How to Judge a Good Novel ?

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Most of us judge a novel in terms of our likes and dislikes. We judge it according to the impression it makes on our mind. Our judgement depends on our special bias. Some like a sweet romantic story,—the sweeter, and the better. Some seek thrillers,—and if they are hair-raising and gruesome, they are all the more welcome. Some want diversity of characters drawn from a comprehensive spectrum - others seek complex plots. Some want romance, others seek reality. Thus, each class of novel has its devotees. This kind of judgement is purely personal.

Another way of judging a novel is based on historical principles and perspectives. We may judge the merits of a novel according to the age in which it is written.

But true judgement must be guided strictly by some uniform literary principles. We have to consider and evaluate the literary merits of a novel That is to say. We should examine the constituents of the novel,—the plot, the episodes, the conclusion, and the characters, the philosophy of life of the author and decide whether these contribute to a total impression and express as well any well-formulated purpose of the writer.

The plot must be rooted in the realities of life. It must portray human life, as we know it. Fantastic inventions detract from the quality of a novel. Thus, Saratchandra's later novels exhibit a tendency towards a romantic idealisation that is contrary to the ground realities of life, and hence they do not engage our minds as his earlier writings do.

When there is fantasy, it must be based on the facts of life, and it must have an end. Next, the plot must have an organic unity or integrity and consistency. It means that the episodes that make up a plot must have variety-but must be held together by some central unifying purpose and motive. The episodes must not be introduced for mere padding up the novel as in some books of Dickens to increase its bulk with the object of underlying the main plot. The real purpose of episodes is to introduce some involute complications and thus lead to the conflict of ego of characters. The central purpose of a novel is best expressed through such conflicts.

As regards the conclusion of the plot, it must have inevitability. Its aim is to resolve the conflicts and unraveling of the knot, to bring them to a finish. There must not be any loose ends. It is a bad conclusion if expectations are belied, or if the reader is left suspended in uncertainty. When the story breaks off the mind of the reader must be satisfied with the ultimate solution which need not be expressed but which must suggest itself convincingly.

In judging a novel, we have to take into account the characters and their contribution to the purpose of the novel. A great novelist sees life on a wide front; his canvas is large and peopled with characters efficiently. It requires skill of a high order. They must not only be well sketched, they must also serve the requirements—first, of the plot, and then, of the novelist's purpose. It is progress and evolution of the plot. If to this efficient management of the characters, the author adds insight into their minds,—he is definitely creating a masterpiece

Finally, a novel must suggest some purpose: it must express definitely the author’s viewpoint. The status of a novel rests on the purpose that it serves, .in the aim that it has in view.

Thus, a novel with a reactionary purpose will suffer a comparative obscurity; a novel that looks forward is assured of permanence. This is amply borne out if we place Walter Scott against Charles Dickens. Few read Scott except young people and literary specialists. But Dickens readers continue to grow in number. For Scott seeks to create a respect for feudal values- which tie us dawn to the past. But Dickens inspires the hope that the world is moving forward to a better condition of life. One who has felt and expressed the influence of social environment on human character, and through it realized the dynamic urge of life, occupies a more important place than one who is content with the static world around him- Count Leo Tolstoy (Russia) is such a novelist.


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