Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Quotes by W. Somerset Maugham: Prefaces to works of others + Miscellaneous pieces






[Traveller's Library, original Introduction and notes, 1933.]

[Introduction:]

I do not want to tire the reader of this preface with a long account of the reasons for which I have inserted this or that, but I should like him to have patience with me while I tell him exactly what I have been at. I am not a critic or a scholar. Either of these would doubtless have chosen very different things from I have, but if the publishers of this volume had needed the taste of the one or the learning of the other I should certainly not have been invited to make the selection. I am a professional writer. I have a great deal, sometimes for instruction and sometimes for pleasure, but never since I was a small boy without an inward eye on the relation between what I was reading and my professional interests. […] I am more interested in an author’s personality than in the books he writes. I follow him in the attempts he makes to express himself, his experiments in this manner and that; but when he has produced the work in which he has at last said all he has to say about himself, when he has arrived at what perhaps for many years he has only approached, then I read him no longer. At least if I do it is out of politeness, because he has given me his book, or fear, in case he should be affronted if I didn’t, and not from inclination. Sometimes I have to read many books by an author before my curiosity about him is satisfied and sometimes only his first or second. He may write half a hundred masterpiece after that, but life is short and there is a great deal I urgently want to read, and I am content to leave their enjoyment to others.

[…]

The ablest editor I know is accustomed to say: I am the average American and what interests me will interest my readers; the event has proved him right. Now I have most of my life have been miserably conscious that I am not the average Englishman. Let no one think I say this with self-satisfaction, for I think that there is nothing better than to be like everybody else. It is the only way to be happy, and it is with but a wry face that one tells oneself that happiness is not everything. [...] The accident of my birth in France, which enabled me to learn French and English simultaneously and thus instilled into me two modes of life, two liberties, two points of view, has prevented me from ever identifying myself completely with the instincts and prejudices of one people or the other, and it is in instinct and prejudice that sympathy is most deeply rooted; the accident of a physical infirmity, with its attendant nervousness, separated me to a greater extent than would be thought likely from the common life of others. In my communication with my fellows I have generally felt 'out of it'; in that uprush of emotion that sometimes seizes a crowd so that their hearts throb as one I have been lamentably aware my own keeps its accustomed and normal rhythm. When 'Everybody suddenly burst out singing' as Siegfried Sassoon says in one of the most moving of the poems I have been allowed to reprint in this book, I have always felt exceedingly embarrassed. And when on New Year's Eve people join hands and swinging them up and down to the music, like a nurse rocking the baby, sing lustily Should Auld Acquaintance be Forgot, my shivering nerves whisper, yes, please. I cannot then offer this book as the choice of the average man and I cannot say that because these things please me they will please you. If you like me they will please you, and if you don't they won't. Though I do not share many of the prejudices that many people have, I naturally have prejudices of my own, and they will be obvious to anyone who reads this book through.

[…]

In this volume there is nothing that I would not have been glad to write myself. Of course I know that there is a great deal that I have not the gift to write. When I was young in moments of passion I used to beat my fists on the writing table and cry, by God, I wish I had more brains; but now, resigned though far from content, I am prepared to make do with what I have.

[…]

