Henry James and Mr. Kipling exhibit, in their several ways, extraordinary mastery of point of view; and their works may very profitably be studied for examples of this special phase of artistry in narrative. The very title of "What Maisie Knew", by Henry James, proclaims the rigidly restricted standpoint from which the narrative material is seen. In Mr. Kipling's tale, "A Deal in Cotton," which is included in "Actions and Reactions," the interest is derived chiefly from the trick of telling the story twice,—first from the point of view of Adam Strickland, and the second time from the point of view of Adam's native body-servant, who knew many matters that were hidden from his master.
The Point of View as the Hero of the Narrative.—In certain special cases the point of view has been made, so to speak, the real hero of the story. Some years ago Mr. Brander Matthews, in collaboration with the late H. C. Bunner, devised a very clever narrative entitled "The Documents in the Case." It consisted merely of a series of numbered documents, widely different in nature, presented with neither introduction nor comment by the authors. The series contained clippings from various newspapers, personal letters, I. O. U's, race-track reports, pawn-tickets, letter-heads, telegrams, theatre programmes, advertisements, receipted bills, envelopes, etc. In spite of the diversity of these materials, the authors succeeded in fabricating a narrative which was entirely coherent and at all points clear. The main interest, however, lay in the novelty and cleverness of the point of view; and though such an exaggerated technical expedient may be serviceable now and then for a special sort of story, it is not of any general value. A point of view that attracts attention to itself necessarily distracts attention from the story that is being represented; and in a narrative of serious import, the main emphasis should be thrown upon the thing that is told rather than upon the way of telling it.
1. In what ways is the impression of a narrative dependent on the point of view selected by the author?
2. Imagine a fictitious event; and after you have become sufficiently acquainted with this imaginary incident, write seven distinct themes, in each of which this incident is projected from a different point of view:—1. As seen by the leading actor; 2. As seen by a minor actor; 3. As seen by different actors; 4. As told in letters; 5. From an omniscient point of view; 6. From a limited point of view; and 7. From a rigidly restricted point of view.
3. Imagine a fictitious event; and write two distinct themes, in one of which this event is recounted personally, and in the other impersonally.
Read the most important works of fiction that have been mentioned in this chapter.
EMPHASIS IN NARRATIVE
Essential and Contributory Features—Art Distinguishes Between the Two by Emphasis—Many Technical Devices: 1. Emphasis by Terminal Position; 2. Emphasis by Initial Position; 3. Emphasis by Pause [Further Discussion of Emphasis by Position]; 4. Emphasis by Direct Proportion; 5. Emphasis by Inverse Proportion; 6. Emphasis by Iteration; 7. Emphasis by Antithesis; 8. Emphasis by Climax; 9. Emphasis by Surprise; 10. Emphasis by Suspense; 11. Emphasis by Imitative Movement.
Essential and Contributory Features.—The features of any object that we contemplate may with intelligent judgment be divided into two classes, according as they are inherently essential, or else merely contributory, to the existence of that object as an individual entity. If any one of its inherently essential features should be altered, that object would cease to be itself and would become another object; but if any or all of its merely contributory features should be changed, the object would still retain its individuality, however much its aspect might be altered. And in general it may be said that we do not understand an object until we are able to set intelligently in one group or the other every feature it presents to our attention.
Art Distinguishes Between the Two by Emphasis.—In contemplating natural objects, it is often difficult to distinguish those features which are merely contributory from those which are inherently essential; but it ought not to be difficult to do so in contemplating a work of art. For it is possible for the artist—in fact it is incumbent upon him—to help the observer to distinguish clearly between the essential and the contributory details of the object he has fabricated. By employing certain technical expedients in exhibiting his work, the artist is able to communicate to the observer his own intelligent distinction between its more important, and its less important, features. He does this by casting emphasis upon the necessary details and gathering out of emphasis the subsidiary ones.
The importance of the principle of emphasis is recognized in all the arts; for it is only by an application of this principle that the artist can gather and group in the background the subsidiary elements of his work, while he flings into vivid relief those elements that embody the essence of the thing he has to say. The halo with which the Byzantine mosaicists surrounded the faces of their saints, the glory of golden light that gleams about the figure of Christ in heaven in Tintoretto's decorations, the blank bright walls of the Doge's palace undermined by darkling and shadowy arcades, the refrain of a Provencal song, the sharp shadow under the visor of Verrocchio's equestrian statue, the thought-provoking chiaroscuro of Rembrandt's figure paintings—these expedients are all designed to attract attention to the essential elements of a whole of many parts. By technical devices such as these, emphasis must be given to the central truth of a work of art in order that the observer may not look instead at the mere accidents of its investiture. Where many elements are gathered together for the purpose of representing an idea, some of them must be more important than the others because they are to a greater extent imbued with it inherently; and the artist will fail of his purpose unless he indicates clearly which elements are essential and which are merely subsidiary.
Many Technical Devices.—Scarcely any other work of art, excepting a Gothic cathedral or a theatrical performance, is made of elements more multifarious than those of a fictitious narrative. The details of a novel are so many and so various that the author needs at all times a nice understanding and a careful application of the principle of emphasis. It is therefore advisable that the present chapter should be devoted to the enumeration and illustration of the different technical devices which are employed by artists in narrative to cast the needed emphasis on the essential features of their stories.
1. Emphasis by Terminal Position.—First of all, it is obviously easy to emphasize by position. In any narrative, or section of a narrative, that is designed to be read in a single sitting, the last moments are of necessity emphatic because they are the last. When the reader lays the narrative aside, he remembers most vividly the last thing that has been presented to his attention; and if he thinks back to the earlier portions of the story, he must do so by thinking through the concluding passage. Therefore, it is necessary in the short-story, and advisable in the chapters of a novel, to reserve for the ultimate position one of the most inherently important features of the narrative; for surely it is bad art to waste the natural emphasis of position by casting it upon a subsidiary feature.
The importance of this simple expedient will readily be recognized if the student will gather together a hundred short-stories written by acknowledged masters and examine the last paragraph of each. Consider for a moment the final sentences of "Markheim," which we have already quoted in another connection:—
"He confronted the maid upon the threshold with something like a smile.
"'You had better go for the police,' said he: 'I have killed your master.'"
The entire story is summed up in the concluding phrase; and the final sentence rings ever after in the reader's memory.
Here, to cite a new example, is the conclusion of Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death":—
"And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revellers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall. And the life of the ebony clock went out with that of the last of the gay. And the flames of the tripods expired. And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all."
The sense of absolute ruin which we derive from this impressive paragraph is, to a considerable extent, due to the emphasis it gains from its finality. The effect would unquestionably be subtracted from, if another paragraph should be appended and should steal away its importance of position.
In order to derive the utmost emphasis from the terminal position, the great artist Guy de Maupassant, in his short-stories, developed a periodicity of structure by means of which he reserved the solution of the narrative, whenever possible, until the final sentences. This periodic structure is employed, for example, in his well-known story of "The Necklace" ("La Parure"). It deals with a poor woman who loses a diamond necklace that she has borrowed from a rich friend in order to wear at a ball. She buys another exactly like it and returns this in its place. For ten years she and her husband labor day and night to pay off the debts they have incurred to purchase the substituted jewels. After the debts are all paid, the woman tells her friend of what had happened. Then follows this last sentence of the story:—
"'Oh, my poor Mathilde. But mine were false. At most they were worth five hundred francs!'"
The periodic pattern of Guy de Maupassant was sedulously copied by O. Henry; but this popular contributor to the American magazines went even further than his master and developed a double surprise to be delivered suddenly at the conclusion of the narrative. A typical example of his work is "The Gift of the Magi," wherein an unexpected outcome is immediately capped by a second outcome still more unexpected. The success of O. Henry with the reading public may be attributed mainly to his cleverness in taking full advantage of the powerful expedient of emphasis by terminal position. His technical adroitness may be studied best by reading rapidly the final paragraphs of any hundred of his stories. He had the happy faculty of saying last the best and brightest thing he had to say.
2. Emphasis by Initial Position.—Next to the last position, the most emphatic place in a brief narrative, or section of a narrative, is of course the first. The mind of the reader receives with an especial vividness whatever is presented to it at the outset. For this reason it is necessary in the short-story, and advisable in the chapters of a novel, to begin with material that not only is inherently essential, but also strikes the key-note of the narrative that is to follow. Edgar Allan Poe is especially artistic in applying this principle of emphasis by initial position. We have already quoted, in another connection, the solemn opening of "The Fall of the House of Usher," with its suggestion of immitigable gloom of setting as the dominant note of the narrative. In "The Cask of Amontillado," wherein the thing to be emphasized is the element of action, Poe begins with this sentence: "The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could; but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge": and we know already that the story is to set forth a signal act of vengeance. In "The Tell-Tale Heart," which is a study of murderous madness, and deals primarily with the element of character, the author opens thus:—
"True!—nervous—very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses—not destroyed—not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily—how calmly I can tell you the whole story."
