The artist is not meant to be a judge of his characters and what they say; his only job is to be an impartial witness … Drawing conclusions is up to the jury, that is the readers. My only job is to be talented, that is, to know how to distinguish important testimony from unimportant, to place my characters in the proper light and speak their language.
(Anton Chekhov: letter to Alexi Suvorin May 30 1888)
What a good starting point when you’re pondering a book’s effect. But can an author really be an impartial witness? There are lots of good writers who obviously do judge their characters – Jane Austen for one. How do you not judge in a comedy of manners? How do you not set up the ‘testimony’?