That’s Life

The relation of the literary biographer to his subject has perhaps never been easy, and as posthumous biographical scrutiny has grown more intense, a premonitory shiver has been felt by many writers. Every great man has his disciples, says Wilde, and it is usually Judas who writes the biography. Joyce describes the biographer, not much more winningly, as the biografiend. No one has any trouble understanding why T. S. Eliot and George Orwell both stipulated that no biography be written of them, at least with any help from their widows. The biographer is necessarily intrusive, a trespasser even when authorized. For while he is neither inimical nor in his judgments Rhadamanthine—and good will seems to be a prerequisite—he introduces an alien point of view, necessarily different from that mixture of self-recrimination and self-justification which the great writer, like lesser men and women, has made the subject of his lifelong conversation with himself.

Yet some parallactic correction of self-portraiture is warranted because the sense of ourselves which we have in isolation is to a large extent fabricated, an ennoblement or a debasement. Alone we can be braver and handsomer than others see us, and think of those perfect ripostes which somehow just failed—when we were at the party—to come to our lips. And alone, too, we can be more monstrous than we really are. Autobiography is essentially solitary, though there are examples, such as V.S. Pritchett’s autobiography, of almost total self-effacement in this form. But biography is essentially social. For the biographer, who himself represents the outside world, the social self is the real self, the self only comes to exist when juxtaposed with other people. The solitary self is a pressure upon the social self, or a repercussion of it, but it has no independent life. No doubt Robinson Crusoe would disagree, but the overstatement may encourage us. Besides Defoe, not Crusoe, wrote the book.

How intimately can we know the self of another person? When we read Boswell we are surprised in that decorous author to find that he believes he is rendering Johnson’s private life. He quotes Dr. Johnson’s remark that a man’s domestic privacies should be investigated because prudence and virtue may appear more conspicuously there than in incidents of vulgar greatness. But we are now only too well aware that the domestic life may yield examples of attributes other than prudence and virtue. Recent biographical speculations about Dr. Johnson himself offer such intimations. We can now see that Boswell dealt with a social privacy, the interrelation of one man with another in civilized appointed meetings. There are deeper levels of privacy, where propriety gives way to impropriety, where, if Katharine Balderston is right, Mrs. Thrale at Dr. Johnson’s earnest request whips his naked back, or, if Professor Balderston is wrong, other unseemly acts take place which we assume even if we can’t document.

Boswell tells us nothing of these. Partly, of course, because he didn’t share our estimation of the importance these further kinds of intimacy might possess. Today we want to see our great men at their worst as well as their best; we ask of biography the same candor that our novelists have taught us to accept from them. Napoleon warned of the danger of trusting his valet, but Napoleon was anxious to protect his grandeur. One reveals character to an office clerk as well as to a chairman of the board, through digestion as well as cerebration. To dwell, as a biographer today would dwell, upon the influence of Lichfield on Dr. Johnson would not be Boswellian; to deal with Johnson’s relations with his parents as something central, rather than as something to be got over to reach the adult Johnson—the finished product—without too great delay, would also seem to Boswell gratuitous.

More than anything else we want in modern biography to see the character forming, its peculiarities taking shape—but Boswell prefers to give it to us already formed. No doubt it was hard for Boswell to conceive of Dr. Johnson as a small boy in short trousers, at least until that short-trousered small boy began to translate Virgil and Homer. It is hard for us, too. And primarily Boswell wants to reveal Johnson’s force of character, while today we should ask him to disclose to us the inner “compulsions,” the schizoid elements—such is our modern vocabulary—which lay behind that force.

A Boswell alive today would have difficulty in representing so amusingly Johnson’s scorn for Scotsmen; he would feel the need to tell us the origins of this xenophobia, and much of the comedy would evaporate before cumbersome explanation. We should want to know more about Johnson’s early indifference to religion, which began at the age of nine, he told Boswell, on account of his weak eyes—a curious explanation (was the prayer book badly printed?)—and which continued until as a student at Oxford he happened upon William Law’s Serious Call to a Holy Life and became religious again. This is the panoply of the mind, not its basic workings.

