As much as I absolutely love some of Forster s novels, there was something about this book which failed to reach me entirely In about half of it, he was lucid and original, using text examples that I knew, and lifting their meanings to new heights introducing his famous flat and round characters But in the other half or so , I felt that he was unnecessarily allegorical and metaphysical, and he lost me at times The book is divided into chapters about The Story, People, The Plot, Fantasy, Prophecy, Pattern and Rhythm, which provide Forster s analysis of, of course, the foremost aspects of novels As literary criticism or an elucidation of the qualities a reader must bring to the appreciation of books, it gives an overall feeling of something which is almost spiritual, certainly aesthetic, almost slightly out of one s grasp As an illustration of the elements of the craft of novel writing, there isn t much in concrete terms, but this is Forster s style His is a hazy, dreamy, yet astute perception of the art of the novel, and he doesn t hesitate along the way to pass judgment on some of the grandest names of his trade, including Scott, Dickens and James, which was rather entertaining, certainly illuminating.
He employs a majestic we , which rather irritated me sometimes, signaling some kind of collusion when saying we all consider this novel so and so The overall tone is quaint, yet casual, witty but opinionated, and I would have loved being in attendance when he gave these lectures, and being the annoying person in the audience who asked all the stupid questions So are you really saying that James s characters are dead would perhaps be what I d start out with.
This fascinating book is a series of lectures and, taking its tone from that format, is delightfully conversational that Forster gave at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1927 In his introductory he makes this statement, The final test of a novel is our affection for it He proposes to discuss several Aspects of the Novel.
The most common denominator of all novels is this the novel tells a story This alone does not make a novel good, but without a story a novel cannot exist Therefore, time is always a crucial element in any novel With the introduction of actors, ie characters, into a story, the emphasis shifts to values And first Forster draws a distinction between history and fiction in the sense that history can only describe external phenomena of the actors, trying to infer feelings and motivations from these observations, whereas the novelist can, if he or she chooses, not only know but also create the actors thoughts and feelings Further, Forster discusses round and flat characters and the role of each as well as different perspectives of narration, denying that absolute consistency of point of view is either necessary or always desirable Forster distinguishes story from plot, the former being a sequence of events, the latter having to do with causality The former requires of the reader curiosity, the latter intelligence and memory He also discusses both fantasy and prophesy in literature, and, in an interesting but brief passage, uses the then recently published Ulysses by James Joyce as an example, finding it both inspired and disgusting By fantasy Forster means not necessarily the supernatural but rather the appearance of the odd, the unexpected And by prophecy he refers to tone of voice Whereas fantasy would seem to be involved with particularity, prophecy concerns itself with the universal Neither need be explicate in the novel, but to some extent they are usually present.
Finally, Forster pattern and rhythm in the novel, and how they foster the novelist s goal of opening the reader s sensibilities Expansion That is the idea the novelist must cling to Not completion Not rounding off but opening out He sees the continuing development of the novel as implying the development of humanity.
Rating 5 of fiveOne of the best books I ve read about writing novels A truly inspirational guide to a complex and daunting effort It is scary enough to make the decision to write a novel To face the prospect without a reliable guide UNTHINKABLE Not exactly a how to guide or a critique, Forster very basically explains different Aspects of the Novel through a series of lectures he gave in the late 1920s A lot of the books that he refers to I ve never read and probably never will Les Faux Monnayeurs, not so much interested in , but he usually includes enough detail of the story or character that you get his point.
The tone is pretty casual, which makes it an easy read and while the aspects he covers are very basic the story, the plot, what makes a character flat or round it was compelling enough to keep me reading.
I particularly liked the last couple chapters His point about what elevates a book beyond being preachy to being prophetic is perfectly highlighted by his example from Adam Bede and The Brothers Karamazov I love Forster s novels and I think in the final chapter, Pattern and Rhythm, when he writes of how music is like fiction, he really seems to sum up his idea of the novel Expansion That is the idea the novelist must cling to Not completion Not rounding off but opening out When the symphony is over we feel that the notes and tunes composing it have been liberated, they have found in the rhythm of the whole their individual freedom Cannot the novel be like that Yes, cannot it
I enjoyed it to some extent, especially the laugh out loud moments where he points out how utterly ridiculous a plot is, or quotes a parody of Henry James by H G Wells But many of the books of which he speaks are ones I have never even heard of and so I must confess that there were times when he lost me and I would rather have been elsewhere.
