Rebel Read: Aspects of the Novel
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In the next few posts I'll copy bits of the main arguments so far from my thread.
Poquette: I confess to being somewhat mystified by the notion that Forster hated story. What? I was driven back to the book to see what I had missed.
Indeed, he said "Yes—oh, dear, yes—the novel tells a story." But then, "That is the fundamental aspect without which it the novel could not exist. This is the highest factor common to all novels, and I wish that it was not so, that it could be something different—melody, or perception of the truth, not this low atavistic form."
By "the highest factor" I believe he was regretting that it was actually the equivalent of a lowest common denominator.
When he said, "For the more we look at the story . . . the more we disentangle it from the finer growths that it supports, the less shall we find to admire," I thought I heard a wry tone, at least I pictured a wry smile on his face and that of his audience as he spoke. He then goes on for several pages to explain how essential story is, even though it is so "common."
And in the end, "The time sequence cannot be destroyed without carrying in its ruin all that should have taken its place; the novel that would express values only becomes unintelligible and therefore valueless."
And his final paragraph in that chapter on story reveals completely the high wit and wry humor that underlies his earlier pooh-poohing of story.
Muse, perhaps you were indeed too young to catch the irony on first reading.
The primitive audience was an audience of shock-heads, gaping around the camp-fire, fatigued with contending against the mammoth or the woolly rhinoceros, and only kept awake by suspense. What would happen next? The novelist droned on, and as soon as the audience guessed what happened next, they either fell asleep or killed him.
And then, Scheherezade avoided her fate because she knew how to wield the weapon of suspense - the only literary tool that has any effect upon tyrants and savages.
He exaggerates to be humorous, but I can't believe he was meaning the very opposite of what he's saying. Why would he do that?
To Forster, 'story' is boiled down to simply "what happens next". And of course 'hate' was a silly word for me to use, but I do think he despises story, or looks down on it. If I'm still too young to understand that, no doubt you will tell me. His message as I see it, is that a novel cannot exist without a story; it's essential but primitive, and he regrets that story must be present no matter what.
Mac: The primitive audience was an audience of shock-heads, gaping around the camp-fire, fatigued with contending against the mammoth or the woolly rhinoceros, and only kept awake by suspense. What would happen next? The novelist droned on, and as soon as the audience guessed what happened next, they either fell asleep or killed him.
I see nothing negative in this quote. On the contary, we still need a story to feed our atavistic need. The Art comes second
Having discussed the story - that simple and fundamental aspect of the novel - we can turn to a more interesting topic: the actors. We need not ask what happened next, but to whom did it happen; the novelist will be appealing to our intelligence and imagination, not merely to our curiosity. A new emphasis enters his voice: emphasis upon value.
See the words he's using? 'more interesting' i.e. story is pretty boring. 'intelligence and imagination, not MERELY curiosity'. It's negative, darnit! :)
While there are other aspects of a novel — or a car — that are much more subtle and can generate a much more interesting conversation, or lecture, or book — whatever, all he's saying is that the story is the fundamental building block without which the novel is doomed.
Forster's little book is a transcript of a lecture series. It helps if you try to hear his voice in your imagination. He did his best to make it entertaining, for all the right reasons. To me his approach was a charming way of pointing out some aspects of story that perhaps his audience had not thought of.
Tuirgin: I have to agree with the Muse here. Forster views the story as a rather base thing, which one might easily wish to be rid of as something beneath our dignity, and yet, as with his example of Gertrude Stein, in attempts to do without story, whatever value is present within the novel becomes unintelligible.
Forster is being wryly humorous, but his lack of enthusiasm is clear. Story is the merest mechanical element of the novel. For what it's worth, "highest common factor" is the appropriate mathematical metaphor here, since we are dividing up the novel into its constituent parts. We're factoring up the novel. Everything beyond story its managed with great variety, one of his main points from chapter one.
A_Musing: So is Forster elevating the novel and putting down some of the "mere stories" of early days? Because you don't trash talk the Mahabharata or Odyssey around me without some pushback. Arjuna could take that Bloom guy any day!
Of course, I don't want to be presumptuous here, since it sounds like he (very properly) lusts for Scheherazade.