3. Emphasis by Pause.—In general it may be said that any pause in a narrative emphasizes by position whatever immediately precedes it, and also (though to a considerably less extent) whatever immediately follows it. For this reason many masters of the short-story, like Daudet and de Maupassant, construct their narratives in sections, in order to multiply the number of terminal and initial positions. Asterisks strung across the page not only make the reader aware of the completion of an integral portion of the story, but also focus his attention emphatically on the last thing that has been said before the interruption. The employment of points de suspension—a mark of punctuation consisting of a series of successive dots ...—which is so frequent with French authors, is a device which is used to interrupt a sentence solely for the sake of emphasis by pause.
Further Discussion of Emphasis by Position.—The instances which we have selected to illustrate the expedient of emphasizing by position have been chosen for convenience from short-stories; but the same principle may be applied with similar success in constructing the chapters of a novel. Certain great but inartistic novelists, like Sir Walter Scott, show themselves to be singularly obtuse to the advantage of placing emphatic material in an emphatic position. Scott is almost always careless of his chapter endings: he allows the sections of his narrative to drift and straggle, instead of rounding them to an emphatic close. But more artistic novelists, like Victor Hugo for example, never fail to take advantage of the terminal position. Consider the close of Book XI, Chapter II, of "Notre Dame de Paris." The gypsy-girl, Esmeralda, has been hanged in the Place de Greve. The hunchback, Quasimodo, has flung the archdeacon, Claude Frollo, from the tower-top of Notre Dame. This paragraph then brings the chapter to an end:—
"Quasimodo then raised his eye to the gypsy, whose body he saw, depending from the gibbet, shudder afar under her white robe with the last tremblings of death-agony; then he lowered it to the archdeacon, stretched out at the foot of the tower and no longer having human form; and he said with a sob that made his deep chest heave: 'Oh! all that I have loved!'"
A chapter ending may be artistically planned either (as in the foregoing instance) to sum up with absolute finality the narrative accomplishment of the chapter, or else, by vaguely foreshadowing the subsequent progress of the story, to lure the reader to proceed. The elder Dumas possessed in a remarkable degree the faculty of so terminating one chapter as to allure the reader to an immediate commencement of the next. He did this most frequently by introducing a new thread of narrative in a phrase of the concluding sentence, and thereby exciting the reader's curiosity to follow up the thread.
The expedient of emphasis by terminal and by initial position cannot, of course, be applied without reservation to an entire novel. The last chapter of a novel with a complicated plot is often of necessity devoted to tying or untying minor knots in the straggling threads of the general network. Therefore, the most emphatic place in an extended narrative is not at the very end, but rather at the close of the chapter which sets forth the culmination. Also, although many great novels, like "The Scarlet Letter," have begun at an emphatic moment in the plot, many others have opened slowly and have presented no important material until the narrative was well under way. "The Talisman" of Scott, "The Spy" of Fenimore Cooper, and many another early nineteenth-century romance, began with a solitary horseman whom the reader was forced to follow for several pages before anything whatever happened. Latterly, however, novelists have learned from writers of short-stories the art of opening emphatically with material important to the plot.
4. Emphasis by Direct Proportion.—Another means of emphasis in narrative is by proportion. More time and more attention should be given to essential scenes than to matters of subsidiary interest. The most important characters should be given most to say and do; and the amount of attention devoted to the others should be proportioned to their importance in the action. Becky Sharp stands out sharply from the half a hundred other characters in "Vanity Fair," because more time is devoted to her than to any of the others. Similarly, in "Emma" and in "Pride and Prejudice," as we have noted in the preceding chapter, the heroine is in each case emphasized by the fact that she is set forth from a more intimate point of view than the minor people in the story. It is wise, for the sake of emphasis by proportion, to draw the major characters more completely and more carefully than the minor; and much may therefore be said, on this ground, in defence of Dickens's habit of drawing humanly only the leading characters in his novels and merely sketching in caricature the subsidiary actors.
5. Emphasis by Inverse Proportion.—It is sometimes possible, in special cases, to emphasize ironically by inverse proportion. An author may deliberately devote several successive pages to dwelling on subsidiary matters, only to emphasize sharply a sudden paragraph or sentence in which he turns to the one thing that really counts. But this ironical expedient is, of course, less frequently serviceable than that of emphasis by direct proportion.
6. Emphasis by Iteration.—Undoubtedly the easiest means of inculcating a detail of narrative is to repeat it again and again. Emphasis by iteration is a favorite device of Dickens. The reader is never allowed to forget the catch-phrase of Micawber or the moral look of Pecksniff. In many cases, to be sure, the reader wishes that he might escape the constantly recurrent repetition; but Dickens occasionally applies the expedient with subtle emotional effect. In "A Tale of Two Cities," for example, the repeated references to echoing footsteps and to the knitting of Madame Defarge contribute a great deal to the sense of imminent catastrophe.
Certain modern authors have developed a phase of emphasis by iteration which is similar to the employment of the leit-motiv in the music-dramas of Richard Wagner. In the Wagnerian operas a certain musical theme is devoted to each of the characters, and is woven into the score whenever the character appears. Similarly, in the later plays of Henrik Ibsen, certain phrases are repeated frequently, to indicate the recurrence of certain dramatic moods. Thus, in "Rosmersholm," reference is made to the weird symbol of "white horses," whenever the mood of the momentary scene foreshadows the double suicide which is to terminate the play. Students of "Hedda Gabler" need not be reminded of the emphasis flung by iteration on the phrases, "Vine-leaves in his hair," "Fancy that, Hedda!", "Wavy-haired Thea," "The one cock on the fowl-roost," and "People don't do such things!" The same device may be employed just as effectively in the short-story and the novel. A single instance will suffice for illustration. Notice, in examining the impressive talk of the old lama in Mr. Kipling's "Kim," how much emphasis is derived from the continual recurrence of certain phrases, like the "Search for the River," "the justice of the Wheel," "to acquire merit," and so forth.
A narrative expedient scarcely distinguishable in effect from simple iteration is the device of parallelism of structure. For example, in Hawthorne's story of "The White Old Maid," the first scene and the last, although they are separated in time by many, many years, take place in the same spacious chamber, with the moonbeams falling in the same way through two deep and narrow windows, while waving curtains produce the same ghostly semblance of expression on a face that is dead.
7. Emphasis by Antithesis.—Emphasis in narrative is also attained by antithesis,—an expedient employed in every art. In most stories it is well so to select the characters that they will set each other off by contrast. In the great duel scene of the "Master of Ballantrae," from which a selection has been quoted in a previous chapter, the phlegmatic calm of Mr. Henry is contrasted sharply with the mercurial hot-headedness of the Master; and each character stands forth more vividly because of its opposition to the other. Of the two women who are loved by Tito Melema, the one, Tessa, is simple and childish, the other, Romola, complex and intellectual. The most interesting stories present a constant contrast of mutually foiling personalities; and whenever characters of varied views and opposing aims come nobly to the grapple in a struggle that vitally concerns them, the tensity of the situation will be augmented if the difference between the characters is marked. This expedient is therefore of especial importance in the drama. Othello seems more poignantly emotional in the presence of the coldly intellectual Iago. In "The School for Scandal," Charles and Joseph Surface are much more effective together than either of them would be alone. The wholehearted and happy-go-lucky recklessness of the one sets off the smooth and smug dissimulation of the other; the first gives light to the play, and the second shade. Hamlet's wit is sharpened by the garrulous obtuseness of Polonius; the sad world-wisdom of Paula Tanqueray is accentuated by the innocence of Ellean. Similarly, to return to the novel for examples, we need only instance the contrast in mind between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, the contrast in mood between Claude Frollo and Phoebus de Chateaupers, the contrast in ideals between Daniel Deronda and Gwendolen Grandcourt.
