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195 THE SCHLEGELS' FAMILY TREE By J. R. Ebbatson (London, England) It is understandable that the significance of Forster's Schlegel sisters has greatly exercised his critics, whilst their provenance is either ignored or tacitly assumed. After all, in utilising a pair of sisters to enforce the connexion between poetry and prose Forster was simply pouring the new wine of Bloomsbury enlightenment into old fictional bottles. Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, and their successors, are readily discernible in the background» with so profound an admirer of Jane Austen it could hardly be otherwise. But in the crucial differences between the Dashwoods' cultural pretensions and the emancipated intellectualism of the Schlegels, and in Forster ' s handling of the theme of illegitimacy, we may perhaps divine influences from novelists closer in time to Forster. I am thinking, first, of some of Meredith's portraits of sisters . Meredith, for all Förster's later denigration of him, was clearly a decisive influence on young Edwardian intellectuals . Speaking of Eliot in 1928, Forster noted that the younger generation were "inside his idiom as the young I9OO were inside George Meredith's."! Elsewhere he testified that "scraps from accredited authors like George Meredith and Thackeray " had "lain about" in his mind over a period of many years.2 Even the famous attack in Aspects of the Novel, with its acid diagnosis of Meredith as a fake "suburban roarer," who mistook the Home Counties for the universe, recalls Meredith's elevated position at the turn of the century, "when much of the universe and all Cambridge trembled" under his sway.3 This Meredithian hegemony is often encountered in the novels: Cecil Vyse affirms Meredith's theory of Comedy in Room,with a View» lines from 'Modern Love' are quoted in Howards End» and MS.B of Passage To India, where Forster might be thought to have sloughed off Meredith's influence, show Fielding quoting "The Woods of VÃ-estermain" in the Marabar cave scene.4 Aspects of the Novel and "Art for Art's Sake," with its Einsteinian dismissal of Meredith's nature-philosophy,5 by the vehemence of their disparagement, betray a profound sense of indebtedness This debt is nowhere more pertinent than in Förster's treatment of women. I would guess that the young Forster keenly enjoyed Sandra Belloni (1864). In this unblinking examination of sentiment the three highly cultivated Pole sisters are progressively exposed to the economic realities of life embodied in the odious financier, Vx. Pericles. Whilst Arabella, Cornelia and Adela may not have sat directly for Hargaret and Helen, the two sets of sisters do have a number of shared qualities . The Poles are classic Meredithian sentimentalists: "they supposed that they enjoyed exclusive possession of the Nice Feelings, and exclusively comprehended the Fine Shades."6 196 Although such persons, Meredith caustically observes, may be eclipsed "in the gross appreciation of the world by other people, who excel in this and that accomplishment, persons that nourish Nice Feelings and are intimate with the Fine Shades carry their own test of intrinsic value" (p. 5). Like the Schlegels, therefore, though with less reason, the Poles count themselves among the "saved," an elect of mind and spirit which holds itself aloof from inferiors of its own class, such as the Tinleys or the rampaging Irish widow, Mrs. Chump. Nor does Meredith entirely withhold his endorse ment from such girls: "If with attentive minds we mark the origin of classes, we shall discern that the Nice Feelings and the Fine Shades play a principal part in our human development and social history " (p. 5). In like mood Forster remarks in Howards End that "the world would be a grey and bloodless place were it entirely composed of Miss Schlegels. But the world being what it is, perhaps they shine out in it like stars."7 Like the Schlegels, the Poles are afflicted with a weak-willed brother» and like them they "adopt" a representative of an alien social order, the singer Sandra Belloni. From this donnée the two plots diverge widely, and the Poles, having suffered that "scourging of the Fine Shades" which is part of Meredith's purpose, are abandoned in a state...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 195-201
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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