Aspects of the Novel Critical Overview
by E. M. Forster

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Critical Overview

(Nonfiction Classics for Students)

Forster is best remembered as a master of the English novel. He published five novels between 1905 and 1924, including Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905), The Longest Journey (1907), A Room with a View (1908), Howard’s End (1910), A Passage to India (1924), the last two being his undisputed masterpieces. He was to publish no more novels in his lifetime, although Maurice, originally written in 1914, was published posthumously in 1971. Norman Page, in E. M. Forster (1987), observing that Forster produced only six novels in his lifetime, notes, ‘‘Forster’s impact on the twentieth century has gone far beyond what his modest output might lead one to expect.’’ Of Forster’s lifelong literary career, Claude J. Summers, in E. M. Forster (1983), notes that, at least since the 1950s, ‘‘he was regularly . . . described as England’s greatest living novelist.’’ By the time of his death, ‘‘he had earned an international reputation as an incisive interpreter of the human heart and a champion of the liberal imagination.’’

Forster spent the last forty-five years of his life writing various forms of nonfiction, as well as a few short stories. While most agree that Forster cannot be considered a great literary critic, critics vary in their overall assessment of Aspects of the Novel. Lionel Trilling, in E. M. Forster (1943), an early and influential essay, claims that Forster is ‘‘not a great critic, not a great ‘thinker.’’’ Trilling qualifies this statement, conceding that Aspects of the Novel ‘‘is full of the finest perceptions.’’ He nonetheless observes, ‘‘Even if we grant Forster every possible virtue of his method—and it has virtues—he is never wholly satisfactory in criticism and frequently he is frustrating.’’ However, Trilling suggests that ‘‘the laxness of the critical manner in which Forster sets forth his literary insights’’ is in fact a conscious protest against the Western over-valuation of rational thinking. Harry T. Moore, on the other hand, in E. M. Forster (1965), asserts that Aspects of the Novel ‘‘is valuable not only for what it tells of Forster’s ways and means of writing, but it is also an important study of the art of fiction.’’ Wilfred Stone, in The Cave and the Mountain (1966), claims that Aspects of the Novel is ‘‘Forster’s most ambitious aesthetic statement.’’ Moore, in E. M. Forster (1967), observes of both Aspects of the Novel and Forster’s other works of literary criticism: ‘‘surprise and delight with unexpected insights, practical and impractical, casting light on Forster and his own fiction, obscuring both in order to illuminate some corner hitherto deprived of adequate light.’’ Page assesses the significance and impact of Aspects on the Novel on literary criticism, as well as on Forster’s career, in observing, ‘‘though informal in tone, [these lectures] were to have a wide influence in a period when the theory and criticism of fiction was relatively unsophisticated, and they increased Forster’s reputation as a man of letters.’’ Summers observes of Aspects of the Novel that it is ‘‘Forster’s most sustained critical statement,’’ in which the casual, conversational style of the writing masks an ambitious ‘‘ideological work’’ of...

(The entire section is 769 words.)