The Writing of Fiction, by Edith Wharton

bab's review

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Quite interesting and scholarly, providing some historical insight and some nice practical tips too, but ultimately disappointing, for several reasons.

To begin with, according to Mrs. Wharton the whole history of all proper literature comes from and is restricted to British, French, perhaps Russian, and then a few American writers. She mentions Goethe here and there, in passing, and that's all. No actual credit whatsoever to any other writers from any other nationalities –the Anglo-Saxon and the French, with some help from some Russians, apparently did everything.

Also, she argues the novel is the supreme form of literature, and disregards the short story and the novella as lesser forms, less capable of complexity and insight, stuff for losers that lack the skills to write long novels. Makes you wonder what her opinions on poetry might have been...

And then she goes on to pontificate on the innate genius of some writers as the whole explanation for their, well, genius (she uses the word genius far too much), and about "natural born readers" vs. "mechanical readers", the latter never to be able to reach or become the former (?) and instead the ultimate culprits of the decadence and destruction of modern literature... and, well, she just keeps going, just being similarly arbitrary and categorical about everything.

So – quite a few good points, half-ruined by quite a few notions that are completely bollocks. Writings that I assume were already debatable back then, and that haven't aged well at all. In the end, a great exercise in perception, perspective, and judgement – for every sentence can be insightful, brilliant, and substantially true, or instead a beautiful pile of stool in disguise. For the attentive, discerning reader (mind your step).

rlaurene's review against another edition

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challenging informative inspiring reflective slow-paced