
Ottilia and Janet and the rest of them are expected to forward, and
they contribute actively. Harry before the quest of the princess and
Harry when it has finally failed are different beings, so far as a man
is changed by an experience that is absorbed into the whole of his
nature. How is the change effected, what does it achieve?--the
episode, bringing the change into view, dramatizes it, and the
question is answered. The young knight-errant has run an eventful
course, and he gives his account of it; but the leading event of his
tale is himself. His account illustrates that event, helps towards the
enactment of it. Pictorial, therefore, in form, dramatic in
function--such was the story that Meredith elected to tell in the
first person.

And in so doing he showed, as it seems to me, precisely where the
defect of the method begins to be felt. The method has a certain
dramatic energy, we have seen, making a visible fact of the relation,
otherwise unexplained, between the narrator and the tale. It has this;
but for a subject like Meredith's it is really too little, and the use
of the first person is overtaxed. Does he contrive to conceal the
trouble, does he make us exceedingly unconscious of it while we read
the book? I have no doubt that he does, with the humanity and poetry
and wisdom that he pours into it--the novel of which it has been said
that if Shakespeare revisited the globe and asked for a book of our
times to read, this would be the volume to offer him, the book more
likely than another to convince him at once that literature is still
in our midst. There is small doubt that Meredith disguises the
trouble, and there is still less that he was quite unaware of it
himself. But it is there, and it shows plainly enough in some novels,
where a personal narrator is given the same kind of task; and in
Meredith's book too, I think, it is not to be missed when one
considers what might have been, supposing Meredith had chosen another
way. The other way was open; he cannot have noticed it.

The young man Harry--this is the trouble--is only a recorder, a
picture-maker, so long as he speaks for himself. He is very well
placed for describing his world, which _needs_ somebody to describe
it; his world is much too big and complex to be shown scenically, in
those immediate terms I spoke of just now in connection with
Maupassant's story. Scenes of drama there may be from time to time,
there are plenty in Meredith's novel; but still on the whole the story
must be given as the view of an onlooker, and Harry is clearly the
onlooker indicated, the only possible one. That is certain; but then
there is laid upon him the task which is not laid, or barely at all,
upon Copperfield or Esmond. Before the book is out he must have grown
to ten times the weight that we dream of looking for in either of
them. He must be distinct to see; _he_ cannot remain a dim silhouette
against the window, the light must fall full upon his face. How can he
manage it? How can he give that sharp impression of himself that he
easily gives of his world? It is a query that he is in no position to
meet, for the impossible is asked of him. He is expected to lend us
his eyes (which he does), and yet at the same time to present himself
for us to behold with our own; the subject of his story requires no

It is not merely a matter of seeing his personal aspect and address;
these are readily given by implication. When we have watched for a
while the behaviour of the people round him, and have heard something
of his experience and of the way in which he fared in the world, we
shall very well know what he was like to meet, what others saw in him.
There is no difficulty here. But Harry needs a great deal more
substance than this, if his story is to be rightly understood. What it
was like to _be_ Harry, with all that action and reaction of character
and fortune proceeding within him--that is the question, the chief
question; and since it is the most important affair in the book, it
should obviously be rendered as solidly as possible, by the most
emphatic method that the author can command. But Harry, speaking of
himself, can only report; he can only recall the past and _tell_ us
what he was, only _describe_ his emotion; and he may describe very
vividly, and he does, but it would necessarily be more convincing if
we could get behind his description and judge for ourselves. Drama we
want, always drama, for the central, essential, paramount affair,
whatever it is; Harry's consciousness ought to be dramatized.
Something is lost if it is represented solely by his account of it.
Meredith may enable Harry to give an account so brilliant that the
defect is forgotten; that is not the point. But could he have done
more? I think so; only it would have meant the surrender of the method
of autobiography.

Here then, I conclude, the dramatizing force of the first person gives
out. It is very useful for enhancing the value of a picture, where
none but the pictorial method is available, where we are bound to rely
upon an intervening story-teller in some guise or other; it is much
more satisfactory to know who the story-teller is, and to see him as a
part of the story, than to be deflected away from the book by the
author, an arbitrary, unmeasurable, unappraisable factor. But when the
man in the book is expected to make a picture of himself, a searching
and elaborate portrait, then the limit of his capacity is touched and
passed; or rather there is a better method, one of finer capacity,
then ready to the author's hand, and there is no reason to be content
with the hero's mere report. The figure of the story-teller is a
dramatic fact in Meredith's book, and that is all to the good; but the
story-teller's inner history--it is not clear that we need the
intervention of anybody in this matter, and if it might be dramatized,
made immediately visible, dramatized it evidently should be. By all
means let us have Harry's account if we must have somebody's, but
perhaps there is no such need. There seems to be none; it is surely
time to take the next step in the process I am trying to track.


And the next step is to lay aside the autobiographic device which the
novelist was seen to adopt, a few pages ago, in the interest of drama.
When it has served as Dickens and Thackeray made it serve, it seems to
have shown the extent of its power; if the picture of a life is to be
still further dramatized, other arts must be called into play. I am
still assuming that the novel under consideration is one that
postulates--as indeed most novels do--a point of view which is not
that of the reader; I am supposing that the story requires a seeing
eye, in the sense I suggested in speaking of Vanity Fair. If no such
selecting, interpreting, composing minister is needed, then we have
drama unmixed; and I shall come across an example or so in fiction
later on. It is drama unmixed when the reader is squarely in front of
the scene, all the time, knowing nothing about the story beyond so
much as may be gathered from the aspect of the scene, the look and
speech of the people. That does not happen often in fiction, except in
short pieces, small _contes_. And still I am concerned with the kind
of book that preponderantly needs the seeing eye--the kind of novel
that I call distinctively pictorial.

The novelist, therefore, returns to the third person again, but he
returns with a marked difference. He by no means resumes his original
part, that of Thackeray in Vanity Fair; for his hero's personal
narration he does not substitute his own once more. It is still the
man in the book who sees and judges and reflects; all the picture of
life is still rendered in the hero's terms. But the difference is that
instead of receiving his report we now see him in the act of judging
and reflecting; his consciousness, no longer a matter of hearsay, a
matter for which we must take his word, is now before us in its
original agitation. Here is a spectacle for the reader, with no
obtrusive interpreter, no transmitter of light, no conductor of
meaning. This man's interior life is cast into the world of
independent, rounded objects; it is given room to show itself, it
appears, it _acts_. A distinction is made between the scene which the
man surveys, and the energy within him which converts it all into the
stuff of his own being. The scene, as much as ever, is watched through
his eyes; but now there is this other fact, in front of the scene,
actually under the hand of the reader. To this fact the value of drama
has accrued.

Meredith would have sacrificed nothing, so far as I can see, by
proceeding to the further stage in Harry Richmond--unless perhaps the
story, told in the third person, might seem to lose some of its
airings of romance. On the other hand, the advantage of following the
stir of Harry's imagination _while_ it is stirring would be great;
the effect would be straighter, the impression deeper, the reader
would have been nearer to Harry throughout, and more closely
implicated in his affair. Think of the young man, for instance, in
Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment--there is a young man whose
experience surrounds and presses upon the reader, is felt and tasted
and endured by the reader; and any one who has been through the book
has truly become Raskolnikov, and knows exactly what it was to be that
young man. Drama is there pushed into the theatre of a mind; the play
proceeds with the reading of the book, accompanying the eye that falls
on it. How could a retrospect in the words of the young man--only of
course Dostoevsky had no choice in the matter, such a method was ruled
out--but supposing the story had admitted it, how could a retrospect
have given Raskolnikov thus bodily into the reader's possession? There
could have been no conviction in his own account comparable with the
certainty which Dostoevsky has left to us, and left because he neither
spoke for himself (as the communicative author) nor allowed
Raskolnikov to speak, but uncovered the man's mind and made us look.

It seems, then, to be a principle of the story-teller's art that a
personal narrator will do very well and may be extremely helpful, so
long as the story is only the reflection of life beyond and outside
him; but that as soon as the story begins to find its centre of
gravity in his own life, as soon as the main weight of attention is
claimed for the speaker rather than for the scene, then his report of
himself becomes a matter which might be strengthened, and which should
accordingly give way to the stronger method. This I take to be a
general principle, and where it appears to be violated a critic would
instinctively look for the particular reason which makes it
inapplicable to the particular case. No reflection, no picture, where
living drama is possible--it is a good rule; do not let the hero come
between us and his active mind, do not let the heroine stand in front
of her emotions and portray them--unless for cause, for some needful
effect that would otherwise be missed. I see the reason and the effect
very plainly in Thackeray's Barry Lyndon, to take a casual example,
where the point of the whole thing is that the man should give himself
away unknowingly; in Jane Eyre, to take another, I see neither--but it
is hard to throw such a dry question upon tragic little Jane.

If it should still be doubted, however, whether the right use of
autobiography is really so limited, it might be a good answer to point
to Henry James's Strether, in The Ambassadors; Strether may stand as a
living demonstration of all that autobiography cannot achieve. He is
enough to prove finally how far the intricate performance of thought
is beyond the power of a man to record in his own language.
Nine-tenths of Strether's thought--nine-tenths, that is to say, of the
silvery activity which makes him what he is--would be lost but for the
fact that its adventures are caught in time, while they are
proceeding, and enacted in the book. Pictured by him, as he might
himself look back on them, they would drop to the same plane as the
rest of the scene, the picture of the other people in the story; his
state of mind would figure in his description on the same terms as the
world about him, it would simply be a matter for him to describe like
another. In the book as it is, Strether personally has nothing to do
with the impression that is made by the mazy career of his
imagination, he has no hand in the effect it produces. It speaks for
itself, it spreads over the scene and colours the world just as it did
for Strether. It is immediately in the foreground, and the "seeing
eye" to which it is presented is not his, but the reader's own.

No longer a figure that leans and looks out of a window, scanning a
stretch of memory--that is not the image suggested by Henry James's
book. It is rather as though the reader himself were at the window,
and as though the window opened straight into the depths of Strether's
conscious existence. The energy of his perception and discrimination
is there seen at work. His mind is the mirror of the scene beyond it,
and the other people in the book exist only in relation to him; but
his mind, his own thought of them, is there absolutely, its restless
evolution is in full sight. I do not say that this is a complete
account of the principle on which the book is constructed; for indeed
the principle goes further, encompassing points of method to be dealt
with later. But for the moment let the book stand as the type of the
novel in which a mind is dramatized--reflecting the life to which it
is exposed, but itself performing its own peculiar and private life.
This last, in the case of Strether, involves a gradual, long-drawn
change, from the moment when he takes up the charge of rescuing his
young friend from the siren of Paris, to the moment when he finds
himself wishing that his young friend would refuse to be rescued. Such
is the curve in the unexpected adventure of his imagination. It is
given as nobody's view--not his own, as it would be if he told the
story himself, and not the author's, as it would be if Henry James
told the story. The author does not tell the story of Strether's mind;
he makes it tell itself, he dramatizes it.

Thus it is that the novelist pushes his responsibility further and
further away from himself. The fiction that he devises is ultimately
his; but it looks poor and thin if he openly claims it as his, or at
any rate it becomes much more substantial as soon as he fathers it
upon another. This is not _my_ story, says the author; you know
nothing of me; it is the story of this man or woman in whose words you
have it, and he or she is a person whom you _can_ know; and you may
see for yourselves how the matter arose, the man and woman being such
as they are; it all hangs together, and it makes a solid and
significant piece of life. And having said this, the author has only
moved the question a stage further, and it reappears in exactly the
same form. The man or the woman, after all, is only telling and
stating, and we are still invited to accept the story upon somebody's
authority. The narrator may do his best, and may indeed do so well
that to hear his account is as good as having seen what he describes,
and nothing could be better than that; the matter might rest there, if
this were all. But it must depend considerably on the nature of his
story, for it may happen that he tells and describes things that a man
is never really in a position to substantiate; his account of himself,
for example, cannot be thoroughly valid, not through any want of
candour on his part, but simply because no man can completely
objectify himself, and a credible account of anything must appear to
detach it, to set it altogether free for inspection. And so the
novelist passes on towards drama, gets behind the narrator, and
represents the mind of the narrator as in itself a kind of action.

By so doing, be it noted, he forfeits none of his special freedom, as
I have called it, the picture-making faculty that he enjoys as a
story-teller. He is not constrained, like the playwright, to turn his
story into dramatic action and nothing else. He has dramatized his
novel step by step, until the mind of the picture-maker, Strether or
Raskolnikov, is present upon the page; but Strether and Raskolnikov
are just as free to project their view of the world, to picture it
for the reader, as they might be if they spoke in person. The
difference is in the fact that we now see the very sources of the
activity within them; we not only share their vision, we watch them
absorbing it. Strether in particular, with a mind working so
diligently upon every grain of his experience, is a most luminous
painter of the world in which he moves--a small circle, but nothing in
it escapes him, and he imparts his summary of a thousand matters to
the reader; the view that he opens is as panoramic, often enough, as
any of Thackeray's sweeping surveys, only the scale is different, with
a word barely breathed in place of a dialogue, minutes for months, a
turn of a head or an intercepted glance for a chronicle of crime or
adulterous intrigue. That liberty, therefore, of standing above the
story and taking a broad view of many things, of transcending the
limits of the immediate scene--nothing of this is sacrificed by the
author's steady advance in the direction of drama. The man's mind has
become visible, phenomenal, dramatic; but in acting its part it still
lends us eyes, is still an opportunity of extended vision.

It thus becomes clear why the prudent novelist tends to prefer an
indirect to a direct method. The simple story-teller begins by
addressing himself openly to the reader, and then exchanges this
method for another and another, and with each modification he reaches
the reader from a further remove. The more circuitous procedure on the
part of the author produces a straighter effect for the reader; that
is why, other things being equal, the more dramatic way is better than
the less. It is indirect, as a method; but it places the thing itself
in view, instead of recalling and reflecting and picturing it. For any
story, no doubt, there is an ideal point upon this line of progress
towards drama, where the author finds the right method of telling the
story. The point is indicated by the subject of the story itself, by
the particular matter that is to be brought out and made plain; and
the author, while he regards the subject and nothing else, is guided
to the best manner of treatment by a twofold consideration. In the
first place he wishes the story so far as possible to speak for
itself, the people and the action to appear independently rather than
to be described and explained. To this end the method is raised to the
highest dramatic power that the subject allows, until at last,
perhaps, it is found that nothing need be explained at all; there need
be no revelation of anybody's thought, no going behind any of the
appearances on the surface of the action; even the necessary
description, as we shall see later on, may be so treated that this too
gains the value of drama. Such is the first care of the prudent
novelist, and I have dwelt upon it in detail. But it is accompanied
and checked by another, not less important.

This is his care for economy; the method is to be pushed as far as the
subject can profit by it, but no further. It may happen (for instance
in David Copperfield) that the story _needs_ no high dramatic value,
and that it would get no advantage from a more dramatic method. If it
would gain nothing, it would undoubtedly lose; the subject would be
over-treated and would suffer accordingly. Nothing would have been
easier than for Dickens to take the next step, as I call it--to treat
his story from the point of view of David, but not as David's own
narration. Dickens might have laid bare the mind of his hero and
showed its operation, as Dostoevsky did with his young man. There was
no reason for doing so, however, since the subject is not essentially
in David at all, but in the linked fortunes of a number of people
grouped around him. David's consciousness, if we watched it instead of
listening to his story, would be unsubstantial indeed; Dickens would
be driven to enrich it, giving him a more complicated life within;
with the result that the centre would be displaced and the subject so
far obscured. A story is damaged by too much treatment as by too
little, and the severely practical need of true economy in all that
concerns a novel is demonstrated once more.

I go no further for the moment, I do not yet consider how the picture
of a man's mind is turned into action, induced to assume the look of
an objective play. It is a very pretty achievement of art, perhaps the
most interesting effect that fiction is able to produce, and I think
it may be described more closely. But I return meanwhile to the device
of the first person, and to another example of the way in which it is
used for its dramatic energy. For my point is so oddly illustrated by
the old contrivance of the "epistolary" novel that I cannot omit to
glance at it briefly; the kind of enhancement which is sought by the
method of The Ambassadors is actually the very same as that which is
sought by the method of Clarissa and Grandison. Richardson and Henry
James, they are both faced by the same difficulty; one of them is
acutely aware of it, and takes very deep-laid precautions to
circumvent it; the other, I suppose, does not trouble about the theory
of his procedure, but he too adopts a certain artifice which carries
him past the particular problem, though at the same time it involves
him in several more. Little as Richardson may suspect it, he--and
whoever else has the idea of making a story out of a series of
letters, or a running diary written from day to day--is engaged in the
attempt to show a mind in action, to give a dramatic display of the
commotion within a breast. He desires to get into the closest touch
with Clarissa's life, and to set the reader in the midst of it; and
this is a possible expedient, though it certainly has its drawbacks.

He wishes to avoid throwing Clarissa's agitations into the past and
treating them as a historical matter. If they were to become the
subject of a record, compiled by her biographer, something would be
lost; there would be no longer the same sense of meeting Clarissa
afresh, every morning, and of witnessing the new development of her
wrongs and woes, already a little more poignant than they were last
night. Even if he set Clarissa to write the story in after days,
preserving her life for the purpose, she could not quite give us this
recurring suspense and shock of sympathy; the lesson of her fortitude
would be weakened. Reading her letters, you hear the cry that was
wrung from her at the moment; you look forward with her in dismay to
the ominous morrow; the spectacle of her bearing under such terrible
trials is immediate and urgent. You accompany her step by step, the
end still in the future, knowing no more than she how the next corner
is to be turned. This is truly to share her life, to lead it by her
side, to profit by her example; at any rate her example is eloquently
present. Richardson or another, whoever first thought of making her
tell her story while she is still in the thick of it, invented a
fashion of dramatizing her sensibility that is found to be serviceable
occasionally, even now, though scarcely for an enterprise on
Clarissa's scale.

Her emotion, like Strether's, is caught in passing; like him she
dispenses with the need of a seer, a reflector, some one who will form
an impression of her state of mind and reproduce it. The struggles of
her heart are not made the material of a chronicle. She reports them,
indeed, but at such brief and punctual intervals that her report is
like a wheel of life, it reveals her heart in its very pulsation. The
queer and perverse idea of keeping her continually bent over her
pen--she must have written for many hours every day--has at least this
advantage, that for the spectator it keeps her long ordeal always in
the foreground. Clarissa's troubles fall within the book, as I have
expressed it; they are contemporaneous, they are happening while she
writes, this latest agony is a new one since she wrote last, which was
only yesterday. Much that is denied to autobiography is thus gained by
Clarissa's method, and for her story the advantage is valuable. The
subject of her story is not in the distressing events, but in her
emotion and her comportment under the strain; how a young gentlewoman
suffers and conducts herself in such a situation--that was what
Richardson had to show, and the action of the tale is shaped round
this question. Lovelace hatches his villainies in order that the
subject of the book may be exhaustively illustrated. It is therefore
necessary that the conflict within Clarissa should hold the centre,
and for this the epistolary method does indeed provide.

