E. M. Forster : importance as a Novelist

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      E. M. Forster (1879-1970) has generally been linked with the realistic and naturalistic tradition of Arnold Bennett, John Galsworthy and H. G. Wells, but the fact is that to call him a realist like the writers mentioned is to misjudge the rich complexity of the novels of E. M. Forster. "The surface manner of Forster's novel may appear to be realistic and comic, but his impatience with realism is apparent in the manner he infused sudden acts of violence and accidents in his plots and in his wilful juxtaposition of a romantic figure in a realistic environment." His maturest novel A Passage to India realistically reflects Anglo-Indian relations, but the novel is more philosophical and symbolical than a realistic representation of the racial antagonism between "two great races with different heritage and history, neither desiring to understand the other, and one of them in the wrong place".

E. M. Forster (1879-1970) has generally been linked with the realistic and naturalistic tradition
E. M. Forster

      It is significant to note that E. M. Forster has written only four or five novels and all of them hold a prominent position in the history of the English novel. His first novel, Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905) is a satire on the conventional morality and snobbery of the upper middle class people. The Longest Journey (1907) represents the conflict between a young intellectual and Philistine woman. A Roman with a View (1908) has its setting in Italy and "contains excellent comedy very delicately handled." In this novel the struggle between the two groups takes place in a Florentine hotel called Pension. Howard's End (1910) presents the conflict between two classes of people, one representing the hard-boiled materialists like the Wilcoxes and the other deeply rooted in moral and aesthetic values represented by Schlegels. It is a novel which has depth and an intense vision about it. The most remarkable thing about this novel is the beautiful use of certain symbols.

      A Passage to India (1924) is the finest and the most mature work of Forster. It portrays the British Officials and their attitude to Indians. Accompanied by her son's fiancee, Adela Quested, Mrs. Moore comes to India to visit Ronald Heaslop. Adela accuses a young Moslem surgeon, Dr. Aziz, of attempting to molest her in the Marabar Caves. The trial becomes a bitter contest between the English and the natives, but at the crucial point in the trial Adela changes her mind and withdraws the charges. Heaslop packs off Adela and marries another English woman. Although Indian and Briton try to arrive at some rapprochement, too great a gap stretches between them. The rational individualism of the West collides vainly with the depersonalised mystery of India. The novel is divided into three parts - Mosque Caves and Temple. These three divisions are symbolic in character. They symbolise three attitudes to life. Dr. Aziz stands for the path of activity, Filding and Adela Quested for the path of knowledge and Protessor Godbole for the path of devotion and love. It is Forster's triumph that he sought "to weld these diverse paths together through delicate use of symbolic motifs so that they form a total satisfying it mystifying pattern of life and art". A Passage to India is indeed one of the great novels produced in the twentieth century. Forster did not write any novel after this.

      E. M. Forster's book, Aspects of the Novel (1927) is an important contribution to the aesthetics of the novel. Forster suggests that fiction can make use of the rhythmical patterns of music. A novel can attain unity of action by using this device which he calls rhythm. Forster has the gift of telling a story, but he disregards conventional plot construction and frequently introduces startling, unexpected incidents. The stories of Forster are delightful but difficult to understand in their fullness because of the subtleties which the novelist seeks to introduce in them. Forster studies the complexities of character with a subtlety of insight and an appreciation of the significance of the unconscious which mark him as a modern. Forster like D. H. Lawrence criticises contemporary civilisation based on the ideals of materialism and money worship. He satirises the material craze of the Wilcoxes of the modern society. He castigates the snobbery and hypocrisy of highly placed persons like Mrs. Herriton and Harriet in Where Angels Fear to Trend and Agnes Pembroke in The Longest Journey. Forster is the first important novelist consciously using symbolism. In A Passage to India, this symbolism is well worked out in the novel. The title itself is symbolic. The author seeks a passage (link) between the Anglo-Indians and the natives of India.

      Critics differ and regards the place of Forster in the great tradition of the English novel. Arnold Kettle does not consider him as belonging to the tradition of D. H. Lawrence or Joyce but says that he is a fine and enduring artist. D. S. Savage thinks that he is a minor novelist. Dr. F. R. Leavis regards him as one of the most remarkable novelists of the twentieth century, although he does not include him in the great tradition. There is however no doubt about the fact that Forster is a great novelist who has taken the novel form many steps further towards inwardness and symbolic suggestiveness and philosophical depth.

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