On Moral Fiction

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Live all you can; it's a mistake not to. It doesn't so much matter what you do in particular, so long as you have your life. If you haven't had that what have you had?
Henry James
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On Moral Fiction (1977), essay by John Gardner.

  • "Technically our novelists (for instance) are shrewd enough, and publishers and reviewers seem, as never before, eager to be of use. Nevertheless, wherever we look it's the same: commercial slickness, misplaced cleverness, posturing, wild floundering -- dullness. Though not widely advertised, this is general knowledge. When one talks with editors of serious fiction, they all sound the same: they speak of their pleasure and satisfaction in their work, but more often than not the editor cannot think, under the moment's pressure, of a single contemporary writer he really enjoys reading. Some deny, even publicly, that any first-rate American novelists now exist. The ordinary reader has been saying that for years..."

pp. 56-57 (in the HarperCollins BasicBooks edition), "Premises on Art and Morality"

  • "True art is by its nature moral. We recognize true art by its careful, thoroughly honest search for and analysis of values."

p. 19 (in the HarperCollins BasicBooks edition), "Premises on Art and Morality"

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