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DustyBooks
09-23-2009, 07:08 AM
I hope this is the right place to put this!

It would be very difficult to explain how this came up, and all the background to it. But to try to keep things in more theoretical terms, since they're less upsetting in that realm...

(oh goodness, still hardly know where to start...)

To what degree is the protagonist a moral example? Not necessarily meaning that they always have to do the right thing, but how important is it that they suffer consequences (or at least pangs of conscience,) when they do something wrong? (or even just really unwise.) When a "good" character does something, enjoys it, finds it worthwhile and satisfying, and otherwise feels about that action a distinct lack of regret...does that imply approval of that action on the author's part? I'm not talking about something a character might do out of necessity, for convenience, or as a means to an end, but something that's (almost?) an end in itself.

One book might not have much effect on the reader, but how about over a long series, or in one of those subgenres (space opera, historical romance, Age of Sail or medieval adventure) that have very devoted followings? I'll go on a kick where for two or three years, or even longer, I'll read one subgenre, or maybe genre, almost to the exclusion of everything else! But I'm weird...

kaitie
09-23-2009, 01:00 PM
I do believe that some readers assume that it reflects on the author, and some authors actively use their novels to express their viewpoints on certain issues. However, I write characters who do things that I find morally reprehensible and would never actually condone.

IMO, there is also a difference in the kind of character being portrayed. Are you writing a hero, or an anti-hero, for instance? Personally, I think the internal conflict of a character doing something that they believe is morally wrong, or perhaps not feeling guilt over something that they expect to, can be an incredibly moving addition to a novel.

I do suspect that if every book you wrote had the same type of morality expressed by characters without any other representations to off-set it, that a reader is more likely to assume that you share said morality.

Characters should suffer consequences of their actions, internal or external. Are you asking if there should be some sort of karma at work if he doesn't feel remorse for an action? Maybe. Depends on the story, I'd guess. I can imagine a story with a character doing the "wrong" thing and the consequences lead to the conflicts in the story. I can also see a story where the character never pays for anything, though this might be a bit of a let-down for a reader. Do I think there has to be a moral at the end of the story, so to speak? Not really.

Eh, kaitie is just rambling again.

Higgins
09-23-2009, 04:57 PM
I hope this is the right place to put this!

It would be very difficult to explain how this came up, and all the background to it. But to try to keep things in more theoretical terms, since they're less upsetting in that realm...

(oh goodness, still hardly know where to start...)

To what degree is the protagonist a moral example? Not necessarily meaning that they always have to do the right thing, but how important is it that they suffer consequences (or at least pangs of conscience,) when they do something wrong? (or even just really unwise.) When a "good" character does something, enjoys it, finds it worthwhile and satisfying, and otherwise feels about that action a distinct lack of regret...does that imply approval of that action on the author's part? I'm not talking about something a character might do out of necessity, for convenience, or as a means to an end, but something that's (almost?) an end in itself.

One book might not have much effect on the reader, but how about over a long series, or in one of those subgenres (space opera, historical romance, Age of Sail or medieval adventure) that have very devoted followings? I'll go on a kick where for two or three years, or even longer, I'll read one subgenre, or maybe genre, almost to the exclusion of everything else! But I'm weird...

Having passed the last few days looking into versions of the "long eighteenth century"....the moral wanderings of the protagonist are what makes novels from and about that period so intriguing. For example Tom Jones in Tom Jones, learns a lot and accidently demonstrates a lot about how to be moral...surely a major interest of Fielding's.
The O'Brian nautical adventures do a similarly complex pseudo-eighteenth century look at the moral behaviors behind such things as chasing women, blowing things up, killing people, being a spy, teaching, dueling and so on. But it takes a good novel to handle moral behavior in all its nasty complexity.

Higgins
09-23-2009, 07:11 PM
Having passed the last few days looking into versions of the "long eighteenth century"....the moral wanderings of the protagonist are what makes novels from and about that period so intriguing. For example Tom Jones in Tom Jones, learns a lot and accidently demonstrates a lot about how to be moral...surely a major interest of Fielding's.


And young Tom is not a paragon of virtue
(from http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_History_of_Tom_Jones,_a_Foundling/Book_III):

