Maxims and generalisations in modern literary prose

Abstract. While naming research units this paper aims to single them out in two modern novels, to define their significance and to identify the author’s intellectual attitude and stance in the process. Generalisations and maxims have been singled out by the functional contextual method whereby these units were identified in similar or identical contexts, their meaning and implications defined in the co-text and their significance in extralinguistic context. Drawing the implied senses in context, the meaning and the implied sense of maxims and generalisations built up to their significance which determined the author’s intellectual stance and her/his rational imprint in the language of the works. To the degree in which generalisations and maxims exceeded their co-textual sense, they were assumed to imply the author’s rationality, judgment and omniscient and/or philosophical stance. This functional contextual study of maxims and generalisations furthers research into the author’s identity and its imprint in literary text. Key words: generalisations, maxims, co-text, context, extralinguistic context, meaning, sense, significance.

Except for the focus on sententiae in learning the classical languages (cf.: Kuzavinis, 2003, 6-7) and formulaic language in modern methodology (Wray, 2002; Wood, 2010), interest in maxims (short, pithy statements expressing a general truth or rule of conduct) among linguists does not seem to be at its peak at present. The current classical sententiae are well described in dictionaries and the present-day questions concern the accuracy of their original meaning in their modern use (cf.: mens sana in corpore sano; Quem di diligunt, adolescens moritur; quos Deus perdere vult, dementat prius). Maxims from modern languages, which are often quotations from poetry, may be challenged with the same question of accuracy and with the supreme test on the accurate completion of a quotation by the listener/reader (cf.: Can spring be far behind, is just the question for this February day. She thought that this would suit me well in my divorced and outcast state). Maxims in modern prose are far less analysed and they are far less winged.

The problem of this paper is the question what the topical and functional content of maxims and generalisations is and how it reflects the author’s vision and stance in modern literary prose. The author’s views have been assessed on the basis of classical works featuring wit and wisdom by such authors as Baltasar Gracian and François de La Rochefoucauld (Pinsky, 1981; Velickiene, 2017). As literary prose evolved from philosophically and psychologically motivated plots to journalistic writing and to the new novel, the author’s imprint in the text kept changing. Since the question of the author’s verbal identity was posed in phenomenology (Ingarden, 1973; Wales, 1991) and singled out as central in stylistics (Milic, 1969), the author’s imprint in the text has remained an open research question. The present paper aims to take on an aspect of this question.

No works of fiction based on maxims and wit like The Art of Wisdom (Aulicus sive de prudentia civili et maxime aulica) by Baltasar Gracian (2017) or Reflexions (Reflexions ou Sentences et Maximes morales ) by Francois de La Rochefoucauld (2002) can be traced in modern literary prose. The wit of Oscar Wilde in his works such as an essay, Only Dull People Are Brilliant at Breakfast, the novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, or a play, A Woman of No Importance, would probably be the richest specimens of modern literature of the kind.

In its idea and material, the present research has not been orientated toward a discovery of anything in the like of the works of these authors. As researchers of Romance languages indicate (Pinsky, 1981, 517), The Art of Wisdom by Gracian is a collection of aphorisms from three earlier works of this author and variations on them. The witty and sometimes satirical attitude in this work is
“not a device of the author”, the subtleties of which may be too difficult to grasp to the readers of the twenty-first century. This work is rather a ready guidebook to a wise person who may be desiring to win status and become a personality (Pinsky, 1981, 517-533). Gracian is a pragmatic advisor with his deep insights and wisdom implied in his striking thoughts, some of which may be contradictory (Velickiene, 2017). Moreover, readers educated in the cultural tradition of Western Europe recognise time-tested precepts of Western culture in the work of Gracian, as it testifies cross-cultural legacy of Europe.

Reflexions ou sentences et maxims morales by La Rochefoucauld, with which Gracian’s work is often compared, is different. Reflections by Rochefoucauld are also witty observations, but the work of this author is based on a few general postulates from which all others and the author’s wit with satire evolve. It is not a guidebook nor advice that La Rochefoucauld is giving. He tends to disclose “the pretense of civilized culture” (Velickiene, 2017, 10). Gracian assumed and contemplated a contrasting opposition of nature (genium, natura) and culture/reason (ingenium) in the foundation of his conception. La Rochefoucauld had also these concepts in his reasoning but the cultural background of these authors and their ingenium was different. Yet, in the secularised thought of the century, they both were similarly determined to seek the accomplishment of human culture in their endeavours (Velickiene, 2017, 9-11).

The present research was not intended to seek witty sayings and their implications in the study of modern literary prose. The idea was rather to generalise on the contextual sense and significance of maxims and generalisations, and perhaps to draw some conclusions on the consistency of the author’s views, as cumulatively reflected in his works. This aim has been conceivable because generalisations and maxims often exceed the fictitious line of representation in imaginative literature and represent the author instead as an omniscient creator. This aim in view, generalisations and maxims were singled out by the functional-contextual method, their meaning studied and significance defined. The functional contextual method encompasses the analysis of feasible stretches of the text from identical or similar contexts (the beginning, middle and end of the narrative; description, conversation, comment, etc) with the view to single out the unit in focus and to define its meaning, implications and sense in the immediate and broader context. The immediate context is co-text. The broader context is the context of the literary work and the extralinguistic context which includes the author and cultural context. Key terms in this analysis are, context, co-text and extralinguistic context, meaning, sense and significance (cf.: Halliday, Hasan, 1990).

The present paper is based on the analysis of two novels, The Seven Sisters, by Margaret Drabble and Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes. The Seven Sisters was a richer source in total but Flaubert’s Parrot included more maxims proper as its author resorted to quotations from Flaubert in a number of contexts. Yet, as genuine maxims are not very frequent in modern literary prose and they are far less winged than the classical maxims, generalisations (concluding or leading general statements in descriptions and comments) have also been included in the research material. Generalisations which serve as conclusions, motives or reasons in the narrative and which sum up on experience were the plainest. General summaries in the narrative, summaries in good humour and wit, heightened and evaluating generalisations approximated genuine maxims, but these were less numerous than summary statements. Genuine maxims were not many.

The novel The Seven Sisters by Margaret Drabble represents a story of seven English elderly women who, dedicated to their study of Latin and to the reading of Virgil’s Aeneid, set out on a trip to North Africa and Italy in the footsteps Aeneas. A quiet account of the trip, on which they happen even to glimpse into their notes of Latin on one occasion, includes brief stories of the women in the group, a longer characterisation of Valeria, their guide on the Africa’s leg of the trip, with brief allusions and digressions to the classical figures and places related to the classical sights. The narrative does not skip the age of the travelling women with such remarks as “we are no longer young”, she didn’t buy anything as “she has too many things already” along with allusive comments on the centuries that mark the views and sights they visit adding a personal human touch to the story. The Seven Sisters is a classical story of fragmented composition partly in the form of a diary.

Singling out and collecting maxims and generalisations took the reading of the novels twice. These units of research were usually traced at the end of narrative sections in the novel The Seven Sisters. A few were found to begin narrative sections and very few were picked from the middle of the narrative sections. This was a contextual analysis when the meaning of the units in focus was assessed in relation to the co-text and to the text of the whole novel. As meaning had been known to be “function in context”, the analysis was also functional. To count as a maxim, the meaning of the singled out unit had to have a generalised sense over and above its literal and contextual senses. This generalised sense and brevity identified maxims proper and generalisations approximating maxims. It is not all generalisations that were included into the research material. Context-bound generalisations which summed up on a line of the narrative were not included. Consider, for example, the end of the pondering of Sally Hepburn, a fault-finding and prying member of the group of the Virgilians, who wonders at the possible resources of Candida, the narrator and the principal actor, who had actually received a cheque of 120,000 GBP from a firm at which, on her late father’s advice, she started a little pension fund later supplemented with a bonus for her “as a long-term pension-holder” (p.141):

How much money has Candida got? She had described her bonus to Sally as a ‘small windfall’, but that could mean anything, couldn’t it? Had she come into a fortune or won the lottery? The sight of her friend looking so undertrodden is very irritating to Sally Hepburn. It goes against the rules of age and entropy. It is not right. (The Seven Sisters, p.172)

As a conclusion in this narrative, the two underlined sentences were included in the research material because their generalised significance exceeds their narrative co-text and makes them independent units. Although not very pithy semantically, significant for their common sense rather than wit or wisdom, these generalisations can be taken out of the context and used elsewhere. That is why such generalisations have been considered to approximate maxims proper. Only co-textually bound generalisations have not been included into the research material. For example, contemplating the luck in buying lottery tickets, Candida assesses one shop where she thinks she might or might not buy a ticket, and the shop repels her:

It’s the sort of shop that sells deadly wares. Nothing there could do you any good. Would I have to go back there to collect my winnings? Surely not. I must find out how the system works before it’s too late. (The Seven Sisters, p.99)