The expedient of antithesis is also employed effectively in the balance of scene against scene. The absolute desolation which terminates "The Masque of the Red Death" is preceded by "a masked ball of the most unusual magnificence." In Scott's "Kenilworth," we pass from the superb festivities which Leicester institutes in honor of Queen Elizabeth, to the lonely prison where Amy Robsart, his discarded wife, is languishing. Victor Hugo is, in modern fiction, the greatest master of antithesis of mood between scene and scene. His most emphatic effects are attained, like those of Gothic architecture, by a juxtaposition of the grotesque and the sublime. Often, to be sure, he overworks the antithetic; and entire sections of his narrative move like the walking-beam of a ferry-boat, tilting now to this side, now to that. But in spite of his excess in employing this device, his practice should be studied carefully; for at his best he illustrates more convincingly than any other author the effectiveness of emphasis by contrast.
The subtlest way of employing this expedient is to present an antithesis of mood within a single scene. Dame Quickly's account of Falstaff's death touches at once the heights of humor and the depths of pathos. At the close of "Mrs. Bathurst," the tragic narrative is interrupted by the passage of a picnic-party singing a light love-song. Shylock, in his great dialogue with Tubal, is at the same moment plunged in melancholy over the defection of his daughter and flushed with triumph because he has Antonio at last within his clutches. Each emotion seems more potent because it is contrasted with the other. In Mr. Kipling's "Love-o'-Women," the tragic effect is enhanced by the fact that the tale is told by the humorous Mulvaney. Thus:—
"'An' now?' she sez, lookin' at him; an' the red paint stud lone on the white av her face like a bull's-eye on a target.
"He lifted up his eyes, slow an' very slow, an' he looked at her long an' very long, an' he tuk his spache betune his teeth wid a wrench that shuk him.
"'I'm dyin', Aigypt—dyin',' he says; ay, those were his words, for I remimber the name he called her. He was turnin' the death-color, but his eyes niver rowled. They were set—set on her. Widout word or warnin' she opened her arms full stretch, an' 'Here!' she sez. (Oh, fwhat a golden mericle av a voice ut was.) 'Die here,' she sez; an' Love-o'-Women dhropped forward, an' she hild him up, for she was a fine big woman."
8. Emphasis by Climax.—Another rhetorical expedient from which emphasis may be derived is, of course, the use of climax. The materials of a short-story, or of a chapter of narrative, should in nearly every case be assembled in an ascending order of importance,—each incident carrying the interest to a higher level than that of the preceding. The same is true of the structure of a novel from the outset to the moment of the culmination; but of course it is rarely possible in the denouement to carry the interest any higher than the level it attained at the point of greatest complication. Climacteric progressiveness of structure is effectively exhibited in Henry James' tale of mystery and terror, "The Turn of the Screw." The author on horror's head horrors accumulates, in a steadily ascending scale. But, on the other hand, many stories have been marred by the introduction of a very striking scene too early in the structure, after which there has succeeded of necessity an appreciable diminution in the interest. The reason why sequels to great novels have rarely been successful is that it has been impossible for the author in the second volume to sustain a climacteric rise of interest from the level where he left off in the first.
9. Emphasis by Surprise.—A means of emphasis less technical and more psychological than those which have been hitherto discussed is that which owes its origin to surprise. Whatever hits the reader unexpectedly will hit him hard. He will be most impressed by that for which he has been least prepared. Chapter XXXII of "Vanity Fair" passes in Brussels during the battle of Waterloo. The reader is kept in the city with the women of the story while the men are fighting on the field a dozen miles away. All day a distant cannonading rumbles on the ear. At nightfall the noise stops suddenly. Then, at the end of the chapter, the reader is told:—
"No more firing was heard at Brussels—the pursuit rolled miles away. Darkness came down on the field and city: and Amelia was praying for George, who was lying on his face, dead, with a bullet through his heart."
This statement of George Osborne's death is emphasized in several ways at once. It is made emphatic by position, since it is placed at the very end of a long chapter; by inverse proportion, since it is set forth in a single phrase after many pages that have been devoted to less important matters; but most of all by the startle of surprise with which it strikes the reader. Likewise, the last sentence of de Maupassant's "The Necklace," quoted earlier in this chapter, is emphatic by surprise as well as by position; and the same is true of the clever and unexpected close of H. C. Bunner's "A Sisterly Scheme," in many ways a little masterpiece of art.
In tales of mystery, the interest is maintained chiefly by the deft manipulation of surprise; but even in novels wherein the aim to mystify is very far from being the primary purpose of the author, it is often wise to keep a secret from the reader for the sake of the emphasis by surprise which may be derived at the moment of revelation. In "Our Mutual Friend" the reader is led for a long time to suppose that the character of Mr. Boffin is changing for the worse; and his interest is stimulated keenly when he discovers ultimately that the apparent degeneration has been only a pretense.
In the drama this expedient must be used with great delicacy, because a sudden and startling shock of surprise is likely to scatter the attention of the spectators and flurry them out of a true conception of the scene. The reader of a novel, when he discovers with surprise that he has been skilfully deceived through several pages, may pause to reconstruct his conception of the narrative, and may even re-read the entire passage through which the secret has been withheld from him. But in the theatre, the spectators cannot stop the play while they reconstruct in retrospect their judgment of a situation; and therefore, in the drama, a moment of surprise should be carefully led up to by anticipatory suggestion. Before Lady Macbeth is disclosed walking in her sleep, her doctor and her waiting-gentlewoman are sent on to tell the audience of her "slumbery agitation." This is excellent art in the theatre; but it would be bad art in the pages of a novel. In a story written to be read, surprise is most effective when it is complete.
10. Emphasis by Suspense.—An even more interesting form of emphasis in narrative is emphasis by suspense. Wilkie Collins is accredited with having said that the secret of holding the attention of one's readers lay in the ability to do three things: "Make 'em laugh; make 'em weep; make 'em wait." Still abide these three; and the greatest is the last. The ability to make the reader wait, through many pages and at times through many chapters, is a very valuable asset of the writer of fiction; but this ability is applied to best advantage when it is exercised within certain limitations. In the first place, there is no use in making the reader wait unless he is first given an inkling of what he is to wait for. The reader should be tantalized; he should be made to long for the fruit that is just beyond his grasp; and he should not be left in ignorance as to the nature of the fruit, lest he should long for it half-heartedly. A vague sense of "something evermore about to be" is not so interesting to the reader as a vivid sense of the imminence of some particular occurrence that he wishes ardently to witness. The expedient of suspense is most effective when either of two things and only two, both of which the reader has imagined in advance, is just about to happen, and the reader, desirous of the one and apprehensive of the other, is kept waiting while the balance trembles. In the second place, there is seldom any use in making the reader wait unless he is given in the end the thing he has been waiting for. A short-story may occasionally set forth a suspense which is never to be satisfied. Frank R. Stockton's famous tale, "The Lady or the Tiger?", ends with a question which neither the reader nor the author is able to answer; and Bayard Taylor's fascinating short-story, "Who Was She?", never reveals the alluring secret of the heroine's identity. But in an extended story an unsatisfied suspense is often less emphatic than no suspense at all, because the reader in the end feels cheated by the author who has made him wait for nothing. There are, of course, exceptions to this statement. In "The Marble Faun," Hawthorne is undoubtedly right in never revealing the shape of Donatello's ears, even though the reader continually expects the revelation; but, in the same novel, it is difficult to see what, if anything, is gained by making the reader wait in vain for the truth about the shadowy past of Miriam.
11. Emphasis by Imitative Movement.—Emphasis in narrative may also be attained by imitative movement. Whatever is imagined to have happened quickly should be narrated quickly, in few words and in rapid rhythm; and whatever is imagined to have happened slowly should be narrated in a more leisurely manner,—sometimes in a greater number of words than are absolutely necessitated by the sense alone,—the words being arranged, furthermore, in a rhythm of appreciable sluggishness. In "Markheim," the dealer is murdered in a single sudden sentence: "The long, skewerlike dagger flashed and fell." But, later on in the story, it takes the hero a whole paragraph, containing no less than three hundred words, to mount the four-and-twenty steps to the first floor of the house. In the following passage from "The Masque of the Red Death," notice how much of the effect is due to imitative movement in the narrative:—
"But from a certain nameless awe with which the mad assumptions of the mummer had inspired the whole party there were found none who put forth hand to seize him; so that, unimpeded, he passed within a yard of the Prince's person; and, while the vast assembly, as if with one impulse, shrank from the centres of the rooms to the walls, he made his way uninterruptedly, but with the same solemn and measured step which had distinguished him from the first, through the blue chamber to the purple—through the purple to the green—through the green to the orange—through this again to the white—and even thence to the violet, ere a decided movement had been made to arrest him. It was then, however, that the Prince Prospero, maddening with rage and the shame of his own momentary cowardice, rushed hurriedly through the six chambers, while none followed him on account of a deadly terror that had seized upon all." The spectre and the Prince pass successively through the same series of rooms; but it takes the former fifty-one words to cover the distance, whereas it takes the latter only six.