The greatness of Boswell’s biography, the sense it imparts of a man utterly recognizable and distinct, demonstrates that other methods of biography are not necessarily better; but nonetheless we feel compelled today to explore carefully aspects of the mind and of behavior that he would have regarded as not worthy to record and not suitable to publish. We can claim to be more intimate, but even our intimacy shows occasional restraints, little islands of guardedness in a blunt ocean. We have savored the emotional intricacies of Lytton Strachey’s love life with Carrington and their friends, but the precise anatomical convolutions remain shrouded by the last rags of biographical decorum.

One characteristic of Ernest Jones’s biography of Freud is that even Jones, an analyst writing about an analyst, stops short at certain points and says, “But we must leave this matter to the psychoanalysts.” This is appealing from Philip Drunk to Philip Sober. One has the sense of descending into a cave only to be told that the real cave is further down, unfortunately closed to the public. The battle to use Freudian techniques has been won; but victory has not been conclusive, because while techniques are needed, these remain, as Jones saw, difficult to convert for lay purposes.

As we push back into the mind of a writer, we are apt to lose sight of his conscious direction, of all that gives shape to what might otherwise be his run-of-the-mill phobias or obsessions and that distinguishes his grand paranoia from our own small squirmy one. It is relevant, though already suspiciously pat, to point out the existence of an Oedipal situation in childhood, but in the works of a writer’s maturity this is usually so overlaid with more recent and impinging intricacies that we run the danger of being too simple about the complexes. We may reduce all achievement to a web of causation until we cannot see the Ego for the Id.

And yet the pursuit of the finished man in the child is irresistible for us, and Freud offers more help than other psychologists. In Jean-Paul Sartre’s three biographies, of Baudelaire, Genet, and Flaubert, he attempts to unite Freudian with existential psychology. Toward Baudelaire he adopts a highly critical attitude; he describes how the poet’s mother rejected him, and how as a direct consequence he set himself to be different from her and her companions, to achieve uniqueness as a form of vengeance. In this pursuit he abolished his natural self and all immediacy of response. He became a dandy, but beyond dandyism, he ceased to be a person, he became a “freedom-thing.” This analysis reduces Baudelaire to his weaknesses; it centers on the origins of maladjustment and leaves him overwhelmed by them. The poems of Baudelaire carry a different implication, that he was a man who was successfully unhealthy. The success is hard for Sartre to clarify or even to admit.

His book on Genet is more sympathetic and better suited to its subject; the castigation which he is so quick to administer to Baudelaire he avoids for Genet, because Genet accepted his identity and lived it. Sartre has an unexpected description of the way this identity was established. When Genet was ten, he says, the following incident occurred:

The child was playing in the kitchen. Suddenly he became aware of his solitude and was seized with anxiety, as usual. So he “absented” himself. Once again, he plunged into a kind of ecstasy. There is now no one in the room. An abandoned consciousness is reflecting utensils. A drawer is opening; a little hand moves forward.

Caught in the act. Someone has entered and is watching him. Beneath this gaze the child comes to himself. He who was not yet anyone suddenly becomes Jean Genet. He feels that he is blinding, deafening; he is a beacon, an alarm that keeps ringing. Who is Jean Genet? In a moment the whole village will know…. The child alone is in ignorance. In a state of fear and shame he continues his signal of distress. Suddenly

…a dizzying word
From the depths of the world abolishes the beautiful or- der….
(Genet, Poèmes, p. 56)

A voice declares publicly: “You’re a thief.” The child is ten years old.

That was how it happened, in that or some other way. In all probability, there were offenses and then punishment, solemn oaths and relapses. It does not matter. The important thing is that Genet lived and has not stopped reliving this period of his life as if it had lasted only an instant.

So for Genet thiefhood became, with a sort of triumph, his identity, his essence, willed and loved by him. (Baudelaire, on the contrary, decided to be somebody else.) Sartre’s theory of Genet’s development requires this primal episode, and he boldly reconstructs from later manifestations what must have been the causative moment. I find this brave and attractive: it moves biography toward both science and fiction simultaneously.

On the other hand, certain weaknesses in Sartre’s interpretation have begun to show up since 1952, when this daring book was published. Sartre conceives of Genet as so riveted to this childhood memory, in which a child dies and a hoodlum rises up in his place, that he conceives of himself as a dead man. In this character Genet is outside history, and above all outside politics, Sartre said. But recently Genet, perhaps in part to defy his biographer, has participated in politics as if he were still alive. In fact, at one demo in Paris, Genet and Sartre, one dead, one alive, were observed taking part in the same housing protest. That is why it is always better to wait until the subject of your biography is dead, literally rather than figuratively, since it reduces the possibility of authoritative refutation.

