Waldstein (1): As close to perfection as any novel can hope to reach. Written with insight, elegance and, above all, humour. Extremely readable.
WSMaugham (6): I myself think that Pride and Prejudice is on the whole the most satisfactory of all the novels. Its first sentence puts you in good humour: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” It sets the note, and the good humour it induces remains with you till, with regret, you have reached the last page.… (mere)
Waldstein (2): As a novel, it's a failure. As a work of art, it's a masterpiece. Magnificently written, with grand rhetorical sweep and compelling authorial voice.
WSMaugham (7): Sometimes, as I have pointed out, the manner he had acquired led him to rhetorical extravagance, but at its best [Melville's style] has a copious magnificence, a sonority, a grandeur, an eloquence that no modern writer, so far as I know, has achieved. [...] But, of course, it is the sinister and gigantic figure of Captain Ahab that pervades the book and gives it its unique force. You must go to the Greek dramatists for anything like that sense of doom with which everything you are told about him fills you, and to Shakespeare to find beings of such terrible power. It is because Herman Melville created him that, notwithstanding any reservation one may make, Moby Dick is a great book.… (mere)
WSMaugham (5): Wuthering Heights is a love story, perhaps the strangest that was ever written, and not the least strange part of it is that the lovers remain chaste. [...] Wuthering Heights has great faults, but they do not matter; they matter as little as the fallen tree-trunks, the strewn rock, the snow-drifts which impede, but do not stem, the alpine torrent in its tumultuous course down the mountain-side. You cannot liken Wuthering Heights to any other book. You can liken it only to one of those great pictures of El Greco in which in a sombre, arid landscape, under clouds heavy with thunder, long emaciated figures in contorted attitudes, spell-bound by an unearthly emotion, hold their breath. A streak of lightning, flitting across the leaden sky, gives a mysterious terror to the scene.… (mere)
WSMaugham (3): Though one may deplore Dostoevsky’s prolixity, a fault he was well aware of, but could not, or would not, correct; though one may wish he had seen fit to avoid the improbabilities – improbabilities of character, improbabilities of incident – which cannot but disconcert the attentive reader; though one may think some of his ideas erroneous, The Brothers Karamazov remains a stupendous book. It has a theme of profound significance. Many critics have said that this was the quest of God; I, for my part, should have said it was the problem of evil.… (mere)
WSMaugham (2): War and Peace is surely the greatest of all novels. It could only have been written by a man of high intelligence and of powerful imagination, a man with wide experience of the world and a penetrating insight into human nature. No novel with so grand a sweep, dealing with so momentous a period of history and with so vast an array of characters, was ever written before; nor, I surmise, will ever be written again. Novels as great will perhaps be written, but none quite like it.… (mere)
WSMaugham (1): Flaubert eyed the world with gloomy indignation. He was violently intolerant. He had no patience with stupidity. The bourgeois, the commonplace, the ordinary filled him with exasperation. He had no pity. He had no charity. [...] He was, as I have said, at once a romantic and a realist; and he flung himself into the sordid story of Emma Bovary with the fury of a man revenging himself by wallowing in the gutter because life has not met the demands of his passion for the ideal. We are introduced to many persons in the course of the novel’s five hundred pages, and but for Dr Lariviere, a minor character, they have hardly a redeeming feature. They are base, mean, stupid, trivial and vulgar. A great many people are, but not all; and it is inconceivable that in a town, however small, there should not be found one person at least, if not two or three, who is sensible, kindly and helpful. Flaubert failed to keep his personality out of his novel.… (mere)
WSMaugham (10): But of course the pleasure one gets from reading David Copperfield does not arise from any persuasion one may have that life is, or ever was, anything like what Dickens describes. That is not to depreciate him. Fiction, like the kingdom of heaven, has many mansions, and the author may invite you to visit whichever he chooses. One has just as much right to exist as another, but you must suit yourselves to the surroundings into which you are led. […] David Copperfield is a fantastication, sometimes gay, sometimes pathetic, on life, composed out of recollections and wish-fulfilments by a man of lively imagination and warm feelings. You must read it in the same spirit as you read As You Like It. It provides an entertainment almost as delightful.… (mere)
WSMaugham (8): At the crisis of the book, Julien does the fatal thing in a novel: he acts out of character. [...] What then made Stendhal make the strange mistake which everyone agrees is a flaw in his great novel? [...] I believe that the facts which had been given him exercised an hypnotic power over him from which he was unable to break loose; he had followed the story of Antoine Berthet very closely and felt himself under the compulsion to pursue it, against all credibility, to its wretched end. But God, fate, chance, whichever you like to call the mystery that govern men's lives, is a poor story-teller; and it is the business, and the right, of the novelist to correct the improbabilities of brute fact. It was not in Stendhal's capacity to do this. It is a great pity. But, as I have urged, no novel is perfect, owing partly to the natural inadequacy of the medium, and partly to the deficiencies of the human being who writes it. Notwithstanding its grave defects, Le Rouge et le Noir is a very great book, and to read it is a unique experience.… (mere)
WSMaugham (9): There are people who cannot read Tom Jones. I am not thinking of those who never read anything but the newspapers and the illustrated weeklies, or of those who never read anything but detective stories; I am thinking of those who would not demure if you classed them as members of the intelligentsia, of those who read and re-read Pride and Prejudice with delight, Middlemarch with self-complacency, and The Golden Bowl with reverence. The chances that it has never occurred to them to read Tom Jones; but, sometimes, they have tried and not been able to get on with it. It bores them. Now it is no good saying that they ought to like it. There is no 'ought' about the matter. You read a novel for its entertainment, and, I repeat, if it does not give you that, it has nothing to give you at all. No one has the right to blame you because you don't find it interesting, any more than anyone has the right to blame you because you don't like oysters. I cannot but ask myself, however, what it is that puts readers off a book which Gibbon described as an exquisite picture of human manners, which Walter Scott praised as truth and human nature itself, which Dickens admired and profited by, and of which Thackeray wrote: "The novel of Tom Jones is indeed exquisite; as a work of construction quite a wonder; the by-play of wisdom, the power of observation, the multiplied felicitous turns and thoughts, the varied character of the great comic epic, keep the reader in a perpetual admiration and curiosity."… (mere)
WSMaugham (4): If I were asked by someone who had never read Balzac to recommend the novel which best represented him, which gave the reader pretty well all the author had to give, I should without hesitation advice him to read La Pere Goriot. The story it tells is continuously interesting. In some of his novels, Balzac interrupts his narrative to discourse on all sorts of irrelevant matters, or to give you long accounts of people in whom you cannot take the faintest interest; but from these defects La Pere Goriot is free. He lets his characters explain themselves by their words and actions as objectively as it was in his nature to do. The novel is extremely well constructed; and the two threads, the old man's self-sacrificing love for his ungrateful daughters, and the ambitious Rastignac's first steps in the crowded, corrupt Paris of his day, are ingeniously interwoven.… (mere)