I read in the papers that rhetoric is coming into fashion again; and an eminent anthologist (but a less eminent novelist) is, I hear, bringing out a collection entirely devoted to purple passages. I shall not read it. In poetry, which is the happy avocation of youth, I do not mind, in moderation, a little rhetoric, but I do not like it in prose at all. I think the reader will find little in the following pages that is not written with simplicity. In my youth, influenced by the fashion of the day, I did my best to write in the grand manner. I studied the Bible, I sought phrases in the venerable Hooker and copied out passages from Jeremy Taylor. I ransacked the dictionary for unusual epithets. I went to the British Museum and made lists of the names of precious stones. But I had no bent that way and, resigning myself to writing not I should have liked but as I could, I returned to the study of Swift.
[…]
For long I thought that Swift was the best model on which the modern English writer could form his style, and I still think there is something intoxicating in the order in which he places his words. But now I find in him a certain dryness and a dead level which is somewhat tiring. He is like a man who, whatever his emotion and however emphatic his words, never raises his voice. It is a little sinister. I think if I were starting over again I should devote myself to the study of Dryden. It was he who first gave the English prose its form. He released the language from the ponderous eloquence that had overwhelmed it and made it the lovely, supple instrument which at its best it is. He had the straightforwardness and the limpidity of Swift; but a melodious variety and a conversational ease that Swift never attained. He had a happy charm of which the Dean was incapable. Swift’s English flows like the water in a canal shaded by neat poplars, but Dryden’s like a great river under the open sky. I know none more delightful. Of course a living language changes and it would absurd for anyone to try to write like Dryden now. But his excellencies are still the excellencies of English prose. English is a very difficult language to write. Its grammar is so complicated that even the best writers often make gross mistakes. The various influences to which it has been subjected have made it a difficult medium to handle. Pedants have burdened it with pomposities. Clowns have jumped with it through paper hoops and juggled with its beauties as though they were the properties of the circus ring. Rhetoricians have floundered in the richness of its vocabulary. But its excellencies remain unimpaired. It is with joy and pride that I can point to them in many of the authors who grace this collection by their works.

[Notes:]

For my part I need exactly the right surroundings to take delight in poetry. I like to be slightly tired physically, for then I find that my spirit is most at ease, and I like a comfortable chair in a garden and the waning of an English day in June. There is a cliff in Capri where many years ago Norman Douglas planted cypress trees. These are now grown up and you can lie in their shade, with the Mediterranean at your feet, and in front of you the Sorentine peninsula, and feel yourself alone in the world. That is the place I should choose to read Shelley.

[…]

I have a notion that poets write verses and it is their readers who transmute them into poems. It is with verse as, according to Stendhal, with love. Everyone knows the image he made such a pleasant use of, of the branch of a tree which, placed in the waters of Strasburg, gradually collects upon itself crystallizations till it becomes a scintillating, delicate, exquisite thing that has only the basis of the dead wood which it originally was. So the readers add to verse the charm of place and time, their own youth, and love and pain, and thus in the course of time make it something infinitely more poignant and lovely than the poet ever wrote. I do not know how else one can explain the fact that good and sensitive judges did not at once see what a miracle was the Ode on a Grecian Urn. One would have thought it impossible without ravishment to read those lines of Shelley’s:

And, like a dying lady, lean and pale,
Who totters forth, wrapt in a gauzy veil,
Out of her chamber, led by the insane
And feeble wanderings of her fading brain,
The moon arose up in the murky east,
A white and shapeless mass.

Yet we know that the admirers of these poets were few, and that when attention was paid to them it was more often to condemn than to praise. Keats spoke of Shelley with nonchalance, and Shelley’s interest in the surgeon’s apprentice was cool till his death gave him the opportunity for a composition of his own. Neither Keats, Shelley, now Wordsworth set the Thames on fire as Byron did. Why? The only reasonable explanation seems to be that these lovely poems were not then lovely poems, but good verse; and if their kept their heads about them it was because there was nothing in them to lose their heads about. […] It is their innumerable readers that have made them that. But what it is in a set of verses that makes it possible for it to become a great poem needs a more acute and learned critic than I am to say.

[…]

[On Bertrand Russell:]
A great mathematician, they say (for mathematics is a subject on which I am even less competent to speak than of any other) and a restless, nimble-witted philosopher, he writes with a lucidity that makes it easy to follow him even at his most abstruse. He is a proof that, however abstract your thought, if you know exactly what you mean you can say it in such a way that every intelligent person can understand you. Metaphysics is a subject that I can always read with pleasure, but I wish modern philosophers would take a leaf out of Lord Russell’s book and learn to express themselves with distinction. The philosophers of the past  did not disdain to write English with grace and whatever you think of Hobbes and Hume as philosophers you can still read their works with satisfaction for the excellence of their style. They portray themselves engagingly in their characteristic use of the language. In Lord Russell’s essay entitled A Free Man’s Worship there is a tragic beauty which I find deeply impressive.