Sartre’s biographical method in these two books and in his work on Flaubert, not yet published in book form, proceeds, as his fictions proceed, by elaborate schematizing based upon existential choice and freedom. Perhaps he bullies his subjects as much as he portrays them. But his adventurous conception of biography, as if it were really possible to map out every aspect of the mind and to represent convincingly internal processes, pressures, and changes, makes most other works of biography seem superficial.

The sense that there may be in the life of a literary man, or of other men, a moment in which everything is thrown into question and everything decided has attracted not only existentialist Freudians but also a Freudian revisionist, Erik Erikson. His Young Man Luther, though concerned with a subject not primarily literary, has had an effect on a number of recent biographies, notably one on John Keats. Erikson’s contention is that psychoanalysis must take into consideration not only inner drives but also the social and intellectual pressures of the age. He announces in his book, “It cannot escape those familiar with psychoanalytic theory that the Renaissance is the ego revolution par excellence.” I think we could say that it has not escaped those unfamiliar with psychoanalytic theory either. Biographers have always felt a duty to the external as well as the internal world, but for a Freudian to do so takes on the air of discovery.

Erikson’s inspection of Luther does deal somewhat with his surroundings, but mostly it follows a predictable pattern in finding that the young man, revolting against his irascible father, transferred to God his father’s characteristics and so invented the savage God of Lutheranism. But as Roland Bainton, a non-Freudian biographer of Luther, has pointed out, Luther did not invent this savage God, who had already been invented by the medieval schoolmen. That they should all have had irascible fathers and been determined by filial revolt is less than likely. The difficulty with psychohistory is that instead of representing history as an influence upon the individual, it makes history a kind of Greek chorus confirming what is already assumed to be there.

In establishing what psychoanalytic events take place, Erikson has something of the same arrogance as Sartre, though in a patriarchal guise. Wanting to find in Luther an exemplification of the identity crisis—that marvelous phrase of his—he begins his book with an account of the fit which Luther is alleged to have suffered in the monastery at Erfurt during his early or middle twenties. “He suddenly fell to the ground…” Erikson says, ” ‘raved’ like one possessed, and roared with the voice of a bull, ‘Ich bin’s nit! Ich bin’s nit!‘ or ‘Non sum, Non sum.’ The German version is best translated with ‘It isn’t me,’ the Latin one with ‘I am not.’ ”

The difficulty with this account is that it was promulgated three years after Luther’s death by three contemporaries, “none of them a follower of his,” as Erikson puts it, a slightly disingenuous way of referring to three men who were Luther’s enemies. It may not have happened. Erikson knows this and concludes,

If some of it is legend, so be it; the making of legend is as much part of the scholarly rewriting of history as it is part of the original facts used in the work of scholars. We are thus obliged to accept half-legend as half-history, provided only that a reported episode does not contradict other well-established facts; persists in having a ring of truth; and yields a meaning consistent with psychological theory.

The notion that legend making has need of professional assistance from scholars, or that they need to take on the obligation of rewriting history as well as writing it, makes for some uneasiness. The criteria of admitting rumors are certainly loose: in Luther’s case, so little is known of his early life that almost any reported episode could fall in with established facts. As for the ring of truth, that is something possessed by all fictions; and consistency with psychological theory is not difficult to achieve when events are constantly seen as transformations of other events. Sartre says, if it didn’t happen this way, it happened in some way like it. Erikson says, if it didn’t happen, it as good as happened. But he seems, in comparison with Sartre, cavalier in not admitting when he is being speculative, when historical.

For Erikson the identity crisis is one of seven crises, and this number improves upon Freud, who had only three. No doubt it is helpful to extend the crisis period beyond anal, oral, and genital stages into later life. But the application of this model to any life is extremely flexible. Erikson indicates that Luther’s fourth crisis, of identity, was delayed by several years, so his fifth and sixth crises, which he calls intimacy and generativity, were pushed together—and it wasn’t until the last, his integrity crisis, that he got back on schedule. I suppose a biographer knows that his subject’s life, like all lives, moves between moments of relative calm and relative tension. But the division into seven, even if Shakespeare used it too, is magical and arbitrary.

