Problems Facing Contemporary Novelists


In one of Patrick White's novels it is said that to the poor poverty is never a theory only a fact. And something analogous may be said of writers in rela tion to their work, and particularly of novelists. There are many theories about us, but for the writer there is only the brute and complex fact that he or she alone can bring this work into being. If it's done well enough, which is rather rare, the theories may have to be re-cast; if not, theories will scarcely matter. The creation of a novel is a lonely exercise, a foray into a fictional no-man's land. The writer, if he or she is to succeed in any true way, must literally create. That is, to create the persons, places, times, all these to be drawn together in a sort of artistic truth that Proust called the indescribable bond of an alliance of words. In that same passage Proust pointed out, that if reality were a mere by-product of existence, we would need nothing more than a mechanical record of our doings and material surroundings. It's the task of the serious writer to link the factual matter of our lives to the human functions and sensations of memory, of suffering, love, animosity, terror, pleasure and affection. Without this indispens able humanity, literature cannot survive.

No-man's land or at any rate literary no-man's land might be the title of this talk, since one of the greatest challenges faced by contemporary novelists is an unprecedented loss of"geographical and. to some extent, national and even social, sense of belonging. I don't mean that this is exclusive to novelists, I mean this is what's happened to their material, what's happened to the world. The sense of territory is like a great rug that's been pulled out very recently and very quickly -from under the feet of all of us.

Published 1 October 1979 in Volume 9 No. 2. Subjects: Australian literature and writers, Novels & novelists, Shirley Hazzard.

Cite as: Hazzard, Shirley. ‘Problems Facing Contemporary Novelists.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 9, no. 2, 1979, doi: 10.20314/als.a30c2b7c53.