Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Novel is Indestructible

The dictionary defines the novel as a fictional prose narrative of considerable length, typically having a plot that is unfolded by the actions, speech and thoughts of the characters. It seems a rather restrictive and dry definition.

I would embellish the definition by calling the novel a long work of the imagination, whereby the mind (or minds) of the author conveys a story, a narrative in written words, however structured, directly to a reader (another mind). It is an intimate communication process, a one-on-one exchange between people.

People who read novels on a regular basis understand that the written word, arguably, charges the imagination with a more vivid imagery, intensity and involvement than any other medium. I mean no disparagement of the audible and visual media, but remember I am thumping the drum for the survival of the novel.

I say the novel will not die. It is indestructible. It is immortal. While the literati might trace its modern origins to a mere two hundred odd years, I trace its origins to thousands of years.

By my definition the Bible is a novel, a great novel with rounded characters, many narrative lines, ideas, insights and suspense and while its authorship might be in question by some, it is still a novel.

People who read novels, even those that are badly wrought, stereotypical and predictable, are, even if they are unaware of it, questors, seekers of insights and answers, explorers who wish to plumb the minds, the passions, the good and evil inherent in the human species, and to journey with them to places beyond their own environments, seeking adventure, exotic experiences, knowledge, understanding and hints on ways to cope with the exigencies, the joy and horrors of life.

How many of us can really divine the thoughts of others? The novel, through the writer's imagination, gives his or her characters an inner life, complete with thoughts, actions and ideas and often with telling intuitive accuracy.

While it may be hard to quantify, I am certain that the reading of novels has greatly enhanced my life and understanding. I mention a few from memory.

Through novels like Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Vanity Fair, Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary, The Red and the Black, Nana, Of Human Bondage, Of Time and the River and Ulysses, I learned a great deal about women. (Insight about women by the way and visa versa is not restricted by the author's gender.)

Through novels like David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, The Jungle Books, Look Homeward Angel, Farewell to Arms, The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, Treasure Island, and yes, my old boyhood friends like the series, Bomba the Jungle Boy, The Boy Allies and The Hardy Boys, I validated my own strivings and expectations as I grew from boyhood to manhood.

Through novels like The Great Gatsby, The Way We Live Now, and yes, The Carpetbaggers, and numerous others, I learned about ambition, its illusions, pitfalls and corrosive nature.

Through novels like All Quiet on the Western Front, War and Peace, The Naked and the Dead, The Young Lions, and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, I learned about the meaning of war and its consequences.

Through novels like Main Street, Babbit, Appointment in Samarra and The Magnificent Ambersons, and many contemporary novels, I learned about small town life, its comforts, joys, prejudices and pitfalls.

Through novels like The Sound and the Fury, Other Voices Other Rooms, and Lie Down in Darkness, I learned about the South and its special regional identity.

Through novels like Fathers and Sons, Pere Goriot, The Good Earth, The Kite Runner, and scores of others I learned about other worlds, other countries.

Through The Fifth Child, I was introduced to the idea that the virus of evil may be a genetic aberration programmed into the human species.

I could go on and on, but I hope I made my point. Note I did not name authors, but only the titles of their work, their creations, their novels, since each story is an idea unto itself. Many would choose different works, in different genres from science fiction to mysteries, to westerns and romance novels and numerous others. And some might be too embarrassed to admit that these stories, many of them clich├ęd, repetitive and dismissed by highbrow critics, might have, in some way, changed their lives.

Any thoughts? Which novels impacted your life?


Writer Reading said...

The Last of the Just by Andre Schwarz-Bart. I know a lot about the Holocaust from many, many sources. But this piece of fiction expressed the essence of its pain more effectively than most anything else I've read.

Warren Adler said...

Thank you for sharing, Writer Reading.