Ultimately Erikson’s work is not so much biography as delineation of therapeutic possibility. At the end of his book on Luther, as of his more recent book on Gandhi, Erikson concludes that each of his subjects might have been helped by therapy.

All in all, our modern view of inner economics suggests that Luther’s fixation on these [anal] matters absorbed energy which otherwise would have helped the old Luther to reaffirm with continued creativity the ideological gains of his youth; and if this energy had been available to him, he might have played a more constructive role in the mastery of the passions, as well as the compulsions, which he had evoked in others.

There is no doubt that posthumous therapy would help a good many of the dead, but one would have to be sure that Luther’s fixation on anality was not, as Bainton insists, common speech in the sixteenth century. Psychohistorians will have to take account of changing fashions in expression, of the possible banality of anality in Luther’s time.

In literary biography one of the more conspicuous attempts to apply Freud’s discoveries has been Leon Edel’s biography of Henry James. Edel began his book twenty-five years ago, apparently convinced of the value of Freudian techniques. In the first volume he ends a chapter about Henry James’s supposed decision, on the basis of his father’s and mother’s marital relationship, to avoid marriage as a “deterrent to a full life” with these remarks:

In a list of names he [James] set down in his notebooks when he was fifty, Henry James included that of “Ledward,” and then as was often his custom, he improvised several variants, apparently as they came into his mind: Ledward-Bedward-Dedward—Deadward. This appeared to be a casual rhyming of led-bed-dead. It was, in effect, a highly condensed statement springing from Henry’s mind of the theme of “De Grey,” “Longstaff,” The Sacred Fount or that story of Merimée’s he had liked so much in his youth, “La Vénus d’Ile.” To be led to the marriage bed was to be dead.

Henry James accordingly chose the path of safety. He remained celibate.

Of course we all long for aperçus and are eager to find slips of the tongue as good as those that Freud interprets so persuasively in the Psychopathology of Everyday Life. The difficulty here is that we are not dealing with slips or associations, but with rhymes—as one means of the verbal artist’s choosing names. Would it not be possible to say that James, searching for a name like Ledward, tried various possibilities as anyone might do whether his parents were happy together or not? That he tried them in alphabetical order—there is no rhyme with A, so he tried B and Bedward; there is no rhyme for C, with D there is Dedward—then he experimented with spelling Dedward in the alternative way.

But Edel is determined to use this as a clinching point, so he rejects the conscious explanation, which I admit is pathetically obvious, in favor of a challenging unconscious one. Even if it be granted that unconscious associations are dominant here, there is no reason for assuming that James is speaking about the marriage bed—it could be the deathbed—to be led to the deathbed is to be dead. We could as easily prove by this evidence that James had a death wish (if the death wish was not now in analytic disrepute) as that he had a marriage phobia.

In later volumes Edel sometimes adopts Freudian techniques, sometimes not. That some of James’s chills and fevers should be pronounced psychosomatic and others be just chills and fevers is probably inevitable, posthumous diagnosis by biographers being as hazardous as diagnosis by doctors when the patient is alive. But in the last volume Edel seems almost ready to give Freud up, as when he describes the turmoil in Henry James’s mind: “Two forces contended within: his intellect and his emotions…. Rational form and mind were thus interposed against the chaos of feeling.” This is the psychology not of Freud but of Alexander Pope.

Apparently aware that his readers may be getting confused, Edel in the preface to this volume explains his biographical method in these terms:

The physical habits of the creative personality, his “sex life” or his bowel movements, belong to the “functioning” being and do not reliably distinguish him from his fellow-humans. What is characteristic is emotional life and the way in which the emotions dictate—other elements and mysterious forces abiding—the exercises of the demonstrative and symbol-making imagination.

This is certainly lofty, but isn’t it peculiar to say, in this generation, that the emotional life has nothing to do with the sex life or bowel movements? “All the rest,” says Edel sweepingly, “is gossip and anecdotage.” But surely there must be a connection between the artistic imagination and the everyday gestures of living and of speaking, which gossip and anecdotage often—as Boswell demonstrated—supremely preserve.

