John Gardner (19331982) was a noted medievalistpublishing studies of Chaucer and translations of the Gawain Poetas well as a novelist. Among his novels are Grendel, Nickel Mountain, October Light (winner of the National Book Critics’ Circle Award in 1976) and The Sunlight Dialogues. He also wrote two books on the craft of fiction.
On Moral Fiction (Barnes & Noble Rediscovers Series)by John Gardner
On Moral Fiction set off a firestorm of controversy when it was first published in 1978. With a daring not obscured by the author’s extraordinary humaneness of spirit, the book argued that contemporary literature suffers first and foremost from a basic failure of the test of “morality.” By “moral fiction” the author meant/i>/i>
On Moral Fiction set off a firestorm of controversy when it was first published in 1978. With a daring not obscured by the author’s extraordinary humaneness of spirit, the book argued that contemporary literature suffers first and foremost from a basic failure of the test of “morality.” By “moral fiction” the author meant fiction that attempts to test human values, not for the purpose of preaching or peddling a particular ideology or mode of conduct, but in a honest and open-minded effort to find out what best promotes human fulfillment. Such writing does so, as great artists beginning with Homer have always known, by the kind of analysis of characters and actions that brings both the writer and the reader to a fuller understanding, sympathy, and vision of human possibility. Because so much contemporary fiction fails to be moral in this sense, John Gardner argued, it undermines our experience of literature and our faith in ourselves.
This bold argument is driven forward as the author subjects the work of his most celebrated contemporaries, such as Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer, John Updike, and Donald Barthelme to his sharp-eyed and relentless analysis. Although the last three decades have seen the rise of new generations of writers, and the ascendancy of postmodern modes of composition, On Moral Fiction still sets out the terms of a more ancient sense of the novelist’s calling. It is a salutary counterweight to prevailing trends.
Praise for On Moral Fiction:
“On Moral Fiction is criticism with both eyes open, fearless, illuminating, proving that the concern of the critic is with art, that true art is moral and not trivial, that it and the discussion of it can give pleasureof a sort that lasts and re-echoes.” Robert Kirsch, Los Angeles Times
“Because Gardner’s anger is honest and wholesome, the criticism of his contemporaries never descends to mere vindictiveness or gossip.”Max Apple, The Nation
“A thoughtful, amusing and arrogant little book, designed to pick fights."Webster Schott, The Washington Post Book World
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