Is it somehow nobler to write fiction than nonfiction?

Dear Literary Ladies,
I write all kinds of non-fiction and I do enjoy it, but I can’t rest on my laurels until I take a stab at fiction. It’s fiction that seem to endure and make a lasting impression on culture. Or am I mistaken? Should I stick with writing about subjects I enjoy, or should I pursue the elusive dream of writing the Great Novel?

. . . I would ask you to write all kinds of books, hesitating at no subject however trivial or how vast. By hook or by crook, I hope you will possess yourselves of money enough to travel and to idle, to contemplate the future or the past of the world, to dream over books and loiter at street corners and let the line of thought dip deep into the stream. For I am by no means confining you to fiction. If you would please me—and there are thousands like me—you would write books of travel and adventure, and research and scholarship, and history and biography, and criticism and philosophy and science. By so doing you will certainly profit the art of fiction. For books have a way of influencing each other.

Fiction will be much the better for standing cheek by jowl with poetry and philosophy . . . Thus when I ask you to write more books I am urging you to do what will be for your good and for the good of the world at large.

— Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own, 1929 .


Anonymous November 1, 2009 at 12:02 AM  

I believe this is a photo of Vita Sackville West, not Virginia Woolf.

Nava Atlas November 1, 2009 at 5:16 AM  

And I believe you are right, and I've replaced that lovely image with this one, which I'm sure is Virginia Woolf. Sorry about that error. Perhaps I'll find a great passage from Vita to go with the image I replaced. Thanks for the call-out.

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