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Books And Persons: Being Comments On A Past Epoch 1908-1911 - The Length Of Novels Post by :profitsurfer Category :Nonfictions Author :Arnold Bennett Date :May 2012 Read :2359

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Books And Persons: Being Comments On A Past Epoch 1908-1911 - The Length Of Novels

(_22 Sep. '10_)

It happened lately to a lady who is one of the pillars of the _British Weekly to state in her column of innocuous gossip about clothes, weather, and holidays, that a hundred thousand words or three hundred and fifty pages was the "comfortable limit" for a novel. I feel sure she meant no harm by it, and that she attached but little importance to it. The thing was expressed with a condescension which was perhaps scarcely becoming in a paragraphist, but such accidents will happen even in the most workmanlike columns of gossip, and are to be forgiven. Nevertheless, the _Westminster Gazette has seized hold of the paragraph, framed it in 22-carat gold, and hung it up for observation, and a magnificent summer correspondence has blossomed round about it, to the great profit of the _Westminster Gazette_, which receives, gratis, daily about a column and a half of matter signed by expensive names. Other papers, daily and weekly, have also joined in the din and the fray. As the discussion is perfectly futile, I do not propose to add to it. In spite of the more or less violent expression of preferences, nobody really cares whether a novel is long or short. In spite of the fact that a certain type of mind, common among publishers, is always apt to complain that novels at a given moment are either too long or too short, the length of a novel has no influence whatever on its success or failure. One of the most successful novels of the present generation, "Ships that Pass in the Night," is barely 60,000 words long. One of the most successful novels of the present generation, "The Heavenly Twins," is quite 200,000 words long. Both were of the right length for the public. As for the mid-Victorian novels, most of the correspondents appear to have a very vague idea of their length. It is said they "exceed 200,000 words." It would be within the mark to say that they exceed 400,000 words. There is not one of them, however, that would not be tremendously improved by being cut down to about half. And even then the best of them would not compare with "The Mayor of Casterbridge" or "Nostromo" or "The Way of all Flesh." The damning fault of all mid-Victorian novels is that they are incurably ugly and sentimental. Novelists had not yet discovered that the first business of a work of art is to be beautiful, and its second not to be sentimental.

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