Fact and Fiction

Has it ever occurred to you that novelists are using up experience at a dangerous rate? No, I see it hasn’t. Well, then, consider that before the novel emerged as the dominant literary form, narrative literature dealt only with the extraordinary or the allegorical — with kings and queens, giants and dragons, sublime virtue and diabolic evil. There was no risk of confusing that sort of thing with life, of course. But as soon as the novel got going, you might pick up a book at any time and read about an ordinary chap called Joe Smith doing just the sort of things you did yourself. Now, I know what you’re going to say — you’re going to say that the novelist still has to invent a lot. But that’s just the point: there’ve been such a fantastic number of novels written in the past couple of centuries that they’ve just about exhausted the possibilities of life. So all of us, you see, are really enacting events that have already been written about in some novel or other.

— David Lodge, The British Museum Is Falling Down, 1965