I don't particularly care about having [my characters] talk realistically, that doesn't mean very much to me. Actually, a lot of people speak more articulately than some critics think, but before the 20th century it really didn't occur to many writers that their language had to be the language of everyday speech. When Wordsworth first considered that in poetry, it was considered very much of a shocker. And although I'm delighted to have things in ordinary speech, it's not what I'm trying to perform myself at all: I want my characters to get their ideas across, and I want them to be articulate.
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I used to go to church. I even went through a rather intense religious period when I was sixteen. But the idea of an everlasting life - a never-ending banquet, as a stupid visiting minister to our church once appallingly described it - filled me with a greater terror than the concept of extinction...
But Pierre had been born with a shrewdness that made him early aware that a failure to believe that human events were ordered by a higher power was regarded by many in the highest positions as obnoxious and even sinful, and as nothing was to be gained by exciting such hostility, it was better to give a silent or even smiling assent to the fatuous idealism to which, particularly in youth, one was so relentlessly exposed.
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Not the least of the hardships to which the dying are subject is the visitation of their loved ones. The poor darlings, God bless them, may feel every impulse to condole and console, but their primary sensation is nonetheless one of embarrassment in the presence of the unspeakable and a guilty gratitude that it is not yet their fate.
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Consider, children ... the pain of touching the tip of your finger to your mother's stove, even for a fraction of a second. That is an experience which most of you have suffered. Now try to imagine that pain, not simply on a fingertip but spread over the whole surface of your body, and not for a mere second, but everlastingly. That, children, is hellfire.
I grew up in the 1920s and 1930s in a nouveau riche world, where money was spent wildly, and I'm still living in one!... The private schools are all jammed with long waiting lists; the clubs -- all the old clubs -- are jammed with long waiting lists today; the harbors are clogged with yachts; there has never been a more material society than the one we live in today.... Where is this 'vanished world' they talk about? I don't think the critics have looked out the window!
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As the classes in modern life come together, we have become much more intensely class conscious. It's a very curious thing. But I deal with human beings with whom I've come in contact and have had a chance to closely observe. Their upper-classness is not a matter of particular fascination for me.
Great lecturers seldom hesitate to use dramatic tricks to enshrine their precepts in the minds of their audiences, and at Yale perhaps Chauncey B. Tinker was the most noted. To read one of his lectures was like reading a monologue of the great actress Ruth Draper--you missed the main point. You missed the drop in his voice as he approached the death in Rome of the tubercular Keats; you missed the shaking tone in which he described the poet's agony for the absent Fanny with him his love had never been consummated; you missed the grim silence of the end.
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You don't know the things in your childhood that influence you. You can't possibly know them. People today try to analyze the early environment and the reasons for something that happened, but if you look at children of the same family -- children who have identical parents, go to identical schools, have an almost identical upbringing, and yet who have totally different experiences and neuroses -- you realize that what influences the children is not so much the obvious externals as their emotional experiences. Of course any psychiatrist knows that.
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I don't know enough about the lower classes to write about them. I don't feel with them, and that could be regarded as a defect, a limitation of my imagination. I could put myself in their position, but not politically. The idea of writing a story or a book about somebody completely devoid of appreciation of anything I care about is completely foreign to me.
To most readers the word 'fiction' is an utter fraud. They are entirely convinced that each character has an exact counterpart in real life and that any small discrepancy with that counterpart is a simple error on the author's part. Consequently, they are totally at a loss if anything essential is altered. Make Abraham Lincoln a dentist, put the Gettysburg Address on his tongue, and nobody will recognize it.
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I used to go to church. I even went through a rather intense religious period when I was sixteen. But the idea of an everlasting life -- a never-ending banquet, as a stupid visiting minister to our church once appallingly described it -- filled me with a greater terror than the concept of extinction.