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103 REVIEW-ARTICLE E. M. FORSTER: ROMANCER OR REALIST? By Frederick P. W. McDowell (University of Iowa) Of the books under review, one is light-weight. Norman Kelvin's E. M. Forster; and the other, George H. Thomson's The Fiction of Έ. M. Forster is destined to become, I would Judge, a classic of Forster criticism.1 Whereas Kelvin's is not the worst book on Forster. it is disappointing. There is no excuse for his uneven performance, now that so many first-rate studies have appeared. The limitations and occasional virtues of Kelvin's book can best be seen if we focus on one chapter. I will, accordingly, examine the chapter on Where Angels Fear to Tread in an endeavor to appraise Kelvin's method, ideas, and conclusions. As for the limitations of the book, these are many. For one thing. Kelvin fails to elicit the most significant themes in Where Angels Fear to Tread when he makes his formulations. I doubt if the following, as he maintains, are the truly central themes: (1) the characters, preoccupied with one another, must also come to terms with culture and history, and (2) "romance" (not to be confused with "spurious sentiment") "is essential for all life." His formulations strike me as either trite or idiosyncratic , in view of the book's emphasis on the abrasive confrontations between the life-assertive and the life-denying energies . Kelvin uses loosely abstract words whose precise meaning he never pinpoints: see "history," "culture," and "romance" in the statements above, and his observations on "manners" and "morality" in relation to Forster's characters (cited below). Not only does Kelvin fail to inform us what aspects of these generalities he has in mind, but he fails to develop or make specific his arguments. In light of these deficiencies, I ask myself , then, just what is the meaning of statements such as the followingt "Caroline's vision [of Gino with his baby] is an expanded view of romance's ethical meaning." (p. 49) [What is the precise meaning of "romance"? What is the "ethical meaning" envisioned?] "To create a new morality in Caroline, Forster removes her from history and exposes her to the truth of romance. However, once she has, as a consequence, acquired vision and the consequent desire to act, he reintroduces history [the fact that she is a woman] and puts it in contention with her new morality." (p. 51) [What is the "new morality" talked about? What is "the truth of romance"? Isn't history - defined in a pre*loue paragraph ldlosyncratlcally seen?J "Humanism can, of course, be seen ... in the good will that develops in Philip and Caroline, as well as in the portrait Of Gino." (p. 52) [What are the attributes of the humanism here alluded to?] 104 There Is much that Is fuzzy and Ill-considered In Kelvin's book. More thought ought to have been expended on the precise definition and careful application of the abstractions that Kelvin uses In criticizing the novels. Yet when he operates as a sensibility and focuses upon actual characters and situations, he voices many penetrating comments. His contention that Forster1s true perceptions emanate from a region "somewhere between a worn-out Idea degenerated into a piety and Its too simple refutation or antithesis " (p. 43) is true. It seems to me, of the early fiction, possibly of the last two novels as well. His Idea that aphorisms have an active structural role In the novels Is new and challenging . His view that Philip Herrlton causes change In Caroline Abbott, though he defines the relationship of life's potentialities to action too late for himself to benefit by It, Is valid. So Is the related observation that Philip has "Insight without action." Philip acquires, Kelvin says, the feminine "goddess virtue of enlarged vision" from association with Caroline, and paradoxically Philip Is "saved by a woman who cannot save herself ," at least as a sexual being. The same mixture of Imprecision and discernment marks Kelvin's discussion of the other pre-war novels. I shall not bother with further demonstration of Kelvin's use of vague generalities. There are, however, some Interpretations I regard as questionable...


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pp. 103-122
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