Richardson makes the most of it, without doubt; he has strained it to
its utmost capacity before he has done with it. A writer who thinks of
constructing a novel out of somebody's correspondence may surely
consult Clarissa upon all the details of the craft. And Clarissa, and
Grandison still more, will also give the fullest warning of the
impracticability of the method, after all; for Richardson is forced to
pay heavily for its single benefit. He pays with the desperate shifts
to which he is driven in order to maintain any kind of verisimilitude.
The visible effort of keeping all Clarissa's friends at a distance all
the time, so that she may be enabled to communicate only by letter,
seems always on the point of bearing him down; while in the case of
Grandison it may be said to do so finally, when Miss Byron is reduced
to reporting to her friend what another friend has reported concerning
Sir Charles's report of his past life among the Italians. I only speak
of these wonderful books, however, for the other aspect of their
method--because it shows a stage in the natural struggle of the mere
record to become something more, to develop independent life and to
appear as action. Where the record is one of emotions and sentiments,
delicately traced and disentangled, it is not so easy to see how they
may be exposed to an immediate view; and here is a manner, not very
handy indeed, but effective in its degree, of meeting the difficulty.


And now for the method by which the picture of a mind is fully
dramatized, the method which is to be seen consistently applied in The
Ambassadors and the other later novels of Henry James. How is the
author to withdraw, to stand aside, and to let Strether's thought tell
its own story? The thing must be seen from our own point of view and
no other. Author and hero, Thackeray and Esmond, Meredith and Harry
Richmond, have given their various accounts of emotional and
intellectual adventure; but they might do more, they might bring the
facts of the adventure upon the scene and leave them to make their
impression. The story passes in an invisible world, the events take
place in the man's mind; and we might have to conclude that they lie
beyond our reach, and that we cannot attain to them save by the help
of the man himself, or of the author who knows all about him. We might
have to make the best of an account at second hand, and it would not
occur to us, I dare say, that anything more could be forthcoming; we
seem to touch the limit of the possibilities of drama in fiction. But
it is not the final limit--there is fiction here to prove it; and it
is this further stroke of the art that I would now examine.

The world of silent thought is thrown open, and instead of telling the
reader what happened there, the novelist uses the look and behaviour
of thought as the vehicle by which the story is rendered. Just as the
writer of a play embodies his subject in visible action and audible
speech, so the novelist, dealing with a situation like Strether's,
represents it by means of the movement that flickers over the surface
of his mind. The impulses and reactions of his mood are the players
upon the new scene. In drama of the theatre a character must bear his
part unaided; if he is required to be a desperate man, harbouring
thoughts of crime, he cannot look to the author to appear at the side
of the stage and inform the audience of the fact; he must express it
for himself through his words and deeds, his looks and tones. The
playwright so arranges the matter that these will be enough, the
spectator will make the right inference. But suppose that instead of a
man upon the stage, concealing and betraying his thought, we watch the
thought itself, the hidden thing, as it twists to and fro in his
brain--watch it without any other aid to understanding but such as its
own manner of bearing may supply. The novelist, more free than the
playwright, could of course _tell_ us, if he chose, what lurks behind
this agitated spirit; he could step forward and explain the restless
appearance of the man's thought. But if he prefers the dramatic way,
admittedly the more effective, there is nothing to prevent him from
taking it. The man's thought, in its turn, can be made to reveal its
own inwardness.

Let us see how this plan is pursued in The Ambassadors. That book is
entirely concerned with Strether's experience of his peculiar mission
to Europe, and never passes outside the circle of his thought.
Strether is despatched, it will be remembered, by a resolute New
England widow, whose son is living lightly in Paris instead of
attending to business at home. To win the hand of the widow, Strether
must succeed in snatching the young man from the siren who is believed
to have beguiled him. The mission is undertaken in all good faith,
Strether descends upon Paris with a mind properly disposed and
resolved. He comes as an ambassador representing principle and duty,
to treat with the young man, appeal to him convincingly and bear him
off. The task before him may be difficult, but his purpose is simple.
Strether has reckoned, however, without his imagination; he had
scarcely been aware of possessing one before, but everything grows
complicated as it is touched and awakened on the new scene. By degrees
and degrees he changes his opinion of the life of freedom; it is most
unlike his prevision of it, and at last his purpose is actually
inverted. He no longer sees a misguided young man to be saved from
disaster, he sees an exquisite, bountiful world laid at a young man's
feet; and now the only question is whether the young man is capable
of meeting and grasping his opportunity. He is incapable, as it turns
out; when the story ends he is on the verge of rejecting his freedom
and going back to the world of commonplace; Strether's mission has
ended successfully. But in Strether's mind the revolution is complete;
there is nothing left for him, no reward and no future. The world of
commonplace is no longer _his_ world, and he is too late to seize the
other; he is old, he has missed the opportunity of youth.

This is a story which must obviously be told from Strether's point of
view, in the first place. The change in his purpose is due to a change
in his vision, and the long slow process could not be followed unless
his vision were shared by the reader. Strether's predicament, that is
to say, could not be placed upon the stage; his outward behaviour, his
conduct, his talk, do not express a tithe of it. Only the brain behind
his eyes can be aware of the colour of his experience, as it passes
through its innumerable gradations; and all understanding of his case
depends upon seeing these. The way of the author, therefore, who takes
this subject in hand, is clear enough at the outset. It is a purely
pictorial subject, covering Strether's field of vision and bounded by
its limits; it consists entirely of an impression received by a
certain man. There can accordingly be no thought of rendering him as a
figure seen from without; nothing that any one else could discern,
looking at him and listening to his conversation, would give the full
sense of the eventful life he is leading within. The dramatic method,
as we ordinarily understand it, is ruled out at once. Neither as an
action set before the reader without interpretation from within, nor
yet as an action pictured for the reader by some other onlooker in the
book, can this story possibly be told.

Strether's real situation, in fact, is not his open and visible
situation, between the lady in New England and the young man in Paris;
his grand adventure is not expressed in its incidents. These, as they
are devised by the author, are secondary, they are the extension of
the moral event that takes place in the breast of the ambassador, his
change of mind. That is the very middle of the subject; it is a matter
that lies solely between Strether himself and his vision of the free
world. It is a delightful effect of irony, indeed, that he should have
accomplished his errand after all, in spite of himself; but the point
of the book is not there, the ironic climax only serves to bring out
the point more sharply. The reversal of his own idea is underlined and
enhanced by the reversal of the young man's idea in the opposite
sense; but essentially the subject of the book would be unchanged if
the story ended differently, if the young man held to his freedom and
refused to go home. Strether would still have passed through the same
cycle of unexpected experience; his errand might have failed, but
still it would not have been any the more impossible for him to claim
his reward, for his part, than it is impossible as things are, with
the quest achieved and the young man ready to hasten back to duty of
his own accord. And so the subject can only be reached through
Strether's consciousness, it is plain; that way alone will command the
impression that the scene makes on him. Nothing in the scene has any
importance, any value in itself; what Strether sees in it--that is the
whole of its meaning.

But though in The Ambassadors the point of view is primarily
Strether's, and though it _appears_ to be his throughout the book,
there is in fact an insidious shifting of it, so artfully contrived
that the reader may arrive at the end without suspecting the trick.
The reader, all unawares, is placed in a better position for an
understanding of Strether's history, better than the position of
Strether himself. Using his eyes, we see what _he_ sees, we are
possessed of the material on which his patient thought sets to work;
and that is so far well enough, and plainly necessary. All the other
people in the book face towards him, and it is that aspect of them,
and that only, which is shown to the reader; still more important, the
beautiful picture of Paris and spring-time, the stir and shimmer of
life in the Rue de Rivoli and the gardens of the Tuileries, is
Strether's picture, _his_ vision, rendered as the time and the place
strike upon his senses. All this on which his thought ruminates, the
stuff that occupies it, is represented from his point of view. To see
it, even for a moment, from some different angle--if, for example, the
author interposed with a vision of his own--would patently disturb the
right impression. The author does no such thing, it need hardly be

When it comes to Strether's treatment of this material, however, when
it is time to learn what he makes of it, turning his experience over
and over in his mind, then his own point of view no longer serves. How
is anybody, even Strether, to _see_ the working of his own mind? A
mere account of its working, after the fact, has already been barred;
we have found that this of necessity is lacking in force, it is
statement where we look for demonstration. And so we must see for
ourselves, the author must so arrange matters that Strether's thought
will all be made intelligible by a direct view of its surface. The
immediate flaw or ripple of the moment, and the next and the next,
will then take up the tale, like the speakers in a dialogue which
gradually unfolds the subject of the play. Below the surface, behind
the outer aspect of his mind, we do not penetrate; this is drama, and
in drama the spectator must judge by appearances. When Strether's mind
is dramatized, nothing is shown but the passing images that anybody
might detect, looking down upon a mind grown visible. There is no
drawing upon extraneous sources of information; Henry James knows all
there is to know of Strether, but he most carefully refrains from
using his knowledge. He wishes us to accept nothing from him, on
authority--only to watch and learn.

For suppose him to begin sharing the knowledge that he alone
possesses, as the author and inventor of Strether; suppose that
instead of representing only the momentary appearance of Strether's
thought he begins to expound its substance: he must at once give us
the whole of it, must let us into every secret without delay, or his
exposition is plainly misleading. It is assumed that he tells all, if
he once begins. And so, too, if the book were cast autobiographically
and Strether spoke in person; he could not hold back, he could not
heighten the story of his thought with that touch of suspense, waiting
to be resolved, which stamps the impression so firmly into the memory
of the onlooker. In a tale of murder and mystery there is one man who
cannot possibly be the narrator, and that is the murderer himself; for
if he admits us into his mind at all he must do so without reserve,
thereby betraying the secret that we ought to be guessing at for
ourselves. But by this method of The Ambassadors the mind of which the
reader is made free, Strether's mind, is not given away; there is no
need for it to yield up all its secrets at once. The story in it is
played out by due degrees, and there may be just as much deliberation,
refrainment, suspension, as in a story told scenically upon the stage.
All the effect of true drama is thus at the disposal of the author,
even when he seems to be describing and picturing the consciousness
of one of his characters. He arrives at the point where apparently
nothing but a summary and a report should be possible, and even there
he is precluded from none of the privileges of a dramatist.

It is necessary to show that in his attitude towards his European
errand Strether is slowly turning upon himself and looking in another
direction. To announce the fact, with a tabulation of his reasons,
would be the historic, retrospective, undramatic way of dealing with
the matter. To bring his mind into view at the different moments, one
after another, when it is brushed by new experience--to make a little
scene of it, without breaking into hidden depths where the change of
purpose is proceeding--to multiply these glimpses until the silent
change is apparent, though no word has actually been said of it: this
is Henry James's way, and though the _method_ could scarcely be more
devious and roundabout, always refusing the short cut, yet by these
very qualities and precautions it finally produces the most direct
impression, for the reader has _seen_. That is why the method is
adopted. The author has so fashioned his book that his own part in the
narration is now unobtrusive to the last degree; he, the author, could
not imaginably figure there more discreetly. His part in the effect is
no more than that of the playwright, who vanishes and leaves his
people to act the story; only instead of men and women talking
together, in Strether's case there are innumerable images of thought
crowding across the stage, expressing the story in their behaviour.

But there is more in the book, as I suggested just now, than
Strether's vision and the play of his mind. In the _scenic_ episodes,
the colloquies that Strether holds, for example, with his sympathetic
friend Maria Gostrey, another turn appears in the author's procedure.
Throughout these clear-cut dialogues Strether's point of view still
reigns; the only eyes in the matter are still his, there is no sight
of the man himself as his companion sees him. Miss Gostrey is clearly
visible, and Madame de Vionnet and little Bilham, or whoever it may
be; the face of Strether himself is never turned to the reader. On the
evening of the first encounter between the elderly ambassador and the
young man, they sat together in a café of the boulevards and walked
away at midnight through quiet streets; and all through their
interview the fact of the young man's appearance is strongly dominant,
for it is this that first reveals to Strether how the young man has
been transformed by his commerce with the free world; and so his
figure is sharply before the reader as they talk. How Strether seemed
to Chad--this, too, is represented, but only by implication, through
Chad's speech and manner. It is essential, of course, that it should
be so, the one-sided vision is strictly enjoined by the method of the
whole book. But though the seeing eye is still with Strether, there is
a noticeable change in the author's way with him.

In these scenic dialogues, on the whole, we seem to have edged away
from Strether's consciousness. He sees, and we with him; but when he
_talks_ it is almost as though we were outside him and away from him
altogether. Not always, indeed; for in many of the scenes he is busily
brooding and thinking throughout, and we share his mind while he joins
in the talk. But still, on the whole, the author is inclined to leave
Strether alone when the scene is set. He talks the matter out with
Maria, he sits and talks with Madame de Vionnet, he strolls along the
boulevards with Chad, he lounges on a chair in the Champs Elysées with
some one else--we know the kind of scene that is set for Strether,
know how very few accessories he requires, and know that the scene
marks a certain definite climax, wherever it occurs, for all its
everyday look. The occasion is important, there is no doubt about
that; its importance is in the air. And Strether takes his part in it
as though he had almost become what he cannot be, an objective figure
for the reader. Evidently he cannot be that, since the centre of
vision is still within him; but by an easy sleight of hand the author
gives him almost the value of an independent person, a man to whose
words we may listen expectantly, a man whose mind is screened from us.
Again and again the stroke is accomplished, and indeed there is
nothing mysterious about it. Simply it consists in treating the scene
as dramatically as possible--keeping it framed in Strether's vision,
certainly, but keeping his consciousness out of sight, his thought
un-explored. He talks to Maria; and to us, to the reader, his voice
seems as much as hers to belong to somebody whom we are
_watching_--which is impossible, because our point of view is his.

A small matter, perhaps, but it is interesting as a sign, still
another, of the perpetual tendency of the novel to capture the
advantages which it appears to forego. The Ambassadors is without
doubt a book that deals with an entirely non-dramatic subject; it is
the picture of an _état d'âme_. But just as the chapters that are
concerned with Strether's soul are in the key of drama, after the
fashion I have described, so too the episode, the occasion, the scene
that crowns the impression, is always more dramatic in its method than
it apparently has the means to be. Here, for instance, is the central
scene of the whole story, the scene in the old Parisian garden, where
Strether, finally filled to the brim with the sensation of all the
life for which his own opportunity has passed, overflows with his
passionate exhortation to little Bilham--warning him, adjuring him not
to make _his_ mistake, not to let life slide away ungrasped. It is the
hour in which Strether touches his crisis, and the first necessity of
the chapter is to show the sudden lift and heave of his mood within;
the voices and admonitions of the hour, that is to say, must be heard
and felt as he hears and feels them himself. The scene, then, will be
given as Strether's impression, clearly, and so it is; the old garden
and the evening light and the shifting company of people appear as
their reflection in his thought. But the scene is _also_ a piece of
drama, it strikes out of the book with the strong relief of dramatic
action; which is evidently an advantage gained, seeing the importance
of the hour in the story, but which is an advantage that it could not
enjoy, one might have said.

The quality of the scene becomes clear if we imagine the story to be
told by Strether himself, narrating in the first person. Of the damage
that this would entail for the picture of his brooding mind I have
spoken already; but suppose the book to have taken the form of
autobiography, and suppose that Strether has brought the story up to
this point, where he sits beside little Bilham in Gloriani's garden.
He describes the deep and agitating effect of the scene upon him,
calling to him of the world he has missed; he tells what he thought
and felt; and then, he says, I broke out with the following tirade to
little Bilham--and we have the energetic outburst which Henry James
has put into his mouth. But is it not clear how the incident would be
weakened, so rendered? That speech, word for word as we have it, would
lose its unexpected and dramatic quality, because Strether, arriving
at it by narration, could not suddenly spring away from himself and
give the impression of the worn, intelligent, clear-sighted man
sitting there in the evening sun, strangely moved to unwonted
eloquence. His narration must have discounted the effect of his
outburst, leading us up to the very edge of it, describing how it
arose, explaining where it came from. He would be _subjective_, and
committed to remain so all the time.

Henry James, by his method, can secure this effect of drama, even
though his Strether is apparently in the position of a narrator
throughout. Strether's are the eyes, I said, and they are more so than
ever during this hour in the garden; he is the sentient creature in
the scene. But the author, who all through the story has been treating
Strether's consciousness as a play, as an action proceeding, can at
any moment use his talk almost as though the source from which it
springs were unknown to us from within. I remember that he himself, in
his critical preface to the book, calls attention to the way in which
a conversation between Strether and Maria Gostrey, near the beginning,
puts the reader in possession of all the past facts of the situation
which it is necessary for him to know; a _scene_ thus takes the place
of that "harking back to make up," as he calls it, which is apt to
appear as a lump of narrative shortly after the opening of a story. If
Strether were really the narrator, whether in the first person or the
third, he could not use his own talk in this manner; he would have to
tell us himself about his past. But he has never _told_ us his
thought, we have looked at it and drawn our inferences; and so there
is still some air of dramatic detachment about him, and his talk may
seem on occasion to be that of a man whom we know from outside. The
advantage is peculiarly felt on that crucial occasion at Gloriani's,
where Strether's sudden flare of vehemence, so natural and yet so
unlike him, breaks out with force unimpaired. It strikes freshly on
the ear, the speech of a man whose inmost perturbations we have indeed
inferred from many glimpses of his mind, but still without ever
learning the full tale of them from himself.

The Ambassadors, then, is a story which is seen from one man's point
of view, and yet a story in which that point of view is itself a
matter for the reader to confront and to watch constructively.
Everything in the novel is now dramatically rendered, whether it is a
page of dialogue or a page of description, because even in the page of
description nobody is addressing us, nobody is reporting his
impression to the reader. The impression is enacting itself in the
endless series of images that play over the outspread expanse of the
man's mind and memory. When the story passes from these to the scenes
of dialogue--from the silent drama of Strether's meditation to the
spoken drama of the men and women--there is thus no break in the
method. The same law rules everywhere--that Strether's changing sense
of his situation shall appeal directly to the onlooker, and not by way
of any summarizing picture-maker. And yet _as a whole_ the book is all
pictorial, an indirect impression received through Strether's
intervening consciousness, beyond which the story never strays. I
conclude that on this paradox the art of dramatizing the picture of
somebody's experience--the art I have been considering in these last
chapters--touches its limit. There is indeed no further for it to go.


There is no further for it to go, for it now covers the whole story.
Henry James was the first writer of fiction, I judge, to use all the
possibilities of the method with intention and thoroughness, and the
full extent of the opportunity which is thus revealed is very great.
The range of method is permanently enlarged; it is proved, once for
all, that the craft of fiction has larger resources than might have
been suspected before. A novelist in these days is handling an
instrument, it may be said, the capacity of which has been very
elaborately tested; and though in any particular case there may be
good reason why its dramatic effects should not be exhausted--the
subject may need none or few of them--yet it must be supposed that the
novelist is aware of the faculties that he refuses. There are kinds of
virtuosity in any art which affect the whole of its future; painting
can never be the same again after some painter has used line and
colour in a manner that his predecessors had not fully developed,
music makes a new demand of all musicians when one of them has once
increased its language. And the language of the novel, extended to the
point which it has reached, gives a possible scope to a novelist
which he is evidently bound to take into account.