I first read Aspects of the Novel shortly after I entered College at a time when my reading was predominately in science fiction I found Forster s book very exciting and it stimulated me to the point where I began reading widely and finally became an English major.
Well, time has passed since then and my views have moderated somewhat though I still think this is a book anyone interested in the novel should look through at last once.
The first two chapters are quite engaging and help explain why these lectures were such a public success Immediately afterwards Forster was offered a three year Cambridge Fellowship and later on was made an honorary life Fellow and given a permanent home in Cambridge.
The book shows its age in Chapters 3 and 4 which deal with people Forster s use of flat and round characters is clever and may be useful but they probably oversimplify the complex art of characterization in a novel I would agree with those who feel that he sells Dickens short I would also certainly agree that it is true that in the creation of subtle characters with psychological depth, Jane Austen is the greater artist However, that certainly does not mean that she is a greater novelist than Dickens as Forster seems to imply The world of Austen may be meticulously created and the characters in it superbly drawn but that world is very much a tiny slice of eighteenth century society Only in Mansfield Park does Austen give us a glimpse of the lower classes.
On the other hand, Dickens presents an incredibly vivid panorama of Victorian England The characters may, in Forster s terms, be flat but they stand out with striking power and frequently convey an energy that helps to vivify the human condition in a way that we never see in an Austen novel I am not saying that Dickens is a greater novelist than his predecessor, but he is certainly as great.
I think that Forster here is echoing a complaint about Dickens s characterization technique that was common at the time and which we see repeated in F.
R Leavis as well In fact, Dickens is capable of using a highly sophisticated narrative approach as in Bleak House A great deal of work has been done on this topic since the time of Forster and you can download a free twenty page Chicago Short by Wayne Booth entitled What Every Novelist Needs To Know About Narrators.
uk Every Novel.
Chapter Five The Plot is successful Even Leavis, who didn t at all like the lectures, later praised the demolition Leavis s term of Forster s analysis of George Meredith More generally, Forster here begins to weave in the aesthetic dimension of the novel through the mechanism of the plot He states We come up against beauty here for the first time in our enquiry beauty at which a novelist should never aim, though he fails if does not achieve it This aesthetic quality will be later developed in the final chapter Pattern and Rhythm ,Chapter Six Fantasy is another relatively weak area Forster considers the Fantasy novel to be equivalent to a side show in a Circus True, he does defend it in terms of what Tolkien would later elaborate as a secondary world We all know that a work of art is an entity, etc etc it has its own laws which are not those of daily life, anything that suits it is true, so why should any questions arise about the angel, etc.
, except whether it is suitable to its book Why place an angel on a different basis from a stockbroker Forster s rather dismissive attitude to fantasy is indicated by his choice of examples Three full pages are spent on Flecker s Magic by Norman Matson now remembered primarily for The Passionate Witch a completion of an unfinished novel by Thorne Smith How many have read Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm Well, another few pages are devoted to it Forster was writing before the explosion of heroic fantasy that came with Tolkien but surely Chesterton was worth mentioning He wrote fantasies considerably better than anything in that field that either Beerbohm or Matson produced and even developed a theory of literary fantasy.
Chapter Seven has the odd title Prophecy Prophecy, for Forster, is a tone of voice The novelist is not making an attempt to foretell the future rather he is involved with the universe or something universal Is this really a useful term for a particular type of thematic approach in the novel I m not sure that it is but the chapter is well worth reading for some excellent insights on the novels Forster chooses such as Eliot s Adam Bede which is contrasted with The Brothers Karamazov There are insightful references to D.
H Lawrence and Herman Melville especially interesting are the comments about Billy Budd.