In every story that is artistically fashioned, the methods of emphasis enumerated in this chapter will be found to be continually applied. Its essential features will be rendered prominent by position (terminal or initial), by pause, by proportion (direct or inverse), by iteration or parallelism, by antithesis, by climax, by surprise, by suspense, by imitative movement, or by a combination of any or all of these. The necessity of emphasis is ever present; the means of emphasis are simple; and any writer of narrative who knows his art will endeavor to employ them always to the best advantage.
1. What reasons account for the importance of the principle of emphasis in art?
2. Imagine a fictitious event of sufficient complexity; select the one detail that seems to be the most essential; and then write eleven distinct themes, narrating this same incident, and emphasizing this detail successively, 1. By Terminal Position; 2. By Initial Position; 3. By Pause; 4. By Direct Proportion; 5. By Inverse Proportion; 6. By Iteration; 7. By Antithesis; 8. By Climax; 9. By Surprise; 10. By Suspense, and 11. By Imitative Movement.
VICTOR HUGO: "Notre Dame de Paris."—This is one of the great novels of the world; and it illustrates, at many moments, every technical device of emphasis that has been expounded in this chapter.
THE EPIC, THE DRAMA, AND THE NOVEL
Fiction a Generic Term—Narrative in Verse and Narrative in Prose—Three Moods of Fiction: I. The Epic Mood—II. The Dramatic Mood: 1. Influence of the Actor; 2. Influence of the Theatre; 3. Influence of the Audience—[Dramatized Novels]—III. The Novelistic Mood.
Fiction a Generic Term.—Throughout the present volume, the word fiction has been used with a very broad significance, to include every type of literary composition whose purpose is to embody certain truths of human life in a series of imagined facts. The reason for this has been that the same general artistic methods, with very slight and obvious modifications, are applicable to every sort of narrative which sets forth imagined people in a series of imagined acts. Nearly all of the technical principles which have been outlined in the six preceding chapters apply not only to the novel and the short-story, but likewise to the epic and the lesser narrative in verse, and also (though with certain evident limitations) to the drama. The materials and methods of fiction may be studied in the works of Homer, Shakespeare, and even Browning, as well as in the works of Balzac, Turgenieff, and Mr. Kipling. The nature of narrative is necessarily the same, whatever be its mood or its medium. The methods of constructing plots, of delineating characters, of employing settings, do not differ appreciably whether a narrative be written in verse or in prose; and in either case the same selection of point of view and variety of emphasis are possible. Therefore, in this volume, no attempt has hitherto been made to distinguish one type of fictitious narrative from another.
Narrative in Verse and Narrative in Prose.—Such a distinction, if it be attempted at all, should be made only on the broadest and most general lines. First of all, it should be admitted that, in an inquiry concerned solely with the methods of fiction, no technical distinction is possible between the narrative that is written in verse and the narrative that is written in prose. The two differ in the mood of their materials and the medium through which they are expressed; but they do not differ distinctly in methods of construction. As far as plot and characters and setting are concerned, Sir Walter Scott went to work in the Waverley Novels, which are written in prose, just as he had gone to work in "Marmion" and "The Lady of the Lake," which are written in verse. In his verse he said things with the better art, in his prose he had more things to say; but in each case his central purpose was the same: and nothing can be gained from a critical dictum that "Ivanhoe" is fiction and that "Marmion" is not. In the history of every nation, fiction has been written earliest in verse and only afterwards in prose. What we loosely call the novel was developed late in literature, at a time after prose had supplanted verse as the natural medium for narrative. Therefore, and therefore only, have we come to regard the novel as a type of prose literature. For there is no inherent reason why a novel may not be written in verse. There is a sense in which Mrs. Browning's "Aurora Leigh," Owen Meredith's "Lucile," and Coventry Patmore's "The Angel in the House," to mention works of very different quality and calibre, may be regarded more properly as novels than as poems. The story of "Maud" inspired Tennyson to poetic utterance, and he told the tale in a series of exquisite lyrics; but the same story might have been used by a different author as the basis for a novel in prose. The subject of "Evangeline" was suggested to Longfellow by Hawthorne; and if the great prose poet had written the story himself, it would not have differed essentially in material or in structural method from the narrative as we know it through the medium of the verse romancer. Francois Coppee has composed admirable short-stories in verse as well as in prose. "The Strike of the Iron-Workers" ("La Greve des Forgerons"), which is written in rhymed Alexandrines, does not differ markedly in narrative method from "The Substitute" ("Le Remplacant"), which is written in prose. To be sure, the former is a poem and the latter is not; but only a very narrow-minded critic would call the latter a short-story without applying the same term also to the former. Therefore, the question whether a certain fictitious tale should be told in verse or in prose has no place in a general discussion of the materials and methods of fiction. It is a matter of expression merely, and must be decided in each case by the temperamental attitude of the author toward his subject-matter.
Three Moods of Fiction.—Eliminating, therefore, as unprofitable any attempt at a critical distinction between fiction that is written in verse and fiction that is written in prose, we may yet derive a certain profit from a distinction along broad and general lines between three leading moods of fiction,—the epic, the dramatic, and what (lacking a more precise term) we may call the novelistic. Certain materials of fiction are inherently epic, or dramatic, or novelistic, as the case may be. Also, an author, according to his mental attitude toward life and toward the subject-matter of his fictions, may cast his stories either in the epic, the dramatic, or the novelistic mood. In order to understand this distinction, we must examine the nature of the epic and the drama, and then study the novel in comparison with these two elder types of fiction.
I. The Epic Mood.—The great epics of the world, whether, as in the case of the Norse sagas and possibly of the Homeric poems, they have been a gradual and undeliberate aggregation of traditional ballads, or else, as in the case of the "AEneid" and "Paradise Lost," they have been the deliberate production of a single conscious artist, have attained their chief significance from the fact that they have summed up within themselves the entire contribution to human progress of a certain race, a certain nation, a certain organized religion. The glory that was Greece is epitomized and sung forever in the "Iliad,"—the grandeur that was Rome, in the "AEneid." All that the Middle Ages gave the world is gathered and expressed in the "Divine Comedy" of Dante: all of medieval history, science, philosophy, scholarship, poetry, religion may be reconstructed from a right reading and entire understanding of this single monumental poem. If you would know Portugal in her great age of discovery and conquest and national expansion, read the "Lusiads" of Camoens. If you would know Christianity militant against the embattled legions of the Saracens, read the "Jerusalem Liberated" of Tasso. If you would know what the Puritan religion once meant to the greatest minds of England, read the "Paradise Lost" of Milton.
The great epics have attained this resumptive and historical significance only by exhibiting as subject-matter a vast and communal struggle, in which an entire race, an entire nation, an entire organized religion has been concerned,—a struggle imagined as so vast that it has shaken heaven as well as earth and called to conflict not only men but also gods. The epic has dealt always with a struggle, at once human and divine, to establish a great communal cause. This cause, in the "AEneid," is the founding of Rome; in the "Jerusalem Liberated" it is the recovery of the Holy Sepulchre; in the "Faerie Queene" it is the triumph of the virtues over the vices; in the "Lusiads" it is the discovery and conquest of the Indies; in the "Divine Comedy" it is the salvation of the human soul. Whatever nations, whatever races, whatever gods oppose the founding of Rome or the liberation of Jerusalem must be conquered, because in either case the epic cause is righteous and predestined to prevail.
As a result of this, the characters in the great epics are memorable mainly because of the part that they play in advancing or retarding the victory of the vast and social cause which is the subject of the story. Their virtues and their faults are communal and representative: they are not adjudged as individuals, apart from the conflict in which they figure: and, as a consequence, they are rarely interesting in their individual traits. It is in rendering the more intimate and personal phases of human character that epic literature shows itself, when compared with the modern novel, inefficient. The epic author exhibits little sympathy for any individual who struggles against the cause that is to be established. AEneas dallying with Dido and subsequent desertion of her is of little interest to Virgil on the ground of individual personality: what interests him mainly is that so long as AEneas lingers with the Carthaginian queen, the founding of Rome is being retarded, and that when at last AEneas leaves her, he does so to advance the epic cause. Therefore Virgil regards the desertion of Dido as an act of heroic virtue on the part of the man who sails away to found a nation. A modern novelist, however (and this is the main point to be considered in this connection), would conceive the whole matter more personally. He would be far less interested at the moment in the ultimate founding of Rome than he would be in the misery of the deserted woman; and instead of considering AEneas as a model of heroic virtue, would adjudge him as personally base. From this we see that the novelistic attitude toward character is much more intimate than the epic attitude. The wrath of Achilles is significant to Homer, not so much because it is an exhibition of individual personality as because it is a factor in jeopardizing the victory of the Greeks. Considered as types of individual character, most of Homer's heroes are mere boys. It is the cause for which they fight that gives them dignity: embattled Greece must repossess the beauty which a lesser race has reft away from it. Even Helen herself is merely an idea to be fought for; she is not, as a woman, interesting humanly. It is only in infrequent passages, such as the scene of parting between Andromache and Hector, that the ancient epics reveal the intimate attitude toward character to which we have grown accustomed in the modern novel.
