How to read Novels like a Professor: A Jaunty expedition of the World's favorite Literary Form

Of every the literature forms, the novel is maybe the most disputed … and fretted over. From Miguel de Cervantes\"s Don Quixote to the works of woman Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and today\"s masters, the novel has actually grown with and adjusted to transforming societies and technologies, mix tradition and innovation in every period throughout history.

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Thomas C. Foster—the sage and scholar that ingeniously led readers with the fascinating symbolic password of great literature in his an initial book, How to Read literary works Like a Professor—now examines the grammar that the renowned novel. Experimenting how authors\" choices about structure—point of view, narrative voice, very first page, chapter construction, personality emblems, and also narrative (dis)continuity—create an interpretation and a special literary language, How to read Novels prefer a Professor share the tricks to this language through readers who want to get more insight, more understanding, and much more pleasure from your reading.

Oct 6, 2009

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About the author


Thomas C. Foster

Thomas C. Foster, author of exactly how to Read literature Like a Professor and also Reading the silver- Screen, is professor emeritus of English in ~ the college of Michigan, Flint, wherein he teach classes in modern-day fiction, drama, and poetry, too as an imaginative writing and freelance writing. The is also the writer of several books on 20th-century British and also Irish literature and poetry.

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How to check out Novels prefer a Professor - thomas C. Foster

How to check out Novels choose a Professor

Thomas C. Foster

For Linda Wagner-Martin,

without who the profession would be extremely poorer


Preface: Novel Possibilities, or All animals Aren’t Pigs?

Introduction: as soon as Upon a Time: A Short, Chaotic, and also Entirely Idiosyncratic background of the Novel

1 Pickup Lines and Open(ing) Seductions, or Why Novels Have first Pages

2 You can’t Breathe where the air Is clear

3 who in fee Here?

4 never Trust a Narrator with a Speaking part

5 A Still, tiny Voice (or a Great, Galumphing One)

6 guys (and Women) Made out of Words, or mine Pip Ain’t choose Your Pip

7 When an extremely Bad world Happen to an excellent Novels

8 Wrinkles in Time, or Chapters Just might Matter

9 anywhere Is just One ar

10 Clarissa’s flower

11 Met-him-pike-hoses

12 Life sentence

13 drowning in the present of awareness

14 The light on Daisy’s Dock

15 Fiction about Fiction

16 resource Codes and also Recycle Bins

Interlude: check out with Your ears

17 Improbabilities: Foundlings and also Magi, Colonels and also Boy Wizards

18 those the huge Idea—or even the little One?

19 Who broke My Novel?

20 Untidy end

21 history in the Novel/The Novel in history

22 Conspiracy theory

Conclusion: The Never-Ending journey

Reading List: Criticism of the Novel


About the author

Books by thomas C. Foster

About the Publisher


Novel Possibilities, or All pets Aren’t Pigs?

WHEN HUCK and JIM space floating south on your raft, where are we? exactly how is it the we deserve to identify with a being as monstrous, literally, as man Gardner’s Grendel? have you ever been Lucy Honeychurch? Leopold Bloom? Humbert Humbert? Tom Jones? Bridget Jones? The novels us read enable us to encounter possible persons, execution of ourself that we would never see, never permit ourselves to become, in areas we can never go and also might not treatment to, when assuring the we get to return house again. In ~ the very same time, the novel holds out its very own possibilities, rigid miracles, and also tricks that are rewards in themselves, seductions for unsuspecting and also even canny readers.

Much the the continuing appeal the the novel lies in its collaborative nature; reader invest themselves in the characters’ stories, becoming proactively involved in the creation of meaning. At the same time, they space rewarded by pleasures that are much more intimate than the essentially vicarious genres of drama and film. That give-and-take in between creator and also audience start in the first line, runs through the critical word, and causes the novel to remain in our minds long after us close the cover.

And that is a actual give-and-take. The novel begs come be review from its opening words, tells us just how it would like to be read, suggests things we might look for. Us readers decide whether fine go with the program, also whether we’ll check out the book or not. Us decide whether we agree v the author about what’s important, we lug our understanding and also imagination come bear top top characters and also events, us involve ourselves not merely in the story but in all aspects of the novel, us collude in the creation of meaning. And also we bring the publication with us and keep that alive, sometimes centuries after ~ the writer himself is dead. Active and engaged reading is critical to the life the the novel and financially rewarding and fulfilling in the life of the reader.

