Let us consider for a moment the qualities that a good novel should have. It should have a coherent and plausible story, a variety of probable incidents, characters that are living and freshly observed, and natural dialogue. It should be written in a style suitable to the subject, If the novelist can do that I think he has done all that should be asked of him. I think he is wise not to concern himself too greatly with current affairs, for if he does his novel will lose its point as soon as they are no longer current. H.G. Wells once gave me an edition of his complete works and one day when he was staying with me he ran his fingers along the many volumes and said to me: ´You know, they´re dead. They dealt with matters of topical interest and now of course they´re unreadable.´ I don´t think he was quite right. If some of his novels can no longer be read with interest it is because he was always more concerned with the type than with the individual, with the general rather than with the particular.
Nor do I think the novelist is wise to swallow wholesale the fashionable fads of the moment. I read an article the other day in which the author stated that in the future no novel could be written except on Freudian principles. It seemed to me a very ingenuous statement. Most psychologistsm though acknowledging liberally the value of Freud´s contributions to their science, are of opinion that he put many of his theories in an exaggerated form; but it is just these exaggerations that attract the novelist because they are striking and picturesque. The psychology of the future will doubtless discard them and then the novelist who has based his work on them will be up a gum tree. How dangerous to the novelist the practice is, of depending too much on theories that a later generation may discard, is shown very well in the most impressive novel the century has produced, Remembrance of Things Past. Proust, as we know, was greatly influenced by the philosophy of Henri Bergson and large stretches of his great work are taken uo with it. I think I am right in saying that philosophers now regard Henri Bergson´s more striking ideas as erroneous. I suppose we all read with a thrill of excitement Proust´s volumes as they came outm but now when we re-read them in a calmer mood I think what we find to admire in them is his wonderful humour and the extraordinary philosophical disquisitions.
It is obviously to the novelist´s advantage that he should be a person of broad culture, but the benefit to him of that is the enrichment of his own personality. His business is with human nature and he can best acquire knowledge of that by observation and by exposing himself to all the vicissitudes of human life.
Taken from the Chapter "OF HUMAN BONDAGE WITH A DISGRESSION ON THE ART OF FICTION" (Pages 131-132), A Traveller in Romance, Uncollected Writings 1901-1964, W. Somerset Maugham, Edited by John Whitehead. Clarkson N. Potter, Inc./ Publishers. First American Edition, 1984.