13 Ways of Looking at the Novel
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Pulitzer Prize winner and bestselling novelist Jane Smiley celebrates the novel–and takes us on an exhilarating tour through one hundred of them–in this seductive and immensely rewarding literary tribute.
In her inimitable style–exuberant, candid, opinionated–Smiley explores the power of the novel, looking at its history and variety, its cultural impact, and just how it works its magic. She invites us behind the scenes of novel-writing, sharing her own habits and spilling the secrets of her craft. And she offers priceless advice to aspiring authors. As she works her way through one hundred novels–from classics such as the thousand-year-old Tale of Genji to recent fiction by Zadie Smith and Alice Munro–she infects us anew with the passion for reading that is the governing spirit of this gift to book lovers everywhere.
has learned to respect him. The lessons Atticus teaches all have to do with respect—he considers even the Ewells, father and daughter, worthy of courtesy. When provoked by interfering relatives or childish misbehavior, he chooses to exhibit respect rather than to correct or offend. Is he a rounded, vivid character? At this point it is hard to know, because it is impossible to imagine him outside of his portrayal by Gregory Peck in the film of the novel. There is no sense as the novel progresses
Five years after Jean Rhys rewrote Jane Eyre and three years after Tom Stoppard rewrote Hamlet (in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead), John Gardner rewrote Beowulf. In general, I like the idea of recasting earlier works, but every recasting is an interpretation and therefore thematically based, and the resulting works are as much or more the products of their own times as the works that inspire them. Those of us who risk the extra measure of ephemerality that comes from rooting a novel
has held up fairly well because Byatt's ideas are expressed through traditional forms and styles—her choice is not to create new forms and styles but to add layer upon layer of readily understandable forms and styles (and if a reader chooses not to stick with the lengthy poems, she can still enjoy the prose). If and when Byatt's ideas lose their currency, the novel can survive as a story without them. Even though the central modern relationship seems a bit thin and tentative, and the villains are
to her closet and write at length about her adventures, her feelings, and her ideas even in the midst of being pursued entirely unbelievable, but Richardson's contemporaries were willing to suspend disbelief for the sake of enjoying Pamela's spirited resistance. In some sense, an epistolary novel is like a movie—we seem to be watching it while it is happening, and it therefore gains an extra degree of unpredictability and suspense. Other types of first-person novels are necessarily written after
were from the beginning autodidacts, reading their own, idiosyncratic “courses” of novels, picking and choosing what to emulate and imitate, often writing in secret and pleasing themselves first of all rather than teachers or scholars. Numerous novelists published anonymously or under pseudonyms—Madame de La Fayette, Daniel Defoe, Jane Austen, the Brontës, George Eliot—doing so because they had something to lose by claiming their work, usually respectability. Novelists who published under their