'I have written a good deal at sea,' said Stephen, 'but unless the weather is tolerably steady, so that the ink may be relied upon to stay in its well, I usually wait until I am ashore for any long, considered treatise or paper--for the peace and calm of a country retreat, as you say. Yet on the other hand I do not find that the turmoil of a ship prevents me reading: with a good clear candle in my lantern and balls of wax in my ears, I read with the utmost delight. The confinement of my cabin, the motion of my hanging cot, the distantly-heard orders and replies, the working of the ship--all these enhance my enjoyment.'
'Sir,' said Stephen, 'I read novels with the utmost pertinacity. I look upon them -- I look upon good novels -- as a very valuable part of literature, conveying more exact and finely-distinguished knowledge of the human heart and mind than almost any other, with greater breadth and depth and fewer constraints. Had I not read Madame de La Layette, the Abbe Prevost, and the man who wrote Clarissa, that extraordinary feat, I should be very much poorer than I am; and a moment's reflection would add many more.'
'As for an end,' said Martin, 'are endings really so very important? Sterne did quite well without one; and often an unfinished picture is all the more interesting for the bare canvas. I remember Bourville's definition of a novel as a work in which life flows in abundance, swirling without a pause: or as you might say without an end, an organized end. And there is at least one Mozart quartet that stops without the slightest ceremony: most satisfying when you get used to it.'
Stephen said 'There is another Frenchman whose name escapes me but who is even more to the point: La betise c'est vouloir conclure. The conventional ending, with virtue rewarded and loose ends tied up is often sadly chilling; and its platitude and falsity tend to infect what has gone before, however excellent. Many books would be far better without their last chapter: or at least with no more than a brief, cool, unemotional statement of the outcome.'
--Patrick O'Brian, The Nutmeg of Consolation
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