The Extension of Life: Fiction and History in the American Novel

The Extension of Life: Fiction and History in the American Novel

The Extension of Life: Fiction and History in the American Novel

The Extension of Life: Fiction and History in the American Novel

Synopsis

The Extension of Life seeks to define the nature of fiction as it has been practiced by some major American authors. It is inspired by the feeling that fiction is puzzling: that it is strange that readers appreciate stories which both are the free invention of their authors and also owe much to the actual facts of the history and society that the readers know from their everyday lives. It seeks to illuminate this puzzle by reference to the substantial body of study of narrative form and of the status of fiction that has been produced in recent years.

Excerpt

Why do we enjoy fiction? why are things that haven't HAPpened more interesting than things which have? Not everyone thinks they are. Quite a lot of people read only or chiefly nonfiction, because they think the real has an authenticity that mere invention doesn't; the bestseller lists are full of biographies. This book is not meant for those people. It is meant to help those who enjoy fiction think about why they like it and to try to say something about the way invention contributes to our understanding of the real world outside the pages of the book or the head of the writer.

It will be a cautious book. There are lots of sorts of fiction and lots of reasons for reading it: people can read to be amused, to be thrilled, to imagine they are living in a more glamorous world, to enlarge their vocabulary, to familiarize themselves with a foreign language, to prepare for academic tests, to be fashionable. They can read to find things out: what life was like in nineteenth-century Kansas, what the effects of misguided use of insecticides might be, how we should judge Henry Kissinger. and they can read to feel different: to be amused, thrilled, excited, curious, saddened, angered, admiring, or to feel many more sorts of emotion. One cannot claim that any of these sorts of readings are wrong. the last two points are paradoxical: people read fiction to discover facts or grounds for judging facts; and they have feelings about people who don't exist. This book will discuss these issues especially in the context of recent American literature, because it has been so eager to record and judge the real. War, political and social conflict, the assertion of identity by women and by ethnic groups, changing conceptions of education and culture, new understandings of the relationship of humanity to the environment, differing senses of what the past means: the issues debated in novels are the same ones debated in the newspapers. But people read newspapers (or large parts of them) with a sense of sober concern; they can read novels that way too, but their sobriety is mixed with enjoyment, with, at the least, a sense of the author's skill.

The question of why readers enjoy fiction will be approached through this other question: what can fiction do that factual narrative . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.