[ilds] The real behind the fictional people and situations

slighcl slighcl at wfu.edu
Wed Jun 13 17:48:13 PDT 2007

On 6/13/2007 1:03 PM, Bruce Redwine wrote:

>I tend to think anything mediated through an author's brain and which he labels fiction, no matter how factual in basis, is still fiction.  
I only ever work from that premise, Bruce, and I teach Victorian 
novels--from the highwater moment of "realism." 

In class, I continually remind my students  that these different visions 
of Victorian London and Victorian England are just that--visions--in 
which Dickens and Eliot and Stoker are borrowing and rejecting and 
distorting and integrating certain elements from the author's 
experience, but not presenting their fashioned worlds in a direct, 
one-to-one relation to the "real" world elsewhere.  Thus literature's 
difference from the phone book or the cook book, which must work through 
direct, accurate translation of information.  Thus the usefulness of 
science fiction and fantasy, genres which return us to the recognition 
that imagined worlds are never simply "our world."  (Read attentively, 
which of our novels are not properly seen as "speculative fiction"?)  

To understand this, imagine transferring characters among books, like 
interstellar explorers moving from one world to another.  Without a 
doubt, Pip could not exist, could not survive a transfer to Middlemarch 
or to Thornfield Hall or to Toad Hall, where the moral economy of the 
different writers' imagination would not permit Pip what Dickens allows 
him.  Likewise it is impossible to imagine Heathcliff outside of the 
special environment of Wuthering Heights--he is Bronte's special 
homunculus, not allowed to creep from his suspending fluid. . . .

Thus the perils of a too easy acceptance of mimesis. . . .

I suppose I am more a partisan of the Lamp, rather than the Mirror.

I have increasingly come to sense a kind of hiccup or slight trembling 
of the ontological veil  in /Justine /whenever Scobie appears in the 
text.  He really seems to be a character dropped in from another book, 
from another place and another time, and Darley, I fancy, writes in a 
very different way when he writes of his time with Scobie.


Charles L. Sligh
Department of English
Wake Forest University
slighcl at wfu.edu

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