When characters die, do we really feel grief?

July 17, 2008 § Leave a comment

My blog on the reality of fiction, the fiction of reality, is up on Guardian Unlimited today.

“One of the greatest tragedies of my life,” wrote Oscar Wilde in his 1889 essay The Decay of Lying, “is the death of Lucien de Rubempré. It is a grief from which I have never been able completely to rid myself. It haunts me in my moments of pleasure. I remember it when I laugh.”

Such were remarks Wilde penned not on a flesh and blood acquaintance but on one of Balzac’s most exquisite characters, the fragile poet/arriviste first seen ground up and spat out by the human grinder that is the 19th century Parisian society of Lost Illusions. De Rubempré resurfaces later in the magnificent A Harlot High and Low, only to hang himself with a silk cravat in the dungeons of Paris’s Conciergerie. Leaving aside a fictional destiny of boom and bust that foreshadows, in a sense, Wilde’s own, one could construe his remarks above as typical – an arch, even camp, witticism on nothing more than a book he was fond of…… More here

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