James and Freedom

“A novel is in its broadest definition a personal 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. 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.”

Henry James, “The Art of Fiction”. <public.wsu.edu/~campbelld/amlit/artfiction.html> Longman’s Magazine 4, September 1884

This passage from “The Art of Fiction” describes the freedom needed in order to allow the novelist to produce his or her best work. A question that arose while reading this passage was how a novelist could truly experience this freedom James refers to while knowing that his or her work would eventually undergo “the test of execution”. The freedom discussed in this passage appears to be a limited freedom, because the novelist will always in some way be dependent upon the reader’s criticism.