FREE WILL AND MIRACLE
God created man in his own image and likeness, i.e. made him a creator too, calling him to free spontaneous activity and not to formal obedience to His power. Free creativeness is the creature's answer to the great call of its creator. Man's creative work is the fulfilment of the Creator's secret will.-BERDYAEV: The Destiny of Man.
A character in a writer's head, unwritten, remains a possession; his thoughts recur to it constantly, and while his imagination gradually enriches it he enjoys the singular pleasure of feeling that there, in his mind, someone is living a varied and tremulous life, obedient to his fancy and yet in a queer wilful way independent of him.-w. SOMERSET MAUGHAM: Preface to "Cakes and Ale".
In considering the question how far the writer should permit his imagined characters to become the mouthpieces of his personality, we touched the fringe of that permanently baffling problem, the free will of the creature. All characters, from the most important to the least, and from the best to the worst, must express some part of the maker's mind if they are to be a living creation; but if all express that mind in an identical way, the work as a whole becomes dull, mechanical and untrue. At this point we begin to see faintly the necessity for some kind of free will among the creatures of a perfect creation, but our metaphor now becomes very difficult to apply, since it appears obvious that the characters invented by a human writer are his helpless puppets, bound to obey his will at every point, whether for good or evil.
The analogy of procreation is more helpful to us here than that of artistic creation. While the parent is wholly responsible for calling the children into being, and can exercise a partial control over their minds and actions, he cannot but recognise the essential independence of the entity that he has procreated. The child's will is perfectly free; if he obeys his father, he does so through love or fear or respect, but not as an automaton, and the good parent would not wish it otherwise. We may observe here one of those curious complexities of which human nature is full. There is in many parents a striving to control their children, and to make of them, if not precisely automata, yet beings as fully subordinate to the will of their procreator as the characters of a novelist are to their creator. On the other hand, there is in the human creator a parallel desire to create something that shall have as much free will as the offspring of procreation. The stories which tell of attempts to manufacture robots and Frankenstein monsters bear witness to this strange desire. It is as though humanity were conscious of a hampering limitation of its functions; in man, the image of the divine strives, as it were, to resemble its original in both its creative and procreative functions: to be at once father and God. From experience I am inclined to think that one reason why writing for the stage is so much more interesting than writing for publication is the very fact that, when the play is acted, the free will of the actor is incorporated into the written character. The common man is aware of the conflicting desires within the playwright's mind, and often asks questions about them. Sometimes he asks: "Isn't it exciting to see your characters come alive -upon the stage?" Sometimes he inquires sympathetically: "Isn't. it maddening to hear the actors ruining your best lines? The playwright can only reply that (unless the production is quite unnaturally good or superlatively bad) both propositions are undoubtedly true. (See Chapter X, subt.)
A good deal, of course, depends upon the temperament of the playwright. If he is of the egotistical kind, finding no satisfaction except in the autocratic enforcement of his sole will, he will find actors maddening almost beyond endurance. This is the type of person who, in the sphere of procreation, tends to become a Roman parent. But if he is the more liberal kind of creator, he will eagerly welcome-I will not say bad acting, which is altogether sinful and regrettable-but imaginative and free acting, and find an immensely increased satisfaction in the individual creativeness which the actor brings to his part. And let it be said at once that if the part is well conceived and well written, good acting, however free and individual, can never harm it. The greater the part, the greater the variety of "good" interpretations: that is why (contrary to lay belief) it is much easier to play "Hamlet" in Hamlet than to play "Charles his friend" in a third-rate sentimental comedy. To hear an intelligent and sympathetic actor infusing one's own lines with his creative individuality is one of the most profound satisfactions that any imaginative writer can enjoy; more-there is an intimately moving delight in watching the actor's mind at work to deal rightly with a difficult interpretation, for there is in all this a joy of communication and an exchange of power. Within the limits of this human experience, the playwright has achieved that complex end of man's desire-the creation of a living thing with a mind and will of its own.
