We shall all agree that the fundamental aspect of the novel is its story-telling aspect, but we shall voice our assent in different tones, and it is on the precise tone of voice we employ now that our subsequent conclusions will depend. Let us listen to three voices. If you ask one type of man, ‘What does a novel do?’ he will reply placidly, ‘Well— I don’t know—it seems a funny sort of question to ask—a novel’s a novel—well, I don’t know—I suppose it kind of tells a story, so to speak’. He is quite good tempered and vague, and probably driving a motor-bus at the same time and paying no more attention to literature than it merits. Another man, whom I visualise as on a golf-course, will be aggressive and brisk. He will reply, ‘What does a novel do? Why, tell a story of course and I’ve no use for it if it didn’t. I like a story. Very bad taste, on my part, no doubt, but I like a story. You can take your art, you can take your literature, you can take your music, but give me a good story. And I like a story to be a story, mind, and my wife’s the same.’ And a third man, he says in a sort of drooping regretful voice, ‘Yes—oh dear yes—the novel tells a story.’ I respect and admire the first speaker. I detest and fear the second. And the third is myself. Yes—oh dear yes—the novel tells a story. That is the fundamental aspect without which it could not exist. That is the highest factor common to all novels, and I wish that it was not so, that it could be something different—melody, or perception of truth, not this low atavistic form.
For, the more we look at the story (the story that is a story, mind) the more we disentangle it from the finer growths that it supports, the less shall we find to admire. It runs like a backbone—or may I say a tape-worm—for its beginning and end are arbitrary. It is immensely old—goes back to Neolithic times, perhaps to Palaeolithic.
Neanderthal man listened to stories, if one may judge by the shape of his skull. The primitive audience was an audience of shock-heads, gaping round the campfire, fatigued with contending against the mammoth or the woolly rhinoceros, and only kept awake by suspense. What would happen next? The novelist droned on and, as soon as the audience guessed what happened next, they either fell asleep or killed him. We can estimate the dangers incurred when we think of the career of Scheherazade in somewhat later times. Scheherazade avoided her fate because she knew how to wield the weapon of suspense—the only literary tool that has any effect on tyrants and savages. Great novelist though she was—exquisite in her descriptions, tolerant in her judgements, ingenious in her incidents, advanced in her morality, vivid in her delineations of character, expert in her knowledge of three Oriental capitals—it was yet on none of these gifts that she relied when trying to save her life from her intolerable husband. They were but incidental. She only survived because she managed to keep the king wondering what would happen next. Each time she saw the sun rising she stopped in the middle of a sentence, and left him gaping. ‘At this moment Scheherazade saw the morning appearing and, discreet, was silent.’ This uninteresting little phrase is the backbone of the One Thousand and One Nights, the tape-worm by which they are tied together and by which the life of a most accomplished princess was preserved.
UNDERSTANDING THE TEXT
1. What do you understand of the three voices in response to the question ‘What does a novel do’?
2. What would you say are ‘the finer growths’ that the story supports in a novel?
3. How does Forster trace the human interest in the story to primitive times?
4. Discuss the importance of time in the narration of a story.
TALKING ABOUT THE TEXT
Discuss in pairs or in small groups
1. What does a novel do?
2. ‘Our daily life reflects a double allegiance to ‘the life in time’ and ‘the life by values’.
3. The description of novels as organisms.
Please refer to attached file for NCERT Class 11 English Elective The Story