NaNoDodo Day 12: Aspects of the Novel

By Anne Perry

Posted on November 12, 2014 in Books with tags Aspects of the Novel, E. M. Forster, Nanododo, Writing Advice

The books we spotlighted yesterday and the day before are good tools for any kind of writing. Today, however, we’re going to focus on a classic specifically dedicated to fiction writing, (and fiction criticism), particularly novels: EM Forster’s classic Aspects of the Novel.

‘[The novel] is most distinctly one of the moister areas of literature – irrigated by a hundred rills and occasionally degenerating into a swamp. I do not wonder that the poets despise it, though they sometimes find themselves in it by accident. And I am not surprised at the annoyance of the historians when by accident it finds itself among them.’

First published in 1927, Aspects is compiled from the Clark Lectures about the novel that Forster gave at Cambridge. He picks out seven ‘aspects’ fundamental to a novel: story, characters, plot, fantasy, prophecy, pattern and rhythm, giving the reader ‘different ways we can look at a novel’ and ‘the different ways a novelist can look at his work.’

The novel is itself often colloquial [and] it may possibly withold some of its secrets from the graver and grander strams of criticism, and may reveal them to the backwaters and shallows.

Forster chose to retain the colloquial tone of the lectures upon publication, making this remarkable little book feel incredibly accessible and intimate nearly a century on. But the real joy in reading Aspects comes from Forster’s own lovely prose. Forster, best known as the author of Howard’s End, A Passage to India, Where Angels Fear to Tread and A Room with a View, had a remarkable turn of phrase, and his writing features the kind of prose that is a pleasure to return to over and over again:

The intensely, stiflingly human quality of the novel is not to be avoided; the novel is sogged with humanity; there is no escaping the uplift or thedownpour, nor can they be kept out of criticism. We may hate humanity, but if it is exorcised or even purified the novel wilts, little is left but a bunch of words.

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