Because the epic authors have been interested always in communal conflict rather than in individual personality, they have seldom made any use of the element of love,—the most intimate and personal of all emotions. There is no love in Homer, and scarcely any love in Virgil and in Milton. Tasso, to be sure, uses a love motive as the basis for each of the three leading strands of his story; but because of this, his epic, though gaining in modernity and charm, loses something of the communal immensity—the impersonal dignity—of the "Iliad" and the "AEneid." On the other hand, novelistic authors, since they have been interested mainly in the revelation of intimate phases of individual personality, have seized upon the element of love as the leading motive of their stories. And this is one of the main differences, on the side of content, between epic and novelistic fiction.
Certain great works of fiction stand upon the borderland between the epic and the novel. "Don Quixote" is, for instance, such a work. It is epic in that it sums up and expresses the entire contribution of Spain to the progress of humanity. It is resumptive of the nation that produced it: all phases of Spanish life and character, ideals and temperament, are epitomized within it. But, on the other hand, it is novelistic in the emphasis it casts on individual personality,—the intimacy with which it focusses the interest not so much upon a nation as upon a man.
The epic, in the ancient sense, is dead to-day. Facility of intercommunication between the nations has made us all citizens of the world; and an increased sense of the relativity of national and religious ideals has made us catholic of other systems than our own. Consequently we have lost belief in a communal conflict so absolutely just and necessary as to call to battle powers not only human but divine. Also, since the French Revolution, we have grown to set the one above the many, and to believe that, of right, society exists for the sake of the individual rather than the individual for the sake of society. Therefore the novel, which deals with individual personality in and for itself, is more attuned to modern life than the epic, which presents the individual mainly in relation to a communal cause which he strives to advance or to retard.
The epic note, however, survives in certain momentous modern novels. "Uncle Tom's Cabin," for example, is less important merely as a novel than as the epic of the great cause of abolition. Underlying many of the works of Erckmann-Chatrian is an epic purpose to advance the cause of universal peace by a depiction of the horrors of war. Balzac had in mind the resumptive phase of epic composition when he planned his "Human Comedy" (choosing his title in evident imitation of that of Dante's poem), and started out to sum up all phases of human life in a single monumental series of narratives. So also the late Frank Norris had an epic idea in his imagination when he planned a trilogy of novels (which unhappily he died before completing) to exhibit what the great wheat industry means to the modern world.
In the broad and social sense, the epic is undeniably a greater type of fiction than the novel, because it is more resumptive of life in the large, and looks upon humanity with a vaster sweep of vision; but in the deep and personal sense, the novel is the greater, because it is more capable of an intimate study of individual emotion. And it is possible, as we have seen, that modern fiction should be at once epic and novelistic in content and in mood,—epic in resuming all aspects of a certain phase of life and in exhibiting a social struggle, and novelistic in casting emphasis upon personal details of character and in depicting intimate emotions. Probably no other author has succeeded better than Emile Zola in combining the epic and the novelistic moods of fiction; and the novels in the Rougon-Macquart series are at once communal and personal in their significance.
II. The Dramatic Mood.—It is somewhat simpler to trace a distinction both in content and in method between novelistic and dramatic fiction, because the latter is produced under special conditions which impose definite limitations upon the author. A drama is, in essence, a story devised to be presented by actors on a stage before an audience. The dramatist, therefore, works ever under the sway of three influences to which the novelist is not submitted:—namely, the temperament of the actors by whom his plays are to be performed, the physical conditions of the theatre in which they are to be produced, and the psychologic nature of the audience before which they are to be presented. The combined force of these three external influences upon the dramatist accounts for all of the essential differences between the drama and the novel.
1. Influence of the Actor.—First of all, because of the influence of his actors, the dramatist is obliged to draw character through action, and to eliminate from his work almost every other means of characterization. He must therefore select from life such moments as are active rather than passive. His characters must constantly be doing something; they may not pause for careful contemplation. Consequently the novelist has a wider range of subject than the dramatist, because he is able to consider life more calmly, and to concern himself, if need be, with thoughts and feelings that do not translate themselves into action. In depicting objective events in which the element of action is paramount, the drama is more immediate and vivid; but the novel may depict subjective events which are quite beyond the presentation of actors in a theatre. Furthermore, since he is not obliged to think of actors, the novelist has a greater freedom in creating characters than the dramatist. The great characters of the drama have been devised by playwrights who have already attained command of the theatre of their place and time, and who therefore have fashioned their parts to fit the individual actors they have found ready to perform them. Consequently they have endowed their characters with the physical, and even to some extent the mental, characteristics of certain actual actors. M. Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac is not merely Cyrano, but also Constant Coquelin; Sardou's La Tosca is not merely La Tosca, but also Mme. Sarah Bernhardt; Moliere's Celimene is not merely Celimene, but also Mlle. Moliere; Shakespeare's Hamlet is not merely Hamlet, but also Richard Burbage. In working thus with one eye upon the actual, the dramatist is extremely likely to be betrayed into untruthfulness. In the last scene of "Hamlet," the Queen says of the Prince, "He's fat and scant of breath." This line was of course occasioned by the fact that Richard Burbage was corpulent during the season of 1602. But the eternal truth is that Prince Hamlet is a slender man; and Shakespeare has here been forced to belie the truth in order to subserve the fact. On the other hand, the dramatist is undoubtedly aided in his great aim of creating characters by holding in mind certain actual people who have been selected to represent them; and what the novelist gains in range and freedom of characterization, he is likely to lose in concreteness of delineation.
2. Influence of the Theatre.—Secondly, the form and structure of the drama in any age is imposed upon the dramatist by the size and shape and physical appointments of the theatre he is writing for. Plays must be built in one way to fit the theatre of Dionysus, in another way to fit the Globe upon the Bankside, in still another way to fit the modern electric-lighted stage behind a picture-frame proscenium. The dramatist in constructing his story is hedged in by a multitude of physical restrictions, of which he must make a special study in order to force them to contribute to the presentation of his truth instead of detracting from it. In this regard, again, the novelist works with greater freedom. Seldom is his labor subjected to merely physical restrictions from without. Sometimes, to be sure, certain arbitrary conditions of the trade of publishing have exercised an influence over the structure of the novel. In England, early in the nineteenth century, it was easier to sell a three-volume novel than a tale of lesser compass; and many a story of the time had to be pieced out beyond its natural and truthful length in order to meet the demands of the public and the publishers. But such a case, in the history of the novel, is exceptional. In general, the novelist may build as he chooses. He may tell a tale, long or short, happening in few places or in many; and is not, like the modern dramatist, confined in place to no more than four or five different settings, and in time to the two hours' traffic of the stage. The novel, therefore, is far more serviceable than the drama as a medium for exhibiting the gradual growth of character,—the development of personality under influences extending over long periods of time and exerted in many different places.
3. Influence of the Audience.—Thirdly, the very content of the drama is determined by the fact that a play must be devised to interest a multitude rather than an individual. The novelist writes for a reader sitting alone in his library: whether ten such readers or a hundred thousand ultimately read a book, the author speaks to each of them apart from all the others. But the dramatist must plan his story to interest simultaneously a multitude of heterogeneous observers. The drama, therefore, must be richer in popular appeal; but the novel may be subtler in appealing to the one instead of to the many. Since the novelist addresses himself to a single person only, or to a limitless succession of single persons, he may choose the sort of reader he will write for; but the dramatist must please the many, and is therefore at the mercy of the multitude. He writes less freely than the novelist, since he cannot pick his auditors. His themes, his thoughts, and his emotions are restricted by the limits of popular appreciation.