The closing statement in this paragraph is also a generalization, but this generalization is a concrete statement co-textually bound and significant only in this context. It is not pithy nor does it extend to the general significance of the whole novel and has no generalised significance here or elsewhere which could make it applicable as an isolated unit to any relevant situation outside literature. This generalisation could be a useful formulaic unit in learning English as a foreign language, but it has no generalised significance which would turn it into a succinct or witty saying applicable elsewhere as a piece of wisdom.. Generalisations like this and those of even more concrete co-textually-bound content were not included into the research material. Consider another example of the generalisations left out:

In her room, which is next to Candida’s, Julia Jordan is not wasting time gazing at the view. She is still unpacking her suitcases. This activity reassures her. /…/ Her shadow party-going self glimmers back at her, festively. She continues to arrange her underwear neatly in her drawers. She is a tidy person. She likes her things to be neatly arranged about her. (The Seven Sisters, p. 191)

To be included in the research material, generalisations had to have generalised significance and be succinct and witty or somewhat elevated. To review the material, the collected generalisations will be considered according to the groups into which they have fallen. Like genralisations which were conclusions in the narrative (20 items), summary statements in the narrative were among the most numerous (20 items). Summary statements were also succinct and witty. For example:

(1)Under Andrew’s management, the Trust prospered and the School flourished. Andrew’s father was a lawyer and Andrew has a good legal mind: he saw ingenious ways of attracting new investment and new pupils without breaching old blind Hamilcar Henson’s original intentions. Andrew was very good at marrying philanthropy and money. He and Hamilcar Henson would probably had got on well, had they inhabited the same time-frame. (The Seven Sisters, pp. 16-17)

(2)That’s the ontological argument. …I find it more attractive than the teleological, which argues that we must be going somewhere because everything has a design and a purpose. /…/ I was about to say that human beings are badly designed, but that of course would be to fall into the teleological trap. We weren’t designed for anything. We happened to become. And this pointless but necessary yearning was part of the becoming. (The Seven Sisters, p. 97)

(3)The plane shakes and shudders like a thin tin can, and other bottles of wine tip over on to other trays and… /…/ Candida Wilton quietly resigns herself to death. If it be now, so be it, but she really would have liked to have seen Carthage and Cumae and Naples first. It seems a pity to get so far, and not to arrive. (The Seven Sisters, p. 178)

(4)Bridge is an amusing game, and these women would be right to add it to their repertoire. One can never have too many holds on happiness. Card games are the proper reward of the veterans of old campaigns. Lord Filey had played a tight hand. (The Seven Sisters, p. 186)

(5)I will stay put, says Ida Jerrold to herself. I will ask Cynthia about house prices, for she is sure to know about such things, but whatever it is worth on the market I will not move. What is the market to me? My home is my treasure and it is beyond price. (The Seven Sisters, p.193)

(6)She does not want to spread alarm through her group, or to cast aspersions on the safety of the streets of North Africa, but, really, it is not wise. She assumes they are properly insured, but, even so, she would not risk it herself. It is an invitation to crime. She resolves that she will say something to Julia before they set off for Naples, if she can find the right moment. (The seven Sisters, p.196)

(7)‘I thought that people said the Mediterranean was a dead sea’, says Candida, as they gather their bags for the short stroll back to the minibus. ‘But it’s as pure as the day of creation.’ (The Seven Sisters, p.199)

(8)In bed, lying awake, Candida realizes that the solution to the problem is death. It always has been, and it always will be. There is nothing to be done about this. Even Hegel must have known that. One can accept it, or fail to accept it. Acceptance is the better choice. The readiness is all. And she is certainly not ready to accept it yet. (The Seven Sisters, pp. 209-210)

(9)Even Sally Hepburn, so given to making fuss about nothing, has proved remarkably adaptable and supportive… /…/ …she… provides some interesting anecdotes about a couple of elderly and disreputable friends of the late Francis Bacon whom she knows in Suffolk./…/ They hurl plates and carving knives at one another, and ring up the police and the social services to report one another’s crimes./…/ They like a drama. /…/ They get bored when life is too calm. (The Seven Sisters, p.242)

(10)I am always getting into trouble, but when I do, I can run screaming to Zachary in the IT department and he sorts me out. My mother didn’t have anyone like Zachary. She wasn’t part of an institution. She was all on her own. She didn’t do too badly, for a loner. (The Seven Sisters, p. 264)

Apart from being co-text bound, these summary statements have generalised significance owing to their generalised sense which arises from their brevity and wit or from insightful sharpness (5, 6, and 8), evaluating praise (7, 10) or irony (9). Their generalised sense implies the omniscient author, although this author is quite concrete in this group of summary statements.

Summary statements in good humour and wit (20) have made a separate group as numerous as that of the previous summary statements (20). For example:

(11)I felt like a prisoner, up there in my tower. So I forced myself to go out. It was not easy. It took some courage to go out at all. It is easier to give up. Though that is not easy, either.

I must congratulate myself on my courage, for no one else will. (The Seven Sisters, p.126)

(12)I… made a lot of disturbing noise as I pulled on my little black boots and packed up my training shoes. (Training for what, I sometimes wonder. It’s a bit late for me to train for anything. I laughed when my ‘personal trainer’ asked me what my ‘fitness aims’ were. At my age, you don’t have aims. You run in order to stand still.) (The Seven Sisters, p. 130)

(13)It’s a nice evening tonight. I’ll go for a short walk by the canal, and join the other no-hopers, killing time before time kills them. Killing time on their bicycles, with their fishing umbrellas, with their sad dogs, with their trailing grandchildren. Jogging, loitering, plodding. (The Seven Sisters, p. 140)

In these contexts, the summary statements (11-13) are clearly witty or humorous and relevant co-textually and extra contextually. Their humour depends on the apt choice of the words and arises from the contrasts, which gives them their generalised significance and pinpoints the humour. These witty summary statements can function individually because of their generalised significance. They approximate maxims proper the closest and indicate the omniscient author.

This group of summary statements in good humour and wit includes summary statements based on proverbial idioms or their periphrasis. For example:

(14)Mrs Barclay rightly expressed astonishment at this revelation of Julia’s classical leanings, but she was too excited by the idea of meeting her heroine to cross-question me further about this matter. And Anaȉs and Mrs Jerrold seemed happy to go along with us. The more the merrier, said Anaȉs, lying back and smoking a thin brown cigarette amongst the opulent cushions,…(The Seven Sisters, p. 149)

(15)Tours with a Difference, …. The terms per person would be reduced, said Cynthia, if we were to make up a party of six plus driver, instead of five. So by all means invite your frightful friend Sally, they urged me merrily. We were all in reckless mood. In for a penny, in for a pound. I have offered to pay for the driver and the minibus. (The Seven Sisters, p.156)

(16)Or Valeria could drive them up to the pines and eucalyptus and orange trees of the Belvedere Park, or around the lagoon or the bay? She is at their disposal, she assures them, and their wish is her command. (The Seven Sisters, p. 181)

Although the speakers of these proverbial sayings is different in every case, they all indicate the common sense or courtesy of the speaker. As these proverbial idioms are very well known, these summary statements are not more impressive than the initial group of generalisations in good humour and wit illustrated above. Their effectiveness is in their brevity in the quoted contexts in the novel. From the point of view of their meaning and sense, it is the initial group of summary statements in good humour and wit (see Nos. 11-13) that approximates maxims proper rather than these proverbial idioms.

Conclusions in the narrative (20) are generalisations rather than maxims. They are less focused, some are a little longer and not so witty. For example:

(17)She never sweated much at school. Most adolescent girls sweat profusely, but Julia was cool and dry. I used to sweat a lot. I too am dry now. I have dried out. It is a great relief to me. Age has its delicacy. (The Seven Sisters, p. 34)

(18)She never stops talking. How she ever manages to elicit any information from her clients – her victims, I call them – God alone knows. Yet she does. And she elicits information from me too. Because every now and then I have to break in, to stop the remorseless flow of gossip and ignorant opinion and innuendo. That’s how she tricks me into confessions… The reverse of the psychoanalytic approach – not silence, but a battery of words. People tell her their secrets in order to shut her up. (The Seven Sisters, p. 40)

(19)My daughter Isobel, my haughty first-born, thinks that I drove Andrew into adultery and into the arms of the wounded Anthea. In her eyes, her father can do no wrong and I can do no right. (The Seven Sisters, p. 48)

(20)I intended to buy myself some new crockery, when I settled down and found out what I needed. If ever I were to need anything more. I felt a relief in being so reduced. We accumulate too many objects, as we grow older. I had some hope that by stripping most of mine away, I might enter a new dimension. As a nun enters a convent in search of her god, so I entered my solitude. I felt no fear, and I felt no hope. (The Seven Sisters, p. 54)

All these conclusions in the narrative are co-textually bound, yet (17) is significant for its general sense and brevity, (18 and 19) are witty owing to a contrast in their structure, and (20) has generalised significance owing to a comparison in it and to its additional contrast. Conclusions in the narrative (17-20) are significant as individual units and all approximate maxims. Despite their concrete co-textual sense, they imply the omniscient author by their generalised significance.

