The author speaks

The basic problem of a novelist in the United States and Great Britain, in any advanced industrial society, is this - we haven't enough experience to share with each other. The sheer necessities of advanced society make us specialize - the areas where we understand each other become less every day. Over whole areas of intellect and feeling we have ceased to speak a common language. Scientists can't talk to nonscientists; engineers can't talk to schoolteachers.

These pressures have caused novelists to lose their nerve. They have been driven into a private world where, since they could not talk to anyone else, they could at least talk to themselves. And they have tended to talk to themselves about their own loneliness. More and more they have taken refuge in their own sensations. That was the final refuge - in ''Finnegans Wake'' - for a writer as gifted as Joyce. It has been a refuge of dozens of American and English writers, less gifted, but driven by the same pressures. The dominant artistic trend since World War I has been the pursuit of sensation.

When I started writing novels I knew that trend well enough. I also knew it was no use for me. Whether, even if I'd wanted to, I could have accomplished anything along those lines I didn't inquire. I was simply certain that for me, with one life to live, I shouldn't think it worth while to devote a lifetime to it.

Of course, I had several different motives which forced me to write novels. All writers have a special vanity which makes them want - as, for instance, Dante did - to hint at the person they are, to give nudges and tip the wink. This is one of the strongest motives in all art. It is pretty naked in me. I wanted to leave at least a blurred picture of what I had been like, set in my own place and time. But as well as those deep reasons I had a conscious one. I thought I knew a bit more than most novelists. Being trained as a scientist was a help; it meant that, from an early age, I was plunged among people living a life profoundly different from the literary life. I went on acquiring inside knowledge of men at work. World War II took me right into the middle of the high English bureaucracy and big business - the ''corridors of power.'' It wasn't only that I had a chance of watching those lives, scientist's, civil servant's, industrialist's. I was also compelled to live them.

It seemed to me that, in a society getting increasingly split, the kind of novel I wanted to write ought to be able to interpret different people and different bits of society to each other. I had a shot at trying to make scientists intelligible (in ''The Search'' and again in ''The New Men''). I have also tried to bring into range academics, civil servants, the Anglo-Jewish aristocracy, businessmen, and so on. The spirit behind the whole work is that we are ''members one of another.'' Committing myself in that spirit, I thought I might help by telling the truth, as unsparingly as I could manage, about myself and the people I had seen.

What gives me most heart is when someone unknown to me tells me something about the private life of my narrator, Lewis Eliot.

Condensed from an article in the Monitor's ''Author Speaks'' series Jan. 15, 1959.

About these ads
Sponsored Content by LockerDome

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...

Save for later

Save
Cancel

Saved ( of items)

This item has been saved to read later from any device.
Access saved items through your user name at the top of the page.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You reached the limit of 20 saved items.
Please visit following link to manage you saved items.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You have already saved this item.

View Saved Items

OK