The Principles Of Aesthetics
by Dewitt H. Parker

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Chapter X - Prose Literature

There is an almost universal feeling, expressed in many common phrases, that prose literature is not one of the fine arts. The reason is this: in prose literature there is a conspicuous absence of beauty of form and sensation, of the decorative, in comparison with the other arts. The vague expressiveness and charm of the medium, the musical aspect, is largely lacking. Not wholly lacking, of course, as a multitude of beautiful passages testify; yet, in general, it remains true that, in prose, the medium tends to be transparent, sacrificing itself in order that nothing may stand between what it reveals to thought and the imagination. It fulfills its function when the words are not unpleasant to the ear, and when their flow, adapting itself to the span and pulsation of the attention, is so smooth as to become unnoticeable, like the movement of a ship on a calm sea,–when it is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

Prose literature is, therefore, incompletely beautiful. The full meaning and value of the aesthetic are not to be found there, but rather in poetry, painting, sculpture, music, architecture. Yet prose literature remains art, if incomplete art–a free, personal expression of life, for the sake of contemplation. As free, it differs from verbal expression in the service of practical ends, and as personal, it cannot be classed with science. Throughout the long course of its history, it has tended to become now the one, now the other of these–and its lack of the decorative element has done much to make this possible–but its power to outlast the moral and political issues which it has so often sought to direct, and its well-merited rejection by sociologists and psychologists as anything more than material for their work, are sufficient evidence and warning of where it properly belongs,–among the arts. The sacrifice of the musical element in the medium does not have to be justified on practical grounds as making for efficiency, or on scientific grounds as favoring analysis, but may be understood from the artistic standpoint. For it was only through a method and medium that renounced the musical manner of poetry, with its vaguely expressive, yet rigid forms, that the fullness and minuteness of life could be represented.

Even the more fluently musical manner of poetical prose is unsuited as a medium for the expression of the kind of life which is represented in normal prose. Poetical prose is appropriate for the expression of deeds and sentiments of high and mystical import only, but not for the expression of the more commonplace or definitely and complexly articulated phases of life. For the latter, the broader and freer and more literal method of strict prose is the only appropriate medium of expression. The unmusical character of prose style is not determined by weakness, but by adaptation to function.

And, although the medium of prose is attenuated almost to the vanishing point, where it may seem to be lost, it may nevertheless borrow from its content a beauty of rhythm, imagery, and form that will seem to be its very own. For in language, as we observed in our discussion of poetry, the meaning and the symbol are so closely one, that it becomes impossible, except by analysis, to distinguish them. Prose rhythm is fundamentally a rhythmical movement of ideas, like poetic rhythm, only without regularization; yet, since the ideas are carried by the words, it belongs to them also; images blossom from ideas, yet they too seem to belong to the words in which they are incarnated; and the harmony and symmetry which thoughts and images may contain as we compose them synthetically in the memory, make an architecture of words. The transparent medium of prose shares the beauty of its content, just as a perfect glass partakes of the color of the light which it transmits.

The psychologic roots of prose literature are the impulses to self- revelation and to acquaintance with life. Every thing that has once entered into our lives, no matter how intimate, craves to come out; the instinct of gregariousness extends, as we have noted, to the whole of the mind. The completely private and uncommunicated makes us as uncertain and afraid of ourselves as physical loneliness. But in addition to the dislike for any form of isolation, even when purely spiritual, there is another factor which determines self-revelation,–the desire for praise. We want a larger audience for our exploits than the people immediately involved in them, so we tell them to any listening ear. The friend whispering his confession illustrates the one motive; the hero bragging of his deeds illustrates the other.

The desire to hear another’s story is the obverse of the desire to tell one about oneself, just as the impulse to welcome a friend is the complement of his impulse to seek our companionship; we receive from him exactly what he takes from us,–an enlargement of our social world, the creation of another social bond. If we cannot hear his story from his own lips, we want to hear it from some third person, who will surely be glad to relate it, since he, as bearer of the news, will bring to himself something of the glory of the hero. There is malice enough in gossip, but most of it is the purest kind of mental and emotional satisfaction. Our interest in it is of exactly the same kind as our interest in novels and romances. The stories which we tell about ourselves and our friends make up the ephemeral, yet real prose literature of daily life.

