Lazy Writing

Nabokov shares some of my dislike of epistolary novels or stories structured on letters, newspaper clippings, emails, etc. Writing of Mansfield Park, a book that he respected:

Fanny’s removal to Portsmouth affects the unity of the novel, which up to now, except for a natural and necessary early exchange of messages between Fanny and Mary Crawford, has been pleasantly free from that dismal feature of eighteenth-century English and French novels, information conveyed by letters.

The novel which shows signs of disintegrating, now lapses more and more into the easy epistolary form. This is a sure sign of a certain weariness on the part of the author when she takes recourse in such an easy form.

As ever there are exceptions, novels that use the epistolary form to enhance the narrative. Herzog comes immediately to mind.

2 thoughts on “Lazy Writing

  1. >I haven't read the Mansfield Park lecture yet, but I would have to say there are definite exceptions. While a great many epistolary novels are epistolary for no good reason (Evelina comes immediately to mind), I definitely don't think it's always the case. Humphry Clinker is probably my most recent favorite.I sympathize though with the idea that this breaks up Mansfield Park. Embedded like that is it a bit of a suspect technique.


  2. >I read somewhere that Austen's juvenilia may have comprised several epistolary novels, possibly adapted into her later works. Her use of letters often feels clunky.You are quite right, there are exceptions. Used as an integral part of the structure of a story, epistolary devices can provide psychological insight into a character. Herzog is a contemporary example, Werther strikes me as another.


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