The chapter ends with a discussion of Emily Bronte s Wuthering Heights F.
R Leavis spends 18 lines on this novel in his The Great Tradition He decides it is merely a sport that had no connection with the Tradition he outlines His wife, Q.
D Leavis also a respected literary critic said Wuthering Heights is not and never has been a popular novel except in the sense that it is now and accepted classic and so on the shelves of the educated But Forster in a few pages writes with genuine excitement, even passion about this quite remarkable book He anticipates both Lord David Cecil s Children of Storm and Calm approach and Dorothy Van Ghent s brilliant essay Dark otherness in Wuthering Heights found in her study The English Novel, Form and Function 1953.
Here is a snippet from Forster emotions function differently to other emotions in fiction Instead of inhabiting the characters, they surround them like thunderclouds, and generate the explosions that fill the novel Wuthering Heights is filled with sound storm and rushing wind a sound important than words and thoughts The final chapter is Pattern and Rhythm and I think this is the finest chapter in the book Here, the aesthetic beauty that is generated in the plot is most completely realised in Forster s concept of Pattern Pattern is the plot element that appeals to our aesthetic sense, as it causes us to see the book as a whole Forster analyses The Ambassadors by Henry James as an example of the complex beauty created by it I would add that it is also very evident in the structures developed in Jane Austen s novels Rhythm uses a repetition of an image of some sort throughout the novel to develop the theme Forster uses the work of Proust to develop this idea Personally I see its use through the recurring crowd scenes in Huckleberry Finn through which Twain develops the theme of the darkness in the human soul Forster seems a bit nervous about the concept of Rhythm and spends less time on it than he does on Pattern Probably this is because Pattern is relatively easy to analyse whereas Rhythm tends to be seen as a poetic device Yet, I feel it is equally important.
This journey through Aspects of the Novel was highly enjoyable Of course, that initial excitement of the first reading was largely gone but I think that I see the book with a greater clarity now Inevitably time has taken its toll and some of its ideas seem dated But I still think it is a great book with marvellous insights by a major novelist Remarkably, perhaps a fitting tribute to him comes from F.
R Leavis in The Common Pursuit A Passage to India , all criticisms made, is a classic not only a most significant document of our age, but a truly memorable work of literature And that there is point in calling it a classic of the liberal spirit will, I suppose, be granted fairly readily, for the appropriateness of the adjective is obvious In its touch upon racial and cultural problems, its treatment of personal relations, and in prevailing ethos the book is an expression, undeniably, of the liberal traditional and it makes the achievement, the humane, decent and rational the civilized habit, of that tradition appear the invaluable thing it is On this note I should like to make my parting salute Mr Forster s is a name that, in these days, we should peculiarly honour.
E M Forester is a remarkable man Astute And that s what makes Aspects of the Novel so compelling.
The book is a compilation of lectures, delivered in Trinity College, Cambridge in 1927, on what he considers universal Aspects of the Novel story, characters, plot, fantasy, prophecy, pattern, and rhythm The lectures are unique and insightful Had I not lost my book immediately after finishing it I would have loved to quote several of his shrewd, profound and appealing conclusions here What still remains with me is a his emphasis, that writing novel is an art and can not be contained within the boundaries erected by rules and tricks of the craft In fact, his criticism for the two other contemporary works Craft of Fiction and Art of Novel Yes, but which novel , he asks in the appendix amused me most And b his lucid distinction between, and the explanation of the difference in effects of, a story and a plot If it is in a story we say and then If it is in a plot we say why These are extremely valuable lectures for a writer of fiction like me who wants to keep his readers hooked.
Even though there is a lot learned as a writer and a critic reader from this book, I have awarded it only three stars for two main reasons 1 The lectures rely heavily on assuming or expecting, reasonably so an audience that has read Tristram Shandy, The Ambassadors by Henry James, Moby Dick, War and Peace,The Bleak House, Meredith s works all of which I haven t read and some then famous, now obscure 19th century works I could not, thus, participate in the many extensive discussions extensive by the length of the lectures.
