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  • Forster’s BBC Talks
  • Judith Scherer Herz
The BBC Talks of E. M. Forster, 1929–1960: A Selected Edition. Mary Lago, Linda K. Hughes, Elizabeth MacLeod Walls, eds. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2008. xiv + 477 pp. $59.95

It is the end of 1932 and Forster is at the BBC microphone wondering about this new medium, broadcasting, “the biggest technical innovation affecting words since the invention of printing.” Will it and cinema, too, supplant books? He hopes not and it’s books he will be talking about (and in the event continue talking about for several decades). The microphone and the screen “leave behind a blur, whereas a book can sink into the mind and strengthen it.” His manner is modest. The writers he recommends to his audience are “doing things I’d like to have done. They seem to get at poetry so easily, they use realism without getting tied up in it … and they are not stupidly hopeful.” So he chats about Strachey, John Collier, Rosamund Lehmann, Christopher Isherwood, ending with Karel Capek, noting that “in most of the books that touch my heart, I feel again and again the importance of man, the sanctity of the individual, the deceitfulness of riches.” That credo and that generous curiosity inform all the talks collected here.

The project of bringing these broadcasts together was initially undertaken by Mary Lago who started working on the broadcasts in the 1980s after her collaboration with P. N. Furbank on the Selected Letters. She then published two important discussions of Forster’s BBC broadcasting, first in the Yearbook of English Studies (1990) and then [End Page 479] in E. M. Forster: A Literary Life (1995). After her death, the preparation of a full edition was continued by Linda Hughes and Elizabeth MacLeod Walls, using Lago’s copious notes on the broadcasts and on other materials at the BBC Written Archives Centre. This carefully edited volume is really theirs, however, as they selected the seventy talks published here, established the editorial principles, did the editorial work, and provided the annotation.

The editors’ focus in both the introduction and the notes is on broadcasting rather than on Forster’s oeuvre; the latter is much more the emphasis in another collection also published in 2008, Jeffrey Heath’s The Creator as Critic. There, amongst the unpublished memoirs, talks, essays, et cetera, one finds thirty-three BBC broadcasts, although there is only an overlap of five items between the two books. The Heath collection relies for the most part on the King’s College archive; the Hughes and Walls volume works with those materials but uses as copy texts the BBC scripts, indicating in the notes where these vary from the other materials at King’s and, where recordings exist, from their own transcriptions. The editors’ decision to choose as copy texts “those texts that point at once toward the broadcast medium of mechanically produced voice and toward the world of print and manuscript culture … [and] to retain the headings of scripts tied to broadcasts and their technical underpinnings” gives a wonderful immediacy to the selections. Forster’s voice, so audible in everything he wrote, seems to sound even more clearly in one’s ear in these scripts. At the same time, the editors make clear how the broadcast medium, despite its emphasis on voice and intimacy, “was as artificial as the technology that carried them to listeners.” After his first broadcast in 1928, Forster observed, “everything’s organized to the nines, your artless cries written out and typed beforehand.” The editors work hard to convey their sense of Forster as one who “everywhere implies a love of spoken language … one who does not so much perform words as pay attention to them.”

Of course, these two volumes do not offer one’s first encounter with the published broadcasts. Many of the essays in Two Cheers for Democracy are reprinted from the BBC journal The Listener; these were edited and slightly modified versions of the broadcasts, although a few were written as essays for the magazine. (Heath has a useful appendix on the relationship between broadcast and printed essay.) Adding these to the more than 100 that...


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pp. 479-483
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Will Be Archived 2021
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