Some conclusions in the narrative are similar to asides and so quite sharp. For example:

(21)Suddenly my thin life is thick. It has filled up. Sally has been to lunch, and I have survived her visit. And Julia Jordan is coming to see me next week when she is in London. My social life is almost too busy. Activity attracts activity. (The Seven Sisters, p. 63)

(22)I didn’t want her thinking I spent all my life drinking either. So I made a bit of a fuss about opening the bottle and not being able to find a corkscrew and told her I never usually drink at lunchtime. And that’s true. I don’t drink at lunchtime. I don’t know if my performance was convincing or not. It wasn’t a performance, as I was telling the truth, but she made me feel as though it was a performance. (The Seven Sisters, p.64)

(23)I am not the kind of person to have close friends who pop in, but I think I wish I were that kind of person, and the illusion of being it is better than nothing. (The Seven Sisters, p. 66)

(24)I could tell that Sally thought this was a very kind proposal, and one that would suit me well in my divorced and outcast state. I am supposed to be humbled, and grateful now for any overture. (The Seven Sisters, p. 69)

(25)I don’t much like the word ‘nibbles’. It reduces us to mice or hamsters. Sally seems very fond of it. Once Sally gets hold of a word, she does it to death. That day it was all gigolos and nibbles. (The Seven Sisters, p. 70)

Conclusions in the narrative which are similar to asides (21-25) are no less co-textual than the previous group (17-20), but their general significance is vaguer. Only (21 or partly perhaps 23) are independent because of their general sense. Conclusions (22, 24, and 25) are only co-textually significant. This group of conclusions in the narrative (21-25) are generalisations rather than maxims, yet, owing to the insightful observations, they imply the omniscient author.

Although not compositionally marked, evaluating generalisations were more prosaic yet incisive in the contexts of The Seven Sisters. For example:

(26)Indoors, in the Club, it’s another world. It’s all lightness and brightness and politeness. Hello, they say, using my name. Sometimes it’s the only time I hear my name all day, the only time I speak to another person all day. I know they know my name only because it’s written on my Club Pass, which they have to swipe every time I go in, but hearing it does remind me of who I am. It reminds me that I have a name. (The Seven Sisters, p. 22)

(27)I can’t get used to all these nationalities. In Suffolk, we were all very white. We had some coloured people at the School, because all schools with very high fees take coloured people now, particularly schools like Andrew’s that can dress exploitation up as multicultural philanthropy. (The Seven Sisters, p. 23)

(28)We were easily shocked, in those days. ‘Juicy Julia’ we called her, with admiration. How ugly and inappropriate schoolgirl slang is. I’m sure girls don’t call one another ‘juicy’ now. I don’t think it is a word my daughters have ever used. (The Seven Sisters, p.25)

(29)Julia was proud and unperturbed. She dispensed rationed portions of her story night after night, in the dormitory. /…/ Even Janet Milgram listened, although she was by now a prospective head girl and ought to have tried to stop us. We were sick and green with curiosity. If Julia had asked us to pay to listen to her, we would have paid. We curried favour, and hung around, waiting for more crumbs. We had never known anyone our own age who wasn’t a virgin. (The Seven Sisters, p. 27)

(30)Sally has a maddening habit of assuming that I share all her problems and weaknesses. She is two years younger than me, yet she seems to go ahead, like a spectre with a corpse lantern, lighting the way to the tomb. Things can only get worse, says Sally. The hair on the face, the stress incontinence, the pelvic slack, the arthritic joints, the sagging boobs. (I hate the word, ‘boobs’, and I could hardly bring myself to write it down, but it is a word she uses quite often, though I can’t at the moment think why she needs to introduce it into our conversations.) (The Seven Sisters, p. 39)

(31)There are many unpleasant incidents on Ladbroke Grove, ….This one involved an elderly white man vomiting into the gutter by the bus stop. She didn’t describe it very well, as vivid narration is not her forte, but I got the picture. (The Seven Sisters, p. 65)

(32)I sighed and sympathized, but in truth I was shocked, as I have been shocked over the years, by the lack of anything like normal human affection in her relations with men. They used her, but surely she also used them? I find Julia confusing. And of course I am myself confused, because I am no longer fond of Andrew, nor do I feel as much affection as I should for my three daughters, so I am as bad as she is. If bad it be. I do think I think it is bad, but she doesn’t seem to have a sense of good and bad. And maybe there is no good or bad. It was all indoctrination. (The Seven Sisters, pp. 92-93)

(33)It is Mrs Jerrold who speaks out, and this time in no sibylline tone. /…/ I know what I’m talking about, says Mrs Jerrold. I lost touch with my only daughter for nearly twenty years. Through a stupid misunderstanding. It’s just not worth it, says Mrs Jerrold. Life’s too short. (The Seven Sisters, p. 238)

(34)Has Mr Barclay made a will, and if so, has he left anything to Cynthia? They do not speak of this, for they are nice ladies. Some of them do not even think of it. (The Seven Sisters, p. 234)

(35)I never got any flowers from her. She was right about fucking credit-card fucking international flora, they hadn’t bloody delivered, had they. /…/ Maybe I’ll prosecute them. And then gain, may be I won’t bother. As the fabulous Mrs Jerrold said, life’s too short. (The Seven Sisters, p. 253)

As, except for (32, 33, 35), evaluating generalisations express plain subjective opinions, they imply a female author and have no other co-textual or extracontextual significance. Their expressiveness is limited to the insightful pinpointing of the details like in (26, 27, 31, 32, and 34). Except for the simplest ancient drop of wisdom in (33) and (35) and a deliberation in (32), evaluating generalisations are nowhere near maxims.

Heightened or elevated generalisations were few (8), but they were based on elevated concepts and superior creatures. For example:

(36)The mistletoe, like the ghost orchid, is magical, although it is not rare. It does not grow from the ground. It takes its green blood from a strange host. It is a humble plant with a mystic glamour. /…/ The doves of Venus perched upon the mistletoe. It is the Golden Bough that leads us safely to the Underworld. These strange plants are plants, and no plants, and they live between the species. They are life, and they are death. I never live nor die. (The Seven Sisters, p. 125)

(37)I pored over my Virgil, over Goethe’s Italian Journey (I have the Auden translation), over a little school textbook called The Voyages of Aeneas. Outdoors, the rain dripped down the brickwork with its crusted city tears of salt and nitrate and lime and droppings: inside, I warmed myself in the glow of the bright horizons of the future. (The Seven Sisters, p. 143)

(38)The letter arrived on a Tuesday morning, like a bolt from the blue. Jove’s thunderbolt. The gods play games with us, but at least this game is an amusing one. At least it begins well. Maybe I am after all a favoured daughter.

The letter told me that I had come into some money. (The Seven Sisters, p. 146)

(39)I am not inhuman. I do not wish to cut myself off utterly from my family. It is simply that I feel a need to redefine what my relationship to my family should be, in these latter days, in these survival days, after biology has done its best and worst. I think that Andrew sounded relieved to have a contact number, but I may have been imagining that. He has done me such wrong that I don’t know how to read him, how to speak of him, how to remember him, how to think of him any more. He is like a great blank in my memory. He is like a hole cut in my side. (The Seven Sisters, p. 160)

(40)This road is clearly going in the right direction, so Valeria settles down at the wheel. It is an interesting though not a conventionally scenic route. /…/ There is a pleasantly sulphurous stink, which reassures them that they are on the right way. They seem to be travelling beneath a huge forgotten giant, hundreds of feet tall, reaching its pitiful empty arms up into the sky, its bald blind nub of a head staring sightlessly up at Vesuvius. Its arms are swathed in grey fabric that flaps in the morning light. It is a monster, but it is a tame monster. It lets them pass. (The Seven Sisters, pp. 223-224)

(41)… his description of arriving in Naples from Africa was as good as Goethe’s. And she likes it when he says that the African moon will rise within him for ever, and that each pale and muted Northern moonrise will recall it to him. ‘I am myself the moonrise of the South,’ he wrote. In Swiss-German, presumably. (The Seven Sisters, p. 299)

Heightened or elevated generalisations (36-41) are based on metaphors and metonymies (36, 37, 38, 39, and 41), simile (39) and contrasts (36, 40). Therefore these generalisations are not neutral; they express emotional attitudes to the objects and subjects mentioned. Their poetic implications relate them to maxims.