None of this delight will, however, be gained unless the playwright is devoured with a real love for material form-unless, in the writing of the play, his Energy has imaginatively moved upon the stage in the way I have tried to explain, and conceived its Idea in material terms of flesh and blood and paint and canvas. For the true freedom of the Energy consists in its willing submission to the limitations of its own medium. The attempt to achieve freedom from the medium ends inevitably in loss of freedom within the medium, since, here as everywhere, activity falls under the judgment of the law of its own nature. Take, for example, that kind of writing for the stage which is called-with damnatory intent "literary" drama. The objection to it is not that it is (in the broad sense) "literature" but that it is so written as to conform to an alien literary medium. The speeches are quite simply not constructed in such a way as to be readily spoken by an actor. This means that the writer's Energy has arrogated to itself a freedom from natural law-it has refused to be bound by the trammels imposed by flesh and blood. The immediate consequence of this freedom is an intolerable sense of restriction, and the verdict of the critic will be that "the language is laboured." The truth is that such speech is not "laboured" enough--in the sense that it has not been given enough workmanship.
Similar efforts towards an illegal freedom issue in unmanageable stage-directions, or a multiplicity of vast stage-sets, which no amount of engineering effort can hurry upon the stage swiftly enough to preserve the unties. The business of the creator is not to escape from his material medium or to bully it, but to serve it; but to serve it he must love it. If he does so, he will realise that its service is perfect freedom. This is true, not only of all literary art but of all creative art; I have chosen a theatrical example, merely because there, as also in the creation of characters, failure to surrender to the law of kind produces disasters more patent and immediate than elsewhere.
The judgment of the natural law is not without its bearing on the writer's claim to autocratic control over the characters he invents. It is certainly true that these do not possess free will to the same extent that a child's will is free from parental control. But all possess this measure of freedom, namely, that unless the author permits them to develop in conformity with their proper nature, they will cease to be true and living creatures.
Too much attention should not be paid to those -writers who say (holding one the while with a fixed and hypnotic gaze): "I don't really invent the plot, you know-I just let the characters come into my mind and let them take charge of it." The theory that the mind can remain passive and empty, acting only as a kind of automatic "spirit-hand" for the characters, reminds one a little too much of the methods of "Savonarola Brown" and his gasping confidences: "Savonarola has come on -alive!" ( Max Beerbohm: Seven Men.) Writers who work in this way do not, as a matter of brutal fact, usually produce very good books. The lay public (most of them confirmed mystagogues) rather like to believe in this inspirational fancy; but as a rule the element of pure craftsmanship is more important than most of us are willing to admit.
Nevertheless, the free will of a genuinely created character has a certain reality, which the writer will defy at his peril. It does sometimes happen that the plot requires from its characters certain behaviour, which, when it comes to the point, no ingenuity on the author's part can force them into, except at the cost of destroying them. It may be that the Activity has chosen an unsuitable plot, or (this is perhaps more frequent) has imagined an unsuitable set of characters for working that particular plot out.
In such dilemmas, the simplest and worst thing the author can do is to behave like an autocratic deity and compel the characters to do his will whether or not. Theurgic exhibitions of this kind are frequent in the work of thriller-writers and in the more puerile type of film. A notorious instance is, of course, that open-hearted and generous-minded young lover whom we so frequently see thrown into consternation by the discovery of his betrothed embracing a total stranger in the conservatory. If the lover were to behave in conformity with his character as laid down for him, he would trust the girl and await the very obvious and proper explanation, viz. that the stranger is her long-lost brother suddenly returned home. But since any such natural conduct would bring the story to a premature end, he is forced to deny his nature, believe the worst, and depart hot-foot for a distant country.
This hoary piece of untruth does little harm., to the nonsensical fancies in which it is usually found embedded, since these are not, in any genuine sense, works of creative imagination. It is startling, however,. to find a variation of it violently intruded into the last act of such an otherwise realistically conceived and honestly written play as Denys Amiel's Famille. Here its effect is disastrous, for the characters have a true nature to be destroyed; and the collapse of the power is in direct ratio to the previous strength of the characterisation.
