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Great Novelists

E M Forster didn’t write another novel after the publication of the hugely successful Passage to India. When interviewed by the BBC, he explained that he didn’t consider himself to be a great novelist because he had only ever managed to tap into three types of people: “The person I think I am, the people who irritate me and the people I’d like to be. The really good people like Tolstoy can get hold of all types.”

The other reason that he gave for stopping writing was that the social aspect of the world changed after the Great War: “Its homes. Its family life. It all went.”

Another great writer of the time, Virginia Woolf, expanded on the feeling of mourning for the old world: “Words – English words – are full of echoes, memories, associations, naturally. They’ve been out and about on people’s lips, in our houses, in streets and fields for so many centuries. And that is one of the chief difficulties in writing of the day. They’re stored with other meanings, with other memories. Our business is to see what we can do with the old English language as it is. How can we combine old words in new orders to that they create beauty, so that they tell the truth? That is the question.”

Jane has been watching ‘In Their Own words: British Novelists’. Part two of three covering the years 1945-1969 will be shown on BB4 tonight at 9.00pm.