Observations of the superior (5) were similarly heightened, if only tending to humour. For example:

(42)There wasn’t much scope for sex at school, as we were closely supervised during term time. Our parents paid good money for that supervision. Those formal school dances came but twice a year, … . Serious impropriety at these time-honoured, public and carefully orchestrated events was almost unthinkable. We were all very well brought up. All our sex was in the head and in the pages of our diaries, and even there it was heavily monitored and edited. (The Seven Sisters, p. 26)

(43)This was before the days of the Lady Chatterley trial and even of the exotic revelations of Lawrence Durrell. We all read The Rainbow and Sons and Lovers, of course. But they were so high-minded that they didn’t count as naughty. We were allowed to read them because they were English Literature. Our school, though prim, was not wholly unenlightened. (The Seven Sisters, p. 28)

(44)If I’d risked another hundred yards or two in the downpour I could have reached my Health Club and civilization. They do a good coffee in the Health Club. They know who I am in my Health Club, or at least they pretend to know who I am. They read my name off my swipe card and then wish me a good evening. It’s a world away from the Frog and Firkin. I wonder if there are any Health Club members who also frequent the Frog and Firkin? (The Seven Sisters, p. 78)

(45)Naples, Amalfi, Sorrento. In and out of fashion they drift, over the centuries, over the millennia. Baia, Posillippo, Cumae, Avernus. The wheel of fortune has turned once more and the time of Naples has returned again, says Julia. (The Seven Sisters, p. 91)

(46)Mum could have lived another thirty years. Grandma Pratt is still alive, though she hasn’t got much to show for it. I don’t think she knows Mum is dead. Somebody has probably told her, in that nice kind way that people have, but if so, it wasn’t me. I think she is past taking things in. She sits there waiting for her God to call her home. I think her God never even noticed that she existed. (The Seven Sisters, p. 253)

Observations of the superior (42-46) are lively generalisations with a distinct sense of humour. But most of them (42, 43, 44) are too long or too mundane (42, 43, 46) to identify as maxims. (45), though, includes a classical maxim but does not carry it off. It ends on a simple, practical note.

Generalisations on experience (11 in total) have been succinct and pithy in Margaret Drabble’s novel, and some of them were accompanied by comments. For example:

(47)Julia will be here in an hour. I hope I look presentable. I wonder what she looks like, these days? I can’t remember when I last saw her. But I think I’ve remembered the name of that French perfume she gave me all those years ago. /…/ I wonder if she remembers that gift as well as I do. We didn’t have so many things in those days. There weren’t so many things to have. There was more to look forward to, but less to possess. It’s the other way round now. (The Seven Sisters, pp. 85-86)

(48)Poor girl. I’m glad I spoke to her. I hope she isn’t really ill. Maybe it’s all in my imagination, and she’s just had a row with her boyfriend. Rows can hurt, but they don’t kill you.

We are surrounded by these miseries. London is suffused with grief.

There can be luxury in grief. Sometimes I remember those great tides of self-pity that used to wash over me when I was a girl. (The Seven Sisters, p. 132)

(49)Cynthia has so much energy. She looks after Mr Barclay, and the AIDS people, and she is learning mathematics. My life is so useless. I am redundant. Life has made me redundant. I am retired from it, though I have never had a job from which to retire. (The Seven Sisters, p. 133)

(50)Anaȉs seemed very keen on the idea of contacting Cynthia Barclay and Mrs Jerrold. Why not? What fun! What an adventure! / ( I did not at this stage mention Julia Jordan.)

Well, why not? Sudden money makes one reckless. I had nothing to lose. I rang Cynthia and Mrs Jerrold, and I propositioned them.

Did I think at this stage that we would ever set off anywhere? I really don’t know. But all projects begin somewhere, and mine had begun, and it was gathering its own momentum. (The Seven Sisters, pp. 144-145)

(51)Maybe I wanted to patronize her. She has always thought she was patronizing me. I wanted to turn the tables. To make her eat at my table.

Or did I want to be kind? That seems unlikely. The human heart is black, so kindness cannot have been the explanation of my deeds.

I have no idea how it will work out, but for better or for worse, I knew at that point that I would have to contact not only Julia but also Sally Hepburn. (The Seven Sisters, p. 151)

(52)Nothing could have been more respectfully rapturous than her welcoming to Julia, nothing more flattering than the ardour with which she offered her a bowl of cashew nuts… . Julia loves flattery. All writers love flattery, I believe, and Julia loves it more than most, because she doesn’t get enough of it. (The Seven Sisters, p. 152)

(53)We have arranged to meet at Stansted, … . We all have our own tickets, in case we get lost or are late, but Cynthia has the Master Plan… . She has organized us all brilliantly. The others still have not met Sally Hepburn. I know I ought to feel nervous about this, but I don’t. I feel quite irresponsible about it. People of our age ought to be able to look after ourselves. (The Seven Sisters, p. 160)

Generalisations on experience (47-53) are witty, yet too long to approximate maxims. Except for (50), which can be identified as a maxim, the other generalisations on experience are lively descriptions of the author whose keen eye implies an observant but not an omniscient person.

What have been called maxims proper in the novel The Seven Sisters were very succinct sayings reminiscent of quotations or translated quotations, quotations in the original languages and allusions. For example:

(54)She resolved the situation by suggesting that they all three repair to the bedroom together. Which they did. It was an erotic scene. Erotic, but not sensual.

Come to think of it, maybe that scene is still risqué, though in a different way. Lesbianism and troilism are just fine, but students and lecturers aren’t supposed to have any kind of physical contact at all these days, are they? Autres temps, autres moeurs.

I don’t think Julia was or is very sensual, although she’s so interested in sex. (The Seven Sisters, p. 34)

(55)She (Sally) is solid, and she has a vast spreading bosom. Is she really a suitable shape for a social worker? Many of her clients are overweight, and perhaps her heaviness and shapelessness make them feel at home with her. Is to be fat to be trustworthy? Somebody in classical antiquity thought so – was it Julius Caesar? I think it was, but I can’t be bothered to check. Though I did bring my old school Shakespeare with me, to London. Anyway, I don’t agree with Julius Caesar. I think fat people tend to be very manipulative. (The Seven Sisters, p. 39)

(56)I moved out of my husband’s bed and said that I preferred to sleep alone. I made the excuse that this was because I sleep so badly. Exsomnis noctesque diesque. It is true that I slept badly. I still sleep badly. Things got worse when I stopped taking Hormone Replacement Therapy. (The Seven Sisters, .p.74)

(57)Julia is coming to see me next week. She rang to fix the date. Julia is a wicked woman. I am a wicked woman. Her sins are of commission, mine of omission. Both are grave. (The Seven Sisters, p. 77)

(58)Tomorrow we leave. /…/

I have just reread the whole of this diary. I am not proud of it. What a mean, self-righteous, self-pitying voice is mine. Shall I learn to speak in other tongues when I leave these shores? Do I still have it in me to find some happiness? Health, wealth and the pursuit of happiness. The new declaration of our human rights.(The Seven Sisters, pp. 160-161)

(59)That magical land awaits them now. Its dunes and its citrus and its oils and its jasmine await them. Their as yet unknown guide Valeria awaits them faithfully like a tall sentinel on the far shore. Queen Dido gazes from her battlements across the centuries for their approach, for she knows that they remember her. Remember me, she cried, and, against so many odds, through so much forgetfulness, through the death of so many empires, they do remember her. They keep their tryst. (The Seven Sisters, pp. 167-168)

(60)Onwards and upwards, nach Cuma, nach Cuma. She has left her earthly attachments far behind and is sailing into the future. It lies before her like a cloth of dreams. All shall be made plain at last, in this bright new light. (The Seven Sisters, pp. 178-179)

(61)Mrs Jerrold, however, does not wish to do Book Six and the Underworld yet. They should save that for its proper place in Naples. She thinks they should look at a few lines from Book Four - … - which describes Mercury’s visit to Aeneas in the new city of Carthage. Aeneas, gloriously robed in a rich cloak of purple /…/, is busy laying the foundations of the citadel when Mercury descends upon him and tells him to remember his destiny as founder of Rome and Italy. Aeneas must not idle around here in the luxurious oriental land of Libya. He is chosen for a higher state. (The Seven Sisters, p. 183)

(62)He is suddenly recalled (…) to a recollection of his greater duties, and … /…/. Unlike Mark Antony, he will obey his destiny and sacrifice love for glory. He will become one of the greatest betrayers of history, and Dido one of the greatly betrayed. The group knows this story well… (The Seven Sisters, p. 183)

(63)Patiently, Mrs Jerrold pursues the meaning and teases out the golden thread, and suddenly, for a moment, they have it. Heu regni rerumque oblite tuarum! ‘Alas, you, of your kingdoms and fortunes forgetful!’ Yes, the words fall into place, connect, and glow into transitory meaning. The students smile at one another, triumphant. (The Seven Sisters, p. 184)

(64)‘We can’t pretend that we are young, any more’, pursues Julia. ‘So what are we, after all?’

Youth is not everything,’ says Candida, sententiously.

‘So what is the point of us?’ insists Julia.

A long silence ensues, broken by a triumphant cry from Cynthia, and a ‘Well done! That’s the spirit!’ from Mrs Jerrold. (The Seven Sisters, p. 206)

(65)Goethe had said, somewhere that the only proper (or was it possible?) response to greater genius is love. Maybe he hadn’t lived up to this precept, but he had been right to formulate it. Mrs Jerrold had never found the original location of this saying, but it had been often on Eugene’s lips. (The Seven Sisters, p. 213)

(66)Valeria and Anaȉs are both too big for their beds. Their feet stick out. As Candida finally begins to doze, …, she remembers Julia’s contempt for those who make of marriage a Procrustean bed, and chop off their limbs to fit into it more neatly. They make marriage, said Julia, into a bed of blood. Instead, said Julia, of buying a new and bigger bed, or getting a different husband. / It had been easy enough to find a new husband, in those early days. And Anna Palumbo is young yet.