It is a scope so wide and so little explored hitherto that the novel
may now be starting upon a fresh life, after the tremendous career it
has had already. The discovery of the degree to which it may be
enhanced dramatically--this may be a point of departure from which it
will set out with vigour renewed; perhaps it has done so by this time.
Anyhow it is clear that an immense variety of possible modulations,
mixtures, harmonies of method, yet untried, are open to it if it
chooses to avail itself; and I should imagine that to a novelist of
to-day, entering the field at this late hour, the thought might be a
stimulating one. There is still so much to be done, after a couple of
centuries of novel-writing without a pause; there are unheard-of
experiments to be made. A novel such as The Ambassadors may give no
more than a hint of the rich and profound effects waiting to be
achieved by the laying of method upon method, and criticism may
presently be called on to analyse the delicate process much more
closely than I now attempt; it is to be hoped so indeed. Meanwhile it
is useful to linger over a book that suggests these possibilities, and
to mark the direction in which they seem to point.

The purpose of the novelist's ingenuity is always the same; it is to
give to his subject the highest relief by which it is capable of
profiting. And the less dramatic, strictly speaking, the subject may
be--the less it is able, that is to say, to express itself in action
and in action only--the more it is needful to heighten its flat,
pictorial, descriptive surface by the arts of drama. It is not managed
by peppering the surface with animated dialogue, by making the
characters break into talk when they really have nothing to contribute
to the subject; the end of this is only to cheapen and discredit their
talk when at length it is absolutely required. The dramatic rule is
applied more fundamentally; it animates the actual elements of the
picture, the description, and makes a drama of these. I have noted how
in The Ambassadors the picture of Strether's mind is transformed into
an enacted play, even where his story, for chapters at a time, is bare
of action in the literal sense. The result, no doubt, is that his mind
emerges from the book with force and authority, its presence is
_felt_. And now I would track the same method and measure the result
in another book, The Wings of the Dove, where the value of this kind
of dramatization is perhaps still more clearly to be seen. Again we
are dealing with a subject that in the plain meaning of the word is
entirely undramatic.

Milly, the Dove, during all that part of the book in which her mind
lies open--in the chapters which give her vision of the man and the
girl, Densher and Kate, not theirs of her--is hoarding in silence two
facts of profoundest import to herself; one is her love for Densher,
the other the mortal disease with which she is stricken. It is of
these two facts that Kate proposes to take advantage, and there is
nothing weak or vague about Kate's design. She and Densher are
penniless, Milly is rich, but they can afford to bide their time and
Milly cannot; let them do so, therefore, let Densher accept his
opportunity, and let him presently return to Kate, well endowed by the
generosity of an exquisite young wife, dead in her prime. That is how
Milly's condition is to be turned to account by a remarkably
clear-headed young woman; but Milly herself is still unaware of any
confederation between her two friends, and she silently broods over
the struggle in her mind--her desire for life, her knowledge of her
precarious hold on life. The chapters I speak of are to give the sense
of this conflict, to show unmistakably the pair of facts upon which
Kate's project is founded. Milly has nothing to _do_ in the story, but
she has to _be_ with great intensity, for it is on what she is that
the story turns. Of that in a moment, however; in these chapters,
which are the central chapters of the book, Milly's consciousness is
to the fore, the deep agitation within her is the concern of the

Once more it is the superficial play of thought that is put before us.
The light stir and vibration of Milly's sensibility from hour to hour
is all we actually see; for the most part it is very light, very easy
and airy, as she moves with her odd poetry and grace and freedom. She
comes from New York, it will be remembered, a "pale angular princess,"
loaded with millions, and all alone in the world save for her small
companion, Mrs. Stringham. She is a rare and innocent creature,
receptive and perceptive, thrown into the middle of a situation in
which she sees everything, excepting only the scheme by which it is
proposed to make use of her. Of that she knows nothing as yet; her
troubles are purely her own, and gradually, it is hard to say where or
how, we discover what they are. They are much too deeply buried in her
mind to appear casually upon the surface at any time; but now and
then, in the drama of her meditation, there is a strange look or a
pause or a sudden hasty motion which is unexplained, which is
portentous, which betrays everything. Presently her great hidden facts
have passed into the possession of the reader _whole_, so to
speak--not broken into detail, bit by bit, not pieced together
descriptively, but so implied and suggested that at some moment or
other they spring up complete and solid in the reader's attention.
Exactly how and where did it happen? Turning back, looking over the
pages again, I can mark the very point, perhaps, at which the thing
was liberated and I became possessed of it; I can see the word that
finally gave it to me. But at the time it may easily have passed
unnoticed; the enlightening word did not seem peculiarly emphatic as
it was uttered, it was not announced with any particular circumstance;
and yet, presently--there was the piece of knowledge that I had not
possessed before.

Not to walk straight up to the fact and put it into phrases, but to
_surround_ the fact, and so to detach it inviolate--such is Henry
James's manner of dramatizing it. Soon after Milly's first appearance
there are some pages that illustrate his procedure very clearly, or
very clearly, I should say, when the clue has been picked up and
retraced. There is an hour in which Milly gazes open-eyed upon her
prospect, measuring its promises and threats, gathering herself for
the effort they demand. She sits on a high Italian mountain-ledge,
with a blue plain spread out beneath her like the kingdoms of the
world; and there she looks at her future with rapt absorption, lost to
all other thought. Her mind, if we saw it, would tell us everything
then at least; she searches its deepest depth, it is evident. And that
is the very reason why her mind should not be exposed in that hour;
the troubling shapes that lurk in it are not to be described, they are
to make their presence known of their own accord. Instead of intruding
upon Milly's lonely rumination, therefore, the author elects to leave
her, to join company with her friend in the background, and in that
most crucial session to reveal nothing of Milly but the glimpse that
her friend catches of her in passing.

The glimpse, so rendered, _tells_ nothing. But in Milly's attitude,
while she sits enthroned above the world, there is a certain
expression, deep and strange, not to be missed, though who shall say
exactly what it implies? Is it hope, is it despair? At any rate the
clear picture of her remains, and a little later, when her mind is
visible again, the memory of her up there on the mountain has
quickened the eye of the onlooker. The images in her mind are not at
all portentous now; she is among her friends, she is harvesting
impressions; there is not a word of anything dark or distressing or
ill-omened. But still, but still--we have seen Milly when she believed
herself unseen, and it is certain that there is more in her mind than
now appears, and though she seems so full of the new excitement of
making friends with Kate Croy there must be some preoccupation
beneath; and then, in a flash, _these_ are the troubles that engage
her in solitude, that have ached in her mind, and yet there has never
been a single direct allusion to them. Skirting round and round them,
giving one brief sight of her in eloquent circumstances, then
displaying the all but untroubled surface of her thought on this side
and that, the author has encompassed the struggle that is proceeding
within her, and has lifted it bodily into the understanding of the

The profit which the story gains from this treatment is easily
recognized. Solidity, weight, a third dimension, is given to the
impression of Milly's unhappy case. Mere emphasis, a simple
underlining of plain words, could never produce the same effect. What
is needed is some method which will enable an onlooker to see round
the object, to left and right, as far as possible, just as with two
eyes, stereoscopically, we shape and solidify the flat impression of a
sphere. By such a method the image will be so raised out of its
setting that the stream of vision will wash it on either side, leaving
no doubt of its substantial form. And so, dealing with the case of
Milly, Henry James proceeds to cut behind it, lavishing his care on
any but its chief and most memorable aspect. That may wait; meanwhile
the momentary flutter of her nerves and fancies is closely noted,
wherever her life touches the lives about her, or the few of them that
are part of her story. The play draws a steady curve around the
subject in the midst; more and more of this outer rim of her
consciousness moves into sight. She is seen in the company of the
different people who affect her nearly, but in all their intercourse
the real burden of her story is veiled under the trembling, wavering
delicacy of her immediate thought. Her manner of living and thinking
and feeling in the moment is thus revealed in a wide sweep, and at
last the process is complete; her case is set free, stands out, and
casts its shadow.

These difficulties, these hopes and fears that have been buried in
silence, are all included in the sphere of experience which the author
has rounded; and by leaving them where they lie he has given us a
sense of their substance, of the space they occupy, which we could not
have acquired from a straight, square account of them. Milly desired
to live, she had every reason in the world for so desiring, and she
knew, vaguely at first, then with certainty, that she had no life to
hope for; it is a deep agitation which is never at rest. It is far
out of sight; but its influence spreads in every direction, and here
and there it must touch the surface, even one upon which appearances
are maintained so valiantly. And if the surface (which is all we know)
is thus high above the depths, and yet there are instants when it is
just perceptibly disturbed by things unseen, is it not proved, as it
could be proved in no other way, how active and forcible they must be?
By no picture of them but by an enactment of their remotest
manifestations--that is how their strength, their bulk, their range in
a harassed existence is represented. Such is the object gained by the
method of dramatization, applied in this way (as with Strether) to the
story of a mind. Milly's case, which seemed to be as pictorial, as
little dramatic, as could be--since it is all a condition and a
situation to be portrayed, not an action--has been turned into drama,
the advantages of drama have been annexed on its behalf. There is no
action, properly speaking, and yet the story of her troubles has acted
itself before our eyes, as we followed the transient expression of her

And now look at a single scene, later on, when the issue of Milly's
situation has at last been precipitated. Look, for example, at the
scene in which good Susan Stringham, her faithful companion, visits
Densher in his Venetian lodging, on an evening of wild autumn rain, to
make a last and great appeal to him. An appeal for what? Milly, in her
palace hard by, lies stricken, she has "turned her face to the wall."
The vision of hope which had supported her is at an end, not by reason
of her mere mortal illness, but because of some other blow which has
fallen. Susan knows what it is, and Densher is to learn. Till lately
Milly was living in ignorance of the plot woven about her, the
masterly design to make use of her in order that Densher and Kate Croy
may come together in the end. The design was Kate's from the first;
Densher has been much less resolute, but Kate was prepared to see it
through. Conceal from Milly that an old engagement holds between her
two friends, persuade her that neither has any interest in the other,
and all will go well. Milly, believing in Densher's candour, will fall
into the plot and enjoy her brief happiness. It cannot be more than
brief, for Milly is certainly doomed. But when she dies, and Densher
is free for Kate again, who will be the worse for the fraud? Milly
will have had what she wants, her two friends will have helped
themselves in helping her. So Kate argues plausibly; but it all
depends on keeping poor exquisite Milly safely in the dark. If she
should discover that Kate and Densher are in league to profit by her,
it would be a sharper stroke than the discovery of her malady. And by
this autumn evening, when Susan Stringham appears before Densher,
Milly _has_ discovered--has learned that she has been tricked, has
lost her desire of life, has turned her face to the wall.

Susan appears, big with the motive that has brought her. This visit
of hers is an appeal to Densher, so much is clear in all her looks and
tones. There is only one way to save Milly, to restore to Milly, not
indeed her life, but her desire of it. Densher has it in his power to
make her wish to live again, and that is all that he or any one else
could achieve for her. The thought is between him and the good woman
as they talk; the dialogue, with its allusions and broken phrases,
slowly shapes itself to the form of the suppressed appeal. It hangs in
the air, almost visibly, before it is uttered at all; and by that time
a word is enough, one stroke, and the nature of the appeal and all its
implications are in view. The scene has embodied it; the cheerless
little room and the falling light and Densher's uneasy movements and
Susan's flushed, rain-splashed earnestness have all contributed; the
broken phrases, without touching it, have travelled about it and
revealed its contour. Densher might tell Milly that she is wrong,
might convince her that he and Kate have not beguiled and misled her
as she supposes; Densher, in other words, might mislead her again, and
Mrs. Stringham entreats him to do so. That is why she has come, and
such is the image which has been gradually created, and which at last
is actual and palpable in the scene. It has not appeared as a
statement or an announcement; Susan's appeal and Densher's tormented
response to it are _felt_, establishing their presence as matters
which the reader has lived with for the time. They have emerged out
of the surface of the scene into form and relief.

And finally the subject of the whole book is rendered in the same way.
The subject is not in Milly herself, but in her effect upon the
relation existing between Densher and Kate. At the beginning of the
book these two are closely allied, and by the end their understanding
has been crossed by something that has changed it for ever. Milly has
come and gone, nothing is afterwards the same. Their scheme has been
successful, for Milly in dying has bequeathed a fortune to Densher.
But also she has bequeathed the memory of her last signal to them,
which was one that neither could foresee and which the man at any rate
could never forget. For Densher had _not_ practised that final
disloyalty which was begged of him, and Milly had died in full
knowledge of their design, and yet she had forgiven, dove-like to the
end, and her forgiveness stands between them. Kate recognizes it in
the word on which the book closes--"We shall never be again as we
were." Whether they accept the situation, whether they try to patch up
their old alliance--these questions are no affair of the story. With
Kate's word the story is finished; the first fineness of their
association is lost, nothing will restore it. Milly has made the
change by being what she was, too rare an essence for vulgar uses.
Those who wanted the intelligence to understand her must pay their
penalty; at least they are intelligent enough to see it.

It is once more the picture of a moral, emotional revolution, the kind
of subject that seems to demand a narrator. The story is so little a
matter of action that when the revolution is complete there is nothing
more to be said. Its result in action is indifferent; the man and the
woman may marry or part, the subject is unaffected either way. The
progress of the tale lies in the consciousness of the people in it,
and somebody is needed, it might have been supposed, to tell us how it
all came to pass. Not the author, perhaps, or any of the characters in
person; but at least it must be told, at any given juncture, from
somebody's point of view, composing and reflecting the story of an
experience. But in The Wings of the Dove there is next to no narrative
at all, strictly speaking. Who is there that narrates? The author a
little, it is true, for the people have to be described, placed,
brought on the scene to begin with. But afterwards? Densher, Kate,
Milly, Susan Stringham, each in turn _seems_ to take up the story and
to provide the point of view, and where it is absolutely needful they
really do so; they give the mirror for the visible scene about them,
Alpine heights, London streets, Venetian palaces. But that is
incidental; of the progress of the tale they offer no account. They
_act_ it, and not only in their spoken words, but also and much more
in the silent drama that is perpetually going forward within them.
They do not describe and review and recapitulate this drama, nor does
the author. It is played before us, we see its actual movement.

The effect is found here and there in all well-made fiction, of
course. The undercutting, as I call it, of a flat impression is seen
wherever a turn of events is carefully prepared and deliberately
approached. But I do not know that anywhere, except in the later
novels of Henry James, a pictorial subject is thus handed over in its
entirety to the method of drama, so that the intervention of a seeing
eye and a recording hand, between the reader and the subject, is
practically avoided altogether. I take it as evident that unless the
presence of a seer and a recorder is made a value in itself,
contributing definitely to the effect of the subject, he is better
dispensed with and put out of the way; where other things are equal a
direct view of the matter in hand is the best. But it has been made
clear in the foregoing pages, I hope, that the uses of a narrator are
many and various; other things are _not_ equal where the subject asks
for no more than to be reflected and pictured. In that case the
narrator, standing in front of the story, is in a position to make the
most of it, all that can be made; and so he represents the great
principle of economy, and is a value in himself, and does contribute
to the effect. Many a story, from the large panoramic chronicle to the
small and single impression, postulates the story-teller, the
picture-maker, and by that method gives its best. Speaking in person
or reported obliquely, the narrator serves his turn. But where there
is no positive reason for him there is a reason, equally positive, for
a different method, one that assigns the point of view to the reader
himself. An undramatic subject, we find, can be treated dramatically,
so that the different method is at hand.

The story that is concerned, even entirely concerned, with the impact
of experience upon a mind (Strether's, say) can be enhanced to the
pitch of drama, because thought has its tell-tale gestures and its
speaking looks, just as much as an actor on the stage. Make use of
these looks and gestures, express the story through them, leave them
to enact it--and you have a story which in its manner is effectually
drama. Method upon method, the vision _of_ a vision, the process of
thinking and feeling and seeing exposed objectively to the view of the
reader--it is an ingenious art; criticism seems to have paid it less
attention than it deserves. But criticism has been hindered, perhaps,
by the fact that these books of Henry James's, in which the art is
written large, are so odd and so personal and so peculiar in all their
aspects. When the whole volume is full of a strongly-marked
idiosyncrasy, quite unlike that of anyone else, it is difficult to
distinguish between this, which is solely the author's, and his method
of treating a story, which is a general question, discussible apart.
And thus it happens that the novelist who carried his research into
the theory of the art further than any other--the only real _scholar_
in the art--is the novelist whose methods are most likely to be
overlooked or mistaken, regarded as simply a part of his own original
quiddity. It should be possible to isolate them, to separate them in
thought from the temperament by which they were coloured; they belong
to the craft, which belongs to no man in particular. They still wait
to be fully assimilated into the criticism of fiction; there is much
more in them, no doubt, than the few points that I touch on here. But
I pass on to one or two of the rest.


What, then, is a dramatic subject? Hitherto I have been speaking of
novels in which some point of view, other than that of the reader, the
impartial onlooker, is prescribed by the subject in hand. In big
chronicles like Thackeray's it is clear that the controlling point of
view can only be that of the chronicler himself, or of some one whom
he sets up to tell the story on his behalf. The expanse of life which
the story covers is far too great to be shown to the reader in a
series of purely dramatic scenes. It is absolutely necessary for the
author or his spokesman to draw back for a general view of the matter
from time to time; and whenever he does so the story becomes _his_
impression, summarized and pictured for the reader. In Esmond or The
Virginians or The Newcomes, there are tracts and tracts of the story
which are bound to remain outside the reader's direct vision; only a
limited number of scenes and occasions could possibly be set forth in
the form of drama. A large, loose, manifold subject, in short,
extensive in time and space, full of crowds and diversions, is a
pictorial subject and can be nothing else. However intensely it may be
dramatized here and there, on the whole it must be presented as a
conspectus, the angle of vision being assigned to the narrator. It is
simply a question of amount, of quantity, of the reach of the subject.
If it passes a certain point it exceeds the capacity of the straight
and dramatic method.

Madame Bovary and The Ambassadors, again, are undramatic in their
matter, though their reach is comparatively small; for in both of them
the emphasis falls upon changes of mind, heart, character, gradually
drawn out, not upon any clash or opposition resolved in action. They
_might_ be treated scenically, no doubt; their authors might
conceivably have handled them in terms of pure drama, without any
direct display of Emma's secret fancies or Strether's brooding
imagination. But in neither case could that method make the most of
the subject or bring out all that it has to give. The most expressive,
most enlightening part of Strether's story lies in the reverberating
theatre of his mind, and as for Emma, the small exterior facts of her
story are of very slight account. Both these books, therefore, in
their general lines, are pictured impressions, not actions--even
though in Bovary to some extent, and in The Ambassadors almost wholly,
the picture is itself dramatized in the fashion I have indicated. That
last effect belongs only to the final method, the treatment of the
surface; underneath it there is in both the projection of a certain
person's point of view.

But now look at the contrast in The Awkward Age, a novel in which
Henry James followed a single method throughout, from top to bottom,
denying himself the help of any other. He chose to treat this story as
pure drama; he never once draws upon the characteristic resource of
the novelist--who is able, as the dramatist is not able, to give a
generalized and foreshortened account of the matter in hand. In The
Awkward Age everything is immediate and particular; there is no
insight into anybody's thought, no survey of the scene from a height,
no resumption of the past in retrospect. The whole of the book passes
scenically before the reader, and nothing is offered but the look and
the speech of the characters on a series of chosen occasions. It might
indeed be printed as a play; whatever is not dialogue is simply a kind
of amplified stage-direction, adding to the dialogue the expressive
effect which might be given it by good acting. The novelist, using
this method, claims only one advantage over the playwright; it is the
advantage of ensuring the very best acting imaginable, a performance
in which every actor is a perfect artist and not the least point is
ever missed. The play is not handed over to the chances of
interpretation--that is the difference; the author creates the manner
in which the words are spoken, as well as the words themselves, and he
may keep the manner at an ideal pitch. Otherwise the novelist
completely ties his hands, submitting to all the restraints of the
playwright in order to secure the compactness and the direct force of
true drama.

