On Moral Fiction

On Moral Fiction

On Moral Fiction

On Moral Fiction

Excerpt

We are not in the habit of writing in one another's company. We talk together, we argue, but we go to write in our own studies. Jane Austen, who had no study, used to slip her manuscript under the blotter at the first announcement of a visitor. It is by sheerest happenstance that, throughout a long August night, I watched John Gardner writing.

My husband, David Segal, John Gardner's editor, died shortly before the publication of Grendel. John invited me and my two young children for a visit. Because my own writing depends on sitting at my desk in my study five hours, seven mornings a week, I worried that our presence was getting in the way of John's work. John seemed unconcerned that he had written nothing in the last several months. When the book brewing in his head was ready, he said, nothing was going to interfere. And indeed, somewhere around the third day of our visit, he brought his typewriter, set it down on the far side of the kitchen table, and began to type. My children slept upstairs with the Gardner children. A bed had been made up for me in an alcove divided from the kitchen by a door with a glass inset. I woke in the night and could see John typing at the kitchen table; I went back to sleep, woke, and John was typing. One time I saw him reach behind him for a pillow, put it on the table, lay his head down on it, and seem to fall immediately asleep. The next time I

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