Aspects of the Novel

by E. M. Forster

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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...

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example ofBleak House, in which the narrative perspective shifts around inconsistently, yet does not alienate the reader, due to Dickens’ stylistic skill.

Fyodor Dostoevsky
Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821–1882; also spelled Dostoevski) was a nineteenth-century Russian writer who remains one of the greatest novelists of all time. His most celebrated works include the novels Crime and Punishment (1866), The Idiot (1868–1869), The Possessed (1872), and The Brothers Karamazov (1879–1880), and the novella Notes from the Underground (1864). In a discussion of prophesy, Forster compares a passage from The Brothers Karamazov with a passage from a novel by George Eliot, concluding that in Dostoevsky’s work can be heard the prophetic voice of the novelist.

Norman Douglas
Norman Douglas (1868–1952) was an Austrian writer of Scottish-German descent who traveled widely in India, Italy, and North Africa, and most of his works are set on the Island of Capri in southern Italy. Master of a conversational style of prose, he is best known for the novels Siren Land (1911), South Wind (1917), and Old Calabria (1915) and for the autobiography Looking Back (1933). Forster mentions Norman Douglas in a discussion of character. He quotes an open letter written by Douglas to D. H. Lawrence, in which he criticizes the novelist for his undeveloped characters.

George Eliot
George Eliot (pseudonym of Mary Ann, or Marian, Evans; 1819–1880) was an English novelist celebrated for the realism of her novels. Her best known works include Adam Bede (1859), The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), and Middlemarch (1871–1872), her masterpiece. In a discussion of prophesy, Forster compares a passage from Adam Bede with a passage from The Brothers Karamazov, by Dostoevsky, concluding that, while both express a Christian vision, Dostoevsky’s vision is that of a prophet, whereas Eliot’s is merely preachy.

Henry Fielding
Henry Fielding (1701–1754) was a British writer, considered to be one of the inventors of the English novel. His best known works include the novels Joseph Andrews (1742) and Tom Jones (1749). Forster mentions Fielding as a novelist who successfully creates ‘‘round’’ characters. In a discussion of point of view, Forster criticizes Fielding for his intrusive narrative voice, which is no better than ‘‘bar-room chattiness’’ that deflates the narrative tension. In a discussion of fantasy, Forster mentions Joseph Andrews as an example of an ‘‘abortive’’ attempt at parody. He explains that Fielding started out with the intention of parodying the novel Pamela, by Samuel Richards, but, through the invention of his own ‘‘round’’ characters, ended up writing a completely original work.

Anatole France
Anatole France (1884–1924) was a French novelist and critic who was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1921. In a discussion of pattern, Forster describes France’s novel Thaïs (1890) as having a narrative structure in the shape of an hourglass.

David Garnett
David Garnett (1892–1981) was a British novelist best known for his satiric tales, such as Lady into Fox (1922) and A Man in the Zoo (1924). He also wrote several books based on his association with the Bloomsbury Group, including The Golden Echo (1953), The Flowers of the Forest (1955), The Familiar Faces (1962), and Great Friends: Portraits of Seventeen Writers (1980). In addition, he edited a 1938 edition of The Letters of T. E. Lawrence (1938). Forster discusses Lady into Fox, in which a woman is transformed into a fox, as an example of the fantastic in the novel.

André Gide
André Gide (1869–1951) was a French writer awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1947 and is best known today for his novel L’Immoraliste (1902; The Immoralist). In a discussion of plot, Forster discusses Gide’s Les Faux monnayeurs as an example of a novel in which the story is entirely determined by the main character and contains almost no plot whatsoever.

Oliver Goldsmith
Oliver Goldsmith (1730–1774) was an English novelist, essayist, and playwright whose major works include the novel The Vicar of Wakefield (1766), the essay collection The Citizen of the World, or Letters from a Chinese Philosopher (1762), the poem The Deserted Village (1770), and the play She Stoops to Conquer (1773). In a discussion of plot, Forster describes The Vicar of Wakefield as a novel in which the formulation of the ending comes at the expense of the story and characters. Referring to Goldsmith as ‘‘a lightweight,’’ Forster notes that in The Vicar of Wakefield, as in many novels, the plot is ‘‘clever and fresh’’ at the beginning, yet ‘‘wooden and imbecile’’ by the ending.

Thomas Hardy
Thomas Hardy (1840–1928) was an English novelist and poet whose major works include the novels Far from the Madding Crowd (1874), The Return of the Native (1878), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891), and Jude the Obscure (1895). In a discussion of plot, Forster describes Hardy as a novelist whose plots are so overly structured that the characters are lifeless.

Henry James
Henry James (1843–1916) was an Americanborn novelist who lived much of his adult life in England, creating characters who represent con- flicts between American spirit and European tradition. His major works include the novels Daisy Miller (1879), The Portrait of a Lady, Washington Square (both 1881), The Bostonians (1886), The Wings of a Dove (1902), and The Ambassadors (1903). In a discussion of pattern, Forster describes The Ambassadors as a novel in which the narrative is structured in the pattern of an hourglass, stressing symmetry at the expense of character.

James Joyce
James Joyce (1882–1941) was an Irish novelist whose major works include the novels A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), Ulysses (1922), and Finnegans Wake (1939), and the short story collection, Dubliners (1914). In a discussion of the fantastic, Forster describes the experimental novel Ulysses as an adaptation of the classic Greek mythology of the Odyssey. Although he refers to Ulysses as ‘‘perhaps the most remarkable literary experiment of our time,’’ Forster concludes that it is not entirely successful as a novel, as it lacks the element of prophecy.

