Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Truth and fictional characters

In an article called "Truth and Fictional Characters" from 1980, John Hospers proposes the notion of "behaving in character" as the key test of verisimilitude--that is, the reader's belief that a person like this, in this set of circumstances, "would, (probably or necessarily)...have done (or said, or thought, or felt) what the author portrays him as doing (or saying, or thinking, or feeling)." It is not necessary to recognize a character as being like someone you know in real life. In fact (says Hospers), it may be that literary characters are distinctly unlike people we know; their function is to combine traits and experiences in ways that are new to us. The key to seeming real is this aesthetic unity, which is tested in some kind of action. If this is true, and if it's true that in literary fiction plot is subordinate to character, then plot--what happens--is the test of a character's integrity. Not in the moral sense, but in the aesthetic.

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