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A Rebellious Heroine   By: (1862-1922)

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This etext was produced from the 1896 Harper and Brothers edition by David Price, email


by John Kendrick Bangs


" if a word could save me, and that word were not the Truth, nay, if it did but swerve a hair's breadth from the Truth, I would not say it!" LONGFELLOW.

Stuart Harley, despite his authorship of many novels, still considered himself a realist. He affected to say that he did not write his books; that he merely transcribed them from life as he saw it, and he insisted always that he saw life as it was.

"The mission of the novelist, my dear Professor," he had once been heard to say at his club, "is not to amuse merely; his work is that of an historian, and he should be quite as careful to write truthfully as is the historian. How is the future to know what manner of lives we nineteenth century people have lived unless our novelists tell the truth?"

"Possibly the historians will tell them," observed the Professor of Mathematics. "Historians sometimes do tell us interesting things."

"True," said Harley. "Very true; but then what historian ever let you into the secret of the every day life of the people of whom he writes? What historian ever so vitalized Louis the Fourteenth as Dumas has vitalized him? Truly, in reading mere history I have seemed to be reading of lay figures, not of men; but when the novelist has taken hold properly ah, then we get the men."

"Then," objected the Professor, "the novelist is never to create a great character?"

"The humorist or the mere romancer may, but as for the novelist with a true ideal of his mission in life he would better leave creation to nature. It is blasphemy for a purely mortal being to pretend that he can create a more interesting character or set of characters than the Almighty has already provided for the use of himself and his brothers in literature; that he can involve these creations in a more dramatic series of events than it has occurred to an all wise Providence to put into the lives of His creatures; that, by the exercise of that misleading faculty which the writer styles his imagination, he can portray phases of life which shall prove of more absorbing interest or of greater moral value to his readers than those to be met with in the every day life of man as he is."

"Then," said the Professor, with a dexterous jab of his cue at the pool balls "then, in your estimation, an author is a thing to be led about by the nose by the beings he selects for use in his books?"

"You put it in a rather homely fashion," returned Harley; "but, on the whole, that is about the size of it."

"And all a man needs, then, to be an author is an eye and a type writing machine?" asked the Professor.

"And a regiment of detectives," drawled Dr. Kelly, the young surgeon, "to follow his characters about."

Harley sighed. Surely these men were unsympathetic.

"I can't expect you to grasp the idea exactly," he said, "and I can't explain it to you, because you'd become irreverent if I tried."

"No, we won't," said Kelly. "Go on and explain it to us I'm bored, and want to be amused."

So Harley went on and tried to explain how the true realist must be an inspired sort of person, who can rise above purely physical limitations; whose eye shall be able to pierce the most impenetrable of veils; to whom nothing in the way of obtaining information as to the doings of such specimens of mankind as he has selected for his pages is an insurmountable obstacle.

"Your author, then, is to be a mixture of a New York newspaper reporter and the Recording Angel?" suggested Kelly.

"I told you you'd become irreverent," said Harley; "nevertheless, even in your irreverence, you have expressed the idea. The writer must be omniscient as far as the characters of his stories are concerned he must have an eye which shall see all that they do, a mind sufficiently analytical to discern what their motives are, and the courage to put it all down truthfully, neither adding nor subtracting, coloring only where color is needed to make the moral lesson he is trying to teach stand out the more vividly... Continue reading book >>

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