D. H. Lawrence
D. H. Lawrence (1885–1930) was an English novelist whose major works include Sons and Lovers (1913), Women in Love (1920), and the highly controversial Lady Chatterley’s Lover (first published in 1928, though not readily available to the reading public until 1959). Drawing an example from Women in Love, Forster asserts that Lawrence is, to his knowledge ‘‘the only prophetic novelist writing today,’’ (in 1927).

Percy Lubbock
Percy Lubbock was an author and critic whose book The Craft of Fiction (1921) contributed to the development of the theoretical study of the novel. In a discussion of character, Forster cites Lubbock as claiming that point of view is central to characterization. In a discussion of narrative pattern, Forster discusses Lubbock’s Roman Pictures, a comedy of manners, as a narrative structured in the pattern of a chain. Forster asserts that this novel is successful, not simply because of this pattern, but because of the appropriateness of the pattern to the mood of the story.

Herman Melville
Herman Melville (1819–1891) was an American novelist whose masterpiece, Moby Dick (1851) is considered one of the greatest novels ever written. In a discussion of prophecy, Forster describes Melville as a profoundly prophetic writer, citing passages from both Moby Dick and the short story ‘‘Billy Budd.’’

George Meredith
George Meredith (1828–1929) was an English novelist and poet, known for his concern for women’s equality and his mastery of the internal monologue. Meredith was highly influential among many of the great modern novelists of the early twentieth century. His major works include The Ordeal of Richard Feverel (1859), Evan Harrington (1860), The Adventures of Harry Richmond (1871), Beauchamp’s Career (1876), The Egoist (1879), and Diana of the Crossways (1885). In a discussion of plot, Forster, drawing from the examples of Harry Richmond and Beauchamp’s Career, explains that, while Meredith is no longer the towering figure of literary accomplishment he once was, he is, if nothing else, a master of plot in the novel.

Marcel Proust
Marcel Proust (1881–1922) was a French novelist whose masterpiece is the seven-volume, semiautobiographical novel, Á la recherche du temps perdu (1913–27; Remembrance of Things Past). At the time of Forster’s lectures, the final volume of Remembrance of Things Past had not yet been published. In a discussion of character, Forster refers to Proust as an example of a writer whose ‘‘flat’’ characters function to accent the ‘‘round’’ characters. In a discussion of rhythm in the novel, Forster praises the work of Proust as an example of a novel that, while chaotic in structure, is held together by rhythm, the literary equivalent of a musical motif.

Samuel Richardson
Samuel Richardson (1689–1761) was an English novelist credited with inventing the epistolary novel, in which the story is narrated through a series of letters between the characters. His major works are Pamela (1740) and Clarissa (1747–1748). In a discussion of parody and adaptation, Forster men tions Pamela as the work that Henry Fielding set out to parody in his novel Joseph Andrews.

Sir Walter Scott
Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832) was a Scottish novelist credited with the invention of the historical novel. Ivanhoe (1819) is the best known of his many novels and novel cycles. In a discussion of storytelling in the novel, Forster uses the examples of The Bride of Lammermoor (1819) and of The Antiquary (1816; the last of a trilogy, set in Scotland from 1740–1800, known as the ‘‘Waverly’’ novels). Forster, although admitting that he does not consider Scott a good novelist, does concede that he is a good storyteller, to the extent that he is able to narrate a sequence of events that occur over time. Forster concludes, however, that the result of Scott’s perfunctory storytelling is a shallow and unemotional work, lacking the qualities which lend value to a novel.

Gertrude Stein
Gertrude Stein (1874–1946) was an American writer of experimental novels, stories, and essays, whose major works include Three Lives (1909), Tender Buttons (1914), The Making of Americans (1925), and The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933). In a discussion of story, Forster describes Stein as an example of a novelist who attempted to write stories without the element of time.

Laurence Sterne
Laurence Sterne (1713–1768) was an Irish- English writer whose masterpiece is the novel Tristram Shandy (1759–1767), in which narrative digression dominates the story line. In a discussion of fantasy and prophecy, Forster mentions Sterne among a number of novelists in whose works both fantasy and prophecy are essential.

Leo Tolstoy
Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910) was a Russian novelist whose major works, War and Peace (1865–1869) and Anna Karenina (1875–1877), are considered among the greatest novels ever written. In a discussion of character, Forster describes War and Peace as a novel in which the narrative point of view, while scattershot and inconsistent, is successfully rendered by the skill of the novelist. In a discussion of rhythm, Forster celebrates War and Peace as a novel in which the author not only succeeds in creating rhythm but comes close to the equivalent of a musical symphony on a par with Beethoven’s Fifth.

H. G. Wells
H. G. Wells (1866–1946) was an English novelist best known for his now-classic science fiction novels The Time Machine (1895), The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), and The War of the Worlds (1898), as well as the comedic novels Tono-Bungay (1909) and The History of Mr. Polly (1910). In a discussion of character, Forster notes that Wells’s characters, like those of Dickens, are almost all completely ‘‘flat’’ yet succeed in the context of his novels due to his great narrative skill.

Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf (1882–1941) was a British novelist and critic whose major works include the novels Mrs. Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927), and Orlando (1928), as well as the early work of feminist criticism, A Room of One’s Own (1929). In his introduction, Forster cites a passage written by Woolf in comparison with a passage by Sterne.




Critical Essays