Murr: I agree with PK, you said just want I wanted to say as I was reading the thread.
Imagine your five year old asks you: what are you reading?
You reply: A novel.
5 yo: What's a novel?
How do you really answer that question?
F's book is an attempt to answer that question. It's not enough to say it's a story. All novels are stories, but not all stories are novels. The other things he mentions in the book, the Aspects summarised by the chapter headings, are the other essential constituents which qualitatively differentiate a novel from a chronicle, a legend, a fairy/folk tale, a fable, an anecdote, a biography, or historiography.
(Is it in this book where he talks about the difference between chronicle and plot? or am I confusing that with Todorov? I think this is an essential distinction.)
I don't think it's a question of necessarily saying novels are a higher or lower art form than other types of written narratives. I think he's just trying to carefully define the boundaries of a genre.
Another way to read it is that perhaps he is saying that a novel in which sole attention is focussed on the story to the detriment of the other Aspects (Da Vinci Code, shit like that) is a weak novel. Another qualitative judgement, but couched in ironic terms. an attempt to instil a criterion by which 'the common reader' may judge the quality of a novel.
don't forget Forster's entire method was ironic. His whole life was ironic: his whole class and nation is corroded with irony. The english are experts at saying profound things in a throwaway, ironic, manner, and F was one of the best at this. The image of the writers seated around a table, rather than in seried ranks clearly denoting canonical/social status, is ironic to the extreme.
England expects that every man will open his heart at least once. EM Forster. Howards, End, I think this comes from.
Murr, I totally agree that he was saying that a novel that's all story is to be looked down upon. He says hard things about Walter Scott for that reason.
Okay, so, here's my grossly superficial outline of Forster's lectures:
- Most of us are pseudo-scholars, and as such should work within our given limitations; he uses this to avoid issues of chronology, and categorization in general; our basis of criticism will be our own humanity.
- Story is the backbone (or wriggling tapeworm) of the novel -- its subject is the life in time; "What next?"
- People give us the beginning of the consideration of the life of values.
- Novel people, homo fictus, are ontologically different from everyday people -- the key distinction is the knowability of the inner, secret life. This is where all of their magic originates, this effability.
- Plot gives us a means of exploring causality, and when done well, this is the beginning of the aesthetic experience of the novel.
- Fantasy and Prophecy give us a means of casting a light upon everything else, of turning it into something it wasn't before, and potentially, with prophecy, raising it up to song.
- Pattern gives an overarching, potentially overbearing, aesthetic structure to the whole, raising it to an aesthetic unity, while rhythm gives the pleasure of repetition without the heavy-handedness of pattern.
There you have it, my 5 shekel summary.
But what's the difference? If an author doesn't reveal all he knows about the characters, how is that difference from real life when we don't know all about a person?
>14 Porius: Por, he says he wants to make people annoyed about Scott. I guess he succeeded.
It seems to me that story-driven tales have relatively little to do with the human conscience—they look outward rather than inward. Cuchulainn and his monstrous blood-sweating battle rage isn't about the consciousness of a pre-literary warrior. The focus is outward, having to do with community and place, and the natural world. The modern novel, or at least the literary novel is far more to do with internal dialog, the plasticity of consciousness and perspective.
Coming back to your question of the knowable but unrevealed homo fictus and the unknowable real-life person, I think of Forster's bit about Queen Victoria, and here I'll quote:
The historian deals with actions, and with the characters of men only so far as he can deduce them from their actions. He is quite as much concerned with character as the novelist, but he can only know of its existence when it shows on the surface. If Queen Victoria had not said, “We are not amused,” her neighbours at table would not have known she was not amused, and her ennui could never have been announced to the public. She might have frowned, so that they would have deduced her state from that—looks and gestures are also historical evidence. But if she remained impassive—what would any one know? The hidden life is, by definition, hidden. The hidden life that appears in external signs is hidden no longer, has entered the realm of action. And it is the function of the novelist to reveal the hidden life at its source: to tell us more about Queen Victoria than could be known, and thus to produce a character who is not the Queen Victoria of history.
