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INTRODUCTION

THOSE of us who have experienced the perilous delights of learning to ride a bicycle will recall the suspense that attended the discovery of some obstacle or pitfall in the path. The whole roadway was before us where to choose; yet surely and swiftly we would bear down upon the very object that it was our whole purpose to shun. In ordering the pages that follow, I have often seemed to renew these experiences. It has been my purpose to set forth the rhetorical principles of narrative composition, not to prepare another manual on the novel and the short story; that has already been done often and well. It has seemed, however, that there might be a place for examining the broader field that includes not only fiction but history, biography, and all forms of composition the purpose of which is to set in order the details of an occurrence. Yet the novel and the shortstory have constantly obtruded themselves. From its very character, its broader emotional appeal, fiction furnishes by far the most effective illustration of narrative principles. And I fear, therefore, lest these narrative types have too frequently been made unduly prominent. If this be the case, it is in spite of deliberate effort to avoid the danger, and not because the danger was unforeseen.

The charge is often brought against college courses in composition that they are barren, — they do not inspire literary masterpieces. "Show us your novelists, your poets,” exclaims the critic. Yet courses in mathematics, in physics, in the modern languages, are not decried, because in each graduating class we fail to find Euclids, Newtons, Goethes, and Molières. As a matter of fact, intelligent appreciation is a very important function of the so-called "advanced courses in composition.” And the student of structure and style may indeed gain an appreciative insight into the work of the master, if he attempts to do in a small way what the master has done in a large way. We can always better judge any kind of work if we have tried our own hand at it, even though our efforts may not be crowned by the Academy.

The course of study, then, that is outlined in the following pages may well be accompanied by exercises in composition: in setting, in characterization, in the ordering of plot-material. But extensive reading should attend the work of composition; it will serve as a basis for discussion, illustration, and imitation. Few courses offer better material for arousing interest in good literature than does a course in narrative composition. Every student is interested in story and in history, and open discussion of narrative principles, particularly of characterization, frequently results in intelligent enthusiasm for what is really excellent, and simultaneously develops a distaste for the superficial and “trashy" narratives that are all too common. It is needless, perhaps, to add that in this work the text-book must serve merely as a definite starting-point; the inspiration must come from the teacher.

A course of parallel readings that has been tested by an experience of several years embraces one work of historical character, one biography, one novel, and thirty or forty short-stories. The following specific works have been found adapted to a course of this character:

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