What is the issue of a certain conjunction of circumstances? The
subject of the book is in the question. First of all we see a highly
sophisticated circle of men and women, who seem so well practised in
the art of living that they could never be taken by surprise. Life in
their hands has been refined to a process in which nothing appears to
have been left to chance. Their intelligence accounts for everything;
they know where they are, they know what they want, and under a
network of discretion which they all sustain they thoroughly
understand each other. It is a charmed world, altogether
self-contained, occupying a corner of modern London. It is carefully
protected within and without; and yet oddly enough there is one quite
common and regular contingency for which it is not prepared at all.
Its handling of life proceeds smoothly so long as all the men and
women together are on a level of proficiency, all alike experienced in
the art; and they can guard themselves against intruders from
elsewhere. But periodically it must happen that their young grow up;
the daughter of the house reaches the "awkward age," becomes suddenly
too old for the school-room and joins her elders below. Then comes the
difficulty; there is an interval in which she is still too young for
the freedom of her elders' style, and it looks as though she might
disconcert them not a little, sitting there with wide eyes. Do they
simply disregard her and continue their game as before? Do they try to
adapt their style to her inexperience? Apparently they have no theory
of their proper course; the difficulty seems to strike them afresh,
every time that it recurs. In other such worlds, not of modern London,
it is foreseen and provided for; the young woman is married and
launched at once, there is no awkward age. But here and now--or rather
here and _then_, in the nineteenth century--it makes a real little
situation, and this is the subject of Henry James's book.

It is clearly dramatic; it is a clean-cut situation, raising the
question of its issue, and by answering the question the subject is
treated. What will these people do, how will they circumvent this
awkwardness? That is what the book is to show--action essentially, not
the picture of a character or a state of mind. Mind and character
enter into it, of course, as soon as the situation is particularized;
the girl becomes an individual, with her own outlook, her own way of
reaching a conclusion, and her point of view must then be understood.
But whatever it may be, it does not constitute the situation. That is
there in advance, it exists in general, and the girl comes upon the
scene, like the rest of the people in the book, to illustrate it. The
subject of the book lies in their behaviour; there are no gradual
processes of change and development to be watched in their minds, it
is their action that is significant. By clever management the author
can avoid the necessity of looking inside their motives; these are
betrayed by visible and audible signs. The story proceeds in the
open, point by point; from one scene to another it shows its curve and
resolves the situation. And very ironic and pleasing and unexpected
the resolution proves. It takes everybody by surprise; no one notices
what is happening till it is over, but it begins to happen from the
start. The girl Nanda, supposably a helpless spectator, takes control
of the situation and works it out for her elders. She is the
intelligent and expert and self-possessed one of them all; they have
only to leave everything to her light manipulation, and the
awkwardness--which is theirs, not hers--is surmounted. By the time she
has displayed all her art the story is at an end; her action has
answered the question and provided the issue.

The theme of the book being what it is, an action merely, and an
action strictly limited in its scope, it requires no narrator. In a
dozen scenes or so the characters may set it forth on their own
account, and we have only to look on; nobody need stand by and
expound. The situation involves no more than a small company of
people, and there is no reason for them to straggle far, in space or
time; on the contrary, the compactness of the situation is one of its
special marks. Its point is that it belongs to a little organized
circle, a well-defined incident in their lives. And since the root of
the matter is in their behaviour, in the manner in which they meet or
fail to meet the incident, their behaviour will sufficiently express
what is in their minds; it is not as though the theme of the story lay
in some slow revulsion or displacement of mood, which it would be
necessary to understand before its issue in action could be
appreciated. What do they _do_?--that is the immediate question; what
they think and feel is a matter that is entirely implied in the
answer. Obviously that was not at all the case with Strether. The
workings of his imagination spread over far more ground, ramified
infinitely further than anything that he _did_; his action depended
upon his view of things and logically flowed from it, but his action
by itself would give no measure at all of his inner life. With the
people of The Awkward Age, on the other hand, their action fully
covers their motives and sentiments--or can be made to do so, by the
care of a dexterous author.

And so the story can be rendered with absolute consistency, on one
method only, if the author chooses. And he does so choose, and The
Awkward Age rounds off the argument I have sought to unwind--the
sequence of method and method, each one in turn pushing its way
towards a completer dramatization of the story. Here at any rate is
one book in which a subject capable of acting itself out from
beginning to end is made to do so, one novel in which method becomes
as consistent and homogeneous as it ever may in fiction. No other
manner of telling a story can be quite so true to itself. For whereas
drama, in this book, depends not at all upon the author's "word of
honour," and deals entirely with immediate facts, the most undramatic
piece of fiction can hardly for long be consistent in its own line,
but must seek the support of scenic presentation. Has anyone tried to
write a novel in which there should be no dialogue, no immediate
scene, nothing at all but a diffused and purely subjective impression?
Such a novel, if it existed, would be a counterpart to The Awkward
Age. Just as Henry James's book never deviates from the straight,
square view of the passing event, so the other would be exclusively
oblique, general, retrospective, a meditation upon the past, bringing
nothing into the foreground, dramatizing nothing in talk or action.

The visionary fiction of Walter Pater keeps as nearly to a method of
that kind, I suppose, as fiction could. In Marius probably, if it is
to be called a novel, the art of drama is renounced as thoroughly as
it has ever occurred to a novelist to dispense with it. I scarcely
think that Marius ever speaks or is spoken to audibly in the whole
course of the book; such at least is the impression that it leaves.
The scenes of the story reach the reader by refraction, as it were,
through the medium of Pater's harmonious murmur. But scenes they must
be; not even Pater at his dreamiest can tell a story without incident
particularized and caught in the act. When Marius takes a journey,
visits a philosopher or enters a church, the event stands out of the
past and makes an appeal to the eye, is presented as it takes place;
and this is a movement in the direction of drama, even if it goes no
further. Pater, musing over the life of his hero, all but lost in the
general sentiment of its grace and virtue, is arrested by the definite
images of certain hours and occasions; the flow of his rumination is
interrupted while he pauses upon these, to make them visible; they
must be given a kind of objectivity, some slight relief against the
dim background. No story-teller, in short, can use a manner as
strictly subjective, as purely personal, as the manner of The Awkward
Age is the reverse.

But as for this book, it not only ends one argument, it is also a
turning-point that begins another. For when we have seen how fiction
gradually aspires to the weight and authority of the thing acted,
purposely limiting its own discursive freedom, it remains to see how
it resumes its freedom when there is good cause for doing so. It is
not for nothing that The Awkward Age is as lonely as it seems to be in
its kind. I have seized upon it as an example of the dramatic method
pursued _à outrance_, and it is very convenient for criticism that it
happens to be there; the book points a sound moral with clear effect.
But when it is time to suggest that even in dealing with a subject
entirely dramatic, a novelist may well find reason to keep to his old
familiar mixed method--_circumspice_: it would appear that he does so
invariably. Where are the other Awkward Ages, the many that we might
expect if the value of drama is so great? I dare say one might
discover a number of small things, short dramatic pieces (I have
mentioned the case of Maupassant), which would satisfy the
requirement; but on the scale of Henry James's book I know of nothing
else. Plenty of people find their theme in matters of action, matters
of incident, like the story of Nanda; it is strange that they should
not sometimes choose to treat it with strict consistency. How is one
to assert a principle which is apparently supported by only one book
in a thousand thousand?

I think it must be concluded, in the first place, that to treat a
subject with the rigour of Henry James is extremely difficult, and
that the practice of the thousand thousand is partly to be explained
by this fact. Perhaps many of them would be more dramatically inclined
if the way were easier. It must always be simpler for a story-teller
to use his omniscience, to dive into the minds of his people for an
explanation of their acts, than to make them so act that no such
explanation is ever needed. Or perhaps the state of criticism may be
to blame, with its long indifference to these questions of theory; or
perhaps (to say all) there is no very lively interest in them even
among novelists. Anyhow we may say from experience that a novel is
more likely to fall below its proper dramatic pitch than to strain
beyond it; in most of the books around us there is an easy-going
reliance on a narrator of some kind, a showman who is behind the
scenes of the story and can tell us all about it. He seems to come
forward in many a case without doing the story any particular service;
sometimes he actually embarrasses it, when a matter of vivid drama is
violently forced into the form of a narration. One can only suspect
that he then exists for the convenience of the author. It _is_ helpful
to be able to say what you like about the characters and their doings
in the book; it may be very troublesome to make their doings as
expressive as they might be, eloquent enough to need no comment.

Yet to see the issue slowly unfolding and flowering out of the middle
of a situation, and to watch it emerge unaided, with everything that
it has to say said by the very lines and masses of its structure--this
is surely an experience apart, for a novel-reader, with its
completeness and cleanness and its hard, pure edge. It is always
memorable, it fills the mind so acceptably that a story-teller might
be ready and eager to aspire to this effect, one would think, whenever
his matter gives him the chance. Again and again I have wished to
silence the voice of the spokesman who is supposed to be helping me to
a right appreciation of the matter in hand--the author (or his
creature) who knows so much, and who pours out his information over
the subject, and who talks and talks about an issue that might be
revealing itself without him. The spokesman has his way too often, it
can hardly be doubted; the instant authority of drama is neglected. It
is the day of the deep-breathed narrator, striding from volume to
volume as tirelessly as the Scudéries and Calprenèdes of old; and it
is true, no doubt, that the novel (in all languages, too, it would
seem) is more than ever inclined to the big pictorial subject, which
requires the voluble chronicler; but still it must happen occasionally
that a novelist prefers a dramatic motive, and might cast it into a
round, sound action and leave it in that form if he chose. Here again
there is plenty of room for enterprise and experiment in fiction, even

But at the same time it must be admitted that there is more in the
general unwillingness of story-tellers to entrust the story to the
people in it--there is more than I have said. If they are much less
dramatic than they might be, still it is not to be asserted that a
subject will often find perfect expression through the uncompromising
method of The Awkward Age. That book itself perhaps suggests, if it
does no more than suggest, that drama cannot always do everything in a
novel, even where the heart of the story seems to lie in its action.
The story of Nanda drops neatly into scenic form--that is obvious; it
is well adapted for treatment as a row of detached episodes or
occasions, through which the subject is slowly developed. But it is a
question whether a story which requires and postulates such a very
particular background, so singular and so artificial, is reasonably
denied the licence to make its background as effective as possible, by
whatever means. Nanda's world is not the kind of society that can be
taken for granted; it is not modernity in general, it is a small and
very definite tract. For the purposes of her story it is important
that her setting should be clearly seen and known, and the method of
telling her story must evidently take this into account. Nanda and her
case are not rendered if the quality of the civilization round her is
left in any way doubtful, and it happens to be a very odd quality

Henry James decided, I suppose, that it was sufficiently implied in
the action of his book and needed nothing more; Nanda's little world
would be descried behind the scene without any further picturing. He
may have been right, so far as The Awkward Age is concerned; the
behaviour of the people in the story is certainly packed with many
meanings, and perhaps it is vivid enough to enact the general
character of their lives and ways, as well as their situation in the
foreground; perhaps the charmed circle of Mrs. Brookenham and her
wonderful crew is given all the effect that is needed. But the
question brings me to a clear limitation of drama on the whole, and
that is why I raise it. Here is a difficulty to which the dramatic
method, in its full severity, is not specially accommodated, one that
is not in the line of its strength. To many of the difficulties of
fiction, as we have seen, it brings precisely the right instrument; it
gives validity, gives direct force to a story, and to do so is its
particular property. For placing and establishing a piece of action
it is paramount. But where it is not only a matter of placing the
action in view, but of relating it to its surroundings, strict drama
is at once at a disadvantage. The seeing eye of the author, which can
sweep broadly and generalize the sense of what it sees, will meet this
difficulty more naturally. Drama reinforcing and intensifying picture
we have already seen again and again; and now the process is reversed.
From the point of view of the reader, the spectator of the show, the
dramatic scene is vivid and compact; but it is narrow, it can have no
great depth, and the colour of the atmosphere can hardly tell within
the space. It is likely, therefore, that unless this close direct
vision is supplemented by a wider survey, fronting the story from a
more distant point of view, the background of the action, the manner
of life from which it springs, will fail to make its full impression.

It amounts to this, that the play-form--and with it fiction that is
purely dramatic in its method--is hampered in its power to express the
outlying associations of its scene. It _can_ express them, of course;
in clever hands it may seem to do so as thoroughly as any descriptive
narration. But necessarily it does so with far more expense of effort
than the picture-making faculty which lies in the hand of the
novelist; and that is in general a good reason why the prudent
novelist, with all his tendency to shed his privileges, still clings
to this one. It is possible to imagine that a novel might be as bare
of all background as a play of Racine; there might be a story in which
any hint of continuous life, proceeding behind the action, would
simply confuse and distort the right effect. One thinks of the story
of the Princesse de Clèves, floating serenely in the void, without a
sign of any visible support from a furnished world; and there, no
doubt, nothing would be gained by bringing the lucid action to ground
and fixing it in its setting. It is a drama of sentiment, needing only
to be embodied in characters as far as possible detached from any
pictured surroundings, with nothing but the tradition of fine manners
that is inherent in their grand names. But wherever the effect of the
action depends upon its time and place, a novelist naturally turns to
the obvious method if there is no clear reason for refusing it. In The
Awkward Age, to look back at it once more, it may be that there is
such a reason; the beauty of its resolute consistency is of course a
value in itself, and it may be great enough to justify a _tour de
force_. But a _tour de force_ it is, when a novelist seeks to render
the general life of his story in the particular action, and in the
action alone; for his power to support the drama pictorially is always
there, if he likes to make use of it.


Since he practically always does so, readily enough, it may seem
unnecessary to insist upon the matter. Not often have we seen a
novelist pushing his self-denial beyond reason, rejecting the easy way
for the difficult without good cause. But in order to make sure of
breaking a sound rule at the right point, and not before--to take
advantage of laxity when strictness becomes unrewarding, and only
then--it is as well to work both ways, from the easy extreme to the
difficult and back again. The difficult extreme, in fiction, is the
dramatic rule absolute and unmitigated; having reached it from the
other end, having begun with the pictorial summary and proceeded from
thence to drama, we face the same stages reversed. And it is now, I
think, that we best appreciate the liberties taken with the resources
of the novelist by Balzac. His is a case that should be approached
indirectly. If one plunges straight into Balzac, at the beginning of
criticism, it is hard to find the right line through the abundance of
good and bad in his books; there is so much of it, and all so strong
and staring. It looks at first sight as though his good and his bad
alike were entirely conspicuous and unmistakable. His devouring
passion for life, his grotesque romance, his truth and his falsity,
these cover the whole space of the Comédie between them, and nobody
could fail to recognize the full force of either. He is tremendous,
his taste is abominable--what more is there to say of Balzac? And that
much has been said so often, in varied words, that there can be no
need to say it again for the ten-thousandth time.

Such is the aspect that Balzac presents, I could feel, when a critic
tries to face him immediately; his obviousness seems to hide
everything else. But if one passes him by, following the track of the
novelist's art elsewhere, and then returns to him with certain
definite conclusions, his aspect is remarkable in quite a new way. His
badness is perhaps as obvious as before; there is nothing fresh to
discover about that. His greatness, however, wears a different look;
it is no longer the plain and open surface that it was. It has depths
and recesses that did not appear till now, enticing to criticism,
promising plentiful illustration of the ideas that have been gathered
by the way. One after another, the rarer, obscurer effects of fiction
are all found in Balzac, behind his blatant front. He illustrates
everything, and the only difficulty is to know where to begin.

The effect of the generalized picture, for example, supporting the
play of action, is one in which Balzac particularly delights. He
constantly uses it, he makes it serve his purpose with a very high
hand. It becomes more than a support, it becomes a kind of propulsive
force applied to the action at the start. Its value is seen at its
greatest in such books as Le Curé de Village, Père Goriot, La
Recherche de l'Absolu, Eugénie Grandet--most of all, perhaps, in this
last. Wherever, indeed, his subject requires to be lodged securely in
its surroundings, wherever the background is a main condition of the
story, Balzac is in no hurry to precipitate the action; that can
always wait, while he allows himself the leisure he needs for massing
the force which is presently to drive the drama on its way. Nobody
gives such attention as Balzac does in many of his books, and on the
whole in his best, to the setting of the scene; he clearly considers
these preparatory pictures quite as important as the events which they
are to enclose.

And so, in Père Goriot, all the potent life of the Maison Vauquer is
deliberately collected and hoarded up to the point where it is enough,
when it is let loose, to carry the story forward with a strong sweep.
By the time the story itself is reached the Maison Vauquer is a fully
created impression, prepared to the last stroke for the drama to come.
Anything that may take place there will have the whole benefit of its
setting, without more ado; all the rank reality of the house and its
inmates is immediately bestowed on the action. When the tale of Goriot
comes to the front it is already more than the tale of a certain old
man and his woes. Goriot, on the spot, is one of Maman Vauquer's
boarders, and the mere fact is enough, by now, to differentiate him,
to single him out among miserable old men. Whatever he does he carries
with him the daily experience of the dingy house and the clattering
meals and the frowzy company, with Maman Vauquer, hard and hungry and
harassed--Mrs. Todgers would have met her sympathetically, they would
have understood each other--at the head of it. Into Goriot's yearnings
over his fashionable daughters the sounds and sights and smells of his
horrible home have all been gathered; they deepen and strengthen his
poor story throughout. Balzac's care in creating the scene, therefore,
is truly economical; it is not merely a manner of setting the stage
for the drama, it is a provision of character and energy for the drama
when it begins.

His pictures of country towns, too, Saumur, Limoges, Angoulême, have
the same kind of part to play in the Scènes de la vie de province.
When Balzac takes in hand the description of a town or a house or a
workshop, he may always be suspected, at first, of abandoning himself
entirely to his simple, disinterested craving for facts. There are
times when it seems that his inexhaustible knowledge of facts is
carrying him where it will, till his only conscious purpose is to set
down on paper everything that he knows. He is possessed by the lust of
description for its own sake, an insatiable desire to put every detail
in its place, whether it is needed or no. So it seems, and so it is
occasionally, no doubt; there is nothing more tiresome in Balzac than
his zest, his delight, his triumph, when he has apparently succeeded
in forgetting altogether that he is a novelist. He takes a proper
pride in Grandet or Goriot or Lucien, of course; but his heart never
leaps quite so high, it might be thought, as when he sees a chance for
a discourse upon money or commerce or Italian art. And yet the result
is always the same in the end; when he has finished his lengthy
research among the furniture of the lives that are to be evoked, he
has created a scene in which action will move as rapidly as he
chooses, without losing any of its due emphasis. He has illustrated,
in short, the way in which a pictorial impression, wrought to the
right pitch, will speed the work of drama--will become an effective
agent in the book, instead of remaining the mere decorative
introduction that it may seem to be.

