Manners, Morals, and the Novel

"Manners, Morals, and the Novel." Paper read at the Conference on the Heritage of the English-Speaking Peoples and Their Responsibilities, at Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio, September 1947. First published in The Kenyon Review 10, No. 1 (Winter 1948): 11-27.


The invitation that was made to me to address you this evening was couched in somewhat uncertain terms. Time, place and cordiality were perfectly clear, but when it came to the subject our hosts were not able to specify just what they wanted me to talk about. They wanted me to deal with literature in its relation to manners—by which, as they relied on me to understand, they did not really mean manners. They did not mean, that is, the rules of personal intercourse in our culture; and yet such rules were by no means irrelevant to what they did mean. Nor did they quite mean manners in the sense of mores, customs, although—again—these did bear upon the subject they had in mind.

I understood them perfectly, as I would not have understood them had they been more definite. For they were talking about a nearly indefinable subject.

Google Books - essay in The Moral Obligation to be Intelligent