毛姆:论小说写作

选择字号:   本文共阅读 2634 次 更新时间:2014-11-25 22:05

进入专题: 小说   写作   毛姆  

毛姆  


毛姆(1874—一1965),英国小说家。生于巴黎,父母亡故后于十一岁返回英国。他的作品内容充实,情节生动,语言明快,巧妙地将艺术性与娱乐性融为一体,赢得了广大读者的喜爱。他被誉为讲故事的大师,但他却称自己的地位只是“在二流小说家中居于前列”。《论小说写作》选自他的自传《总结》(1938)。《总结》叙述了他一生的思想经历,阐述了他对文学艺术的见解。他虽然也重视修饰技巧,但更重视故事情节和人物形象。本篇原文共四节(56—59),各标有数字题目,译文中全部略去,只在每节末空出一行表明每节的起讫。(王逢振)

我总是把要写的东西放在肚子里酝酿很长一段时间,方才落诸笔墨;我在南洋一带构思的一些短篇小说,先只要随便记下一点,直到四年之后,方才写第一篇。短篇小说我已经多年不写了。开始写作生涯时写过;我出版的第三本书就是六篇短篇小说,都写得不好。这以后,我不过试着写些短篇小说登在杂志上。我的代理人逼着我写得风趣些,可是在这方面我就是不行;不是恶毒,就是愤激,或者尖刻。我想努力投合主编的意图,赚点零钱,但很少达到目的。这一次我写的第一篇小说叫做《雨》;有这么一个时候,看上去它的运气好像并不比我年轻时写的那些短篇小说好到哪里去,因为一个主编接一个主编都拒绝采用它;但是我不再在乎,仍旧继续写。当我写完了六篇,而且最后全都在杂志上发表之后,我就出了一个集子。它们的成功使人开心,而且意想不到。我喜欢短篇小说这种体裁。跟我幻想中的人物生活在一起两三个星期,然后打发掉他们,觉得很称心。你来不及对他们感觉腻烦;不像写一部长篇小说,要和小说中的人物成年累月呆在一起那样容易腻烦。这类短篇小说,每一篇大约一万二千字,足够我发挥我的主题思想,然而又逼得我必须要言不烦;这后一点得归功于我写作剧本的实践了。我开始认真写短篇小说时,英美的一些优秀作家正在接受契河夫的影响,这对我来说是一种不幸。文学界相当缺乏稳定性;只要产生一种怪想法,便往往认为是天经地义,而不是一时的风尚;当时最流行的见解是,一个人爱好文艺并且想要写短篇小说,就必须写得像契河夫那样。好几个作家把俄国人的忧郁,俄国人的神秘主义,俄国人的不振作心情,俄国人的绝望感,俄国人的举动轻浮,俄国人的意志薄弱,都移植到萨里或者密执安、布鲁克林或者克拉彭山来,并且相当出了名。说实在话,契河夫并不难学。我知道有几十个俄国流亡者学契诃夫学得很好,而且我是付了代价的,因为他们把小说寄给我要我给他们改英文,后来又因为我不能为他们从美国的杂志挣得大笔的钱而嗔怪我。契诃夫是一个很好的短篇小说家,但有他的局限;而且他把自己的艺术建筑在这些局限上,这是他明智的地方。他没有本领编造一个紧凑而生动的故事,诸如人们可以在晚餐桌上讲得娓娓动听的那类故事,像《遗产》或者《项链》那样。契诃夫的为人好像性情开朗和讲求实际,但是作为一个作家却是抑郁和消沉的:这使他不喜欢暴力或者生气勃勃的行动。他的幽默读来常是那样痛苦,仿佛一个皮肤敏感的人,本来就经不起碰,被人胡乱一刮之后,激怒了的反应似的。他看人生是单色的。他的人物个性都不突出;好像他对这些人的为人本来就不大感兴趣。或许这就是为什么他能够使你感到他们都是相互交织在一起的,是些古怪瞎捞瞎摸的外胚层质,我中有你,你中有我;一种人生神秘感和空虚感,使他的作品具有那种与众不同的质地。这是他那些模仿者都没有看出的。

