Henry James and The Art of Fiction

Henry James and “The Art of Fiction”The only reason for the existence of a novel is that it does attempt to represent life. Stated Henry James in The Art of Fiction page 437. I agree with Mr. James that feelings and ambitions formed in characters do represent life. The idea of characters and how real they should is represented in page 440.


Characters, in my opinion, form the novel itself. It is the characters and incidents corresponding in a novel, which make a good one. There are two kinds of characters: the round character, and the flat character. The round one has contradictions and develops with the progress of the novel. The flat character does not change; if it is good then that is the way it will stay, or if it is bad it will also stay as it is with no progress in it. There are as well minor characters, which are there to help the novel to develop, and make incidents more reasonable. Characters form actions, in my opinion, and actions form the incidents of a novel.


In page 438, Mr. James stated that the action of men is the task of writers. It is not only important to show characters feelings, but also to see them in action. A novel I would refer to that may get to be the opposite of that statement would be To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. The novel does not have much action, but shows a lot of inner thoughts and feelings of the characters. The time passes by slowly at the beginning of the novel, which may make you feel dull. The story still is a genius one. These form of novels are called the stream of consciousness, and its form goes by hearing characters thoughts and their inner emotions. Mr. James prefers, as I interpret, that a novel should have characters combined with the actions they go through. I agree with him, since I find much pleasure in reading such works of fiction. That is of course my own taste, and not my own opinion, since an opinion should be objective.


In conclusion, life can be seen in characters, which are in action. Also in corresponding of incidents that can be thought to be logical. If any work of fiction has logical events, and can be taken to be true, then it is a successful one. Any novel does not have to be only a copy of real life. A good author would know how to add to his, or her, own imagination and personal values and thoughts.


All novels of all kinds discuss life. Events and characters are what life is all about. Even science fiction novels represent life, but in a different way, and some times shows us how life can be, or how we could make it be. All art is for pleasure, but not all to instruct. In my opinion, a work of fiction always gives a new thing. It always enlightens the reader; even if it was an authors personal experience it will illuminate us in one way or another.


PS. The article referred to is in: H.Richter, David. “The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends”. Boston:Bedford.2, 1998. 436-447