Art, of course, lives in history. We are obliged to consent that a work is not today what it was yesterday, neither as a whole nor in its details. It is easy enough to agree that time alters the past and all its terms, but the agreement is rather abstract. In taste, as in love, the preferences are violent and few are willing to look ahead, to profit from experience. We have little power over our own sensibilities, even though they appear to us as singular and personal as our bodies. We know our ideas and likes to be formed by the present and yet it is hard to resist a belief that they are somehow in touch with eternity.
The novel: history sends the reader away and brings him back again. We explain the decline in great reputations as the working of a cyclical force, which dips low for a decade or a century only to swing up once again. Fashion corrupts, but, like artificial respiration, it also gives a second life to the fallen. Structure bores in this generation; freedom repels in the next. What is it they have in common, those great novels of the past? We cannot find words, except in tautology, for the power of splendid creations. Merit is an assertion, subject if not to proof at least to convincingness. Every work struggles for its rights, and few maintain them without remissions. Certain works, as if they were sovereign states, weaken from time to time and whole generations turn their attentions away.
The once large, well-defended kingdom of Sir Walter Scott comes to mind. Even over one hundred years ago, Bagehot detected an uneasy wandering in Scott’s audience. V. S. Pritchett thought the decay of regionalism and the dislike of dialect were at the source of the gradual loss of appeal. Galsworthy is a territory fallen into decay and a novelist like Sinclair Lewis seems used up, absorbed, like a fertilizer. There is much sadness in the history of taste, and joy, too, when he who was lost is returned. Still, it is not the sudden recognition of an over-estimation that puzzles so much as the apparent impossibility of reviving our own and other people’s interest in a major novelist like Scott.
It is not quite so easy to think of revived reputations and works in the novel as in poetry. Henry James? It seems now that an ebbing and flowing of popularity will attend his work—and not without a certain rightness. The beauty and grandeur and peculiarity of his novels and stories benefit from the proper setting, the propitious moment, the waiting and receptive sensibility. Melville? A discovery, not a revival, a correction of a mistake, an omission. It is not merely capricious taste that works upon us, but violent changes in the moral, political, and social environment.
The novel has always been resistant to abstract analysis, to structural definition, to purely formal speculation. When the English critic, Percy Lubbock, tried in The Craft of Fiction to build, brick by brick, a mild and sensible structural frame for the novel, he found immediately a mournful amount of difficulty with the work of the supreme Tolstoy. Lubbock wrote about War and Peace: “Tolstoy’s novel is wasteful of its subject: that is the whole objection to its loose, instinctual form. Criticism bases itself upon nothing whatsoever but the injury done to the story, the loss of its full potential value.” The critic has worked here according to an interesting and useful principle (“point of view”) and yet it hardly seems worthwhile to labor so forcefully on behalf of such wan rewards. Because, of course, few of us feel “the injury done to the story,” and are instead powerfully moved by “the loose and instinctual form.” You have the feeling, in the case of Lubbock, that a well-built house has collapsed in the first thunderstorm of a summer.
From the very beginning the novel was loose and unmanageable, unpredictable, and inclined to be formless a good deal of the time. Indeed too strict a demand for form will often lead to a loss of the rushing, raging sense of life that is the special mystery of certain novelists such as Dostoevsky and Dickens. The high degree of formal concern in a novelist like Flaubert is not typical of the novel, although many great novelists share it. Flaubert made a heroic and victorious assault upon the form and yet he understood with an ironic anguish his mother’s remark that “the mania for phrases has dried up your heart.” In the usual practice of fiction, the style of the lines, the symmetry of the paragraphs, the balance of the elements are likely to give way, almost unconsciously, under the stress of incident, plot, and characterization. Thus we cannot often make judgments on the claim of formal purity, or on the accusation of formal corruption.
“Non-fiction novels” and “fictionalized fact” are phrases of the moment, perhaps not always significant, but interesting in a critical sense. They would seem to indicate a high degree of impatience with the very roots of the novel form, to question the value of the designation itself. Sartre, in an essay on Nathalie Sarraute, speaks of the “anti-novel,” of works that “make use of the novel in order to challenge the novel, to destroy it before our very eyes while seeming to construct it, to write the novel of a novel unwritten and unwritable…” We cannot quite know whether the discontent with the form lies in the inability for cultural reasons to practice it in the old way or whether it points simply to the restlessness of the creative spirit. (Picasso could “draw like Raphael” and Joyce became a parodist out of a fabulous mastery of all the arts of prose.)