Chapter III. People, paragraph 5
At a very fundamental level, the difference between the character and the person is that the character is the author's creation, and what the character does or doesn't do, and what the author tells us about the character or doesn't tell us, is a literary choice. The potential for being entirely known is with the author, and if the author is skillful the disclosures and the mysteries will have literary purpose behind them. With people the mystery is everything and all pervading. We come to appreciate, respect, and participate with others more than we ever come to know them, but they are part of our existence, rather than apart from it. If we distance ourselves from them as from a literary character, we don't know them better, but worse. In daily life, we know less from revelation than from participation. Am I making sense or rambling incoherently? :P
Well I think you're right about the modern novel. Surely it has a lot to do with time and place? The individual, perhaps even the consciousness as we see it today, was only invented during the Romantic period, wasn't it? Others here will help me out with that, my facts may not be straight. So how could an earlier novelist write what Forster would call a literary novel?
Your last paragraph helps a lot. Good stuff.
Part of the genius of Dickens is that he does use types and caricatures, people whom we recognize the instant they re-enter, and yet achieves effects that are not mechanical and a vision of humanity that is not shallow. Those who dislike Dickens have an excellent case. He ought to be bad. - ch 4, 'People cont'd'.
I haven't read enough Dickens to comment entirely accurately, but I've read all of Oliver Twist and Great Expectations, plus most of Martin Chuzzlewit and half of Barnaby Rudge. And from that limited selection I'd have to agree that his characters are flat and yet somehow still interesting. The locksmith's wife in Barnaby Rudge is a perfect example.
And as far as I can see, none of Dickens' characters are ever materially changed by another character. They seem to be born themselves, and no experience on earth will alter them. The locksmith will be contented and cheery, and his wife will be "of uncertain temper" - and the well-dressed villain will be a villain, and his son will be a persecuted saint - and nothing anyone does will change it. I think that is the thing that makes Dickens' characters seem always so unreal. Look at Oliver Twist. In any kind of reality, the boy would have either turned out a total delinquent, or would have died before he was five. But no, Dickens says he must be a saint, so saint he remains, no matter what.
Stop me if I get too off track.
But then again he was a theatrical writer.
Having just finished Room with a View, I was struck by how well developed the characters were. Developed in such a way that there was always a feeling that there was more to them than we could know from what Forster had told us. Therefore when they did or said surprising things then the reader was not surprised. It was somehow in character.
Forster says this very thing in his discussion of characters. I haven't read anything else of his, yet. I take it this is one of his particular strengths?
I know, I need to read the book! Too many questions!
He doesn't really talk about 1001 Nights except to say S was brilliant and wonderful, but what kept her alive was her understanding of suspense.
I find more in his dismissing the chronological. Chronology matters not because the 'Art' of the novel is atemporal. ("History develops, Art stands still".) As a consequence, the assertion (and his juxtaposition of authors such as Wells and Dickens, Sterne and Woolf) calls for another, atemporal, author (or even an Author?)- an odd doubling of the author.
"They may decide to write a novel upon the French or the Russian Revolution, but memories, associations, passions, rise up and cloud their objectivity, so that at the close, when they re-read, some one else seems to have been holding their pen and to have relegated their theme to the background. That "some one else" is their self no doubt, but not the self that is so active in time and lives under George IV or V."
and then stunningly...
"All throughout history writers while writing have felt more or less the same" and "...four hundred years is nothing in the life of our race, and does not allow for room of any measurable change."
And I don't think he does this just to reserve all of chronology for those capable of 'genuine scholarship' - because then it would seem to negate everything he just said... and so, I am a bit baffled by balancing act he attempts between history, literary tradition and literature. He has us 'cut off' tradition as if it belongs to history because, he says, we are ill-equipped to handle it given that we have not read enough (i.e. we are not capable of genuine scholarship) and so "we must refuse to have anything to do with chronology". So then when he speaks of chronology and limits it to the genuine scholar.. it seems he is speaking of the chronology of the literary tradition, not historically. The chronology of literary tradition 'develops' chronologically as it stands still historically?