In 1967, the novel was in a bad way, or so that seemed. 2 seminal essays through writers v distressingly comparable names appeared in American publications, fortelling doom and gloom. The French critic and philosopher Roland Barthes released an essay dubbed The fatality of the author in the newspaper Aspen. In that essay, Barthes places the whole responsibility for the building and construction of an interpretation and significance, the is to say the interpretive enterprise, ~ above the reader, the writer (whom that prefers to contact a scriptor) being little more than a conduit v which the accumulated society pours that is texts. Barthes is being much more than a small impish in denying the author the quasi-divine authority he was accorded in previously understandings of literary creation. But what the is chiefly supporting is the role of energetic and creative reading, something around which us will have occasion to talk about throughout the book. Perhaps much more alarmingly, the American novelist man Barth published The literature of fatigue in The Atlantic Monthly, in i m sorry he appeared to many readers to indicate that the novel to be on its deathbed. What that in fact argued was the the novel together we had actually known it to be pretty largely played out, the exhaustion of the essay’s title referring to exhausted possibilities. Fiction, he suggested, to be going to have actually to discover something brand-new to execute in order to reinvigorate itself. There to be a most talk of the fatality of old ways in 1967, a lot of of focus on newness, its signature event being the buildup of outrageous humanity approximately the intersection of Haight and Ashbury streets in mountain Francisco.

What Barth appeared not to recognize (although v him, a many seeming is disingenuous) was that help was on the way. That exact same year, a novel was being released by a writer in Colombia and another was being composed by a writer in England, and they would offer methods forward indigenous the evident impasse. The English novelist man Fowles was creating The French Lieutenant’s Woman, perhaps the an initial major commercial novel come seriously address changes in the landscape of fictional theory. In ~ the beginning of thing 13, he states of his faux-historical novel the it can not be a typical Victorian novel regardless of its outward appearance because of this because i live in the period of Alain Robbe-Grillet and Roland Barthes. Instead, the novel teases readers through Victorian characters and also settings even as it reminds them that it is a fictional, twentieth-century work-related that is merely employing victor conventions because that its own ends. The literature gamesmanship did not damage sales; The French Lieutenant’s mrs was the best-selling novel in America in 1969. The Colombian novel was, that course, Gabriel García Márquez’s One century of Solitude, which would show up in English three years later. The solution it offered was not one of metafictional play yet of the wild eruption that the fabulous amidst the commonplace, what would end up being known as magic realism. These works and writers changed everything, so lot so the Barth returned to The Atlantic in 1979 with an essay dubbed The literature of Replenishment, in which that admitted things had actually changed an ext in a dozen years 보다 he could have foreseen and also that maybe, just maybe, this novel point did have actually a future. The cites García Márquez and also Italo Calvino in specific as reinvigorating the form. So what walk it mean to say that they changed everything? did everyone begin copying what lock did? No, even they no copy what they did. Over there is only one One century of Solitude, and also even García Márquez can’t create a 2nd one. But those novels confirmed possibilities in the form that had not to be tried in quite the same means before, things a writer might do through fiction that would certainly be sufficiently new and amazing to store readers hanging around.

I believe, moreover, that the essays and also the novels in question show something else: the history of the genre. The novel is constantly dying, always running the end of steam, and always being renewed, reinvented. We might say, following the theorist Heraclitus, one cannot action in the exact same novel twice. To stay put is come stagnate. Also those novelists we worth for their sameness—Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Ernest Hemingway—are constantly an altering and growing. Castle move, if just slightly, from one novel to the next; they collection themselves new challenges. Those who stand pat shortly seem stale, flat, and also unprofitable. Together it is through individual writers, so the is v the kind itself. The motion is neither inevitably forward nor backward; progress in matters literary is chiefly one illusion. But movement there is and also movement there have to be. In a genre called novel, readers have actually some ideal to suppose novelty. That’s only fair, no it?

