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|Requirements for a novel
Written by Elena
(3/31/2003 12:28 a.m.)
in consequence of the missive, GR: Novel Reading, penned by J. Dillehay
] I remember being surprised the first time I read NA, when I came to the part in Ch. 5 where JA goes off on a tangent about novel reading. I was somewhat surprised because having read P&P and S&S previously, I didn't recall any time when JA spoke so directly to the reader in an off-the-subject manner.
Probably she couldn't keep silence, she was that indignant. It is interesting to note that JA prescribes to novels just the qualities we see in her, the performances which have only genius, wit and taste to recommend them ... only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language. JA's novels certainly qualify. But inconstistency is right there. Alas, only too many novels don't come within a sight of this description. And, taking into account that Chapter 5 was written by the same hand that Chapter 1, JA met with those poor excuses too often for her taste. Is it, perhaps, the author's modestly hidden declaration: this novel is written how a novel should be. Is it?
] Now John Thorpe is a far cry from John Wesley, so why would someone like him so disparage novels as he did (although he admitted that he had read Tom Jones, The Monk, more than one of Mrs. Radcliffe's novels, and Camilla; so obviously he was just blowing off hot air about not reading novels, but yet why was this such a popular thing to say whether you really meant it or not?)
Well, John Thorpe would say anything, and contradict himself unashamedly. What is interesting in his treatise is that it makes obvious: JT wasn't reading novels, perhaps not reading at all. Tom Jones is a great book, and my particular favorite, but calling it decent, as JT does, means unlucky choice of words, at least. The Monk is even less decent, compare its undertitle "Somnia, terrores magicos, miracula, sagas, nocturnos lemures, portentaque, horrible dreams, magic terrors; spells of mighty power, witches, and ghosts who hove at midnight hour". He mixes Ann Radcliffe with Fanny Burney (Madame D'Arblay), though they were writing in different genres. And the episodes he tries to remember from Camilla belong to the very beginning of the book (Ch. 3 Consequences and Ch.4 Studies of a Grown Gentleman). So, I think, he simply repeats the words of some Oxford authority, who, as things usually are, was trying to appear high-brow by finding all around inferiour - easiest way, in modern times, too.
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