我不知道自己能否学得了契诃夫。我也不想学他。我要把故事写得紧凑,从铺叙到结束一气呵成。短篇小说,在我看来,只是叙述一个事件,或者物质事件,或者精神事件,凡是无助于说明这个事件的细节全都删掉,这一来就能赋予作品以一种生动的一致性。我对技巧上称作的“要旨”并不害怕。在我看来,只有缺乏逻辑性应当受到指摘;过去人们不重视它,我觉得,是因为作者为了效果,没有足够的理由为它添枝加叶的缘故。一句话,我愿意用一个句点,而不愿意用些七零八落的点子结束我的故事。

短篇小说之所以在法国比在英国受欢迎,想来就是这个缘故。我们的许多小说巨著都写得没头没尾和拖拖拉拉的。英国人就喜欢沉湎在这些庞大的、松松垮垮的、给人以亲切感的作品里;而结构上的松散,这种凌乱无章地叙述一个信手拈来的故事,以及许多和主题没有多大关系的古怪人物在书中随便出现,随便消失,凡此种种都给英国人以特殊的现实感。可是法国人深深感到不好受的就在这种地方。亨利·詹姆士向英国人作的关于小说形式的说教,引起他们的兴趣,但是对他们的实践毫无影响。事实是,他们对形式就不大信得过。他们觉得这里面缺乏气氛,那种拘束使他们恼火;他们觉得作者给自己的素材硬性加上一种外表时,生命就从指缝中溜掉了。法国批评家要求一篇小说应当有头有尾有身体;应当有一个主题,一步步引向一个逻辑结论;而且应当把一切重要的关节都告诉你。大约由于就熟悉莫泊桑,由于在剧本写作方面得到锻炼,还可能由于个人爱好,我形成了一种很讨法国人喜欢的形式感。不管怎样,法国人觉得我既不感情用事,又不罗嗦。

我对自己的文学地位并不存在幻想。在我本国,只有两位重要批评家居然肯认真对待我的作品,而一些聪明的年轻人论述当代小说时,从来就不考虑到我。我并不恨,这是很自然的,我从来就不是一个宣传家。在过去三十年中,读者的数量大大增加了;有一大堆无知的人要求不费气力就能获得知识。他们看小说看到书中的人物对眼前的一些热门课题发表自己的见解时,就觉得学到了东西。再零零星星插进一点爱情,就会使他们提供的报道相当合口味。小说被看作传播思想的方便讲坛。有不少小说家愿意把自己看作是思想领袖。他们写的小说与其说是小说,毋宁说是报章文字;具有一种新闻价值。缺点是过了一段时期之后,它们和上星期的报纸一样令人看不下去。但是为了满足广大新读者对知识的需要,近来却出现了一批用通俗语言写的具有共同兴趣的书籍,科学、教育、社会福利,应有尽有。这些书获得了很大成功,并且扼杀了宣传小说。不过在它们流行的日子里,宣传小说显然要比性格小说或者探险小说重要得多,也容易成为人们谈论的题目。

从那时候起,明眼的批评家,以及比较认真的小说读者,就把大部分注意力放在那些好像提供某种新技巧的作家身上。这是很可理解的,因为他们的那些新手法能够化陈腐为新颖,所以值得来讨论一下。

