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        present generation…. And his
        visions of Nature—they don’t endure 
        like Hardy’s, there is too much
        Surrey about them, they are fluffy
        and lush…. When he gets serious
        and noble minded, there is a stri-
        dent overtone—a bullying that be-
        comes distressing. I feel indeed that
        he was like Tennyson in one re-
        spect: through not taking himself
        quietly enough he strained his in-
        side. And his novels; most of the
        social values are faked. The tailors
        are not tailors, the cricket matches
        are not cricket….

Next, Hardy. Hardy is “far greater
than Meredith but less successful as a 
novelist.” And the reason is that the
characters have been

        required to contribute too much to
        the plot; except in their rustic
        humors, their vitality has been im-
        poverished, they have gone thin and
        dry. This, as far as I can make
        out, is the flaw running through
        Hardy’s novels; he has emphasized
        causality more strongly than his
        medium permits.

Finally, Henry James.

        The beauty that suffuses the
        “Ambassadors” is the reward due to 
        a fine artist for hard work. James
        knew exactly what he wanted. He
        pursued the narrow path of æs-
        thetic duty, and success to the full
        extent of his possibilities has crowned
        him;… But at what sacrifice?
        So enormous is the sacrifice that 
        many readers can’t get interested 
        in James…. They can’t grant
        his premise, which is that most
        of human life has to disappear be-
        fore he can do us a novel. He has
        in the first place a very short list
        of characters…. In the second 
        place, the characters, besides be-
        ing few in number, are constructed
        on very stingy lines…. Maimed
        creatures can alone breathe in 
        Henry James’s pages—maimed yet
        specialized. They remind one of the
        exquisite deformities who haunted
        Egyptian art in the reign of Akhna
        ton—huge heads and tiny legs but
        nevertheless charming. In the fol-
        lowing reign they disappear.

Now, if we look at these judgments
and place beside them certain significant
admissions and omissions, we shall see
that though we cannot pin Mr. Forster
down to a theory or a creed, we are able
to commit him to a point of view. He 
has in his mind’s eye something—we
hesitate to be more precise—which he
calls “life,” and it is to this that he
brings the Egoist, Tess, or the Golden
Bowl for comparison. Meredith’s social
values are faked, he says; Hardy’s peo-
ple shrivel because their life has been 
sucked by philosophy; Henry James pre-
fers a pattern to humanity. Always
their failure is some failure in relation
to life. This indeed is expressed with
singular wit and insight. It is the hu-
mane as opposed to the æsthetic view.
It maintains that the novel is “sogged
with humanity;” that “human beings
have their great chance in the novel;”
it implies that it is the duty of a novel
to be as life-like, to keep as close to life,
to absorb as much of life as possible. It
leads, as in the quotation given, to a 
notably harsh judgment of Henry James.
For Henry James brought into the novel
something besides human beings. He
created patterns which, though beauti-
ful in themselves, are hostile to hu-
manity. And it is for his neglect, of hu-
man life, says Mr. Forster, that he will

At this point perhaps the pertinacious
pupil will demand “but what is this
‘life’ that keeps on cropping up so myste-
riously in books about fiction? Why is 
it absent in a pattern and present in a 
tea party? Why, if we get a keen and
genuine pleasure from the pattern in the
Golden Bowl, is it less valuable than the
emotion which Trollope gives us when
he describes a lady drinking tea in a 
parsonage? Surely the definition of life
is too arbitrary and requires to be ex-
panded? Why, again, should the final
test of plot, character story and the
other ingredients of a novel lie in their
power to imitate life? Why should a

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real chair be better than an imaginary
elephant?” To all of this, Mr. Forster
would reply presumably that he lays 
down no laws; he is merely telling us
what moves him and what leaves him
cold. There is no other criterion.