Thus it is that Balzac was able to pack into a short book--he never
wrote a long one--such an effect of crowds and events, above all such
an effect of time. Nobody knows how to compress so much experience
into two or three hundred pages as Balzac did unfailingly. I cannot
think that this is due in the least to the laborious interweaving of
his books into a single scheme; I could believe that in general a book
of Balzac's suffers, rather than gains, by the recurrence of the old
names that he has used already elsewhere. It is an amusing trick, but
exactly what is its object? I do not speak of the ordinary "sequel,"
where the fortunes of somebody are followed for another stage, and
where the second part is simply the continuation of the first in a
direct line. But what of the famous idea of making book after book
overlap and encroach and entangle itself with the rest, by the device
of setting the hero of one story to figure more or less obscurely in a
dozen others? The theory is, I suppose, that the characters in the
background and at the corners of the action, if they are Rastignac and
Camusot and Nucingen, retain the life they have acquired elsewhere,
and thereby swell the life of the story in which they reappear. We are
occupied for the moment with some one else, and we discover among his
acquaintances a number of people whom we already know; that fact, it
is implied, will add weight and authority to the story of the man in
the foreground--who is himself, very likely, a man we have met
casually in another book. It ought to make, it must make, his
situation peculiarly real and intelligible that we find him surrounded
by familiar friends of our own; and that is the artistic reason of the
amazing ingenuity with which Balzac keeps them all in play.

Less artistic and more mechanical, I take it, his ingenuity seems than
it did of old. I forget how few are the mistakes and contradictions of
which Balzac has been convicted, in the shuffling and re-shuffling of
his characters; but when his accuracy has been proved there still
remains the question of its bearing upon his art. I only touch upon
the question from a single point of view, when I consider whether the
density of life in so many of his short pieces can really owe
anything to the perpetual flitting of the men and women from book to
book. Suppose that for the moment Balzac is evoking the figure and
fortunes of Lucien de Rubempré, and that a woman who appears
incidentally in his story turns out to be our well-remembered
Delphine, Goriot's daughter. We know a great deal about the past of
Delphine, as it happens; but at this present juncture, in Lucien's
story, her past is entirely irrelevant. It belongs to another
adventure, where it mattered exceedingly, an adventure that took place
before Lucien was heard of at all. As for his story, and for the
reality with which it may be endowed, this depends solely upon our
understanding of _his_ world, _his_ experience; and if Delphine's old
affairs are no part of it, our previous knowledge of her cannot help
us with Lucien. It detracts, rather, from the force of his effect; it
sets up a relation that has nothing to do with him, a relation between
Delphine and the reader, which only obstructs our view of the world as
Lucien sees it. Of the characters in the remoter planes of the action
(and that is Delphine's position in his story) no more is expected
than their value for the purpose of the action in the foreground. That
is all that can be _used_ in the book; whatever more they may bring
will lie idle, will contribute nothing, and may even become an
embarrassment. The numberless people in the Comédie who carry their
lengthening train of old associations from book to book may give the
Comédie, as a whole, the look of unity that Balzac desired; that is
another point. But in any single story, such of these people as appear
by the way, incidentally, must for the time being shed their
irrelevant life; if they fail to do so, they disturb the unity of the
story and confuse its truth.

Balzac's unrivalled power of placing a figure in its surroundings is
not to be explained, then, by his skill in working his separate pieces
together into one great web; the design of the Human Comedy, so
largely artificial, forced upon it as his purpose widened, is no
enhancement of the best of his books. The fullness of experience which
is rendered in these is exactly the same--is more expressive, if
anything--when they are taken out of their context; it is all to be
attributed to their own art. I come back, therefore, to the way in
which Balzac handled his vast store of facts, when he set out to tell
a story, and made them count in the action which he brought to the
fore. He seldom, I think, regards them as material to be disguised, to
be given by implication in the drama itself. He is quite content to
offer his own impression of the general landscape of the story, a
leisurely display which brings us finally to the point of action. Then
the action starts forward with a reserve of vigour that helps it in
various ways. The more important of these, as I see them, will be
dealt with in the next chapter; but meanwhile I may pick out another,
one that is often to be seen in Balzac's work and that he needed only
too often. It was not the best of his work that needed it; but the
effect I mean is an interesting one in itself, and it appeals to a
critic where it occurs. It shows how a novelist, while in general
seeking to raise the power of his picture by means of drama, will
sometimes reverse the process, deliberately, in order to rescue the
power of his drama from becoming violence. If fiction always aims at
the appearance of truth, there are times when the dramatic method is
too much for it, too searching and too betraying. It leaves the story
to speak for itself, but perhaps the story may then say too much to be
reasonably credible. It must be restrained, qualified, toned down, in
order to make its best effect. Where the action, in short, is likely
to seem harsh, overcharged, romantic, it is made to look less so, less
hazardous and more real, by recourse to the art of the picture-maker.

Balzac, it cannot be denied, had frequent cause to look about him for
whatever means there might be of extenuating, and so of confirming, an
incredible story. His passion for truth was often in conflict with his
lust for marvels, and the manner in which they were mixed is the chief
interest, I dare say, of some of his books. See him, for example, in
the Splendeurs et Misères des Courtisanes, trying with one hand to
write a novel of Parisian manners, with the other a romance of
mystery, and to do full justice to both. Trompe-la-Mort, the Napoleon
of crime, and Esther, the inspired courtesan, represent the romance,
and Balzac sets himself to absorb the extravagant tale into a study
of actual life. If he can get the tale firmly embedded in a background
of truth, its falsity may be disguised, the whole book may even pass
for a scene of the human comedy; it may be accepted as a piece of
reality, on the same level, say, as Eugénie Grandet or Les Parents
Pauvres. That is evidently his aim, and if only his romance were a
little less gaudy, or his truth not quite so true, he would have no
difficulty in attaining it; the action would be subdued and kept in
its place by the pictorial setting. The trouble is that Balzac's idea
of a satisfying crime is as wild as his hold upon facts is sober, so
that an impossible strain is thrown upon his method of reconciling the
two. Do what he will, his romance remains staringly false in its
contrast with his reality; there is an open gap between the wonderful
pictures of the town in Illusions Perdues and the theatrical drama of
the old convict which they introduce. Yet his method was a right one,
though it was perverse of Balzac to be occupied at all with such
devices, when he might have rejected his falsity altogether. In
another man's work, where there is never this sharp distinction
between true and false, where both are merged into something different
from either--in Dickens's work--the method I refer to is much more
successfully followed; and there, in any of Dickens's later books, we
find the clearest example of it.

I have already been reminded of Stevenson's word upon this matter;
Stevenson noted how Dickens's way of dealing with his romantic
intrigues was to lead gradually into them, through well-populated
scenes of character and humour; so that his world is actual, its air
familiar, by the time that his plot begins to thicken. He gives
himself an ample margin in which to make the impression of the kind of
truth he needs, before beginning to concentrate upon the fabulous
action of the climax. Bleak House is a very good case; the highly
coloured climax in that book is approached with great skill and
caution, all in his most masterly style. A broad stream of diversified
life moves slowly in a certain direction, so deliberately at first
that its scope, its spread, is much more evident than its movement.
The book is a big survey of a quantity of odd and amusing people, and
it is only by degrees that the discursive method is abandoned and the
narrative brought to a point. Presently we are in the thick of the
story, hurrying to the catastrophe, without having noticed at all, it
may be, that our novel of manners has turned into a romantic drama,
with a mysterious crime to crown it. Dickens manages it far more
artfully than Balzac, because his imagination is not, like Balzac's,
divided against itself. The world which he peopled with Skimpole and
Guppy and the Bayham Badgers was a world that could easily include
Lady Dedlock, for though she is perhaps of the theatre, they are
certainly not of the common earth. They and she alike are at the same
angle to literal fact, they diverging one way, she another; they
accordingly make a kind of reality which can assimilate her romance.
Dickens was saved from trying to write two books at once by the fact
that one completely satisfied him. It expressed the exciting, amazing,
exhilarating world he lived in himself, with its consistent
transmutation of all values, and he knew no other.

The method which he finally worked out for himself was exactly what he
required. There might be much to say of it, for it is by no means
simple, but I am only concerned with one or two points in it. The
chief characteristic I take to be this careful introduction of violent
drama into a scene already prepared to vouch for it--a scene so alive
that it compels belief, so queer that almost anything might happen
there naturally. The effect which Dickens gets from the picture in his
novels, as opposed to the action, is used as a sort of attestation of
the action; and it surely fulfils its mission very strikingly in the
best of his work--the best from this point of view--Bleak House,
Dombey and Son, Our Mutual Friend. His incurable love of labyrinthine
mystification, when it really ran away with him, certainly defeated
all precautions; not even old Dorrit's Marshalsea, not even Flora and
Mr. F.'s Aunt, can do anything to carry off the story of the Clennams.
But so long as he was content with a fairly straightforward romance,
all went well; the magnificent life that he projected was prepared to
receive and to speed it. Blimber and Mrs. Pipchin and Miss Tox, the
Podsnaps and Twemlow and the Veneerings, all contribute out of their
overflow of energy to the force of a drama--a drama in which they may
take no specific part, but which depends on them for the furnishing of
an appropriate scene, a favouring background, a world attuned. This
and so much more they do that it may seem like insulting them even to
think for a moment of their subordination to the general design, which
is indeed a great deal less interesting than they. But Dickens's
method is sound and good, and not the less so because he used it for
comparatively trivial purposes. It is strange that he should have
known how to invent such a scene, and then have found no better drama
to enact on it--strange and always stranger, with every re-reading.
That does not affect his handling of a subject, which is all that I
deal with here.

The life which he creates and distributes right and left, in such a book
as Bleak House, before bending to his story--this I call his picture,
for picture it is in effect, not dramatic action. It exhibits the world
in which Lady Dedlock is to meditate murder, the fog of the suit in
Chancery out of which the intrigue of the book is to emerge. It is the
summary of a situation, with its elements spreading widely and touching
many lives; it gathers them in and gives an impression of them all. It
is pictorial as a whole, and quite as much so as any of Thackeray's
broad visions. But I have noted before how inevitably Dickens's
picture, unlike Thackeray's, is presented in the _form_ of scenic
action, and here is a case in point. All this impression of life,
stretching from the fog-bound law courts to the marshes of Chesney Wold,
from Krook and Miss Flite to Sir Leicester and Volumnia, is rendered as
incident, as a succession of particular occasions--never, or very
seldom, as general and far-seeing narrative, after Thackeray's manner.
Dickens continually holds to the immediate scene, even when his object
is undramatic; he is always readier to work in action and dialogue than
to describe at large; he is happier in placing a character there before
us, as the man or woman talked and behaved in a certain hour, on a
certain spot, than in reflecting a long impression of their manner of
living. In Thackeray's hands the life of Miss Flite, for instance, would
have become a legend, recalled and lingered over, illustrated by passing
glimpses of her ways and oddities. With Dickens she is always a little
human being who figures upon a scene, in a group, a visible creature
acting her small part; she is always dramatic.

And Dickens, using this method everywhere, even in such a case as
hers--even where his purpose, that is to say, is pictorial, to give
the sense of a various and vivacious background--is forced to
crystallize and formulate his characters very sharply, if they are to
make their effect; it is why he is so often reduced to the expedient
of labelling his people with a trick or a phrase, which they have to
bring with them every time they appear. Their opportunities are
strictly limited; the author does not help them out by glancing freely
into their lives and sketching them broadly. Flite, Snagsby, Chadband
and the rest of them--whatever they are, they must be all of it within
narrow bounds, within the few scenes that can be allotted to them; and
if one of them fails now and then it is not surprising, the wonder is
that most of them succeed so brilliantly. In thus translating his
picture into action Dickens chose the most exigent way, but it was
always the right way for him. He was curiously incapable in the other;
when occasionally he tries his hand at picture-making, in Thackeray's
manner--attempting to summarize an impression of social life among the
Veneerings, of official life among the Barnacles--his touch is wild
indeed. Away from a definite episode in an hour prescribed he is
seldom at ease.

But though the actual presentation is thus dramatic, his books are in
fact examples of the pictured scene that opens and spreads very
gradually, in order to make a valid world for a drama that could not
be precipitated forthwith, a drama that would be naked romance if it
stood by itself. Stevenson happened upon this point, with regard to
Dickens, in devising the same method for a story of his own, The
Wrecker, a book in which he too proposed to insinuate an abrupt and
violent intrigue into credible, continuous life. He, of course, knew
precisely what he was doing--where Dickens followed, as I suppose, an
uncritical instinct; the purpose of The Wrecker is clearly written
upon it, and very ingeniously carried out. But I doubt whether
Stevenson himself noticed that in all his work, or nearly, he was
using an artifice of the same kind. He spoke of his habitual
inclination towards the story told in the first person as though it
were a chance preference, and he may not have perceived how logically
it followed from the subjects that mostly attracted him. They were
strongly romantic, vividly dramatic; he never had occasion to use the
first person for the effect I considered a while ago, its enhancement
of a plain narrative. I called it the first step towards the
dramatization of a story, and so it is in a book like Esmond, a
broadly pictured novel of manners. But it is more than this in a book
like The Master of Ballantrae, where the subject is a piece of
forcible, closely knit action. The value of rendering it as somebody's
narrative, of placing it in the mouth of a man who was there on the
spot, is in this book the value of working the drama into a picture,
of passing it through a man's thought and catching his reflection of
it. As the picture in Esmond is enhanced, so the drama in Ballantrae
is toned and qualified by the method of presentation. The same method
has a different effect, according to the subject upon which it is
used; as a splash of the same grey might darken white surface and
lighten a black. In Esmond the use of the first person raises the book
in the direction of drama, in Ballantrae it thrusts the book in the
other direction, towards the pictured impression. So it would seem;
but perhaps it is a fine distinction that criticism can afford to pass


As for the peculiar accent and stir of life, the life behind the
story, Balzac's manner of finding and expressing it is always
interesting. He seems to look for it most readily, not in the nature
of the men and women whose action makes the story, or not there to
begin with, but in their streets and houses and rooms. He cannot think
of his people without the homes they inhabit; with Balzac to imagine a
human being is to imagine a province, a city, a corner of the city, a
building at a turn of the street, certain furnished rooms, and finally
the man or woman who lives in them. He cannot be satisfied that the
tenor of this creature's existence is at all understood without a
minute knowledge of the things and objects that surround it. So strong
is his conviction upon this point that it gives a special savour to
the many pages in which he describes how the doorway is approached,
how the passage leads to the staircase, how the parlour-chairs are
placed, in the house which is to be the scene of his drama. These
descriptions are clear and business-like; they are offered as an
essential preliminary to the story, a matter that must obviously be
dealt with, once for all, before the story can proceed. And he
communicates his certainty to the reader, he imposes his belief in
the need for precision and fullness; Balzac is so sure that every
detail _must_ be known, down to the vases on the mantelpiece or the
pots and pans in the cupboard, that his reader cannot begin to
question it. Everything is made to appear as important as the author
feels it to be.

His manner is well to be watched in Eugénie Grandet. That account of
the great bare old house of the miser at Saumur is as plain and
straightforward as an inventory; no attempt is made to insinuate the
impression of the place by hints and side-lights. Balzac marches up to
it and goes steadily through it, until our necessary information is
complete, and there he leaves it. There is no subtlety in such a
method, it seems; a lighter, shyer handling of the facts, more
suggestion and less statement, might be expected to make a deeper
effect. And indeed Balzac's confident way is not one that would give a
good result in most hands; it would produce the kind of description
that the eye travels over unperceivingly, the conscientious
introduction that tells us nothing. Yet Balzac contrives to make it
tell everything; and the simple explanation is that he, more than
anyone else, _knows_ everything. The place exists in his thought; it
is not to him the mere sensation of a place, with cloudy corners,
uncertain recesses, which only grow definite as he touches and probes
them with his phrases. A writer of a different sort, an impressionist
who is aware of the effect of a scene rather than of the scene
itself, proceeds inevitably after another fashion; if he attempted
Balzac's method he would have to feel his way tentatively, adding fact
to fact, and his account would consist of that mechanical sum of
details which makes no image. Balzac is so thoroughly possessed of his
image that he can reproduce it inch by inch, fact by fact, without
losing the effect of it as a whole; he can start from the edge of his
scene, from a street of old houses, from the doorstep of one old
house, and leave a perfectly firm and telling impression behind him as
he proceeds. When his description is finished and the last detail in
its place, the home of the Grandets is securely built for the needs of
the story, possessing all the significance that Balzac demands of it.

It will presently be seen that he demands a great deal. I said that
his drama has always the benefit of a reserve of force, stored up for
it beforehand in the general picture; and though in this picture is
included the fortunes and characters of the men and women, of the
Grandets and their neighbours, a large part of it is the material
scene, the very walls that are to witness the coming events. The
figure of Grandet, the old miser, is indeed called up and accounted
for abundantly, in all the conditions of his past; but the house too,
within and without, is laid under strict contribution, is used to the
full in the story. It is a presence and an influence that counts
throughout--and counts particularly in a matter that is essential to
the book's effect, a matter that could scarcely be provided for in
any other way, as it happens. Of this I shall speak in a moment; but
at once it is noticeable how the Maison Grandet, like the Maison
Vauquer, helps the book on its way. It incarnates all the past of its
old owner, and visibly links it to the action when the story opens.
The elaborate summary of Grandet's early life, the scrupulously exact
account of the building of his prosperity, is brought to an issue in
the image of the "cold, dreary and silent house at the upper end of
the town," from whence the drama widens again in its turn. How it is
that Balzac has precisely the right scene in his mind, a house that
perfectly expresses his _donnée_ and all its associations--that, of
course, is Balzac's secret; his method would be nothing without the
quality of his imagination. His use of the scene is another matter,
and there it is possible to reckon how much of his general effect, the
sense of the moral and social foundation of his story, is given by its
inanimate setting. He has to picture a character and a train of life,
and to a great extent he does so by describing a house.

Beyond old Grandet and the kind of existence imposed upon his
household, the drama needs little by way of preparation. The miser's
daughter Eugénie, with her mother, must stand out clearly to the fore;
but a very few touches bring these two women to life in their shadowy
abode. They are simple and patient and devoted; between the dominance
of the old man and the monotony of the provincial routine Eugénie and
her mother are easily intelligible. The two local aspirants to the
girl's fortune, and their supporters on either side--the Cruchotins
and the Grassinistes--are subsidiary figures; they are sufficiently
rendered by their appearance in a flock, for a sociable evening with
the Grandets. The faithful maid-servant, the shrewd and valiant Nanon,
is quickly sketched. And there, then, is the picture that Balzac
prepares for the action, which opens with the arrival of Charles,
Eugénie's young and unknown cousin. Except for Charles, all the
material of the drama is contained in the first impression of the
household and the small country-town; Eugénie's story is implied in
it; and her romance, from the moment it begins, inherits the reality
and the continuity of the experience. Charles himself is so light a
weight that in his case no introduction is needed at all; a single
glance at him is enough to show the charm of his airy elegance. His
only function in the story is to create the long dream of Eugénie's
life; and for that he needs nothing but his unlikeness to the
Cruchotins and the Grassinistes. They and Eugénie, therefore, between
them, provide for his effect before he appears, they by their dull
provinciality, she by her sensitive ignorance. The whole scene, on the
verge of the action, is full of dormant echoes, and the first movement
wakes them. The girl placed as she is, her circumstances known as they
are, all but make the tale of their own accord; only the simple facts
are wanting, their effect is already in the air.

