In the latest issue:

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick


Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

Jia Tolentino

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling


Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website ( — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.

  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
‘The Creator as Critic’ and Other Writings 
by E.M. Forster, edited by Jeffrey Heath.
Dundurn, 814 pp., £45, March 2008, 978 1 55002 522 4
Show More
Show More

This volume contains 30 broadcasts and 40 uncollected essays, talks and lectures written by E.M. Forster between his time as a 19th-century undergraduate and his candid old age, when, in his eighties, he jotted down a memorandum about his sex life. The broadcasts and essays fill about three hundred pages of this collection, which means some five hundred pages are occupied by appendices, a bibliography and, above all, annotations. These are scrupulous but frequently more discursive than some might think the occasion requires, as when the late Edward Said is chastised at length for his errant opinion of A Passage to India. Forster’s devotees, a party that includes the present editor, are clearly unwilling to treat the paralipomena of an admired author as undeserving of the fullest canonical attention. It so happens that another vast collection of what Max Müller might have called chips from a writer’s workshop has appeared at more or less at the same moment as this one.* It is equally scrupulous though perhaps less arduously discursive.

Jeffrey Heath’s collection, animated throughout by his reverence for Forster, is not easy to read. The contents are miscellaneous in character, but readers of Forster are used to that. There has been a conscientious attempt to give the contents a helpful structure, but the attempt does not always succeed. The book is divided into ‘Talks and Lectures’, ‘Essays’, ‘Other Memoirs and Memoranda’ and ‘Broadcasts’, and within these generic categories items are presented chronologically. The notes, often separated from the text by hundreds of pages, are sometimes hard to find. One essay, on A.E. Housman, is placed under ‘Talks and Lectures’. The notes on the essay, more than 350 pages later, include another piece on Housman under the title ‘Housman I’, with a reference to an ‘expanded version’ labelled ‘A.E. Housman II’. We are not told that this version is the one included under ‘Talks and Lectures’, but we are told that because the two versions overlap ‘most of the annotations pertaining to “I” are attached to “II”.’ The page numbers that provide keys to the notes begin at 483 and then continue from 124 to 130. One’s desire to benefit by the notes is consequently repressed, and if more frustration is desired I need only mention that this book is one of those apparently designed to close automatically if the user needs his or her hands for some other purpose, such as grateful note-taking.

This is of course not the editor’s fault, but he bears some of the blame for the problems arising from the organisation of the book. For example, if you want to consult a list of the abbreviations used throughout, you will not find it anywhere you might sensibly look for it, but on page 319. I have suggested that the annotation is rather too ample, but no reviewer can easily decline little amusements, rewards for his patience, like the mention of ‘Leigh Hunt’s painting The Light of the World’, or the curious career of Sir Frederick Pollock, born, we are told, in 1875, called to the Bar in 1871, occupant of chairs at University College London and Oxford in 1882 and 1883, and created a baronet in 1888. And then there is the case of John Arlott, once Forster’s producer at the BBC and later a broadcaster possibly even better known and loved than Forster himself, though here having to answer to the first name ‘George’, perhaps by contamination from the actor George Arliss, once, but no longer, famous.

In discussing the contents of the book it might be best to begin by disposing of Appendix A, which is devoted to 11 poems, mostly unpublished hitherto and more or less certainly attributed to Forster, who, had he been a poet, might have been a bit like Housman, or, preferably, a bit like his friend Cavafy, but knew very well he wasn’t. Two poems, of not quite certain attribution, are identified by the editor as probably survivors of a series of obscene pieces he wrote ‘not to express myself but to excite myself’. Most of these he burned, not as a demonstration of moral repentance but because he thought the practice ‘dangerous’ to his ‘career as a novelist’ (he reported this sacrifice in 1922, which is roughly when he was trying to finish A Passage to India). The verses are trivial but the need for them may seem urgent if one considers the emotional demands that inspired a now celebrated diary entry of 1935: ‘I want to love a strong young man of the lower classes and be loved by him and even hurt by him. That is my ticket.’ This is a mood to be remembered when we think of Forster as almost comically mild, so that Lytton Strachey labelled him ‘the taupe’ and Virginia Woolf wished he would be more open so that one could require him to ‘stand and deliver’; or when we read in P.N. Furbank’s biography of strange outbreaks of solitary violence, when he hurled himself against the furniture. Percy Lubbock, who knew him well, told Forster: ‘It’s too funny your becoming the holy man of letters. You’re really a spiteful old thing. Why haven’t people found you out, and run you down?’ If there was a need to purge spite and violence it could hardly have been satisfied by the poems here. Lubbock is teasing, but he obviously sensed complexity in a man often admired for his simplicity.

The title conferred on this collection was originally used for a set of lectures given to the English faculty at Cambridge in 1931, perhaps in the wake of the success of Aspects of the Novel (1927). Six, possibly eight, lectures were planned; a recurring theme was to be the criticism of creative writers. The lectures shrink as one reads on, as lectures tend to when offered as a series – quite fully written at the outset and later on more or less extended notes and useful quotations. The general theme – ‘the gulf between the creative and critical states’ – is one to which Forster returned many times; he often undertook to show that criticism was a relatively unimportant affair, sometimes a minor impediment to creativity and sometimes positively harmful. Probably his most serious attack on criticism is in a lecture he gave at Harvard in 1947, to be found in the collection named Two Cheers for Democracy. Its strategy is to seem to allow criticism some grudging reasons for its existence and to celebrate by contrast the operations of positive creative force, with which he, as an artist, was modestly familiar.

