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New at IWP Books: E. M. Forster (1951) Two Cheers for Democracy. From Jacques Barzun, “Why Not the Third Cheer?” (The Griffin, 1951, volume I, no. 1):

Reading E. M. Forster’s new book makes it perfectly clear that he is first and foremost a novelist. Two Cheers for Democracy is a book of essays that constitute an affirmation of political faith, but it is the characteristic affirmation of an author who can scarcely keep from writing fiction.

Do not mistake me: I do not mean that his facts are false. I mean that the strongest impression left by the book is of dialogue, dramatis personae, vivid settings, and that confident hand of the master showman to which the novels have accustomed us. Whether the author describes in exquisite slow motion how a chicken casserole was spilled over his only good suit in South Africa, or whether he brings to life the figures of T. E. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf, he is unmistakably there, contriving to exhibit to its best advantage the contours of a reality that his clear imagination seeks and grasps. We se things all the better because he himself is so tangibly present, and also, of course, because he has no thought of showing himself of. On the contrary, he dismisses himself over and over again with the irresistible humor of one who prefers to be less important than his scene or subject, of one who expects to have the sauce spilled on his trousers and rejoices that he can make so much more of it than anyone else.

This atmosphere and this technique may seem far removed from politics but they are not actually so. The combination of being present and being unobtrusive is what Mr. Forster means by being an individual and a democrat. It is the point of his definition, which one will not discover in any single passage of the book but which arises unmistakably from the sum of his statements. These statements concern a great variety of subjects, ranging from general discussion of the arts and criticism to particular treatments of T. S. Eliot, Voltaire, Gibbon, Milton, Edward Carpenter, Auden, Stefan George, Tolstoy, and a number of obscurer men; from excellent pieces on war aims to sketches of travel in America, India, Africa, and Europe; from autobiography to obituaries and full-dress reviews of major writers. But because the democratic faith is truly in Mr. Forster, and because he has endlessly examined its grounds, he can impart it and show its relevance to whatever he touches. This power is in fact the result of what he means by “being an individual,” that is to say being not perfect but complete. And this in turn is what makes Two Cheers for Democracy a Portrait of the Liberal in Stubborn Mood.