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This report is taken from PN Review 221, Volume 41 Number 3, January - February 2015.

P.N. Furbank (1920–2014) Matías Serra Bradford
Lives in Conversation

P.N. Furbank was – is – the author of E.M. Forster: A Life, an instant classic biography when first published in 1978. He once wrote that Forster’s central concern in his life, ‘it was plain to see, was friendship’, and ended up being a close acquaintance of the man himself. Sharing more than a penchant for initials, on one occasion they discussed whether a critic had any right to draw on biographical facts: ‘The question to ask oneself,’ Forster recapitulated, ‘was how far removed is the author’s state of mind, when writing, from what it is normally. If it is very different then what is true of his life will not be true of his writings.’

Years later, in a piece on Sainte-Beuve and Proust, Furbank redescribed this question of the hiatus between the writing and the living selves (for which, the reader may speculate, biography could act as suspension bridge) when he wrote that ‘the authorial “I” Proust invites us to recreate within ourselves is to be found nowhere save in the author’s work’. Furbank never ceased to conjecture on these matters, as when he ventured that ‘one of the leading rules in literary biography, I suppose, is that we are expected to judge poems or novels, for they have been offered for judgment, but to understand, rather than to judge, real-life people’. Approaching the motif from yet another angle, in his introduction to Dickens’ Martin Chuzzlewit he declared that ‘Dickens’s final moral judgments on people are based not ...


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