Shane's Reviews > Aspects of the Novel

Aspects of the Novel by E.M. Forster
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This is a rather dated study of the novel that Forster delivered in a series of lectures at the Cambridge Arts Theatre in 1927, but some elements are still of interest.

Forster limits his study to about a dozen novels and their authors: The Brothers Karamazov, Moby Dick, Ulysses, Wuthering Heights, Madame Bovary, Moll Flanders, Emma, Tristram Shandy, The White Peacock, War and Peace, Bleak House and the Ambassadors. He breaks his areas of study into Story, Plot, People, Fantasy, Prophesy, Pattern and Rhythm. Here are some key points I picked up in each of the areas or in their related sub sections:

Story: is event and time sequence driven, and does not get into motivations of why things are happening, always begging only the question of “what comes next.”

Plot: extends story into the motivations behind the actions. Plot demands memory and intelligence. Inquisitive people have bad memory and are stupid at bottom.

People: discussion on “round” and “flat” characters dominates. Flat characters can be described in a sentence and are best used for comedy while round characters are more complex (like real people). Dickens used flat characters mostly but got his point across through them rather effectively. Jane Austen was the master of round characters. The focus on the sensitivity of characters to each other is larger in the novel than in real life, as is the focus on love and death.

POV: can be of several types. Bleak House and War & Peace uses all forms of POV from Omniscient to Third Person. Forster doesn’t mind shifting POV - as long as it works!

Fantasy vs. Prophesy: both involve mythology, but fantasy invokes the creatures of the “lower air” ( i.e. fauns, druids, fairies etc.) while prophesy is grounded in the human. Prophetic fiction demands humility and the absence of a sense of humor.

Pattern: the hourglass pattern, where the principal characters invert roles between beginning and end is the dominant pattern discussed.

Rhythm: Proust is the master of rhythm, everything else in his masterpiece falls apart

Forster makes other observations: “To take the reader into your confidence means intellectual and emotional lowering” - this is a direct reference to the intrusive narrator who comments on the state of affairs from time to time, a style that has since gone out of fashion today. “The artist aims for the truth, and succeeds if he raises emotions.” “A novel must end with at least one living character.”

The Appendix section at the end of this book is well worth reading for it contains the frank thoughts and opinions of Forster on the same books that he read in preparation for the lectures. He isn’t kind to all the novels or to their authors in this section though, which makes it all the more compelling to read!

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May 5, 2015 – Shelved
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message 1: by Ben (new)

Ben I read Aspects of the Novel in college 50 years ago in Bombay as part of my readings in literary criticism. It is essential reading for a fiction writer and fiction teacher.

Incidentally, just last month I saw a new edition of this book in the library with the author's photo on the cover (a harassed-looking 70-year-old). I took it out and read it avidly and agreed with all his six points, especially his take on the POV.

A novel is superior to the film, he says, because the reader gets to see the outside and inside of the person whereas in real life or in the film we only see the exterior. And this is done with the skillful use of the POV, which allows a writer to reveal the character's thoughts as well as his external appearance and the environment.

I better stop here because literary criticism is my favourite topic or speciality.

Thanks, Shane, for reviewing this book.


Shane Ben wrote: "I read Aspects of the Novel in college 50 years ago in Bombay as part of my readings in literary criticism. It is essential reading for a fiction writer and fiction teacher.

Incidentally, just la..."

Thanks, Ben. the biggest "ah, ha"for me was that this journeyman writer was being invited to lecture on his craft in the hallowed halls of academia!

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