A friend OF MINE, a partner in another discipline, detailed the very slight readjust between the previous book’s title and also this one and asked, So how are novels different from literature? It’s an excellent question, one that the literature priesthood would never ever think come ask yet that lay human being will come increase with appropriate off. Ns was reminded of the old syllogism, all pigs are animals, however not all animals are pigs. We can say about the very same thing in literary terms by substituting novels because that pigs and also literature because that animals. Room all novels literature? We can get part disagreement below from inside and outside the academy. A sizable percentage of literary people want to maintain walls approximately their little corner the heaven, although rarely carry out they concur on whom to wall surface in or wall surface out. Would Jonathan Franzen, because that instance, object to gift lumped in v Jackie Collins? nor am I arguing that the quality of all composing is the same. Over there are far-reaching differences in quality in between novels, as between poems, stories, plays, movies, songs, and also dirty limericks. Ns would, however, suggest that they all belong to the same field of human being endeavor, and we can contact that ar literature. Drawing distinctions comes later. Because that me, over there is creating (in which i would encompass oral develops of entertainment and also instruction, because when they reach me, they’re typically written down), and also writing come in 2 forms, an excellent and bad. Okay, sometimes execrable, which can be a 3rd category yet which ns think we can fold into poor writing an ext generally. All best then, so all novels room literature. All literature, ~ above the other hand, is no novels. We have lyric poetry, epos poetry, city drama, city romance, short story, drama, and whatever those things room that Woody Allen and also David Sedaris are wont come publish in The new Yorker. Among others. That just leaves one question.

Are novels pigs?

There are many elements common come all creates of literature, many sorts the signification we can see whether the writing in inquiry is a poem, play, or novel—pattern making, imagery, figurative language, use of detail, invention, that a long list. There space also, however, elements that are specific to each genre. Our conversation in this book is involved with the particular formal facets of one genre, the novel. I know, i know, those structural components, things prefer chapters—point that view, style, voice, beginnings and endings, and also characterization—seem dull together ditchwater. Lock the groaners in English class, right? Oh, no, not flat and round personalities again. But they don’t need to be that. Since they’re likewise the portals come meaning, the doors and also windows whereby possibilities develop themselves. In selecting this opening and not another, the writer has actually closed off some options but opened up several others. A an approach of revealing personalities both limits and determines what species of personalities can be revealed. The way the story is told, in various other words, is as essential as the story being told.

And how readers will respond. I can’t go as much as Barthes in killing off the author, yet I’m v him ~ above the prestige of the reader. We are the ones, after ~ all, who exist long after the writer (the real, physical being) is in the grave, picking to read the book, deciding if that still has meaning, deciding what it way for us, emotion sympathy or contempt or amusement for its people and their problems. Take just the opened paragraph. If, having actually read that, us decide the publication isn’t precious our time, climate the publication ceases to exist in any meaningful fashion. Someone rather may cause it to live again another day in one more reading, however for now, it’s as dead together Jacob Marley. Who’s together dead together a doornail. Did girlfriend have any kind of idea you held so lot power? yet with an excellent power comes an excellent responsibility. If we readers space going to organize the life and also death of novels in our hands, we need to probably uncover out more about them.


Once top top a Time: A Short, Chaotic, and also Entirely Idiosyncratic history of the Novel

IRIS MURDOCH just WROTE one novel in she lifetime. However she composed it twenty-six times. Anthony citizen never created the same publication twice. And also he wrote around a thousand. Space those characterizations accurate? Fair? Of food not. You will certainly hear native time come time that criticism that Murdoch, and also in fairness, they room pretty similar. The environment-friendly Knight (1993), she last novel before the Alzheimer’s-damaged Jackson’s Dilemma, isn’t every that far from Under the network (1954). Exact same class, very same sorts of problems, same moral preoccupations. Solid characterization and solid plotting. All this was deemed a positive virtue during her lifetime: she fans might count ~ above a new-yet-familiar novel every two to three years. Those novels would always be solid and, once in a while, just like the Booker Prize–winning The Sea, the Sea (1978), they would knock your socks off.