有点奇怪的是,人们对这类事情会如此重视。亨利·詹姆士想出一个办法,并且运用到高度完善的程度;他通过一个在小说中担任部分角色的观察者的感受来讲述他的故事;这是一个绝妙的窍门,能为他的小说取得所企求的生动效果。他是一个深受法国自然主义影响的作家,所以能写得逼真,而且这种手法使他能避免那些采取无所不见、无所不知态度的小说家所招致的一些困难。凡是这个观察者不知道的事情可以很方便地让读者纳闷去。不过这同自传的小说也相差不了多少;自传体小说同样有这许多优点,因此把这种方法说成是了不起的美学发现是荒谬的。其他被尊为最重要的试验是使用意识流。作家们总是向往具有情感价值并且不太难懂的哲学家。他们曾经依次被叔本华、尼采、柏格森吸引过。精神分析学会引起他们的注意,也是必然的。精神分析学对于小说家具有广阔的前途。他懂得自己最成功的作品有多少得力于自己的潜意识,所以情不自禁地想通过自己杜撰的那些人物勾画出一幅想象的潜意识图画,俾能把人物的性格挖掘得更深些。这是个很聪明、很有趣的花招,但是仅此而已。偶尔用来达到一个特殊目的,如讽刺性,或戏剧性,或解释性的目的,是可以的;用来作为写作的基本方法,就显得乏味了。我猜想这类或类似的手法,凡是可以派用场的,都将被吸引到小说写作的一般技巧里,但是推荐这些手法的作品不久就会失去吸引力。那些看中这些古怪试验的作家好像忽视了一件事,即采用这些手法的小说里,所抒写的事情都是极端无聊的;看上去简直像是作者原就意识到自己的空虚,很不好受,因此逼得只好采用这些手法。他们这样独出心裁地描写的人物,其本身却是没有吸引力的,他们斤斤计较的问题是无足轻重的。这不妨说是意中事。因为艺术家只在题材不大使他感兴趣的时候,才对写作的技巧关注起来。当他满脑子想的是他的题材时,就没有多大功夫考虑到写作的艺术性问题了。因此,十七世纪的作家,被文艺复兴的艺术追求搞得筋疲力尽,又在探索人生的大问题时遭到专制的王侯和教会的阻止,就把心思转移到龚戈拉风格、夸张华丽的文体和诸如此类的玩艺上去。也许,近年来人们对艺术上各种形式的技巧试验感兴趣表明了一件事实,即我们的文明正在解体;十九世纪的重要主题已经失去了吸引力,而艺术家们还看不出什么重大问题将是行将取代我们自己文明的那一代人所关心的问题。

所以文学界认为我的作品没有多大价值,我看这是很自然的事。在戏剧上,我觉得按照传统的方式写很方便。作为一个小说家,我回到年代悠远的新石器时代去,仿效那在山洞里围火讲故事的人。我有故事要讲,我把故事看作是乐趣。在我看来,那时单是故事本身就足够成为一个目标了;而现在有相当长的时间,知识分子却瞧不起讲故事,所以我就倒霉。我读过不少论小说写作的书,全都认为小说情节没有多大价值(顺带说一下,我就不懂得某些自作聪明的理论家在故事和情节之间所作的严格区别。情节不过是故事的布局罢了)。这些古人们会认为情节对于高明的作者只是一种碍手的东西,是他对公众愚蠢要求的一种让步。确实,有时候你会认为最好的小说家都是散文家,而唯一十全十美的短篇小说是理查里司·兰姆和威廉·海司列特写的。

但是喜欢听故事和喜欢看产生戏剧的跳舞和摹拟表演,同样是人之常情。从侦探小说的流行可以看出这种爱好至今不衰,连第一流的知识分子也看它们,当然并不当回事,可是的确看它们;为什么?还不是因为他们唯一放在眼里的那些心理的、教育的、精神分析的小说不能满足他们的这种特殊需要吗?有若干聪明的作家,脑子里有各种各样的好货色,也有本领创造活生生的人物,但创造出来之后却不知道把他们怎么办才好。他们就是诌不出一个合情合理的故事。和所有作家一样(而且所有作家多少都有点吹牛),他们把自己的短处说成是长处,或者告诉读者自己去想象是怎么一回事,或者骂他们不应该想知道。他们声称,故事没有结尾,局面没有收拾,线索由它悬着,正是实际生活。这并不尽然,因为至少死是可以作为一切故事的结束的;但是即使如他们所说,这也不能成为很好的理由。C兰姆,海司列特,两人都是英国浪漫主义时期的著名散文家和论文家。因为小说家自称是艺术家,而艺术家并不摹仿生活;他把生活作了一种安排以适合自己的目的。正如画家用画笔来思维和作画一样,小说家是用故事来思维的;他的人生观,——也许他自己并不觉得——他的个性,是以一系列行动表现出来的。当你回顾已往的艺术,你将不难看出艺术家们少有把现实主义抬得很高的。大体上,他们利用了自然作为形式上的点缀;他们只是在想象使自己离开自然太远时,感到有必要回到自然去,才偶尔直接摹仿一下。在绘画和雕塑上,人们甚至可以争辩说,过于逼真总是一个艺术派别由盛而衰的征兆。你在菲狄阿斯的雕塑中已经看到波尔费底莱的阿波罗霉的单调,从拉斐尔在波尔萨诺的《神迹》画中已经看到波格罗山的乏味作品了。那一来,艺术就只能通过给自然硬套上新的规格而获得新的生命力。

