Tuesday, February 17, 2015


"There are three rules to writing a novel.
Unfortunately, no one knows what they are." ~
W. Somerset Maugham

Famous Novelists on Symbolism in Their Work and Whether It Was Intentional | Mental Floss

In 1963 an English student wrote to several writers asking if they intentionally used symbolism in their writing. Many responded. I liked many of the answers, including this one from Ray Bradbury: 
Famous Novelists on Symbolism in Their Work and Whether It Was Intentional | Mental Floss: Ray Bradbury: “No, I never consciously place symbolism in my writing. That would be a self-conscious exercise and self-consciousness is defeating to any creative act. Better to let the subconscious do the work for you, and get out of the way. The best symbolism is always unsuspected and natural."
Speaking of the author, her work and symbolic meanings, I'll never forget the enormous hubris of a literature professor I had once, who told us that a particular author (I won't name names) "really" meant such and such. She knew this because, after all, she was the professor. She then went on to tell us that she met the author at a gathering of some kind and told the author what she "really" meant! 

Which brings us to the student's other question concerning the reader's assumption or interpretation of symbolism, and the author's intent. Among responses I like:

Question: “Do readers ever infer that there is symbolism in your writing where you had not intended it to be? If so, what is your feeling about this type of inference? (Humorous? annoying? etc.?)”
Ralph Ellison: “Yes, readers often infer that there is symbolism in my work, which I do not intend. My reaction is sometimes annoyance. It is sometimes humorous. It is sometimes even pleasant, indicating that the reader’s mind has collaborated in a creative way with what I have written.” 
Saul Bellow: “They most certainly do. Symbol-hunting is absurd.”