Infelix thalamus. Unhappy bed. (The Seven Sisters, p. 221)

(67)Candida and Anna fit neatly and trimly into their shipshape bunks, but those two big women below overflow and protrude. Nevertheless, they sleep soundly, as they make their slow way /…/ across the sea to Italy. They sleep as soundly as Palinurus, charmed by a vengeful god. Only Candida keeps the night watch, and even she dozes fitfully. (The Seven Sisters, p. 221)

In accord with the definition, maxims proper (54-67) from the novel The Seven Sisters by Margaret Drabble are short pithy statements which express a general truth (54, 56, 57, 58, 64, 65, and 66) or a rule of conduct (55, 59, 61, 62, and 63). The allusion to a Procrustean bed (66) is paraphrased and extended into a statement of a practical problem of marriage. Only an allusion to Yeats’s poem He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven (60) and another to Aeneas’s helmsman Palinurus (67) are exact. They extend the meaning of the indicated lines. Allusions are not simple maxims. Their significance depends on the reader’s familiarity with the meaning of the original source. Their appeal derives from the affinity that the reader perceives between the original meaning and that of the modern context. Allusions are not about the rules of conduct and even their truth value is only implied and depends on the reader’s broader knowledge. Yet maxims proper listed in this section are enriched by the statements based on allusions.

As the reviewed material indicates, maxims proper are few in the novel, The Seven Sisters, by Margaret Drabble. Witty and poetic generalisations are more numerous. But the compositional, statistical and functional account of maxims and generalisations the way it has been done above does not reflect their significance in the novel under analysis nor their human significance to the readers. Apart from their co-textual and contextual significance, which is perceivable in the extensive quotations above, maxims and generalisations in modern literary prose are indicative of the author’s philosophy and moral stance. This can be deduced assuming that maxims and generalisations appear like statements of an omniscient author, which is true of summary statements, summary statements in good humour and wit, conclusions in the narrative, heightened or elevated generalisations, observations of the superior and maxims proper. These units extend the context and sense of concrete quotations because they are not mere replicas of the actants or fragmented comments. They are integrated into the scenes quoted but they exceed the contextual line of an argument or a description. The author’s voice pinpoints the wisdom of every situation or its issue. This is the conducting author who speaks in generalisations and maxims even when the words literally are ascribed to one of the actants.

The author assumes a superior’s voice almost in every of the enumerated quotations. The generalisations and maxims continuously issue from the judging or the omniscient mind, and there is consecutiveness and consistency in this authorial vision in the novel under analysis. Except for evaluating generalisations and most generalisations on experience, wise and sensitive speaker is indicated in most of the generalisations, especially in those summarizing and concluding the narrative.

The content of maxims and generalisations in the novel The Seven Sisters by Margaret Drabble sums up as observations on life situations, on human habits and character. Some of these observations have a philosophical shade in summary statements (2, 3, 4, 7, 8) as do some summary statements in good humour and wit (12, 13), conclusions in the narrative (19, 20, 21, 23, 24), evaluating generalisations (30, 32, 33), heightened and elevated generalisations (36, 38, 39), observations of the superior (45, 46) and even some generalisations on experience (51). Strangely, only some maxims proper have a shade of philosophical thought (54, 57, 58, 59, 60, 62, 63, 64, and 65). Philosophical thoughts in these generalisations and maxims concern living, becoming and behaving, making choices and contemplating happiness, dreams, fortune, perceiving fleeting time, life and death and limitations of age, awareness and forgetfulness, love and possession and other minor points. These philosophical thoughts are limited to the indicated generalisations and are not amplified. But they are supported by Margaret Drabble’s views on human age, woman’s consciousness of it and its limitations. They are also supported by thoughts on woman’s awareness of the environment, her sensitivity to other person’s emotions and feelings, woman’s self-consciousness and self-criticism and the broadness of her mind. Interestingly, a few of the generalisations are based on allusions to the poets – Shakespeare (24) and Yeats (60) and even to Vergil (63). These allusions are subtly executed through single words and one longer quotation; they are apt and extend the meaning of respective maxims.

Although the novel The Seven Sisters includes no continuous philosophical contemplation, it is a very satisfying work which has a sensitive author nobly deliberating man’s life and behaviour aside from modern chaos and cruelty. These observations on Margaret Drabble’s thoughts have been deduced from generalisations and maxims extracted from the novel. This shows that maxims and generalisations are a rich resource indicating the author’s mind, especially when generalistions appear in a classically composed literary narrative. The present deduction on the author’s mind is a grounded conclusion because a certain consecutiveness has been traced in Margaret Drabble’s generalisations and maxims. It permits to generalise on the author’s mind as her generalisations exceed the literal sense of the words, the frame of character creation and represent an omniscient author.

Even more omniscience and philosophical thought have been found in maxims and generalizations in the novel Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes. It is a biographical novel based on the assumption that man’s life cannot be presented as a complete consecutive tale. The life that is gone is credible only in more or less authenticated fragments. Flaubert’s Parrot, therefore, gives glimpses of Flaubert’s personal life and, especially, of his writing while the narrator carries out his search of the parrot which supposedly sat on Flaubert’s desk when his best works were written and which is the property of one museum. In the museum, it appears that there were more than one parrot and that finally it is impossible to identify the one which graced Flaubert’s desk. This intriguing story with a planned frustration at the end gives insights into the writer’s mind and behaviour through quotations, as well as the author’s own views on writing, literature, man and woman and their relations. There are paragraphs which are intensely philosophical, ironic or confusing. The narrative is composed so that maxims and generlisations appear in groups. Some functional groups of maxims and generalisations have been the same as in Margaret Drabble’s novel. For example, summary statements in the narrative have been several (12) in Julian Barnes work. For example:

(68)I don’t think I’m being enigmatic, by the way. If I’m irritating, it’s probably because I’m embarrassed; I told you I don’t like the full face. But I really am trying to make things easier for you. Mystification is simple; clarity is the hardest thing of all. Not writing a tune is easier than writing one. Not rhyming is easier than rhyming. I don’t mean art should be as clear as the instructions on a packet of seeds; I’m saying that you trust the mystifier more if you know he’s deliberately choosing to be lucid. You trust Picasso all the way because he could draw like Ingres. (Flaubert’s Parrot, p.116)

(69)But what helps? What do we need to know? Not everything. Everything confuses. Directness also confuses. The full-face portrait staring back at you hypnotizes. Flaubert is usually looking away in his portraits and photographs. He’s looking away so that you can’t catch his eye; he’s also looking away because what he can see over your shoulder is more interesting than your shoulder.

Directness confuses. (Flaubert’s Parrot, p. 116)

(70)Do the books that writers don’t write matter? It’s easy to forget them, to assume that the apocryphal bibliography must contain nothing but bad ideas, justly abandoned projects, embarrassing first thoughts. It needn’t be so: first thoughts are often best, cheeringly rehabilitated by third thoughts after they’ve been loured at by seconds. Besides, an idea isn’t always abandoned because it fails some quality control test. The imagination doesn’t crop annually like a reliable fruit tree. The writer has to gather whatever’s there: sometimes too much, sometimes too little, sometimes nothing at all. And in the years of glut there is always a slatted wooden tray in some cool, dark attic, which the writer nervously visits from time to time… (Flaubert’s Parrot, p. 133)

(71)And besides I haven’t finished with the question of patriotism. May I instruct you briefly on the nature of the novelist? What is the easiest, the most comfortable thing for a writer to do? To congratulate the society in which he lives: to admire its biceps, applaud its progress, tease it endearingly about its follies. ‘I am as much a Chinaman as a Frenchman’, Flaubert declared. Not, that is, more of a Chinaman: had been born in Peking, no doubt he would have disappointed patriots there too. The greatest patriotism is to tell your country when it is behaving dishonourably, foolishly, viciously. The writer must be universal in sympathy and an outcast by nature: only then can he see clearly. (Flaubert’s Parrot, pp. 153-154)

(72) ‘You can depict wine, love, women and glory on the condition that you’re not a drunkard, a lover, a husband or a private in the ranks. If you participate in life, you don’t see it clearly: you suffer from it too much or enjoy it too much.’This isn’t a reply of the guilty, it’s a complaint that the charge is wrongly phrased. (Flaubert’s Parrot, p. 154)

(73) Three points need to be made. One is that the writer chooses – as far as he can the extent of what you call his involvement in life: despite his reputation, Flaubert occupied half-and-half position. ‘It isn’t the drunkard who writes the drinking song’: he knew that. On the other hand, it isn’t the teetotaler either. He put it best, perhaps, when he said that the writer must wade into life as into the sea, but only up to the navel.

