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6. FORSTER'S COMMONPLACE BOOK E. M. Forster. Commonplace Book, ed. Philip Gardner. Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1985. $35.00 Forster's Commonplace Book is at least as much diary, journal, letter, workbook, notebook, as it is an anthology of useful or suggestive passages. In fact, quotation is the least of its activities and those passages that are cited have very little of the cabinet of curiosities air that even so appealing and reflective a collection as, say, Auden's A Certain World possesses. Often they are passages that Forster needs to examine for a specific task-a lecture or essay; or they provide occasion for working something out for himself— Eddington's Nature of the Physical World and the possibility of a new literature "unbothered by sunsets." Indeed the best comparison is not to Auden but to Montaigne, whose essays are commonplaces in Forster's sense, that is they are testings of words and ideas, either received in another's words or denved from experience, sensation, reading. And the Montaigne themes of memory and friendship are Forster's too. Forster began his entries at a crucial point in his life, directly after the publication of A Passage to India. The completion of that novel, so long postponed, seemed even at that time to mark the end of a certain kind of accomplishment. The Commonplace Book became the testing-ground for the new role—essayist, man of letters—that Forster was beginning to craft for himself. Of course, the possibility of writing fiction remained. There are, for instance, entries on beginning a novel, on writing "one more novel," as well as on discussions of his own fictional methods in relation to other novelists, particularly Mann and James. But the main impulse is less creative than recreative. For these entries are essays in embryo; they are writing at the intersection of autobiography, intellectual history, literary criticism. The book as physical object, as family possession, also determined its shape and content. Begun in 1804 by the Bishop of Limerick, a pious gentleman of excellent penmanship for whom Forster's grandfather was "chaplain, courier and trumpeter, ' the large folio volume became a family heirloom that Forster both continued and brought to an end. As such it stands as an apt emblem of that complicated and ambivalent set of beliefs and demurrals that constitute Forster's sense of family, continuity and tradition. Often Forster's entries are the comic antithesis of the strenuously high-minded ones of his predecessor. And not only in subject matter (the Bishop: "Conscience," "Prayer," "Christian Perfection"; Forster: "Prostate Gland," "Letter to Goldie," "Lustful and Chaste Fishes"), but in the very look of the page as well. Forster followed the Bishop's precedent of titling each entry by an underlined word or phrase that carried over the margin, but the pages he created are totally idiosyncratic-dots and arrows and underlinings, writing on the diagonal, up or down the margins, inscriptions in rectangles and circles, changes of ink, shifts in scale. These clustenngs provide a graphic analogue for the image that Furbank has suggestively sketched of Forster, always on his way somewhere, hands and pockets full of oddly shaped parcels, books, papers, gifts. 443 It is nearly impossible to convey all this in the usual printed format, and Philip Gardner has suggested as much as standard type setting allows. He has produced a handsome book, but one which only lightly conveys the waywardness and peculiarity of the original (facsimile editions are available in many libranes). Many of the editorial decisions are excellent—no annotations on the page, no footnote numbers either, but rather very clearly set out pagekeyed endnotes. These notes are exceptionally thorough-sometimes a bit too much so—creating a disproportion between the casualness of Forster's reference and the density of detail m the material Gardner has mastered. Nonetheless although some annotations seem included on the Everest principle, other allusions are ignored. Why, for example, provide information on ' Anonymity: An Enquiry" which is widely known, but none on "Dante" which is not? (Both references are made in the same entry.) There is also a tendency occasionally to correct Forster's judgments which is really not part of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 443-444
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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