He quotes T.S. Eliot on the role of the critic "It is part of his business to preserve tradition- when a good tradition exists. It is part of his business to see literature steadily and to see it whole; and this is eminently to see it not as consecrated by time, but to see it beyond time"
I dont know.. have I entirely misread the Introduction?
He places literary tradition in the borderland between history and literature. Scholastic criticism studies the field of literature, where he would have the layman study the works in and of themselves.
The reader must suit down alone and struggle with the writer, and this the pseudo-scholar will not do. He would rather relate a book to the history of its time, to events in the life of its author, to the events it describes, and above all to some tendency. As soon as he can use the word "tendency" his spirits rise...
I don't think he's setting about outlining a specific theory of literary theory and the nature of time. He is, however, trying to convince the non-specialist to focus on the works and the writer and to leave the finer details at the periphery to the specialist.
He assumes, for sake of argument, that the common reader cannot be expected to have a wide ranging knowledge of the cannon - this is the job of the professional, academic reader- urging the CR to focus on the work only, assuring us that specialist, historical knowledge is not necessary for a deep, informed reading.
This is how I read it.
Through sheer will and by dint of defining his terms does he do this; as he further separates 'plot' from 'story', through successive definition, the "naked worm of time" becomes further emaciated. All we are left with is "and then..and then...".
What is left there wriggling, of course it is not easy to see anything noble; among what captivated the 'shockheads'. Necessary yes ("no novel could be written without it", viz. Gertrude Stein), but not noble; not Literary. Very well.
But what perplexes is the tone of an almost exasperated irritation in the way F talks about story. It is not just simply something that is to be set aside as a necessity - but when we are to admit it that necessity "yes- oh, dear, yes- the novel tells a story"- one should say it "a little sadly".
Why sadly? And if sadly, then why only a little?
The biographical fallacy is the notion that it is a fallacy that the writer's biography has any impact, influence on the work; that the work should only be judged/understood in terms of itself, not in terms of how it reacts with/reflects the writer's biography. In this view, all art is autonomous, and does not need any knowledge of the biography to explicate it.
linked to this is another fallacy, that of the intentional fallacy. This is the notion that it is a fallacy that the writer's intention for the work can be found by looking at the work itself. According to this theory, the slip betwixt mind and lip (in this case pen) and the nature of language (slippery signifiers) makes it impossible to talk with any certainty about what the author's intention was by reference to the work alone. Of course one can judge the author's intention by reading their notebooks, or what they say their intention was in other places, but one cannot say of the work itself: 'the authors intention here was to do X.' In this theory the work is created with each reading, in the mind of the reader: the reader in fact creates the work, not the author. as each reader and each reading is different and each perfectly valid, the author's intention cannot be said to have been fulfilled (or to have failed). In fact, the intentional fallacy says that the intention of the author is irrelevant to a reading of the work. This largely frees up the work to differing interpretations. Criticism becomes something else than merely a treasure hunt to find out the author's intention, or a puzzle to do the same.
Both theories can be seen as part of the modernist ideal that art should be concerned with itself, and not have any didactic or moral purpose. This aspect of modernism grew out of the art-for-art-sake of the fin de siecle, and is one of the criticisms levelled against modernism by people such as John Carey, that modernism was too much up its own arse - experimental, difficult, referential etc- and not enough connected to common readers. They were both a reaction to the kind of criticism that only looked for how the work reflected the author's life.
like all theories, they should not be used to establish a false dichotomy. it's not a question of: either biography is illuminating, or it is not; either the author's intention can be found in the work, or it cannot.
The emphasis on the independence of the work from its author which both these fallacies allow, allows also the validity of a whole range of different readings, so in that respect I think they are useful. Think of them as critical tools to use in the understanding of a work, and not a position to be defended at all costs, which is how some academics view them.
Does it limit his creative possibilities? Does it complicate the work ? Does it lead the reader astray ?
maybe things will be clarified later ?
Josipovici put him smack in the middle of all the mediocre writers he was complaining about.
Even Kermode could hardly hide his disappointment when Carey got access all by himself to the Golding papers to write a biography.
