Zadie Smith on EM Forster

“Love Actually” by Zadie Smith

published Saturday 1 November 2003, Books | The Guardian

…It seems odd, then, that Forster – although his work is so heavily influenced by Austen – differs from her on this key point. His protagonists are not good readers or successful moral agents, but chaotic, irrational human beings. Lucy Honeychurch, Maurice Hall, Helen Schlegel – Forster’s people wouldn’t stand a chance against Austen’s protagonists. Forster’s folk are famously always in a muddle: they don’t know what they want or how to get it. It has been noted before that this might be a deliberate ethical strategy, an expression of the belief that the true motivations of human agents are far from rational in character. Forster wanted his people to be in a muddle; his was a study of the emotional, erratic and unreasonable in human life. But what interests me is that his narrative structure is muddled also; impulsive, meandering, irrational, which seeming faults lead him on to two further problematics: mawkishness and melodrama. A contemporary reviewer worked out that the rate of unexpected fatal incident in The Longest Journey amounts to 45 per cent of the novel’s population. These idiosyncrasies have been seen as grave failings of Forster’s. When placed beside two more of his heroes, Tolstoy and Flaubert, he does suffer. Anna Karenina and Emma Bovary are as wilful and irrational as any Forster protagonist, after all, and yet the novels they find themselves in are not. Those two women are like exotic butterflies under glass, held still for our examination within a controlled, measured, rational narrative. Why couldn’t Forster manage that?…

Full article can be read at: The Guardian


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