Notebook

One of the difficulties that confronts the novelist is how to describe the appearance of his characters. The most natural way is of course the formal catalogue, the height, the complexion, the shape of the face, the size of the nose… I do not believe that the reader gets any clear impression. The older novelists were very precise in their enumeration of their characters’ physical parts, and yet if any reader could see in the flesh the person the author has thus elaborately described I do not believe he would recognise him. I think we seldom form any exact image in our minds as a result of all those words. We have a clear and precise picture of what the great characters of fiction looked like only when an illustrator like Phiz with Mr Pickwick or Tenniel with Alice has forced his own visualisation upon us.

Somerset Maugham, “A Writer’s Notebook”.

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