Literature and the Writers’ Personality

Every work of literature is intimately connected with the personality of the author who produces it. There is always a man behind a book, and the judging of the quality of literature becomes vital to us if we try to think of the author not as a mysterious disembodied force but rather as a man who wrote to satisfy needs and to resolve difficulties which are common to us. Literature does not grow by spontaneous combustion; it is the product of men and women who wrote it out of their lives. They were real persons of flesh and blood who loved and worked and agonized as men have done in all ages.

Expressing the view that every book is a reflection of the personality of the author, Matthew Arnold wrote: “What is really precious and inspiring in all that we get from literature, except the sense of an immediate contact with genius itself? Objects could never be described except for the purpose of describing the feelings which they arouse in us, for language ought to represent at the same moment the thing and the author, the subject and the thought. Everything that we say ought to be dyed with us. This process is a long one, but it immortalizes us. For language is formed to convey not the object alone, but likewise the character, mood and intentions of the person who is representing it.”
Goethe has also expressed at many places in his writings the danger of forsaking the inner light, of relying on something external, something which is not the language of the heart’s experience, the danger, or rather the impossibility, of severing expression from personality. Thus he remarked: “The style of a writer is a true impression of his inner self: If any one could write a clear style, let him first have clearness in his soul, and if anyone would write a great style, let him see to it that he has a great character.” And again, “It is the personal character of the writer that brings his meaning before his readers, not the artifices of his talent.” And in another passage he says: “The artist must work from within outwards, seeing that, make what contortions he will, he can only bring to light his own individuality…Only in this way is it possible to be original.”
Expressing the same view that in every great work of literature there must be fidelity to the personal vision of the artist, Pater wrote in his Essay on Style: “Truth—there can be no merit, no craft at all without that. And further, all Beauty is in the long run only fineness of truth, and what we call expression, the finer accommodation of truth to that vision within.” And again, “To give the phrase, the sentence, the structural member, the entire composition song or essay, a similar unit with the subject and with itself—style is in the right way when it tends towards that. All depends on the original unity, the vital wholeness and identity, of the initiatory apprehension or view.”
What Matthew Arnold, Goethe and Pater have expressed may be called the personal or subjective view of literature, which lays emphasis on the personal factor in all literature. But there are some critics who hold the opposite view—the impersonal or objective view about literature i.e., the personality of the author should have nothing to do with his writings; the author who like Shakespeare expresses the personality of others is greater than the one like Byron who projects his own personality in his writings. Flaubert, the great champion of this view, wrote in one of his letters: “There are two kinds of poets. The greatest, the rare ones, the true masters, sum up humanity: they are not preoccupied with themselves or their own passions, they put their own personality into the background in order to absorb themselves in the personalities of others; they reproduce the universe, which is reflected in their works with all its glitter and variety and multiplicity…There are others who have only to create, and they achieve harmony; to weep, and they move us; to think about themselves, and they are immortal. Possibly if they were to do anything else they might not go quite so far; but while they lack breadth, they have ardour and dash: in short, if they had been born with a different temperament probably they would not have had genius at all. Byron was of this family, Shakespeare of other: who can tell me what Shakespeare loved, betrayed, or felt.”
There is no doubt that Shakespeare hides his personality in his plays, but what about his Sonnets which are by universal admission among the most intimate of personal utterances? If we look at this problem of the relation of the personality of the author to his works, we come to the conclusion that ultimately they must bear the impress of his personality in some form or the other. Though Milton wrote Paradise Lost with the purpose of subduing to the strict form of Epic, all things in heaven and earth and hell, he could not rule out his own personality out of it. In fact it becomes a reflection of his own personality. We find in this great poem Milton as Man, Milton as Archangel, Milton as God—but the most characteristic voice of all is that of Milton as Satan, truly a double personality.
‘Is this the region, this the soil, the clime’,
Said then the lost
Archangel, ‘this the seat
That we must change for Heaven? This mournful gloom
For that celestial light?
Farewell, happy fields
Where joy forever dwells: hail horrors, hail
Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell,
Receive thy new possessor; one who brings
A mind not to be changed by place or time.
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.’

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