Before broaching our third and final question (“What are the rules one must follow in order to succeed in perfecting the art of the novel?”), we must, it would seem to me, reply to the constant objection if certain melancholy minds who, to give themselves a gloss of morality wherefrom their hearts are often distant, persist in asking; “Of what use are novels?”
Of what use, indeed! hypocritical and perverse men, for you alone ask this ridiculous question: they are useful in portraying you as you are, proud creatures who wish to elude the painter’s brush, since you fear the results, for the novel is – if ’tis possible to express oneself thuswise – the representation of secular customs, and is therefore, for the philosopher who wishes to understand man, as essential as the knowledge of history. For the etching needle of history only depicts man when he reveals himself publicly, and then ’tis no longer he: ambition, pride cover his brow with a mask which portrays us naught but these these two passions, and not the man.
The novelist’s brush, on the contrary, portrays him from within… seizes him when he drops this mask, and the description, which is far more interesting, is at the same time more faithful. This, then, is the usefulness of novels, O you cold censors who dislike the novel: you are like that cripple who was wont to say: and why do artists bother to paint full-length portraits?
-Extract from Reflections on the Novel by the Marquis De Sade