There is, of course, no reason to differentiate fantasies unless we go on with Nabokov's notion that all novels are fantasies, which I only mentioned because it popped into my head. Of course, fantasy is a useful label that tells us more or less what to expect from a book. I suppose what Nabokov wanted to do was to warn writers about being to literal or something. I happen to have his Lectures on Literature here. I'll tell you some of what he says, not to insist, but to give us something to talk about.
He begins by saying, "Of all the fairy tales in this series, Mdm Bovary is the most romantic." The other books in the series being Mansfield Park, Bleak House, Ulysses, The Metamorphosis, Swan's Way, and Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde. He says, "Let us remember that literature is of no practical value whatsoever..." As you alluded, Wilde said the same. He says, "We shall discuss Mdm B as Flaubert intended it to be discussed, in terms of structures, thematic lines, style, poetry, and characters."
Later he asks if Mdm B can be called realistic or naturalistic and lists six things he finds implausible, the last being the aforementioned horse riding, then says, "In point of fact, all fiction is fiction. All art is deception. Flaubert's world, as all worlds of major writers, is a world of fancy with its own logic, its own conventions, it's own coincidences."
In the interest of discussing structures, style, etc., I wonder what it is that makes a novel a fantasy as we generally understand the term. What makes Titus Groan a fantasy when 100 Years of Solitude or Dracula is not?
I am an aesthetic sort of person. For me, books are about nothing outside themselves. To the extent they seem to be, they fail as art. In most cases, people are just reading stuff in. Mari recently read A Handmaid's Tale with a little group here, so it has been on my mind. For me, there's nothing feminist about the book. It's about Ofglen who never existed in a society that never existed. It's called speculative fiction. Speculative fiction is to sci-fi as what (Titus) is to fantasy. But Titus feels more like fantasy than the HT feels like sci-fi.
It is probably going to far to say that literature has no practical use. James Woods talks of literature teaching us to notice more in life and says that as we notice more in life, we also notice even more in literature. But I do agree, assuming Nabokov meant to say that, that literature offers no commentary on life, at least no more than anything. If I spy on my neighbors, I can draw some conclusion about life, and perhaps it's inevitable that I do so.
« Back to index