Finally, a delicate dish to set before a sated king, I have placed A Night at Pietramela by Mr Aldous Huxley. Here certainly is charm, and earlier on I confided to the reader (not expecting him to care one way or the other) that charm was a quality I could have enough of; but this is charm backed up by admirable education and a personality of power and originality. I think that there is no one writing in England just now who has a more comprehensive culture than Mr Huxley. His great gifts are supported by knowledge which to anyone as ignorant as I seems encyclopedic. His attitude towards life is individual. He has humour, candour and courage. I think at present he is somewhat lacking in humanity; that is why he seems to a better essayist than novelist; but Mr Huxley is still young. Youth when it is intelligent is apt to be ruthless, but life teaches one tolerance, and the advantage of being intelligent is that you can learn. Mr Huxley’s English is cultured, but racy and vivid. It is an admirable instrument for his purposes and he uses it with the easy assurance of a craftsman accustomed to his tools. To those interested in such matters it is a great pleasure to notice his apt use of epithets. With many authors these seem to be written with a flowing, heedless pen, but with Mr Huxley you have the impression that they are chosen with deliberate and tender care. Often they come upon you with the joyful surprise of a wayside flower that you have never seen before. I have every confidence that one of these days Mr Huxley will write a very great novel.

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[Tellers of Tales, original Introduction, 1939.]

When for this book I read, yet once again, the short stories of Henry James, I was troubled by the contrast offered by the triviality of so many of his themes and the elaboration of his treatment. He seems to have had no inkling that his subject might be too slight to justify so intricate a method. This is a fault that lessens one’s enjoyment of some of his most famous tales. A world that has gone through the great war, that has lived through the troubled years that have followed it, can hardly fail to be impatient with events, persons and subtleties that seem so remote from life. Henry James had discernment, a generous heart and artistic integrity; but he applied his gifts to matters of no great import. He was like a man who would provide himself with all the impedimenta necessary to ascend Mount Everest in order to climb Primrose Hill. Let us not forget that here was a novelist who had to his hand one of the most stupendous subjects that any writer ever had the chance of dealing with, the rise of the United States from the small, provincial country that he knew in his youth to the vast and powerful commonwealth that it has become; and he turned his back on it to write about tea parties in Mayfair and country-house visits in the home shires. The great novelists, even in seclusion, have lived life passionately; Henry James was content to observe it from a window. But you cannot describe life unless you have partaken of it; nor, should your object be different, can you fantasticate upon (as Balzac and Dickens did) unless you know it first. Something escapes you unless have been an actor in the tragicomedy. Henry James was shy of the elementals of human nature. His heart was an organ subject to no serious agitation, and his interests were confined to persons of his own class. He failed of being a very great writer because his experience was inadequate and his sympathies were imperfect.

Conrad rarely wrote anything but short stories, though, being a writer of an exuberant verbosity, he often made them as long as most novels. He needed sea-room. He had little sense of concision. A theme with him was like the stem of a cauliflower; it grew and grew under his active pen until, all its branches headed with succulent flowers, it became very fine but somewhat monstrous plant.

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[“Twenty Days in a Ship”, The English Spirit, ed. Anthony Weymouth, 1942.]

On my return from France a fortnight ago today, I gave a short talk on my journey home in a collier with five hundred refugees. Since then, among many other letters I have received a number from persons who said that they had no sympathy with us, and if we had suffered danger, discomfort and hardship during our escape, we thoroughly deserved it, for we had gone to the Riviera to lead idle, pleasure-loving lives, while our country was fighting for its existence. Well, sympathy is a commodity that does not cost much, but the persons who are short of it are very wise to hoard it till they have occasion to expend it on themselves.

