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C. P. Snow has no wish to analyze or rigorously define Realism but intends, rather, to improve our reading of novelists commonly considered Realists. He believes their novels must be approached not as ""verbal puzzles to be worked out by persons cleverer than the original writers,"" but as a source of education into the ways of society and character. Snow applies these precepts to the lives and works of eight authors. He finds in Stendhal a ""knowledge of the human heart"" that ""can still surprise us and teach us today"" about the vicissitudes of love and pride, candor and concealment, and of an ego-centricity that yields self-knowledge but ignorance of others; in Balzac, an imperious yet ""fluid"" personality, ""born to understand women,"" whose genius lay in a capacity to lose himself in other people and circumstances. Dickens he sees as a histrionic, journalistic observer, lucky in money, unlucky in love, given to bold imaginings of society and occasionally to sharp insights into character. Dostoevsky is for him a unique master not so much of ""psychological insight"" as of ""psychological imagination,"" who was saved from this imagination by a loving marriage and became, in time, more the Realist of fact. Tolstoy; Galdos, the Spanish Balzac; Henry lames; and Proust are others whose lives and works Snow connects or, sometimes, distinguishes. In all, these are very personal critical essays about writers, not books; they say, elegantly, only what Snow thinks needs saying and nothing for effect.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1978
Publisher: Scribners