Secondly, when readers complain about the lives of writers – why didn’t he do this; why didn’t he protest to… /…/ - aren’t they really asking a simpler, and vainer question: why isn’t he more like us? But if a writer were more like a reader, he’d be a reader, not a writer: it’s as uncomplicated as that. (Flaubert’s Parrot, p. 155)

The themes of summary statements in the narrative differ in every case in Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes. The themes concern writing and related phenomena (ideas and writing, participation in life and writing, the writer’s commitment, writer and reader, etc), patriotism and others. All summary statements imply the mind behind them with a very firm and powerful grasp of the phenomena. The summary statements are brief and compelling, their logic is clear and leaves no room for a challenge but acceptance. Summary statements in Julian Barnes’ novel are close to genuine maxims and the weight of experience in them excludes the sense of playfulness from them.

Generalisations in the form of a definition have been most numerous (20) in the novel Flaubert’s Parrot. For example:

(74)One way of legitimizing coincidences, of course, is to call them ironies. That’s what smart people do. Irony is, after all, the modern mode, a drinking companion for resonance and wit. Who could be against it? And yet sometimes I wonder if the wittiest, most resonant irony isn’t just a well-brushed, well-educated coincidence. (Flaubert’s Parrot, p. 71)

(75)This demand for authorial absence ran deeper still. Some writers ostensibly agree with the principle, yet sneak in at the back door and cosh the reader with a highly personal style. /…/ Flaubert is different. He believed in style; more than anyone. He worked doggedly for beauty, sonority, exactness; perfection – but never the monogrammed perfection of a writer like Wilde. Style is a function of theme. Style is not imposed on subject-matter, but arises from it. Style is truth of thought. The correct word, the true phrase, the perfect sentence are always ‘out there’ somewhere; the writer’s task is to locate them by whatever means he can. (Flaubert’s Parrot, p. 97)

(76)How can we know such trivial, crucial details? We can study files for decades, but every so often we are tempted to throw up our hands and declare that history is merely another literary genre: the past is autobiographical fiction pretending to be a parliamentary report. (Flaubert’s Parrot, [p. 101)

(77)I could play the Mauriac game, perhaps. Tell you how I brought myself upon Wells, Huxley and Shaw; how I prefer George Elio and even Thackeray to Dickens; how… /…/ the younger fellows? Today’s fellows? Well, they each seem to do one thing well enough, but fail to realise that literature depends on doing several things well at the same time. I could go on at great length on all these topics;… . (Flaubert’s Parrot, pp. 109-110)

(78)Nature is always a mixture of genres; … literature is not a pharmacopoeia;… (Flaubert’s Parrot, p. 157)

(79)The work of art is pyramid which stands in the desert, uselessly: jackals piss at the base of it, and bourgeois clamber to the top of it; continue the comparison. Do you want art to be a healer? Send for the AMBULANCE GEORGE SAND. Do you want art to tell the truth? Send for the AMBULANCE FLAUBERT: though don’t be surprised, when it arrives, if it runs over your leg. Listen to Auden: ‘Poetry makes nothing happen’. (Flaubert’s Parrot, pp. 160-161)

(80)As for my own work! Naturally, I used to send it to Gustave. /…/ He told me to write with the head, and not with the heart. He told me that hair only shone after much combing, and that the same could be said of style. He told me not to put myself into my work, and not to poeticise things (I am a poet!). He told me I had the love of Art, but not the religion of Art. (Flaubert’s Parrot, p.178)

(81)Gustave would have made me into a hermit had he been able: the hermit of Paris. /…/ He claimed he was defending my work, and that every hour spent in society was an hour subtracted from my desk. But that is not how I worked. You cannot yoke the dragonfly and make it drive the cornmill. (Flaubert’s Parrot, pp. 179-180)

(82)’… Pride is one thing: a wild beast which lives in caves and roams in the desert; Vanity, on the other hand, is a parrot which hops from branch to branch and chatters away in full view.’ (Flaubert’s Parrot, p. 180)

(83)Sometimes you talk, sometimes you don’t; it makes little difference. The words aren’t the right ones; or rather, the right words don’t exist. ‘Language is like a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, while all the time we long to move the stars to pity.’ (Flaubert’s Parrot, p. 191)

(84)After his mother’s death, Flaubert used to get his housekeeper to dress up in her old check dress and surprise him with an apocryphal reality. /…/ Is this success or failure? Remembrance or self-indulgence? And will we know when we start hugging our grief and vainly enjoying it? ‘Sadness is vice’. (Flaubert’s Parrot, p. 191)

(85)He applauds the hailstorms that shattered the glass. ‘People believe a little too easily that the function of the sun is to help the cabbages along’.

This letter always calms me. The function of the sun is not to help the cabbages along, and I am telling you a pure story. (Flaubert’s Parrot, p. 192)

Generalisations in the form of a definition also concern phenomena related to writing (irony, style and its achievement, literature, history and literature, the work of art, emotions and writing, language, engagements of a writer, pride and vanity, etc. All these definitions are brief and leave no room for misinterpretation. Julian Barnes’s logic in his definitions is hard and committing. Although harder, generalisations in the form of a definition by Julian Barnes are much like the maxims of Baltasar Gracian.

Unlike in The Seven Sisters by Margaret Drabble, periphrasis of idioms has not been traced in Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes. Generalisations in good humour and wit were very few. For example:

(86)That he didn’t believe Art had a social purpose.

No, he didn’t. This is wearying. ‘You provide desolation’, wrote George Sand, ‘and I provide consolation’. To which Flaubert replied, “I cannot change my eyes’. The work of art is a pyramid… (Flaubert’s Parrot, p. 160)

(87)Do you imagine that Art is something which is designed to give gentle uplift and self-confidence? Art is not a brassiѐre. At least not in the English sense. But do not forget that brassiѐre is the French for life-jacket. (Flaubert’s Parrot, p. 161)

(88)… I did not see why he should not permit himself to love. He said that these were three preconditions for happinessstupidity, selfishness and good healthand that he was only sure of possessing the second of these. I argued, I fought, but he wanted to believe that happiness was impossible; it gave him some strange consolation. (Flaubert’s Parrot, p. 175)

Generalisations in good humour and wit crumple in the context of the hard definitions of Julian Barnes and so are not many. They are very apt, though, and provoke emotional reaction in how they alliteratively contrast desolation and consolation, how they facetiously expose the lameness of the idea that art may be imagined as uplifting, or how three preconditions of happiness are reviewed for Flaubert. The few generalisations in good humour and wit relax amid the statements of unarguable logic by Julian Barnes.

Evaluating generalisations were fewer (4 in total) in Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes than they were (10 in total) in The Seven Sisters by Margaret Drabble. For example:

(89)And what do people think of him now? How do they think of him? As a bald man with a drooping moustache, as the hermit of Croisset, the man who said ‘Madame Bovary, c’est moi; as the incorrigible aesthete, the bourgeois bourgeoisophobe? Confident scraps of wisdom, hand-me-down summaries for those in a hurry. Flaubert would hardly have been surprised at the lazy rush to understand. It was an impulse out of which he made a whole book (or at least a whole appendix: the Dictionnaire des idées reçues. (Flaubert’s Parrot, pp. 95-96)

(90)She was a mutilated machine, and besides she has already forgotten him: I am meant to be comforted by that? /…/ Could we have been more different from one another? /…/ I a woman of independence and resource, she a caged creature dependent on her trade with men; I meticulous, groomed and civilised, she filthy, stinking and savage. It may sound strange, but I became interested in her. No doubt the coin is always fascinated by its obverse. (Flaubert’s Parrot, pp. 172-173)

Evaluating generalisations are plainer and harder than those of Margaret Drabble. These genralisations are very few in Julian Barnes’s novel, as befits a male author.

Heightened or elevated generalisations like observations of the superior have not been singled out in Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes, but witty conclusions in the narrative were quite numerous (16). For example:

(91)What a moment of perfectly targeted irony. A modernist moment, too: this is the sort of exchange, in which the everyday tampers with the sublime, that we like to think of proprietorially as typical of our own wry and unfoolable age. (Flaubert’s Parrot, p. 74)

(92)The balance of our response shifts with this knowledge: Flaubert becomes plodding and predictable: Du Camp becomes the wit, the dandy, the teaser of modernism before modernism has declared itself. (Flaubert’s Parrot, p. 74)

(93)’… the villain took advantage of my forgetfulness and discovered the wonderfully apposite business-card in the bottom of my folding hat’. So, ever stranger: Flaubert, when he left home, was already preparing the special effects… . Ironies breed, realities recede. And why, just out of interest, did he take his folding hat to the Pyramids? (Flaubert’s Parrot, p. 75)

(94)When you’re young you prefer the vulgar months, the fullness of the seasons. As you grow older you learn to like the in-between times, the months that can’t make up their minds. Perhaps it’s a way of admitting that things can’t ever bear the same certainty again. Or perhaps it’s just a way of admitting a preference for empty ferries. (Flaubert’s Parrot, p. 91)

(95)Flaubert didn’t believe in progress: especially not in moral progress, which is all that matters. ‘The whole dream of democracy’, he wrote, ‘is to raise the proletariat to the level of stupidity attained by the bourgeoisie’. (Flaubert’s Parrot, pp. 93-94)

(96)But by the time I tell you her story I want you to be prepared: …, I want you to have had enough of books, and parrots, and lost letters, and… . /…/ Books are not life, however much we might prefer it if they were. Ellen’s is a true story; perhaps it is even the reason why I am telling you Flaubert’s story instead. (Flaubert’s Parrot, p. 95)

(97)You expect something from me too, don’t you? It’s like that nowadays. People assume they own part of you, on no matter how small an acquaintance; …. Flaubert disapproved. ‘The artist must manage to make posterity believe that he never existed.’ (Flaubert’s Parrot, p. 95)

(98)Musgrave found himself compelled to remark to a Frenchman he met that ‘There was more blue in his country than in any region of the world with which I was acquainted.’

