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ASPECTS OF THE NOVEL Paperback – September 14, 1956
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Forster's book is not really a book at all; rather, it's a collection of lectures delivered at Cambridge University on subjects as parboiled as "People," "The Plot," and "The Story." It has an unpretentious verbal immediacy thanks to its spoken origin and is written in the key of Aplogetic Mumble: "Those who dislike Dickens have an excellent case. He ought to be bad." Such gentle provocations litter these pages. How can you not read on? Forster's critical writing is so ridiculously plainspoken, so happily commonsensical, that we often forget to be intimidated by the rhetorical landscapes he so ably leads us through. As he himself points out in the introductory note, "Since the novel is itself often colloquial it may possibly withhold some of its secrets from the graver and grander streams of criticism, and may reveal them to backwaters and shallows."
And Forster does paddle into some unlikely eddies here. For instance, he seems none too gung ho about love in the novel: "And lastly, love. I am using this celebrated word in its widest and dullest sense. Let me be very dry and brief about sex in the first place." He really means in the first place. Like the narrator of a '50s hygiene film, Forster continues, dry and brief as anything, "Some years after a human being is born, certain changes occur in it..." One feels here the same-sexer having the last laugh, heartily.
Forster's brand of humanism has fallen from fashion in literary studies, yet it endures in fiction itself. Readers still love this author, even if they come to him by way of the multiplex. The durability of his work is, of course, the greatest raison d'être this book could have. It should have been titled How to Write Novels People Will Still Read in a Hundred Years. --Claire Dederer
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Top Customer Reviews
Nearly every chapter in this book has something to offer the reader, but I have found his discussion of the difference between flat and round characters to be especially useful in reading other novels. In Forster's view, a round character is one that can develop and change over the course of a novel's story. They adjust, grow, and react to events and people around them. They are fuller, and therefore more lifelike. A flat character, on the other hand, is essentially the same character at the end of the tale as at the beginning. They do not grow, do not alter with time, do no admit of development. Flat characters are not necessarily bad characters. As Forster points out, correctly, I think, nearly all of Charles Dickens's characters are flat characters. Not even major characters such as David Copperfield change during the course of their history.
I have found this distinction to be quite helpful in reading the work of various novelists. Some authors have almost nothing but round characters. Anthony Trollope is a premier example of this.Read more ›
Delving into this book was part of a quest over the past year to read books on writing by writers. The books did not address HOW to write a novel other than tangentially. Although there are a plethora of dubious choices along those lines, I stayed away from them. The books that I searched out were books on the process of writing, the very lonely experience of the writer in creating fiction.
Several of the books were fogettable. A surprising number of them were memorable, including Mystery & Manners by Flannery O'Connor, On Writing by Stephen King, and anything by Margaret Atwood.
Of all of the books that I read, this one was the best by far. It covered not only the process of writing but also provided a structure for discussing and understanding the novel art form.
As a result, I highly recommend this book for book clubs. When presenting this book recently to my book club of 14+ years as my pick, there was a collective groan. Upon finishing the book, we all thought that it was one of the best of the 125+ books that we had read. It gave us a missing structure and tools for moving discussions and disagreements forward. Several times over the years, one or more of us have disagreed over some book selection or an aspect of it, but the discussion would stall for lack of a way to bridge the various viewpoints. For the first time, we were able to go back through those arguments in a new light using the tools presented in the book.Read more ›
I liked this collected series of lectures on what makes for good novel writing much better than almost any of the novels that Forster actually wrote (A Passage to India being the lone exception). Forster treats seven different aspects--the story, people, plot, fantasy, prophecy, pattern, and rhythm--in a breezy conversational style. Along the way, he offers examples, both good and bad, from literary history. I found myself agreeing and dissenting about equally, but the whole thing was immensely interesting and entertaining.
Here are some of the observations that I agreed with and why:
A story "can only have one fault: that of making the audience not want to know what happens next."
One inevitably thinks of James Joyce's Ulysses, which by now has surely retired the title of "the book most likely to remain unfinished". No matter how revolutionary the technique, how insightful the observations or how compelling the characters, a book that you can put down and not care what happens next has failed in its most basic task. ----------------------
The constant sensitiveness of characters for each other--even in writers called robust, like Fielding--is remarkable, and has no parallel in life, except among those people who have plenty of leisure. Passion, intensity at moments--yes, but not this constant awareness, this endless readjusting, this ceaseless hunger. I believe that these are the reflections of the novelist's own state of mind while he composes, and that the predominance of love in novels is partly because of this.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Written weird. Had to look up every other word, which is ok, but sure slowed the reading process. Still never really understood a single word it said.Published 26 days ago by Martha
If you want to know about Literature and creativity, you have to read this book.Published 4 months ago by Dr. Kola Olagboyega
Sudden death would have been preferable to reading this cover to cover. Okay, I'm exagerating somewhat. Lets just say it is a very tedious read. Read morePublished 6 months ago by The Giant
Must be read slowly, but as sweet as syrup when the reader takes the time.Published 8 months ago by M. Powell
Aspects of the Novel, a series of lectures given by E. M. Forster, is a classic of the writer's craft. Read morePublished 10 months ago by David S. Wellhauser
Very succinct, enlightening and definitely a book I would recommend for those who desire to understand the craft of writing a novel. I read this book in one day. Read morePublished 11 months ago by Susan Sinanan Ganness
Adapted from E.M. Forster’s series of 1927 lectures, this work takes an academic approach to analyzing the various components of what he considers successful and not so successful... Read morePublished 13 months ago by Louis K. Lowy