不过这已经离题了。

读者想要知道引起他兴趣的那些人物的究竟,这是很自然的,而情节就是满足这种要求的手段。要编出一个好故事显然是不容易的,但不能因为不容易做到就瞧不起它。一个故事应当具有适合题材需要的连贯性和足够的可能性;应当是能够表现性格发展的那类故事,这是当代小说最最关心的;应当有完整性,俾能在故事全部揭晓以后,读者对于书中人物再没有什么问题可以问的了。它应当像亚理士多德谈的悲剧,有头,有尾,有身体。情节的一个主要用处,好多人似乎都没有觉察到。它是一根指导读者兴趣的线索。这可能是小说中最重要的东西,因为作家要靠指导读者的兴趣才能使他一页页看下去,也是靠指导读者兴趣才能使读者进入他要求的那种心境。作家的骰子总是装了铅的,但是决不能让读者看出;他就是靠在情节上下功夫抓住读者的注意力,使他看不出上了作家的圈套。我并不是在写一本论小说写作技巧的书,所以用不着列举小说家用以达到目的的各种花招。但是我们从《识见与敏感》和《情感教育》可以看出抓住读者兴趣效果多么好,而放弃抓它是多么有害。简·奥斯丁非常坚定地带领着她的读者沿着那个简单故事的线索前进,使读者来不及盘算艾琳娜是个道学先生,玛琳是个傻瓜,而那三个男子都是没有生命的木偶。福楼拜一意要体现绝对客观性,对读者的兴趣简直不抓,使读者对书中人物的命运毫不关心。这使这部小说非常难读。我想不出什么别的小说有这么多优点,然而留给人的印象却是这样淡墨山水的。(周煦良译)

56

I HAVE ALWAYS liked to let things simmer in my mind for a long time before setting them down on paper, and it was not till four years after I had made my notes for it that I wrote the first of the stories I had conceived in the South Seas. I had not written short stories for many years. I began my literary career by writing them and my third book was a collection of six. They were not good. After that I tried now and then to write stories for the magazines; my agents pressed me to write humorously, but for this I had no aptitude; I was grim, indignant or satirical. My efforts to satisfy editors and thus earn a little money rarely succeeded. The first story I wrote now was called Rain and it looked for a while as though I should have no better luck with it than with those I had written in my youth, for editor after editor refused it; but I no longer minded and I went on. When I had written six, all of which eventually found their way into magazines, I published them in a book. The success they had was pleasant and unexpected. I liked the form. It was very agreeable to live with the personages of my fancy for two or three weeks and then be done with them. One had no time to grow sick of them as one easily may during the months one has to spend in their company when writing a novel. This sort of story, one of about twelve thousand words, gave me ample room to develop my theme, but forced upon me a concision that my practice as a dramatist had made grateful to me. It was unlucky for me that I set about writing short stories seriously when the better-class writers in England and America were delivered over to the influence of Chekhov. The literary world somewhat lacks balance, and when a fancy takes it, is apt to regard it not as a passing fashion, but as Heaven's first law; and the notion prevailed that anyone who had artistic leanings and wanted to write short stories must write stories like Chekhov. Several writers transplanted Russian melancholy, Russian mysticism, Russian fecklessness, Russian despair, Russian futility, Russian infirmity of purpose, to Surrey or Michigan, Brooklyn or Clapham and made quite a reputation for themselves. It must be admitted that Chekhov is not hard to imitate. As I know to my cost there are dozens of Russian refugees who do it quite well: to my cost, because they send me their stories so that I may correct the English and then are offended with me when I cannot get vast sums of money for them from American magazines. Chekhov was a very good short story writer, but he had his limitations and he very wisely made them the basis of his art. He had no gift for devising a compact, dramatic story, such a story as you could tell with effect over the dinner-table, like L'H ritage or La Parure. As a man, he seems to have been of a cheerful and practical disposition, but as a writer, he was of a depressed melancholic nature that made him turn away with distaste from violent action or exuberance. His humour, often so painful, is the exasperated reaction of a man whose shuddering sensibilities have been rubbed the wrong way. He saw life in a monotone. His people are not sharply individualized. He does not seem to have been much interested in them as persons. Perhaps that is why he is able to give you the feeling that they are all part of one another, strange groping ectoplasms that melt into each other, the sense of the mystery of life and its futility, which give him his unique quality. It is a quality that has escaped his followers.