>47 Jargoneer: It's been suggested that criticism tells more about the critic than literature. I don't think it makes it any less useful. To borrow from Umberto Eco, disparate opinions on a subject make for a kind of jazz. Each lends it's own window sill to lean upon while considering a work. (I'm still not done mixing my metaphors, just watch.) The more and the more varied, the more interesting, though I would like to stop short of a cacophony of voices in my head.
Then there is the critical fallacy.
As a great artist of his own time once said, "Ramble on. . .".
Generally first I must say that Forster seems to love dichotomy. We have been introduced to at least three important ones already:
Life in time, Life in value
Flat vs. round characters
the two sides of a human being; the secret and the known (borrowing the distinction from Alain)
As I read, ready to disagree I would find myself in agreement, whereas when I was ready to agree, I found myself wincing at some general statement, the truth of which was obscured by forceful exceptions. I think it is fair to say that I found his observations insight, but didn't feel the force of his explanations. For instance, he says that what makes characters real is not their similarity to ourselves but that they are found convincing. But what then makes them convincing? Perhaps here is his move to the psychological explanation - but this similarly falls a bit flat for me.
Nonetheless, there is much to be admired in this section as well...
i found "they try to live their own lives and are consequently often engaged in treason against the main scheme of the book". They "run away," they "get out of hand":they are creations inside a creation...if they are given complete freedom they kick the book to pieces and if they are kept too sternly in check, they revenge themselves by dying" - to be particularly insightful and I have seen a few characters get away from their author, requiring an authorial intervention that never comes off other than pleading (in the Castle of Otranto for instance where Walpole tries to convince us that Manfred is not really that bad a person).
Flat characters are not only a useful narrative device. Flat characters are necessary for a novel of any complexity because in 'daily life' we often treat others similarly - we inhabit a world with few round characters because it is cognitively and emotionally expensive- people are often"disks of pre-arranged size" in life. The only point of view that might not allow for such justification is omniscience or at least it would seem to present unique problems.
I must say, the discussion above is wonderful and revealing about the book. Tuirigin's short summary is genius: the man may well be a real scholar! PKlein is giving us a grand read-through, and Murr's adding some great color. Perhaps most importantly in the discussion, Porius shows immense courage in admitting to being drawn to writing for shock-heads. I do not think Emma (I will call him Emma, pur Murr) is saying one should never enjoy such things as Scott, merely that the enjoyment belongs to a different rasa than novelistic artistry. He insults Scott with a negative description and he insults The Swiss Family Robinson with a positive description, but it comes to the same thing. My prejudices allign closely with his here (What would he think of Gatsby!); enjoying Scott (which I haven't) or Wyss (which I have) is appreciating one of the lesser things in life, something we all do. But the fight over what's for the shock-heads! Ah, there's a place Emma doesn't play fair, disarming poor readers who disagree before the fight. Not fair at all! Porius, you are David with a sling - have at it!
To jump to the conclusion, some of what I read here is a fundamental fascination with and skepticism of a central claim of the modernist: that "we" are different, that there has been a break. I think the timelessness of art, his unchanging mirror, on that train of history, is his set-up argument, an argument he gives you first in the form of a conclusion and then in the form of explication and example. No Logic Professor would approve: it is pseudo-scholarship. The fun question he then pops is whether there is any way to give the mirror a new coat of quicksilver, and whether that might occur, albeit not in the almost historically instantaneous way claimed by the modernist. And he combines a healthy skepticism with an idealist's unwillingness to not hope (and I'd craft that as a triple- or quadruple- negative if I could). And enough pretty words so that we don't care about the pseudo-stuff, for his proposition is set out in a way that appeals to the novelistic artistry rasa.
I'm quite taken by dear Emma.
Actually, I see Fitzgerald in artistic terms as an American cross between the English Forster and the French De Maupassant. It would indeed be interesting to see what Emma would think of that! lol Fitzgerald's hero was Conrad, but I can't see any influence of C in F apart from layered narrators. F is altogether too effete for the muscular American vision.
Also, I agree (with you? your argument? Forster's?) that the break between modernism and the past is not so radical as one supposes. It's possible to see many of the same modernist techniques at work in Richardson and Smollet, Sterne, Dickens and Collins if one knows what one is looking for. Or at least an awareness of the same technical problems and concerns but given different solutions.