This important condition is potent in determining the proper content of dramatic fiction. For it has been found in practice that the one thing most likely to interest a crowd is a struggle between character and character. Speaking empirically, the late Ferdinand Brunetiere, in his preface to "Annales du Theatre et de la Musique" for 1893, stated that the drama has dealt always with a struggle between human wills; and his statement, formulated in the catch-phrase, "No struggle, no drama," has since become a commonplace of dramatic criticism. The reason for this is simply that characters are interesting to a crowd mainly in those crises of emotion that bring them to the grapple. A single individual, like the reader of a novel, may be interested intellectually in those gentle influences beneath which a character unfolds itself as mildly as a blowing rose; but to the gathered multitude a character does not appeal except in moments of contention. Hence the drama, to interest an audience, must present its characters in some struggle of the wills,—whether it be merely flippant, as in the case of Benedick and Beatrice, or gentle, as in that of Viola and Orsino, or terrible, with Macbeth, or piteous, with Lear. The drama, therefore, is akin to the epic, in that it must represent a struggle; but it is more akin to the novel, in that it deals with human character in its individual, rather than its communal, aspects. But in range of representing characters, the drama is more restricted than the novel; for though the novelist is at liberty to exhibit a struggle of individual human wills whenever he may choose to do so, he is not, like the dramatist, prohibited from representing anything else. In covering this special province, the drama is undeniably more vivid and emphatic; but many momentous phases of human experience are not contentious but contemplative; and these the novel may reveal serenely, without employment of the sound and fury of the drama.
Since the mind of the multitude is more emotional than intellectual, the dramatist, for his most effective moments, is obliged to set forth action with emotion for its motive. But the novelist, in motivating action, may be more considerate and intellectual, since his appeal is made to the individual mind. In its psychologic processes, the crowd is more commonplace and more traditional than is the individual. The drama, therefore, is less serviceable than the novel as a vehicle for conveying unaccustomed and advanced ideas of life. The crowd has no speculation in its eyes: it is impatient of original thought, and of any but inherited emotion: it evinces little favor for the original, the questioning, the new. Therefore if an author holds ideas of religion, or of politics, or of social law that are in advance of his time, he will do better to embody them in a novel than in a drama; because the former makes its appeal to the individual mind, which has more patience for intellectual consideration.
Furthermore, the novelist need not, like the dramatist, subserve the immediate necessity for popular appeal. The dramatic author, since he plans his story for a heterogeneous multitude of people, must incorporate in the same single work of art elements that will interest all classes of mankind. But the novelistic author, since he is at liberty to pick his auditors at will, may, if he choose, write only for the best-developed minds. It is an element of Shakespeare's greatness that his most momentous plays, like "Hamlet" and "Othello," are of interest to people who can neither read nor write, as well as to people of educated sensibilities. But it is an evidence of Meredith's greatness that his novels are caviare to the general. Mr. Kipling's "They" is the greater story because it defends itself from being understood by those it is not really for. In exhibiting the subtler and more delicate phases of human experience, the novel far transcends the drama. The drama, at its deepest, is more poignant; but the novel, at its highest, is more exquisite.
Dramatized Novels.—The proper material for the drama is, as we have seen, a struggle between individual human wills, motivated by emotion rather than by intellect, and expressed in terms of objective action. In representing such material, the drama is supreme. But the novel is wider in range; for besides exhibiting (though less emphatically) this special aspect of human life, it may embody many other and scarcely less important phases of individual experience. Of late, an effort has been made to break down the barrier between the novel and the drama: many stories, which have been told first in the novelistic mood, have afterward been reconstructed and retold for presentation in the theatre. This attempt has succeeded sometimes, but has more often failed. Yet it ought to be very easy to distinguish a novel that may be dramatized from a novel that may not. Certain scenes in novelistic literature, like the duel in "The Master of Ballantrae," are essentially dramatic both in content and in mood. Such scenes may be adapted with very little labor to the uses of the theatre. Certain novels, like "Jane Eyre," which exhibit an emphatic struggle between individual human wills, are inherently capable of theatric representment. But any novel in which the main source of interest is not the clash of character on character, in which the element of action is subordinate, or in which the chief appeal is made to the individual (instead of the collective) mind, is not capable of being dramatized successfully.
III. The Novelistic Mood.—It is impossible to determine whether, at the present day, the novel or the drama is the more effective medium for embodying the truths of human life in a series of imagined facts. Dramatic fiction has the greater depth, and novelistic fiction has the greater breadth. The latter is more extensive, the former more intensive, in its artistry. This much, however, may be decided definitely. The novel, at its greatest, may require a vaster sweep of wisdom on the part of the author; but the drama is technically more difficult, since the dramatist, besides mastering all of the general methods of fiction which he necessarily employs in common with the novelist, must labor in conformity with a special set of conditions to which the novelist is not submitted. George Meredith may be a greater author than Sir Arthur Wing Pinero; but Pinero is of necessity more rigid in his mastery of structure.
1. Define the three moods of fiction,—epic, dramatic, and novelistic.
2. What are the advantages and disadvantages of the epic mood?
3. Explain the three influences under which the dramatist must always do his work,—that of the actor, that of the theatre, and that of the audience.
4. What sort of novel can be dramatized successfully?
Study, comparatively, the character of AEneas in Virgil's epic, the character of Macbeth in Shakespeare's drama, and the character of Sentimental Tommy in Sir James Barrie's novels.
Students who desire to pursue a special study of the materials and methods of the drama will find a full discussion of these topics in three books by Clayton Hamilton, entitled "The Theory of the Theatre," "Studies in Stagecraft," and "Problems of the Playwright."
THE NOVEL, THE NOVELETTE, AND THE SHORT-STORY
Novel, Novelette, and Short-Story—The Novel and the Novelette—The Short-Story a Distinct Type—The Dictum of Poe—The Formula of Brander Matthews—Definition of the Short-Story—Explanation of This Definition: 1. "Single Narrative Effect"; 2. "Greatest Economy of Means"; and 3. "Utmost Emphasis"—Brief Tales That Are Not Short-Stories—Short-Stories That Are Not Brief—Bliss Perry's Annotations—The Novelist and the Writer of Short-Stories—The Short-Story More Artistic Than the Novel—The Short-Story Almost Necessarily Romantic.
Novel, Novelette, and Short-Story.—Turning our attention from the epic and the drama, and confining it to the general type of fiction which in the last chapter was loosely named novelistic, we shall find it possible to distinguish somewhat sharply, on the basis of both material and method, between three several forms,—the novel, the novelette, and the short-story. The French, who are more precise than we in their use of denotative terms, are accustomed to divide their novelistic fiction into what they call the roman, the nouvelle, and the conte. "Novel" and "novelette" are just as serviceable terms as roman and nouvelle; in fact, since "novelette" is the diminutive of "novel," they express even more clearly than their French equivalents the relation between the two forms they designate. But it is greatly to be regretted that we do not have in English a distinctive word that is the equivalent of conte. Edgar Allan Poe used the word "tale" with similar meaning; but this term is so indefinite and vague that it has been discarded by later critics. It is customary at the present day to use the word "short-story," which Professor Brander Matthews has suggested spelling with a hyphen to indicate that it has a special and technical significance.
The French apply the term roman to extensive works like "Notre Dame de Paris" and "Eugenie Grandet"; and they apply the term nouvelle to works of briefer compass but similar method, like the "Colomba" and the "Carmen" of Prosper Merimee. In English we may class as novels works like "Kenilworth," "The Newcomes," "The Last of the Mohicans," "The Rise of Silas Lapham"; and we may class as novelettes works like "Daisy Miller," "The Treasure of Franchard," "The Light That Failed." The difference is merely that the novelette (or nouvelle) is a work of less extent, and covers a smaller canvas, than the novel (or roman). The distinction is quantitative but not qualitative. The novelette deals with fewer characters and incidents than the novel; it usually limits itself to a stricter economy of time and place; it presents a less extensive view of life, with (most frequently) a more intensive art. But these differences are not definite enough to warrant its being considered a species distinct from the novel. Except for the restrictions imposed by brevity of compass, the writer of novelettes employs the same methods as the writer of novels; and, furthermore, he sets forth similar materials.
The Novel and the Novelette.—More and more in recent years, the novel has tended to shorten to the novelette. A stricter sense of art has led to the exclusion of digressive and discursive passages; and the hurry and preoccupation of contemporary readers has militated against the leisurely and rambling habit of the authors of an earlier time. The lesson of excision and condensation has been taught by writers as different in tone as Merimee, Turgenieff, and Stevenson. "The three-volume novel is extinct," as Mr. Kipling stated in the motto prefixed to the poem called "The Three-Decker," in which, with a commingling of satire and sentiment, he chanted its requiem. It was nearly always, in the matter of structure, a slovenly form; and there is therefore little cause for regret that the novelette seems destined to supplant it. For the novelette accomplishes the same purpose as the novel, with necessarily a more intensive emphasis of art, and with a tax considerably less upon the time and attention of the reader.