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[Great Modern Reading, original Introduction and commentaries, 1943.]

[Introduction:]

It is for the people of America that I have devised in this anthology. It occurred to me that it would be useful to them and I hoped interesting, if I could give them, as it were, a bird's eye view of literary production in England and America during the last forty or fifty years. That is what I have tried to do in this volume. The result is imperfect, partly owing to my own inadequacy for the task, since my reading, except in special subjects, has been desultory, and it is only too probable that I have remained unacquainted with certain authors a selection from whose works would have made my picture more complete; but it is imperfect also because my space was severely limited. I wished this book to be published at so cheap a price that it would strain no one resources to buy it, and the cost of production set definite bounds to the quantity of material I could include.

I am not so stupid as to mean that all people have such a naturally good taste that they will always prefer what is best to what is of no great value. After all, we none of us do that, and few of us are so delicately constituted that we can put up with nothing but the first rate. Most of us can like very much things of unequal merit. I know for my part I can get a great deal of pleasure out of an opera by Puccini's; but it is a different sort of pleasure from that which I get out of an opera by Mozart's.

So in this anthology I have made no compromise. I would not claim that all pieces in it are great literature; during the last twenty-five hundred years, all the world over, not so much of the literature that has been produced can truly be called great; indeed, we have been told that it can be got into a five-foot shelf; and this is a necessarily incomplete selection from the writing in England and America of half a century. I do claim, however, that none of these pieces can fail to appeal for one reason or another to a curious and intelligent mind.

People will not read the classics because they have got it into their heads that they are dull. They have formed this impression, I think, because they have been forced to read them in schools and colleges, and the reading prescribed by scholastic authorities is not as often as it should be chosen to persuade the young that great literature is good to read. It is natural enough that, when they arrive at maturity, many persons should suppose that there is little in the great works of the past that can help them to deal with the anxious and harassing present. But a work becomes a classic only because succeeding generations of people, ordinary readers like you and me, have found pleasure in reading it. It does that because it appeals to the human problems that we are all confronted with.

[Commentaries:]

Aldous Huxley is an essayist whom I would be ready to rank with Hazlitt.
[...]
The essayist needs character to begin with, then he needs an encyclopedic knowledge, he needs humour, ease of manner so that the ordinary person can read him without labor, and he must know how to combine entertainment with instruction. These qualifications are not easy to find. Aldous Huxley has them; so, in a much smaller way, had Virginia Woolf. To my mind both these writers have been more successful in this particular style than in the novel.
[...]
Aldous Huxley has greater gifts than she had, a vigour, and a versatility that were beyond her, and if he has never quite acquired the great position as a novelist that his talent seems to authorize, I think it is because of his deficient sympathy with human beings. The novelist must be able to get into the skin of the creatures of his invention, see with their eyes and feel with their fingers; but Aldous Huxley sees them like an anatomist. He dissects out their nerves, discovers their arteries with precision, and peers into the ventricles of their hearts. The process gives rise in the reader to a certain discomfort. In saying this I do not wish to disparage Aldous Huxley's fiction; he has the priceless gift of readability, so that even though you balk at his attitude, you are held by his narrative skill and stimulated by his originality.

I have a notion that there is a poetry that appeals rather to the head than to the heart, the poetry of Dryden, for instance, and a poetry that appeals to the heart rather than to the head, Verlaine, say; and I have no doubt that the greatest poetry of all appeals to both, and here, I suppose, the classic example would be the great speeches that Shakespeare put into the mouths of Hamlet and Othello. But to my mind there is another sort of poetry, one that appeals to what, knowing no other word to express what I mean, I must call the subconscious. There is a poetry that gives you the same sort of thrill, a strange primeval feeling, that you get when on a river in Borneo you hear the drums beating in a distant village, when you walk alone in those silent stealthy woods of South Carolina, or when in the jungle of Indo-China you come upon those vast, those colossal heads of Brahma that form the towers of a ruined temple.

