American writer Willa Cather explores stripping away the 'over-furnished' novel in this extract from her essay The Novel Démeublé, featured in The Writer's Reader.
The novel, for a long while, has been over-furnished. The property- man has been so busy on its pages, the importance of material objects and their vivid presentation have been so stressed, that we take it for granted whoever can observe, and can write the English language, can write a novel. Often the latter qualification is considered unnecessary.
In any discussion of the novel, one must make it clear whether one is talking about the novel as a form of amusement, or as a form of art; since they serve very different purposes and in very different ways. Amusement is one thing; enjoyment of art is another.
Every writer who is an artist knows that his "power of observation," and his "power of description," form but a low part of his equipment. He must have both, to be sure; but he knows that the most trivial of writers often have a very good observation.
If the novel is a form of imaginative art, it cannot be at the same time a vivid and brilliant form of journalism. Out of the teeming, gleaming stream of the present it must select the eternal material of art. There are hopeful signs that some of the younger writers are trying to break away from mere verisimilitude, and following the development of modern painting, to interpret imaginatively the material and social investiture of their characters; to present their scene by suggestion rather than by enumeration. The higher processes of art are all processes of simplification. The novelist must learn to write, and then he must unlearn it just as the modern painter learns to draw, and then learns when utterly to disregard his accomplishment, when to subordinate it to a higher and truer effect. In this direction only, it seems to me, can the novel develop into anything more varied and perfect than all the many novels that have gone before.
How wonderful it would be if we could throw all the furniture out of the window.
Willa Cather was a Pulitzer- Prize winning American writer, whose most notable works include O Pioneers!, The Song Of The Lark and One Of Ours.
Take a look at the other writers featured in The Writers' Reader over at Bloomsbury.com