English History and Literature
Forster’s discussion covers three centuries of the novel; his own life and work spanned the late nineteenth through the late twentieth centuries. His life was affected by such major events as World War I, in which he participated, and his novels bridge the historical transition from Victorian to Edwardian England, as well as the literary transition from romanticism to modernism.
Victorian and Edwardian England
The Victorian era is the name given to the period of English history during the long reign of Queen Victoria, from 1837 to 1901. While commonly associated with a culture of conventionality and prudishness, Victorian England witnessed ma jor upheavals in economic, political, and technological structure. In the nineteenth century, England lead the way in the Industrial Revolution, ultimately followed by other European and non-European nations. Significant advances in wages and a signifi- cant population expansion were integral to a series of political reforms that gradually increased the rights of average citizens and decreased the power of the regency in the political realm. The Reform Act of 1832 began a trend that lead to the Reform Bill of 1867 and a series of economic and social reforms introduced in the 1870s. The requirements for voting rights were altered to vastly increase the proportion of the male population eligible to participate in elections to Parliament and local government offices. While the era of Queen Victoria was in part characterized by the conservative values associated with traditional family structure and social propriety, a strong strain of liberal thought characterized significant elements of nineteenthcentury intellectual life. A major and controversial landmark was the biological theory of evolution put forth in Charles Darwin’s 1859 Origin of the Species. The Victorian era ended upon the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, when her son ascended the throne as King Edward VII, thus initiating the much shorter era of Edwardian England. King Edward, unlike his mother, brought with him a freer, looser atmosphere that had its effect on the mood of the nation. Edward, who was already fifty-nine years of age when he became king, died in 1910 and was succeeded by King George V, whose reign lasted until his death in 1936.
World War I and the Post-War Era
The period of World War I, from 1914 to 1918, had a profound effect on Forster, who served as a Red Cross volunteer throughout the War, and many of the writers of his generation. A landmark in British politics of the post-War era was the People Act of 1918, which extended the right to vote to women over the age of thirty and to all men over the age of twenty-one, regardless of property holdings. In 1928, the right to vote was extended to women ages twenty-one to thirty. Forster was an active supporter of the Labour Party, which won its first major victory in 1924 when James Ramsay MacDonald was the first Labour Party leader elected to the position of prime minister of England. MacDonald, however, held this office only nine months before he was replaced by Stanley Baldwin, who remained prime minister until 1929, taking the office again in 1935, where he remained until 1937. The 1920s and 1930s in England came to be known as the Baldwin Era, which encompassed the period in which Forster first wrote Aspects of the Novel in 1927. Although Forster was politically engaged, his lectures make little reference to political or historical events. His only direct reference to British politics is the mention of Prime Minister Asquith, who remained in power from 1908 until 1916.
Though Forster explicitly avoids any discussion of historical development in the novel, it is helpful to have a basic understanding of the standard chronological periodization of English literature during the time periods in which the works discussed by Forster were produced.
In the course of his discussion, Forster mentions the four great novelists of...
(The entire section is 2,465 words.)