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[Of Human Bondage, With a Digression on the Art of Fiction, 1946] 
[An address given by WSM on 20 April, 1946, in the Coolidge Auditorium on the occasion of his presenting the original MS of Of Human Bondage to the Library of Congress.]

Ladies & Gentlemen:

You will remember that one of the characters in Dostoevsky’s novel “The Possessed” remarks that at a literary gathering, such as this, no one should be allowed to discourse for more than twenty minutes. It is true that he is the most odious character in the book, but there is a lot in what he says. I shall try not to exceed this limit. I start by telling you this in case these typescript sheets I have in front of me fill you with misgiving. A year or two ago I was invited to give a lecture at a great and ancient university and for reasons with which I need not trouble you I chose the somewhat grim topic of political obligation. I knew exactly what I wanted to say and went into the lecture hall without even a note. It was crowded to the doors. I think I got through the lecture pretty well and reached my peroration without mishap. But having been at one time of my life a dramatist I have been inclined to end a discourse with a curtain line. Well, I reached my curtain line with a sigh of relief and began very confidently: The price of liberty is… and then I had a complete black-out and I could not for the life of me remember what the price of liberty was.

It brought my lecture to a humiliating conclusion and, unless in the interval someone has told them, the students of that great and ancient university do not to this day know what the price of liberty is.

I thought I would not let myself be caught in that way again and I am no longer prepared to trust in the failing memory of the very old party you know I am.

[…]

I have never pretended to be anything but a story teller. It has amused me to tell stories and I have told a great many. But as you know, story telling just for the sake of the story is not an activity that is in favour with the intelligentsia. It is looked upon as a debased form of art. That seems strange to me since the desire to listen to stories appears to be as deeply rooted in the human animal as the sense of property. Since the beginning of history men have gathered round the camp fire or in a group in the market place to listen to the telling of a story. That the desire is as strong as ever it was is shown by the amazing popularity of detective stories in our own day.

[…]

But we novelists are on the whole a modest lot and when we are told that it is our business, not merely to entertain, but to deal with social security, economics, the race question, and the state of the world generally, we are pleased and flattered. It is very nice to think that we can instruct our fellow men and by our wisdom improve their lot. It gives us a sense of responsibility and indeed puts us on a level of respectability with bank presidents. For my part I think it is an abuse to use the novel as a pulpit or a platform, and I think readers are misguided when they suppose they can thus acquire knowledge without trouble.

It is a great nuisance that knowledge cannot be acquired without trouble. It can only be acquired by hard work. It would be fine if we could swallow the powder of profitable information made palatable by the jam of fiction. But the truth is that, so made palatable, we can’t be sure the powder will be profitable. I suggest to you that the knowledge the novelist imparts is biassed and thus unreliable and it is better not to know a thing than to know it in a distorted fashion. If readers wish to inform themselves of the pressing problems of the day they will do better to read, not novels but the books that specifically deal with them.

The novelist is a natural propagandist. He can’t help it however hard he tries. He loads his dice. By the mere fact of introducing a character to your notice early in his novel he enlists your interest and your sympathy in that character. He takes sides. He arranges facts to suit his purpose. Well, that is not the way a book of scientific or informative value is written. There is no reason why a novelist should be anything but a novelist. He should know a little about a great many things, but it is unnecessary, and sometimes even harmful, for him to be a specialist in any particular subject. The novelist need not eat a whole sheep to know what mutton tastes like; it is enough if he eats a chop. Applying then his imagination and his creative faculty to the chop he has eaten he can give you a very good idea of an Irish stew, but when he goes on from this to give you his views on sheep raising, the wool industry and the political situation in Australia I think it is well to accept his ideas with reserve.