I do not know if I could ever have written stories in the Chekhov manner. I did not want to. I wanted to write stories that proceeded, tightly knit, in an unbroken line from the exposition to the conclusion. I saw the short story as a narrative of a single event, material or spiritual, to which by the elimination of everything that was not essential to its elucidation a dramatic unity could be given. I had no fear of what is technically known as the point. It seemed to me that it was reprehensible only if it was not logical, and I thought that the discredit that had been attached to it was due only to the fact that it had been too often tacked on, merely for effect, without legitimate reason. In short, I preferred to end my short stories with a full-stop rather than with a straggle of dots.

It is this, I imagine, that has led to their being better appreciated in France than in England. Our great novels are shapeless and unwieldy. It has pleased the English to lose themselves in these huge, straggling, intimate works; and this laxity of construction, this haphazard conduct of a rambling story, this wandering in and out of curious characters who have nothing much to do with the theme, have given them a peculiar sense of reality. It is this, however, that has given the French an acute sense of discomfort. The sermons that Henry James preached to the English on form in the novel aroused their interest, but have little affected their practice. The fact is that they are suspicious of form. They find in it a sort of airlessness; its constraint irks them; they feel that when the author has fixed upon his material a wilful shape life has slipped through his fingers. The French critic demands that a piece of fiction should have a beginning, a middle and an end; a theme that is clearly developed to a logical conclusion; and that it should tell you all that is of moment to the point at issue. From the familiarity with Maupassant that I gained at an early age, from my training as a dramatist, and perhaps from personal idiosyncrasy, I have, it may be, acquired a sense of form that is pleasing to the French. At all events they find me neither sentimental nor verbose.

57

IT IS VERY SELDOM that life provides the writer with a readymade story. Facts indeed are often very tiresome. They will give a suggestion that excites the imagination, but then are apt to exercise an authority that is only pernicious. The classic example of this is to be found in Le Rouge et le Noir. This is a very great novel, but it is generally acknowledged that the end is unsatisfactory. The reason is not hard to find. Stendhal got the idea for it from an incident that at the time made a great stir; a young seminarist killed his mistress, was tried and guillotined. But Stendhal put into Julien Sorel, his hero, not only a great deal of himself, but much more of what he would have liked to be and was miserably conscious that he was not; he created one of the most interesting personages of fiction and for fully three quarters of his book made him behave with coherence and probability; but then he found himself forced to return to the facts that had been his in-spiration. He could only do this by causing his hero to act incongruously with his character and his intelligence. The shock is so great that you no longer believe, and when you do not believe in a novel you are no longer held. The moral is that you must have the courage to throw your facts overboard if they fail to comply with the logic of your character. I do not know how Stendhal could have ended his novel; but I think it would have been hard to find a more unsatisfactory end than the one he chose.