Even if the conception of the “novel” does not continue to satisfy we still feel that the word stands for something real and recognizable as an aesthetic entity. We acknowledge the presence of its possibilities when we speak of their absence. For how often we say of a piece of fiction that it is very good and interesting, but not very good “as a novel.” Some novels are clearly more novelistic than others. We do not use this distinction as a measuring rod for excellence, and indeed the last stronghold of the calculation and distribution of laughter and tears, plot and counterplot, sex and sentiment, comedy and pathos may be the arithmetical construction of popular fiction, manufactured dutifully for its audience, and a mode no doubt doomed to extinction, like the western story and the love story. To say that something is not pure as a novel is simply a description of its technique, not a judgment. And this becomes more and more true every day as the serious writers discard not only the skin but the bone of fiction.
We might say of a book like The Way of All Flesh that it is a fascinating work, but not supreme as a novel. In this case we would mean that Butler’s story is somewhat dry and narrow in a peculiar way. It is to the book’s credit and part of its satisfaction that it contains “the sum total of the author’s ideas on religion, economics and philosophy” and nevertheless we feel the ideas, if that is the right word, are bought at the expense of imaginative richness and detail, dramatic inventiveness. On the other hand, The Way of All Flesh is entirely genuine and deeply engrossing, and one could hardly wish it to be other than it is. In a sense we are most grateful for its “defects,” for the odd combination of the discursive and an on-going autobiographical narrative. You might say history, culture, wants it as it is, wants the unconsciously self-loving and distorted author as much as the self-loving fictional father he created for himself. Scope, grandeur, largeness, completeness are the grounds of the highest values—and yet smallness, perfection, inspired narrowness and concentration—in Jane Austen, in Kafka—share in the supremacy. The utterance of the obvious always accompanies the discussion of works of high rank: this is the acknowledgment of our certainty about their value, the hopelessness of trying to rank princes. To assert greatness does not give us the key; it is only the lock.
A novel is a long and complex creation. The parts bear a mysterious and clouded relation to the whole. The pages turn, one after another, and it is a distinguishing aspect of the novel that, around the next corner, almost anything can happen. We hardly know which to treasure most: expectation confounded or satisfied. A new chapter is a psychological shift and the interesting dislocations afforded by a flashback make great demands on the imagination. In the older works we were often grateful for the relief, the relaxation, as if for a short nap, brought to us by a sudden shift to the sub-plot.
In the novel, length is of obvious importance in excluding the merely anecdotal and in making a distinction from the short story. Yet the interesting thing about length is the calculation of its effects upon our mind, the way it dominates the art and defines its relation to the reader. How difficult it is to remember the mere incidents in a long work of fiction. Novelists themselves forget what has gone before. The passage of time need not be long to promote forgetfulness, nor the incident trivial. What indeed was Bulstrode’s crime in Middlemarch? If sometimes one cannot quite remember the shape of Bulstrode’s part in the plot, or even the final resolution of the Rosamund-Lydgate story, what can one mean when he says, with passion and conviction, that Middlemarch is a favorite novel? (Middlemarch is only an example; many great books are much more dense and clotted in incident than this one.)
The length of a novel, the abundance of detail have a disturbing and exciting effect on the imagination; in a sense one reads on to find out “what happens” and yet what happens is exactly the most quickly forgotten, the most elusive. It is even difficult to know how to state the problem: is it psychological, simply rooted in biology, or, instead, an aesthetic condition, necessary to the special effects of the novel? What seems to remain locked in the memory is a general impression, a selection of detail, a blur of interesting scene, the shape of character, and, above all, a sort of remembrance of how one felt when one was first reading the book. The remembered exhilaration of the mind, pleasure of the senses, hang upon the frailest thread of incident, the dimmest recollection of language. You know you were fascinated, you were convinced—at the time, when you were deeply there, in the story, in the turn of phrase here and the observation there, the surprise, the resolution that pleased. Tracks, not very deep, laid down in the memory prompt us to assert merit and excellence.