The Short-Story a Distinct Type.—But the conte, or short-story, differs from the novel and the novelette not only quantitatively, but also qualitatively, not only in length, but also in kind. In such contes as "The Necklace" of de Maupassant and "The Last Class" of Daudet, in such short-stories as "Ligeia," "The Ambitious Guest," "Markheim," and "Without Benefit of Clergy," the aim of the author is quite distinct from that of the writer of novels and of novelettes. In material and in method, as well as in extent, these stories represent a type that is noticeably different.
The short-story, as well as the novel and the novelette, has always existed. The parable of "The Prodigal Son," in the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel according to Luke, is just as surely a short-story in material and method as the books of "Ruth" and "Esther" are novelettes in form. But the critical consciousness of the short-story as a species of fiction distinct in purpose and in method from the novel dates only from the nineteenth century. It was Edgar Allan Poe who first designated and realized the short-story as a distinct form of literary art. In the scholarly and thorough introduction to his collection of "American Short Stories," Professor Charles Sears Baldwin points out that Poe, more than any of his predecessors in the art of fiction, felt narrative as structure. It was he who first rejected from the tale everything that was, from the standpoint of narrative form, extraneous, and made the narrative progress more direct. The essential features of his structure were (to use Professor Baldwin's words) harmonization, simplification, and gradation. He stripped his stories of every least incongruity. What he taught by his example was reduction to a straight predetermined course; and he made clear to succeeding writers the necessity of striving for unity of impression through strict unity of form.
The Dictum of Poe.—Poe was a critic as well as a teller of tales; and what he inculcated by example he also stated by precept. In his now famous review of Hawthorne's "Tales," published originally in Graham's Magazine for May, 1842, he thus outlined his theory of the species:—
"The ordinary novel is objectionable, from its length, for reasons already stated in substance. As it cannot be read at one sitting, it deprives itself, of course, of the immense force derivable from totality. Worldly interests intervening during the pauses of perusal, modify, annul, or counteract, in a greater or less degree, the impressions of the book. But simple cessation in reading would, of itself, be sufficient to destroy the true unity. In the brief tale, however, the author is enabled to carry out the fulness of his intention, be it what it may. During the hour of perusal the soul of the reader is at the writer's control. There are no external or extrinsic influences—resulting from weariness or interruption.
"A skilful literary artist has constructed a tale. If wise, he has not fashioned his thoughts to accommodate his incidents; but having conceived, with deliberate care, a certain unique or single effect to be wrought out, he then invents such incidents—he then combines such events as may best aid him in establishing this preconceived effect. If his very initial sentence tend not to the outbringing of this effect, then he has failed in his first step. In the whole composition there should be no word written, of which the tendency, direct or indirect, is not to the one preestablished design. And by such means, with such care and skill, a picture is at length painted which leaves in the mind of him who contemplates it with a kindred art, a sense of the fullest satisfaction. The idea of the tale has been presented unblemished, because undisturbed; and this is an end unattainable by the novel. Undue brevity is just as exceptionable here as in the poem; but undue length is yet more to be avoided."
The Formula of Brander Matthews.—From the very outset, the currency of Poe's short-stories was international; and his concrete example in striving for totality of impression exerted an immediate influence not only in America but even more in France. But his abstract theory, which (for obvious reasons) did not become so widely known, was not received into the general body of critical thought until much later in the century. It remained for Professor Brander Matthews, in his well-known essay on "The Philosophy of the Short-story," printed originally in Lippincott's Magazine for October, 1885, to state explicitly what had lain implicit in the passage of Poe's criticism already quoted, and to give a general currency to the theory that the short-story differs from the novel essentially,—and not merely in the matter of length. In the second section of his essay, Professor Matthews stated:—
"A true short-story is something other and something more than a mere story which is short. A true short-story differs from the novel chiefly in its essential unity of impression. In a far more exact and precise use of the word, a short-story has unity as a novel cannot have it. Often, it may be noted by the way, the short-story fulfills the three false unities of the French classic drama: it shows one action, in one place, on one day. A short-story deals with a single character, a single event, a single emotion, or the series of emotions called forth by a single situation. Poe's paradox that a poem cannot greatly exceed a hundred lines in length under penalty of ceasing to be one poem and breaking into a string of poems, may serve to suggest the precise difference between the short-story and the novel. The short-story is the single effect, complete and self-contained, while the novel is of necessity broken into a series of episodes. Thus the short-story has, what the novel cannot have, the effect of 'totality,' as Poe called it, the unity of impression.
"Of a truth, the short-story is not only not a chapter out of a novel, or an incident or an episode extracted from a longer tale, but at its best it impresses the reader with the belief that it would be spoiled if it were made larger, or if it were incorporated into a more elaborate work....
"In fact, it may be said that no one has ever succeeded as a writer of short-stories who had not ingenuity, originality, and compression; and that most of those who have succeeded in this line had also the touch of fantasy."
Definition of the Short-Story.—On the basis of these theories, the present writer essayed a few years ago to formulate within a single sentence a definition of the short-story. Thus: The aim of a short-story is to produce a single narrative effect with the greatest economy of means that is consistent with the utmost emphasis.
Explanation of This Definition: 1. "Single Narrative Effect."—Because of its succinctness, this sentence needs a little explanation. A narrative effect necessarily involves the three elements of action, characters, and setting. In aiming to produce a narrative effect, the short-story, therefore, differs from the sketch, which may concern itself with only one of these elements, without involving the other two. The sketch most often deals with character or setting divested of the element of action; but in the short-story something has to happen. In this regard, the short-story is related more closely to the novel than to the sketch. But although in the novel any two, or all three, of the narrative elements may be so intimately interrelated that no one of them stands out clearly from the others, it is almost always customary in the short-story to cast a marked preponderance of emphasis on one of the elements, to the subversion of the other two. Short-stories, therefore, may be divided into three classes, according as the effect which they purpose to produce is primarily an effect of action, or of character, or of setting. "The Masque of the Red Death" produces an effect of setting, "The Tell-Tale Heart" an effect of character, and "The Cask of Amontillado" an effect of action. For the sake of economy it is incumbent on the author to suggest at the outset which of the three sorts of narrative effect the story is intended to produce. The way in which Poe accomplished this in the three stories just mentioned may be seen at once upon examination of the opening paragraph of each. Having selected his effect the author of a short-story should confine his attention to producing that, and that alone. He should stop at the very moment when his preestablished design has been attained; and never during the progress of his composition should he turn aside for the sake of a lesser effect not absolutely inherent in his single narrative purpose. Stevenson insisted on this focus of attention in a passage of a personal letter addressed to Sir Sidney Colvin:—
"Make another end to it? Ah, yes, but that's not the way I write; the whole tale is implied; I never use an effect when I can help it, unless it prepares the effects that are to follow; that's what a story consists in. To make another end, that is to make the beginning all wrong. The denouement of a long story is nothing, it is just 'a full close,' which you may approach and accomplish as you please—it is a coda, not an essential member in the rhythm; but the body and end of a short-story is bone of the bone and blood of the blood of the beginning."
2. "Greatest Economy of Means"; and 3. "Utmost Emphasis."—The phrase "single narrative effect," with all its implications, should now be clear. The phrase "with the greatest economy of means" implies that the writer of a short-story should tell his tale with the fewest necessary number of characters and incidents, and should project it in the narrowest possible range of place and time. If he can get along with two characters, he should not use three. If a single event will suffice for his effect, he should confine himself to that. If his story can pass in one place at one time, he must not disperse it over several times and places. But in striving always for the greatest possible conciseness, he must not neglect the equally important need of producing his effect "with the utmost emphasis." If he can gain markedly in emphasis by violating the strictest possible economy, he should do so; for, as Poe stated, undue brevity is exceptionable, as well as undue length. Thus the parable of "The Prodigal Son," which might be told with only two characters—the father and the prodigal—gains sufficiently in emphasis by the introduction of a third—the good son—to warrant this violation of economy. The greatest structural problem of the writer of short-stories is to strike just the proper balance between the effort for economy of means—which tends to conciseness—and the effort for the utmost emphasis—which tends to amplitude of treatment.