I have been blamed because I have drawn my characters from living persons, and from criticisms that I have read one might suppose that nobody had ever done this before. This is nonsense. It is the universal custom. From the beginning of literature authors have had originals for their creations. Scholars, I believe, give a name to the rich glutton who served as a model to Petronius for his Trimalchio and Shakespeare students find an original for Mr Justice Shallow. The very virtuous and upright Scott drew a bitter portrait of his father in one book and a pleasanter one, when the passage of years had softened his asperity, in another. Stendhal, in one of his manuscripts, has written the names of the persons who had suggested his characters; Dickens, as we all know, portrayed his father in Mr Micawber and Leigh Hunt in Harold Skimpole. Turgenev stated that he could not create a character at all unless as a starting point he could fix his imagination on a living person. I suspect that the writers who deny that they use actual persons deceive themselves (which is not impossible, since you can be a very good novelist without being very intelligent) or deceive us. When they tell the truth and have in fact had no particular person in mind, it will be found, I think, that they owe their characters rather to their memory than to their creative instinct. How many times have we met d'Artagnan, Mrs Proudie, Archdeacon Grantley, Jane Eyre and J rome Coignard with other names and in other dress! I should say that the practice of drawing characters from actual models is not only universal but necessary. I do not see why any writer should be ashamed to acknowledge it. As Turgenev said, it is only if you have a definite person in your mind that you can give vitality and idiosyncrasy to your own creation.

I insist that it is a creation. We know very little even of the persons we know most intimately; we do not know them enough to transfer them to the pages of a book and make human beings of them. People are too elusive, too shadowy, to be copied; and they are also too incoherent and contradictory. The writer does not copy his originals; he takes what he wants from them, a few traits that have caught his attention, a turn of mind that has fired his imagination, and therefrom constructs his character. He is not concerned whether it is a truthful likeness; he is concerned only to create a plausible harmony convenient for his own purposes. So different may be the finished product from the original that it must be a common experience of authors to be ac-cused of having drawn a lifelike portrait of a certain person when they had in mind someone quite different. Further, it is just chance whether the author chooses his models from persons with whom he is intimately connected or not. It is often enough for him to have caught a glimpse of someone in a tea-shop or chatted with him for a quarter of an hour in a ship's smoking-room. All he needs is that tiny, fertile substratum which he can then build up by means of his experience of life, his knowledge of human nature and his native intuition.

The whole business would be plain sailing if it were not for the susceptibilities of the persons who serve as models for the author's characters. So colossal is human egotism that people who have met an author are constantly on the lookout for portraits of themselves in his works and if they can persuade themselves that such and such a character is drawn from them they are bitterly affronted if it is drawn with any imperfections. Though they will find fault with their friends freely and ridicule the absurdities; their vanity is so outrageous that they cannot reconcile themselves to the fact that they too have faults and absurdities. The matter is made worse for them by their friends who with malicious indignation offer them feigned sympathy for the outrage they have suffered. Of course there is a lot of humbug about it all. I do not suppose I am the only author who has been vilified by women who claimed that I had stayed with them and abused their hospitality by writing about them when not only had

Sometimes the author takes a very commonplace person and from him invents a character who is noble, self-controlled and courageous. He has seen in that person a significance that had escaped those he lived with. Then oddly enough the original goes unrecognized; it is only when you show somebody with faults or ridiculous foibles that a name is at once assigned. I have been forced to conclude from this that we know our friends by their defects rather than by their merits. The author seldom has the wish to give offence and he uses what means he can to protect his originals; he puts the persons of his invention in different places, gives them another means of livelihood, situates them perhaps in a different class; what he cannot so easily do is to change their appearance. The physical traits of a man influence his character and contrariwise his character is expressed, at least in the rough, in his appearance. You cannot make a tall man short and otherwise keep him the same. A man's height gives him a different outlook on his environment and so changes his character. Nor to cover your tracks can you make a little brunette into a massive blonde. You have to leave them very much as they are or you will lose what it was that moved you to draw a character from them. But no one has the right to take a character in a book and say, this is meant for me. All he may say is, I provided the suggestion for this character. If he has any common sense he will be interested rather than vexed; and the author's inventiveness and intuition may suggest to him things about himself that it is useful for him to know.