So much of a novel, after all, is information, necessary fact that gives a floor of understanding from which the flights of inspiration are launched. Filler, stuffing, dressing: all are dutifully manufactured—or at least they were in the past. But many writers question the production of so much direction and advice, analysis and landscape. The machinery of fiction is simply ignored in Burroughs and Genet. Only the genius of Vladimir Nabokov keeps alive the rather disappointing development of a surrealistic fiction. The destructive power of Joyce had a peculiarly disguised effect upon the history of the novel. The effort to move along the same rubble-filled road did not prove practical and most novelists simply turned back as though nothing had happened, back to more or less regular sentences and to stories, fractured and not very ample, but stories nevertheless. Still, there is always an uneasiness about a retreat, a feeling of anxiety and guilt, and many good novels show a degree of panic about the form. Where to start and how to end, how much must be believed and how much a joke, a puzzle; how to combine the episodic and the carefully designed and consequential.
Time: this is what the novel asks of the writer and the reader. And time is just what our contemporary existence is determined to shorten. So much of our homely, domestic technology is meant to make things go faster, the human effort shorter. And it is curious that saving time at one point does not make one ready to give it at another. Quite the contrary. If the laundry washes and dries quickly, the grateful housewife does not then think that she will give to the dishes the time left over from the quickened wash: no, she demands instantly that the dishes keep pace with the laundry. But it is really a more subtle time the novel depends on. A spiritual and intellectual lengthening, extending like a dream in which much is surrendered and slowly transformed. Perhaps it is the fear that something has happened to time, some change has taken place, which makes us wonder if a new generation will always be there to read the novels, particularly the novels of the past. The terms of the contract between the author and the reader are severe, the demands are serious. Frequently we hear the doleful warning of a retreat on the part of the reader, a withdrawal of attention, an indifference to the august tradition that stands there like so many stone and marble college buildings, ready for parody or destruction.
Tranquility, slow hours and days, the need to discover, through the imagination, what the world about us contained: this was the first condition of the novel. Curiosity was the second—curiosity about the most knotted as well as the simplest of human activities, communal life, of love and marriage and family and work and fulfillment; poverty and riches, town and countryside, accident and consequence. In the minds of many young people, whole stretches of literature seem to be becoming impossible, closed, and the past is a slow, uncomfortable train ride through scenery erased, villages lost to memory.
If it is really true that there may be a psychological hindrance, rooted in the overturned earth of our daily life, new fiction will itself be written by those altered psyches and will be inevitably accommodating. Yet the form seems more threatened than the other arts by the alterations in sensibility, by the unease of the world, the sense of destiny beyond control and comprehension, by the feeling of borrowed, shortened time and relationships subject to cancellation. The very openness of our life, particularly of sexual life, makes the discoveries of fiction far less striking. Much that was veiled in the past came forth in the novel, in complicated family histories, in love stories.
“The principle of procrastinated rape is said to be the ruling one in all the great bestsellers,” V. S. Pritchett remarks in a discussion of Clarissa. Seduction is now a comedy in which both are laughing. “The tragedy of the bedroom,” as Tolstoy called it, can hardly be said to have been wiped out, like smallpox, and yet the sufferings are, as the scientists would say, being “researched,” and “treated.” Sexual longing, repression are the stuff of irony and comedy. Recently on the stage when Orestes spoke with horror of his obligation to murder his mother the audience helplessly, understandably laughed. The laughter did not have its source in mockery of the anguish of the son or the punishment of the mother. The laughter was a sort of cultural product, compounded of all those explanations, studies of “myth,” the rivers of words of interpretation. Primitive urgings, infinitely analyzed, cannot lead to pity and terror, but to the comedy of a rather over-worked recognition. World horrors have stepped into the bloody shoes of domestic cruelty and private revenge. Art has not yet seemed wide enough to stand for these horrors and the horrors are too vast, we have witnessed them too closely and perhaps too indifferently to see them reduced to symbol.
“Wuthering Heights is the name of Mr. Heathcliff’s dwelling” or “High above his head swung Mrs. Melrose Ape’s travel-worn Packard car, bearing the dust of three continents” or “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in the possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife”: these bells ring out, signalling, like lines of poetry. They promise a certain kind of drama, to be explored and developed in a more or less orderly way. They tell us, each differently, of the tone of the inspiration and they promote readiness to surrender the whole of our interest to the special and unique atmosphere of each book. Or remember the poignant opening scenes of Dreiser’s An American Tragedy. We see the Griffiths family on a lonely street corner, with their portable organ, singing in the chill night, “How Sweet the Balm of Jesus’s Love.” We feel immediately the depression glumly hanging over the lives, the instincts denied, the promises of life confused. All of this meager and lowering scene prefigures the sensual, worldly longing of the son, Clyde, and seems to prophesy that his hopes will not be fulfilled but doomed.