And Burgess? He has his consistencies, as well. But nothing in the beforehand novels have the right to prepare the reader for A Clockwork Orange (1962), i beg your pardon is wildly unequal the Enderby novels of the 1970s, which are formally quite remote from the experimentalism of Napoleon Symphony (1974) or the historic artfulness and Elizabethan language the his novels on Shakespeare, Nothing like the sunlight (1964), and Christopher Marlowe, A Dead guy in Deptford (1993), or the Maugham-like power of what many call his masterpiece, Earthly powers (1980), come say naught of his novels in verse. Where readers the Murdoch can start a brand-new novel v a quiet confidence, opening a Burgess book is an practice in anxiety: what the adversary is he up to this time?

Does that matter, this difference in uniformity? no really. After ~ all, each novel would have both the return audience and its newcomers, for this reason each publication had to teach that readers just how to deal with it, together if because that the very first time, i beg your pardon for some it was.

It constantly is. Every novel is brand-new. It’s never been written prior to in the background of the world. At the very same time, it’s merely the recent in a long line that narratives—not just novels, but narratives generally—since humans started telling story to themselves and each other. This is the basic dialectic of literature history. The impulse to originality clashes through the received legacy of things currently written. Miraculously, neither ever before seems come overwhelm the other, and novels save appearing, as do audiences to check out them. Also so, part novels are more traditional, some more experimental, some difficult to classify.

Let’s go earlier to a time as soon as the novel really was new. Once upon a time, there weren’t any type of novels. There were various other things that were narrative and also lengthy—epics, religious or historic narratives of the tribe, prose or verse romances, nonfictional narratives like travelogues. You know, The Iliad and The Odyssey, The epic of Gilgamesh, the Táin Bó Cuailgne in Ireland, the romances of Chrétien de Troye and Marie de France. Many of candidates out there. Just not novels. Then part things started emerging, sporadically. It might be that the Catalan writer Joanot Martorell’s Tirant lo Blanc, very first published in Valencia in 1490, is the very first European novel we can recognize together such. Keep in mind the date. Columbus hadn’t sailed the sea to discover modernity yet, yet he was about to. The climb of the novel coincides with the rise of the contemporary world—exploration, discovery, invention, development, oppression, industrialization, exploitation, conquest, and also violence—and it is no coincidence. That took more than movable type to do the novel possible; it took a brand-new age. However I digress.

Rightly or wrongly, there are two novels we typically think of as the first—and they’re seventy years apart. In 1678 someone, possibly Madame de La Fayette, published a little novel of profound significance. Its popularity to be such that world lined up in ~ the publishers waiting, periodically for months, for their copies. Take that, bother Potter. The publication is dubbed La Princesse de Clèves, and its chief case to reputation is no as a first novel yet as the very first roman d’analyse, a novel that analysis, a book that investigates emotions and also mental states, pushing well beyond the mere send of plot. Some readers three hundred and some years later on may find the tale a tiny clunky for their tastes, although the clunkiness mostly resides in the surface details, in exactly how persons in the novel speak and address one another and also how the writer handles character presentation. The mores the the novel room not ours, yet they are genuine in themselves, as are the aftermath that flourish out that the dictates of conscience. Because that its time (published in ~ a decade of the Sturm und Drang that is Paradise Lost), the narrative is very subtle performance, and also writers as assorted as woman Austen, Henry James, Gustave Flaubert, and also Anita Brookner couldn’t do what they carry out without it. Mam de La Fayette is just one of the giants the the novel, yet she’s just a kid.

At the yonder finish of the century, 1605 to be exact, a publication came out that really set the civilization on that ear. Here’s what i heard the amazing Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes say in ~ a conference once: \"All of Latin American literature grows out of Don Quixote. No fiction or novels. Literature. All of it. The Hispanic human being gets to insurance claim Miguel de Cervantes and also his masterpiece, the course, however it has to share v the rest of us. The book is just too large for any kind of one team to own. It’s goofy and serious, hilarious and sad, satiric and also original. And also it’s first. Okay, okay, over there are several first\" novels. But this is a big first. Cervantes mirrors everyone else what can be done. That parodies previously narrative forms as his Quixote descends into confusion in between the people of the too-many romances he has actually read and also the dull people life has saddled the with. Cervantes offers an out-of-touch figure locked in some never-never previous to do commentary ~ above the author’s here-and-now. His hero is comic, certainly, but there’s a forlorn high quality there, too, together we clock someone too much gone in fantasy to notice, who gestures, as in his championing the Dulcinea and his tilting at windmills, room both noble and also pathetic, uplifting and also pointless. Once a character provides his surname to an entire class that enterprise, he is really captured our imagination. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza room seared right into the western imagination; they type an archetypal pairing, so lot so that, three and also a fifty percent centuries later, william Hanna and Joseph Barbera could construct a cartoon empire on the formula. Yogi and also Boo Boo, Quick-Draw McGraw and also Baba Louis, Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble room all sports on the clueless nobleman and his long-suffering, committed servant. Currently that’s a legacy. Cervantes takes the old and makes something fully new. More—he claims to various other writers, you deserve to do this too, overlook convention, invent, do it up together you go. And also make it increase he does. Nobody had ever seen noþeles quite choose it before. And also no one has actually since. Everyone tries to measure approximately Cervantes, the course, yet the effort is, well, quixotic.