Most stories probably had their origin in more or less literal transcriptions from real life. History is the basis of literature. However, as stories are passed from one person to another, fiction encroaches upon fact. Details are forgotten and have to be filled out from the imagination; then a sheer delight in invention enters in; it is so interesting to see if you can make a world as good as the real one, or even outdo it in strangeness and wonder, provided, of course, you can still get yourself believed. Even in the relation of real events, creation inevitably plays a part; the whole of any story is not worth telling; there must be selection, emphasis upon the most striking particulars, and synthesis.

Besides the opportunity which it gives of unhampered control over the story, fiction has still other advantages. The interest which we take in tales of real life is bound up with personal appeals. This is most racy in gossip, but something of the kind lingers in all narratives of fact. Literature can become disinterested and universal in its appeal only when, keeping the semblance of life, it becomes a work of pure imagination. It is then, as Aristotle said, more philosophical, that is, more universal and typical, than history.

Another advantage of fiction as compared with history is its completeness. The knowledge which we possess of the lives of others is the veriest fragment. We know, of course, our own lives best; but even of these, unless we are at the end of our years, we do not know the outcome. We know next well the life of an intimate–wife, child, sweetheart, friend–yet not all of that; there is much he will not tell us and much else which we cannot observe; for even he dwells with us for a brief time only, and then is gone. Of other people, we can know still less; we can observe something, we can get more from hearsay; but that is a chaos of impressions; the larger part is inference and construction, a work of the imagination, which may or may not be true. Even the biography, carefully made from all available data in the way of personal recollections, letters, and diaries, although it may approach to wholeness, remains, nevertheless, very largely a construction, a work of literary fiction. The autobiography comes still closer; yet, since it is designed for a public which cannot be expected to view it in a solidly detached fashion, it suffers from the reticence which inevitably intrudes to suppress. In fiction alone, none except artistic motives need intervene to bid silence.

However, although fiction be a purely ideal world of imagined life, it is essentially the same as the real social world. For that world is also imaginary. We have direct experience of our own lives alone; the lives of others can exist for us only in our thought about them. To be sure, our daily contact with the bodies of our friends and associates gives to this thought something of the pungency of self-knowledge; yet in absence, they live for us, as the characters in a novel, only in our thought. And the majority of the people, personally unknown to us, who make up our larger social world–and for most of us this includes the great ones who are such potent factors in determining it–are real to us in the same way that Diana or Esmond are real. All historical figures belong to this world of imagination. Our friends too, as they pass out of our lives or die, and we ourselves eventually, will sink into it.

Our interest in the fictional world of the writer is, moreover, essentially the same as our interest in the real world. Its persons arouse in us the same emotions of admiration, love, or dislike. They satisfy the same need for social stimulation, the same curiosity about life. Just as we have certain instincts and habits of movement that make us restless when they are not satisfied, and afford us a wild joy in walking and running when we are released from confinement, so we have certain instincts and habits of feeling towards persons which demand objects and produce joy when companions are found. An unsatisfied or superabundant sociability lies back of our love of fiction. We read because we are lonely or because our fellow men have become trite and fail to stimulate us sufficiently. If our fellows were not so reticent, if they would talk to us and tell us their stories with the freedom and the brightness of a Stevenson, or if their lives were so fresh and vivid that we never found them dull, perhaps we should not read at all. But, as it is, we can satisfy our craving for knowledge of life only by extending our social world through fiction. Fiction may teach us, edify us, make us better men–it may serve all these purposes incidentally, but its prime purpose as art is to provide us with new objects for social feeling and knowledge.