In most novels of the past, you entered a life, as if you were walking through a door. The ordered and arranged destiny of the characters lay before you, satisfying the desire that life be first of all interesting and then in some way reasonable, shaped. The sense of place, and the personal drama pushing up inside it, became your own birth and death. Those little villages, the cities beyond ready to destroy hopes or to give a complex success: the stories come forth from them naturally and regularly, like the seasons. Jude watching the schoolmaster, Phillotson, set out for Christminster. Lena, in Light in August, thinking “I have come from Alabama, a fur piece. All the way from Alabama a-walking. A fur piece.” Paul Dombey, born into death. Every novel was different and yet in most of them, except for some strange mutations, the action accompanied life, as it were, gave a feeling of truth to experience. The plots, the descriptions, the artifice were like vines over a stone wall, a natural and pleasing decoration.
So many of the new conditions of life have altered in the most surprising way our sense of the foundations of character, of motivation, of the importance of place and regions. The provinces have, for many reasons, lost much of their character and the cities are too splintered, shifting, and complex to be understood except in fragments. And yet one wants the fiction of his own day to take some notice of the conflicts and feelings of the time, either to be extensively engaged through the grandeur of design or else to discover some appropriate, deeply telling image or situation that will stand for our concerns and passions.
In the novel, the example of the past, of the great and splendid arc of the fiction of realism can no longer stand as the measure of expectation. What was natural and orderly and pleasing in Victorian fiction does not often give the flavor of our own times, and some of the devices that were formerly acceptable, if not pleasing, are not useful for serious authors. We look back to the past as a sort of novelist’s paradise. Energy gave forth the large production of Dickens and Thackeray and George Eliot, and later of James and Conrad and Proust; and there was a like energy in the reader that went out to meet the inspiration of the writers. We are sometimes told that the plots, the sheer interest of the narrative, the structure of theme and variation clearly working itself out, held the audience to these books created by a majestic intelligence and moved by the most profound intentions. But the fact is that the Victorian plots are very perplexing and this is particularly true of the very popular Dickens. The plotting is downright bad and the amazing thing is that so much genuine life managed to connect with the awkward stories.
In Our Mutual Friend the fascination of Podsnap and the Boffins, of the Veneerings and Twemlow has the stone of the plot about a will tied to its ankles. And yet the will and the lawyers and the reappearance of a drowned man hardly do the kind of damage they would nowadays. The Victorian audience knew as much about human nature as any that came after it, but somehow it was able to go along with contrivances and coincidence, with false identities and sudden rescues. No doubt they were a sort of indulgence and we can never be sure that the novel, in that country and time, could have prospered without the cumbersome plots.
It is interesting to compare the self-conscious contemporary use of Victorian plots on the part of Ivy Compton-Burnett. She has said on this subject: “As regards plot I find real life no help at all. Real life seems to have no plots. And as I think a plot desirable and almost necessary, I have this extra grudge against life. But I think there are signs that strong things happen, though they do not emerge. I believe it would go ill with many of us, if we were faced by a strong temptation, and I suspect that with some of us it does go ill.” Ivy Compton-Burnett shocks us with her prim use of old plottings because she reverses our expectations. Brother and sister, separated in infancy, later meet, fall in love and marry—and they live happily. Another novel uses the contrivance of a forged or lost will. The wrong person finds the will, makes himself—or was it herself?—the heir, gets the money, and has a splendid, civilized time spending it, all the while guiltless, even though under the eye of the deprived soul for whom the money was intended. The old plots are turned into a complicated comedy, quite austere and demanding, asking, as the earlier books did, intelligence and strength from the reader.