Forster wrote a very large quantity of what has for convenience to be called literary criticism, but cannot really be mistaken for it, the aim being civilised chat (what his friend William Plomer admiringly described as ‘tea-tabling’) and a supply of recommendations for the guidance of listeners disciplined by Sir John Reith. Obviously there was nothing wrong in that; he was careful to read and chat about books of more than usual interest and was aware of his audience, understanding, for instance, that it would think the price of books an important part of the information he conveyed. The talks were made to satisfy audiences he respected, especially in India, and they proved popular. At the wartime BBC he had good first readers in Arlott and Orwell; he knew exactly how to do what he was doing, and the talks were made for their moment. Conscientious but plain, friendly and sometimes quite jolly, they succeed as charming and painlessly instructive chats about the better books of the day, or older books that he wanted listeners to read because he admired them. He would have said it was important not to mistake the talks for criticism, much as one needed to avoid mistaking criticism for creation.

For Forster, creation, even when he’s being whimsical about it, is the only aesthetic topic of real importance. He approaches it more tentatively in ‘The Creator as Critic’ than in the Harvard lecture, probably because he feels himself committed to a more orthodox literature course. But the distinction is nevertheless established in this much earlier work. ‘What I mean by Creation is an activity, part of which takes place in sleep. It has, or usually has, its wakeful alert side, but it’s rooted in the region whence dreams also grow … Creation is an activity, part of which takes place in sleep, and which may or may not turn out to be literature.’ He therefore pays due respect to Coleridge and ‘Kubla Khan’.

Forster claimed he was not much of a novel reader, but there was modesty in the disclaimer. He listed Jane Austen, Proust and Samuel Butler as the three authors who had helped him most, adding that Butler ‘did more than either of the other two to help me look at life the way I do’. He named Dante, Gibbon and Tolstoy the greatest of writers and repeatedly expressed his love for War and Peace. He also spoke with reverence of Dostoevsky, on whom he comments with real fervour. More generally, he spoke of three generations of significant novelists, the generations of Meredith, Proust and … nobody, for he thought the novel was fading away, in part because novelists were no longer sufficiently interested in death, a subject they were losing just as they were losing the material available to their great predecessors: ‘marriage, love, friendship, family feuds, social nuances, lawsuits about property, illegitimate children, failure on the stock exchange – all the products of liberalism, in fact’.

That was written in 1942; ten years earlier he had found much to admire in certain novelists, ‘most of them under thirty, and doing things I should like to have done’. They included Rosamund Lehmann, William Plomer, John Hampson and Christopher Isherwood, whose second novel, The Memorial, he especially, and justly, admired. Isherwood and Plomer were friends and Lehmann an acquaintance, but such coincidences sometimes occur without damage to truth. There was nothing very systematic about his reading. It would be interesting to know what, if anything, he felt about L.H. Myers, who also wrote about India, but Forster seems to have ignored him, perhaps accidentally but possibly because Myers was much favoured in Downing and not in Bloomsbury. He could, in his eighties, have read the early novels of V.S. Naipaul, but I can’t find any evidence that he did. He wrote knowledgably about music, which was important as the great example of creative force. His dedication to Beethoven outlasted his passion for Wagner and for the imaginary Vinteuil of Proust. He thought little of Mozart, saying he tinkled.

Of his literary dislikes, the most striking is for Henry James, whom he misses few chances to disparage. His treatment of The Ambassadors in Aspects of the Novel is an obvious instance, but there are others, sometimes describable as sly digs, sometimes as pure dislike. He professed to believe that James, unlike other novelists, would benefit from a course of Balzac. In a very early piece (1905) he remarks that James ‘leaves us with a feeling of depression when he leaves us with any feeling at all’. He calls James ‘our only perfect novelist’ but adds ‘it isn’t a very enthralling type of perfection.’ Whimsically allocating flavours to particular novelists, he says there is ‘no savour whatever in any dish of Henry James’. James is too little concerned with what Forster called ‘the products of liberalism’. Forster might have liked a phrase that came in too late for him, ‘the reek of the human’, of which he sensed no trace in James.

It is easy to overlook the fact that Forster’s career as a novelist ended when he still had the better part of half of a century to live. During that time he was often more reclusive than not, but he developed into a figure of national importance. The continuing success of the novels had something to do with this, but they cannot explain why, when he ceased to write them, and when he was still apparently a gently studious figure, living mostly in the country or in a Cambridge college, or travelling a lot, he achieved such public eminence. Always self-deprecating, he nevertheless understood his own stature; in his commonplace book he privately compared his powers with those of other writers, including Eliot, and judged himself superior. It must be allowed that he had many admiring friends, and his name was frequently before the public; he wrote incessantly, believing that it was better to dribble than to dry up; and, after all, it may be so. Fortunately, inspiration, not necessarily of the grandest sort, was always at hand, roused by the mere sight of a pen. Much that one might ordinarily dislike in him – his barely conscious snobbery, his difficulty with women, his dependence on cliques or coteries (his ‘aristocracy’, as defined in ‘What I Believe’) – is forgotten as one understands how wrong it would be to dwell on the defects of this admirable essayist, this quietly resolute advocate of freedom, this mostly benign follower of ‘Erasmus and Montaigne, not Moses and St Paul’. He says he does not believe in Belief, and takes as his motto ‘Lord, I disbelieve – help thou my unbelief.’ But in the biblical original ‘help’ means not ‘assist’ but ‘cure’, so he may really be asking for something he does want to believe in. He knew exactly what it was: ‘personal relations’, or more splendidly, ‘Love, the beloved Republic’, a subject on which he happily never did dry up.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.