John Gardner, who died tragically and young in 1982, is read more as teacher of fiction than novelist. His fiction, masterful as it is, has never equaled the following and reputation of his books on writing. Yet he would see this as proving his point: those who aim for the heights, for art that seeks and inhabits the Good, the True and the Beautiful will usually lose. They will lose in the marketplace and in the academy. They will lose in the halls of critical opinion despite having the weight of tradition, not to mention a certain common sense, behind them. Authentic literary art, Gardner asserts, consists of words in the service to life, to the search for ''understanding and affirmation,'' not life-and especially not a debased, cynical, and detached modern life-in service to mere words. Part jeremiad, part paean, part lament and part call to arms, On Moral Fiction
surprises with its learning, its wisdom and, above all, its humanity. It reaches out to serious readers as well as writers, sifts through detritus and debris to recover a vision of art shared with Aristotle, Dante and Tolstoy, one that keeps faith rather than deconstructs it. Gardner gives foundation and hope to those committed to the losing team.
An Eighth Day View:
A genuine classic of literary criticism, "On Moral Fiction" argues that "true art is by its nature moral."