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Wednesday, 11 September 2013

On characterisation

Thursday, September 11th., Cadogan Square, London.

T. S. Eliot came to see me at the Reform Club on Tuesday evening. He wanted to interest me in Virginia Woolf's reply in his Criterion to a few remarks of mine about character-drawing in fiction. He works at Lloyds Bank, in a department of his own, 'digesting' foreign financial and economic journals.  He edits the Criterion, and writes, in the evenings. He had excellent views about the "Virginia" school of fiction. I liked him much more than ever before.
See also, 'On modern poetry', December 12th., 

Today I was thinking about what he and I had said about character in fiction. A character has to be conventionalised. You can't put the whole of a character in a book, unless the book were of inordinate length and the reader of inordinate patience. You must select traits. You must take many traits for granted, and refer to them, as you do and must refer to them in a way to show that they are conventionalised. If you wanted to get at total truth you'd only get a confused picture. Question: Does a novelist want his characters to remain in the mind of the reader? Some novelists don't. But I do, for one. Dickens's characters remain in the mind. They may perhaps be too conventionalised, too simplified. Same for Thackeray - Dobbin and Amelia. And George Eliot - Maggie and Tom. But they remain in the mind. No novelist can always be creating absolutely new, or fresh, characters. Balzac used the same frame of conventionalisation over and over again. His titled amorous dames, many of them of the same pattern. So did Shakespeare. So did Scott. This implies a form of conventionalisation. Then half-critics say, when they observe the necessary conventionalisation, that there is no character drawing at all! The thing is to produce an impression on the reader - the best you can, the truest you can: but some impression. The newest despisers of form and conventionalisation produce no impression at all.

Additionally for September 11th., see 'Zeppelin' - http://earnoldbennett.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/zeppelin.html

He said Zeppelin was fairly low over roof. Searchlights on it. Star-lights. Fairy-like. Shots at it . Then it rose and went northwards. Spectacle agreed to be superb. Noise of bombs agreed to be absolutely intimidating. And noise of our guns merely noise of popguns.

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