[…]

But I have not really come here to give you a discourse upon the art of fiction. Dr. Luther Evans asked me to talk to you about “Of Human Bondage” and if I have so long delayed to do so it is because I have now to tell you that I know very little about it. I corrected the proofs in the autumn of 1914 – thirty two years ago – in a billet near Ypres by the light of a single candle, and since then I have opened the book once. That was when, some months ago, I was asked to read the first chapter for a record that was being made for the blind. I did not make a very good job of it because I was moved, not because the chapter was particularly moving, but because it recalled a pain that the passage of more than sixty years has not dispelled. So if you will have patience with me I will content myself with giving you the history of this book.

While still a medical student I had published a novel which had some success and as soon as I had taken my degrees I went to Seville and settled down to write an autobiographical novel. I was then twenty-three. Following the fashion of the day I called it rather grandly “The Artistic Temperament of Stephen Carey”. Then I took it back to London to get it published. Life was cheap in those days, but even then you couldn’t live for nothing, and I wanted a hundred pounds for my year’s keep. But I could find no publisher who was willing to give me more than fifty, I daresay that was all it was worth, but that I obstinately refused to accept. It was a bit of luck for me, for if the book had been published then – and it was certainly very crude and very immature – I should have lost much that I was able to make better use of later.

Years went by and I became a popular dramatist. But those memories of an unhappy past burdened me and the time came when I felt that I could only rid myself of them by writing them; so I retired from the theatre and spent two years writing the book you know now. Then I had another bit of luck. I had called it “Beauty from Ashes”, which is a quotation form Isaiah, but discovered that a novel with that title had recently been published. I hunted about for another and then it occurred to me that the title Spinoza had given to one of the books of his Ethics would very well do for mine. So I called it “Of Human Bondage”.

It was published in England and was well enough reviewed. But we were then engaged in a war and people had more important things to occupy themselves with than the characters of a work in fiction. There had been besides a spate of semi-autobiographical novels and the public was a trifle tired of them. My book was not a failure, nor was it a success. It did not set the Thames on fire. It was only by a lucky break that it was published in America. George Doran, then a publisher who specialized in English books, brought it back to this country for consideration, but it was very long and nobody read it. Then Mrs. Doran got an attack of influenza and on asking for something to pass the time George Doran gave her “Of Human Bondage” to read, chiefly, I believe, because of its length. She liked it and on this he decided to publish it.

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[The Writer’s Point of View, 1951.]
[Ninth Annual Lecture of the National Book League, given by Maugham in Kingsway Hall, London, on 24 October, 1951.]

But before I begin I must tell you that I have been writing for very nearly sixty years and in that long time I have said pretty well everything I had to say. That I am now apt to repeat myself was borne in upon me a few years ago somewhat ruthlessly by an undergraduate at one of the great Universities who wrote to tell me that if he ever had to read again that the style of Swift was like a placid French canal bordered by poplars while the style of Dryden was like an English river meandering through green fields and past wooded hills, he would be sick. Mr. Eliot had not then published Four Quartets or I should have replied briefly with a quotation from East Coker, which runs as follows: “You say I am repeating something I have said before. I shall say it again”. That charming and arrogant line may well serve to assuage the misgivings of many authors. I less courageously am merely going to take it for granted that no one in this Kingsway Hall has ever read a word I have written.

[…]

To know something about your author may also affect the value you place on a book. Some years ago a short novel was published which was greatly admired by the intelligentsia. I was asked by a friend of mine what I thought of it. “That depends on how old the author is,” I answered. “Why, what has that got to do with it?” he asked. “A great deal,” I replied. “If it was written by a young man just down from the university I think it’s interesting and clever. It has the obscurity, the complication, the parade of sophistication, the literary affectations which cultured youth naturally indulges in. That doesn’t matter. There’s enough promise in the book to suggest that as he grows older the author will discard his errors of taste.” “As a matter of fact,” said my friend, “the author’s an alcoholic of over forty.” “In that case,” I answered, “I think the book is perfect rubbish.” Does that seem to you unreasonable? There is a charm in the gay frolics of youth. But they do not become middle age. We can take with good humour the practical jokes that children love to play on us, but when they are indulged in by persons of mature age we can only regret that they should be so unfortunate as to suffer from arrested development. The medical profession describes persons thus afflicted as morons.

