The Art of Fiction, critical essay by Henry James, published in 1884 in Longman’s Magazine. It was written as a rebuttal to “Fiction as One of the Fine Arts,” a lecture given by Sir Walter Besant in 1884, and is a manifesto of literary realism that decries the popular demand for novels that are saturated with sentimentality or pessimism. It was published separately in 1885.
In The Art of Fiction, James disagrees with Besant’s assertions that plot is more important than characterization, that fiction must have a “conscious moral purpose,” and that experience and observation outweigh imagination as creative tools. James argues against these restrictive rules for writing fiction, responding that “no good novel will ever proceed from a superficial mind.”
The Art of Fiction by Henry James (full text)
Goodreads: The Art of Fiction by Henry James
Let's set the scene...
Cut to Chilton
(Max Medina is lecturing to the class. Rory is staring out the window, not paying attention.)
Max: If we read his works in order we can see his progression from a narrative of clear simplicity to one of one of rich complexity. Now this is not homework but I strongly urge you, if you have not already read "The Art of Fiction", read it. It's a remarkable manifesto that contains basic truths that still apply to fiction in any form.
Something that has been making an appearance again and again in my thoughts and discussions of reading is the death of the "guilty pleasure". Although I may have my issues with 50 Shades of Grey, I can't deny that it played a vital role in changing the reading habits of our society. It finally made it acceptable to read what you like... regardless of whether or not others believe it contains some sort of literary merit. Since the insane success of E.L. James' work, we've noticed that book snobs are being pushed back on. Previously, you would admit to having read (and liked) Twilight, and would be ready for the onslaught of insults. And instead of defending your enjoyment, you would meet these insults with a sheepish nod of your head and a few "yeah, I know... it's stupid"s (believe me, I know of which I speak). However, it appears that Henry James was ahead of his time. His treatise on the value of fiction addresses the people who believe that fiction holds no literary value . And this just reminds us... some of the things we hold in esteem in 2014 as classics were once considered "trash" among the literary elite. Once upon a time, fiction itself was seen as a lesser art and James' critical essay delves into the value fiction has in the literary world and on humankind itself.
Who do I see reading this in the Stars Hollow gazebo?
Babette is unapologetically herself. Something I think Henry James would fully appreciate.