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On Moral Fiction (A Harper Torchbook- TB 5069) Paperback – October 5, 1979
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"John Gardner's On Moral Fiction is criticism with both eyes open, fearless, illuminating, proving...that true art is moral and not trivial." -- Los Angeles Times
"Most refreshing about Gardner is his belief that some truths are indeed knowable." -- Business Week
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Top Customer Reviews
It is easily my favorite book. From the moment I first read it, until today; I open its pages and feel as if I'm having a literary conversation with an old friend.
The "moral" in the title puts off some folks, but don't be deterred. Gardner uses the term "moral" as you or I would use the word "truth." All Gardner is imploring is that authors seek the truth when writing fiction and avoid cheap tricks and cheap effects. That is all.
Yes, Gardner did feel that writing comes with a responsibility. He also felt it was nothing less than a privilege, and thus comes the responsibility that goes with privilege.
Buy it, enjoy it. If you share Gardner's view (as illustrated in the paragraph above, I promise you -- you will cherish this volume).
Gardner can indeed be difficult to take, especially when he rambles on at length about the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. It is more difficult, though, not to agree with him when he insists that the vast majority of art produced today is essentially worthless. (The title is slightly misleading: his focus is on fiction, but he discusses contemporary theatre, poetry, and music as well.) Those of us who have trouble thinking of guys like John Updike, John Barth, and Thomas Pynchon as "major" authors will find a friend in Gardner, who is not one to mince words.
Fortunately, Gardner is aware that the world of art cannot be reduced to black-and-white contrasts; for all his self-righteous fire, it is obvious that he has considered his position well. Clearly, he knows a lot about the history of art.
His argument here is, I think, largely sound--but I am personally not certain whether we would be better off if we had an army of young writers eager to affirm all that is Good, True, and Beautiful. Bad art is nothing new--the late Roman Empire was rife with would-be Homers. The existence of bad art has less to do with our hopelessly decadent times than with the inherent difficulty involved in creating timeless masterpieces, as well as the perennial scarcity of real talent. And one really does not have to be a "moral" critic to find fault with authors like William Gass. Gardner certainly has some valid points here, and this book is definitely worth reading, but as a call to arms I wonder how much value it really has. But perhaps you should read this book and judge for yourself.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
As early as the late 1970's truly 'literary' (or maybe say 'moral') fiction started going away. And that's where we are today. Read morePublished 14 months ago by John Janda
"Today, though perhaps not in Shakespeare's day, the resolution never to behave like Macbeth does not inevitably carry any clear implication of what to do instead. Read morePublished on February 16, 2014 by Scott L. Cupp
Bought this to replace a loan that didn't come back.
This book is an absolutely fundamental discussion of the question "Why write fiction? Read more
On Moral Fiction was first published in 1976, and is author and critic John Gardner's view on the necessity for morality in fiction, arguing that fiction displays the beliefs of... Read morePublished on June 18, 2013 by Iola
John Gardner's book On Moral Fiction did a good job explaining his views on what constitutes great fiction rather than simply fiction to sell. Read morePublished on January 23, 2013 by Ann Frailey
On Moral Fiction: Review
"True art is moral. We recognize true art by its' careful, thoroughly honest search for an analysis of values. Read more
I empathize with John Gardner and his frustration with the mediocrity of modernism, postmodernism and nihilism, and the lack of what he refers to as moral fiction in much of the... Read morePublished on March 16, 2012 by Lorilyn Roberts
John Gardner was a good writer; but he could have been a better writer, if only his scale of values were that of an artist. Read morePublished on February 11, 2011 by Bookman