Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Friday, July 29, 2011

Aspects of the Novel by E. M. Forster

Aspects of the Novel by E. M. Forster (1927, 156 pages)

My Passage from  Neophyte to Acolyte

Aspects of the Novel was born as a series of lectures  E. M. (Morgan) Forster gave at Cambridge in 1927.    I have recently read and posted on his Where Angels Fear to Tread and Passage to India.   I am nearly done with Howards End.    I love these books and will read all of his novels soon, I hope.   I am also reading E. F. Furbank's masterful biography of Forster (1879 to 1970-UK).   I was moved to learn that Forster was at the funeral of Katherine Mansfield in Paris and was a good friend of Elizabeth Bowen, two central Reading Life authors.   

Aspects of the Novel is not a "heavy" or an academic book at all.   It is not a work of  deep scholarship with a lot of axes to grind or theories to prove.   It is a friendly, very interesting work by an author that loved the reading life, had the leisure to read a great deal, and produced at least two masterworks of the novel.    It really feels to me just like what it in fact was when it originated:   a friendly lecture at a social event by a man who loved novels to an audience that really wanted to hear what he was saying.   Forster was so secure in his knowledge and with his audience that he felt no need to be trendy or even especially original.   He does try hard to be interesting and tell the truth.     The lectures have a relaxed feel to them that I enjoyed and it seems that Forster enjoyed writing them.   At times Forster was talking about works I have not heard of but that it a great thing, for me at least.    

One of the things people will want to know is simply what novels does Forster endorse.    His choices are very interesting but not at all shocking.    He says several times the greatest novel ever is War and Peace for its creation of the world in a book.        Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov is mentioned as the deepest exploration of the soul. (I wondered if Bunny Garnett was in the audience.)     He loves Cranford  by Elizabeth Gaskell.    Among his greats are Proust, Henry James,  Dickens and Jane Austin and Lawrence Sterne.     He has sections on story lines, people, plot, fantasy, prophecy and pattern in the novel.   He talks a good bit about the work of George Meridith, Walter Scott and Samuel Butler (three authors I have not read yet).    He says Moby Dick is one of the greatest of all novels, in a time before it was fashionable.   You will walk away with a bigger TBR list for sure!   I am really looking forward to rereading Tristram Shandy after reading Forster's brilliant remarks on it.   I know I have to read something by Walter Scott soon.

Using Bleak House by Dickens as his example, Forster says in a novel an author can sometimes let his audience relax by being clear and simple and at other times he can strain the intellect to the maximum by using different narrative methods and points of view as he proceeds.

This work is in the public domain so you can find a source to download it if you like.

I do not know if it would still be widely  read if it was not written by Forster.  

I very much enjoyed this book and learned a lot from it.    It is not, as I said, an academic work.   Forster does not try to prove that what he says is right with a 1000 foot notes.   You are assumed to be very well read and a lover of the novel.      I think my enjoyment of these lectures was also increased by what I have learned about the atmosphere of Cambridge in the 1920 that allowed me to somehow insert myself in the audience.

Please share your experiences with Forster with us and help out Forster neophytes such as myself.

Mel u


Unknown said...

I always meant to read this, but never got around to it. I think I even owned a copy for many years. I have read Meredith, Bulter and Scott, however. If you want to round out your education, go ahead and give them a go. They were considered great in their day, but I don't think anyone would consider them great now. Frankly, I couldn't see what all the fuss was about, myself.

Anna said...

E. M. Forster is always a pleasure to read; I'll have to add this to my to-read list.

And although it's not your scene, I've tagged you in a game of blogger tag‚ just for fun!