The interest which we take in fictitious action is also like that which we take in real action. The same emotions of desire for the attainment of a goal, suspense, hope, fear, excitement, curiosity and its satisfaction, joy, despair, are aroused. And we have a need to experience these emotions at high pitch greater than our everyday lives can satisfy. Our lives are seldom adventurous all over; there are monotonous interludes with no melody, offering us little that is new to learn. Our love for war and sport shows that we were not built organically for humdrum. Now literature helps to make up for this deficiency in real life by providing us with adventures in which we can participate imaginatively, and from which we can derive new knowledge. If real life did supply us with all the intense living that we demand, we might not care to read, although the love of adventure grows by feeding, and many an active man revels in tales which simulate his own exploits.

It follows that the novelist should imitate life, yet at the same time raise its pitch. The realists imitate life deliberately, and we measure their worth by their truth, but they select the intense moments. The romancers and weavers of fairy tales, on the other hand, instead of choosing the vivid moments of real life, in order to stimulate the emotions, accomplish the same end by exciting wonder and amazement at the exaggerations and unheard-of novelties which they create. Yet even they give us truth, not truth in the sense of fact, but in the sense of a world which arouses the same elementary emotions, intensified though they be through amazement, as are aroused by fact. It matters not how outlandish their tales so long as they do this. Love stories are so widely interesting because love is the one very vivid emotion in most people’s lives, although there are other experiences–warfare, the pursuit of great aims, the clash of purposes and beliefs, the growth of souls–equally intense. Dante’s three themes, Venus, Salus, Virtus, [Footnote: See his De Vulgari Eloquentia.] broadly interpreted, cover the range of literary subjects.

Of course, since we secure no personal triumphs in reading, and every one wishes to play his own part successfully in real life, literature cannot become a substitute for life, except with the artist who triumphs in making his story. Nevertheless, as Henry James says, fiction may and should compete with life, and this it can do by giving us the feelings aroused by action without imposing upon us the responsibilities and the fateful results of action itself; there we can learn new things about life without incurring the risks of participation in it. We can play the part of the adventurer without being involved in any blame; we can fall in love with the heroine without any subsequential entanglements; we can be a hero without suffering the penalties of heroism; we can travel into foreign lands without deserting our business or emptying our purses. Hence, although no one would exchange life for literature, one is better content, having literature, to forego much of life.

The elements of every story are these five: character, incident, nature, fate, and milieu–the social, historical, and intellectual background. Character and incident are capable of some degree of separation, so far as, in novels of adventure, the personalities necessary to carry on the action may be very abstract or elementary, and so far as, in so-called psychological novels, the number of events related may be very small and their interest dependent upon their effect on character; but one without the other is as inconceivable in a story as it is in life itself, and the development of fiction has been steadily in the direction of their interdependence. Aristotle’s dictum regarding the superior importance of plot over character applies to the drama only, and because character cannot well be revealed there except through action. The construction of character depends upon the delineation of distinctive and recognizable physical traits, a surprisingly small number sufficing, a mere name being almost enough; upon the definition of the individual’s position in a group–his relation to family, townspeople, and other associates–a matter of capital importance; and, finally, information about his more permanent interests and attitudes. This construction is best made piecemeal, the character disclosing itself gradually during the story, as it does in life, and growing under the stress of circumstances. The old idea of fixity of character does not suit our modern notions of growth; we demand that character be created by the story; it should not preexist, as Schopenhauer thought it should, with its nature as determinate and its reactions as predictable as those of a chemical substance. And although in their broad outlines the possibilities of human nature are perhaps fewer in number than the chemical substances, the variations of these types in their varying environments are infinite. To create a poignant uniqueness while preserving the type is the supreme achievement of the writer of fiction. We want as many of the details of character, and no more, as are necessary to this end.

By incident is meant action expressing character or action or event determining fate. There are a thousand actions, mechanical or habitual, performed by us all, which throw no light upon our individuality. Almost all of these the novelist may neglect, or if he wishes to describe them, a single example will serve to reveal whatever uniqueness they may hide. There are an equal number of actions and events like blind alleys leading nowhere; from these also the novelist abstracts; it is only when he can trace some effect upon fate or character that he is interested. The delineation of nature or the milieu is governed by the same reference: a social or intellectual environment, no matter how interesting in itself, without potent individualities which it molds, or scenery, no matter how romantic, unless it is a theater of action or a spiritual influence upon persons, has no place in a story. Each of these, however, may by itself become the subject-matter of a literary essay, provided the writer’s own moods and appreciations are included; otherwise it is a topic for sociology, history, or topography, not for literature.

