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Aspects of the Novel (Penguin Classics) Paperback – 1 Sep 2005


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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; New ed edition (1 Sep 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141441690
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141441696
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 12.2 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 145,153 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 4 Nov 2001
Format: Paperback
After dazzling me with his wonderful novels, I read this critical work by Forster and it gave me a much clearer idea of some of the notions behind his own methods of writing as well as those of other twentieth-century novelists. He explains the need to create an aesthetic view of the universe when writing a novel, as logic and reality are not as important within literature as stylistic effect. He demonstrates this concept most clearly in A Passage to India where truth is so distorted that everyday objects are miraculously deified and Eastern mysticism is often undermined. He further illustrates the role of truth in fiction, whether through believable or unbelievable characterisation, or through use of artistic or journalistic language.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Bob Ventos on 31 Oct 2009
Format: Paperback
This book is based on lectures Forster delivered in 1927, but it still felt (to me) very relevant and useful today, as well as being often amusing and thought-provoking. His approach avoids the standard `history and development' of the novel, concentrating instead on how novels work practically.

Some of the key concepts are ones he was (I think) the first to articulate. He formulates the distinction between the `story' (the sequence of events, where we ask `what will happen next?') and the `plot' (the events linked by causality, where we ask `why?'). He disputes with Aristotle (emotion isn't only in action, but in our internal secret lives, to which the novelist has access). He demonstrates the difference between flat characters (unchanging and `constructed round a single idea' like Mrs Macawber's loyalty to her husband) and round ones (`capable of surprising in a convincing way'). He looks at how characters are different from real people (they spend most time loving and desiring rather than eating and sleeping!). How points of view (omniscient, free indirect) can be mixed and matched. How novelists persuade us to accept the fantastic (whether in terms of coincidences or angels). How patterns work (the structuring of the plot and of symbols). And what the future of the novel might be (when individuals, through social and personal change, start to look at themselves in a new way, novels, he claims, will find new ways of representing things).

The style is witty and full of nice lines. `[The pseudo-scholar] loves mentioning genius, because the sound of the word exempts him from discovering its meaning.' `Speculations... always have a large air about them, they are a convenient way of being helpful or impressive.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By s k on 19 Sep 2012
Format: Paperback
E.M. Forster's Aspects of the Novel deserves its place in the canon of literary criticism. It is an admirable work, which, despite its defects, instils a confidence in Forster's formulations. That these Clark Lectures (of the academic year 1926-7) followed those of T.S. Eliot only helps highlight the gulf in academic approach, the playful appreciation adopted by Forster being diametrically opposed to that of the patrician and doctrinaire Eliot. The easygoing charm and chattiness endear the text to the reader, its many whimsies a welcome change to the drier literary criticism of today.

Forster makes no apologies for his narrow outlook. Although 'English poetry fears no one', Forster feels the English novel trails behind that of its continental peers, especially the great Russians, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. But such a reductive base can still support the scaffolding of Forster's ahistorical theories, and thus he goes on to unravel the timeless ideas of story, plot, people, fantasy, prophecy, point of view, rhythm and pattern. The distinction between flat and round characters may seem simple, but it is valid still, as the contemporary novel continues to be hobbled by problems of characterisation. Is this an insolvable problem, the predominance of depthless characters in modern fiction?

Critically, though, there are flaws, and Forster's narrowness is one. Forster refuses to explore the Modernist titans of the 1920s in any great depth, and so the majority of his examples predate this revolutionary movement. James Joyce's Ulysses gains only a passing and begrudging respect, while Virginia Woolf, D.H. Lawrence and H.G. Wells are barely mentioned.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Ford Ka VINE VOICE on 5 Nov 2008
Format: Paperback
The book which started as a series of lectures grew to become one of landmarks in history of literary criticism. Over eighty years after its original publication its value has not diminished. Quite on the contrary, Forster's lucid and rational approach to literature seem to become even more valuable with the publication of almost every book on literary criticism largely regardless of their authors theoretical agendas.
A quarter of a century after the novel was recognised as literature (before Henry James' "The Art of Fiction" only poetry and drama deserved the name) and in the peak period of the modernism (this book was written exactly between the publications of "Ulysses" and "Finnegans Wake") Forster presented his personal view of fiction in a quiet and unassuming but clear and rational way. The resulting book is fairly unrevolutionary for the period of turmoil and change but it has stood the test of time at least as well as the modern experiments.
"Aspects of the Novel" is one of the books which keep the readers repeating to themselves: "But I know this!" Yes, you do. But it was E. M. Forster who said it first.
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