I read Moll Flanders many years ago and I remember being highly impressed by the peripeteia that she experienced in her tale. I wondered, at the time, if life was really like that. Would I have chapters? Twists and turns? Part 1, part 2, an epilogue?
Given the last 18 months, I’ve only to accidentally marry my brother to have a good chance of convincing Defoe’s resurrection so to pen my eponymous novel. It remains to be seen if my tale will fall into the picaresque genre, but we won’t think about that. Why think when you can read?
I was reminded of my mentor Moll while reading E.M.Forster’s wonderful book Aspects of the Novel (another very fine recommendation from John Crowley). The book is composed of a series of lectures Forster gave at Cambridge in 1927. He is so charming; also opinionated, erudite and quite funny. He compares works of literature to exemplify what novels are fundamentally composed of: story, people, plot, fantasy, prophesy, pattern and rhythm.
One of my absolute favorite things to do, although, sadly I rarely do it, is wine tastings. I love the side by side- this is different than that- I like this better than that– activity. That is what Forster does. He wants to talk about prophesy in novels, for instance, so he compares two similar moments in two very different books, in this case- George Elliot’s Adam Bede to Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. Each passage beautifully tells of a person facing death for crimes committed in spirit if not in actual fact, and they are similar. But as Forster describes the difference: Elliot is preacher and Dostoevsky is prophet. To read the difference is exhilarating.
“Dostoevsky’s characters ask us to share something deeper than their experience. They convey to us a sensation that is partly physical-the sensation of sinking into a translucent globe and seeing our experience floating far above us on its surface, tiny, remote, yet ours.”
Aspects of the Novel is a joy to read on many levels: the excerpts, the comparisons, the analysis, not to mention fulfilling my fantasy of sitting in an English lecture hall circa 1900. I have a longing for a large hat and corset…
“The human mind is not a dignified organ, and I do not see how we can exercise it sincerely except through eclecticism.” – E.M. Forster