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The Writing of Fiction
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The Writing of Fiction [Format Kindle]

Edith Wharton
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Chapter 1

In General

To treat of the practice of fiction is to deal with the newest, most fluid and least formulated of the arts. The exploration of origins is always fascinating; but the attempt to relate the modern novel to the tale of Joseph and his Brethren is of purely historic interest.

Modern fiction really began when the "action" of the novel was transferred from the street to the soul; and this step was probably first taken when Madame de La Fayette, in the seventeenth century, wrote a little story called "La Princesse de Clèves," a story of hopeless love and mute renunciation in which the stately tenor of the lives depicted is hardly ruffled by the exultations and agonies succeeding each other below the surface.

The next advance was made when the protagonists of this new inner drama were transformed from conventionalized puppets -- the hero, the heroine, the villain, the heavy father and so on -- into breathing and recognizable human beings. Here again a French novelist -- the Abbé Prévost -- led the way with "Manon Lescaut"; but his drawing of character seems summary and schematic when his people are compared with the first great figure in modern fiction -- the appalling "Neveu de Rameau." It was not till long after Diderot's death that the author of so many brilliant tales peopled with eighteenth century puppets was found, in the creation of that one sordid, cynical and desolately human figure, to have anticipated not only Balzac but Dostoievsky.

But even from "Manon Lescaut" and the "Neveu de Rameau," even from Lesage, Defoe, Fielding, Smollett, Richardson, and Scott, modern fiction is differentiated by the great dividing geniuses of Balzac and Stendhal. Save for that one amazing accident of Diderot's, Balzac was the first not only to see his people, physically and morally, in their habit as they lived, with all their personal hobbies and infirmities, and make the reader see them, but to draw his dramatic action as much from the relation of his characters to their houses, streets, towns, professions, inherited habits and opinions, as from their fortuitous contacts with each other.

Balzac himself ascribed the priority in this kind of realism to Scott, from whom the younger novelist avowedly derived his chief inspiration. But, as Balzac observed, Scott, so keen and direct in surveying the rest of his field of vision, became conventional and hypocritical when he touched on love and women. In deference to the wave of prudery which overswept England after the vulgar excesses of the Hanoverian court he substituted sentimentality for passion, and reduced his heroines to "Keepsake" insipidities; whereas in the firm surface of Balzac's realism there is hardly a flaw, and his women, the young as well as the old, are living people, as much compact of human contradictions and torn with human passions as his misers, his financiers, his priests or his doctors.

Stendhal, though as indifferent as any eighteenth century writer to atmosphere and "local colour," is intensely modern and realistic in the individualizing of his characters, who were never types (to the extent even of some of Balzac's) but always sharply differentiated and particular human beings. More distinctively still does he represent the new fiction by his insight into the springs of social action. No modern novelist has ever gone nearer than Racine did in his tragedies to the sources of personal, of individual feeling; and some of the French novelists of the eighteenth century are still unsurpassed (save by Racine) in the last refinements of individual soul-analysis. What was new in both Balzac and Stendhal was the fact of their viewing each character first of all as a product of particular material and social conditions, as being thus or thus because of the calling he pursued or the house he lived in (Balzac), or the society he wanted to get into (Stendhal), or the acre of ground he coveted, or the powerful or fashionable personage he aped or envied (both Balzac and Stendhal). These novelists (with the solitary exception of Defoe, when he wrote "Moll Flanders") are the first to seem continuously aware that the bounds of a personality are not reproducible by a sharp black line, but that each of us flows imperceptibly into adjacent people and things.

The characterization of all the novelists who preceded these two masters seems, in comparison, incomplete or immature. Even Richardson's seems so, in the most penetrating pages of "Clarissa Harlowe," even Goethe's in that uncannily modern novel, the "Elective Affinities" -- because, in the case of these writers, the people so elaborately dissected are hung in the void, unvisualized and unconditioned (or almost) by the special outward circumstances of their lives. They are subtly analyzed abstractions of humanity, to whom only such things happen as might happen to almost any one in any walk of life -- the inevitable eternal human happenings.

Since Balzac and Stendhal, fiction has reached out in many new directions, and made all sorts of experiments; but it has never ceased to cultivate the ground they cleared for it, or gone back to the realm of abstractions. It is still, however, an art in the making, fluent and dirigible, and combining a past full enough for the deduction of certain general principles with a future rich in untried possibilities.

Copyright © 1924, 1925 by Charles Scribner's Sons

Revue de presse

Gore Vidal There are only three or four American novelists who can be thought of as "major" -- and Edith Wharton is one.

Détails sur le produit

  • Format : Format Kindle
  • Taille du fichier : 986 KB
  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 128 pages
  • Editeur : Scribner (6 mai 2014)
  • Vendu par : Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ASIN: B00J69Y3HC
  • Synthèse vocale : Non activée
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  • Moyenne des commentaires client : 4.0 étoiles sur 5  Voir tous les commentaires (1 commentaire client)
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4.0 étoiles sur 5 Dated but interesting 6 juillet 2014
Edith Wharton analyzes the writing of short stories and novels in this book. She focuses in particular on Marcel Proust. Her advice is valuable, but of course writing has changed since the time of the great novelists.
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 a classic writing guide 21 septembre 2007
Par Esther J. Ramer - Publié sur
This classic guide to the art of writing is as thought-provoking now as it must have been upon publication in 1924. In erudite prose, Edith Wharton describes the general aspects of fiction, going far beyond the surface to touch deep veins often unseen by casual readers. Using examples from the classics, she analyzes the methods of telling a short story and constructing a novel. She contrasts novels of character, such as Emma, with novels of situation, such as The Scarlet Letter, and discusses novels that weld the two types. The last chapter of the book analyzes the works of the great French author, Marcel Proust.

By studying this book and the works it refers to, one may perhaps develop the ability, demonstrated by Proust, "to reveal, by a single allusion, a word, an image, those depths of soul beyond the soul's own guessing."
6 internautes sur 6 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 First Rate Tips from One of America's Best Novelists 15 octobre 2012
Par Alex - Publié sur
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
Edith Wharton was one of America's greatest authors, and her succinct overview of the key elements for lasting and serious fiction is first-rate. I have read others on this topic, including EM Forster, Ray Bradbury, and Stephen King, but Wharton's tips still endure for anyone trying to write or read a serious or enduring novel or short story. Some of her key points: dialogue should serve the narrative and be used sparingly; the subject of a great novel should provide some insight on our moral experience; originality is not based upon a new technique or style so much as it rests on an original vision; and even minor characters should serve some purpose. Of course many novelists break these rules and succeed very well, but Wharton's insights are superb for any aspiring novelist or serious reader of fiction.
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 Wharton is an 'old' but wise voice to today's writer 6 juin 2013
Par John F Mesarch Jr - Publié sur
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
Wharton was a Pulitzer prize winner for, if memory serves, The Age of Innocence. I was made aware of this one of her few non-fiction oevres by Dorothea Brande's Becoming a Writer. While Brnade's work is a classic and very practical as well, Wharton deals more with specific mechanics of fiction. I highly recommend both books.
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 Sublime 30 mai 2013
Par Jack M. Walter - Publié sur
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
I wish I had read this earlier. Wharton's every paragraph is filled with incredible insight that is just as timely and relevant as it was when written. I have never encountered a book on the art of fiction that was so memorable and valuable. Simply spectacular writing by one of the true great writers.
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 Wharton on her own talent!! 21 mars 2013
Par Karen Berger - Publié sur
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
An incredibly insightful analysis by a women whose thinking reaches a level the rest of us can only aspire to.
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