And accordingly the story slips away from its beginning without
hesitation. In a sense it is a very slight story; there is scarcely
anything in it but Eugénie's quick flush of emotion, and then her
patient cherishing of its memory; and this simplicity may seem to
detract, perhaps, from the skilfulness of Balzac's preparation. Where
there is so little in the way of incident or clash of character to
provide for, where the people are so plain and perspicuous and next to
nothing happens to them, it should not be difficult to make an
expressive scene for the drama and its few facts. All that occurs in
the main line of the story is that Eugénie falls in love with her
cousin, bids him good-bye when he goes to make his fortune in the
Indies, trustfully awaits him for a number of years, and discovers his
faithlessness when he returns. Her mother's death, and then her
father's, are almost the only events in the long interval of Charles's
absence. Simple indeed, but this is exactly the kind of story which it
is most puzzling to handle. The material is scanty, and yet it covers
a good many years; and somehow the narrative must render the length of
the years without the help of positive and concrete stuff to fill
them. The whole point of the story is lost unless we are made to feel
the slow crawling of time, while Eugénie waited; but what is there in
her life to account for the time, to bridge the interval, to
illustrate its extent? Balzac has to make a long impression of
vacuity; Eugénie Grandet contains a decidedly tough subject.

In such a case I suppose the first instinct of almost any story-teller
would be to lengthen the narrative of her loneliness by elaborating
the picture of her state of mind, drawing out the record of expectancy
and patience and failing hope. If nothing befalls her from without, or
so little, the time must be filled with the long drama of her
experience within; the centre of the story would then be cast in her
consciousness, in which there would be reflected the gradual drop of
her emotion from glowing newness to the level of daily custom, and
thence again to the chill of disillusion. It is easy to imagine the
kind of form which the book would take. In order to assure its full
value to Eugénie's monotonous suffering, the story would be given from
her point of view, entirely from hers; the external facts of her
existence would all be seen through her eyes, making substance for her
thought. We should live _with_ Eugénie, throughout; we should share
her vigil, morning and evening, summer and winter, while she sat in
the silent house and listened to the noises of life in the street,
while the sun shone for others and not for her, while the light waned,
the wind howled, the snow fell and hushed the busy town--still Eugénie
would sit at her window, still we should follow the flow of her
resigned and uncomplaining meditations; until at last the author could
judge that five years, ten years, whatever it may be, had been
sufficiently shown in their dreary lapse, and that Charles might now
come back from the Indies. So it would be and so it would have to be,
a novelist might easily feel. How else could the due suggestion of
time be given, where there is so little to show for it in dramatic

But Balzac's treatment of the story is quite unexpected. He lays it
out in a fashion that is worth noting, as a good example of the
freedom of movement that his great pictorial genius allowed him. With
his scene and its general setting so perfectly rendered, the story
takes care of itself on every side, with the minimum of trouble on his
part. His real trouble is over when the action begins; he is not even
disturbed by this difficulty of presenting the sense of time. The plan
of Eugénie Grandet, as the book stands, seems to have been made
without any regard to the chief and most exacting demand of the story;
where another writer would be using every device he could think of to
mark the effect of the succeeding years, Balzac is free to tell the
story as straightforwardly as he chooses. To Eugénie the great and
only adventure of her life was contained in the few days or weeks of
Charles's first visit; nothing to compare with that excitement ever
happened to her again. And Balzac makes this episode bulk as largely
in the book as it did in her life; he pauses over it and elaborates
it, unconcerned by the fact that in the book--in the whole effect it
is to produce--the episode is only the beginning of Eugénie's story,
only the prelude to her years of waiting and watching.

He extends his account of it so far, nevertheless, that he has written
two thirds of the book by the time the young man is finally despatched
to the Indies. It means that the duration of the story--and the
duration is the principal fact in it--is hardly considered at all,
after the opening of the action. There is almost no picture of the
slowly moving years; there is little but a concise chronicle of the
few widely spaced events. Balzac is at no pains to sit with Eugénie in
the twilight, while the seasons revolve; not for him to linger, gazing
sympathetically over her shoulder, tenderly exploring her sentiments.
He is actually capable of beginning a paragraph with the casual
announcement, "Five years went by in this way," as though he belonged
to the order of story-tellers who imagine that time may be expressed
by the mere statement of its length. Yet there is time in his book, it
is very certain--time that lags and loiters till the girl has lost her
youth and has dropped into the dull groove from which she will
evidently never again be dislodged. Balzac can treat the story as
concisely as he will, he can record Eugénie's simple experience from
without, and yet make the fading of her young hope appear as gradual
and protracted as need be; and all because he has prepared in advance,
with his picture of the life of the Grandets, a complete and enduring

His preliminary picture included the representation of time, secured
the sense of it so thoroughly that there is no necessity for recurring
to it again. The routine of the Maison Grandet is too clearly known to
be forgotten; the sight of the girl and her mother, leading their
sequestered lives in the shadow of their old tyrant's obsession, is a
sensation that persists to the end of their story. Their dreary days
accumulate and fill the year with hardly a break in its monotony; the
next year and the next are the same, except that old Grandet's
meanness is accentuated as his wealth increases; the present is like
the past, the future will prolong the present. In such a scene
Eugénie's patient acquiescence in middle age becomes a visible fact,
is divined and accepted at once, without further insistence; it is
latent in the scene from the beginning, even at the time of the small
romance of her youth. To dwell upon the shades of her long
disappointment is needless, for her power of endurance and her
fidelity are fully created in the book before they are put to the
test. "Five years went by," says Balzac; but before he says it we
already see them opening and closing upon the girl, bearing down upon
her solitude, exhausting her freshness but not the dumb resignation in
which she sits and waits. The endlessness, the sameness, the silence,
which another writer would have to tackle somehow after disposing of
the brief episode of Charles's visit, Balzac has it all in hand, he
can finish off his book without long delay. His deliberate approach to
the action, through the picture of the house and its inmates, has
achieved its purpose; it has given him the effect which the action
most demands and could least acquire by itself, the effect of time.

And there is no doubt that the story immensely gains by being treated
in Balzac's way, rather than as the life of a disappointed girl,
studied from within. In that case the subject of the book might easily
seem to be wearing thin, for the fact is that Eugénie has not the
stuff of character to give much interest to her story, supposing it
were seen through her eyes. She is good and true and devoted, but she
lacks the poetry, the inner resonance, that might make a living drama
of her simple emotions. Balzac was always too prosaic for the creation
of virtue; his innocent people--unless they may be grotesque as well
as innocent, like Pons or Goriot--live in a world that is not worth
the trouble of investigation. The interest of Eugénie would infallibly
be lowered, not heightened, by closer participation in her romance; it
is much better to look at it from outside, as Balzac does for the most
part, and to note the incidents that befell her, always provided that
the image of lagging time can be fashioned and preserved. As for that,
Balzac has no cause to be anxious; it is as certain that he can do
what he will with the subject of a story, handle it aright and compel
it to make its impression, as that he will fail to understand the
sensibility of a good-natured girl.

I cannot imagine that the value of the novelist's picture, as
preparation for his drama, could be proved more strikingly than it is
proved in this book, where so much is expected of it. Eugénie Grandet
is typical of a natural bent on the part of any prudent writer of
fiction, the instinct to relieve the climax of the story by taxing it
as little as possible when it is reached. The climax ought to
complete, to add the touch that makes the book whole and organic; that
is its task, and that only. It should be free to do what it must
without any unnecessary distraction, and nothing need distract it that
can be dealt with and despatched at an earlier stage. The climax in
Grandet is not a dramatic point, not a single incident; it lies in the
slow chill that very gradually descends upon Eugénie's hope. Balzac
carefully refrains from making the book hinge on anything so
commonplace as a sudden discovery of the young man's want of faith.
The worst kind of disappointment does not happen like that, falling as
a stroke; it steals into a life and spreads imperceptibly. Charles's
final act of disloyalty is only a kind of coda to a drama that is
practically complete without it. Here, then, is a climax that is
essentially pictorial, an impression of change and decay, needing time
in plenty above all; and Balzac leads into it so cunningly that a
short summary of a few plain facts is all that is required, when it
comes to the point. He saves his climax, in other words, from the
burden of deliberate expatiation, which at first sight it would seem
bound to incur; he leaves nothing for it to accomplish but just the
necessary touch, the movement that declares and fulfils the intention
of the book.

There is the same power at work upon material even more baffling,
apparently, in La Recherche de l'Absolu. The subject of that perfect
tale is of course the growth of a fixed idea, and Balzac was faced
with the task of showing the slow aggravation of a man's ruin through
a series of outbreaks, differing in no way one from another, save in
their increasing violence. Claes, the excellent and prosperous young
burgher of Douai, pillar of the old civic stateliness of Flanders, is
dragged and dragged into his calamitous experiments by the bare
failure (as he is persuaded) of each one in turn; each time his
researches are on the verge of yielding him the "absolute," the
philosopher's stone, and each time the prospect is more shining than
before; success, wealth enough to restore his deepening losses a
thousand times over, is assured by one more attempt, the money to make
it must be found. And so all other interest in life is forgotten, his
pride and repute are sacrificed, the splendid house is gradually
stripped of its treasures, his family are thrust into poverty; and he
himself dies degraded, insane, with success--surely, surely success,
this time--actually in his grasp. That is all, and on that straight,
sustained movement the book must remain throughout, reiterating one
effect with growing intensity--always at the pitch of high hope and
sharp disappointment, always prepared to heighten and sharpen it a
little further. There can be no development through any variety of
incident; it is the same suspense and the same shock, again and again,
constantly more disastrous than before.

Here, too, Balzac amasses in his opening picture the reserve of effect
that he needs. He recognizes the ample resource of the dignity, the
opulence, the worth, the tradition inherited by families like that of
Claes--merchant-princes of honourable line, rulers of rich cities,
patrons of great art. The house of Claes, with its fine architecture,
its portraits, its dark furniture and gleaming silver, its garden of
rare tulips--Balzac's imagination is poured into the scene, it is
exactly the kind of opportunity that he welcomes. He knows the place
by heart; his description of it is in his most methodical style.
Steadily it all comes out, a Holbein-picture with every orderly detail
duly arranged, the expression of good manners, sound taste and a solid
position. On such a world, created as he knows how to create it, he
may draw without hesitation for the repeated demands of the story; the
protracted havoc wrought by the man's infatuation is represented, step
by step, as the visible scene is denuded and destroyed. His spirit is
worn away and his sanity breaks down, and the successive strokes that
fall on it, instead of losing force (for the onlooker) by repetition,
are renewed and increased by the sight of the spreading devastation
around him, as his precious things are cast into the devouring expense
of his researches. Their disappearance is the outward sign of his own
personal surrender to his idea, and each time that he is thrown back
upon disappointment the ravage of the scene in which he was placed at
the beginning of the book is more evident than before. It spreads
through his pictures and treasures to his family, and still further
into his relations with the respectable circle about him. His position
is shaken, his situation in that beautiful Holbein-world is
undermined; it is slowly shattered as his madness extends. And having
built and furnished that world so firmly and richly, Balzac can linger
upon its overthrow as long as is necessary for the rising effect of
his story. He has created so much that there is plenty to destroy;
only at last, with the man's dying cry of triumph, is the wreck

Thus the climax of the story, as in Grandet, is laid up betimes in the
descriptive picture. It is needless, I suppose, to insist on the
esthetic value of economy of this kind. Everybody feels the greater
force of the climax that assumes its right place without an effort,
when the time comes, compared with that in which a strain and an
exaggerated stress are perceptible. The process of writing a novel
seems to be one of continual forestalling and anticipating; far more
important than the immediate page is the page to come, still in the
distance, on behalf of which this one is secretly working. The writer
makes a point and reserves it at the same time, creates an effect and
holds it back, till in due course it is appropriated and used by the
page for which it is intended. It must be a pleasure to the writer, it
is certainly a great pleasure to the critic, when the stroke is
cleanly brought off. It is the same pleasure indeed; the novelist
makes the stroke, but the critic makes it again by perceiving it, and
is legitimately satisfied by the sense of having perceived it with
good artistry. It is spoilt, of course, if the stroke is handled
tactlessly and obtrusively; the art of preparation is no art if it
betrays itself at the outset, calling attention to its purpose. By
definition it is unrecognizable until it attains its end; it is the
art of rendering an impression that is found to have been made, later
on, but that evades detection at the moment. The particular variety I
have been considering is one of which Balzac is a great master; and
perhaps his mastery will appear still more clearly if I look at a book
in which his example is _not_ followed in this respect. It is a finer
book, for all that, than most of Balzac's.


It is Anna Karenina; and I turn to it now, not for its beauty and
harmony, not because it is one of the most exquisitely toned, shaded,
gradated pieces of portraiture in fiction, but because it happens to
show very clearly how an effect may be lost for want of timely
precaution. Tolstoy undoubtedly damaged a magnificent book by his
refusal to linger over any kind of pictorial introduction. There is
none in this story, the reader will remember. The whole of the book,
very nearly, is scenic, from the opening page to the last; it is a
chain of particular occasions, acted out, talked out, by the crowd of
people concerned. Each of these scenes is outspread before the
spectator, who watches the characters and listens to their dialogue;
there is next to no generalization of the story at any point. On every
page, I think, certainly on all but a very few of the many hundred
pages, the hour and the place are exactly defined. Something is
happening there, or something is being discussed; at any rate it is an
episode singled out for direct vision.

The plan of the book, in fact, is strictly dramatic; it allows no such
freedom as Balzac uses, freedom of exposition and retrospect. Tolstoy
never draws back from the immediate scene, to picture the manner of
life that his people led or to give a foreshortened impression of
their history. He unrolls it all as it occurs, illustrating everything
in action. It is an extraordinary feat, considering the amount of
experience he undertakes to display, with an interweaving of so many
lives and fortunes. And it is still more extraordinary, considering
the nature of the story, which is not really dramatic at all, but a
pictorial contrast, Anna and her affair on one side of it, Levin and
his on the other. The contrast is gradually extended and deepened
through the book; but it leads to no clash between the two, no
opposition, no drama. It is an effect of slow and inevitable change,
drawn out in minute detail through two lives, with all the others that
cluster round each--exactly the kind of matter that nobody but
Tolstoy, with his huge hand, would think of trying to treat
scenically. Tolstoy so treats it, however, and apparently never feels
any desire to break away from the march of his episodes or to fuse his
swarming detail into a general view. It means that he must write a
very long book, with scores and scores of scenes, but he has no
objection to that.

It is only in its plan, of course, that Anna Karenina is strictly
dramatic; its method of execution is much looser, and there indeed
Tolstoy allows himself as much freedom as he pleases. In the novel of
pure drama the point of view is that of the reader alone, as we saw;
there is no "going behind" the characters, no direct revelation of
their thought. Such consistency is out of the question, however, even
for Tolstoy, on the great scale of his book; and he never hesitates to
lay bare the mind of any of his people, at any moment, if it seems to
help the force or the lucidity of the scene. And so we speedily grow
familiar with the consciousness of many of them, for Tolstoy's hand is
always as light and quick as it is broad. He catches the passing
thought that is in a man's mind as he speaks; and though it may be no
more than a vague doubt or an idle fancy, it is somehow a note of the
man himself, a sign of his being, an echo of his inner tone. From Anna
and the other figures of the forefront, down to the least of the
population of the background, I could almost say to the wonderful
little red baby that in one of the last chapters is disclosed to Levin
by the triumphant nurse--each of them is a centre of vision, each of
them looks out on a world that is not like the world of the rest, and
we know it. Without any elaborate research Tolstoy expresses the
nature of all their experience; he reveals the dull weight of it in
one man's life or its vibrating interest in another's; he shows how
for one it stirs and opens, with troubling enlargement, how for
another it remains blank and inert. He does so unconsciously, it might
seem, not seeking to construct the world as it appears to Anna or her
husband or her lover, but simply glancing now and then into their mood
of the moment, and indicating what he happens to find there. Yet it
is enough, and each of them is soon a human being whose privacy we
share. They are actors moving upon a visible scene, watched from the
reader's point of view; but they are also sentient lives, understood
from within.

Here, then, is a mixed method which enables Tolstoy to deal with his
immense subject on the lines of drama. He can follow its chronology
step by step, at an even pace throughout, without ever interrupting
the rhythm for that shift of the point of view--away from the
immediate scene to a more commanding height--which another writer
would certainly have found to be necessary sooner or later. He can
create a character in so few words--he can make the manner of a man's
or a woman's thought so quickly intelligible--that even though his
story is crowded and over-crowded with people he can render them all,
so to speak, by the way, give them all their due without any study of
them outside the passing episode. So he can, at least, in general; for
in Anna Karenina, as I said, his method seems to break down very
conspicuously at a certain juncture. But before I come to that, I
would dwell further upon this peculiar skill of Tolstoy's, this
facility which explains, I think, the curious flaw in his beautiful
novel. He would appear to have trusted his method too far, trusted it
not only to carry him through the development and the climax of his
story, but also to constitute his _donnée_, his prime situation in the
beginning. This was to throw too much upon it, and it is critically
of high interest to see where it failed, and why. The miscalculations
of a great genius are enlightening; here, in Anna Karenina, is one
that calls attention to Tolstoy's characteristic fashion of telling a
story, and declares its remarkable qualities.

The story of Anna, I suggested, is not essentially dramatic. Like the
story of Emma Bovary or of Eugénie Grandet, it is a picture outspread,
an impression of life, rather than an action. Anna at first has a life
that rests on many supports, with her husband and her child and her
social possessions; it is broadly based and its stability is assured,
if she chooses to rely on it. But her husband is a dull and pedantic
soul, and before long she chooses to exchange her assured life for
another that rests on one support only, a romantic passion. Her life
with Vronsky has no other security, and in process of time it fails.
Its gradual failure is her story--the losing battle of a woman who has
thrown away more resources than she could afford. But the point and
reason of the book is not in the dramatic question--what will happen,
will Anna lose or win? It is in the picture of her gathering and
deepening difficulties, difficulties that arise out of her position
and her mood, difficulties of which the only solution is at last her
death. And this story, with the contrasted picture of Levin's
domesticity that completes it, is laid out exactly as Balzac did _not_
lay out his story of Eugénie; it is all presented as action, because
Tolstoy's eye was infallibly drawn, whenever he wrote, to the instant
aspect of his matter, the play itself. He could not generalize it, and
on the whole there was no need for him to do so; for there was
nothing, not the least stir of motive or character, that could not be
expressed in the movement of the play as he handled it. Scene is laid
to scene, therefore, as many as he requires; he had no thought of
stinting himself in that respect. And within the limit of the scene he
was always ready to vary his method, to enter the consciousness of any
or all the characters at will, without troubling himself about the
possible confusion of effect which this might entail. He could afford
the liberty, because the main lines of his structure were so simple
and clear; the inconsistencies of his method are dominated by the
broad scenic regularity of his plan.

