Tag Archives: reality

The vision of our minds

“Life escapes; and perhaps without life nothing else is worth while. It is a confession of vagueness to have to make use of such a figure as this, but we scarcely better the matter by speaking, as critics are prone to do, of reality. Admitting the vagueness which afflicts all criticism of novels, let us hazard the opinion that for us at this moment the form of fiction most in vogue more often misses than secures the thing we seek. Whether we call it life or spirit, truth or reality, this, the essential thing, has moved off, or on, and refuses to be contained any longer in such ill-fitting vestments as we provide. Nevertheless, we go on perseveringly, conscientiously, constructing our two and thirty chapters after a design which more and more ceases to resemble the vision of our minds.”

Woolf, Virginia. “Modern Fiction.” In The Common Reader, 149. San Diego, CA: Harcourt, 1925.

At first, I did not know what Woolf was stating and I thought it was pretty dumb for her to state to obvious, but as I repeatedly read this passage, I found that what Woolf is stating is quite powerful. Despite the way we want life to turn out, life does not. What we control in life is limited, but writers persevere to write in ways that the vision they have in their minds cannot be portrayed within their books.  They cannot bring their vision to words because they are so constrained to a form of writing. What can writers do to express the visions of their minds? How can writers step away from the trending way of writing fiction? Isn’t that why modernism is a new way of approaching writing? They challenge to step away from the traditional and write in a way they can express their visions.

“Make-believe” is No Excuse

“It is still expected, though perhaps people are ashamed to say it, that a production which is after all only a “make-believe” (for what else is a “story”?) shall be in some degree apologetic–shall renounce the pretension of attempting really to represent life. […] The only reason for the existence of a novel is that is does attempt to represent life. When it relinquishes this attempt, the same attempt that we see on the canvas of painter, it will have arrived at a very strange pass” (James 377-8).

In this passage James addresses peoples’ fault in excusing “make-believe” stories from the normal practice of using stories to represent life. James believes that even the most fantastic stories are related to reality.

I like how James is not afraid to state what other people are ashamed to say.

 

James, Henry. “The Art of Fiction.” Partial Portraits. New York: Macmillion, 1894. Internet Archive. 424-463.  https://archive.org/details/partialportraits00jameiala