Similar, though rather more subtle, wrestings of natural truth abound in those romances where the heroine, after treating the hero for interminable chapters as though he were something the cat had brought in, is rescued by him under peculiarly humiliating circumstances and immediately falls into his arms in a passion of gratitude and affection. Knowledge of the very ephemeral nature of gratitude in proud and vain persons and of its irritating effect on the character prompt the reader to wonder what the married life of the couple is likely to be, after thus starting from a false situation. It is a falsity of this kind that makes both actors and audience uncomfortable about The Taming of the Shrew; whether it is played as burlesque or softened into sentimental comedy, we are still left protesting that "'Tis a wonder, by your leave, she will be tamed so", and nothing will persuade us that characters like those would really subdue themselves to a plot like that.
Yet another forcible deformation of natural character occurs when the author has allowed a character to develop along its natural lines without noticing that it has grown right away from the part it is called on to play in the plot. Mr. Micawber is a grand character, instinct with the breath of life; but inefficiency is of his very essence, and it is entirely inconceivable that lie should ever have become an efficient detective for the investigation of Mr. Heep's financial frauds. Somebody had to detect Heep, and Mr. Micawber was handy-may indeed have been designed from the outset-for the activity; but, superb fun though it all is, we cannot for one moment believe it.
The humanistic and sensitive author may prefer to take the course of sticking to his characters and altering the plot to suit their development. This will result in a, less violent shock to the reader's sense of reality, but also in an alarming incoherence of structure. Actions adumbrated at the beginning will fail to materialise; causes will be left without consequences, or with irrational consequences; the balance of the unity will be upset; and the book will trail away into disorder, or, in the critic's picturesque phrase, "break its back". At the worst, the theme (or bodily shape of the Idea) will disappear along with the plot. The reader will probably not be able to put his finger with any great certainty on the point at which the book goes wrong, but he will be left at the end with an instinctive awareness that there is a dislocation somewhere. So will the author. In extreme cases, the dislocation will be so shattering as to prevent the book from ever getting written. A most instructive account of how the unbridled development of free will in the characters wrecked the prospects of a work of imagination is given by J. D. Beresford in that extraordinarily fascinating book: Writing Aloud. Here, with a candour and accuracy extremely rare in a writer, he traces the development-or failure to develop-of a theme which he tried for-some years to embody in a novel, and which eventually defeated him because of the self-willed behaviour of the characters. As the story shapes itself in his mind, the plot dislimns, reunites in new shapes; the centre of interest shifts from one character to another, and we watch, with spell-bound apprehension (if we are framed to feel excitement about such matters) the foredoomed metamorphosis of the theme into something like its own direct opposite. It is as though we watched an army outflanked and pivoting to face an attack that moves gradually round to attack it from the rear. Beresford himself believes that the discrepancies in the story illustrate Mr. Forster's remarks on the relation of character to plot; inasmuch as they show very plainly that when plot precedes character and must be adhered to whatever happens, character inevitably suffers.
His book itself, however, shows still more plainly that the trouble is not so simple as all that. What preceded plot and everything else was the fancy for presenting the character of a particular heroine.
I should like her to be young next time; very young; and pre-war.... A pre-war heroine living in the present day.... She represents the "average woman" that is eternal throughout the ages. She shall be neither tall nor short, neither very dark nor very fair, neither alluringly beautiful nor noticeably plain, neither too clever nor a fool, neither hopelessly womanly (the "perfect wife and mother" sort of thing) nor the kind we have read about so much lately L1927] who devotes herself to some art or profession, and babbles about woman's freedom. She shall play games in moderation without making a fetish of them. She is original by not striving after originality, and with any luck I may achieve the same ideal, myself. If one could but make a convincing picture of the ordinary human girl, how she would show up against the young woman we get so much of now, in life and fiction.
