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REVIENS New York: Frederick Ungar, 1. EVALUATING E. M. FORSTER Claude J. Summers. E. M. Forster. 1983. $18.50 Forster's reputation has been sliding, no doubt about it, ever since his death and the posthumous publication of Mauri ce and The Li f e to C o m e_, and sliding the more rapidly sin ce P. N. Furbank's biograpTy appeared. Thus it is a pleasure to read a critical study that not only begins with the premise that Forster is both a major writer and a valuable writer, but, even more significantly, restores the posthumously published fiction to an appropriately central place in the canon. (This restoration had begun with Colmer's study in 1975, but had very largely stopped with the appearance of the biography.) Summers' book provides a sensitive and lively account of nearly all of Forster's work. It surmounts the obstacles built into the series of which it is a part ("Literature and Life") by managing to say something interesting, often new, at the same time as it makes a great deal of basic material available to a general audience for whom much of Forster's writing will be largely unfamiliar. Many of his readings, especially those in the Maurice, Howards End and A Passage to India chapters, will be as useful and il luminating to the specialist as they will be enticing and suggestive to the general reader. The discussion of the importance of Wilde's £e Profundi s for an understanding of Maurice, for example, constitutes an original contribution to Forster scholarship. I still have serious reservations about Mauri ce, but I have learned to read it better as a result of Summers' argument which skillfully builds on important recent work on the novel to develop his view of it as "preeminently a political novel." Although there is no similarly "new" angel opened up in A_ Passage to India, Summers proposes a widely syncretic r e a d i η g, o η e that accommodates a large range of critical positions, including those, among others, of McConkey, Brower, Crews, Colmer, Natwar Singh, Parry, Das, Stone, and Alan Wilde. He is alert to their differences, yet makes these diverse readings cohere by virtue of his sensitivity to the book's many modes. One is shown a Passage that is, at once, comedy, satire, tragedy, political tract, philosophic discourse, and personal and universal myth. The approach to Howards End is original in another way. Unlike many readings, it does not circle constantly about the epigraph but emphasizes instead the novel's tentativeness, its mediating position between the early novels and A Passage to India. He argues that although its happy ending and its" compassionate view of character" link it to the Italian novels, the qualifications at the book's conclusion connect it to the "willed happiness at the end of Maurice, while simultaneously evoking the tentati veness of /\ Passage to Indi a." 246 247 The chief virtue of the book, one Forster himself would have appreciated for it was a skill he was a master of, is Summers' ability to write from within Forster's language, extrapolating much of his commentary from Forster's own words. Indeed it was precisely because of this ability that I was disappointed that more attention was not paid to matters of style and technique. Another virtue is his careful drawing on the work of fellow critics, scrupulously sorting out attributions in footnotes but keeping his text relatively free of academic polemic (although the frequent "as notes" begins to be a slightly awkward locution after a while). Although the analyses are essentially syncretic, they are shaped by his own responses. Sometimes, however, these responses seem arbitrarily imposed: some episode, characterization, or story is said to be too thin, too whimsical, too sentimental. But the judgment is simply handed down; it has not evolved out of the analysis. Comparative judgments, too, seem based on fairly subjective criteria. Why, for example, is Marianne Thornton "more successful" than GoI dsworthy L£we_s Di cki nson or Hill of Devi o r Pharos and Phari1 Ion? It is unfair to tell an innocent reader that "Other a less satisfying story than "The Celestial...


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pp. 246-248
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Will Be Archived 2021
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