The Future of the Novel: Essays on the Art of Fiction

The Future of the Novel: Essays on the Art of Fiction

The Future of the Novel: Essays on the Art of Fiction

The Future of the Novel: Essays on the Art of Fiction

Excerpt

This volume takes its title from a long-buried essay of Henry James's which appeared in 1900 and which is reprinted now for the first time. He wrote it for one of those "universal anthologies" which our fathers used to purchase from itinerant salesmen as "educational sets," designed to make the entire family aware of the world's literary heritage from Babylon to the Mississippi. The particular anthology for which James wrote his essay was a scholarly compendium; and yet his thoughtful pages appear to have been inserted as an after-thought and, incongruously enough, as preface to a volume containing German drama: the text of the Oberammergau Passion Play, Hauptmann The Weavers, Freytag The Journalists. Thus isolated, it has gathered dust for five decades, while the future of the novel of which he wrote was acting itself out.

The American novelist obviously had nothing to do with the strange position accorded his essay in this bulky set of volumes; but the choice of subject was probably his, or at least, if suggested to him, was one he found highly congenial. Not that he was addicted to prophesy; on the contrary, he was usually concerned with the immediate and the predictable. But now the century was turning; a whole new block of time lay before the novel, and James clearly could not forego this occasion to act as oracle for the novel form--that form which had been the high altar of his life, the center of his devotions. And so he wrote his measured and vigorous essay, with all the weight and authority of his thirty-five years of fiction- writing.

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