By fate in a story I mean the writer’s feeling for causality. As the maker of an image of life, the writer must portray life as molded by its past and by all the circumstances surrounding it. He must present character as determined by personal influence, by nature and the milieu; he must have a vivid sense for the interrelation of incidents. The feeling for fate is independent of any special philosophical view of the world; it does not imply fatalism or the denial of the spontaneous and originative force of personality; it is simply recognition of the wholeness of life. Nor, again, does it imply the possibility of predicting the end of a story from the beginning, for the living sequence, forging its links as it proceeds, is not mechanical; but it does imply that after things have happened we must be able to perceive their relatedness–the beginning, middle, and end as one whole. In the story, there must be the same kind of combination of necessity and contingency that there is in life: we must be sure that every act and incident will have its effect, and we must be able to divine, in a general way, what that effect will be; but owing to the complexity of life, which prevents us from knowing all the data of its problems, and owing to the spontaneity of its agents and the creative syntheses within its processes, we must never be able to be certain just what the effect will be like; our every calculation must be subject to the correction of surprise. Suspense and excitement must go hand in hand with a feeling for a developing inner necessity. There is no story without both. Yet no formula for the amount of each can be devised. The dependence of man upon nature makes inevitable the occurrence of what we call accidents, violent breaks in the tissue of personal and social life, unaccountable from the point of view of our human purposes. By admitting the part played by the non-human background in determining fate, the naturalistic school of writers have enlarged the vision of the novelist beyond the range of the tender-minded sentimentalist. It is to be expected, moreover, that coincidences should occur,–the meeting of independent lines of causation with consequences fateful to each. A careful investigation would disclose that most interesting careers have been largely determined by coincidences. The only demand that we can make of the artist in this regard is that he do not give us so many of these that his work will seem unreal. We must not feel that he is making the story in order to surprise us and thrill us–the purpose of melodrama; the story should make itself. Hardy’s The Return of the Native is an illustration of failure here; the coincidences are so many that it seems magical, the work of a capricious genius, not of nature.

By fate in a story we do not mean, of course, the mere causal concatenation of events, for some relation to a purposeful life is always implied. But since this relation is a general condition applying to all art, we shall consider it here only as it affects the unity of a story. No rule can be laid down for the compass of a story; it may cover a small incident, as in many short stories, or it may embrace the whole or the most significant part of a life. The requirement that there be a beginning, middle, and end holds, but does not enlighten us as to what constitutes an end. Death makes one natural end to a story, since it makes an end to life itself; but within the span of a life the parts are not so clearly defined. Yet despite the continuity and overlapping of the parts of life, there are certain natural breaks and divisions,–the working out of a plan to fulfillment or disaster, the termination or consummation of a love affair, the commission of a crime with its consequences, or more subtle things, such as the breaking up of an old attitude and the formation of a new one. In life itself there are incidents that are closed because they cease to affect us deeply any more, purposes which we abandon because we can get no farther with them or because they have found their natural fulfillment, points of view which we have to relinquish because life supplies us with new facts which they do not include. The unity of a story should mirror these natural unities. The search for the wholeness of life should not blind us to the relative isolation of its parts; and there is fate in the parts as well as in the whole.

The selection of incidents for their bearing upon fate, the selection of significant traits for the construction of character, with the resulting unity and simplicity of the parts and the whole, is responsible for most of the ideality of fiction as compared with real life. Real life is a confused medley of impressions of people and events, a mixture of the important and the unimportant, the consequential and the inconsequential, with no evident pattern. Of this, literary art is the verklartes Bild. It is not because, in literature, men are happier and nobler that life seems superior there; but because its outlines are sharper, its design more perspicuous, the motives that sway it better understood. It has the advantage over life that a landscape flooded with sunshine has over one shrouded in darkness.

