The Moral Critic

“The Moral Critic,” Enquiry, April 1944. (A review of E. M. Forster by Lionel Trilling.)


The liberal flatters himself upon his intentions, problems, “and prefers not to know that the good will generates its own that the love pf humanity has its own vices and the love of the truth its own insensibilities.” He is paternal and pedagogic, smug in knowledge of his in Reaction; his righteousness, and sure of the adequacy of his program. He revels the abstract goodness of the masses and in the ·abstract badness of it merely dramatizes these axiomatic convictions. Human beings are’ denigrated into terms for his syllogisms which are then dressed up in fictional form. An insidious cruelty is at work, in which all men are expendable in order to make a point.

In contrast to this facile moralism, E.M. Forster’s “moral realism” is extolled, for “he is one of the thinking than people who were never led by thought to suppose they could be more human and the who, in bad times, will not ‘become less.” Moral realism is aware of paradoxical found quirks of morality; it knows that good-and-evil are more often to be than good vs. evil. Though dissatisfied, of course, with the ways of men, it foresees no new virtues, but, at beast, a healthier distribution of the old. It is non-eschatological, skeptical of proposed revisions of man’s nature, interested in human beings as it finds, them, Dodging content with the· possibilities and limitations that are always with us. the sentimentality of both cynicism and utopianism, it is worldly, even s9phisticated. It is partial to the comic manner, which dashes cold water on extremities of sentiment, in and yet pursues doggedly its own modest goals. Forster’s novels are a personal, lucid style, omitting the glamorous facades of the tragic-romantic: screens he is always in the novel skillfully at work, never hidden behind the manipulating invisible pulleys. Preoccupied with moral questions, he is neither overbearing nor sententious,. Too sensible and ironic to be “great,” he can afford to do his subject matter justice.

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