105 Greatest Living Authors Present the World's Best Stories, Humor, Drama, Biography, History, Essays, Poetry

By Whit Burnett | Go to book overview

THORNTON WILDER

During the Nineteenth Century the novelists seem never to have
been troubled by the claim to omniscience which is at the base of
their art. First signs of discomfort in regard to it appeared in Flau-
bert and Turgeniev. It became acute in Henry James and now in
some form or other undermines the self-confidence of all story-
tellers. Are readers believing that our stories are "true" and in what
sense do we believe them ourselves?

This is the crisis of the novel. Writers for the stage are not con-
fronted by it.

The assumption of omniscience is no less present in writing for
the theatre, but once the action is passing upon the stage we are not
aware of the narrator who is presenting it to us. A novel may be
described as "everything pertinent to our understanding of an action
or a series of actions" and throughout a novel we are aware that
an all-knowing intelligence is recounting to us this pertinent matter.
On the stage, however, it is always "now"; no intervening editorial
voice is present; and in a very dramatic sense our seeing is believing.

InThe Ides of March I tried to dispense with the fictional nar-
rator. When one purports to recount the thoughts of a Caesar, a
Cicero, and a Catullus, the claim to omniscience becomes doubly
preposterous. All art is pretense but the pretense of the historical
novel is particularly difficult to swallow. I therefore moved the pre-
tense over to a different terrain: I pretended to have discovered
a large collection of letters and documents written by these notable
persons. I attempted to coerce belief by submitting a sort of ap-
paratus of historical method and scholarship. It all "looks" more
credible than if I had written a running narrative full of such
phrases as "Caesar remembered their first meeting" and "Cleopatra
concealed her anger." But more important from the point of view
of credibility was the fact that I had approached the effect of the
theatre. Each of the letters and documents is in the present tense;
no narrator is heard describing the whole action as having taken
place in the past. As on the stage each speech rises from the actors
in an immediate spontaneity--as their "time" on the stage becomes

-104-

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105 Greatest Living Authors Present the World's Best Stories, Humor, Drama, Biography, History, Essays, Poetry
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • A Foreword in the Form of a Report xi
  • I The Americas 1
  • Eugene O'Neill 3
  • Ernest Hemingway 16
  • Sinclair Lewis 38
  • Robert Frost 52
  • John Steinbeck 61
  • Carl Sandburg 77
  • Edna St. Vincent Millay 98
  • Thornton Wilder 104
  • John Dewey 111
  • John Dos Passos 124
  • Pearl Buck 131
  • Van Wyck Brooks 141
  • H. L. Mencken 148
  • William Faulkner 155
  • Maxwell Anderson 173
  • Edgar Lee Masters 184
  • Archibald Macleish 188
  • Upton Sinclair 196
  • Robert Sherwood 204
  • John Gunther 221
  • William Rose Benét 225
  • Carl Van Doren 228
  • Erskine Caldwell 237
  • Robinson Jeffers 248
  • James Thurber 250
  • James Branch Cabell 268
  • John P. Marquand 279
  • Vincent Sheean 309
  • William L. Shirer 314
  • Mazo De La Roche 323
  • Mariano Azuela 339
  • Gabriela Mistral 349
  • Pablo Neruda 355
  • Eduardo Mallea 368
  • II The British Isles 391
  • T. S. Eliot 393
  • Aldous Huxley 400
  • W. Somerset Maugham 420
  • John Masefield 431
  • E. M. Forster 435
  • Bertrand Russell 447
  • Walter De La Mare 457
  • V. Sackville-West 466
  • Hilaire Belloc 472
  • W. H. Auden 479
  • Julian Huxley 490
  • Noel Coward 510
  • Siegfried Sassoon 529
  • J. B. Priestley 536
  • Winston Churchill 541
  • C. E. M. Joad 556
  • Graham Greene 566
  • Arnold J. Toynbee 577
  • A. J. Cronin 587
  • Lord Dunsany 592
  • Sean O'Casey 599
  • Padraic Colum 618
  • Elizabeth Bowen 623
  • Liam O'Flaherty 634
  • III Europe 643
  • André Gide 645
  • Jules Romains 655
  • André Maurois 670
  • André Malraux 677
  • Jacques Maritain 685
  • François Mauriac 696
  • Jean Cocteau 714
  • Paul Claudel 720
  • Jean-Paul Sartre 726
  • St. John Perse 731
  • Albert Camus 736
  • Colette 747
  • Louis Aragon 750
  • Thomas Mann 757
  • Erich Remarque 797
  • Albert Schweitzer 809
  • Albert Einstein 824
  • Hermann Hesse 830
  • Sigrid Undset 841
  • Knut Hamsun 852
  • Isak Dinesen 862
  • Johannes V. Jensen 876
  • Frans Eemil Sillanpää 889
  • Halldór Laxness 898
  • Benedetto Croce 912
  • Ignazio Silone 919
  • Geroge Santayana 936
  • José Ortega Y Gasset 945
  • Salvador De Madariaga 951
  • Pio Baroja 959
  • Pierre Van Paassen 965
  • Angelos Sikelianos 971
  • Arthur Koestler 977
  • Ferenc Molnár 993
  • Ivan Bunin 1008
  • Mikhail Sholokhov 1029
  • Ilya Ehrenburg 1044
  • IV Asia China • 1059 India • 1078 1057
  • Lin Yutang 1059
  • Hu Shih 1066
  • Jawaharlal Nehru 1078
  • Sri Aurobindo 1093
  • Biographies and Bibliographies 1109
  • Acknowledgments 1160
  • Index of Authors 1181
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