The way the literary artist builds up the ideal social world of fiction follows closely the method which we all employ in constructing the real social world. In real life we start from certain perceived acts and utterances, to which we then attach purposive meanings, and between which we establish relations. The process of interpretation is so rapid that, although strictly inferential in character and having imagination as its seat, it seems, nevertheless, like direct perception. As we see people act and hear them talk, it is as if we had a vision, confused indeed, yet direct, of their inner lives. And yet, as we have insisted, the real social world is constructed, not perceived.

The literary artist, unless he calls dramatic art to his aid, cannot present the persons and acts of his story; he can only describe them and report their talk. Description must take the place of vision, a recorded conversation the place of a heard one. Yet, by these means, the artist can give us almost as direct an intuition as we get from life itself; he can make us seem to see and overhear. From the acts which he describes we can infer the motives of the characters, and from the reported conversations we can learn their opinions and dreams. Or the novelist may insert a letter which we can read as if it were real. The resulting image of life will be clearer than any we could construct for ourselves; for the artist can report life more carefully than we could observe it; and he can make his characters more articulate in the expression of themselves than ordinary men, giving them a gift of tongues like his own. This last is especially characteristic of the drama, where sometimes, as in Shakespeare, men speak more like gods than like men. And we can listen to the intimate conversation of friends and lovers, upon which, in real life, we would not intrude.

This direct method of exposition through the description of acts and events and the record of conversations is the basis of every vivid story. It leaves the necessary inferences to the reader, just as life leaves them to the observer. In the hands of a master like Fontane, this method is incomparable; nothing can supplant it. It is the only method available for the dramatist, who, however, can make it still more effective through histrionic portrayal. Yet it does not suffice to satisfy our craving for knowledge of life, for only the broader, more obvious feelings can be inferred from the acts of men; the subtler and more remote escape. Even in conversation these cannot all be revealed; for many of them are too intimate to be spoken, and many again are unknown even to those who hold them. To-day we ask of the novelist that he disclose the finest, most hidden tissues of the soul. To this end, the microscopy of analysis, the so-called psychological method, must be employed. The novelist must perform upon his characters the same sort of dissection that we perform when, introspecting, we seek out the obscurer grounds of our conduct. And in the pursuit of this knowledge the novelist can oftentimes do better with his characters than we can do with ourselves. For utter sincerity regarding ourselves is impossible; the desire to think well of ourselves prevents us from recognizing the truth about ourselves. The novelist, on the contrary, can be unprejudiced and can know fully what he himself is creating. In order to accomplish this same purpose, the dramatist has to introduce bits of self-analysis, unusually sincere and penetrating, spoken aloud,–in the old style, monologues. And yet, without sacrificing the truthfulness of his own art, he cannot go so deep here as the novelist.

Through his analysis of his characters, the novelist must, however, construct them; otherwise he is a psychologist, not an artist. A synthetic vision of personality must supervene upon the dissection, and the emotional interest in character and action must subsist alongside of the intellectual interest. He must not let us lose the vivid sense of a living presence. In order to keep this, he must continue to employ the direct method of description of person and action, and report of conversation. How far the analytic method may be carried and at the same time the sense of personality kept intact, may be inferred from the work of Henry James, who, nevertheless, seems at times to fail to bring the out-going threads of his thought back into the web which he is weaving.

Again, in order to reach the social, historical, and metaphysical background of life–the milieu, the method of thought is the only available one. For the milieu is not anything that can be seen or heard or touched; it does not manifest itself to perception, but has to be constructed by a process of inference and synthesis. Much of it, to be sure, can be divined from the acts and conversations, from the dress and manners of the characters, but there is always more that has to be directly expounded. The writer cannot rely upon the reader’s perspicacity to make the right inferences, or upon his knowledge to supply sufficient data; nor can he make his characters tell all that he may want told about their past and the life of the world in which they live, and through the influence of which they have become what they are. The novelist must construct for the reader the mise en scene of his story. Yet this must be held in complete subordination to the story. The intellectual background must lie behind, not athwart the story; it must be created for the sake of the story, not the story for its sake.