As we determined, when we first sat down to write this history, to flatter no man, but to guide our pen throughout by the directions of truth, we are obliged to bring our heroe on the stage in a much more disadvantageous manner than we could wish; and to declare honestly, even at his first appearance, that it was the universal opinion of all Mr Allworthy's family that he was certainly born to be hanged.
Indeed, I am sorry to say there was too much reason for this conjecture; the lad having from his earliest years discovered a propensity to many vices, and especially to one which hath as direct a tendency as any other to that fate which we have just now observed to have been prophetically denounced against him: he had been already convicted of three robberies, viz., of robbing an orchard, of stealing a duck out of a farmer's yard, and of picking Master Blifil's pocket of a ball.
The vices of this young man were, moreover, heightened by the disadvantageous light in which they appeared when opposed to the virtues of Master Blifil, his companion; a youth of so different a cast from little Jones, that not only the family but all the neighbourhood resounded his praises. He was, indeed, a lad of a remarkable disposition; sober, discreet, and pious beyond his age; qualities which gained him the love of every one who knew him: while Tom Jones was universally disliked; and many expressed their wonder that Mr Allworthy would suffer such a lad to be educated with his nephew, lest the morals of the latter should be corrupted by his example.
An incident which happened about this time will set the characters of these two lads more fairly before the discerning reader than is in the power of the longest dissertation.
Tom Jones, who, bad as he is, must serve for the heroe of this history, had only one friend among all the servants of the family; for as to Mrs Wilkins, she had long since given him up, and was perfectly reconciled to her mistress. This friend was the gamekeeper, a fellow of a loose kind of disposition, and who was thought not to entertain much stricter notions concerning the difference of meum (http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/meum) and tuum (http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/tuum) than the young gentleman himself. And hence this friendship gave occasion to many sarcastical remarks among the domestics, most of which were either proverbs before, or at least are become so now; and, indeed, the wit of them all may be comprised in that short Latin proverb, "Noscitur a socio;" which, I think, is thus expressed in English, "You may know him by the company he keeps."

Higgins
09-23-2009, 09:17 PM
And young Tom is not a paragon of virtue
(from http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_History_of_Tom_Jones,_a_Foundling/Book_III):



And just how long is the Long Eighteenth Century? For Great Britain 1688-1832 works. Elsewhere 1688 is not such a good dividing point.

http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~jlynch/Papers/betwixt.html

DamaNegra
09-24-2009, 06:58 AM
And just how long is the Long Eighteenth Century? For Great Britain 1688-1832 works. Elsewhere 1688 is not such a good dividing point.

http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~jlynch/Papers/betwixt.html
1688? Why?

Higgins
09-24-2009, 04:49 PM
1688? Why?

End of the Stuarts...William of Orange runs England and the United Provinces right into the Nine-years War to stop Louis XIV.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nine_Years_War

Culturally you could say things start looking pretty eighteenth century in terms of the prestige of science and the growth of idea that religions and autocratic power were as much about making societies coherent and productive as anything else.

Of course in France 1688 is right in the middle of the reign of Louis XIV so it doesn't work as well for defining a long eighteenth century.

Higgins
09-24-2009, 05:41 PM
End of the Stuarts...William of Orange runs England and the United Provinces right into the Nine-years War to stop Louis XIV.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nine_Years_War

Culturally you could say things start looking pretty eighteenth century in terms of the prestige of science and the growth of idea that religions and autocratic power were as much about making societies coherent and productive as anything else.

Of course in France 1688 is right in the middle of the reign of Louis XIV so it doesn't work as well for defining a long eighteenth century.

Though the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 could mark the beginning of a long eighteenth century in France. So 1685/1688 to 1815/1832 might be a workable range.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edict_of_Nantes

DustyBooks
09-24-2009, 07:02 PM
Why 1832? I took a course on eighteenth-century history last year but for that, the cutoff was 1815.

Heroes, not antiheroes.

I haven't read Tom Jones. Maybe I should, although it'll be a while before I can get around to it, with term papers already looming on the horizon, addictions to P. G. Wodehouse and the internet, and a TBR list already filled with very long, very old books. But the way it looks from the excerpt, the author and other characters rather disapprove of Tom, and judgments are pretty strongly expressed in the omniscient POV. Let me say again that I haven't read the book and I don't know if I understood it correctly. Just using third-person limited POV, seeing everything through Tom's eyes but without the judgments in retrospect possible in first-person, would make a difference, I'm sure.

Higgins
09-24-2009, 08:19 PM
Why 1832? I took a course on eighteenth-century history last year but for that, the cutoff was 1815.

Heroes, not antiheroes.

I haven't read Tom Jones. Maybe I should, although it'll be a while before I can get around to it, with term papers already looming on the horizon, addictions to P. G. Wodehouse and the internet, and a TBR list already filled with very long, very old books. But the way it looks from the excerpt, the author and other characters rather disapprove of Tom, and judgments are pretty strongly expressed in the omniscient POV. Let me say again that I haven't read the book and I don't know if I understood it correctly. Just using third-person limited POV, seeing everything through Tom's eyes but without the judgments in retrospect possible in first-person, would make a difference, I'm sure.

1815 works perfectly for ending the 18th century on the continent...though that's more of a political than a cultural ending, maybe. 1832 in Great Britain is the year of the Reform Act (only a law in England and Wales at that point)...which presumably had some cultural impact.

Even in Great Britain, 1815 might well be more of a break than 1832.

Higgins
09-24-2009, 08:28 PM
Why 1832? I took a course on eighteenth-century history last year but for that, the cutoff was 1815.

Heroes, not antiheroes.

I haven't read Tom Jones. Maybe I should, although it'll be a while before I can get around to it, with term papers already looming on the horizon, addictions to P. G. Wodehouse and the internet, and a TBR list already filled with very long, very old books. But the way it looks from the excerpt, the author and other characters rather disapprove of Tom, and judgments are pretty strongly expressed in the omniscient POV. Let me say again that I haven't read the book and I don't know if I understood it correctly. Just using third-person limited POV, seeing everything through Tom's eyes but without the judgments in retrospect possible in first-person, would make a difference, I'm sure.