We look at the sun through smoked glass; we must look at the past through coloured glass. (Flaubert’s Parrot, pp. 105-106)

(99)Now what is it? First slum of Europe, one of our poets called it not long ago. First hypermarket of Europe might be more like it. Voltaire praised our attitude to commerce, and the lack of snobbery which allowed the younger sons of the gentry to become businessmen. Now the day-trippers arrive from Holland and Belgium, Germany and France, excited about the weakness of the pound and eager to get into Marks & Spencer. Commerce, Voltaire declared, was the base on which the greatness of our nation was built; now it’s all that keeps us from going bankrupt. (Flaubert’s Parrot, p. 115)

(100) In 1852-3 Gustave makes serious plans for ‘La Spirale’, a ‘grand, metaphysical, fantastical and bawling novel’, whose hero lives a typical Flaubertian double life, being happy in his dreams and unhappy in his real life. Its conclusion, of course: that happiness exists only in the imagination. (Flaubert’s Parrot, p. 138)

(101)Novelists who think their writing an instrument of politics seem to me to degrade writing and foolishly exalt politics. No, I’m not saying they should be forbidden from having political opinions or from making political statements. It’s just that they should call that part of their work journalism. The writer who imagines that the novel is the most effective way of taking part in politics is usually a bad novelist, a bad journalist, and a bad politician. (Flaubert’s Parrot, p. 152)

(102)Ah, I begin to see what you mean. You wish his books were a bit more cheerful, a bit more… how would you put it, life-enhancing? What a curious idea of literature you do have. Is your PhD from Bucharest? I didn’t know one had to defend authors for being pessimists. This is a new one. I decline to do so. Flaubert said: ‘You don’t make art out of good intentions’. He also said: ‘The public wants works which flatter its illusions’. (Flaubert’s Parrot, p.156)

(103)Gustave’s vanity was more than just literary. He believed not merely that others should write as he did, but that others should live as he did. He loved to quote Epictetus to me: Abstain, and Hide your Life. To me! A woman, a poet, and a poet of love! He wanted all writers to live obscurely in the provinces, ignore the natural affections of the heart, disdain reputation, and spend solitary, back-breaking hours reading obscure texts by the light of a tiring candle. Well, that may be the proper way to nurse genius; but it is also the way to suffocate talent. Gustave didn’t understand this,… (Flaubert’s Parrot, p. 179)

Thematically varying, some Julian Barnes’s conclusions in the narrative are as brief as definitions: Ironies breed, realities recede (93); Books are not life,… (96) … happiness exists only in the imagination (100). These imply no compulsion, only a convinced and powerful mind. Some conclusions in the narrative are plain observations (92, 99). Except for its irony, a statement of the dream of democracy (95) and of the irrelevance of the novel in politics when failing the novelist (101) are also quite plain. Two conclusions in the narrative on the extremes of irony (91) and on the growing uncertainty of the ageing (94) are original. The latter (… things can’t ever bear the same certainty again) compares interestingly with Margaret Drabble’s observations on age (Age has its delicacy (17) or We can’t pretend that we are young any more (64)). Margaret Drabble’s observations imply mild self-criticism of the ageing, while Julian Barnes’s a generalising mind. He is more philosophical in this one concept.

A compelling conclusion resides in the statement, The artist must manage to make posterity believe that he never existed (97). Obliging modality features in Julian Barnes’s other conclusions in the narrative, such as: We look at the sun through smoked glass, we must look at the past through coloured glass (98). Several other conclusions in the narrative are based on contrast. The one of art not made out of good intentions, while the public wanting works which flatter its illusions (102) is indicative. Another conclusion based on contrast is of what nurses genius may suffocate the talent (103). Although all conclusions in the narrative by Julian Barnes are insightful, only some of them approximate maxims. Some conclusions in the narrative belong to the maxims of Flaubert (95, 97, 100, 101, and 102) and only some to Julian Barnes (96, 103). Strangely, conclusions in the narrative do not imply the rational strength of Julian Barnes the way definitions did.

Several statements of general wisdom (8 in total) were traced in Flaubert’s Parrot, and these were not found in the novel The Seven Sisters. For example:

(104)When he wrote of himself, ‘I attract mad people and animals’, perhaps he should have added ‘and ironies’. (Flaubert’s Parrot, p. 72)

(105)With Homais’s Légion d’honneur, it’s the other way round: life imitates and ironises art. Barely ten years after that final line of Madame Bovary was written, Flaubert, …, allowed himself to be created a chevalier of the Légion d’honneur. (Flaubert’s Parrot, pp. 72-73)

(106)I sometimes take the car and get down to Rouen. It’s not long, but it’s enough to make the change. It is a change. The light over the Channel, for instance, looks quite different from the French side: clearer, yet more volatile. The sky is a theatre of possibilities. I’m not romanticising. Go into the art galleries along the Normandy coast and you’ll see what the local painters liked to paint, over and over again: the view north. (Flaubert’s Parrot, pp. 91-92)

(107)What might we say of Flaubert in this new Dictionary? We might set him down, perhaps, as a ‘bourgeois individualist’; … And how about ‘individualist’ or its equivalent? ‘In the ideal I have of Art, I think that one must not show one’s own, and that the artist must no more appear in his work than God does in nature. Man is nothing, the work of art everything… It would be very pleasant for me to say what I think and relieve Monsieur Gustave Flaubert’s feelings by means of such utterances; but what is the importance of the said gentleman?’ (Flaubert’s Parrot, p. 97)

(108) Current belief among Flaubertistes is that the relationship was consummated after all: either in 1848 or, more probably, in the early months of 1843.

The past in a distant, receding coastline, and we are all in the same boat. Along the stern rail there is a line of telescopes; each brings the shore into focus at a given distance. …; it will seem to tell the whole, the unchanging truth. But this is an illusion; … . And when the blur does clear, we imagine that we have made it do so all by ourselves. (Flaubert’s Parrot, p. 114)

All statements of general wisdom in Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes approximate maxims. Their brevity excludes the rational power of the author from them. Only one statement of wisdom, which contains Flaubert’s own opinion (Man is nothing, the work of art is everything… (107)) implies a convinced powerful mind. One such statement, which includes a part of an old maxim, (…we are all in the same boat (108)), loses the strength of its expression. However brief, these maxims imply the author’s potential and stance. Julian Barnes equals Flaubert in his rationality and irony.

Generalisations on experience in Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes were as numerous (10) as they were in The Seven Sisters by Margaret Drabble (11). But Julian Barnes’s briefs on experience have been more theoretical, literary and philosophical than those of Margaret Drabble. For example:

(109)The Normans are a famously stingy race, and doubtless their gravediggers are no exception; perhaps they resent every superfluous sod they cut, and maintained this resentment as a professional tradition from 1846 to 1880. (Flaubert’s Parrot, pp. 78-79)

(110)When the writer provides two different endings to his novel (…), does the reader seriously imagine he is being ‘offered a choice’… Such a ‘choice’ is never real, because the reader is obliged to consume both endings. In life, we make a decision – or a decision makes us – and we go one way; had we made a different decision (as I once told my wife; though I don’t think she was in a condition to appreciate my wisdom), we would have been elsewhere. The novel with two endings doesn’t reproduce this reality: it merely takes us down two diverging paths. It’s a form of cubism, I suppose. And that’s all right, but let’s not deceive ourselves about the artifice involved. (Flaubert’s Parrot, p.99)

(111)…Flaubert was, as always, right. Style does not arise from subject-matter. Try as they might, those advertisers are always beaten down by the form; they are forced – even at the one time they need to be candidly personal; - into an unwished impersonality. (Flaubert’s Parrot, p. 107)

(112)So, briefly: Flaubert teaches you to gaze upon the truth and not blink from its consequences; he teaches you, with Montaigne, to sleep on the pillow of doubt; he teaches you to dissect out the constituent parts of reality, and to observe that Nature is always a mixture of genres; he teaches you the most exact use of language; he teaches you not to approach a book in search of moral or social pill – literature is not a pharmacopoeia; he teaches the pre-eminence of Truth, Beauty, Feeling and Style. And if you study his private life, he teaches courage, stoicism, friendship, the importance of intelligence, scepticism and wit; the folly of deep patriotism; the virtue of being able to remain by yourself in your own room; the hatred of hypocrisy; distrust of the doctrinaire; the need for plain speaking. Is that the way you like writers to be described (I do not care for it much myself)? Is it enough? It’s all I’m giving you for the moment. I seem to be embarrassing my client. (Flaubert’s Parrot, p. 157)

(113)You are babbling. Do you still think the novel divides, like Gaul, into three parts – the Idea, the Form and the Style? If so, you are taking your own first tremulous steps into fiction. You want some maxims for writing? Very well. Form isn’t an overcoat flung over the flesh of thought (that old comparison, old in Flaubert’s day); it’s the flesh of thought itself. You can no more imagine an Idea without a Form than a Form without an Idea. Everything in art depends on execution: the story of a louse can be as beautiful as the story of Alexander. You must write according to your feelings, be sure those feelings are true, and let everything else go hang. When a line is good, it ceases to belong to any school. A line of prose must be as immutable as a line of poetry. If you happen to write well, you are accused of lacking ideas.