A philosophy of life, even, is the inevitable presupposition of every story. For no writer, no matter how direct and empirical he may be in his methods, can escape from looking at life through the glass of certain political, social, and religious ideas. He may have none of his own construction, yet he will unconsciously share those of his age. The prose literature of our own age, aside from some minor differences of technique, differs from that of the past chiefly through its more democratic and naturalistic views of life. And just as we rightly ask of the novelist that he enlighten us regarding the subtler causation of human action, so with equal right we may ask him to exhibit the relations of the persons and incidents which he describes to social organization, spiritual movements, and nature; for only so can they be seen in their complete reality. Yet right here lurks a danger threatening the enduring beauty of every story thus made complete. For the social and cosmic background of life, as we have observed, can be constructed only through thought, and thought, particularly regarding such matters, is peculiarly liable to error. The artist who goes very deep into this is sure to make mistakes. Even when he tries to use the latest sociological, economic, and political theories, he runs great risks; for these theories are always one-sided and subject to correction; they never prove themselves to be what the artist thinks and wants them to be–concrete views which he can apply with utter faith. How many stories of the century past have been marred by the author’s too ready application of Darwinism to social life! When we can separate the story from its intellectual background, the inadequacy of the latter matters little; for we can apply metaphysical and political criticism to the theory and enjoy the story aesthetically; but many of our writers come to life with preconceived ideas deeply affecting their delineation of it. The picture no longer seems true because we feel that a false theory has prevented the artist from viewing life concretely and clearly. We could, for example, accept as natural and inevitable the ending of Tess of the D’Urbervilles, if Hardy had not presented it as an illustration of the cruel sport of the gods. As it stands with the author’s commentary, we suspect that the girl’s fate might have been different,–that perhaps he gave it this turn in order to prove his theory of life.

This fault is especially flagrant in the theory-ridden fiction of to-day. Determination through the past is overemphasized as against the influence of present, novel factors in a growing experience; heredity is given undue weight as against the inborn originality of personality and the uniqueness acquired through unique experiences; the influence of sensual motives is stressed at the expense of the moral; and so on through all the other abstractions and insufficiencies of “scientific” novel writing. The writer may well profit by everything he can learn from science; but he should not let his knowledge prevent him from seeing life concretely and as a whole. The literary man’s science and philosophy are bound to be condemned by the expert, but his concrete delineations of life based on direct observation and vivid sympathy and imagination are impeccable. His theories may be false, but these will always be true. Nothing can take their place in fiction. It is they which give enduring value to such tales as Morte d’Arthur, despite all the crudity of the intellectual background.

Reflections upon life may become matter for literature in the essay, quite apart from any story. But the essay, like the story, unless it is to compete at a disadvantage with science and philosophy, must rely upon first-hand personal acquaintance with life, and artistic expression. The more abstract and theoretical it becomes, the more precarious its worth. I do not mean that the essayist may not generalize, but his generalizations should be limited to the scope of his experience of life. I do not mean that he should not philosophize, but his philosophy should be, like Goethe’s or Emerson’s, an expression of intuition and faith. Properly, the literary essay is a distinct artistic genre–the expression of a concrete thinking personality, and its value consists in the living wisdom it contains. Such essays as those of a Montaigne or a La Rochefoucauld make excellent materials for the social sciences, and can never be displaced by them as sources of knowledge of life.