With that character he begins - not, we may note, with a character in a situation, but a character looking for a situation to exploit. The story is then gradually built up-background, plot, parentage and so forth-deliberately in order to account for and exploit the character of this girl (nicknamed, "J-J"). Other characters - arising this time out of the plot-supervene, and in turn arrogate to themselves the greater part of the writer's creative interest. Being plot-founded (conceived, that is, as characters in a situation) they are enormously more powerful than the detached character of J-J; already the attackers have captured the "strong points". Thus firmly based and equipped, they grow and cover the ground with the speed and ubiquity of pumpkins, and subdue the situation to their own will; they take command of the plot. After -a hundred pages or so of this development the author stands aghast:
In this book, struggle as I will, I do not seem to be able to stick to my first intention of telling the story of J-J.
She, poor lamb, has so far served me only as a vaultinghorse, she who was to have been my ideal heroine, my interpreter. Instead of presenting a model for the girl of 1930 or so, she has become a horrible instance of Victorian repressions, a subject for vivisection, a manikin for the display of other people's habits, anything in short but an interesting human being.
For this disaster he can find no remedy. Either he must scrap the whole thing, or else "keep the other characters and the skeleton of the plot, but bravely sacrifice all the development I have so far worked out, get a truer understanding of my heroine and let her personality guide the evolution of the story. That would mean cutting out all the things that really interested myself." What did in fact interest him was "the other characters"; there is actually no plot except what those characters have themselves imposed on the story. The impasse was complete, and the story was eventually scrapped, except in so far as it provides the subject for this revealing work of analysis.
Anybody who reads Writing Aloud will find entertainment in discovering how it was that the "other characters", rather than J-J, contrived in this manner to run away with the plot. The thing that emerges very clearly is a disruption within the writer's trinity: his Energy was not subdued to the Idea-or else merely revealed in its working the absence of any really powerful idea to control it-and the consequence is a judgment of chaos.
We will now look at another instructive example of "back-breaking" which Chesterton has observed in Our Mutual Friend:
If the real degradation of Wegg is not very convincing, it is at least immeasurably more convincing than the pretended degradation of Boffin. The passage in which Boffin appears as a sort of miser, and then afterwards explains that he only assumed the character for reasons of his own, has something about it highly jerky and unsatisfactory. The truth of . the whole matter I think, almost certainly, is that Dickens did not originally mean Boffin's lapse to be fictitious. He originally meant Boffin really to be corrupted by wealth, slowly to degenerate and as slowly to repent. But the story went too quickly for this long, double, and difficult process; therefore Dickens at. the last moment made a sudden recovery possible by representing that the whole business had been a trick. Consequently, this episode is not an error merely in the sense that we may find many errors in a great writer like Dickens; it is a mistake patched up with another mistake. It is a case of that ossification which occurs round the healing of an actual fracture; the story had broken down and been mended. (G. K. Chesterton: Criticisms and Appreciations of the Works of Charles Dickens.)
What happened (if Chesterton is right, as I think he is 2) was that Dickens "fell in love" with Boffin, with the result that the character "got out of hand" or, in other words, asserted the freedom of its nature. This kind of thing does happen to characters from time to time-never, of course to the puppet-character, but only to those that have received a full measure of the author's life-and their escape from control is the measure of their free will. What is particularly interesting here is the method adopted by Dickens to bring plot and character back into co-operation. He took what should have been the right way out of the difficulty, but so clumsily that the result was unconvincing and false.
