Julian Barnes admits he was wrong about EM Forster

11782-004-305E324DJulian Barnes at The Guardian:

Sometimes you change your mind about a writer. Perhaps, when you first read them you were only pretending to admire what you’d been told to admire. But also your tastes change. For instance, at 25 I was more open to writers telling me how to live and how to think; by 65 I had come to dislike didacticism. I don’t want to be told how to think and how to live by, say, Bernard Shaw, or D H Lawrence or the later Tolstoy. I don’t like art – especially theatrical art – whose function seems to be to reassure us that we are on the right side. Sitting there complacently agreeing with a playwright that war is bad, that capitalism is bad, that bad people are bad. “You don’t make art out of good intentions,” is one of Flaubert’s wiser pronouncements.

Sometimes, when our tastes become more defined, they become narrower. But this doesn’t have to be the case. I want to address a rarer changing of the mind, which is altogether more enriching: when a writer you had previously been indifferent to, indeed actively despised, suddenly makes sense to you, and you realise – with, yes, a kind of joy – that at last you see the point of them.

I first read EM Forster when an English master handed out a list of Great Books to be read one summer holiday. A Passage to India was on that list. I still have the Penguin edition – a reprint of 1960, costing three shillings and sixpence – in which I read the novel. There are no notes in the margin, not a single cry of “Irony!” It clearly made little impression on me. Later, of my own volition, when I was about 20, I read A Room With a View, and actively began to take against Forster.

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