“The truest poetry is the most feigning.”
Lying is immoral. Fiction doesn’t lie because the author is honest that he’s inventing. (Though sometimes authors can edge up to the line with “autobiographical novels” or Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code or Wolf’s I Am Charlotte Simmons that the author claims is based on research and fact.)
What fiction does do is to seduce the reader into forming attachments to people who don’t exist. Is this immoral? My gut says darn straight it is. And what’s worse is that the best fiction is the most guilty. The more deeply realized the characters, the stronger and more genuine the attachment.
But if fiction is wrong, I don’t want to be right. Any way out of the dilemna? The best one that I can see is to deny that fiction forms attachments and relationships with people who don’t exist.
Perhaps all characters in fiction are really a revelation of the author and of the people he knows. Mr. Bennett is Jane Austen and this one neighbor she had.
Or in most fiction the characters are really more archetypes or roles than they are individual people. It is really mankind–or that part of mankind for whom that role is a possibility or a reality–whom the reader is learning to understand and appreciate.
Maybe even the most deep and real characters in fiction, the ones that most persuade you that this is a real man or a real woman or a real child, though you know better, perhaps even these characters when compared to the depth and complexity of any living soul are also just roles and archetypes.
Or maybe among all the teeming masses on the numberless worlds, even the most individual character in fiction has a counterpart in life. I don’t mean that there is actually someone who has lived the story. I mean that there is someone who is the person you’ve come to love or hate, who would have lived the story just as it was lived if it had happened to them. For reasons that would take too long to explain, I sometimes even think that we could not be influenced by fictional characters unless this were so.
P.S. I have a wilder notion yet, but I’ll keep it to myself.
P.P.S. I’m going to be trigger happy deleting comments that contain ridicule, mockery, or incredulity. FYI. If you have an objection to that email me.