Saturday, 24 December 2016

The Supreme Emotional Adventure

An ideal of effortlessness, of the sure-footedness that characterized Napoleon at his most successful, remained with them for life, as did an ideal of Napoleonic rapidity: Constant wrote Adolphe in fifteen days, Hugo wrote Hernani in a month, Stendhal wrote La Chartreuse de Parme in fifty-two days and made only notional revisions. If Stendhal joins up at all with the more standard Romantic artist it is because he shares with them the fantasy of  the supreme emotional adventure. 
'In Pursuit of Happiness', review of biography of Stendhal, Soundings  

[Kenyon:] Do you rewrite a great deal?
[Brookner:] No, there are no drafts, no fetishes, no false starts; there simply isn't time
Olga Kenyon, Women Writers Talk, 1989 

Did she revise much when correcting her proofs, I wondered. 'No, just the odd words, but no major revisions.' 
Shusha Guppy, 'The Secret Sharer', World and I, July 1998


[We can confirm Brookner's assertion that she altered just the odd word here and there by examining the handwritten page shown in the Paris Review and comparing it with the final published passage from Family and Friends. A word here and there is transposed; 'often' becomes 'frequently'.]

What are the advantages of redrafting and revision? Some writers indeed make a fetish of it, loading every rift with ore. Barbara Pym quotes this line of Keats in a letter to Larkin. So, certainly greater richness is an outcome, and also elegance. David Lodge describes in The Year of Henry James how he sought to give his novel Author, Author (which Brookner adored) its best chance in a challenging climate by working hard at the redrafting stage to eliminate ungainly repetition.

And what is lost? Probably a freshness, a smoothness, or as Brookner says of Stendhal, perhaps a sense of emotional adventure.

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