The Art of Fiction by David Lodge

I read this when it was a series of columns in the Independent on Sunday. Nice to read it again. Short, manageable chunks of stuff that makes me want to read lots of classic novels, which can’t be bad.

7-8 Beginnings. Some possibilities: Description of main setting; middle of a conversation; self-introduction by narrator; philosophical reflection; pitch a character into jeopardy; a “frame-story” describing how the main story was discovered; Finnegan’s Wake starts part-way through a sentence (the last part being the book’s final sentence).

10 Intrusive authorial voice (eg, Fielding, Eliot) went out of fashion around start of the 20th century — it reduces emotional intensity, draws attention to the act of narrating, claims a god-like omniscience the modern age is sceptical about. If used in modern fiction it’s with ironic self-consciousness.

14 Suspense — raising questions and delaying the answers — is often despised by literary novelists of the modern period.

15-16 Hardy often displays the fragile human figure dwarfed by the universe [sounds good!]

18-19 Skaz - characteristics of spoken rather than written word. Huckleberry Finn, Catcher in the Rye. Repetition, exaggeration, clauses strung together.

22 Epistolary novel, popular in 18th century. An autobiography recounts the past; epistolary charts ongoing events. Could include different correspondents. Anticipated reactions of addressee can colour the discourse.

23 “One of the commonest signs of a lazy or inexperienced writer of fiction is inconsistency in handling the point of view.”

31 Suspense: “What will happen?” Mystery: “How did she do it?”

43 Two techniques for representing stream of consciousness. (a) Free indirect style (used by Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf (eg, Mrs Dalloway)). Renders thought as reported speech (third person, past tense) but uses vocabulary appropriate to the character. Deletes some of the “she thought,” “she wondered,” tags. Illusion of access to the character’s mind without surrendering authorial participation.

Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself. For Lucy had her work cut out for her. The doors would be taken off their hinges; Rumpelmayer’s men were coming. And then, thought Clarissa Dalloway, what a morning — fresh as if issued to children on a beach.

48 (b) Interior Monologue. Ulysses mixes this with free indirect style and orthodox narrative description.

53 Defamiliarization — describing things as if seen for the first time. No prior knowledge. Victor Shklovsky, 1917:

Habitualization devours works, clothes, furniture, one’s wife, and the fear of war … And art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stony stoney. The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known.

85 The pathetic fallacy: projection of human emotions onto phenomena in the natural world (coined by John Ruskin). In Jane Austen, weather is usually practical, rather than metaphorical, unlike the opening of Bleak House.

98 Intertextuality - referring to, parodying, echoing, quoting, etc, another work.

118 Bradbury’s The History Man: present tense, only description and he said/she said dialogue. No internal monologues or thoughts. Stays on the surface.

128 Mikhail Bakhtin: Traditional epic and lyric poetry was “monologic”. Post-Renaissance literature is usually dialogic — it has the voice of the narrator and those of the characters. “Doubly-oriented discourse” — language both describing an action and imitating a style of speech/writing.

141 Metonymy — substitutes cause for effect or vice versa (in his example, a locomotive stands for industry because it’s part of the Industrial Revolution). Synecdoche substitutes part of something for the whole or vice versa (a horse stands for Nature, because it’s part of Nature).

179 Dramatic irony — the reader is aware of a disparity between the facts of a situation and the characters’ understanding of it. All-pervasive in novels.

204 In Tom Wolfe’s introduction to New Journalism he “distinguished four points [non-fiction novels] had borrowed from the novel: (1) telling the story through scenes rather than summary; (2) preferring dialogue to reported speech; (3) presenting events from the point of view of a participant rather than from some impersonal perspective; (4) incorporating the kind of detail about people’s appearance, clothes, possessions, body language, etc. which act as indices of class, character, status and social milieu in the realistic novel.”

212 “Tzvetan Todorov has proposed that tales of the supernatural divide into three categories: the marvellous, in which no rational explanation of the supernatural phenomena is possible; the uncanny, in which it is; and the fantastic, in which the narrative hesitates undecidably between a natural and a supernatural explanation.”

216 “a beginning, a middle and an end as defined by Aristotle: a beginning is what requires nothing to precede it, an end is what requires nothing to follow it, and a middle needs something both before and after it.”

219 “Aporia is a Greek word meaning ‘difficulty, being at a loss’, literally, ‘a pathless path’, a track that gives out. In classical rhetoric it denotes real or pretended doubt about an issue, uncertainty as to how to proceed in a discourse. Hamlet’s ‘To be or not to be’…”