The invitation to visit Chicago, the outline provided of the Foundation’s aims, and the name of the Award, made me think at once of a poem by T.S. Eliot, in which he describes a British visitor to America.

The poem is called Mr. Apollinax. I use T. S. Eliot to introduce the subject about which I am going to speak because the Award is named after him, and this particular poem offers the same field of speculation as that which I shall investigate in the novel. I will say a word about the poem first, before getting on to novels.

The poem begins:

When Mr. Apollinax visited the United States

His laughter tinkled among the teacups

I shall not quote the whole of the poem, but some later lines are worth mentioning as establishing the characteristics of Mr. Apollinax, and the people he came among:

He laughed like an irresponsible foetus.

The hostess, Mrs. Phlaccus, is also named with Professor and Mrs. Channing-Cheetah. The final lines state:

Of dowager Mrs. Phlaccus, and Professor and Mrs. Cheetah

I remember a slice of lemon and a bitten macaroon.

Now one sees at once that T. S. Eliot is writing about actual persons he has in mind. It is said––I don’t know with how much truth––that in Mr. Apollinax himself the philosopher Bertrand Russell is intended, a thinker for whose views Eliot, for more than one reason, was likely to be out of sympathy.

In the light of the many vicissitudes of Bertrand Russell’s life and opinions, the phrase “laughter of an irresponsible foetus” perhaps lends weight to the truth of this identification.

So far as I know Mrs. Phlaccus and the academic Cheetahs have not been pinpointed in this elegant, but undoubtedly barbed, poetic commentary.

Since the Foundation has flatteringly recognized my own work in this substantial manner, I would like to speak of the business of identifying “real persons” named in novels in the pseudonymous manner T. S. Eliot appears to have used in a poem.

This is a matter that has reached formidable proportions today, in that reviewers—let alone private persons—seem to think that no novelist is capable of inventing anything. Every character is recklessly identified as a “real person,” every incident as something that happened to the authors themselves. In my own case I have more than once been congratulated on lifelike representations of persons I have literally never heard of.

Some sort of clarification therefore seems desirable in defining how things look from the producer’s, rather than the consumer’s end. Do novelists simply write down a list of all the people they know, shuffle the names together, put them in some sort of dramatic juxtaposition, thereby ending up with a. complete novel?

That is not, I think, quite how writing a novel works. Novelists are persons who happen to see life, and the behavior of human beings, in vivid interior images––though in very different ways––so that in a sense Proust has more in common with Harold Robbins than with persons who do not find images taking shape in the mind.

Naturally such images often have bearing on persons and events with which the writer is familiar, and there arises the possibility that a “real person” will be used in the novel. There are other occasions when the novelist writes about a type, rather than an individual held in mind, or simply invents. At the present day the interest in models seems, on the part of the reader, often to outrun interest in the novel itself

Let us agree then that, even if much is invented, most novelists draw their material in some degree from “real life,” even those who set their background in Ancient Egypt or Arthurian Britain not only revealing their own personal preoccupations in an imaginative fantasy, but, if only subconsciously, probably using individuals and experiences with which they are familiar in everyday life.

If a character in a novel bears no resemblance whatsoever to any human being we have ever met-nor could ever meet whatever the circumstances, including reincarnation-there is likely to be something wrong in the writing.

That principle is just as true of fantasy as of naturalistic narrative. The reason why books like A Christmas Caro or Alice in Wonderland, are always rereadable is that Marley’s Ghost, say, or The Red Queen, not only could be known to us, but often actually are persons we seem to encounter.

At the same time it must be emphasized that the images that present themselves to the mind of any novelist with more than amateur talent take an entirely different form from when the same writer is describing a person in Autobiography or Memoirs. In such works, if done properly-allowing naturally for courtesy, libel, and space available––nothing is added or omitted. The account of the individual is perfectly straightforward.

No doubt in novels minor figures are sometimes dealt in just that manner, absolutely as the author sees them, drawn exactly from life without any novelistic trimmings. Such characters, however, can play little active part in the narrative. Once a “real person” has to do that, changes must be made.

