The art of literature stands apart from among its sisters, because the material in which the literary artist works is the dialect of life; hence, on the one hand, a strange freshness and immediacy of address to the public mind, which is ready prepared to understand it; but hence, on the other, a singular limitation.— Robert Louis Stevenson
The Meaning Of The Quote
This quote by Robert Louis Stevenson highlights the unique nature of literature as an art form. Stevenson suggests that literature is distinct from other forms of art because it directly deals with the raw material of life, which is the human experience, emotions, and the language people use to express them. Here’s a breakdown of the quote:
- “The art of literature stands apart from among its sisters”: Stevenson is emphasizing that literature is distinct from other art forms, such as painting, sculpture, or music. It has its own special place.
- “because the material in which the literary artist works is the dialect of life”: Stevenson is saying that writers use the language and experiences of real life as their raw material. They draw upon the way people speak and express themselves, as well as the complexities of human existence.
- “hence, on the one hand, a strange freshness and immediacy of address to the public mind, which is ready prepared to understand it”: This part of the quote suggests that because literature is grounded in the language and experiences of everyday life, it can have a unique and immediate connection with readers. It can feel fresh and relatable because it’s using familiar material.
- “but hence, on the other, a singular limitation”: However, Stevenson also notes that this closeness to everyday life can be limiting. When literature is so closely tied to the common experiences and language, it might not always allow for the same degree of artistic abstraction or departure from reality that other art forms might achieve. In other words, there can be limitations to how far literature can stretch beyond the everyday.
Stevenson is highlighting the double-edged nature of literature. It has the power to connect deeply with readers because it uses the language of life, but at the same time, it might be constrained by this very closeness to reality and the limits of everyday language and experience.