Aspects of the Novel

by E. M. Forster

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Please give a summary of Aspects of the Novel by E. M. Forster.

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E.M. Forster's Aspects of the Novel began as a collection of lectures on fiction he gave at Trinity College, Cambridge in 1927. He was talking about the novel from his role as a distinguished novelist. In other words, his perspective is that of a writer thinking about the task of composing novels rather than that of a critic whose only concern is reading and reception of literary works. At this point in his career, Forster had already published his major novels Where Angels Fear to Tread, The Longest Journey, A Room with a View, Howards End, and A Passage to India

Forster begins by saying that the only thing all novels have in common is that they are over 50,000 words. Beyond that, they are works of imaginative prose with a great degree of diversity. He says that rather than attempting to study the novel historically, he will be concerned with what makes a novel a successful work of art by trying to look at common elements of the craft of writing that go into composing an effective novel. Although he admits that there are intuitive and emotional elements which affect our appreciation of the novel, he argues that there are several important aspects to the craft of the novel, namely: story, plot, fantasy, prophecy, pattern, and rhythm. He then discusses each of these individual elements in detail. 


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This is a rather long and complex work to summarise in its entirety, so I will outline Forster's introductory chapter for you. I have also included a link to a complete enotes summary to this work below, so you can access this to gain further information regarding the work as a whole.

In his first chapter, Forster presents some basic rules that act as a foundation to his further discussion of the English novel. He defines various terms, such as a novel as being "a fiction in prose of a certain extent," and then defines English literature as being any literature written in the English language, disregarding geographical location. What stands out from this introduction is the way that Forster wants to ignore time and periods in his examination of the novel. Rather he imagines a variety of novelists sitting in a circle and writing their works, allowing them and their qualities to be compared regardless of their context. He defines the title of the work as refering to the seven aspects that each section of his book will refer to and study: story, characters, plot, fantasy, prophecy, pattern, and rhythm.

Out of the seven chapters, probably Forster's work is most famous for its discussion of character and his introduction of the concept of flat and round characters. Looking at Dickensian characters, Forster distinguishes between two types of characters. "Flat" characters are ones that have but one or two defining characteristics and are not fully developed. "Round" characters are fully developed and characters that the authors enable us to see their full psychological complexity. However, this is but one of Forster's contributions to literature through this work, and the rest of this book is worthy of attention.

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