The “real person” who sets going the idea of a major character in a novelist’s mind always requires addition, modification, development, before he (or she) can acquire enough substance to exist as a convincing fictional figure.

These alterations come not so much from thought on the novelist’s part as from a controlled-later perhaps to some extent developed-instinct as what gives a character life.

It must always be remembered by those who love to say “Such-and-such a character is So-and-So” that the moment the smallest change is made in that character to suit the novelist’s convenience, all genuine dependence on the original model ceases. It is no longer that person.

This is the contrast made by the Novel to Memoirs and Autobiography. In a novel, to take a given person and fit him (or her) in with other characters, “real” or invented, would not be possible without alteration.

The way taken by the novelist in escaping from this predicament might be compared with the manner in which the Greeks made the pillars of their temples slightly convex, so that in perspective they should seem straight. Painters, too, have many artifices in which color or colors of one kind or another are used to give quite another color impression to the eye of the observer.

Many well-known novelists have not made use of “real persons” in the manner which is now popularly supposed as general, especially where subsidiary characters are in question, but as we are here considering the use of “real people,” let me give two very different illustrations of how this may be done.

Henry James’s biographer, Leon Edel, whose views on the subject one would certainly respect, suggests that Merton Densher, the young and impecunious journalist in The Wings of the Dove, is to some extent modeled on James’s young journalist friend, Moreton Fullerton, who was in fact rather successful at his profession.

You will recall that Merton Densher wants to marry Kate Croy, but has not enough money to do so. The two of them therefore toy with the design of Densher marrying the dying Milly Theale, from whom, as her husband, he would, on Milly’s demise, inherit riches to make marriage with Kate possible.

In the event, when Milly dies, Densher feels moral scruples. The reader is not told what happens finally, but the more cynical may suspect that in the end both Densher and Kate found it possible to compromise with conscience.

What then about the supposed model for Densher, James’s young friend Moreton Fullerton? He is a figure who might perhaps not unreasonably be described as a shade sinister. Fullerton had a divorced wife, a blackmailing French mistress, a homosexual past. To say the least he was emotionally tough. On the other hand, there is not a scrap of evidence to suggest that he even planned to turn an honest penny by marrying an heiress on her deathbed.

In short, one wonders whether the decidedly dubious moral situation in The Wings of the Dove may have owed something to James pondering on the emotional toughness of Fullerton and his sexual problems, coming up at last with the theme of the novel, in which, for all we know, other characters had models in James’s mind.

I take this as an example of the possibility of a model being used by a novelist, where the final result emerging is infinitely remote from anything that actually took place in “real life” to the person concerned.

In contrast with that method, let us glance for a moment at Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. In this novel not only is almost the whole cast identifiable among a group of American and British Paris expatriates in the 1920’s, but, apart from the dovetailing of two visits to Spain, relevant action is also retained as closely as possible. All that the author does is to point up certain relationships, so that they are dramatized in a workmanlike manner.

I doubt if any novel of the same standing could be named in which so little deviation from “real life” takes place, while at the same time constructing an effective work of art.

In the case of The Sun Also Rises the persons involved, with a few exceptions, gratefully accepted this fictional picture of themselves. It could even be argued that the novel clarified for some of them their own personae, and influenced their subsequent behavior. This was in direct contrast with Moreton

Fullerton, who asked James if another journalist, known to both of them, was intended. That may, of course, have been a deliberate evasion on Fullerton’s part, as he was a devious man. As already remarked, “real people” who merge successfully into fictional characters are rare. Much bad novel-writing can be laid at the door of the misconception that, because someone has an outstanding personality in “real life,” he (or she) can be easily assimilated into a novel.

If anything, the reverse is true. Strongly “realized” persons are apt to move through a novel into which they are inserted simply as themselves, not on the fictional plane demanded by art. They are therefore extremely risky elements to use. I should like to give two examples from Dostoevski.

Let me say at once that, although one of these examples is in some degree to Dostoevski’s disadvantage, I have an immense respect for him, much preferring Dostoevski to Tolstoy. He contends with Proust, in my view, as the greatest of novelists. In Dostoevski’s work, contrary to some critics, my order of choice is The Devils (sometimes called The Possessed), The Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov. My examples come from the first of these.

