In My Opinion: An Inquiry into the Contemporary Novel

By Orville Prescott | Go to book overview

III
THE POWER OF ENVIRONMENT:
Wright, Motley, Wolff, Betty Smith

"As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods; They kill us for their sport."--King Lear

Novels are never written in a vacuum. They never are pure art, pure entertainment, completely detached observation. When a novelist begins typing on page one he is already committed by his own character, his own fiercely cherished convictions, the grand total of his experience of men and books, to a particular vision of life. His philosophy may be as unformulated as Jane Austen's, or it may darken his entire horizon as Herman Melville's did. It may be as superficial as the crude mixture of socialism and evolution of Jack London, or as profound as the brooding on character and fate of Joseph Conrad. But, whatever it may be, some general viewpoint is certain to emerge from any seriously written novel.

And that is one of the abiding fascinations of fiction. In novels we can escape from a world of irrational confusion into one of some kind of order and meaning. No matter how different an author's conception of life may be from our own, we can still find a sort of artistic satisfaction in the design and purpose he imposes on his story. Life, in even the blackest and most pessi-

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