All these maxims are by Flaubert, except for the one by Bouilhet. (Flaubert’s Parrot, p.160)

(114)I have no interest in slander. /…/ Of course I have lived in my time; I have – what is that word your sex favours? – I have schemed. But women scheme when they are weak, they lie out of fear. Men scheme when they are strong, they lie out of arrogance. You don’t agree? I only speak from observation; yours may be different, I grant. (Flaubert’s Parrot, p. 162)

(115)It was not, I believe, as is frequently the case in love, that those qualities which initially charmed him - /…/ - eventually came to irritate him. … he behaved in this strange and bearish fashion from the very beginning… In his second letter he wrote, ‘I have never seen a cradle without thinking of a grave; the sight of a naked woman makes me imagine her skeleton’. These were not the sentiments of a conventional lover. (Flaubert’s Parrot, p. 174)

(116)He was a difficult man to love that is certain. The heart was distant and withdrawn; he was ashamed of it, wary of it. True love can survive absence, death and infidelity, he once told me; true lovers can go ten years without meeting. (I was not impressed by such remarks; …). He liked to flatter himself that he was in love with me; but I never knew a less impatient love. ‘Life is like riding’, he wrote to me once. ‘I used to like the gallop; now I like the walk’. He wasn’t yet thirty when he wrote that; he had already decided to be old before his time. (Flaubert’s Parrot, pp. 175-176)

Except for two generalisations on experience which concern Normans as a stingy race (109) and decision making in life (110), other generalisations on experience concern the writer’s art in composition (novels with two endings (110)), style (111, 113), literature (112), and form and execution in literature (113). These generalisations are longer as they consist of several independent statements, but they approximate classical maxims. The generalisations on experience which concern writing matters retain the implication of the powerful mind of the author, who also incorporates the attitude and conviction of Flaubert himself. Generalisations on experience which concern men and women in lies (114), Flaubert’s irony on seeing a naked woman (115) and his view of true love (116) are sharp and insightful. They approximate maxims and imply manly rationality.

Julian Barnes has had a few complex and elaborate generalisations in the form of a definition and commented conclusion. These elaborate generalisations concerned imagination, politics, literature, and human life in general. For example:

(117)All these unwritten books tantalise. Yet they can, to an extent, be filled out, ordered, reimagined. They can be studied in academies. A pier is a disappointed bridge; yet stare at it for long enough and you can dream it to the other side of the Channel. The same is true with these stacks of books. (Flaubert’s Parrot, p. 141)

(118)But you forgive Voltaire his enthusiasm for enlightened monarchy: why not forgive Flaubert, a century later, his enthusiasm for enlightened oligarchy? He did not, at least, entertain the childish fantasy of some literati: that writers are better fitted to run the world than anybody else. (Flaubert’s Parrot, p. 151)

(119)’Democracy isn’t mankind’s last word, any more than slavery was, or feudalism was, or monarchy was’. The best form of government, he maintained, is one that is dying, because this means it’s giving way to something else. (Flaubert’s Parrot, p. 151)

(120)Ellen. My wife: someone I feel I understand less well than a foreign writer dead for a hundred years. Is this an aberration, or is it normal? Books say: she did this because. Life says: she did this. Books are where things are explained to you; life is where things aren’t. I’m not surprised some people prefer books. Books make sense of life. The only problem is that the lives they make sense of are other people’s lives, never your own. (Flaubert’s Parrot, p. 201)

Except for the maxims the authorship of which Julian Barnes indicated himself (see No. 113, above), there is a section in the novel Flaubert’s Parrot which is titled as Flaubert’s maxims. In this section, maxims come in clusters and only partly translated. For example:

(121)Maxims for life. Les unions complѐtes sont rares. You cannot change humanity, you can only know it. Happiness is a scarlet cloak whose lining is in tatters. Lovers are like Siamese twins, two bodies with a single soul; but if one dies before the other, the survivor has a corpse to lug around. Pride makes us long for a solution to things – a solution, a purpose, a final cause; but the better telescopes become, the more stars appear. You cannot change humanity, you can only know it. Les unions complѐtes sont rares.

A maxim upon maxims. Truths about writing can be framed before you’ve published a word; truths about life can be framed only when it’s too late to make any difference. (Flaubert’s Parrot, p. 202)

This last group of the quoted maxims from the novel Flaubert’s Parrot confirms one extra time that Julian Barnes’s generalisations are maxims proper and that he was conscious of their significance. Julian Barnes’s maxims and generalisations are basically concerned with life’s philosophy and literature. This is both in line with the idea of this book and the author’s omniscience in it. The idea is that a human life cannot be restored and told to a dot. It is gone and its story can be only fragmented and incomplete. Therefore generalisations and maxims are indispensable in summing up on separate episodes of a human life simultaneously focusing the thoughts of the person in question. Most of Julian Barnes’s generalisations are maxims. They imply the author’s rationality and the power of his mind.

This inventory of maxims and generalisations is numerically about equal for the two novels. Maxims and generalisations in the two novels have appeared to be significantly different. Some of Margaret Drabble’s generalisations in summary statements, both general and in good humour and wit, in conclusions in the narrative, in heightened and elevated generalisations, and in observations of the superior approximated maxims, in addition to a several maxims proper. Margaret Drabble’s generalisations and maxims implied an observant and insightful author, especially sensitive in experience, who speaks as an omniscient figure. This is what defines and motivates the function of maxims and generalisations in literary prose of classical heritage. Some of this author’s maxims and generalisations have a philosophical bent but they do not evolve into a more consecutive philosophical reasoning in Margaret Drabble’s novel The Seven Sisters.

Most of Julian Barnes’s generalisations have been found to be maxims, in addition to maxims proper, which dominated in the material from the novel Flaubert’s Parrot. Julian Barnes’s maxims and generalisations implied a very rational author whose powerful mind is implied in every statement. Most of this author’s maxims and generalisations are philosophical and very rational, especially when the topic concerns literature, style, art, writing and the author’s attitude. The powerful rationality and philosophical bent are especially evident in summary statements, generalisations in the form of a definition, (absent in Margaret Drabble’s novel), in conclusions in the narrative, statements of general wisdom, in generalisations on experience. This is what defines the function of maxims and generalisations in literary prose of professional and biographical character. It is indicative that evaluative generalisations were very few in Julian Barnes’s novel, while heightened and elevated generalisations and observations of the superior were absent altogether. Maxims proper in Julian Barnes’s novel Flaubert’s Parrot combine both Flaubert’s and Barnes’s concepts, are especially strong and identify with the maxims of Baltasar Gracian.

Apart from the topical interest, judgmental power and verbal incisiveness, maxims and generalisations in two realistic novels implied the author’s power of reasoning, insights and stance. This study has shown that relevantly chosen material can be productive in the analysis of its meaning and significance while discovering the author’s individuality. Human language is a rich resource of sociocultural evidence, while literary language is richer than its other forms. The definitive analysis of the author’s (and speaker’s) imprint in his words still missing, the present study can be treated as a successful step in an attempt to identify the writer/speaker in his language. Whatever the uses of the topical and functional descrption of maxims and generalisations in literary prose, this material can be enlightening to a scholar and useful to a teacher of English as foreign language.


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Texts Used

Barnes, Julian. Flaubert’s Parrot. – London: Picador, 1984

Drabble, Margaret. The Seven Sisters. – Orlando, Austin, New York: A Harvest Book, Harcourt International Publishing, 2003.

Gracian, Baltasar. Išminties menas. Parankinis orakulas. (Lithuanian translation from the Latin). – Vilnius: Charibdė, 2017.

La Rochefoucauld, François de. Reflexions ou sentences et maximes morales. (Lithuanian translation from the French). – Vilnius: „Mintis“, 2002.