Written just over a century ago, The Devils handles all the problems that beset us today in a manner that makes the reader feel that the book was written last week. I particularly recommend Dostoevski translations by David Magarshak, which bring out a point of which many people are still unaware, that Dostoevski is an immensely humorous writer. Again and again the reader laughs aloud.

The Devilsbegins with an account of Mr. Verkovensky, one of the great comic characters of European literature. Mr. Verkovensky is a university professor of some distinction, who prides himself on his Liberalism having made him suspect to the Tsarist authorities. In point of fuct the Tsarist authorities show not the smallest interest in Mr. Verkovensky, who has in any case retired from active academic life.

Mr. Verkovensky lives on the bounty of a rich widow, Mrs. Stavrogin, another marvelously comic character. He has done this for years. Mr. Verkovensky and Mrs. Stavrogin have perpetual emotional rows. One presumes that they were lovers long ago, but that is not precisely stated, and the reader is never quite sure that Mr. Verkovensky has not kept his position by never giving in on that point. The relationship is unfailingly farcical, at the end even rather touching.

Mr. Verkovensky is agreed to be modeled on the Russian historian Granowski. I do not know where Granowski’s reputation has come to rest in Russia, but outside Russia it could be safely assumed that only those professionally concerned with Russian history would ever have read his works or even heard of him.

This does not in the least affect Mr. Verkovensky as a brilliant conception in Dostoevski’s novel, any more than Falstaff is affected by Shakespeare originally calling him Oldcastle, and, when the Old castle family objected, changing the name to Sir John Falstaff, even though the historical Sir John Falstaff was a sober man of business and capable soldier.

Just as Mr. Verkovensky is modeled on Granowski, another character in The Devils, Karmazinov, is modeled on the great Russian writer Turgenev, Karmazinov also being a famous writer.

Unfortunately Dostoevski particularly disliked Turgenev for being rich, celebrated, and above all for having lent Dostoevski himself money from time to time. Envy, hatred, and malice are never good elements for a novelist to allow into the creation of a character, but, over and above that, the interest that attaches to Turgenev is in being Turgenev. As Karmazinov that interest is lost. It may well be true that Turgenev was vain of his success. Many writers are. But Karmazinov never comes alive. He is merely the object of the author’s loathing.

Karmazinov is aptly to be contrasted with Mr. Verkovensky, because Verkovensky too represented things that Dostoevski hated, but Dostoevski is always fair with Mr. Verkovensky. He laughs at him, but keeps his own prejudices in control, showing Mr. Verkovensky’s perfectly genuine but futile Liberalism, his unreliability about money and sex, his thousand absolutely believable absurdities, all stemming from the highest motives.

It should be noted that Proust was shrewd enough to grasp a principle that Dostoevski missed in his projection of Turgenev, the fact that too much guying may spoil the reality of a character.

For example, Proust introduces Anatole France into his novel as Bergotte. Anatole France is admittedly not so considerable a writer as Turgenev, and Proust isdescribing his narrator’s admiration for Bergotte, rather than attacking him. All the same the temptation must have been considerable to put in some of Anatole France’s idiosyncrasies.

In many respects Anatole France was a figure very open to ridicule. An unfriendly picture of him, even a caricature, would have been easy enough for a novelist of Proust’s calibre.

On the contrary Proust saw that, for his own purposes, the comic aspects of Anatole France ought to be soft-pedaled. His mistress’s salon, for instance, has been described as like a railway station, in which Anatole France was the stationmaster. To mention that would have spoiled Bergotte as focus of the youthful literary ideals of the narrator.

Perhaps I should close by saying that, when anything like satire is in question in dealing with the characters of a novel, the novelist cannot do better than reflect long on those sage lines written by Lady Mary Wortley Montague. I have quoted them in my Memoirs. They bear quotation again:

Satire should, like a polished razor keen,

Wound with a touch that’s scarcely felt or seen:

Thine is an oyster knife, that hacks and hews:

The rage, but not the talent to abuse;

And is to hate, what love is in the stews.