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4.7 out of 5 stars
Aspects of the Novel (Penguin Classics)
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on 12 September 2017
I wanted to underline all of this, so many beautifully phrased relativistic statements. For its time it is a light hearted and progressive piece of criticism or as he insists pseudo-criticism but in fact it's ( to borrow again, one of his categories) prophecy from the horse's mouth. Who like a novelist can define and elaborate functions of the novel. Which is not to say that everything is agreed or obvious. There's plenty of matter for debate/rumination but all is plainly put and enjoyable as composition.
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on 22 May 2017
I have loved this personal, shrewd and thoughtful trip through Eng Lit's novels since I was a student (nearly 60 years ago).
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on 29 August 2017
A classic!
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on 28 March 2017
To the aspiring novelist this work is as relevant today as it was in the 1920's when first published. I used it consistently when lecturing on Creative Writing in the USA in the late 1980's and found it to be a worm hole to a literary fourth dimension, where abides an endless seam of characters, storylines and plotting directions. Being the descendent of a military family who served in India through the 19th and early 20th Centuries, Forster's novel "A Passage to India" proves, to me at least, the magical presence of the storyteller in the bazaar, whilst "Aspects of the Novel" provides the literary blueprint for such an elegant creation.
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on 18 April 2017
Pellucid prose and complete clarity of purpose. Erudite and persuasive. An entertaining and illuminating read about the art and craft of writing fiction.
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on 31 October 2009
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.' `Love, like death, is congenial to a novelist because it ends a book conveniently.'

Examples range from the earliest of novels (Richardson, Defoe) to the (then) latest (Woolf, Lawrence) and across an international field: Tolstoy and Gide as well as Sterne, Dickens and Wells. Arnold Bennett said of the book, `I have never met this kind of perspicacity in literary criticism before'. I know what he means - I wish I'd read it years ago...
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VINE VOICEon 5 November 2008
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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on 4 November 2001
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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on 19 September 2012
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. So when Forster rallies against the novel's subservience to chronological Time, this cursory glance at the modernists seems a weakness, as they had already undermined the notion of textual linearity. An intriguing question then arises: did Forster fear, or simply dislike, the work of his contemporaries? It seems a little of both.

But that is a small failing, and one that doesn't detract from the work's overall success. As far as readable literary criticism goes, this is an essential and thoughtful exposition on the novel's compositional processes. Nevertheless, Forster made no claims to academic rigour, believing us to learn far more by simply enjoying a book rather than pedantically studying it. And so it's in the mixed garb of the practitioner-critic that Forster performs his most important task: to show the worth and enjoyment of reading.
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on 10 November 2015
A must read and think about for any aspiring writer.
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