(2) Dickens was perfectly capable of such a change of purpose. He writes to Forster, while engaged on Dombey & Son: "About the boy [Walter Gay] .. I think it would be a good thing to disappoint all the expectations that chapter seems to raise of his happy connection with the story and the heroine, and to show him gradually and naturally trailing away, from that love of adventure and boyish lightheartedness, into negligence, idleness, dissipation, dishonesty and ruin. To show, in short, that common, every-day, miserable declension of which we know so much in our ordinary life, to exhibit something of the philosophy of it, in great temptations and an easy nature; and to show how the good turns into bad, by degrees. Do you think it may be done, without making people angry?" For reasons which Forster does not specify, but which may be guessed, Walter Gay was spared, and the picture of "great temptations and an easy nature" postponed till the appearance of Richard Carstone in Bleak House; but the author's indecisions have left their mark on Dombey in Walter's oddly haphazard connection with the plot-structure.
The character of Boffin had asserted itself to a point at which it literally could not be made to conform with the plot. I doubt whether the speed at which the story was moving accounts sufficiently for the impossibility; what really stood in the way was the intrinsic sweetness and modesty of Mr. Boffin himself. A means had therefore to be found by which the character, developing in conformity with its own nature, could yet bring the plot to the same issue which it would have reached had the character developed according to plan.
The process which I shall now try to explain is something for which the reader must take my word. I cannot easily point to any successful examples in literature, because it is the whole essence of such a process that, if it is successful, nothing in the finished work will betray it. I can only state, as matter of experience, that if the characters and the situation are rightly conceived together, as integral parts of the same unity, then there will be no need to force them to the right solution of that situation. If each is allowed to develop in conformity with its proper nature, they will arrive of their own accord at a point of unity, which will be the same unity that preexisted in the original idea. In language to which we are accustomed in other connections, neither predestination nor free will is everything, but, if the will acts freely in accordance with its true nature, it achieves by grace and not by judgment the eternal will of its maker, though possibly by a process unlike, and longer than, that which might have been imposed upon it by force.
As I have said, it is hard to illustrate this from other men's work, since, when it has triumphantly happened, the process leaves no trace, and the majority of writers have not left analytical records of their creative activities. I tried once ( See my essay in Titles to Fame) to analyse a very unimportant experience of my own in this connection-unimportant, that is, because the work itself was of no great importance except to myself. Here, I will only bring forward an instance, also personally experienced but still more trivial, of this odd coming-together of plot and character. This instance is, in a way, more interesting than the other, because the process occurred without my being at all aware of it, so that I was astonished when I saw the result.
In Gaudy Night, the heroine was left in one of those "gratitude-situations" which (as I have already complained) are so destructive to character and leave the normal person so little disposed to fall into the arms of the benefactor. She had, however, been brought into a fair way of conquering her pride (assisted by a similar approach from the gentleman's side) and had screwed herself to the point of making a generous gesture and accepting a present from him. The present selected was a set of carved ivory chessmen. In all this, the characters were working out their own development without reference to anything beyond their own spiritual difficulties.
In the meantime, the detective-plot situation was concerned with a woman in whom the emotions had gained control over the reason, and who was carrying on a revenge-campaign of petty destructiveness against certain women who (she felt) were sacrificing the emotional to the rational. Her anger had directed itself against my heroine, with the result that she (and I) were left looking for something belonging to the heroine that she might conveniently destroy. It then occurred to me that the chessmen were the obvious victims; their destruction duly took place, and revealed to the heroine that some of her value for them was connected, not with the gift but with the giver.
A reader afterwards said to me: "I realised, the moment they were mentioned, that those chessmen were doomed." Nothing, when one comes to think of it, could be more obvious from the point of view of plot-structure. I can only affirm (without much hope of being believed) that it was by no means obvious to me. The chessmen were, at first, connected with the character-development, and with that only. But when the plot demanded their destruction, there they were ready. Though I did at that moment realise that this incident clamped the two parts of the story together in a satisfactory and useful manner, it was not until my reader pointed it out to me that I understood the incident to have been, in actual fact, predestined-that is, that plot and character, each running true to its nature, had inevitably united to bring the thing about.
