NABOKV-L post 0016915, Wed, 13 Aug 2008 09:38:21 -0700

Re: James is certainly not a Nabokovian writer ...
Nabokov and I often differ in literary opinions, but I'm on his side about Henry James. He is just awful! The Wings of The Dove, endless, is little more than a romance crossed with what eventually became a noir, but sans the fun, and with an annoying dishonest message that a real quality person (read rich) keeps all the physical unpleasantness of dying discreetly out of view. The book exists in a constant fog. We know notthing about the exquisitely ill heroine other than that she is pale with red hair; about the schemer character--if that's what can call what she does or doesn't or do, thinks or doesn't think--we are told only that she has green eyes. That character's aunt is described as being as large as her classical interior decoration, leaving the reader to sort out whether or not this means she is ambitious or simply fat. The book's characters and situations are caught in a gray ash of prolixity to the point they can hardly move a muscle. Too much James makes you want
pull your hair out; Nabokov is a thousand times more economic as a writer, more truthful about his character's motivations, and a thousand times more imaginitive in his subject matter. James to me seems like Proust minus the insights and humor. I keep wondering why we're still talking about a writer as dusty and antiquated as James. His "ambiguity" gives me a headache. There's no reason for a story like "The Beast In The Jungle" to be so lengthily inscrutable; it goes on long long after the irony of people who spend their lives melting into drawing room parties trying to equate there existences with a wild great event has lost its teeth and claws. Thank god Nabokov's not a Jamesian writer.

"Sandy P. Klein" <spklein52@HOTMAIL.COM> wrote: .hmmessage P { margin:0px; padding:0px } body.hmmessage { FONT-SIZE: 10pt; FONT-FAMILY:Tahoma }

Complete Article at following URL:
Flaubert's Overcoat: James Wood's 'How Fiction Works' By DENIS DONOGHUE | August 13, 2008

In his poem "The Novelist," W.H. Auden contrasts novelists with poets in terms of their different aptitudes. Poets can "dash forward like hussars," but novelists must "learn / How to be plain and awkward." A novelist, "to achieve his lightest wish," must "Become the whole of boredom, subject to / Vulgar complaints like love." Among the just, the novelist must be just, among the filthy, "filthy too." This poor slave, Auden implies, must take account of the rigmarole of ordinary life, the sundry of things merely being as they are. The poet, minding his own business, sits quietly till an inspiration strikes.

[ ... ]

Style, too, is one of Mr. Wood's favorite terms, but his sense of it is equivocal. He likes it, but he doesn't want to have too much of that good thing. He scolds Nabokov, Updike, and, more gently, Bellow for putting their styles too blatantly on display. "Nabokov's fiction is always becoming propaganda on behalf of good noticing, hence on behalf of itself." Bellow is rebuked for stepping forward, in "Seize the Day," to do Tommy Wilhelm's thinking for him. In "Terrorist," Updike "plants his big authorial flags all over his mental site," to make sure he has his say even if his character, poor, limited Ahmad, can't say much for himself.

[ ... ]

"How Fiction Works" is best — indeed brilliant — when it brings forward telling details: a word, a phrase, a sentence, an episode, in Dickens, Flaubert, Henry James, Jane Austen, Dostoyevsky, Proust, V.S. Naipaul, Muriel Spark, and many more. My favorite sentence is quoted from "David Copperfield," the description of Dora's cousin, who was "in the Life-Guards, with such long legs that he looked like the afternoon shadow of somebody else." Many of Mr. Wood's own sentences are nearly as good, as in summing up a perceptive contrast between Nabokov and James in relation to detail seen, he writes:
But James is certainly not a Nabokovian writer; his notion of what constitutes a detail is more various, more impalpable, and finally more metaphysical than Nabokov's. James would probably argue that while we should indeed try to be the kind of writer on whom nothing is lost, we have no need to be the kind of writer on whom everything is found.
Mr. Donoghue is University Professor and Henry James Chair of English and American Letters at New York University. His most recent book is "On Eloquence."

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