The Mysteries of Udolpho - Vol. 1

The Mysteries of Udolpho - Vol. 1

The Mysteries of Udolpho - Vol. 1

The Mysteries of Udolpho - Vol. 1

Excerpt

Speaking in rather wide terms one might be tempted to regard a novel as a work produced principally for consumption by the writer’s contemporaries. Indeed, the name implies a quality so ephemeral in its appeal as almost to justify the assertion, by a well-known publisher, that the life of the average modern novel is no longer than that of a monthly magazine. The word “average,” however, introduces a qualification of profound significance. For to the rule above stated there are exceptions; and the exceptions are so many that the rule tends to disappear. While last year’s novel may be as dead as the Deinotherium, stories are still living and fresh which were popular in the Bronze Age. Boccaccio, Marguerite of Navarre, and our own jovial Chaucer have more readers to-day than they had when their works were fresh from the scrivener’s pen; while the stories of Defoe, Fielding, and Smollett, of Scott, Thackeray, Dickens, and the great Victorians enjoy an evergreen popularity.

The truth is that the law of the survival of the fittest operates in the world of letters even as it does in that of organic life, though not with the same infallibility; for in the former it is subject to the disturbing influence of human judgment. Doubtless, many a masterpiece has perished in manuscript, its quality unrecognized by those through whose hands it has passed, even as others, which now live as classics, have, by bare chance, reached the printer, faded and in tatters, after interminable wanderings and countless rejections; while, among those actually published, many a one which deserved a better fate must have been swept away into oblivion by the torrent of new publications.

The disturbing influence, however, operates only in one direction. If faulty judgment has allowed some works of genius to perish in their birth, it has been unable to preserve the lives of the literary unfit. Survival of a book—its real survival in an active living form—over a considerable period of years, is incontestable evidence of outstanding . . .

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