The Master

C.K. Stead

  • Shards of Memory by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
    Murray, 272 pp, £15.99, July 1995, ISBN 0 7195 5571 X

Henry James’s injunction to the novelist was ‘Dramatise! Dramatise!’ Ezra Pound advocated ‘the presentative method’. A dozen lesser but important voices have urged that modern fiction must enact, not tell. The strongest intellectual pressures on the serious novelist in this century have all been, that is to say, in the direction – the ultimate direction – of the playscript or the screenplay and away from the elaboration of prose as prose. But what does the writer do in her novels who finds herself engaged outside them in writing screenplays? Does her fiction push back in the opposite direction, against the flow of history? Does the novel become a space for the kinds of writing which screenplays forbid – a large loose bag into which she can pop odd pieces of narrative embroidery?

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