What seems to me a more persuasive example of the use of psychology, and especially post-Freudian, can be found in George Painter’s biography of Proust. He tells us that during a visit to Auteuil, when Proust was nine, the boy walked with his family in the nearby Bois de Boulogne:

On the way back he was seized by a fit of suffocation, and seemed on the point of dying before the eyes of his terrified father. His lifelong disease of asthma had begun. Medically speaking, his malady was involuntary and genuine; but asthma, we are told, is often closely linked to unconscious conflicts and desires, and for Proust it was to be, though a dread master, a faithful servant. In his attacks of asthma the same causes were at work as in his childhood fits of hysterical weeping; his unconscious mind was asking for his father’s pity and his mother’s love; and his breathlessness reproduced, perhaps, the moment of suffocation which comes equally from tears or from sexual pleasure. He sinned through his lungs, and in the end his lungs were to kill him.

Other great writers, Flaubert and Dostoevsky, suffered from epilepsy, which stood in an inseparable and partly causal relation to their art. Asthma was Proust’s epilepsy. In early years, it was the mark of his difference from others, his appeal for love, his refuge from duties which were foreign to his still unconscious purpose: and in later life it helped him to withdraw from the world and to produce a work “de si longue haleine.” Meanwhile however, he was only a little boy choking and writhing in the scented air under the green leaves, in the deadly garden of spring.

What is clever, almost too clever, about this passage is that it uses psychological interpretation half literally, half figuratively. “Asthma, we are told,” says Painter (who like Edel and the rest of us is chary of referring to the psychoanalysts by whom we have been told), “is often linked to unconscious conflicts and desires.” It is also partly hereditary, or at least the predisposition to it is, but for the moment this etiology is irrelevant to Painter’s purpose and he ignores it. He hazards a conjecture that the boy’s breathlessness reproduces the moment of suffocation which comes equally from tears or from sexual pleasure. This is daring and fine, though I think it channels asthma rather narrowly into the two tendencies which Painter knows were in Proust’s life anyway. And two tendencies, in fact, rather prominent in most men’s lives.

The reference to Flaubert and Dostoevsky’s epilepsy seems to sanction this interpretation, though the disease worked quite differently in those two authors; and when Painter tells us that asthma was Proust’s epilepsy, we may become confused and wonder whether epilepsy was Dostoevsky’s asthma, why Proust was not an epileptic, or Flaubert not an asthmatic, if these diseases are really so closely akin. Painter wisely doesn’t insist too hard at this point and more factually reminds us that asthma was a refuge from duties for Proust in childhood, and later a help to his withdrawal from the world to produce his great work.

Then Painter boldly suggests that the work itself was a long breath, not a gasping or short one, and here the Freudian theory of art as sublimation is drawn upon. The French phrase, de si longue haleine, which is metaphorical, becomes almost literal—Proust breathes in his work because he cannot breathe anywhere else. Then in the final sentence, a Proustian one, Painter recalls us to the little boy in the Bois, but again implies the whole course of Proust’s work as he leaves him, at the end of the chapter, “choking and writhing…in the deadly garden of spring.” Not only is spring a dangerous time for asthmatics, but Painter is suggesting the idealized view Proust took of his childhood as an Eden-like garden, into which Painter inserts the serpent; and further still, he is implying the mixture of evil and beauty in Proust’s books.

The paragraph neatly balances the acceptance of a psychological interpretation of asthma as metaphor, and its acceptance as medical fact. If we ever find that asthma is purely hereditary or chemical and has nothing to do with father and mother except that they transmit it, this passage will not be invalidated. It is the biographer manipulating psychological theory, not allowing psychological theory to manipulate him.

In Boswell’s life of Johnson there is a passage in an early section where Boswell has to consider a very similar problem, that of Johnson’s hypochondria. Here is the way Boswell deals with it:

The “morbid melancholy,” which was lurking in his constitution, and to which we may ascribe these particularities, and that aversion to regular life, which at a very early period marked his character, gathered such strength in his twentieth year, as to afflict him in a dreadful manner. While he was at Lichfield, in the college vacation of the year 1729 [and here the modern biographer would leap to conclude that Johnson had only to return to his parents for vacation to become mentally deranged] he felt himself overwhelmed with an horrible hypochondria, with perpetual irritation, fretfulness, and impatience; and with a dejection, gloom, and despair, which made existence slavery.

