The "unspeakable" quality of E. M. Forster's narrative voice
Fleming, Madeline Joan
Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation is an examination of the complex problem of narrative voice in three novels of E. M. Forster. Much of the recent critical commentary on Forster's narrative voice either discusses narrative voice as an extension of character, or discusses narrative voice as a biographical and psychological extension of Forster. Despite these approaches to Forster's narrative voice, Forster's narrative voice continues to "irritate" us, as it did Lionel Trilling in 1944, in its "refusal to be great." I examine Forster's narrative voice as an autonomous element disconnected from the trappings of characterological, biographical and psychological criticism. I discuss how the narrative voice develops a moral and philosophical view that begins with a pessimism about the possibility of human relationships in Where Angels Fear To Tread, continues with a fantasy of perfectly unified relationships in A Room With A View, and culminates in A Passage To India in which the narrative voice promises unity and continuance through an implied acceptance of metaphysical and metaphorical assumptions. The protagonists in the three novels that I discuss all have an experience which they cannot define in words. The characters' inability to define experience parallels the narrative voice's detachment from the reader, and it also foreshadows the narrative voice's ultimate refusal to provide a definition, or an interpretation of itself. The characters' inability to define experience makes them appear to be characters who are limited, or "flat" stereotypes; and in all three cases, the protagonist requires another figure to act as an intermediary between it and the totalizing experience of "the other." This intermediary figure provides character with a circumlocutory interpretation of experience; and it therefore evokes the characters' simultaneous desire and inability to describe the subject of its experience. This circumlocutory figure becomes a figure that exposes and exists within the implied space between character and narrative voice, and the narrative voice and the reader. When the narrative voice describes a character's use of a circumlocutory figure, it points to both the character's, and its own elision.
English literature; Modern literature