Tag Archives: personal

Novels as Impressions of Life and Reflections of Authors

“A novel is in its broadest definition a personal, a direct impression of life: that, to begin with, constitutes its value, which is greater or less according to the intensity of the impression. But there will be no intensity at all, and therefore no value, unless there is freedom to feel and say. The tracing of a line to be followed, of a tone to be taken, of a form to be filled out, is a limitation of that freedom and a suppression of the very thing that we are most curious about. The form, it seems to me, is to be appreciated after the fact: then the author’s choice has been made, his standard has been indicated; then we can follow lines and directions and compare tones and resemblances. Then in a word we can enjoy one of the most charming of pleasures, we can estimate quality, we can apply the test of execution. The execution belongs to the author alone; it is what is most personal to him, and me measure him by that” (James 578).

Henry James, “The Art of Fiction” Major Stories and Essays (New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 1999), 578.

James expresses the novel’s power as a “direct impression of life”, providing readers with the opportunity to compare the quality of the execution, a process that he describes as being “one of the most charming of pleasures”.  James also stresses the novel’s ability to represent the author as it is the creation that is “more personal to him”.

 

The distinction between a good and bad novel

There are bad novels and good novels, as there are bad pictures and good pictures; but that is the only distinction in which I see any meaning, and I can as little imagine speaking of a novel of character as I can imagine speaking of a picture of a character.

Henry James, “The Art of Fiction” Major Stories and Essays (New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 1999), 583.

Every reader has their own taste in novels (“in which I can see any meaning”) and it is not up to the reader to judge what is a bad novel and what is a good novel. Every reader has their own impression on the novel based on the experiences they have been through; therefore, not every novel can be “liked” and enjoyed but that does not make it a “bad novel.”