2 The lectures on Prophecy and Fantasy, the central common trait in the novels as per the speaker, are outdated Describing the spiritual elements in fiction through his definitions does not seem to be necessary any Even if you take the time element out, these two lectures still remain vague, and neither readers nor literary critics benefit from them It is a series of lectures that literary students won t like to miss An I Ching for literary critics and for those of us who are searching religiously for a book of literary wisdom.
A piece of advice be well acquainted with the 19th century works first to make the most of the book.
As I said, there is much jauntiness here, and this fragility of the structure being built, I felt, was the essential moral Forster was trying to convey All the allusions to pseudo scholarship and all the self reference using that ironic title seems to be meant to guide the student to an appreciation that the novel is an amorphous mass the image that begins the lectures and any shape we might try to impose on it is contingent on our own imagination We might come up with very nice shapes to which we can make most of literature conform, but we can do that only by pruning down each of our examples to fit our model And by doing that we are in effect compromising our original intention.
But, as Forster says, the pseudo scholars have to make money and write dissertations And for that some pruning should be allowed for them Forster gives us an eloquent demonstration of some very fine pruning He even manages to be serious about the whole exercise at times.
Aristotle in the SpotlightIn the end, my major learning from these lectures is Forster s understanding of an elementary difference between Drama and the Novel And here we see a fundamental concept behind these lectures an indirect attack on Aristotle, the Father of Criticism it might even be justifiable to say that much of modern criticism is just a series of footnotes on A s work And thus on all of subsequent literary criticism as well Now, by delineating the difference between Drama and the Novel, Forster is telling us that all these strict frameworks and critical apparatus is best suited only for the Dramatic form of story telling, as A originally intended them to be used, where Beauty can come on stage and cover up for the deficiencies and sacrifices caused from this limited perspective of life in fullness.
The Novel on the other hand is a organic form and is much suited to real life And real life can have no rules Neither can the novel We can expect things of it, but if it satisfies those expectations, suddenly the reality is lost and it becomes merely a charming stage, an artificial enactment That is why great novelists defy conventions, and that is why great critics can be so lax with them when they do Forster gives us a glimpse on how to be both.
EM Forster S Aspects of the Novel Is An Innovative And Effusive Treatise On A Literary Form That, At The Time Of Publication, Had Only Recently Begun To Enjoy Serious Academic Consideration This Penguin Classics Edition Is Edited With An Introduction By Oliver Stallybrass, And Features A New Preface By Frank KermodeFirst Given As A Series Of Lectures At Cambridge University, Aspects of the Novel Is Forster S Analysis Of This Great Literary Form Here He Rejects The Pseudoscholarship Of Historical Criticism That Great Demon Of Chronology That Considers Writers In Terms Of The Period In Which They Wrote And Instead Asks Us To Imagine The Great Novelists Working Together In A Single Room He Discusses Aspects Of People, Plot, Fantasy And Rhythm, Making Illuminating Comparisons Between Novelists Such As Proust And James, Dickens And Thackeray, Eliot And Dostoyevsky The Features Shared By Their books And The Ways In Which They Differ Written In A Wonderfully Engaging And Conversational Manner, This Penetrating Work Of Criticism Is Full Of Forster S Habitual Irreverence, Wit And WisdomIn His New Introduction, Frank Kermode Discusses The Ways In Which Forster S Perspective As A Novelist Inspired His Lectures This Edition Also Includes The original Introduction By Oliver Stallybrass, A Chronology, Further Reading And AppendicesE M Forster Was A Noted English Author And Critic And A Member Of The Bloomsbury Group His First Novel, Where Angels Fear To Tread Appeared In The Longest Journey Appeared In , Followed ByA Room With A View , Based Partly On The Material From Extended Holidays In Italy With His Mother Howards End Was A Story That Centered On An English Country House And Dealt With The Clash Between Two Families, One Interested In Art And Literature, The Other Only In Business Maurice Was Revised Several Times During His Life, And Finally Published Posthumously In If You Enjoyed Aspects of the Novel, You Might Like Forster S A Room With A View, Also Available In Penguin Classics