Alex Massie

Death of the Novel & the Birth of the Everlasting Telephone

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From a letter written by the American novelist F. Marion Crawford, on August 23, 1896:

The old fashioned novel is really dead, and nothing can revive it nor make anybody care for it again. What is to follow it?...A clever German who is here suggested to me last night that the literature of the future might turn out to be the daily exchange of ideas of men of genius—over the everlasting telephone of course—published every morning for the whole world....

As Marbury says, that's a pretty good description of the internet, though, of course, access to the everlasting telephone is scarcely restricted to men of genius...

But Crawford - who seems to have been an interesting chap himself -  was wrong. Despite everything and despite it's oft-predicted demise, the novel, in all its many forms, still survives. And, while the literary novel may remain a minority taste, that doesn't mean it's doomed. The human need for story-telling seems likely to endure for some time yet. Indeed, blitzed as we are by the stream of information on the internet, the idea of the novel as a retreat from and alternative to this tumult is obviously appealling. But you have to make time for it. Which means switching off your "phone*" and your laptop...

*Does anyone still use telephones for, you know, talking to people?

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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