It’s reductive perhaps, but in a moment of idleness, I was thinking that all prose writers could be roughly categorised as sane or mad.
Jane Austen and George Eliot are sane.
Emily Bronte is mad. Charlotte and Anne Bronte are sane, despite the madwoman in the attic.
Charles Dickens is mad, or at least he has a mad imagination.
Same with Lewis Carroll.
Henry James and Edith Wharton are sane.
Melville is obviously mad.
Murasaki Shikibu is sane. Soseki and Kawabata are sane.
Akutagawa is mad.
Kafka is mad.
Chekhov is as sane as a physician can be, perhaps the sanest of writers.
Turgenev is sane.
Tolstoy, despite his idiosyncratic views on art and extreme views on religion, is sane as a novelist.
Dostoyevsky is mad.
Gogol is perhaps the maddest of them all.
Nabokov, despite often writing about madmen, is sane as he knows them to be madmen and dissects them in a calm, controlled way.
Proust, despite being a stylist, is mad. Stylistically he may be closer to Tolstoy, but like Dostoyevsky, he has strong interest in extreme and abnormal states of mind.
It’s interesting that when we look at it this way, I clearly enjoy both but personally feel closer to sane writers. What does it mean? I have no idea.
But what about you?
(By the way, I’m reading Volume 2 of Proust, Within a Budding Grove, translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff & Terence Kilmartin, revised by D. J. Enright).