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131 REASSURING FACTS IN THE PRETTY LADY. LORD RAINGO. AND MODERN NOVELS By James G. Kennedy (Upsala College) James G. Hepburn, ¡n THE ART OF ARNOLD BENNETT, discounts the notion that Bennett's novels include "information" that Bennett gained from "ordinary experience."' Yet THE PRETTY LADY and LORD RAINGO do include facts that "went directly into the substance of the novel" from Bennett's wartime experiences. These facts are not extraneous to the novels' effects, since they can reassure readers that Bennett Is sincerely interested in their reaching true judgments about the characters. Hepburn's studies and Wayne Booth's THE RHETORIC OF FICTION show why recognizing facts can be both agreeable, and comforting to a Bennett reader. The range of Bennett's views, together with his refusal to judge his characters, can make it difficult for readers to know how to respond to his novels. Hepburn's creative, judicious, and exact account of Bennett's realism and Its symbolisms reveals how each of the better novels — THE OLD WIVES' TALE, RICEYMAN STEPS, LORD RAINGO, CLAYHANGER, THE PRETTY LADY, and IMPERIAL PALACE — "presents a different perspective of the human condition." Hepburn shows that Bennett kept his distance from his characters by irony, humor, and by his leaving all subtleties and comparisons for the reader's reflection. "More nearly objective than many other writers," Bennett lets Lord Ralngo's motives appear "most clearly and most ambiguously," and allows the dull, "shabby and tawdry" characters of THE PRETTY LADY to seem justified by "perhaps, a half dozen moments in the novel." Noting Bennett's neutrality toward a tasteless narrator, Hepburn acknowledges that Bennett may ask "too much of the reader." Bennett much admired the works and "mind" of Stendhal, who appears, by Robert M. Adams' showing, to offer not only an objective, but an "open form."2 Radically ambiguous, Stendhal "deludes the reader in matters of essential information," such as Julien Sorel's legitimacy, and a reader, Adams allows, may "stand on his self-importance and resist" indeterminacy about both the narrator's, and Stendhal's, judgment of Julien. Wayne Booth has found fault with such moral ambiguity in modern novels, and has argued that the voice of the Implied author should not even be neutral. In saying that a novelist ought not to allow his moral Intent to be "questionable," Booth implies that thorough tolerance for readers is "naive," since they may not be morally sound.3 Naive or not, Booth has identified the moral convention — call ¡t tolerance, "social humility," "dogmatic neutrality" — that some readers bring to modern novels and that Bennett adheres to.^ As Bennett will not pass judgment on the persons In his novels, so his reader cannot come to a just decision about their moral worth until he has weighed the evidence of the entire novel. The reader may be glad, then, to discover places in the novel where words refer unequivocally to the perceptible world, to plainly demonstrable facts. The reader does not say that the artist's "real thing" must be limited to facts. He does not deny that the writer, by his being, as James said, "'one of the people on whom nothing ¡s lost,'" can collect the Inspiration, can gather "the power to guess the unseen from the seen, to trace the implication of things." He accepts James's definition that the novel ¡s "a personal, a direct impression of life" whose value depends upon its freedom from "limitations" and "suppressions" of the writer's "fine" "Intel 1¡gence."5 But, as Booth has argued, the reader may 132 feel uncomfortable with a novel in which the individualistic inferences of the literary imagination seem uncontrolled by the moral intelligence. The experience could be like reading a historian who does not appear to support his Inferences by appeal to all relevant facts. Biographical and historical facts can attest the sincerity of Bennett — and of other novelists — within a conventional neutrality. I Hepburn does not attend to the satirical topicality of THE PRETTY LADY (1918) or to the politics of LORD RAlNGO (1926). Responding to Bennett's neutrality, he delineates Raingo's death wish, and the "mournful beauty" of women's lives even apart from...


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pp. 131-142
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Will Be Archived 2021
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