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  • Cambridge’s Forster Companion
  • Brian W. Shaffer
David Bradshaw, ed. The Cambridge Companion to E. M. Forster. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. xvii + 287 pp. $24.95

Literary companions such as The Cambridge Companion to E. M. Forster are all too often mixed affairs. While they can be relied upon to cover the relevant terrain, offering an array of articles on numerous dimensions of the subject at hand, often they do so in hit-or-miss fashion, with one useful and illuminating chapter for every two or more that disappoint. David Bradshaw’s volume happily breaks this mold: virtually all of the chapters are insightful and provocative, and a number [End Page 333] strike me as important, even pathbreaking. Part of Bradshaw’s success, it seems to me, is due to the breadth of his sixteen-chapter volume. Rather than limiting entries to the predictable ones—the author’s biography followed by a chronological treatment of the major novels—Bradshaw has commissioned a number of intriguing if less-well-trod topics, among these “Forster as a Literary Critic,” “Filmed Forster,” “Forster and the Short Story,” and “Forster’s Life and Life-Writing.” The wide range of topics in the volume allows us to see the author in a new way; read straight through, one comes away with a fresh appreciation of Forster’s achievement. Indeed, Bradshaw’s may well be the most intellectually and critically capacious introductory volume yet published on this perennially popular literary figure.

Max Saunders’s “Forster’s Life and Life-Writing” is innovative for relating Forster’s biography and his major works of biographical writing—Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson (1934), The Hill of Devi (1953), and Marianne Thornton (1956)—all written considerably after Forster’s most celebrated phase as a novelist. David Medalie’s “Bloomsbury and Other Values” situates Forster within the intellectual constellation of the Cambridge-connected, London-resident group that included the likes of Virginia Woolf and Clive Bell, those who rejected Victorianism and drew upon the thought of philosopher G. E. Moore. Rather than rehearsing the predictable thesis that Forster fit comfortably within the intellectual and artistic universe of Bloomsbury, Medalie convincingly argues that Forster’s “relationship with Bloomsbury was not clear-cut and his work, the fiction in particular, is much more profitably read as an exploration, even a critique, of Bloomsbury values than as an exposition of them.” In “Forster and England” Paul Peppis argues that “most of Forster’s literary works can be understood as national allegories that diagnose an ailing nation and offer literary cures for the malaise they anatomize,” and that “while he frequently writes against Edwardian England, Forster is also something of a literary patriot.” In the chapter “Hellenism and the Lure of Italy,” Ann Ardis engagingly explores Forster as a “writer who works both within and against a tradition of English travel writing as he—through his depiction of travel to southern Europe—attempts to renegotiate class and sexual identity issues at home in England.”

Dominic Head’s “Forster and the Short Story” makes the case that the author’s short fiction is more substantial and sophisticated than has generally been understood, and that this work betrays “some intriguing points of contact with the novels.” In “Forster and the Novel” [End Page 334] Elizabeth Langland sets herself the goals of understanding “Forster’s own aesthetic of the novel” and of exploring “its capacity to illuminate the emphases and techniques of his canon,” and of reconsidering “Forster’s stature as a novelist and his contributions to the form of the novel in the early twentieth century.” Focusing upon the six novels, penned in a period of only twenty years, and the book-length Aspects of the Novel (1927), originally delivered as a series of lectures, Langland sees Forster as a transitional novelist, neither a thoroughgoing Victorian nor a die-hard modernist, and observes that “Forster is a difficult novelist to approach because he appears simple.” In “Forsterian Sexuality” Christopher Lane pairs Forster’s fiction and “his often-unpublished commentary in order to bring out his intense personal struggles with sexuality and embodiment”—struggles that involve “broader intellectual arguments … about how writers could represent sexuality when aspects of...


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pp. 333-336
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