"Fiction writers, at least in their braver moments, do desire the truth; to know it, speak it, serve it. But they go about it in a peculiar and devious way, which consists in inventing persons, places and events which never did and never will exist or occur, and telling about these fictions in detail and at length and with a great deal of emotion, and then when they are done writing down these pack of lies, they say, There! That's the truth!
"They may use all kinds of facts to support their tissues of lies. They may describe the Marshalsea Prison, which was a real place, or the battle of Borodino, which was really fought, or the process of cloning, which really takes place in laboratories, or the deterioration of personality, which is described in real textbooks of psychology; and so on. This weight of verifiable place-event-phenomenon-behavior makes readers forget they are reading pure invention, a history that never took place anywhere but in that unlocalized region, the author's mind. In fact, while we read a novel, we are insane -- bonkers. We believe in the existence of people who aren't there, we hear their voices, we watch the battle of Borodino with them, we may even become Napoleon. Sanity returns (in most cases) when the book is closed.
"Is it any wonder that no truly respectable society has ever trusted its artists?"
- Ursula K. Le Guin (The Language of the Night)
"Fiction is Truth's eldest sister. Obviously! No one in the world knew what truth was till someone had told a story." - Rudyard Kipling (A Book of Words)
let me be brave. And let me, while I craft my tales, be wise.
Let me say true things in a voice that's true,
and, with the truth in mind, let me write lies.
The three paintings above are by the Scottish artist Frances MacDonald MacNair (1873-1921). More information on Frances can be found on this 2007 post on the JoMA blog. The photograph is by Charles Edward Raeburn, published in The Magazine in 1894. The title of this post comes from the poem "Tell All the Truth" by Emily Dickinson (1830-1886).