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Setting is one of the more important elements of many novels. There are some novels where the setting is, in fact, the single most important elements. James Joyce's novel are as much about the city of Dublin as about the characters. As well as Bloom's stream-of-consciousness, Ulysses also gives us a vision of Dublin, experienced via Bloom's peregrinations. In Finnegan's Wake, the River Liffey becomes personified as Anna Livia Plurabelle. Setting is also very important in the Romantic novel, often setting mood (the so-called Pathetic Fallacy). The windswept heath of Wuthering Heights, like the castles of the Gothic, creates the preconditions for suspense, horror, and the reader's acceptance of behaviour and events that would simply seem bizarre or improbable if set in an ordinary English village.
One theory has it that people read novels for escape from reality. They want to travel to different places and vicariously experience other people's lives. The setting of a novel is important because it provides the place to which the reader will escape once he or she gets involved in the dramatic questions of the story. Unless a novelist has some talent for creating the illusion of a three-dimensional place, the story will seem to be taking place in a sort of limbo, and the reader will not be able to achieve an escape in imagination from reality.
All the best stories in the world are but one story in reality--the story of escape. It is the only thing which interests us all and at all times, how to escape. (Walter Bagehot)
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