In short, we are back in the old bog;
nobody knows anything about the laws
of fiction. We can only trust our in-
stincts, and if instinct leads one reader
to call Scott a story teller and another
to call him a master of romance; if one
reader desires reality in a novel, and an-
other is satisfied by something which he
calls proportion, each is right and each
can pile a card house of theory on top 
of his opinion as high as he can go. But 
the assumption that fiction is more in-
timately and humbly attached to the 
service of human beings than the other
arts leads to a further position which
Mr. Forster’s book again illustrates. It
is unnecessary to dwell upon fiction’s
æsthetic functions because they are so
feeble that they can safely be ignored.
Thus, though it is impossible to imagine
a book on painting in which not a word
should be said about the medium in
which a painter works, a wise and bril-
liant book, like Mr. Forster’s, can be
written about fiction without saying 
more than a sentence or two about the
medium in which a novelist works. Al-
most nothing is said about words. One
might suppose, unless one had read
them, that a sentence means the same
thing and is used for the same purposes
by Sterne and by Wells. One might con-
clude that Tristram Shandy gains noth-
ing from the language in which it is

So with the other æsthetic qualities.
Pattern, as we have seen, is recognized 
but severely censured for her tendency
to obscure the human features. Beauty
occurs, but she is suspect. She makes
one furtive appearance—“Beauty at
which a novelist should never aim,
though he fails if he does not achieve it”
—and the possibility that she may 
emerge again as rhythm is briefly dis-
cussed in a few interesting pages at the
end. But for the rest, Fiction is treated
as a parasite which draws her suste-
nance from life, and must, in gratitude,
resemble life or perish. In poetry, in
drama, words may excite and stimulate
and deepen; but in fiction they must,
first and foremost, hold themselves at
the service of the teapot and a pug dog, 
and to be found wanting is to be found 

Yet, strange though this unæsthetic
attitude would be in the critic of any 
other art, it does not surprise us in the
critic of fiction. For one thing, the
problem is extremely difficult. A book
fades like a mist, like a dream. How
are we to take a stick and point to that
tone, that relation, in the vanishing
pages, as Mr. Roger Fry points with
his wand at a line or a color in the
picture displayed before him? More-
over, a novel has roused a thousand
ordinary human feelings in its prog-
ress. To drag in art in such a connec-
tion seems priggish and cold-hearted.
It may well compromise the critic as a
man of feeling and domestic ties. And
so, while the painter and the musician 
and the poet come in for their share of
criticism, the novelist escapes untouched.
His character will be discussed; his
morality will be examined; his attitude
to life will be scrutinized, but his writ-
ing will go scot free. There is not a 
critic alive now who will say that a
novel is a work of art and that as such 
he will judge it.

And perhaps, as Mr. Forster insinuates,
the critics are right. In England, at 
any rate, a novel is not a work of art.
“It is most distinctively one of the 
moister areas of literature, irrigated by 
a hundred rills and occasionally degen-
erating into a swamp.” There are no
English novels to stand beside “War
and Peace,” the “Brothers Karamazov”
and “A la Recherche du Temps Perdu.”
But while we accept the fact we cannot
suppress one last conjecture. In France
and Russia they take fiction seriously.
Flaubert will spend a month looking for a

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phrase to describe a cabbage; Tolstoy will
write “War and Peace” seven times over. 
Something of their pre-eminence may
be due to the pains they take and some-
thing to the severity with which they 
are judged. If the English critic were
less domestic, less punctilious about the
shades and grades of niceness and gen-
tility, the novelist might be encouraged
to be bolder. He might cut adrift from
the eternal tea table and the plausible
but preposterous formulas which are
still supposed to represent life, love and
other human adventures. But then the 
story might wabble; the plot might
crumble; ruin might seize upon the
characters. It might be necessary to
enlarge our idea of the novel. Such are
the dreams that Mr. Forster leads us to
cherish. For his is a book to encourage
dreaming. None more suggestive has
been written about the poor lady whom,
with mistaken chivalry perhaps, we still
persist in calling the art of fiction.