mcelroy on moral fiction

Great Expectations and Middlemarch can’t be done now. They don’t feel to me like the atmosphere I’m living in now. I’m with William Carlos Williams and Joyce and others; whatever I’m ‘saying’ I have to give the feeling of time now, the multiple disastrous world now, the world that came awfully and finally out of World War II. But Great Expectations and Middlemarch – they show people losing their true centers, going after money or status or displaced ideals, letting errors multiply, self-deception, self-punishment even. Great novels. I reread them. They move me. They add to me. I see how the whole thing works out (more maybe than any book can pretend to today) – but it is that whole process that adds to me, not an abstractable credo or assent. A novel isn’t a sermon or a moral program – excuse the truism. My step-grandfather, who came from Maine, thought the old copybook maxims were the way to teach you how to live. I thought about this, this conviction of his; but the fact that it was a conviction of his told me more than any of the actual maxims ever could.”

(Joseph McElroy, interview with Tom LeClair in Anything Can Happen: Interviews with Contemporary American Novelists (1983), p. 246.)

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