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What Is a Künstlerroman?

The Way of All Flesh cover

With Look Homeward, Angel, Thomas Wolfe introduced me to the Künstlerroman (German for “artist novel”), and I have been a huge fan of the genre ever since. Some of my favorite novels (eg, The Apprenticeship of Wilhelm Meister, The Way of All Flesh, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man) are of the Künstlerroman variety, and I even wrote one of my own.

The Künstlerroman is actually a subgenre of the Bildungsroman. A Bildungsroman is a coming-of-age story, that is, the story’s focus is on the psychological and moral growth of the main character from childhood to adulthood, with maturation as the goal. According to Wikipedia, “The genre often features a main conflict between the main character and society. Typically, the values of society are gradually accepted by the protagonist and he is ultimately accepted into society.”

When the Bildungsroman’s main character is an artist, the work is a Künstlerroman (Goethe’s The Apprenticeship of Wilhelm Meister is considered to be the first of its type). In other words, every Künstlerroman is a Bildungsroman, but not every Bildungsroman is a Künstlerroman.

Sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference between a Bildungsroman and a Künstlerroman, as illustrated by the list that currently appears on Wikipedia’s Künstlerroman page, but that confusion disappears when you consider the fact that the “artist novel” is a sub-genre of the “coming-of-age novel” and not a separate genre altogether.

Chekhov’s Gun

Anton Chekhov

According to Wikipedia, Chekhov’s gun is a dramatic principle that every element in a narrative be irreplaceable and that anything else be removed. From Chekhov:

“Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”

Nice.

Literary Lapses

William Shakespeare

Sometimes even the best writers make mistakes. Here are a few.

Daniel Defoe
Robinson Crusoe comes out of the water naked to board a ship, then fills his pockets with biscuits.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
According to the author, Dr. Watson suffered a war injury. In A Study in Scarlet the injury was to Watson’s shoulder, but in The Sign of Four, it has moved to his leg.

Carl Sandburg
In Abraham Lincoln–The Prairie Years, Sandburg has Lincoln’s mother singing a song that was not written until twenty-two years after her son’s death.

William Shakespeare
The bard wrote of a cannon in the reign of King John (cannons were unknown until about 150 years later); of clocks striking the hour in the days of Julius Caesar; and of printing in the days of King Henry II.

From Strouf, Judie LH: Literature Lover’s Book of Lists: Serious Trivia for the Bibliophile; Prentice Hall; 1998.

My Top 10 Favorite Last Lines from Novels

Books

When Stephen Covey penned “Begin with the end in mind” as the second habit in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, he wasn’t referring to novel writing, but it’s great advice nevertheless for anyone wishing to write a novel. Just as novelists must work and rework the first lines of their creations to engage readers from the start, so must novelists regard last lines in terms of importance—it’s been said that the opening lines sell the book, while the last line sells the next book. I’m nowhere near finishing my second novel, but I’ve had the end in mind for some time now, and I’ve been thinking a lot about last lines. In no particular order, here are my top 10 favorite last lines from novels:

“…you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.”
Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable

“All that is very well,” answered Candide, “but let us cultivate our garden.”
Voltaire, Candide

“His father and grandfather could probably no more understand his state of mind than they could understand Chinese, but those who know him intimately do not know they they wish him greatly different from what he actually is.”
Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh

“yes I said yes I will Yes.”
James Joyce, Ulysses

“L—d! said my mother, what is all this story about?— A COCK and a BULL, said Yorick—And one of the best of its kind I ever heard.”
Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy

“So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars’ll be out, and don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear? the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty.”
Jack Kerouac, On the Road

“Then I went back into the house and wrote, It is midnight. The rain is beating on the windows. It was not midnight. It was not raining.”
Samuel Beckett, Molloy

“I shall feel proud and satisfied to have been the first author to enjoy the full fruit of his writings, as I desired, because my only desire has been to make men hate those false, absurd histories in books of chivalry, which thanks to the exploits of my real Don Quixote are even now tottering, and without any doubt will soon tumble to the ground. Farewell.”
Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”
George Orwell, Animal Farm

“And I go home having lost her love. And write this book.”
Jack Kerouac, The Subterraneans

Fictional Characters Bearing Their Creators’ Names

Sarah Crown posted an interesting bit in The Guardian’s books blog, “Is auto-fiction strictly a boys’ game?” The subject was the phenomenon of authors who insert a character bearing their name into their work. It turns out that a number of books—both new and not so new—have used this device, a fact that interested me greatly, as I used it in my novel, Pixels of Young Mueller. I have compiled this list of books from the article:

  • Jonathan Coe (The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim)
  • Damon Galgut (In a Strange Room)
  • Geoff Dyer (Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi)
  • Will Self (Will Self Walking to Hollywood)
  • Michel Houellebecq (La Carte et le Territoire)
  • Alberto Manguel (All Men Are Liars)
  • Philip Roth (Operation Shylock)
  • Jonathan Safran Foer (Everything is Illuminated)
  • E. L. Doctorow (World’s Fair)
  • Frederick Exley (A Fan’s Notes)
  • Vladimir Nabokov (Pnin)
  • Amelie Nothomb (Une forme de vie)
  • Gertrude Stein (Autobiography of Alice B Toklas)

Readers familiar with my novel know that its main character, Klaus Mueller, creates a fictional character named Jerry Schwartz. I knew that I could not have been the first to do this, but I was not aware of any specific instances in which it had been done. Fortunately, Sarah Crown has come to the rescue, and while I don’t agree with her use of “auto-fiction” to describe the literary device itself, I applaud her efforts.

20 Famous Writers Who Never Finished College

Jack Kerouac

Here’s a list of 20 famous writers who either did not attend or never finished college:

  • Hans Christian Andersen
  • Maya Angelou
  • Ray Bradbury
  • Joseph Conrad
  • Charles Dickens
  • William Faulkner
  • Ernest Hemingway
  • Jack Kerouac (pictured)
  • Rudyard Kipling
  • Doris Lessing
  • Jack London
  • Herman Melville
  • George Orwell
  • Carl Sandburg
  • William Shakespeare
  • George Bernard Shaw
  • Dylan Thomas
  • Mark Twain
  • H. G. Wells
  • Virginia Woolf

That’s an impressive bunch by anyone’s standards, and I didn’t even include those who only wrote poetry (Robert Frost would have been included here, for instance).