Secrets and Contradictions – by novelist David Corbett –

Annex - Brooks, Louise (Pandora's Box)_01

E. M. Forster, in his 1927 book “Aspects of the Novel,” presented the concept of “round” versus “flat” characters. He generally preferred the former to the latter except when the purpose was to arouse feelings of “humour” or “appropriateness,” maintaining that flat characters, comprised of a single idea or “factor,” could often be summed up in one sentence, such as Mrs. Micawber in “David Copperfield”: “I never will desert Mr. Micawber.” When a character possesses more than one factor, “we get the beginning of the curve towards the round.” …

In truth, Forster provided a hint or two, in his talk of “deeper” qualities, such as the deeper moral sense of Lady Bertram in “Mansfield Park,” and the capacity to be “surprising in a convincing way.” But there’s still a bit too much airiness in all that to provide a practical technique.

By giving a character something to hide — a secret — we create the illusion of depth: interior and exterior, seen and unseen.

If we believe someone is hiding something, we can’t help but pay more attention to him. Few drives are as strong as the one to find out — ask Pandora, or Psyche or Bluebeard’s wife.

Secrets need not necessarily be shameful, though many are, sometimes unreasonably. But they always speak to an aspect of what has happened to us that we can neither forget nor share — which, in fiction, creates tension between a character’s inner life and her dramatic interactions with others.

via Secrets and Contradictions –


  1. Jung said something along the lines of “Secrets are the beginning of psychological maturity,” since they differentiate us from others – not that he was advocating that as an excellent or final state, but one that is a necessary beginning for all sorts of inner journeys.

    • It is interesting to think of what we reveal, and what we don’t. You’ll know this book, I’m sure… In college I read Carl Jung’s “Archetypes and…” I can’t remember the rest of the title, was it “Symbols”? Anyway, it contained the most chilling account of spending the night in a haunted bedroom, along with some very interesting stuff about the collective unconscious, but what I remember best is the ghost story. Hm…

  2. Dearest V
    Now that is interesting.
    I’m sure Forster was hinting at something wider than just secrets, after all this is a man who has a great gaping narrative hole intentionally at the heart of one of his greatest novels, but the concealment of truth, even from oneself, is one I’m sure he would have been as familiar as his characters with.
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

      • Dearest V
        Passage to India.
        The strange echo in the caves, no reply, a blank, a rape trial and memories that won’t stitch together.
        I’m not sure Forster was ever really in the closet as far as those who knew him personally were concerned, his caution mainly stemmed from a desire firstly not to be prosecuted and then, as on old man, to retain his privacy.
        Yours ever
        The Perfumed Dandy
        PS Now that reminds me, there’s a serial… Oh, I know, I’ll mail you!

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