Brief Tales That Are Not Short-Stories.—There can be no doubt that the short-story, thus rigidly defined, exists as a distinct form of fiction,—a definite literary species obeying laws of its own. Now and again before the nineteenth century, it appeared unconsciously. Since Poe, it has grown conscious of itself, and has been deliberately developed to perfection by later masters, like Guy de Maupassant. But it must be admitted frankly that brief tales have always existed, and still continue to exist, which stand entirely outside the scope of this rigid and rather narrow definition. Professor Baldwin, after a careful examination of the hundred tales in Boccaccio's "Decameron," concluded that only two of them were short-stories in the modern critical sense, and that only three others approached the totality of impression that depends on conscious unity of form. If we should select at random a hundred brief tales from the best contemporary magazines, we should find, of course, that a larger proportion of them would fulfill the definition; but it is almost certain that the majority of them would still be stories that merely happen to be short, instead of true short-stories in the modern critical sense. Yet these brief fictions, which are not short-stories, and for which we have no name, are none the less estimable in content, and sometimes present a wider view of life than could be encompassed within the rigid limits of a technical short-story. Hawthorne's tales stand higher in the history of literature than Poe's, because they reveal a deeper insight into life, even though the great New England dreamer often violates the principle of economy of means, and constructs less firmly than the mathematically-minded Poe. Washington Irving's brief tales, such as "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," which are not short-stories in the technical sense of the term, are far more valuable as representations of humanity than many a structural masterpiece of Guy de Maupassant. "For my part," Irving wrote to one of his friends, "I consider a story merely as a frame on which to stretch the materials; it is the play of thought, and sentiment, and language, the weaving in of characters, lightly yet expressively delineated; the familiar and faithful exhibition of scenes in common life; and the half-concealed vein of humor that is often playing through the whole,—these are among what I aim at, and upon which I felicitate myself in proportion as I think I succeed." There is much to be said in favor of this meandering and leisurely method; and authors too intent upon a merely technical accomplishment may lose the genial breadth of outlook upon life which men like Irving have so charmingly displayed. Let us admit, therefore, that the story-which-is-merely-short is just as worthy of cultivation as the technical short-story.
Short-Stories That Are Not Brief.—But if there exist many brief tales which are not short-stories, so also there exist certain short-stories which are not brief. "The Turn of the Screw," by Henry James, is a short-story, in the technical sense of the term, although it contains between two and three hundred pages. Assuredly it is not a novelette. It aims to produce one narrative effect, and only one; and it is difficult to imagine how the full force of its cumulative mystery and terror could have been created with greater economy of means. It is a long short-story. Stevenson's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," which is conceived, and for the most part executed, as a short-story, is longer than the same author's "The Beach of Falesa," which is conceived and executed as a novelette. Edward Everett Hale's famous short-story, "The Man Without a Country," is long enough to be printed in a little volume by itself. The point to be remembered, therefore, is that the two different types of brief fiction are to be distinguished one from the other not by comparative length but by structural method. The critic may formulate the technical laws of the stricter type; but it must not be forgotten that these laws do not apply (and there is no reason whatever that they should) to those other estimable narratives which, though brief, stand outside the definition of the short-story.
Bliss Perry's Annotations.—Bearing in mind this limitation of the subject, we may proceed to a further study of the strict short-story type. In an admirable essay on "The Short Story," Professor Bliss Perry had discussed at length its requirements and restrictions. Admitting that writers of short-stories usually cast a marked preponderance of emphasis on one of the three elements of narrative, to the subversion of the other two, Professor Perry calls attention to the fact that in the short-story of character, "the characters must be unique, original enough to catch the eye at once." The writer does not have sufficient time at his disposal to reveal the full human significance of the commonplace. "If his theme is character-development, then that development must be hastened by striking experiences." Hence this class of short-story, as compared with the novel, must set forth characters more unusual and unexpected. But in the short-story of action, on the other hand, the plot may be sufficient unto itself, and the characters may be the merest lay figures. The heroine of "The Lady or the Tiger," for example, is simply a woman—not any woman in particular; and the hero of "The Pit and the Pendulum" is simply a man—not any man in particular. The situation itself is sufficient to hold the reader's interest for the brief space of the story. Hence, although, in the short-story of character, the leading actor is likely to be strikingly individualized, the short-story of action may content itself with entirely colorless characters, devoid of any personal traits whatever. Professor Perry adds that in the class of short-story which casts the main emphasis on setting, "both characters and action may be almost without significance"; and he continues,—"If the author can discover to us a new corner of the world, or sketch the familiar scene to our heart's desire, or illumine one of the great human occupations, as war, or commerce, or industry, he has it in his power, through this means alone, to give us the fullest satisfaction."
From the fact that the short-story does not keep the powers of the reader long upon the stretch, Professor Perry deduces certain opportunities afforded to short-story writers but denied to novelists,—opportunities, namely, "for innocent didacticism, for posing problems without answering them, for stating arbitrary premises, for omitting unlovely details and, conversely, for making beauty out of the horrible, and finally for poetic symbolism." Passing on to a consideration of the demands which the short-story makes upon the writer, he asserts that, at its best, "it calls for visual imagination of a high order: the power to see the object; to penetrate to its essential nature; to select the one characteristic trait by which it may be represented." Furthermore, it demands a mastery of style, "the verbal magic that recreates for us what the imagination has seen." But, on the other hand, "to write a short-story requires no sustained power of imagination"; "nor does the short-story demand of its author essential sanity, breadth, and tolerance of view." Since he deals only with fleeting phases of existence—"not with wholes, but with fragments"—the writer of the short-story "need not be consistent; he need not think things through." Hence, in spite of the technical difficulties which beset the author of short-stories, his work is, on human grounds, more easy than that of the novelist, who must be sane and consistent, and must be able to sustain a prolonged effort of interpretive imagination.
The Novelist and the Writer of Short-Stories.—These points have been so fully covered and so admirably illustrated by Professor Perry that they do not call for any further discussion in this place. But perhaps something may be added concerning the different equipments that are required by authors of novels and authors of short-stories. Matthew Arnold, in a well-known sonnet, spoke of Sophocles as a man "who saw life steadily and saw it whole"; and if we judge the novelist and the writer of short-stories by their attitudes toward life, we may say that they divide this verse between them. Balzac, George Eliot, and Meredith look at life in the large; they try to "see it whole" and to reproduce the chaos of its intricate relations: but Poe, de Maupassant, and Mr. Kipling aim rather to "see steadily" a limited phase of life, to focus their minds upon a single point of experience, and then to depict this point briefly and strikingly. It follows that the novelist requires an experience of life far more extensive than that which is required by the writer of short-stories. The great novelists have all been men of mature years and accumulated wisdom. But if an author knows one little point of life profoundly, he may fashion a great short-story, even though that one thing be the only thing he knows. Of life as it is actually lived, of genuine humanity of character, of moral responsibility in human intercourse, Edgar Allan Poe knew nothing; and yet he was fully equipped to produce what remain until this day the most perfect examples of the short-story in our language. It is therefore not surprising that, although the great novels of the world have been written for the most part by men over forty years of age, the great short-stories have been written by men in their twenties and their thirties. Mr. Kipling wrote two or three short-stories which are almost great when he was only seventeen. Steadiness of vision is a quality of mind quite distinct from the ability to see things whole. "Plain Tales from the Hills" are in many ways the better stories for being the work of a lad of twenty: whatever Mr. Kipling saw at that very early age he envisaged steadily and expressed with the glorious triumphant strength of youth. But if at the same period he had attempted a novel, the world undoubtedly would have found out how very young he was. He would have been incapable of slicing a cross-section clean through the vastitude of human life, of seeing it whole, and of representing the appalling intricacy of its interrelations. On the other hand, most of the mature men who have been wise enough to do the latter, have shown themselves incapable of focussing their minds steadily upon a single point of experience. Wholeness and steadiness of vision—few are the men who, like Sophocles, have possessed them both. The same author, therefore, has almost never been able to write great short-stories and great novels. Scott wrote only one short-story,—"Wandering Willie's Tale" in "Redgauntlet"; Dickens also wrote only one that is worthy of being considered a masterpiece of art,—"A Child's Dream of a Star"; and Thackeray, Cooper, George Eliot, and Meredith have written none at all. On the other hand, Poe could not possibly have written a novel; Guy de Maupassant shows himself less masterly in his more extended works; and Mr. Kipling has yet to prove that the novel is within his powers. Hawthorne is the one most notable example of the man who, beginning as a writer of short-stories, has developed in maturer years a mastery of the novel.