I could add a further example of the same kind of thing. In Murder Must Advertise I undertook (not very successfully) to present a contrast of two "cardboard" worlds, equally fictitious-the world of advertising and the world of the post-war "Bright Young People". (It was not very successful, because I knew and, cared much more about advertising than about Bright Youth, but that is by the way.) I mentioned this intention to a reader, who instantly replied: "Yes; and Peter Wimsey, who represents reality, never appears in either world except in disguise." It was perfectly true; and I had never noticed it. With all its defects of realism, there had been some measure of integral truth about the book's Idea, since it issued, without my conscious connivance, in a true symbolism.
Other writers will probably be able to supply evidence of their own in support of this curious collaboration of free will and predestination wherever plot and character are allowed to develop in obedience to their law of nature. And these considerations bring us face to face with the whole question of miracle.
Whatever we may think of the possibilities of direct divine intervention in the affairs of the universe, it is quite evident that the writer can-and often does - intervene at any moment in the development of his own story; he is absolute master, able to perform any miracle he likes. I do not mean that he can invent undiscovered planets or people the world with monsters unknown to natural history-that kind of thing is a tale about marvels, not a tale abruptly modified by marvels. I mean simply that he can twist either character or plot from the course of its nature by an exertion of arbitrary power. He can slay inconvenient characters, effect abrupt conversions, or bring about accidents or convulsions of nature to rescue the characters from the consequences of their own conduct. He can, in fact, behave exactly as, in our more egotistical and unenlightened petitions, we try to persuade God to behave. Whether we mock at miracles or demand miracles, this is the kind of miracle we usually mean. We mean that the judgment of natural law is to be abrogated by some power extraneous to the persons and circumstances.
If we by analogy call God "the Creator" we are thereby admitting that it is possible for Him to work miracles; but if we examine more closely the implications of our analogy, we may be driven to ask ourselves how far it is really desirable that He should do anything of the kind. For the example of the writers who indulge in miracle is not altogether encouraging. "Poetic justice" (the name often given to artistic miracle-mongering) may be comforting, but we regretfully recognise that it is very bad art. "Poetic justice" is indeed the wrong name to give it, since it is neither poetry nor justice; there is a true poetic justice, which we know better by the name of "tragic irony", which is of the nature of judgment and is the most tremendous power in literature as in life-but in that there is no element of miracle. What we commonly mean by "poetic justice is a system of rewards and punishments bestowed, like their nursery exemplars "because you have been good" and "because you have been naughty"-or sometimes simply with the object of keeping the children quiet.
Mr. Wilkins Micawber - who is continually the subject of such theurgic displays-is favoured by a miracle at the end of David Copperfield, He is a "good" character - that is to say, a character sympathetic to his author-and it is desired to reward him with a "happy ending". He is therefore packed off to Australia, where, in defiance of his own nature and in defiance of the nature of Australian civic life in the last century, he becomes a prosperous magistrate. However consoling this solution of the Micawber problem, a little thought convinces us that any person less suitable to prosper in these conditions than Mr. Micawber can scarcely be imagined. It is miracle; just as the sudden appearance of a couple of aged and worthy parents to straighten out lovers' difficulties in the last act of L'Ecole des Femmes is miracle. The author, finding that plot and character will not work within their own limitations to produce a tidy result has cut the Gordian entanglement with the magic sword of Paracelsus. The result is not only to shock us with a sense of incongruity, but also to detract something from the power of Micawber himself. He is so much the less a man for being the minion of so arbitrary a favouritism.