At that time, of course, and for a variety of years afterward, every novel to be experimental. If a genre there is no been approximately long enough to establish conventions, climate there deserve to be no such thing as a standard specimen. In the so late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, writers of this new type understood that it was new, that it was…novel.

A word or two on literature terms: despair of definitions. What we call a novel would virtually everywhere in non-Anglophone Europe it is in a roman. That term derives from romanz, the universal term for lengthy narratives in verse before the period of print. Words novel, by contrast, originates from the Italian ax novella, meaning new and small. English eliminated the diminutive, stuck with the new part, and also a term to be born. Fictional narratives of book length would concerned be recognized as novels. The ax romance has been kept for a certain sort of fictitious narrative, one that was more stylized, an ext action-driven, more reliant ~ above character varieties than psychologically realistic characters, regularly with improbable actions. Gothic tales, adventure stories, the publications of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Bram Stoker, westerns and also thrillers, and, yes, bodice rippers would all come under the heading the the romance. The distinction remained in better or lesser use for a pair of centuries, yet it was constantly an imprecise science. The Scarlet Letter is pretty plainly a romance, The Portrait the a Lady a novel. But what about Moby Dick? The Adventures the Huckleberry Finn? Bleak House? You watch the problem. Terms are frequently butter knives employed whereby surgical precision is demanded. These days, hardly anyone differentiates between the two. Once was the critical time girlfriend heard someone speak the a Stephen King romance? The difficulty is compounded as soon as romance is instantly associated with Harlequin. So we’ll stick with novel here as our an option for book-length fictions, discovering that it doesn’t mean anything very exact. But it does average something, and we have the right to mostly agree on its broad definition.

But back to the early days. These new novelists did not make up their new kind out of thin air. Over there were created forms, most of them nonfictional, because that prose narrative: prose romances, letters, sermons, confessions, travel narratives, captivity narratives, histories, memoirs. And also the large one, the course, the story or life. Samuel Richardson’s novels room epistolary; the is, they room composed together a collection of letters. His most well known novel is Clarissa (1748), which in ~ something end a million words is a totality bunch of letters. Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719) follows the form of a travel narrative that a castaway—the actual design was Alexander Selkirk—while Moll Flanders (1722) supplies the form of the confession and also the story, really loosely, of mary Carleton. One of the conventions that the confession is the the sinner basks in the glory of she redemption, but Moll’s narrative is much much more energetic, and convincing, about her sins than about her salvation.

The bottom line, for me, is the in the early days that the novel, it was every exciting. Readers couldn’t say, Oh, we’ve seen that before; that’s so old hat. Every novel to be experimental, every foray opened new ground. That might not have been the case, the course, however it’s definitely how that looks indigenous the twenty-first century. Now, the thing about experimentalism is that not all experiments rotate out equally well. One point that would certainly inevitably take place is the novelists would certainly discover, over the food of a century or so, that part narrative frameworks worked better than others, the it was difficult to build compelling, organized, and direct narratives the end of letters, because that instance. Richardson’s epistolary adventures did not collection off a tidal wave of prefer works. Lucky for us.

So what functions best? direct narrative, plots centering around individuals either growing up or comes apart, characters in who readers have the right to invest huge emotional capital, and clear resolutions that give emotional pleasure. In other words, the formula the the victorian novel.

All you need is time.

