Bruce's Reviews > Aspects of the Novel

Aspects of the Novel by E.M. Forster
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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. Furthermore, 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.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
October 14, 2009 – Shelved
October 14, 2009 – Finished Reading

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message 1: by Hazel (new) - added it

Hazel Thank you, Bruce. This does sound fascinating. I'm going to look for it. Following your reviews is a real pleasure for me.


Mohit Parikh Not sure if Fantasy and Prophecy are really essential Aspects of the novel, but loved his all other ideas.

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