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Quagga and the Novel
The quagga - is it really extinct? Or does the creature still live in the minds and spirits of those who write? Some of us believe (or I should say 'know') that a thing of beauty is a joy forever. It will never pass into nothingness. Its loveliness increases with every thought about it . So who is to say that eons hence the great beast will not resurface and come striding back into consciousness, forgiving and forgetting the life that was stolen over a century ago?
Although a much more recent species, unlike the quagga, the novel continues to exist and develop. It had been erroneously declared to be dead, but it refuses to lie down and die. Like the quagga, though, the novel is admittedly a bit of a hodge-podge. Its edges are indeterminate, encroaching upon history, autobiography, fairy tale and such strange breeds as science fiction and something known as magic realism. The novel is a hungry predator, ever on the lookout for new prey, ever-seeking to explore terra incognita.
It wasn't always such a large, loose baggy monster, a sort of rapacious Grendel on the prowl. How it came to take over the writing world is something of a puzzle, especially if we think of its unpromising start as a much despised art. Its protean shape has spawned a whole sub-culture of literary criticism; something we might call 'novelistics,' embracing literary critics such as Ian Watt who sees its rise in the Eighteenth Century with the realistic novel and its 'verisimilitude' and others who take a more long-sighted view. Homer and the Old Testament are invoked by Mssrs Scholes and Kellogg.
If there's a grain of truth in Walter Pater's assertion that all arts aspire to the condition of music, then I declare that all language aspires to the genre of the novel. From nursery rhymes to street gossip, from camp fire songs to Paradise Lost, the listener or reader is held by the notion of sequence, not always a linea sequence but a need to know the ending, the success or failure, the life or death of a hero or heroine. Which is why for me Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy or Joyce's Finnegan's Wake just miss out. Yes, I know I'm being simplistic, but then I only sought to find a grain of truth.