A Clean Well Lighted Place III
In the lives of many of us there comes about a place that replaces our childhood home. A place that becomes a second spiritual home, closer in some ways than our original home. For writers and perhaps for some readers this can be a fictional place. One thinks of the landscapes of writers like Daphne du Maurier, of Raymond Chandler and Thomas Hardy.
Most people would argue that place is a secondary ingredient in literature, nowhere near as important as character, for example. But character itself is often born out of a sense of place and the character which doesn’t have this location is severely limited.
What most writers do and have done throughout the history of the novel is to merge the physical landscape they know with a fictional one selected from their imagination. At the end of the day whether they call the result an actual or an imaginary place is irrelevant. Because it is always both; it is an attempt to create something new. There are no new places in our world, only new ways of seeing them. And in the world of the novel that distinctive feature is irreplaceable.
Before the industrial revolution there was a sense of individual continuity in the world. The king was in his castle and the poor man at the gate. Almost everyone knew his place in this life and was certain that beyond the vale of tears there was an even better place which was built to last for eternity.
We had religion. We had certainty. We were solidly and spiritually here. Identity was not a question.
But the demands of modern society has robbed us of our innocence, our ignorance, dissolved our certainties. We don’t know who we are any more, or where we are going.
We are adrift now, on a vast and endless ocean. We cast around for something to keep us afloat, knowing somewhere deep down inside, that there are only images and sounds filling the islets, the crevices of landscape we have carved out for ourselves. These are the landscapes in which we have our being, be they imaginary or real, and we populate them with stories about people like ourselves, similarly stranded with joy or grief.
And the strange thing is, these landscapes, these sounds and images, these stories, they are often enough for us. And when they fail to be sufficient, they still give us hope that they will not disappoint us forever.