58

I HAVE NO illusions about my literary position. There are but two important critics in my own country who have troubled to take me seriously and when clever young men write essays about contemporary fiction they never think of considering me. I do not resent it. It is very natural. I have never been a propagandist. The reading public has enormously increased during the last thirty years and there is a large mass of ignorant people who want knowledge that can be acquired with little labour. They have thought that they were learning something when they read novels in which the characters delivered their views on the burning topics of the day. A bit of love-making thrown in here and there made the information they were given sufficiently palatable. The novel was regarded as a convenient pulpit for the dissemination of ideas and a good many novelists were willing enough to look upon themselves as leaders of thought. The novels they wrote were journalism rather than fiction. They had a news value. Their disadvantage was that after a little while they were as unreadable as last week's paper. But the demand of this great new public for knowledge has of late given rise to the production of a number of books in which subjects of common interest, science, education, social welfare and I know not what, are treated in non-technical language. Their success has been very great and has killed the propaganda novel. But it is evident that while its vogue lasted it seemed much more significant and so offered a better subject of discourse than the novel of character or adventure.

The intelligent critics, the more serious novel readers, have since then given most of their attention to the writers who seemed to offer something new in technique, and this is very comprehensible, for the novelties they presented gave a sort of freshness to well-worn material and were a fruitful matter of discussion.

It seems strange that so much attention has been paid to these things. The method that Henry James devised and brought to a high degree of perfection of telling his story through the sensibilities of an observer who had some part in its action was an ingenious dodge that gave the dramatic effect he sought in fiction, a verisimilitude grateful to an author much influenced by the French naturalists and a means of getting round some of the difficulties of the novelist who takes up the attitude of an all-seeing and all-wise narrator. What this observer did not know could be left conveniently mysterious. It was, however, only a slight variation from the autobiographical form that has many of the same advantages, and to speak of it as though it were a great

aesthetic discovery is somewhat absurd. Of the other experiments that have been made the most important is the use of the stream of thought. Writers have always been attracted by the philosophers who had an emotional value and who were not too hard to understand. They were taken in turn by Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Bergson. It was inevitable that psycho-analysis should captivate their fancy. It had great possibilities for the novelist. He knew how much he owed to his own subconscious for the best of what he wrote and it was tempting to explore greater depths of character by an imaginative picture of the subconscious of the persons of his invention. It was a clever and amusing trick, but nothing more. When writers, instead of using it as an occasional device for a particular purpose, ironical, dramatic or explanatory, made it the basis of their work it proved tedious. I conjecture that what is useful in this and similar devices will be absorbed into the general technique of fiction, but that the works that introduced them will soon lose their interest. It seems to have escaped the attention of those who have been taken by these curious experiments that the matter treated of in the books in which they are made use of is of an extreme triviality. It almost looks as though their authors had been driven to these contrivances by an uneasy consciousness of their own emptiness. The persons they described with all this ingenuity are intrinsically uninteresting and the subjects at issue unimportant. This might be expected. For the artist is absorbed by his technique only when his theme is of no pressing interest to him. When he is obsessed by his topic he has not much time over to think of the artfulness of his presentation. So in the seventeenth century the writers, exhausted by the mental effort of the Renaissance and prevented by the tyranny of kings and the domination of the church from occupying themselves with the great issues of life, turned their minds to gongorism, concettism and such-like toys. It may be that the interest that has been taken during recent years in every form of technical experiment in the arts points to the fact that our civilization is crumbling; the subjects that seemed important to the nineteenth century have lost their interest, and artists do not yet see what the great issues are that will affect the generation who will create the civilization which is in course of displacing our own.

59

I LOOK UPON IT as very natural then that the world of letters should have attached no great importance to my work. In the drama I have found myself at home in the traditional moulds. As a writer of fiction I go back, through innumerable generations, to the teller of tales round the fire in the cavern that sheltered neolithic men. I have had some sort of story to tell and it has interested me to tell it. To me it has been a sufficient object in itself. It has been my misfortune that for some time now a story has been despised by the intelligent. I have read a good many books on the art of fiction and all ascribe very small value to the plot. (In passing I should like to say that I cannot understand the sharp dis-tinction some clever theorists make between story and plot. A plot is merely the pattern on which the story is arranged.) From these books you would judge that it is only a hindrance to the intelligent author and a concession that he makes to the stupid demands of the public. Indeed, sometimes you might think that the best novelist is the essayist, and that the only perfect short stories have been written by Charles Lamb and Hazlitt.

