Essay on the Study of Fiction

Outline:

  • Introduction
  • Definition of Novel
  • Advantages of novel reading
  • Recreational value and the intimate knowledge of human nature
  • Awareness of history
  • The novel, a source of moral instruction
  • Novel as a means of reform and propaganda
  • Disadvantages of novel reading
  • Conclusion

The novel is the most popular literary form. An interesting novel is never missed by anyone who feels any interest in reading. All sorts and conditions of men are interested in fiction because it appeals to universal sentiments. The novel is also the easiest kind of reading, which is another reason for its enormous popularity.

A novel may be defined as a prose narrative about imaginary characters. The most important elements in the novel are the plot and the characters, but the former has generally a greater appeal for the average man. A novel with an exciting, stirring plot but poor characterization has far more chances of attaining popularity than one with brilliant character-portrayal but little plot interest. Of course a popular novel may not necessarily be a great novel from the critical point of view.

Novel – reading has obvious advantages. It is an excellent recreation for one’s leisure hours. To dip into the pages of novel after the tiring and dull routine of the day is a pleasant occupation. It is a great relief from the boredom and gloom of a cheerless life because a novel inspires, excites, thrills pleases, stirs us – in short, completely holds our attention. We feel lost in the march of the gripping plot with its variety of dramatic situations. We turn over page after page, forgetful of the circumstances of our personal life, and pass from sympathy to apprehension, from anxiety to fear, from the joy of fulfillment to the pangs of disappointment, waiting breathlessly for what is to come next. In their sheer powers to catch and hold the reader’s attention, the novels of Alexander Dumas are unsurpassed. The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo are his masterpieces. Mention should also be made of such remarkable novels as Wilkie Collin’s Women in White, Charles Dicken’s David Copperfield, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Thomas Hardy’s Tess and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

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Apart from the purely recreational value there are several other uses of fiction. The reader may gain an intimate and accurate knowledge of human nature and its working from a good novel. For the true novelist possesses a deep understanding of the human and its motives. His characters have much in common with real, living beings. The study of novels helps us, therefore, to acquaint ourselves with human psychology. Indeed the modern novel is often purely psychological with little plot-interest and may therefore not appeal to the average reader. Such are the novels of James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Dorothy Richardson who represents what is known as the “stream of consciousness” novel.

Again, some novels have a historical background and take us back to bygone by drawing vivid pictures of those times and depicting their life and manners. Such novels are often more valuable even than books of history for understanding the spirit and atmosphere of the past. Examples of some famous historical novels are Dickens’s ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, Thackeray’s Henry Esmond Scott’s Kenilworth and Charles Reade’s the Cloister and the Hearth.

The novel may also be a source of moral instruction. “People Justice” is observed in the works of most novelists; in other words, the good and virtuous characters are rewarded while the evils and sinful are punished. This has the effect of strengthening our moral sense. This does not, however; apply too much of the fiction of the 20th century which has broken new ground in more ways than one.

The novel has also been use as a means of reform and propaganda, or as a means of conveying social, economic and religious doctrines. The novels of Dickens had much to do with the introduction of social reforms in England because they contained vivid pictures of the poverty and misery of the masses and thus drew the attention of the public to that sad state of things. Today we read novels in which sexual equality and sexual freedom are depicted. Such novels cannot fail to influence our social conduct. Some novels of our times are, indeed, too frank in their treatment of sex and even tend to become pornographic and obscene.

In spite of the various advantages of novel reading excessive attachment or addiction to this hobby is likely to prove harmful. By spending too much time in the unreal world of fiction, we tend to become less capable of handling the problems of the real world. In particular, novels of love and adventure are sure to arouse in our minds a feeling of discontentment with the environment in which we have to live. Dissatisfied with the wretchedness of real life, we begin to desire those impossible conditions, in which the hero of fiction lives and wins the fair damsel.

To sum up, novel reading is a source of amusement, information and moral instruction. But the path of moderation and discrimination must be followed in the study of novels. Fiction may prove to be of great value to us, but it may also become an abuse unless we take certain necessary precautions.

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