Balzac had not the master-hand of Tolstoy in the management of a
dramatic scene, an episode. When it comes to rendering a piece of
action Balzac's art is not particularly felicitous, and if we only
became acquainted with his people while they are talking and acting, I
think they might often seem rather heavy and wooden, harsh of speech
and gesture. Balzac's _general_ knowledge of them, and his power of
offering an impression of what he knows--these are so great that his
people are alive before they begin to act, alive with an energy that
is all-sufficient. Tolstoy's grasp of a human being's whole existence,
of everything that goes to make it, is not as capacious as Balzac's;
but on the other hand he can create a living scene, exquisitely and
easily expressive, out of anything whatever, the lightest trifle of an
incident. If he describes how a child lingered at the foot of the
stairs, teasing an old servant, or how a peasant-woman stood in a
doorway, laughing and calling to the men at work in the farmyard, the
thing becomes a poetic event; in half a page he makes an unforgettable
scene. It suddenly glows and flushes, and its effect in the story is
profound. A passing glimpse of this kind is caught, say, by Anna in
her hungry desperation, by Levin as he wanders and speculates; and
immediately their experience is the fuller by an eloquent memory. The
vividness of the small scene becomes a part of them, for us who read;
it is something added to our impression of their reality. And so the
half-page is not a diversion or an interlude; it speeds the story by
augmenting the tone and the value of the lives that we are watching.
It happens again and again; that is Tolstoy's way of creating a life,
of raising it to its full power by a gradual process of enrichment,
till Anna or Levin is at length a complete being, intimately
understood, ready for the climax of the tale.

But of course it takes time, and it chanced that this deliberation
made a special difficulty in the case of Anna's story. As for Levin,
it was easy to give him ample play; he could be left to emerge and to
assume his place in the book by leisurely degrees, for it is not until
much has passed that his full power is needed. Meanwhile he is a
figure in the crowd, a shy and disappointed suitor, unobtrusively
sympathetic, and there are long opportunities of seeing more of him in
his country solitude. Later on, when his fortunes come to the front
with his marriage, he has shown what he is; he steps fully fashioned
into the drama. With Anna it is very different; her story allows no
such pause, for a growing knowledge of the manner of woman she may be.
She is at once to the front of the book; the situation out of which
the whole novel develops is made by a particular crisis in her life.
She meets and falls in love with Vronsky--that is the crisis from
which the rest of her story proceeds; it is the beginning of the
action, the subject of the earliest chapters. And the difficulty lies
in this, that she must be represented upon such a critical height of
emotion before there is time, by Tolstoy's method, to create the right
effect for her and to make her impulse really intelligible. For the
reader it is all too abrupt, the step by which she abandons her past
and flings herself upon her tragic adventure. It is impossible to
measure her passion and her resolution, because she herself is still
incompletely rendered. She has appeared in a few charming scenes, a
finished and graceful figure, but that is not enough. If she is so
soon to be seen at this pitch of exaltation, it is essential that her
life should be fully shared by the onlooker; but as Tolstoy has told
the story, Anna is in the midst of her crisis and has passed it
before it is possible to know her life clearly from within. Alive and
beautiful she is from the very first moment of her appearance;
Tolstoy's art is much too sure to miss the right effect, so far as it
goes. And if her story were such that it involved her in no great
adventure at the start--if she could pass from scene to scene, like
Levin, quietly revealing herself--Tolstoy's method would be perfect.
But as it is, there is no adequate preparation; Anna is made to act as
a deeply stirred and agitated woman before she has the _value_ for
such emotions. She has not yet become a presence familiar enough, and
there is no means of gauging the force of the storm that is seen to
shake her.

It is a flaw in the book which has often been noticed, and it is a
flaw which Tolstoy could hardly have avoided, if he was determined to
hold to his scenic plan. Given his reluctance to leave the actually
present occasion, from the first page onwards, from the moment Anna's
erring brother wakes to his own domestic troubles at the opening of
the book, there is not room for the due creation of Anna's life. Her
turning-point must be reached without delay, it cannot be deferred,
for it is there that the development of the book begins. All that
precedes her union with Vronsky is nothing but the opening stage, the
matter that must be displayed before the story can begin to expand.
The story, as we have seen, is in the picture of Anna's life _after_
her critical choice, so that the first part of the book, the account
of the given situation, cannot extend its limits. If, therefore, the
situation is to be really made and constituted, the space it may cover
must be tightly packed; the method should be that which most condenses
and concentrates the representation. A great deal is to be expressed
at once, all Anna's past and present, the kind of experience that has
made her and that has brought her to the point she now touches.
Without this her action is arbitrary and meaningless; it is vain to
say that she acted thus and thus unless we perfectly understand what
she was, what she had, what was around her, in the face of her
predicament. Obviously there is no space to lose; and it is enough to
look at Tolstoy's use of it, and then to see how Balzac makes the
situation that _he_ requires--the contrast shows exactly where
Tolstoy's method could not help him. His refusal to shape his story,
or any considerable part of it, as a pictorial impression, his desire
to keep it all in immediate action, prevents him from making the most
of the space at his command; the situation is bound to suffer in

For suppose that Balzac had had to deal with the life of Anna. He
would certainly have been in no hurry to plunge into the action, he
would have felt that there was much to treat before the scene was
ready to open. All the initial episodes of Tolstoy's book, from Anna's
first appearance until she drops into Vronsky's arms, Balzac might
well have ignored entirely. He would have been too busy with his
prodigious summary of the history and household of the Karenins to
permit himself a glance in the direction of any particular moment,
until the story could unfold from a situation thoroughly prepared. If
Tolstoy had followed this course we should have lost some enchanting
glimpses, but Balzac would have left not a shadow of uncertainty in
the matter of Anna's disastrous passion. He would have shown precisely
how she was placed in the conditions of her past, how she was exposed
to this new incursion from without, and how it broke up a life which
had satisfied her till then. He would have started his action in due
time with his whole preliminary effect completely rendered; there
would be no more question of it, no possibility that it would prove
inadequate for the sequel. And all this he would have managed, no
doubt, in fewer pages than Tolstoy needs for the beautiful scenes of
his earlier chapters, scenes which make a perfect impression of Anna
and her circle as an onlooker might happen to see them, but which fail
to give the onlooker the kind of intimacy that is needed. Later on,
indeed, her life is penetrated to the depths; but then it is too late
to save the effect of the beginning. To the very end Anna is a
wonderful woman whose early history has never been fully explained.
The facts are clear, of course, and there is nothing impossible about
them; but her passion for this man, the grand event of her life, has
to be assumed on the word of the author. All that he really showed,
to start with, was a slight, swift love-story, which might have ended
as easily as it began.

The method of the book, in short, does not arise out of the subject;
in treating it Tolstoy simply used the method that was congenial to
him, without regarding the story that he had to tell. He began it as
though Anna's break with her past was the climax to which the story
was to mount, whereas it is really the point from which the story sets
out for its true climax in her final catastrophe. And so the first
part of the book is neither one thing nor the other; it is not an
independent drama, for it cannot reach its height through all the
necessary sweep of development; and on the other hand it is not a
sufficient preparation for the great picture of inevitable disaster
which is to follow. Tolstoy doubtless counted on his power--and not
without reason, for it is amazing--to call people into life by means
of a few luminous episodes; he knew he could make a living creature of
Anna by bringing her into view in half a dozen scenes. She descends,
accordingly, upon her brother's agitated household like a beneficent
angel, she shines resplendent at some social function, she meets
Vronsky, she talks to her husband; and Tolstoy is right, she becomes a
real and exquisite being forthwith. But he did not see how much more
was needed than a simple personal impression of her, in view of all
that is to come. Not she only, but her world, the world as she sees
it, her past as it affects her--this too is demanded, and for this he
makes no provision. It is never really shown how she was placed in her
life, and what it meant to her; and her flare of passion has
consequently no importance, no fateful bigness. There is not enough of
her, as yet, for such a crisis.

It is not because Vronsky seems an inadequate object of her passion;
though it is true that with the figure of Vronsky Tolstoy was
curiously unsuccessful. Vronsky was his one failure--there is surely
no other in all his gallery to match it. The spoilt child of the
world, but a friendly soul, and a romantic and a patient lover--and a
type fashioned by conditions that Tolstoy, of course, knew by
heart--why should Tolstoy manage to make so little of him? It is
unfortunate, for when Anna is stirred by the sight of him and his
all-conquering speciosity, any reader is sure to protest. Tolstoy
should have created Vronsky with a more certain touch before he
allowed him to cause such a disturbance. But this is a minor matter,
and it would count for little if the figure of Anna were all it should
be. Vronsky's importance in the story is his importance to Anna, and
her view of him is a part of _her_; and he might be left lightly
treated on his own account, the author might be content to indicate
him rather summarily, so long as Anna had full attention. It returns
upon that again; if Anna's own life were really fashioned, Vronsky's
effect would be _there_, and the independent effect he happens to
make, or to fail to make, on the reader would be an irrelevant affair.
Tolstoy's vital failure is not with him, but with her, in the prelude
of his book.

It may be that there is something of the same kind to be seen in
another of his novels, in Resurrection, though Resurrection is more
like a fragment of an epic than a novel. It cannot be said that in
that tremendous book Tolstoy pictured the rending of a man's soul by
sudden enlightenment, striking in upon him unexpectedly, against his
will, and destroying his established life--and that is apparently the
subject in the author's mind. It is the woman, the accidental woman
through whom the stroke is delivered, who is actually in the middle of
the book; it is _her_ epic much rather than the man's, and Tolstoy did
not succeed in placing him where he clearly meant him to be. The man's
conversion from the selfishness of his commonplace prosperity is not
much more than a fact assumed at the beginning of the story. It
happens, Tolstoy says it happens, and the man's life is changed; and
thereafter the sombre epic proceeds. But the unrolling of the story
has no bearing upon the revolution wrought in the man; that is
complete, as soon as he flings over his past and follows the convoy of
prisoners into Siberia, and the succession of strange scenes has
nothing more to accomplish in him. The man is the mirror of the
scenes, his own drama is finished. And if Tolstoy intended to write
the drama of a soul, all this presentation of the deadly journey into
exile, given with the full force of his genius, is superfluous; his
subject lay further back. But Resurrection, no doubt, _is_ a fragment,
a wonderful shifting of scenes that never reached a conclusion; and it
is not to be criticized as a book in which Tolstoy tried and failed to
carry out his purpose. I only mention it because it seems to
illustrate, like Anna Karenina, his instinctive evasion of the matter
that could not be thrown into straightforward scenic form, the form in
which his imagination was evidently happiest. His great example,
therefore, is complementary to that of Balzac, whose genius looked in
the other direction, who was always drawn to the general picture
rather than to the particular scene. And with these two illustrious
names I reach the end of the argument I have tried to follow from book
to book, and it is time to gather up the threads.


The whole intricate question of method, in the craft of fiction, I
take to be governed by the question of the point of view--the question
of the relation in which the narrator stands to the story. He tells it
as _he_ sees it, in the first place; the reader faces the story-teller
and listens, and the story may be told so vivaciously that the
presence of the minstrel is forgotten, and the scene becomes visible,
peopled with the characters of the tale. It may be so, it very often
is so for a time. But it is not so always, and the story-teller
himself grows conscious of a misgiving. If the spell is weakened at
any moment, the listener is recalled from the scene to the mere author
before him, and the story rests only upon the author's direct
assertion. Is it not possible, then, to introduce another point of
view, to set up a fresh narrator to bear the brunt of the reader's
scrutiny? If the story-teller is _in_ the story himself, the author is
dramatized; his assertions gain in weight, for they are backed by the
presence of the narrator in the pictured scene. It is advantage
scored; the author has shifted his responsibility, and it now falls
where the reader can see and measure it; the arbitrary quality which
may at any time be detected in the author's voice is disguised in the
voice of his spokesman. Nothing is now imported into the story from
without; it is self-contained, it has no associations with anyone
beyond its circle.

Such is the first step towards dramatization, and in very many a story
it may be enough. The spokesman is there, in recognizable relation
with his matter; no question of his authority can arise. But now a
difficulty may be started by the nature of the tale that he tells. If
he has nothing to do but to relate what he has seen, what anyone might
have seen in his position, his account will serve very well; there is
no need for more. Let him unfold his chronicle as it appears in his
memory. But if he is himself the subject of his story, if the story
involves a searching exploration of his own consciousness, an account
in his own words, after the fact, is not by any means the best
imaginable. Far better it would be to see him while his mind is
actually at work in the agitation, whatever it may be, which is to
make the book. The matter would then be objective and visible to the
reader, instead of reaching him in the form of a report at second
hand. But how to manage this without falling back upon the author and
_his_ report, which has already been tried and for good reasons, as it
seemed, abandoned? It is managed by a kind of repetition of the same
stroke, a further shift of the point of view. The spectator, the
listener, the reader, is now himself to be placed at the angle of
vision; not an account or a report, more or less convincing, is to be
offered him, but a direct sight of the matter itself, while it is
passing. Nobody expounds or explains; the story is enacted by its look
and behaviour at particular moments. By the first stroke the narrator
was brought into the book and set before the reader; but the action
appeared only in his narrative. Now the action is there, proceeding
while the pages are turned; the narrator is forestalled, he is watched
while the story is in the making. Such is the progress of the writer
of fiction towards drama; such is his method of evading the drawbacks
of a mere reporter and assuming the advantages, as far as possible, of
a dramatist. How far he may choose to push the process in his
book--that is a matter to be decided by the subject; it entirely
depends upon the kind of effect that the theme demands. It may respond
to all the dramatization it can get, it may give all that it has to
give for less. The subject dictates the method.

And now let the process be reversed, let us start with the purely
dramatic subject, the story that will tell itself in perfect
rightness, unaided, to the eye of the reader. This story never
deviates from a strictly scenic form; one occasion or episode follows
another, with no interruption for any reflective summary of events.
Necessarily it must be so, for it is only while the episode is
proceeding that no question of a narrator can arise; when the scene
closes the play ceases till the opening of the next. To glance upon
the story from a height and to give a general impression of its
course--this is at once to remove the point of view from the reader
and to set up a new one somewhere else; the method is no longer
consistent, no longer purely dramatic. And the dramatic story is not
only scenic, it is also limited to so much as the ear can hear and the
eye see. In rigid drama of this kind there is naturally no admission
of the reader into the private mind of any of the characters; their
thoughts and motives are transmuted into action. A subject wrought to
this pitch of objectivity is no doubt given weight and compactness and
authority in the highest degree; it is like a piece of modelling,
standing in clear space, casting its shadow. It is the most finished
form that fiction can take.

But evidently it is not a form to which fiction can aspire in general.
It implies many sacrifices, and these will easily seem to be more than
the subject can usefully make. It is out of the question, of course,
wherever the main burden of the story lies within some particular
consciousness, in the study of a soul, the growth of a character, the
changing history of a temperament; there the subject would be
needlessly crossed and strangled by dramatization pushed to its limit.
It is out of the question, again, wherever the story is too big, too
comprehensive, too widely ranging, to be treated scenically, with no
opportunity for general and panoramic survey; it has been discovered,
indeed, that even a story of this kind _may_ fall into a long
succession of definite scenes, under some hands, but it has also
appeared that in doing so it incurs unnecessary disabilities, and will
likely suffer. These stories, therefore, which will not naturally
accommodate themselves to the reader's point of view, and the reader's
alone, we regard as rather pictorial than dramatic--meaning that they
call for some narrator, somebody who _knows_, to contemplate the facts
and create an impression of them. Whether it is the omniscient author
or a man in the book, he must gather up his experience, compose a
vision of it as it exists in his mind, and lay _that_ before the
reader. It is the reflection of an experience; and though there may be
all imaginable diversity of treatment within the limits of the
reflection, such is its essential character. In a pictorial book the
principle of the structure involves a point of view which is not the

It is open to the pictorial book, however, to use a method in its
picture-making that is really no other than the method of drama. It is
somebody's experience, we say, that is to be reported, the general
effect that many things have left upon a certain mind; it is a fusion
of innumerable elements, the deposit of a lapse of time. The
straightforward way to render it would be for the narrator--the author
or his selected creature--to view the past retrospectively and
discourse upon it, to recall and meditate and summarize. That is
picture-making in its natural form, using its own method. But exactly
as in drama the subject is distributed among the characters and
enacted by them, so in picture the effect may be entrusted to the
elements, the reactions of the moment, and _performed_ by these. The
mind of the narrator becomes the stage, his voice is no longer heard.
His voice _is_ heard so long as there is narrative of any sort,
whether he is speaking in person or is reported obliquely; his voice
is heard, because in either case the language and the intonation are
his, the direct expression of his experience. In the drama of his mind
there is no personal voice, for there is no narrator; the point of
view becomes the reader's once more. The shapes of thought in the
man's mind tell their own story. And that is the art of picture-making
when it uses the dramatic method.

But it cannot always do so. Constantly it must be necessary to offer
the reader a summary of facts, an impression of a train of events,
that can only be given as somebody's narration. Suppose it were
required to render the general effect of a certain year in a man's
life, a year that has filled his mind with a swarm of many memories.
Looking into his consciousness after the year has gone, we might find
much there that would indicate the nature of the year's events without
any word on his part; the flickers and flashes of thought from moment
to moment might indeed tell us much. But we shall need an account from
him too, no doubt; too much has happened in a year to be wholly acted,
as I call it, in the movement of the man's thought. He must
narrate--he must make, that is to say, a picture of the events as he
sees them, glancing back. Now if he speaks in the first person there
can, of course, be no uncertainty in the point of view; he has his
fixed position, he cannot leave it. His description will represent the
face that the facts in their sequence turned towards _him_; the field
of vision is defined with perfect distinctness, and his story cannot
stray outside it. The reader, then, may be said to watch a reflection
of the facts in a mirror of which the edge is nowhere in doubt; it is
rounded by the bounds of the narrator's own personal experience.

This limitation may have a convenience and a value in the story, it
may contribute to the effect. But it need not be forfeited, it is
clear, if the first person is changed to the third. The author may use
the man's field of vision and keep as faithfully within it as though
the man were speaking for himself. In that case he retains this
advantage and adds to it another, one that is likely to be very much
greater. For now, while the point of view is still fixed in space,
still assigned to the man in the book, it is free in _time_; there no
longer stretches, between the narrator and the events of which he
speaks, a certain tract of time, across which the past must appear in
a more or less distant perspective. All the variety obtainable by a
shifting relation to the story in time is thus in the author's hand;
the safe serenity of a far retrospect, the promising or threatening
urgency of the present, every gradation between the two, can be drawn
into the whole effect of the book, and all of it without any change
of the seeing eye. It is a liberty that may help the story
indefinitely, raising this matter into strong relief, throwing that
other back into vaguer shade.

And next, still keeping mainly and ostensibly to the same point of
view, the author has the chance of using a much greater latitude than
he need appear to use. The seeing eye is with somebody in the book,
but its vision is reinforced; the picture contains more, becomes
richer and fuller, because it is the author's as well as his
creature's, both at once. Nobody notices, but in fact there are now
two brains behind that eye; and one of them is the author's, who
adopts and shares the _position_ of his creature, and at the same time
supplements his wit. If you analyse the picture that is now presented,
you find that it is not all the work of the personage whose vision the
author has adopted. There are touches in it that go beyond any
sensation of his, and indicate that some one else is looking over his
shoulder--seeing things from the same angle, but seeing more, bringing
another mind to bear upon the scene. It is an easy and natural
extension of the personage's power of observation. The impression of
the scene may be deepened as much as need be; it is not confined to
the scope of one mind, and yet there is no blurring of the focus by a
double point of view. And thus what I have called the sound of the
narrator's voice (it is impossible to avoid this mixture of metaphors)
is less insistent in oblique narration, even while it seems to be
following the very same argument that it would in direct, because
another voice is speedily mixed and blended with it.

