By David Dowling
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Additional info for Bloomsbury Aesthetics and the Novels of Forster and Woolf
I begin to see what a tremendously big place he had in shaping all that counts in our world. ' 23 Forster in that book gives a portrait of Dickinson before referring to the frontispiece, Fry's painterly portrait [Plate 5]: There was a beauty about him which cannot be given that patronising label 'spiritual', a beauty which, though it had nothing to do with handsomeness, did belong to the physical, so that his presence was appropriate amid gorgeous scenery or exquisite flowers. 24 Forster ends his biography by throwing up his hands and protesting that no literature could hope to capture this 'indescribably rare being', but perhaps only music.
It looks as though art had got access to the substratum of all the emotional colours of life. 60 For Fry, then, the literary artist in his detachment may explore, not the 'ultimate harmonies' of the universe, but rhythmic patterns in the ebb and flow of the stream·of consciousness itself. The question of the perspective of the literary artist or reader becomes an extremely complex one. Fry was fascinated by the early cinema, and referred to it at least twice: once in the essay on Freud, when he complained of our readiness to identify with the hero in his amazing adventures; 61 and once in Transformations, when he recounted the experience of watching the film of a maritime disaster, and concluded that what made tragic drama valuable was not emotional intensity but the shape of the events, 'the curve of crescendo and diminuendo which their sequence describes, together with all the myriad subsidiary evocations which, at each point, poetic language can bring in to give fullness and density to the whole organic unity'.
63) In his first novel Forster sets up an opposition between north and south, England and Italy, and a plot which encourages (on the surface) ideas of symmetry. One critic sees 'a thesisantithesis-synthesis progression': In these early novels Forster's combination of the relatively rigid pattern and fluid, 'easy' rhythms serves the purpose of exposing unconscious psychological processes while creating a sense of aesthetic wholeness. 1 But a close examination of the novel will reveal that these symmetries are apparent only, and that Forster may use the paintings of Italy and images of the aesthetic viewpoint, but only to develop a story which unravels into the muddle of failed aesthetes rather than into the mystery of consummation.