Tag: Dickens

Have Any Of You Lost Friends By Including Them In Your Fiction?

I haven’t, mainly because I don’t think I ever have included friends, relatives, or acquaintances in any of my work. Any of you who’ve read my works and seen yourselves in them are wrong and should consider speaking to a therapist who specializes in narcissists. Don’t worry. I know a guy.

So I never have had to tell an outraged, or worse, insufferably preening social contact that they shouldn’t take it so seriously. “It’s just fiction, after all. Don’t make a big deal out of it.” Nor have I had some of them replay, “What do you mean ‘It’s just fiction’? That could be the image the world has of me until the sun goes dark, thanks to you, jerk!”

Saying “I (and you) should be so lucky” probably won’t mollify, so I was wondering what might in that situation. A better, or at least more accurate, response would be “Of course that’s not you, any more than the MacBeth of Shakespeare is the historical King MacBeth of Scotland.”

As Northrop Frye put it:

We can understand though how the poet got his reputation as a kind of licensed liar. The word poet itself means liar in some languages, and the words we use in literary criticism–fable, fiction, myth–have all come to mean something we can’t believe. Some parents in Victorian times wouldn’t let their children read novels because they weren’t “true”. But not many reasonable people today would deny that the poet is entitled to change whatever he likes when he uses a theme from history or real life. The reason why was explained long ago by Aristotle. The historian makes specific and particular statements, such as, “The battle of Hastings was fought in 1066.” Consequently he’s judged by the truth or falsehood of what he says–either there was such a battle or there wasn’t, and if there was he’s got the date either right or wrong. But the poet, Aristotle says, never makes any real statements at all, certainly no particular or specific ones. The poet’s job is not to tell you what happened, but what happens: not what did take place, but the kind of thing that always does take place. He gives you the typical, recurring, or what Aristotle calls universal event. You wouldn’t go to MacBeth to learn about the history of Scotland–you go to it to learn what a man feels like after he’s gained a kingdom and lost his soul. When you meet such a character as Micawber in Dickens, you don’t feel that there must have been a man Dickens knew who was exactly like this: you feel that there’s a bit of Micawber in almost everybody you know, including yourself.

So if someone approaches you, the writer, saying “How dare you include me in your book”, read them this passage and say, “It’s not really you. I just included the part of you that’s also a part of everybody, the universal you.” If the person remains upset and cries, “But that image of me will outlive me!”, reply that their real complaint is not with you, but rather with death and time.

That should cool them off.

Are You Pondering What I’m Pondering?

–I’m neutral to the (deleted) scene of Castle Dracula’s collapse at the end of Dracula. The book ends acceptably enough as it stands. (The reason Stoker gave for cutting it was he didn’t want to invite comparison to Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher”, but honestly, unless the Poe estate was getting a buck and a quarter every time someone wrote about a house falling down, that reason it pretty lame. Certainly such considerations never bothered Poe, who was glad to rip off E.T.A. Hoffman and Horace Walpole in order to write, among other things “The Fall of the House of Usher”. Besides, it’s not as if both stories don’t already start with naive protagonists responding to letters calling for help that lead them to lodge in spooky residences haunted by ancient evils. If you’re going to steal, steal shamelessly, I always say.)  But I’ve always preferred the ending where Estella and Pip parted bitterly in Great Expectations’s last chapter (unpublished during Dickens’s lifetime). These and the deleted chapters to eight other famous books here.

–By the way, here’s George Orwell writing about that Dickens ending, and a lot of other stuff about Dickens’s works.

–And here’s Margaret Atwood writing about George Orwell. (I guess I’m now obliged to write about Margaret Atwood, to keep the thread going.)

–I’m not sure if this is the worst possible way to open a column about a sexual assault, but it is pretty damn bad: (from Jezebel)

She lost a womb but gained a penis.

The former was being removed surgically – full hysterectomy – while the latter was forcibly shoved into her slack mouth.

The passage is not only describing a revolting situation per se, but its phrasing is creepy. The first line sounds jokey: a kind of play on the old wedding sentiment “you’ve not lost a daughter but gained a son.” It attempts cleverness without really thinking about what it’s saying. The second line, with its parallel former/latter clauses, is weirdly formal, as if the writer wants us to feel an ironic distance from the woman’s ordeal. The writer’s is more appropriate for a story written from Patrick Bateman‘s point of view than for a nonfiction piece on a woman’s testimony in a rape case.

–My beloved Raiders have hired an offensive coordinator who seems committed to doing things that the players on the roster do well. It’s so crazy it just might work.

–You’ll see Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech a lot this weekend (or clips from it, anyway). But as important and iconic as that speech was, this speech, given four years later, in which King describes the Vietnam War as an “enemy of the poor”, is the one that needs more of a listen, because it speaks to the breadth of King’s concerns.