Each generation thinks it has discovered everything for the first time.
What is most sad here is that I may need to re-read Fitzy if I'm going to intelligently gut him as I so want to. But it would mean risking liking him, and I'm not sure I'm ready to do that.
1984, The Invisible Man, anything by Shakespeare... These I enjoyed.
(Fitz would no doubt ask for nothing better than that).
For me it all really comes alive in essays/lectures six and seven, when Forster can let himself go and lecture with passion and imagination about the authors he loves. He says:
For the first five lectures of this course we have used more or less the same set of tools. This time and last we have had to lay them down. Next time we shall take them up again, but with no certainty that they are the best equipment for a critic or that there is such a thing as critical equipment.
The lectures he is referring to are Fantasy and Prophecy. He has previously given us the critics tools to discuss aspects of the story, people, the plot and pattern and rhythm, but when he launches into his lecture on fantasy his own writing takes off. He starts with the wonderful image of the ascending bird and its shadow that resemble each other less and less as the bird flies higher, and goes on to say there is more in the novel than time or people and logic, but of course like the birds shadow it is not quite so distinct, not so easy to grasp. There is however a bar of light that can illuminate everything and Forster says "We shall give that bar of light two names fantasy and prophecy.
At last Forster can talk about the books and those things that go beyond the tools of the trade to make them special. He presents us with some surprising selections in his lecture on fantasy: Tristram Shandy, Flecker's Magic and Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm. He cheekily includes Ulysses, before ending with the Magic Flute.
It is his lecture on prophecy where he gets to talk about those great authors who write on universal themes and who have the power to sing. Forster warns us that to appreciate these authors, we the readers must have humility and the suspension of the sense of humour. He names four authors that he believes can illustrate this aspect of the novel: Dostoyevsky, Melville, D H Lawrence and Emily Bronte with D H Lawrence being the only living author (1927) in whom the song predominates and who has the rapt bardic quality and who it is idle to criticise. Enthusiastically Forster gives us examples from The Brothers Karamazov and then turns his attention to Melville and a lively short critique on Moby Dick is followed by his thoughts on Billy Budd. Forster's prose is at its finest here but he saves his best for D H Lawrence:
Humility is not easy with this irritable and irritating author, for the humbler we get the crosser he gets. yet I do not see how else to read him. If we start resenting or mocking, his treasure disappears as surely if we started obeying him. What is valuable about him cannot be put into words; it is colour, gesture and outline in people and things, the usual stock in trade of the novelist, but evolved by such a different process that they belong to a new world.
This series of lectures, that give us the warp and the weft of aspects of a novel and gently chide us as pseudo-intellectuals, come dramatically alive as Forster wrestles with the ineffable. Great stuff.
Blake and Milton seem humorless, and they are both prophetic writers, but both Dostoevsky (whom I love) and Melville (whom I distrust) are employers of gallows humor. I find them greater for this.
Tangent goes here ---> Despite their reputation, I have yet to find a humorless Russian. Tolstoy is so very sincere, so perhaps him, but he was no prophet. Pastetnak has little humor, but there are twinklings of mirth to be seen in some of his rhapsodic natural passages, and there is a certain amount of gallows humor there, too. Gogol was full of humor. Mandelshtam had an ireful humor. Chekhov?
He compares Eliot's scene in Adam Bede (which I haven't read yet) with Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov (ditto, lol). He says that Dosty is a prophet because his characters' reaching towards pity and love is with a consciousness and perspective of universality. And he hints that Eliot isn't a prophet, because the reaching out towards pity and love in her scene remains with the characters themselves, and has no real relation to the wider universe. I can't agree with that, I think he misses the point of Eliot. Her characters represent that which is universal on a micro level, Dosty's on a macro (I guess, judging from what others say about D, since I can't pass judgement on what I haven't read). So D's characters seem to have an understanding of their position in the universe, and their pity and love reaches out towards it - while Eliot's characters represent universality. And I think both Maggie and Dorothea reach out to the universe, but in a blinder and more confused way than the character in the Dosty excerpt. Eliot is as much a prophet as Dosty, any day.
