The Craft of Fiction

By Percy Lubbock (1921):

“To grasp the shadowy and fantasmal form of a book, to hold it fast, to turn it over    and survey it at leisure—that is the effort of a critic of books, and it is perpetually defeated. Nothing, no power, will keep a book steady and motionless before us, so that we may have time to examine its shape and design. As quickly as we read, it melts and shifts in the memory; even at the moment when the last page is turned, a great part of the book, its finer detail, is already vague and doubtful…”

“Since we can never speak of a book with our eye on the object, never handle a book—the real book, which is to the volume as the symphony to the score—our phrases find nothing to check them, immediately and unmistakably, while they are formed.”

“One does not need to remember the smaller detail of the story to perceive the truth and force of the characters; and if a great deal is forgotten, the most striking aspects of the case will linger in the mind as we look back. Dramatic episodes, fine pieces of description, above all the presence of many interesting and remarkable people—while there is so much that instantly springs to light when the book is mentioned, it seems perverse to say that the book is not before us as we write of it. The real heart and substance of the book, it might even be urged, stands out the more clearly for the obscurity into which the less essential parts of it subside.”

“…we discuss the writer, we discuss the people in his book, we discuss the kind of life he renders and his success in the rendering. But meanwhile the book, the thing he made, lies imprisoned in the volume, and our glimpse of it was too fleeting, it seems, to leave us with a lasting knowledge of its form.”

“The beginning of criticism is to read aright, in other words to get into touch with the book as nearly as may be. It is a forlorn enterprise—that is admitted; but there are degrees of unsuccess.”

“The reader of a novel—by which I mean the critical reader—is himself a novelist; he is the maker of a book which may or may not please his taste when it is finished, but of a book for which he must take his own share of the responsibility. The author does his part, but he cannot transfer his book like a bubble into the brain of the critic; he cannot make sure that the critic will possess his work. The reader must therefore become, for his part, a novelist, never permitting himself to suppose that the creation of the book is solely the affair of the author.” (cf. Death of the Author, Barthes etc).

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