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A genuine classic of literary criticism, On Moral Fiction argues that true art is by its nature moral..

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780465052264
ISBN-10: 0465052266
Format: Paperback
(204mm x 127mm x 13mm)
Pages: 234
Imprint: Basic Books
Publisher: The Perseus Books Group
Publish Date: 14-Sep-1979
Country of Publication: United States

Other Editions

Reviews

US Kirkus Review » The essence (which is all you need) of this profound and petty essay appears in 1978's Pushcart Prize collection (p. 220) - and an indisputable essence it is: what Arthur Miller so eloquently demands from drama, novelist Gardner demands from fiction - that it seek "to improve life, not debase it," that it "ought to be a force bringing people together, breaking down barriers of prejudice and ignorance, and holding up ideals worth pursuing." Who would argue with that? - or with Gardner's fervent defense of the model to be found in Homer, Dante, and Tolstoy: "the gods set ideals, heroes enact them, and artists. . . preserve the image as a guide for man." The pettiness and problems set in, however, when Gardner analyzes "what has gone wrong in recent years" with fiction and criticism - and in his formulas for how-to-do-it-right. Blaming the Freud-Sartre-Wittgenstein philosophical constellation for generating a cult of despair and nihilism, Gardner excoriates the writers who play games, manipulate, wallow in "texture," or ignore "eternal verities" for current causes - and he scorns the style-obsessed critics (his characterization here is caricature) who praise them. But, as Gardner disposes of one novelist after another - Walker Percy, Bellow ("sprawling works of advice, not art"), Didion, Heller, Updike - one gets the feeling that he's a bit too intent on eliminating the competition and that he's unable to see a moral lesson in any book that makes its point implicitly, indirectly, "accidentally," or with humor. (This suspicion is confirmed by the fact that Gardner's full praise is reserved for Fowles' Daniel Martin, which wears its lesson-in-living-ness on its sleeve). Narrower still - though fascinating - is Gardner's notion that True Art (the phrase becomes an incantation) can only be produced one way: "One begins a work of fiction with certain clear opinions. . . and one tests these opinions in lifelike situations," using an almost mystical "intuition" (the True Artist is heavily romanticized throughout). But, excessive and self-limited as Gardner's "rules" for moral fiction may be, they do illuminate the lousiness of much of today's writing, they do remind us of the viability of some centuries-old models, and they will provoke a good deal of healthily furious literary fisticuffs. (Kirkus Reviews)


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Author Biography - John Gardner

John Gardner (1933--1982) was a bestselling novelist and one of the most popular and respected writing teachers of his generation. His books On Moral Fiction, The Art of Fiction, and On Becoming a Novelist are consulted by thousands of aspiring writers every year. His novels include the classic Grendel and the bestsellers October Light, The Sunlight Dialogues, and Nickel Mountain.

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