I don't think I'm making any sense. Am I?
But the thing is, your micro- and macro- universe thing is I think right on point. Dusty has a very, very big universe, a universe that is peopled by all sort of demons, real and imagined, and all sorts of gods. It is the universe of a culture that reaches from the early Greek church fathers through to the up-to-date scientifics thinkers of his time, and that borders on the great Chinese, Persian and Arabic cultures as well as the Western. There is an incredibly broad sense of both time and space in Dusty. Eliot's world is vastly smaller and more inwardly focused, and more limited in its temporal scope, and, while I remember her but darkly as my last read of her was as a college freshman read with a distinct disinterest (we were reading Brother's K in another class!), to the extent those characters are symbolic they are much more hermetically sealed and their symbolism more focused. There is a difference here, and a difference that is meaningful, and macro and micro seems to get at it better than "prophetic" and "non-prophetic".
Prophetic is a funny word. It's almost like it's a bad translation and really ought to mean something a little different. There is a depth of time and space in Dusty thought that is much vaster, and that seems to reflect the different cultures: Eliot is really writing for a rather cramped Island that has tamed its wild spaces, Dusty and Melville for mind-bogglingly open, often uncharted, and throughoutly untamed worlds.
So he begins his discussion in terms of where Eliot places her emphasis and how in D. everything always "stand(s) for more than themselves" - but I think we quickly see what an unfortunate phrase that is because- we soon realize that the way they 'stand for more' is not symbolically or metonymically ...
Mitya "is a round character, but he is capable of extension. He does not conceal anything (mysticism), he does not mean anything (symbolism), he is merely Dmitri Karamazov, but to be merely a person in Dostoevsky is to join up with all the other people far back".
What then do you mean by 'stand for more than themselves' sir?
"What matters is the accent of his voice, his song"; "it gives us the sensation of a song or of sound"
So then they are "capable of extension"; they "reach back", it is found in "song" ....
But Forster can only identify four authors who are 'prophetic'.
Throughout, I get the feeling that he had his little pantheon and attempts to work back toward a term (a "genuine aspect of the novel") to enshrine them.
There is more I'd like to say.. but I have to run to class. One last thing though, I had more success thinking about the 'aspects' or dimensions he raises rather than with the specific examples/novels he uses to illustrate (and exclude). Of course that may be because I am much less well-read than he. It may also be because EMF and I are different in important ways that limit the ability to fit myself into his world of reading. This is something that resonates with what Woolf says in her essay "Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown".. which I want to link to Forster's Aspects in a later post.
I am not widely read in Dostoyevsky or George Eliot, but what Forster said rang true with me about D H Lawrence, who does a lot of reaching back and looking for the old Gods. His style of writing with its rhythms and repetitions makes him sound like a prophet ( I am not saying he was one). There is a constant striving for universal truths in his later works, he takes no prisoners and seems to want to achieve his aims by sheer force of personality. One can only stand back and admire.
A_Musings post is excellent and although my reading of Eliot is limited to Silas Marner I agree with what he says.
And Muse I think I can anticipate pretty much what TC will say about D H Lawrence.
Round and flat characters/Dostoevsky and Eliot:
one of the things I like about Forster is that with this designation he keeps in sight that characters are illusory: they are simply words on the page, (and in the reader's imagination): they are not real people (which is the mistake the idiot Freudian critics make duh!). 'Flat' speaks for itself, but 'round' still implies something hollow for me, something I can walk around and see all surfaces from all angles, but not really penetrate through to an interior. Forster, however, does not mention characters who are solid, or who present their inner lives, and this is a weakness in his discussion of character. (it must be remembered that Forster is not a theorist, but primarily a reader and a writer).
One of the key differences between Eliot and Dostoevsky, is that Eliot's character's are presented by the narrative voice: we are always outside looking in, their thoughts are presented to us by the narrator using free indirect speech. They are firmly presented as part and parcel of their circumstances. They have a strong inner life, and we can listen in on it, but this inner life is always mediated by a controlling vision or presence, that of the narrator.