From this dismal malady he never afterwards was perfectly relieved; and all his labours, and all his enjoyments, were but temporary interruptions of its baleful influence! How wonderful, how unsearchable are the ways of God! Johnson, who was blest with all the powers of genius and understanding in a degree far above the ordinary state of human nature, was at the same time visited with a disorder so afflictive, that they who know it by dire experience, will not envy his exalted endowments. That it was, in some degree, occasioned by a defect in his nervous system, that inexplicable part of our frame, appears highly probable. He told Mr. Paradise that he was sometimes so languid and inefficient, that he could not distinguish the hour upon the town clock….

But let not little men triumph upon knowing that Johnson was an HYPOCHONDRIACK, was subject to what the learned, philosophic and pious Dr. Cheyne has so well treated under the title of “The English Malady.” Though he suffered severely from it, he was not therefore degraded. The powers of his great mind might be troubled, and their full exercise suspended at times; but the mind itself was ever entire…. Amidst the oppression and distraction of a disease which very few have felt in its full extent, but many have experienced in slighter degree, Johnson, in his writings, and in his conversation, never failed to display all the varieties of intellectual excellence.

Boswell is on his defense, and he makes an excellent pleader. He is resolved to treat Johnson’s malady as a proper one for a great man, a malady that has its own grandeur about it. Hence the sudden invocation of God’s ways as wonderful and unsearchable, hence the insistence that only a few men have experienced the disease in its total destructiveness. It is for Boswell a mysterious disease, either sent by God inscrutably, or else centered by evil chance in the inexplicable nervous system, a theory we would perhaps call somatopsychic. But above all, Boswell walls off the disease from Johnson’s achievements, and the achievements become greater because they are brought into being over this obstacle. Painter, as a modern biographer of a modern writer, who after all made the disease part of his subject matter, is readier to depict asthma in Proust without excuse; he wishes to work out Proust’s strength through his weakness. For Boswell Johnson is not culpable, is not weak, and his strength has nothing to do with his disease.

We are willing today to admit that weaknesses are conducive to the development of genius, rather than hindrances upon it. In fact, we are probably too willing—we make talent and sickness synonymous. In a culture of humiliation we look for the same sensations in history; Strachey was crude but in this sense portentous. Our model for the artist is not Chaucer but Kafka. That scrawny, furtive face, which might belong to one of his own animal characters, seems the only appropriate physiognomy for genius.

The form of biography, then, is countenancing experiments comparable to those of the novel and poem. It cannot be so mobile as those forms because it is associated with history, and must retain a chronological pattern, though not necessarily a simple one. Even Sartre, after largely shrugging off chronology in Baudelaire’s life, has observed a chronological pattern in treating of Genet and Flaubert. Of course there must be a pattern of explanation and theme and symbol as well, but I think some idea of the space between birth and death as processive, either an exfoliation or a sharpening definition, will have to persist. Biographies will continue to be archival, but the best ones will offer speculations, conjectures, hypotheses. The attempt to connect disparate elements, to describe the movements within the mind as if they were movements within the atom, to label the most elusive particles, will become more venturesome.

Psychological emphases are bound to change. Theories which once seemed to make everything clear will be brought into question. For example, most present-day biographers are attracted to the theory of compensation, which Edmund Wilson calls “the wound and the bow.” Samuel Beckett explains it by saying that “the kick that the physical Murphy received, the mental Murphy gave. It was the same kick, but corrected as to direction.” This theory does not appear to be wrong, but it does appear to be less right than it used to, and more in need of being supplemented by other theories.

Some biographers will probably follow Sartre in concentrating with great intentness on inner decisions, others may follow Painter’s example in making the artistic work in large measure an absorption of outward circumstances. The influence of linguistics will be felt in an attempt to discover a writer’s fundamental rhythm, as Leo Spitzer did with Diderot’s tumescent-detumescent prose. I should anticipate that the biographer may wish to approach his subject at different levels perhaps in the manner of William Faulkner’s novel The Sound and the Fury, though presumably omitting the chapter which Faulkner assigns to an idiot.

Whatever the method, it can give only incomplete satisfaction. That three biographies of Keats have recently appeared warns us that biographical possibilities cannot be exhausted; we cannot know completely the intricacies with which any mind negotiates with its surroundings to produce literature. The controlled seething out of which great works come is not likely to yield all its secrets. Yet at moments, in glimpses, biographers seem to be close to it, and the effort to come close, to make out of apparently haphazard circumstances a plotted circle, to know another person who has lived as well as we know a character in fiction, and better than we know ourselves, is not frivolous. It may even be, for reader as for writer, an essential part of experience.