File spoon-archives/phillitcrit.archive/phillitcrit_2000/phillitcrit.0010, message 24


Subject: PLC: RE: true or false
Date: Tue, 24 Oct 2000 06:14:21 -0400


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David, thank you for your cogent reply to my question.  Your ideas are
lining up nicely with the things I have read thus far concerning Stevenson
and his relationship with Henry James (Kenneth Graham wrote an informative
article concerning their friendly discussions of the nature of fiction and,
in particular, relates those discussions to "Olalla.").

I have myself come to the conclusion the truth or falsity of one story over
another, at least as regards Stevenson, is tied, too, to the degree to which
the "style" of the story apes the style of another writer (Stevenson called
himself, and referred to his manner of learning writing as an activity of, a
"sedulous ape.").  The more the story is wholly his own, perhaps, the more
"true" it is.

Though, certainly, one could find if looking deeply enough influences which
may have produced "Markheim," the style is decidedly different from that
used in "Olalla."  The latter seems a pastiche of gothic elements, the
synthesis of which leads one to expect the outcome; "Markheim," on the other
hand, is a "realistic" tale of a youth driven to robbery and eventually
murder, at which point he is confronted with an apparent manifestation of
his conscience (albeit a twisted sort of conscience).  This mimetic quality
of "Markheim"-as opposed to the diagesis of "Olalla"-is another contributor
to its "truth."

The paper develops . . .

James R. (Randy) Fromm
mailto:jrfromm-AT-dreamscape.com
mailto:jfromm-AT-oswego.edu
mailto:frommj-AT-nimo.com
(315) 349-2075 [office/voicemail]
(315) 349-1176 [office facsimile]

"A child-like man is not a man whose development has been arrested; on the
contrary, he is a man who has given himself a chance of continuing to
develop long after most adults have muffled themselves in the cocoon of
middle-aged habit and convention."
	Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), British author.
	"Vulgarity in Literature" (1930; repr. in Music at Night and Other Essays,
1949).

 -----Original Message-----
From: 	David Langston [mailto:dlangsto-AT-mcla.mass.edu]
Sent:	Monday, October 23, 2000 9:18 AM
To:	phillitcrit-AT-lists.village.virginia.edu
Subject:	PLC: true or false


James R. (Randy) Fromm wrote:

> What makes a story "true" or "false"?

I have not read either Stevenson story recently, but playing with the
notion -- or sometimes the phrase -- "the truth of fiction" was a common
preoccupation of writers in the nineteenth century.

The standard explanation for this preoccupation is that fiction writers
were aware of the narrow grounds for "truth" in their social and
intellectual context -- a context which rendered "fact" as "true" and
"fiction" as "false" (and hence morally degraded).  (Mr. Gradgrind's
famous speech in _Hard Times_ can serve as illustrative instance....)

Many writers proceeded on the conviction that "fiction" could be "true,"
so they tried various, usually unsuccessful, ways of defending that
notion.  Hawthorne's "Custom House" essay at the opening of _The Scarlet
Letter_ is a bit more successful than most.

[The overarching cultural debate in which this discussion had a role was
the debate between science and religion:  how could those miracle
stories in the Bible be "true" if it was "false" that people can walk on
water or rise from the dead or be born of a virgin?]

Stevenson has the reputation, at least, of having toyed with these ideas
only for their surface paradoxes and contributed little, if anything, to
the growth of a "defence of poetry" as "true."  He is reputed to have
shared the Victorian dualism of adult~fact~true and child~fiction~false;
however, there may be more recent studies on Stevenson which call that
conventional critical opinion into question.

To address your question more directly, I don't believe there are
standards for distinguishing the "truth" or "falsity" of a story which can
stand apart from a general theory of "literature" or "poetry."  (Some
critics like Yvor Winters have developed such theories which they believed
were theory-independent, but I think it has been shown conclusively that
their/his notions of reading were as laced with philosophical and
theoretical interests as everyone else's.)

Don't take my advice as the last word, but you might consider exploring
the question from Stevenson's perspective: what makes "Markheim" true in
his scheme?....because it is based on "fact"?....or for some other reason?
If the conventional opinion on Stevenson is correct, would it be accurate
to say that Stevenson calls "Olalla" false because he considered it to be
a fantasy written for children?...to signal to his editors that it has
entertainment value?

Or...was Stevenson using the "true/false" dichotomony to throw potential
censors off the scent and to waylay negative reactions to the fantastic or
sensationalistic (perhaps having to do with the supernatural?  or sex? or
violence?) aspects of "Olalla"?

David Langston



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