In his essay "The Art of Fiction," Henry James argued for artistic freedom, challenging the ideas of Walter Besant, an English literary critic, who in 1884 delivered a lecture called "Fiction as One of the Fine Arts." Besant contended that writers should limit themselves to writing about only what they knew: James, in contrast, said writers should be limited only by their ability to remain interesting on whatever subject they chose to cover. Besant said writers should work with a moral purpose in mind. James, in contrast, said writers should not be limited by conventional morality, but that any writer who thought deeply, rather than superficially, should be able to take his or her writing wherever it led. James appreciated writers like the English novelist George Eliot, who wrote with depth and precision.
"The Art of Fiction" helped establish the novel as a serious art form. In it, James asserted that the novel should represent life: if it does that, a set of rules doesn't matter. A writer should remain true to his or her own vision, try to represent human consciousness, and concentrate on developing his or her style.