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ESSAYS ON BOOKS

I

REALISM AND REALITY IN FICTION

DURING those early years of his youth at Paris, which the melancholy but unrepentant George Moore insists he spent in riotous living, he was on one memorable occasion making a night of it at a ball in Montmartre. In the midst of the revelry a grey giant came placidly striding across the crowded room, looking, I suppose, something like

Ι Gulliver in Lilliput. It was the Russian novelist Turgenev. For a moment the young Irishman forgot the girls, and plunged into eager talk with the man from the North. Emile Zola had just astonished Paris with L'Assommoir. ' In response to a leading question, Turgenev shook his head gravely and said: "What difference does it make whether a woman sweats in the middle of her back or under her arms? I want to know how she thinks, not how she feels."

In this statement the great master of diagnosis indicated the true distinction between realism and

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reality. A work of art may be conscientiously realistic; . -- few men have had a more importunate tonşciencé than Zola, - and yet be untrue to life, or, at all events, untrue to life as a whole. Realism may degenerate into emphasis on sensational but relatively unimportant detail: reality deals with that mystery of mysteries, the human heart. Realism may degenerate into a creed; and a formal creed in art is as unsatisfactory as a formal creed in religion, for it is an attempt to confine what by its very nature is boundless and infinite into a narrow and prescribed space. Your microscope may be accurate and powerful, but its strong regard is turned on only one thing at a time; and no matter how enormously this thing may be enlarged, it remains only one thing out of the infinite variety of God's universe. To describe one part of life by means of a perfectly accurate microscope is not to describe life any more than one can measure the Atlantic Ocean by means of a perfectly accurate yardstick. Zola was an artist of extraordinary energy, sincerity, and honesty; but, after all, when he gazed upon a dunghill, he saw and described a dunghill. Rostand looked steadfastly at the same object, and beheld the vision of Chantecler.

Suppose some foreign champion of realism should arrive in New York at dusk, spend the whole

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