About Tom Jones in Tom Jones:
In the passage I quoted, Fielding is being pretty ironical. First of all in that he is pretending he has to make do with the "heroe" he happens to have and second in exaggerating the unworthiness of the hero, and third in pretending to believe the general report about the hero. In the details that follow, we see that Tom Jones' crude childish morality is far superior to the morality of the gossiping about how he deserves to hang.

Fielding AKA "Captain Hercules Vinegar"...(see the Wiki on Henry Fielding)
was a magistrate and had had plenty of trouble with the law when he was younger. I would have been well aware of both the facile condemnation of marginal people in gossip and the kind of completely correct moral judgment that ends up getting you in trouble when judged narrowly.

DustyBooks
09-27-2009, 07:00 AM
Oh, okay. For some reason I had been thinking of 1820, with the end of the Regency, as the end of the Long Eighteenth Century in Britain. As for Fielding being ironic, I should have guessed...

I guess what I'm concerned about is the influence a work of fiction may have. I think many of us (not all, but I think at least I did) begin writing with the assumption, at least unconsciously, that our characters' positive actions or traits will have a good influence. I'm not talking about being moralistic, but I've seen this in myself, when a hero's perseverance has rubbed off on me and kept me going, in work or school or writing.

Potentially irrelevant material starts here

Then there are the little things that don't really have any morality attached. Since you mention POB, I'm quite curious to try some of the foods he mentions. When I was a kid, I read a lot of Saddle Club, Pony Pals, etc...certainly contributed to my begging my parents for a horse. I didn't try archery at summer camp until after watching the Lord of the Rings movies.

On a larger scale, books and movies have to make their subject matter appealing--either by playing up its intrinsic appeal, or because a character loves it.

(Hasty generalization, sorry...I just remembered Das Boot...:badthoughts I didn't even make it to page 15 and I don't think I'll ever read a book with submarines in it again! And yet it's kind of a classic...I still can't think of a better way to put this, but maybe I'd limit the statement to genre fiction?)

Thus Amelia Peabody waxes poetic about camping out in a tomb and philosophical about mummies, Top Gun makes naval aviation look sexy, knights don't stink, and castaway or runaway characters of various types come to love the forbidding wilderness that almost killed them at the beginning of the book (and also tend to not stink!).

End potentially irrelevant material

So, is there a tendency to downplay the potential negative influence of things characters do?

And do aesthetic judgments of various sorts, whether we're talking about beauty, coolness, or "that looks like fun!", have a bearing on moral judgments? Or interfere with them, as in what TVTropes calls the Rule of Cool? Well exemplified by the opening quotes from the article:


But it's tough to really care about questions like, "Why did that happen?" or even "What's going on?" when you're constantly interrupted by "Oh my goodness! Giant robots! Wheeee!"
Peter Suderman, reviewing the 2007 film adaptation of Transformers

"The laws of physics must be out to lunch."
"They're too busy watching."
This very wiki, on Dead Fantasy.

Or the related Rule of Fun for video games.

Note that I'm not talking about what happens when the reader is going through the book with the critical mindset of an English student getting ready to write a paper on it, but about lighter leisure reading for escape, the half-hour of having the book turn into a movie in your head at bedtime to distract you from all the things you have to do in the morning, when the last thing you want to do is ponder ethics!

Penfeather
11-05-2009, 06:49 PM
I think the protagonist should only be a moral example if the writer wants the protagonist to be a moral example. I firmly believe that a writer's only responsibility is to tell the story they want to tell to the best of their ability. If they want to tell a story that sets a moral example, then that's fine (although I tend to avoid writers who do that in an overt way because I don't like it when fiction writers preach at me). The writer is not obligated to give readers a moral lesson. We have religious tracts for that.

Yes, there will be some readers who can't separate reality from fiction and will make assumptions about your morality if your characters (especially your protagonist) do something questionable. If it worries you, then you might have to consider how to avoid that situation. Personally I think you should write the character in whatever way makes the most sense for that character and for the story.

LOG
12-09-2009, 05:28 AM
The morality of the protagonist is totally under your control, don't take any BS from people who say your characters needs to be a certain way unless it partains to believability.

icerose
12-12-2009, 12:39 AM
Given that I just finished a novel with a budding serial killer as my MC, I'd have to say no.

gothicangel
12-13-2009, 02:53 AM
Re: the eighteenth century. I've just finished an Undergrad module on The Restoration and Eighteenth century that stretches from 1660 to the 1790's. Surely 1832 is the nineteenth century? Our reading stretched from Wycherley and Rochester to Sterne and Sheridan.

I think morality is a dangerous arena for writers to stray into. It's something for the critics and academics to argue over.

In my novel I have a character who does bad things for good reasons (the antagonist) and a character who does good things for bad reasons (the protagonist.) I don't see it as my place to judge my characters as being 'good' or 'bad'. I do however sympathise with their reasons/motives.