Let’s start with a story that has been told before, one that Edith Wharton lifted from the autobiography of Renaissance sculptor Benvenuto Cellini. One day when Cellini was very young, he and his father saw a salamander in the hearth, a rare sighting. The father boxed the boy’s ears to make sure he’d never forget it. From this anecdote Wharton fashions a metaphor for writing fiction: “It is useless to box your reader’s ear unless you have a salamander to show him. If the heart of your little blaze is not animated by a living, moving something no shouting and shaking will fix the anecdote in your reader’s memory. The salamander stands for that fundamental significance that made the story worth telling.”1 To demonstrate that technique can accomplish little in the absence of animating substance, Wharton falls back on a story that offers the unapologetically fierce notion of boxing the reader’s ears. At some risk to both parties. Smarting from the blow, the reader might bleat “What was that for?” when we hoped to evoke an ah! response of astonished recognition.
Swipe to navigate through the chapters of this book
Please log in to get access to this content
To get access to this content you need the following product:
- Story Logic
- Macmillan Education UK
- Sequence number
- Chapter number