Kingsley Amis On Character Development and Language
Waugh was quoted in The Paris Review as saying that writing for him was an exercise in the use of language rather than an attempt to explore character. How do you react to this?
I’ve come to see it in that way more and more. I certainly feel that this is what I’m trying to do. But I think this is connected—and trying not to sound too somber here—with growing older. Because the world that seemed so various and new, well, it does contract. One’s burning desire to investigate human behavior, and to make, or imply, statements about it, does fall off. And so one does find that early works are full of energy and also full of vulgarity, crudity, and incompetence, and later works are more carefully finished, and in that sense better literary products. But . . . there’s often a freshness that is missing in later works—for every gain there’s a loss. I think it evens out in that way.
It’s an age-old question that we’ve talked about a lot on this blog—character development versus plot versus writing and language usage.
I’ve always appreciated plot a little more than character development. But a writer’s style, the types of words and phrases he uses, can turn me off quicker than anything else.
I believe that’s why I hated Mrs. Dalloway so much. Virginia Woolf, at least in that novel, falls in love with her language and writing. Many people appreciate that, but I couldn’t. Call me simple, but that’s just the truth.
Amis’s point of view is interesting. It’s almost as if old age makes you appreciate language more, while your lack of new experiences causes you to focus less on character and plot.
How do you interpret Amis’s comments? What do you think?
(Image: Wikimedia Commons)