The Withered Branch: Six Studies in the Modern Novel

The Withered Branch: Six Studies in the Modern Novel

The Withered Branch: Six Studies in the Modern Novel

The Withered Branch: Six Studies in the Modern Novel

Excerpt

'In the beginning was the Word. . .'

TOLSTOY, who has been well described as the most truth-loving writer in Russian literature, wrote in later life a pamphlet entitled Bethink Yourselves! in which he called on all his readers to halt in whatever they were doing, to detach themselves from whatever functional position they held in society, and seriously and radically to ask themselves who they were, what they were doing, and whether what they were doing was in conformity with their ultimate destiny as human beings. The call was to change a sleeping for a waking state. Now, it is not only the general life of society which is subject to a perpetual condition of habitual automatism; this condition affects even the production and the consumption of literature, so that in this field also the necessity arises from time to time for someone to rise up and issue a similar call to Bethink Yourselves! and in so doing to let loose the unpredictable dynamic of the idea in the midst of a mass of unquestioned assumptions, fixed opinions and established reputations. Why do we read novels and what are we really doing when we indulge in that habitual recreation? What is a novel, and -- more largely -- what is art? I begin with these awkward questions so that the reader to whom they are unwelcome can put this book back on the shelf before he gets involved in any unpleasantness. This is a book of criticism, not a collection of literary appreciations: behind it the idea is already at its incalculable work.

THE attempt to formulate a theory of the nature of a work of art resembles the attempt to formulate a theory of the nature of a man. Everyone knows what a man is, and likewise everyone knows what a work of art is -- until he comes to think about it and to investigate what others have thought, when it transpires that there are endless theories, both of the nature of man and of . . .

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