The Russian novel is almost a critique of the English novel. The Russians kept the exuberance, that sense of a large life at hand, eager for the transformation of fiction, of characters significant in meaning and convincing in action, but the Russians were somehow able to get rid of the heavy, mechanical plots and put in their place a simpler, large and more natural development of incident. Perhaps this tradition provides a useful model for the writers of the present and sets a genuine standard for judgment. And yet there is something dream-like about Moscow and St. Petersburg, life grandly and painfully fixed in its rounds in Tolstoy, nervously elated and magnified in Dostoevsky. The scheme of things still held, even though it was the special grace of the fiction to show how it was bursting apart, falling into ruin and change.
With the Russians there is a grandeur and completeness in single works that the contemporary imagination cannot call upon. Everything seemed to be in waiting, open, wishing to have its story completed, its destiny defined. What seems often to swim up to the surface of our own life, as a paradoxical product of the immensely known, unbearably extended regions of observation, is not largeness and openness, in the fictional sense, but a sense of static mystery, a peculiarly poignant paralysis, a feeling of repetition, and, in the density, of insignificance.
The last great believer in plot was Freud. He knew only one story—the Oedipal one—but he meant this to touch life at every point from birth to death, to take in existence in a wide, brilliant sweep of illumination. For a time it appeared that Freud by restoring coherence to human motivation and explanation to the action and the feeling might act as a reprieve from the overwhelming mass of raw experience, life, too much of it, coming down upon the imagination like a glacier. Of course Freud changed literature when he changed thought and sensibility, but unabashed psychological contrivances and ready solutions fatigued early, surprisingly.
George Eliot said she wrote out of a belief in “the orderly sequence whereby the seed brings forth a crop of its kind.” And this is the mood, grand and satisfying, of classical fiction. Through a natural determinism, character and action came together, the intermingling of stories and destinies, of cause and effect, of crime and punishment, gave us most of the great novels of the English and European tradition. Environment, moral choice, defects of character, defaults of luck; these could be depended upon to lead to some plausible resolution. The relativism we now feel undermines the centrality of character. It is difficult to create fictional characters without plots by which the character can reveal itself. What will the seed bring forth? Indeed what does the seed itself contain?
Extraordinary belief, mysterious saturation, seized the authors of the past like bouts of hallucination. When The Sound and the Fury was reissued in the 1940s, Faulkner told us of the continuing history of his imaginary characters: Candace, the heroine of a novel published in 1929, had, we were told, vanished in Paris with the German occupation. She was still beautiful. (The map of Yoknapatawpha County was not a jest.) Thomas Hardy’s “philosophy” was almost a part of the vegetation of his English region; it grew along with the fate of his characters, filling the landscape with a piercing melancholy.
In most contemporary fiction, the author would sensibly hesitate to invite such mysteries; and perhaps he could not, even if he wished, will them into being. Instead the mood of the writer is to admit manipulation and design, to exploit the very act of authorship in the midst of the imagined scene. The broken, the episodic, the ironical are whispers from the wings, reminding us not to be swept away, someone is in charge. (Mary McCarthy spoke of this as “ventriloquism.”) A suspicious and cautious approach to the imaginary does not strike one as temporary or merely fashionable. Instead it seems to come from the very center of our view of life and art. Certain societies, such as the Soviet, by their very rigidity, their fear of movement within, somehow lend themselves to the old forms in fiction, as if they had been granted a sort of extension. Dr. Zhivago, an interesting and largely conceived novel, is old-fashioned and we accept it on those terms, the very fixed form of the novel corresponding to the fixed and immovable structure of the Soviet system. Solzhenitsyn, even in the bitterness of his feelings, can contain his contempt within the traditional form, again because of the tyranny that keeps the orderly expectation, cruel though it be, intact.
The art of the past presents itself to us as a consensus, and although we know that history is not just and many worthy things have disappeared we nevertheless gratefully accept the claims of the tradition. We accept it because there is much joy to be found in those things that have given joy before. The individual greets the consensus each time as a discovery, a surprise that can transform life. But what can we ask of fiction today? Can we ask that it present interesting and significant characters who reveal their natures by means of a plausible and satisfying plot? It does not appear that we can set any such standard. We are left with only one demand: that a work be interesting.
Television and the press, and also the “press” of life and population, of reduced privacy, make every day an enormous number of persons known to everyone else. Whatever the day brings forth is quickly, like the loaves and fishes, multiplied for the thousands and the millions. Each person assigns, to the quick and superficial knowledge he is given, his own idea of motivation, of meaning. He writes the story as it comes to him, turning over the possibilities in his mind about candidate and criminal, the celebrity and the merely accidental personal life cast up before the public. With so much “reality” seen in its dramatic moment, the products of the imagination fail often to measure up in excitement, even in “reality.”