Wilkie Collins, a much lesser writer than Dickens, dealing with a similar problem, shows himself a much more conscientious artist. At the end of No Name he has to dispose of the unscrupulous but strongly sympathetic out-at-elbows scamp, Captain Wragge. He might have worked a moral miracle, by making the Captain repent and live happily in honest poverty; or a physical miracle, by unexpectedly endowing him with a colossal fortune which should remove the need for further rogueries. Either of these methods would destroy the Captain as we know him. Collins does artistically better, by providing him with a way to prosperity fully in accordance with his character:
"What have I been about? Why do I look so remarkably well off? . . . My dear girl, I have been occupied, since we last saw each other, in slightly modifying my old professional habits. . . . Formerly I preyed on the public sympathy; now, I prey on the public stomach.... Here I am-incredible as it may appear-a man with an income, at last. The founders of my fortune are three in number. Their names are Aloes, Scammony and Gamboge. In plainer words, I am now living-on a Pill. I made a little money (if you remember) by my friendly connection with you. I made a little more, by the happy decease (Requiescat in Pace!) of that female relative of Mrs. Wragge's, from whom, as I told you, my wife had expectations. Very good. What do you think I did? I invested the whole of my capital, at one fell swoop, in advertisements-and purchased my drugs and my pill-boxes on credit. The result is now before you."
Here is a happy peripety which we can readily accept. We can believe in the profits of roguery; we can believe in the little legacy (since we were previously told that he married his half-witted wife to obtain it); and we can believe in these acquisitions all the better because, undoubtedly, this is the very way in ,which Captain Wragge would use them if he got them. It is a happy ending for a sympathetic rascal, which satisfies us because it is no miracle but a judgment of natural law.
But it is not edifying? Well, no, it is not. The making of miracles to edification was as ardently admired by pious Victorians as it was sternly discouraged by Jesus of Nazareth. Not that the Victorians are unique in this respect. Modern writers also indulge in edifying miracles though they generally prefer to use them to procure unhappy endings, by which piece of thaumaturgy they win the title of realists. Thus, in Cronin's The Citadel it is necessary to edification that his doctor-hero shall be stripped of every personal satisfaction-wealth, reputation, and domestic happiness-in order that he may voluntarily embrace the good he once refused, namely, medical research for unselfish ends. This is right enough, from the point of view of religion and psychology. Of wealth and reputation he is deprived, very properly, by a judgment of natural law, executing itself upon his own professional conduct. But when it comes to his domestic happiness, the author grows impatient. He has already prepared estrangement between husband and wife through the doctor's behaviour; but for no very adequate reason, he suddenly abandons this line of development, and by an arbitrary act, hastily gets rid of the wife by pushing her under a bus. One cannot defend this intervention by saying that virtuous people in real life are frequently killed by road-vehicles. The episode is wholly extraneous to the structural unity of the story; it is an irrelevant miracle. The effect is to falsify the story. The divine hand is thrust into the mechanism obviously and without necessity: nee deus intersit nisi dignus vindice nodes.
The agents of the miraculous which the novelist has at his command are, roughly speaking, conversion and coincidence; either a character or a situation is abruptly changed, not by anything developing out of the essentials of the story, but by the personal divine intervention of the creator. Yet it will not altogether do to say that neither conversion nor coincidence is ever permissible in a story. Both may legitimately be introduced on one condition, that is, that they are an integral part of the Idea. If it is a story about a coincidence or about a conversion, then the Energy that introduces them will be performing the will of the Idea, and the Power will proceed from that unity of purpose. This amounts to saying that, under these circumstances, the will of the creator becomes a character in the story; just as, theologically, all miracles depend on the assumption that God is a character in history. But even so, it is necessary that God should act in conformity with His own character. The study of our analogy will lead us perhaps to believe that God will be chary of indulging in irrelevant miracle, and will only use it when it is an integral part of the story. He will not, any more than a good writer, convert His characters without preparing the way for their conversion, and His interferences with space-time will be conditioned by some kind of relationship of power between will and matter. Faith is the condition for the removal of mountains; Lear is converted but not Iago. Consequences cannot be separated from their causes without a loss of power; and we may ask ourselves how much power would be left in the story of the crucifixion, as a story, if Christ had come down from the cross. That would have been an irrelevant miracle, whereas the story of the resurrection is relevant, leaving the consequences of action and character still in logical connection with their causes. It is, in fact, an outstanding example of the development we have already considered-the leading of the story back, by the new and more powerful way of grace, to the issue demanded by the way of judgment, so that the law of nature is not destroyed but fulfilled.
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