Aspects of the Novel Characters
by E. M. Forster

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Aspects of the Novel Characters

(Nonfiction Classics for Students)

Jane Austen
Jane Austen (1775–1817) was an English novelist whose works depicting the British middle class are a landmark in the development of the modern novel. She is best known for the novels Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), Emma (1815), and Persuasion (1817). Drawing examples from both Emma and Persuasion, Forster notes that all of the characters in Austen’s novels are ‘‘round.’’

Sir Max Beerbohm
Sir Max Beerbohm (1872–1956) was a British journalist celebrated for his witty caricatures of the fashionable elite of his time. His publications include The Works of Max Beerbohm; Caricatures of Twenty-Five Gentlemen (both in 1896); The Happy Hypocrite (1897), a light-hearted fable; and Seven Men (1919), a short story collection. Forster discusses Beerbohm’s only novel, Zuleika Dobson, a parody of Oxford University student life, as an example of the complex use of fantasy.

Arnold Bennett
Arnold Bennett (1867–1931) was a British novelist, critic, essayist, and playwright whose major works include a series of novels set in his native region of the ‘‘five towns,’’ then called the Potteries (now united into the single city of Stoke-on-Trent). The ‘‘Five Towns’’ novels include Anna of the Five Towns (1902), The Old Wives’ Tale (1908), Clayhanger (1910), Hilda Lessways (1911), These Twain (1916), and The Clayhanger Family (1925). Forster discusses The Old Wives’ Tale as an example of a novel in which time is ‘‘celebrated’’ as the ‘‘real hero.’’ He concludes that, while The Old Wives’ Tale is ‘‘very strong and sad,’’ the conclusion is ‘‘unsatisfactory,’’ and it therefore ‘‘misses greatness.’’

Charlotte Brontë
Charlotte Brontë (1816–1855), the sister of Emily Brontë, was a British novelist of the Victo rian era, celebrated for her masterpiece Jane Eyre (1847). Her other works include Shirley (1849) and Villette (1853). Forster uses Villette as an example of a novel in which the plot suffers due to an inconsistency in the narrative voice.

Emily Brontë
Emily Brontë (1818–1848), the sister of Charlotte Brontë, was a British writer whose only novel, Wuthering Heights (1847), is generally considered to be a greater achievement than any of her sister’s novels. Forster asserts that Emily Brontë ‘‘was a prophetess,’’ in his literary sense of the word. He explains that, while Wuthering Heights makes no reference to mythology, and ‘‘no book is more cut off from the Universals of Heaven and Hell,’’ the prophetic voice of her novel gains its power from ‘‘what is implied,’’ rather than from what is explicitly stated.

Daniel Defoe
Daniel Defoe (1660–1731) was an English novelist and journalist, and author of the novels Robinson Crusoe (1719–1722) and Moll Flanders (1722). Forster discusses Moll Flanders as an example of a novel in which the plot and story are subordinate to the main character. Forster states that ‘‘what interested Defoe was the heroine, and the form of his book proceeds naturally out of her character.’’

Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens (1812–1870) is often considered the greatest English novelist of the Victorian era. His works, many of which remain popular classics, include A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist (1837–1839), David Copperfield (1849–1850), Bleak House (1852–1853), A Tale of Two Cities (1859), Great Expectations (1860–1861), and Our Mutual Friend (1864–1865). (His novels were originally published in serial form, often spread out over a period of years.) Forster makes the point that most of the characters in Dickens novels are ‘‘flat’’ and can be summed up in one sentence. However, he asserts that these characters evoke ‘‘a wonderful feeling of human depth,’’ by which Dickens expresses ‘‘a vision of humanity that is not shallow.’’ In a discussion of narrative point-of-view, Forster uses the example of Bleak House , in which the narrative perspective shifts around inconsistently, yet does not...

(The entire section is 2,463 words.)