[…]

It is no use for the writer to have a full, rich and cultivated personality unless he has also acquired the technique of the art of writing. Like every other author I receive a large number of manuscripts from persons unknown to me, and sometimes I read them. What surprises me is not so much the ineptitude of the stories the writers have to tell and the unskilfulness with which they tell them, but how execrably they are written. A person who wants to be a painter goes to an art school, a person who wants to be a pianist takes lessons, but it is only too plain that it never occurs to a person who wants to be a writer that he has anything to learn. Why should he think it is any easier to write than to play the piano or to paint? It isn’t.

[…]

I ask myself sadly from time to time why these people whose manuscripts I read want to adopt the profession of literature when it is only too plain that they lack even the elements of the necessary equipment. Sometimes obviously it is because they think it is an easy way to make money. They are grossly mistaken. A plumber or an electrician can make a better and a steadier income than all but very few authors and he enjoys moreover the respect of the community, which an author can seldom hope to do. Sometimes they want to adopt this hazardous calling because they think the author’s life is easy and pleasant. It is pleasant. He is not confined to an office. He can work where and when he likes; and the only tools he needs are paper and a pen or a typewriter. But it is an error to think the author’s life is an easy one. It is a whole-time job. It needs industry, perseverance and infinite patience. However experienced you are, however competent, you never entirely conquer the difficulties of technique, and by the time you have learnt to write, not as well as you’d like to, none of us ever does that, but as well as you can, it is very likely that you will have nothing more to write about.

Others again wish to write because they seek fame. That is a natural and not ignoble ambition. But it is will-o’-the-wisp. Of the many thousands writers who burden the earth very few achieve fame and of those who do there are fewer still whose fame outlasts their lifetime. A few years go by and works which seemed destined to immortality are discovered to be unreadable. In my twenties we all read George Meredith with passionate enthusiasm. I have not met for a long time a young man of literary inclinations who had read even one of his novels.

The only valid and sensible reason I know for adopting the profession of literature is that you have so strong and urgent a desire to write that you cannot resist it. Unfortunately, however, the strength and urgency of your desire do not guarantee that you will write anything that is worth writing. But of course if someone is under that compulsion to write, for a compulsion it should be, that doesn’t matter. He may succeed or he may fail, but in any case he will have enjoyed the intense pleasure of creation and fulfilled himself. He will lead a life of inexhaustible interest and enjoy, as few can in this world of to-day, the inestimable pleasure of freedom.

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[The Gentleman from Cap Ferrat by Klaus Jonas, Letter to the author, 1956.]

I have never pretended to be anything but a story writer. I have little patience with the novelists who preach or philosophise. I think it much better to leave philosophy to the philosophers and social reform to the social reformer. It has amused me to write stories, plays and novels. With the exception of the last war, when I was called upon to write propaganda, a thing for which I had no gift and so found a distressing burden, I have written for my own pleasure. Do not suppose I mean by this that I have found it easy to write. Over and over again I have spent a whole day writing and rewriting a single page and in the end left it, not because I was satisfied with it, but because I could do no better.

[…]

It has been borne in upon me that a good many people are angry with me because my various works have brought me in a great deal of money. That is silly. They ought rather to be angry with the people all over the world who buy my books and pay to go to see my plays. I have written because I had a fertile invention and the ideas for plays and stories that thronged my brain would not let me rest till I had got rid of them by writing them. But that is a thing of the past. With age one’s inventiveness leaves one and it is long since I have been troubled with any subject that insisted on being turned into a piece of fiction.

[…]

I am well aware that I have lost any talent I may have had. There was only one thing for me to do – to turn critic.


    

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