Considerations similar to those which we have adduced regarding the implied philosophy of a story apply to its moral purpose. We cannot demand of the writer that he have no moral purpose or that he leave morality out of his story. For, since the artist is also a man, he cannot rid himself of an ethical interest in human problems or with good conscience fail to use his art to help toward their solution. His observations of moral experience will inevitably result in beliefs about it, and these will reveal themselves in his work. Yet we should demand that his view of what life ought to be shall not falsify his representation of life as it is. Just as soon as the moral of a tale obtrudes, we begin to suspect that the tale is false. We have such suspicions about Bourget, for example, because, as in Une Divorce, we are never left in doubt from the beginning as to the conventions he is advocating. And along with the feeling for the reality of the story goes the feeling for the validity of the moral; they stand and fall together. A story’s moral, like life’s moral, is convincing in proportion as it is an inference from the facts. The novelist, fearing that we may not have the wits to discern it, is justified in drawing this inference himself; yet it must show itself to be strictly an inference from the story–the story must not seem to have been constructed to prove it. “Die Weltgeschichte ist das Weltgericht,” wrote Schiller; even so, the delineation of life is the criticism of life. To show the scope of disillusion, monotony, repression–life’s generous impulses narrowed and made timid by the social, economic, and political machine–would be a criticism of our modern world; there would be no need of moralizing. This the Russian novelists seem to have understood; they judged Russian life by describing it.

The man who writes literature as a means for promulgating political or moral ideas is either a conservative who desires to return to the conventions of the past, or else a radical who seeks the establishment of a new mode of life. The method employed by the former usually consists in exposing the restlessness and unhappiness of people who live in accordance with “advanced" ideas in comparison with the contentment of those who follow the older traditions. Such stories are, however, inconclusive, because they imply the false sociological thesis that the remedy for present ills is a return to the customs of the past. Happiness can indeed exist only in a stable society; but each age must create its own order to suit its changing needs; it cannot, if it would, go back to the old. These stories, therefore, although they often contain truthful and valuable pictures of the ills of contemporary life, and are useful in helping to conserve what is good in the spirit of the past, are nevertheless bound to be futile in their main endeavor.

The method of the radical usually consists of two parts: one of criticism, designed to show the misery due to existing laws and institutions; another of construction, the disclosure of a new and better system. But here, too, the constructive part of the story is likely to be weak. For whether the writer sets forth his program by putting it into the mouth of one of his characters or appends it as a commentary to his story, the practicability of his scheme is always open to question. It is only through trial that any scheme can be shown to be workable. There is, however, a new method that deserves better the name of “experimental romance” than Zola’s own works. It consists in portraying people living in accordance with new sentiments and ideals, or even under new institutions imaginatively constructed. Yet this method also has its weakness, for it is difficult to make people believe in the reality of a life that has not been actually lived. Still, this difficulty is not fatal; for experiments in living are constantly being made all around us, which the discerning novelist needs only to observe and report. He can show the success of these or how, if they fail, their failure is due, not to anything inherently vicious, but simply to adverse law and opinion. Life is full of such stories waiting for some novelist who is not too timid to tell them.

We are thus brought round again to the thesis that the enduringly valuable elements of every story are its concrete creations of life. In the end, the story teller’s fame will rest upon his power to create and reveal character and upon his sense for fate. There is just one thing that should be added to this–a rich emotional attitude toward life. It is the greater wealth of this that makes a novelist like Thackeray or Anatole France superior to one like Balzac. The personality that tells the story is as much a part of the total work as the characters and events portrayed, and must be taken into account in any final judgment of the whole. Without the author’s vivid and rich participation, we who read can never be fully engaged, and we shall find more of life in the story, the more there is of him in it.


Preface  •  Chapter I - Introduction: Purpose and Method  •  Chapter II - Definition of Art  •  Chapter III - The Intrinsic Value of Art  •  Chapter IV - The Analysis of the Aesthetic Experience: The Elements of the Experience  •  Chapter V - The Analysis of the Aesthetic Experience: The Structure of the Experience  •  Chapter VI - The Problem of Evil in Aesthetics, and Its Solution Through the Tragic, Pathetic, and Comic  •  Chapter VII - The Standard of Taste  •  Chapter VIII - The Aesthetics of Music  •  Chapter IX - The Aesthetics of Poetry  •  Chapter X - Prose Literature  •  Chapter XI - The Dominion of Art Over Nature: Painting  •  Chapter XII - Sculpture  •  Chapter XIII - Beauty in the Industrial Arts: Architecture  •  Chapter XIV - The Function of Art: Art and Morality  •  Chapter XV - The Function of Art: Art and Religion  •  Bibliography

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