Impression and Interest

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.

Henry James, “The Art of Fiction.” Major Stories & Essays. New York: Library of America, 1999. p 578.

The significant notion here is that worthy novels are those that capture some of the essence of life, not real life in particular, but life readers can relate to. There must be some imitation of something people already know and can recognize. James suggests that without that ability (or ‘freedom’) to experience and then tell/write about it, to therefore lay down this foundation for a novel, the end result will fall flat – it will lack intensity, and fail to spark interest.