It is not surprising that much recent American imaginative writing comes to us as a fact of personal or national history, dressed up and arranged, but still a record of lived experience, taking its origin outside the entirely “made up.” (William Styron’s The Confessions of Nat Turner and the recent works of Norman Mailer come to mind.) The interest rests not only in the creation of the seemingly true, but in the creative rendering of the actual, the re-constructed, the twice-told life. The assurance of reality acts as a release to the creative spirit. It is also a re-assurance to the reader, suspending his disbelief. The singular and personal is offered as a substitute for the unlimited perils of the imaginary, that over-crowded continent still without paths or frontiers. Consistency and motivation need not be questioned. The person in this kind of literature is no more required to have the arbitrary order of art than is the person on television or in the news. Existence is not questioned and one asks only that the person be interesting and in that way the actual rendering, the details of the art, assume again a grand importance, something like the language in poetry.
If the stories that are acted out for us every day are more extraordinary than the controlled imagination could permit itself, we could say that it was always thus. The great difference is that the dramas of real life were not known to so many until this age of technology. An existence, teasing and mysterious, lived out under public scrutiny is a sort of novel. The story of the Kennedy family is a novel on the grand scale, so strange and tragic that it is almost “unconvincing.” It is difficult for fiction to compete with the aesthetic satisfactions of the actual. Buried in our minds is the demand that fiction give us not the story of life itself, but the key to the mystery. It must tell us what we do not know, find the unexpressed, give us the clue to the meaning of Malcolm X or President Johnson or Aaron Burr—and even the clue to the whole nation itself. This knowledge lies hidden like a nut in its shell. In the past it has revealed itself in myth and symbol, in the image and the fable, in those miraculous constructions of the imagination that burst out of their concreteness to stand for the world itself.
But the truth is that we cannot sensibly make that kind of demand on fiction, on the living imagination. The vastness of sensation and experience, of history and knowledge, limits us, sends us back to the small as a relief from the incomprehensible. Ironic modesty and refusal, the disorganized personal, the colorful actual may at least offer authenticity. If we are not sure about character, suspicious of too clean and plausible structures, uncomfortably aware of the breaks in the chain of cause and effect, fiction, in its classical outlines, will naturally be under painful strain. Great characters and plots are not forthcoming.
Erich Auerbach in Mimesis sees the fragmentation of contemporary fiction in dark and despairing terms. Writing about Virginia Woolf and other authors who “dissolve reality into multiple and multivalent reflections of consciousness” Auerbach finds the new technique “a mirror of the decline of our world.” Works such as Joyce’s Ulysses are surrounded by an atmosphere of doom and leave the reader “with an impression of helplessness.” Auerbach feels a sense of aching personal bereavement and writes that in the fiction of broken consciousness “there is hatred of culture and civilization brought out by means of the subtlest stylistic devices which culture and civilization have developed, and often a radical and fanatical urge to destroy.”
As we from another decade look back to the explosions and destructions of Joyce and others, we think with another sadness, beyond Auerbach’s, that so much more was standing for the authors he mentions than for those writing now. In the midst of the mock-heroic, characterization and plot survived, and above all there existed the possibility of a grand conception, a dedication to art, the sacred fount, the willingness literally to give up one’s life to creation, as we can perhaps say Joyce and Virginia Woolf gave up their lives. Fiction, the novel, is a fairly recent form. It was born for death because we live in a direct, and yet obscure relation to society. Just now the bourgeois period of the novel would seem to be ending. It is possible that earlier fiction, perhaps something like Moll Flanders is nearer to our possibilities than Trollope or Hardy. Tristram Shandy may be a more usable model than The Scarlet Letter.
For the reader, the novel is the history of his lifetime, marking his existence from youth to old age with a trembling richness. Each work came into being as a mystery of inexplicable strength. We look about us and feel certain humane joys and powers receding, quickly in some cases or slyly, slowly in others, like the bleaching away of the brightness of a shell in the sand and sun. We grieve for the time, the idleness, the longing curiosity, the energy, the need for the great novels of the past. Try to find a young person who has read Thackeray or Cooper or, in America, Balzac or Zola. The end comes painlessly, silently.