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Abinger Harvest by E. M. Forster
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Abinger Harvest (1936)

by E. M. Forster

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Essays on literature, history, politics, and society by E.M. Forster, together with book reviews and poems. These were written from the early post-Great War period down to the mid-1930s. Forster was not only a superb novelist,he was also an excellent essayist, and could produce some fine light verse.
  Fledgist | Dec 29, 2011 |
Forster includes pieces mostly written between 1920 (two or three earlier) and 1935, and divides them into four sections. The name comes from a village in Surrey where family members have lived for many years.
In the first section, “The Present,” Forster muses about the English character (the English are hypocritical, but it is muddleheadedness rather than conscious deceit), deprecates the state of between-the-wars England, and includes his best essay, “My Wood (1936). He starts this essay by saying he bought a wood with the proceeds from A Passage to India (1924), though he coyly doesn’t name it, saying it was a book “which dealt in part with the difficulties of the English in India. Feeling that they would have had no difficulties themselves, the Americans read the book freely. The more they read it the better it made them feel, and a cheque to the author was the result.” Thus he sets the stage: his ownership is indirectly connected with imperialism; ownership in general might be analogous to imperialism, especially when it is ownership of a plot of land (on which the birds, for instance, are under the belief that they belong to themselves). His question is about “the effect of property upon the character,” and he enumerates the effects: “it makes me feel heavy . . . it makes me feel it ought to be larger . . . property makes its owner feel that he ought to so something to it,” and, fourth, it makes him selfish. The range of allusion in the essay is limited, and includes those who have commented on the subject, including the Bible (especially the New Testament) Tolstoy, Shakespeare (Forster suggests what Shakespeare said of lust could be applied to the effect of property) and the history of acquisition (Canute, Alexander) and Communism.
The second section, “Books,” has more reviews than the other sections. Of T. S. Eliot, Forster suggests that part of the difficulty in reading him comes from Eliot’s own reserve about what he sees: “the horror is so intense that the poet has an inhibition and is unable to state it openly . . . there are outworks and blind alleys all over the poem [“The Waste Land”] –obstacles which are due to the nature of the central emotion and are not to be charged to the reader.” Proust’s novel is “an epic” that “expresses the spirit of its age . . . an epic of curiosity and despair.” He makes an interesting comparison with Tolstoy in regard to time: “Tolstoy conceived of time as something regular against which a chronicle could be stretched; to Proust it is almost as intermittent as memory and affection and . . . the human race . . . always decaying and never being renovated.” Of “The Early Novels of Virginia Woolf,” Forster thinks she comes into her own with Jacob’s Room (“the coherence of the book is even more amazing than its beauty”) and that Mrs. Dalloway is “perhaps her masterpiece.” There is a lot of such qualification in Forster’s judgments, and I always think reading him is a little like being talked to by a rather fussy, but smart and worldly, preacher. Forster’s assessment of Joseph Conrad is oddly like that of Kurz by Marlow; though he does not use the onion metaphor, there’s still nothing left after you peel away the layers: “he is misty in the middle as well as at the edges, [and] the secret casket of his genius contains a vapour rather than a jewel.” It is in the review of T. E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom that Forster writes, “One always tends to overpraise a long book, because one has got through it.”
The section called “The Past” has some curious accounts of Forster’s own travels in the Greek islands, a review of Girolamo Cardano’s autobiography, another review of a book about Gemistus Pletho, and two essays on Voltaire’s experiments in natural philosophy. He tells a nice story about the young Edward Gibbon as an officer of the South Hampshires riding around to collect and train recruits, and how the experience may have fed into the writing of Decline and Fall. He tells another story about Coleridge’s brief career as a trooper in the Dragoons (“Silas Tomkyn Comberbacke”) and another about the guardians of John Keats and his sister trying to cheat them of their inheritance—very like the opening of Sense and Sensibility.
The last section is called “The East,” and has some reviews in which Forster distinguishes books about the real East from those about the fake East , “which exists to be the background of some European adultery.” He has a nice essay about the origins of mosque architecture (a courtyard to pray in, something marking the direction of Jerusalem, originally, and Mecca later, an extension of the wall of the courtyard to call others to pray, but no immanent God, no ark of the covenant, no tabernacle, no altar. He reviews Wilfrid Blunt’s diaries, a book about Marco Polo, another about the Emperor Babur. The essay “Adrift in India” contains a section on Pan, the leaves chewed by so many Indians and called betel nut—a self-contained and very good five and a half page essay. ( )
  michaelm42071 | Sep 4, 2009 |
I like Forster's novels, but I didn't enjoy this collection of essays much at all, and in fact skipped large sections. Many of the essays were too tied to his time and place to be relevant or interesting. ( )
  carlym | Sep 21, 2007 |
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That is what the book [Seven Pillars of Wisdom] is about, and it could only be reviewed authoritatively by a staff officer who knows the East. That is what the book is about, and Moby Dick was about catching a whale. For round this tent-pole of a military chronicle T.E. has hung an unexampled fabric of portraits, descriptions, philosophies, emotions, adventures, dreams. ... He has also contributed to sociology, in recording what is probably the last of the picturesque
wars. Camels, pennants, the blowing up of little railway trains ...
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0156026104, Paperback)

This collection of articles, essays, reviews, and poems, written by the author of A Passage to India, contains such well-known pieces as "Notes on the English Character,' 'Adrift in India," and "Me, Them and You." Also collected are essays on literary figures whose work Forster especially admired.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:03 -0400)

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