The Art Of Fiction Analysis

2032 Words 9 Pages
The purpose of this paper is to examine Walter Besant’s lecture “The Art of Fiction” in light of Henry James’ published response of the same title. I will argue that James’ is correct and warranted to critique Besant’s approach, but that James’ concerns are ultimately overstated.
Besant’s lecture “The Art of Fiction” aims to defend fiction and elevate the novel among the “higher” arts. Historically, critics wouldn’t dare speak of fiction in the same breath they praise the fine arts – to even consider it an art at all would be a stretch. Of those that would deem it worthy enough to be considered an art “in some qualified sense” (Besant 6), even fewer would place its merit anywhere near that of the higher arts – painting, music, sculpture, and
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In fact, there are several considerations to take into account before even sitting down to write. Besant’s first guideline deals with subject matter and how it’s properly accomplished. For him, “human interest” (Besant 10) should foreground all else in the novel. When written well, practical details such as setting or surroundings need not be explained in blatant terms: they are felt. The dialogue, not the description allows the reader to engage with the world the author creates. One of the reasons this sort of approach is critical is that fiction is participatory in a way the other arts are not – it invokes in us sympathy. Without making use of this faculty, the novel lacks one of the key components that makes it art. Besant then goes on to place a further restriction on what the novelist ought to write about. That is, a fiction writer should stay away from topics of which she has no experience. Besant draws the example of a peasant writing about high society and a southern man writing about the north – to attempt this would be unbelievable and ultimately ineffective writing. Believable art is crucial for Besant – believability is perhaps the key feature that can make or break a work. In this way, a writer should stick to what she knows in order for the work to …show more content…
For James, Besant goes wrong in presupposing a good novel must begin with guidelines. That is, Besant goes wrong the moment he decides to place restrictions on the novelist before she has even started writing. For James, these rules are vague and misguided – he goes as far to claim that the novel owes us nothing in terms of rules, except “that it be interesting” (James 4). Now, it’s noteworthy to point out that whereas Besant seems to think having guidelines pulls fiction closer to the fine arts, James suggests having guidelines pushes fiction further away from what makes it worthy of being called art in the first place. One of the reason fiction is an art is that the “execution” is personal to the author. What’s ultimately important is that whatever the author ends up doing belongs to her, and moreover, having this unbound choice is a part of what makes fiction an

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