Henry James

Theories of Fiction

 

The Art of Fiction and James `s Theories of fiction

Henry James `essay The Art of Fiction is a first –hand account of how one of American `s ( and England `s) most prolific writers felt about fiction and writing in general.

James can be considered one of the utmost authorities on writing as he made writing a life – long habit: for over 50 years he wrote daily.

One of the most themes that permeate The Art of Fiction is the freedom that the author must have to express himself, and the necessity of that freedom before one may criticize the work.

“ A novel is in its broadest sense a personal , a direct impression of life : that , to being with , constitutes it’s value , which is greater 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 advantage , the luxury , as well as the torment and responsibility of the novelist, is that there is no limit to what he may attempt as executing – no limit to his possible experiments , efforts, discoveries, successes”

 

Reading criticism , James notes that there will always be critics because there is no perfect guidelines for fiction, as many readers desire different things from their reading.

 

“I needn`t reminds you that there are all sorts of testes: who can know it better? Some people, for excellent reason don’t like to read about courtesans…some readers don’t quiet subjects, some don’t like bustling ones”

 

James expects very little from the author, just that he/ she takes some risks. He criticizes Gustauve Flaubert in The Art of Fiction because his work does not connect human nature. He also warns that one cannot conceptualize a piece of fiction before it presents itself and gives advice to writers.

“[Mr. Besant] seems to me to mistake in attempting to say so definitely beforehand what sort of an affair the good novel will be… . The only obligation to which in advance we may hold a novel…is that it be interesting”.

“Remember that your first duty is to be as complete as possible- to make as prefect a work. Be generous and delicate and pursue the prize”.

 

James also imparts some general rules for writing fiction:

“The only reason for the existence of a novel is that it does attempt to represent life”.

 

As James is responding to a lecture at the Royal Institution by a Mr. Walter

Besant, The Art of fiction takes on a rather argumentative and ornery tone as it refutes many of Mr. Beasant’s points.

“Literature should be either instructive or amusing, and there is in many minds an impression that these artistic occupations, the search for form contribute to neither end, interfere indeed with both”.

“It matters little that as a work of art it should really be as little or as much of its essence to supply happy endings, sympathetic characters, and an objective tone”.

 

    Below, James disagrees with Beasant’s views. He believes that writers can write outside their own experience- without that, we wouldn’t have much to read! He also does not believe that writing can be taught the same as art- “the grammar” of art, he says, is what makes all the difference.

Mr. Besant says at the beginning of his essay that the “laws of fiction may be laid down and taught with as much precisions and exactness as the laws of harmony, perspective and proportion”

“It is equally excellent and inconclusive to say that one might write from experience… If experience consists of impressions, it may be said that impressions are experience”.