Among the many kinds of people who keep diaries, two are diametrically opposed: the egoists, who assume that their slightest thought is of huge significance, and the shy ones who find it easier to write than to speak because they assume that no-one wants to listen to them. The former are recorders, who have normally arrived at their opinions before they commit them to paper; the latter are explorers, who write in order to find out what they think. E. M. Forster was an explorer. Philip Gardner, who in 1985 edited Forster’s fascinating Commonplace Book, has spent a decade on the diaries, and despite some errors and inconsistencies—ably outlined by Peter Parker in the London Times Literary Supplement of April 29, 2011—the books offer many insights into Forster’s mind.

There are large gaps in the record, and some entries are little more than dates and facts, but they contain numerous passages of...


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