12 August

12 August 1920

2 Portland Villas, Hampstead - London

[. . .] In the case of Mr Forster the danger is peculiarly urgent because of his extreme reluctance to - shall we say? - commit himself wholly. By letting himself be borne along, by welcoming any number of diversions, he can still appear to be a stranger, a wanderer, within the boundaries of his own country, and so escape from any declaration of allegiance. To sum this up as a cynical attitude on the part of the author would be, we are convinced, to do him a profound wrong. Might it not be that this conscience is over-developed, that he is himself his severest critic, his own reader full of eyes? So aware is he of his sensitiveness, his sense of humour, that they are become two spectators who follow him wherever he goes, and are for ever on the look-out for a display of feeling ...
It was the presence of 'my aunt and the chaplain' on the first page of The Story of the Siren which suggested the tentative explanation above. The teller of the story is in a boat outside a little grotto on a great sunlit rock in the Mediterranean. His notebook has dropped over the side. [Quotation from the novel]. It would be extremely unfair to suggest that Mr Forster's novels are alive with aunts and black with chaplains, and yet these two figures are so extraordinarily familiar, that we caught ourselves unjustifiably wondering why there must always be, on every adventure, an aunt and a warbling chaplain. Why must they always be there in the boat, bright, merciless, clad from head to foot in the armour of efficiency? [. . .] [Review of The Story of the Siren by E.M. Forster, Athenaeum, 13 August 1920]