But the delight in listening to stories is as natural to human nature as the delight in looking at the dancing and miming out of which drama arose. That it exists unimpaired is shown by the vogue of the detective novel. The most intellectual persons read them, with condescension of course, but they read them, and why, if not because the psychological, the pedagogic, the psycho-analytic novels which alone their minds approve do not give them the satisfaction of this particular need? There are a number of clever writers who, with all sorts of good things in their heads to say and a gift for creating living people, do not know what on earth to do with them when they have created them. They cannot invent a plausible story. Like all writers (and in all writers there is a certain amount of humbug) they make a merit of their limitations and either tell the reader that he can imagine for himself what happens or else berate him for wanting to know. They claim that in life stories are not finished, situations are not rounded off and loose ends are left hanging. This is not always true, for at least death finishes all our stories; but even if it were it would not be a good argument.

For the novelist claims to be an artist and the artist does not copy life, he makes an arrangement out of it to suit his own purposes. Just as the painter thinks with his brush and paints the novelist thinks with his story; his view of life, though he may be unconscious of it, his personality, exist as a series of human actions. When you look back on the art of the past you can hardly fail to notice that artists have seldom attached great value to realism. On the whole they have used nature to make a formal decoration and they have only copied it directly from time to time when their imagination had taken them so far from it that a return was felt necessary. In painting and sculpture it might even be argued that a very close approximation to reality has always announced the decadence of a school. In the sculpture of Phidias you see already the dullness of the Apollo Belvedere and in Raphael's Miracle at Bolsano the vapidity of Bouguereau. Then art can only gain new vigour by forcing on nature a new concession.

But that is by the way.

It is a natural desire in the reader to want to know what happens to the people in whom his interest has been aroused and the plot is the means by which you gratify this desire. A good story is obviously a difficult thing to invent, but its difficulty is a poor reason for despising it. It should have coherence and sufficient probability for the needs of the theme; it should be of a nature to display the development of character, which is the chief concern of fiction at the present day, and it should have completeness, so that when it is finally unfolded no more questions can be asked about the persons who took part in it. It should have like Aristotle's tragedy a beginning, a middle and an end. The chief use of a plot is one that many people do not seem to have noticed. It is a line to direct the reader's interest. That is possibly the most important thing in fiction, for it is by direction of interest that the author carries the reader along from page to page and it is by direction of interest that he induces in him the mood he desires. The author always loads his dice, but he must never let the reader see that he has done so, and by the manipulation of his plot he can engage the reader's attention so that he does not perceive what violence has been done him. I am not writing a technical treatise on the novel, so I need not enumerate the various devices that novelists have used to achieve this. But how efficacious this direction

    进入专题: 小说   写作   毛姆  

本文责编:gouwanying
发信站:爱思想(https://www.aisixiang.com)
栏目: 学术 > 文学 > 外国文学
本文链接:https://www.aisixiang.com/data/80522.html
文章来源:本文转自《总结》,转载请注明原始出处,并遵守该处的版权规定。

爱思想(aisixiang.com)网站为公益纯学术网站,旨在推动学术繁荣、塑造社会精神。
凡本网首发及经作者授权但非首发的所有作品,版权归作者本人所有。网络转载请注明作者、出处并保持完整,纸媒转载请经本网或作者本人书面授权。
凡本网注明“来源:XXX(非爱思想网)”的作品,均转载自其它媒体,转载目的在于分享信息、助推思想传播,并不代表本网赞同其观点和对其真实性负责。若作者或版权人不愿被使用,请来函指出,本网即予改正。
Powered by aisixiang.com Copyright © 2023 by aisixiang.com All Rights Reserved 爱思想 京ICP备12007865号-1 京公网安备11010602120014号.
工业和信息化部备案管理系统