So this is another resource upon which the author may draw according
to his need; sometimes it will be indispensable, and generally, I
suppose, it will be useful. It means that he keeps a certain hold upon
the narrator _as an object_; the sentient character in the story,
round whom it is grouped, is not utterly subjective, completely given
over to the business of seeing and feeling on behalf of the reader. It
is a considerable point; for it helps to meet one of the great
difficulties in the story which is carefully aligned towards a single
consciousness and consistently so viewed. In that story the man or
woman who acts as the vessel of sensation is always in danger of
seeming a light, uncertain weight compared with the other people in
the book--simply because the other people are objective images,
plainly outlined, while the seer in the midst is precluded from that
advantage, and must see without being directly seen. He, who doubtless
ought to bulk in the story more massively than any one, tends to
remain the least recognizable of the company, and even to dissolve in
a kind of impalpable blur. By his method (which I am supposing to have
been adopted in full strictness) the author is of course forbidden to
look this central figure in the face, to describe and discuss him; the
light cannot be turned upon him immediately. And very often we see the
method becoming an embarrassment to the author in consequence, and
the devices by which he tries to mitigate it, and to secure some
reflected sight of the seer, may even be tiresomely obvious. But the
resource of which I speak is of a finer sort.

It gives to the author the power of imperceptibly edging away from the
seer, leaving his consciousness, ceasing to use his eyes--though still
without substituting the eyes of another. To revert for a moment to
the story told in the first person, it is plain that in that case the
narrator has no such liberty; his own consciousness must always lie
open; the part that he plays in the story can never appear in the same
terms, on the same plane, as that of the other people. Though he is
not visible in the story to the reader, as the others are, he is at
every moment _nearer_ than they, in his capacity of the seeing eye,
the channel of vision; nor can he put off his function, he must
continue steadily to see and to report. But when the author is
reporting _him_ there is a margin of freedom. The author has not so
completely identified himself, as narrator, with his hero that he can
give him no objective weight whatever. If necessary he can allow him
something of the value of a detached and phenomenal personage, like
the rest of the company in the story, and that without violating the
principle of his method. He cannot make his hero actually
visible--there the method is uncompromising; he cannot step forward,
leaving the man's point of view, and picture him from without. But he
can place the man at the same distance from the reader as the other
people, he can almost lend him the same effect, he can make of him a
dramatic actor upon the scene.

And how? Merely by closing (when it suits him) the open consciousness
of the seer--which he can do without any look of awkwardness or
violence, since it conflicts in no way with the rule of the method.
That rule only required that the author, having decided to share the
point of view of his character, should not proceed to set up another
of his own; it did not debar him from allowing his hero's act of
vision to lapse, his function as the sentient creature in the story to
be intermitted. The hero (I call him so for convenience--he may, of
course, be quite a subordinate onlooker in the story) can at any
moment become impenetrable, a human being whose thought is sealed from
us; and it may seem a small matter, but in fact it has the result that
he drops into the plane of the people whom he has hitherto been seeing
and judging. Hitherto subjective, communicative in solitude, he has
been in a category apart from them; but now he may mingle with the
rest, engage in talk with them, and his presence and his talk are no
more to the fore than theirs. As soon as some description or
discussion of them is required, then, of course, the seer must resume
his part and unseal his mind; but meanwhile, though the reader gets no
direct view of him, still he is there in the dialogue with the rest,
his speech (like theirs) issues from a hidden mind and has the same
dramatic value. It is enough, very likely, to harden our image of him,
to give precision to his form, to save him from dissipation into that
luminous blur of which I spoke just now. For the author it is a
resource to be welcomed on that account, and not on that account

For besides the greater definition that the seer acquires, thus
detached from us at times and relegated to the plane of his
companions, there is much benefit for the subject of the story. In the
tale that is quite openly and nakedly somebody's narrative there is
this inherent weakness, that a scene of true drama is impossible. In
true drama nobody _reports_ the scene; it _appears_, it is constituted
by the aspect of the occasion and the talk and the conduct of the
people. When one of the people who took part in it sets out to report
the scene, there is at once a mixture and a confusion of effects; for
his own contribution to the scene has a different quality from the
rest, cannot have the same crispness and freshness, cannot strike in
with a new or unexpected note. This weakness may be well disguised,
and like everything else in the whole craft it may become a positive
and right effect in a particular story, for a particular purpose; it
is always there, however, and it means that the full and unmixed
effect of drama is denied to the story that is rigidly told from the
point of view of one of the actors. But when that point of view is
held in the manner I have described, when it is open to the author to
withdraw from it silently and to leave the actor to play his part,
true drama--or something so like it that it passes for true drama--is
always possible; all the figures of the scene are together in it, one
no nearer than another. Nothing is wanting save only that direct,
unequivocal sight of the hero which the method does indeed absolutely

Finally there is the old, immemorial, unguarded, unsuspicious way of
telling a story, where the author entertains the reader, the minstrel
draws his audience round him, the listeners rely upon his word. The
voice is then confessedly and alone the author's; he imposes no
limitation upon his freedom to tell what he pleases and to regard his
matter from a point of view that is solely his own. And if there is
anyone who can proceed in this fashion without appearing to lose the
least of the advantages of a more cautious style, for him the
minstrel's licence is proper and appropriate; there is no more to be
said. But we have yet to discover him; and it is not very presumptuous
in a critic, as things are, to declare that a story will never yield
its best to a writer who takes the easiest way with it. He curtails
his privileges and chooses a narrower method, and immediately the
story responds; its better condition is too notable to be forgotten,
when once it has caught the attention of a reader. The advantages that
it gains are not nameless, indefinable graces, pleasing to a critic
but impossible to fix in words; they are solid, we can describe and
recount them. And I can only conclude that if the novel is still as
full of energy as it seems to be, and is not a form of imaginative art
that, having seen the best of its day, is preparing to give place to
some other, the novelist will not be willing to miss the inexhaustible
opportunity that lies in its treatment. The easy way is no way at all;
the only way is that by which the most is made of the story to be
told, and the most was never made of any story except by a choice and
disciplined method.


In these pages I have tried to disengage the various elements of the
craft, one from another, and to look at them separately; and this has
involved much rude simplification of matters that are by no means
simple. I have chosen a novel for the sake of some particular aspect,
and I have disregarded all else in it; I could but seek for the book
which seemed to display that aspect most plainly, and keep it in view
from that one angle for illustration of my theme. And the result is,
no doubt, that while some tentative classification of the ways of a
novelist has been possible, the question that now arises, at the point
I have reached, must be left almost untouched. It is the question that
confronts a writer when he has possessed himself of his subject and
determined the point of view from which it is to be approached. How is
its development to be handled? Granted that the instruments of the
craft, dramatic and pictorial and so forth, are such as they have been
described, which of them is the appropriate one for this or that stage
in the progress of the story to be told? The point of view gives only
a general indication, deciding the look that the story is to wear as a
whole; but whether the action is to run scenically, or to be treated
on broader lines, or both--in short, the matter of the treatment in
detail is still unsettled, though the main look and attitude of the
book has been fixed by its subject.

My analysis of the making of a few novels would have to be pushed very
much further before it would be possible to reach more than one or two
conclusions in this connection. In the handling of his book a novelist
must have some working theory, I suppose, to guide him--some theory of
the relative uses and values of the different means at his disposal;
and yet, when it is discovered how one writer tends perpetually
towards one mode of procedure, another to another, it hardly seems
that between them they have arrived at much certainty. Each employs
the manner that is most congenial to him; nobody, it may be, gives us
the material for elaborating the hierarchy of values that now we need,
if this argument is to be extended. We have picked out the modes of
rendering a story and have seen how they differ from each other; but
we are not nearly in a position to give a reasoned account of their
conjunction, how each is properly used in the place where its peculiar
strength is required, how the course of a story demands one here,
another there, as it proceeds to its culmination. I can imagine that
by examining and comparing in detail the workmanship of many novels by
many hands a critic might arrive at a number of inductions in regard
to the relative properties of the scene, the incident dramatized, the
incident pictured, the panoramic impression and the rest; there is
scope for a large enquiry, the results of which are greatly needed by
a critic of fiction, not to speak of the writers of it. The few books
that I have tried to take to pieces and to re-construct are not
enough--or at least it would be necessary to deal with them more
searchingly. But such slight generalizations as I have chanced upon by
the way may as well be re-stated here, before I finish.

And first of the dramatic incident, the scene, properly so
called--this comes first in importance, beyond doubt. A novelist
instinctively sees the chief turns and phases of his story expressed
in the form of a thing acted, where narrative ceases and a direct
light falls upon his people and their doings. It must be so, for this
is the sharpest effect within his range; and the story must naturally
have the benefit of it, wherever the emphasis is to fall most
strongly. To the scene, therefore, all other effects will appear to be
subordinated in general; and the placing of the scenes of the story
will be the prime concern. But precisely because it has this high
value it will need to be used prudently. If it is wasted it loses
force, and if it is weakened the climax--of the story, of a particular
turn in the story--has no better resource to turn to instead. And so
it is essential to recognize its limitations and to note the purposes
which it does _not_ well serve; since it is by using it for these that
it is depreciated.

In the scene, it is clear, there can be no foreshortening of time or
space; I mean that as it appears to the eye of the reader, it displays
the whole of the time and space it occupies. It cannot cover more of
either than it actually renders. And therefore it is, for its length,
expensive in the matter of time and space; an oblique narrative will
give the effect of further distances and longer periods with much
greater economy. A few phrases, casting backwards over an incident,
will yield the sense of its mere dimensions, where the dramatized
scene might cover many pages. Its salience is another matter; but it
has to be remembered that though the scene acts vividly, it acts
slowly, in relation to its length. I am supposing that it stands alone
and unsupported, and must accordingly make its effect from the
beginning, must prepare as well as achieve; and evidently in that case
a burden is thrown upon it for which it is not specially equipped. At
any moment there may be reasons for forcing it to bear the
burden--other considerations may preponderate; but nevertheless a
scene which is not in some way prepared in advance is a scene which in
point of fact is wasting a portion of its strength. It is
accomplishing expensively what might have been accomplished for less.

That is the disability of the dramatic scene; and I imagine the
novelist taking thought to ensure that he shall press upon it as
little as possible. As far as may be he will use the scene for the
purpose which it fulfils supremely--to clinch a matter already
pending, to demonstrate a result, to crown an effect half-made by
other means. In that way he has all the help of its strength without
taxing its weakness. He secures its salient relief, and by saving it
from the necessity of doing all the work he enables it to act swiftly
and sharply. And then the scene exhibits its value without drawback;
it becomes a power in a story that is entirely satisfying, and a thing
of beauty that holds the mind of the reader like nothing else. It has
often seemed that novelists in general are over-shy of availing
themselves of this opportunity. They squander the scene; they are
always ready to break into dialogue, into dramatic presentation, and
often when there is nothing definitely to be gained by it; but they
neglect the fully wrought and unified scene, amply drawn out and
placed where it gathers many issues together, showing their outcome.
Such a scene, in which every part of it is active, advancing the
story, and yet in which there is no forced effort, attempting a task
not proper to it, is a rare pleasure to see in a book. One immediately
thinks of Bovary, and how the dramatic scenes mark and affirm the
structural lines of that story.

Drama, then, gives the final stroke, it is the final stroke which it
is adapted to deliver; and picture is to be considered as subordinate,
preliminary and preparatory. This seems a plain inference, on the
whole, from all the books I have been concerned with, not Bovary only.
Picture, the general survey, with its command of time and space,
finds its opportunity where a long reach is more needed than sharp
visibility. It is entirely independent where drama is circumscribed.
It travels over periods and expanses, to and fro, pausing here,
driving off into the distance there, making no account of the bounds
of a particular occasion, but seeking its material wherever it
chooses. Its office is to pile up an accumulated impression that will
presently be completed by another agency, drama, which lacks what
picture possesses, possesses what it lacks. Something of this kind,
broadly speaking, is evidently their relation; and it is to be
expected that a novelist will hold them to their natural functions,
broadly speaking, in building his book. It is only a rough contrast,
of course, the first and main difference between them that strikes the
eye; comparing them more closely, one might find other divergences
that would set their relation in a new light. But closer comparison is
what I have not attempted; much more material would have to be
collected and studied before it could begin.

Of the art of picture there is more to be said, however. It has
appeared continually how the novelist is conscious of the thinness of
a mere pictorial report of things; for thin and flat must be the
reflection that we receive from the mind of another. There is a
constant effort throughout the course of fiction to counteract the
inherent weakness of this method of picture, the method that a
story-teller is bound to use and that indeed is peculiarly his; and
after tracing the successive stages of the struggle, in that which I
have taken to be their logical order, we may possibly draw the moral.
The upshot seems to be this--that the inherent weakness is to be
plainly admitted and recognized, and not only that, but asserted and
emphasized--and that then it ceases to be a weakness and actually
becomes a new kind of strength. Is not this the result that we have
seen? When you recall and picture an impression in words you give us,
listeners and readers, no more than a sight of things in a mirror, not
a direct view of them; but at the same time there is something of
which you do indeed give us a direct view, as we may say, and that is
the mirror, your mind itself. Of the mirror, then, you may make a
solid and defined and visible object; you may dramatize this thing at
least, this mind, if the things that appear in it must remain as
pictures only. And so by accepting and using what looked like a mere
disability in the method, you convert it into a powerful and valuable
arm, with a keen effect of its own.

That is how the story that is centred in somebody's consciousness,
passed through a fashioned and constituted mind--not poured straight
into the book from the mind of the author, which is a far-away matter,
vaguely divined, with no certain edge to it--takes its place as a
story dramatically pictured, and as a story, therefore, of stronger
stuff than a simple and undramatic report. Thus may be expressed the
reason which underlies the novelist's reluctance to _tell_ his story
and his desire to interpose another presence between himself and the
reader. It seems a good reason, good enough to be acted upon more
consistently than it is by the masters of the craft. For though their
reluctance has had a progressive history, though there are a few
principles in the art of fiction that have appeared to emerge and to
become established in the course of time, a reader of novels is left
at last amazed by the chaos in which the art is still pursued--frankly
let it be said. Different schools, debatable theories, principles
upheld by some and rejected by others--such disagreement would all be
right and natural, it would be the mark of vigour in the art and the
criticism of it. But no connected argument, no definition of terms, no
formulation of claims, not so much as any ground really cleared and
prepared for discussion--what is a novel-reader to make of such a
condition and how is he to keep his critical interest alive and alert?

The business of criticism in the matter of fiction seems clear, at any
rate. There is nothing more that can usefully be said about a novel
until we have fastened upon the question of its making and explored it
to some purpose. In all our talk about novels we are hampered and held
up by our unfamiliarity with what is called their technical aspect,
and that is consequently the aspect to confront. That Jane Austen was
an acute observer, that Dickens was a great humourist, that George
Eliot had a deep knowledge of provincial character, that our living
romancers are so full of life that they are neither to hold nor to
bind--we know, we have repeated, we have told each other a thousand
times; it is no wonder if attention flags when we hear it all again.
It is their books, as well as their talents and attainments, that we
aspire to see--their books, which we must recreate for ourselves if we
are ever to behold them. And in order to recreate them durably there
is the one obvious way--to study the craft, to follow the process, to
read constructively. The practice of this method appears to me at this
time of day, I confess, the only interest of the criticism of fiction.
It seems vain to expect that discourse upon novelists will contain
anything new for us until we have really and clearly and accurately
seen their books.

And after all it is impossible--that is certain; the book vanishes as
we lay hands on it. Every word we say of it, every phrase I have used
about a novel in these pages, is loose, approximate, a little more or
a little less than the truth. We cannot exactly hit the mark; or if we
do, we cannot be sure of it. I do not speak of the just judgement of
quality; as for that, any critic of any art is in the same
predicament; the value of a picture or a statue is as bodiless as that
of a book. But there are times when a critic of literature feels that
if only there were one single tangible and measurable fact about a
book--if it could be weighed like a statue, say, or measured like a
picture--it would be a support in a world of shadows. Such an
ingenuous confession, I think it must be admitted, goes to the root of
the matter--could we utter our sense of helplessness more candidly?
But still among the shadows there is a spark of light that tempts us,
there is a hint of the possibility that behind them, beyond them, we
may touch a region where the shadows become at least a little more
substantial. If that is so, it seems that our chance must lie in the
direction I have named. The author of the book was a craftsman, the
critic must overtake him at his work and see how the book was made.


Ambassadors, The, 145 _ff._, 156 _ff._, 189.

Anna Karenina, 15, 52, 236 _ff._

Austen, Jane, 272.

Awkward Age, The, 189 _ff._

Balzac, 48, 119, 203 _ff._, 220 _ff._, 241, 250.

Barry Lyndon, 145.

Bleak House, 129, 212 _ff._

Brontë, Charlotte, 145.

Clarissa Harlowe, 7, 152 _ff._

Crime and Punishment, 144.

Curé de Village, Le, 205.

David Copperfield, 128 _ff._, 133 _ff._, 151.

Defoe, 62.

Denis Duval, 97.

Dickens, Charles, 48, 128 _ff._, 133 _ff._, 151, 212 _ff._, 272.

Dombey and Son, 214.

Dostoevsky, 46, 47, 119, 144, 151.

Eliot, George, 119, 273.

Esmond, 97, 107 _ff._, 126 _ff._, 135, 188, 218.

Eugénie Grandet, 205, 221 _ff._

Fielding, Henry, 49, 119.

Flaubert, Gustave, 60 _ff._, 117, 118, 189, 269.

Harry Richmond, 130 _ff._

Illusions Perdues, 212.

James, Henry, 110, 111, 145 _ff._, 156 _ff._, 172 _ff._, 189 _ff._

Jane Eyre, 145.

Little Dorrit, 129, 214.

Madame Bovary, 60 _ff._, 117, 118, 189, 269.

Marius the Epicurean, 195, 196.

Master of Ballantrae, The, 218.

Maupassant, Guy de, 48, 112, 113.

Meredith, George, 48, 130 _ff._

Newcomes, The, 107, 108, 125, 188.

Our Mutual Friend, 129, 214.

Pater, Walter, 195, 196.

Pendennis, 97, 107, 117.

Père Goriot, 205 _ff._

Princesse de Clèves, La, 202.

Recherche de l'Absolu, La, 205, 232 _ff._

Resurrection, 249, 250.

Richardson, Samuel, 7, 152 _ff._

Scott, Sir Walter, 49.

Sir Charles Grandison, 155.

Splendeurs et Misères des Courtisanes, 211.

Stendhal, 48.

Stevenson, R. L., 129, 212, 217.

Thackeray, W. M., 49, 87, 88, 93 _ff._, 110 _ff._, 124 _ff._, 145, 188.

Tolstoy, 15 _ff._, 26 _ff._, 43 _ff._, 119, 236 _ff._

Turgenev, 121, 122.

Vanity Fair, 94 _ff._, 124, 125.

Virginians, The, 188.

War and Peace, 26 _ff._, 43 _ff._

Wings of the Dove, The, 174 _ff._

Wrecker, The, 217.

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