Dusty's characters, on the other hand, are not presented by an external voice. They present themselves without mediation from a narrator, and more crucially, in dialogue with other characters. This gives Dusty's characters their amazing depth and universality. Their inner lives are independent, messy, self generating and in constant flux, not part of their circumstances, inexhaustible, which is what I think A-musing means. Dusty's characters have self awareness, a consciousness of themselves; Eliot's do not, or if they do, they don't present it themselves. Instead we are told about it by the narrator.
(BTW, this is not a qualitative judgement, but a technical distinction I am trying to make. Eliot's characters live just as much for me as D's do and I revere Eliot as much as Dostoevsky.)
Dusty's - and Eliot's- characters go beyond flat and round, I think. dickens presents round characters (devoid of inner life), Walter Scott and Dan Brown present flat characters (in the latter case, his characters are so flat one can literally see through them).
Forster confuses song with prophecy. I think this is the major weakness of his view of literature.
The pitfall, the awful temptation of every serious writer is the prophetic voice. when writers reach for the prophetic, they fail as artists. Examples abound: Dickens's style is weakened by the baleful influence of Carlyle; Tolstoy's mad rantings of his final prophetic years; Dostoevsky's turgid ramblings in the Diary of a Writer; Lawrence in his very silly Nottinghamshire novels. at least Dostoevsky was aware of this danger and scrupulously kept his prophetic voice out of his novels, reserving it for his journalism, Dickens tried but did not always succeed (Hard Times is full of the prophetic voice, and it is his weakest book). Eliot never prophecizes: she has too much good taste for it. Lawrence, when he is writing in a minor genre, doesn't do prophecy, and his minor writing is the better for it. but when he reaches for the rolling hills of grand Biblical prose, he creates mere pastiche of the biblical.
those writers who could really sing do not create prophecy but song. who are the great singers of English: I agree with his choice of Melville, and would include Dickens. Among his contemporaries the great singers of english are Virginia Woolf, Conrad, Lawrence yes, (when he is not in the pulpit, ginger beard flying in the wind) and of course, John Cowper Powys. Forster doesn't sing, interestingly. his is always the voice of the kind uncle.
Murr, what is it that you, not Forster, mean by prophecy?
You'll need to find someone to put together the reading list for 2012.
Gene, I hope you'll reconsider. You will be missed.
Good luck Gene.
choco, you asked me what I mean by 'prophecy'. Foster makes it clear that he does not mean telling the future, which is only partly what I mean by 'prophecy'. I guess I mean what I can only call a 'high and mighty tone' coupled with morally serious content.
Dostoevsky never adopts this tone in his novels, but does frequently in his journalism, especially after 1870. Dickens adopts this tone when he wants to launch an attack on the evils of society. but he also parodies it frequently (Mr Pecksniff is a good example).Tolstoy adopts it in his polemical writing of his late period. I cannot comment on Emily Bronte. DH Lawrence adopts it all the time in his Nottinghamshire novels, but it's usually coupled with content that is only about sex and how societal suppression of sex corrupts our humanity. The tone overbalances the content, and for this reason I can never suppress a snigger when reading DHL in this mode.
Foster is that right, that this kind of tone demands our humility and the suspension of our sense of humour. I agree with Tuirgin that Foster is blind to Dostoevsky's humour. The devil appears to man, and man asks him whether god exists and the devil replies that he doesn't know. Isn't this a kind of cosmic black joke?
Lectures, especially at Cambridge, may imply that intellectual target; but I am sure Cantabrigians especially would never be of one stripe on that subject. For instance, how seriously do you think a sophisticated audience really would find Forsterʻs definition of a novel, even in part, by the Numbers Of Words printed in a book (they come to a size of 200 pages)? A businessman would seriously consider it important as well he ought to, but for a writer to need to define a novel, which is the product of his imagination, in the same terms is, I think, ironic, witty, and humourous. At such celebrated times, I cannot help but see Forster squirming and laughing, because having agreed to talk about his writing -- to some, as though it was not art -- took a sense of humour. And as he was gentle with others, he could well afford to be gentle with himself as well in such a predicament, an honour though it was for him and for his respectful, admiring fellows.