Autodidact: self-taught



by V. L. Craven

The Art of Fiction by David Lodge
01. My wife and I knew Captain and Mrs Ashburnham as well as it was possible to know anybody, and yet, in another sense, we knew nothing at all about them. This is, I believe, a state of things only possible with English people of whom, still today, when I sit down to puzzle out what I know of this sad affair, I knew nothing, whatever. –Ford Madox Ford The Good Soldier
02. When does the beginning of a novel end, is another difficult question to answer. Is it the first paragraph the first few pages, or the first chapter? However one defines it, the beginning of a novel is a threshold, separating the real world we inhabit from the world the novelist has imagined. It should therefore, as the phrase goes, “draw us in”.
03. We read fiction, after all, not just for the story, but to enlarge our knowledge and understanding of the world…
04. Skaz is a rather appealing Russian word used to designate a type of first-person narration that has the characteristics of the spoken rather than the written word…. He or she uses vocabulary and syntax characteristic of colloquial speech, and appears to be relating the story spontaneously…

Aspects of the Novel by E.M. Forster
-01- …there seems something else in life besides time, something which may conveniently be called ‘value,’ something which is measured not by minutes or hours, but by intensity, so that when we look at our past it does not stretch back evenly but piles up into a few notable pinnacles, and when we look at the future it seems sometimes a wall, sometimes a cloud, sometimes a sun but never a chronological chart.
-02- …the basis of a novel is a story, and a story is a narrative of events arranged in time sequence. (A story, by the way, is not the same as plot. It may form the basis of one, but the plot is an organism of a higher type…)
-03- The story is primitive, it reaches back to the origins of literature, before reading was discovered, and it appeals to what is primitive in us. That is why we are so unreasonable over the stories we like, and so ready to bully those who like something else.
-04-The novelist, unlike many of his colleagues, makes up a number of word-masses roughly describing himself (roughly: niceties shall come later), gives them names and sex, assigns them plausible gestures, and causes them to speak by the use of inverted commas, and perhaps to behave consistently. These word-masses are his characters. They do not come thus coldly to his mind, they may be created in delirious excitement; still, their nature is conditioned by what he guesses about other people, and about himself…
-05- So let us think of people as starting life with an experience they forget and ending it with one which they anticipate but cannot understand. These are the creatures whom the novelist proposes to introduce as characters into books; these, or creatures plausibly like them. The novelist is allowed to remember and understand everything, if it suits him. He knows all the hidden life. How soon will he pick up his characters after birth, how close to the grave will he follow them?
-06- …the novelist takes his pen in his hand, gets into the abnormal state which it is convenient to call ‘inspiration,’ and tries to create characters
-07- [Food] draws characters together, but they seldom require it physiologically, seldom enjoy it, and never digest it unless specifically asked to do so.
-08- …yet we cannot bear to apply our bitter knowledge to the future; the future is to be so different; the perfect person is to come along, or the person we know already is to become perfect. There are to be no changes, no necessity for alertness. We are to be happy or even perhaps miserable for ever and ever. Any strong emotion brings with it the illusion of permanence, and the novelists have seized upon this.
-09- Still, one can say a little about [Homo fictus] . He is generally born off, he is capable of dying on, he wants little food or sleep, he is tirelessly occupied with human relationships.
-10- And now we can get a definition as to when a character in a book is real: it is real when the novelist knows everything about it. He may not choose to tell us all he knows–many of the facts, even of the kind we call obvious, may be hidden. But he will give us the feeling that though the character has not been explained, it is explicable, and we get from this a reality of a kind we can never get in daily life.
-11- …a novel that is at all complex requires flat people as well as round
-12- The test of a round character is whether it is capable of surprising in a convincing way.
-13- Let us define a plot. We have defined a story as a narrative of events arranged in their time-sequence. A plot is also a narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality, ‘The king died and then the queen died’ is a story. ‘The king died, and then the queen died of grief’ is a plot. The time-sequence is preserved, but the sense of causality overshadows it.
-14- Curiosity is one of the lowest of the human faculties. You will have noticed in daily life that when people are inquisitive they nearly always have bad memories and are usually stupid at bottom.
-15- This–as far as one can generalize–is the inherent defect of novels: they go off at the end: and there are two explanations of it: firstly, failure of pep, which threatens the novelist like all workers: and secondly, the difficultly which we have been discussing. The characters have been getting out of hand, laying foundations and decline to build on them afterwards, and now the novelist has to labour personally, in order that the job may be done to time. He pretends that the characters are acting for him. He keeps mentioning their names and using inverted commas. But the characters are gone or dead.
-16- Evil to most novelists is either sexual and social or is something very vague for which a special style with implications of poetry is thought suitable. They want it to exist, in order that it may kindly help them on with the plot…

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