…And here, perhaps, it may be allowed to the novelist to explain his views on a very important point in the art of telling tales. He ventures to reprobate that system which goes so far to violate all proper confidence between the author and his readers, by maintaining nearly to the end of the third volume a mystery as to the fate of their favourite personage. Nay, more, and worse than this, is too frequently done. Have not often the profoundest efforts of genius been used to baffle the aspirations of the reader, to raise false hopes and false fears, and to give rise to expectations which are never realised? Are not promises all but made of delightful horrors, in lieu of which the writer produces nothing but commonplace realities in his final chapter? And is there not a species of deceit in this to which the honesty of the present age should lend no countenance?
And what can be the worth of that solicitude which a peep into the third volume can utterly dissipate? What the value of those literary charms which are absolutely destroyed by their enjoyment? When we have once learnt what was the picture before which was hung Mrs Radcliffe’s solemn curtain, we feel no further interest about either the frame or the veil. They are to us, merely a receptacle for old bones, and inappropriate coffin, which we would wish to have decently buried out of our sight.
And then, how grievous a thing it is to have the pleasure of your novel destroyed by the ill-considered triumph of a previous reader. ‘Oh, you needn’t be alarmed, for Augusta, of course, she accepts Gustavus in the end.’ ‘How very ill-natured you are, Susan,’ says Kitty, with tears in her eyes; ‘I don’t care a bit about it now.’ Dear Kitty, if you will read my book, you may defy the ill-nature of your sister. There shall be no secret that she can tell you. Nay, take the last chapter, if you please—learn from its pages all the results of our troubled story, and the story shall have lost none of its interest, if indeed, there be any interest in it to lose.
Our doctrine is, that the author and the reader should move along together in full confidence with each other. Let the personages of the drama undergo ever so completely a comedy of errors among themselves, but let the spectator never mistake the Syracusan for the Ephesian; otherwise he is one of the dupes, and the part of a dupe is never dignified.
Anthony Trollope, Barchester Towers, Book I, Chapter 15
Fascinating. Is a work of fiction thereby inferior, if the revelation of its resolution spoils one’s enjoyment of it?
They say that forty thousand copies of The Jupiter are daily sold, and that each copy is read by five persons at the least.
- Anthony Trollope, The Warden, Chapter 7.
Tom Towers, you’re doing it wrong. Let me tell you about a little 21st-century innovation called “licensing.”