How lot time? How about as much as two years? these novels (and they encompass most of the british novels the the era) were published monthly, either in magazines or in freestanding installments (you simply walked right into your ar bookstand and also purchased this month’s installment, boxed, the the brand-new William Makepeace Thackeray novel), or weekly, in such papers as Dickens’s Household hints or The Graphic. This latter record was a mix of ours USA Today, The new Yorker, and also People. As soon as Thomas Hardy released his penultimate novel, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, in the at an early stage 1890s, installments appeared each week other than two: the mainly of the Henley-on-Thames rowing regatta and also the week of the marriage of Prince Aribert the Anhalt to Princess Marie Louise the Schleswig-Holstein (you can’t do this ingredient up). Those two editions to be wholly take away up v which famous civilization were there to be seen and detailed explanation of ladies’ gowns, bridesmaids’ dresses, and also the doings of the beautiful people. Some things never change.

Here’s exactly how it worked: every installment would contain a pre-specified number of words, usually 2 chapters of, say, 4 thousand words each. This would certainly go on month after ~ month (or main after week), periodically for as lot as two years, until the last episode to be reached. The last episode would certainly contain double the usual number of chapters, in part because the last chapters were often a issue of pack up many, many loose ends and also were therefore not for sure riveting and also in part to offer readers a reward for patient loyalty.

So what go the serial novel look at like? Chiefly, prefer soap operas (with much less explicit sex). And also for the same factors that soap operas watch the method they do, only slower. Below are the problems of informing a story over time:

maintaining continuity

do information manageable

maintaining audience commitment

Continuity is a large issue in any sort of serial narrative. You need to have consistency, so that personalities act the same means last week and also this. You have to periodically renew readers’ acquaintance with personalities they haven’t checked out for a if or v the occasions to date. Often, installments start with a recap of previous happenings—kind of like elementary school, wherein the first month or two of every loss is spent on critical year’s math.

Information management? Dickens often had scores if not numerous characters—with names—in his triple-decker novels. And months might pass between one appearance and the next for young characters. Just how to store them memorable: it is the problem. Well, you would certainly (if you to be Dickens) provide them weird names, monster quirks, grotesque appearances, goofy catchphrases. Magwitch, Jaggers, Wemmick, miss out on Havisham, Joe Gargery and also Mrs. Joe. And that’s just Great Expectations. Wemmick worries constantly around his old father, who he calls the age P. Miss Havisham wears she fifty-year-old wedding dress and sits among the damages of the never-consumed wedding feast. Think you’re most likely to forget them? In David Copperfield, Mrs. Micawber says, practically every time she appears, i shall never ever leave Mr. Micawber. No one ever, ever asked her to. Therefore why go she to speak it? because that our benefit. We haven’t viewed her due to the fact that March, the June, and also we can forget her amongst the Barkuses and Peggottys. Together if.

Audience loyalty? offer ’em a reason to come back tomorrow, following week, next month. To attain this, the narrative should be plot-heavy; the is, story have to be the driving force, rather than template or form or originality or noþeles else. And the most important element of plot is the uptick in intensity at the end of the episode. In various other words, you leave something big about to happen at the finish of the episode: the cliff-hanger. The most famous example we have is the season-ending question: that shot J.R. ~ above Dallas? Well, the Victorians had their who-shot-J.R. Questions, too. The many famous involves Charles Dickens’s The Old Curiosity Shop, where one episode left that is young heroine, little Nell, desperately ill.

We have actually a desire come divorce art from commerce, come decry the influence of money on movie or that company underwriters ~ above museums, yet the fact of the issue is that many art is influenced to some level by company issues. If it isn’t, choose lyric poetry, it’s because there’s no money to be made. Perhaps that’s another suggest in donate of the lyric.

In any case, the genuine money because that novelists during Victorian days remained in serial publication. First, numerous writers made a the majority of money from the contract v the journals, and also second, the exposure and interest led to better sales as soon as the novel appeared in book form. Now, length and number of installments were a matter of severe business. Writers could expect to make almost everywhere from £50 (that’s pounds sterling for united state Yanks) for a novel through a compare unknown come £10,000 for a occupational by a major author.

And negotiations can be a tricky affair. George Eliot (real name, Mary ann Evans), the many famous author of her day, whose husband (George Henry Lewes) acted as her agent, was offered £10,000 for she novel Romola, to be released in