Morgan (E.M.)Forster was an English novelist, short story writer, and
essayist. He is most famous for his novels, most of which have been
filmed. Forster is also known for a creed of life which can be summed
up in the epigraph to his 1910 novel Howards End, "Only connect".
A certain amount of controversy relates to the fact that Forster
was homosexual but did not make this fact public during his lifetime.
Born in London, the son of an architect, he was to have been named
Henry but was baptised Edward by accident. Among his ancestors
were members of the Clapham Sect. As a boy he inherited £8000
from his paternal aunt Marianne Thornton, daughter of the abolitionist
Henry Thornton, which was enough to live on and enabled him to
become a writer. He attended Tonbridge School in Kent as a day
King's College, Cambridge between 1897 and 1901, he became involved
with the Apostles (formally named the Cambridge Conversazione
Society), a discussion society. Many of its members went on to
constitute what came to be known as the Bloomsbury Group, of which
Forster was a peripheral member in the 1910s and 1920s. There
is a famous account of Forster's Cambridge and that of his fellow
Apostles at the beginning of The Longest Journey.
leaving university he travelled on the continent with his mother
and continued to live with her at Weybridge and Abinger Hammer
in Surrey until her death in 1945. His early novels, set in England
and Italy, were praised by reviewers but did not sell in large
quantities. It was Howards End (1910) that made him famous.
travelled in Egypt, Germany and India with the classicist Goldsworthy
Lowes Dickinson in 1914. Doing war work for the Red Cross in Egypt,
in the winter of 1916-17, he met in Ramleh a tram conductor, Mohammed
el-Adl, a youth of seventeen with whom he fell in love and who
was to become one of the principal inspirations for his literary
work. Mohammed died of tuberculosis in Alexandria in spring of
this loss, Forster was driven to keep the memory of the youth
alive, and attempted to do so in the form of a book-length letter,
preserved at King's College, Cambridge. The letter begins with
a quote, "Good-night, my lad, for nought's eternal; No league
of ours, for sure." and concludes with the acknowledgement
that the task of thus resurrecting their love is impossible.
spent a second spell in India in the early 1920s as the private
secretary to the Maharajah of Dewas state (senior branch). The
Hill of Devi is his non-fictional account of this trip. After
returning from India he completed A Passage to India (1924) which
became his most famous and widely-translated novel.
wrote no more novels after A Passage to India, and little fiction
apart from short stories intended only for himself and a small
circle of friends. Some critical debate has concerned the question
of why he gave up writing novels.
the 1930s and 1940s Forster became a successful broadcaster on
BBC radio. He also became a public figure associated with the
British Humanist Association.
speaking, Forster had a happy relationship beginning in the early
1930s with a constable in the London Metropolitan Police, Bob
Buckingham. He developed a friendship with Buckingham's wife May
and included the couple in his circle which also included the
writer and editor of The Listener J.R. Ackerley, the psychologist
W.J.H. Sprott and, for a time, the composer Benjamin Britten.
Other writers Forster associated with included the poet Siegfried
Sassoon and the Belfast-based novelist Forrest Reid.
the death of his mother, Forster accepted an honorary fellowship
at King's College, Cambridge and lived for the most part in the
college doing relatively little. He died in Coventry at the home
of the Buckinghams.
Forster had five novels published in his lifetime and one more,
Maurice, appeared shortly after his death although it was written
nearly sixty years earlier. A seventh, Arctic Summer, he never
first novel, Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905), is the story of
Lilia, a young English widow who falls in love with an Italian,
and of the efforts of her bourgeois relatives to get her back
from Monteriano (based on San Gimignano). The mission of Philip
Herriton to retrieve her from Italy has something in common with
that of Lambert Strether in Henry James's The Ambassadors, a work
Forster discussed ironically and somewhat negatively in his book
Aspects of the Novel (1927). Where Angels Fear to Tread was adapted
into a film by Charles Sturridge in 1991.
Forster published The Longest Journey (1907), an inverted bildungsroman
following the lame Rickie Elliott from Cambridge to a career as
a struggling writer and then a schoolmaster, married to the unappetising
Agnes Pembroke. In a series of scenes on the hills of Wiltshire
which introduce Rickie's wild half-brother Stephen Wonham, Forster
attempts a kind of sublime related to those of Thomas Hardy and
third novel, A Room with a View (1908) is his lightest and most
optimistic. It was started before any of his others, as early
as 1901, and exists in earlier forms referred to as 'Lucy'. The
book is the story of young Lucy Honeychruch's trip to Italy with
her aunt, and the choice she must make between the free-thinking
George Emerson, and the repressed aesthete Cecil Vyse. George's
father Mr Emerson quotes thinkers who were influential on Forster
including Samuel Butler. A Room with a View was filmed by Merchant-Ivory
Angels Fear to Tread and A Room with a View can be seen collectively
as Forster's Italian novels. Both include references to the famous
Baedeker guidebooks and concern narrow-minded middle-class English
tourists abroad. Many of their themes are shared with some of
the short stories collected in The Celestial Omnibus and The Eternal
End (1910) is an ambitious Condition of England novel concerned
with different groups within the Edwardian middle classes represented
by the Schlegels (bohemian intellectuals), the Wilcoxes (thoughtless
plutocrats) and the Basts (struggling lower-middle-class aspirants).
feature frequently observed in Forster's novels is that characters
die suddenly. This is a feature of Where Angels Fear to Tread,
Howards End and, most notoriously, The Longest Journey.
achieved his greatest success with A Passage to India (1924).
The novel is about the relationship between East and West, seen
through the lens of India in the later days of the British Raj.
In it, Forster connected personal relationships with the politics
of colonialism through the story of the English Adela Quested
and the Indian Dr Aziz and the question of what did or did not
happen between them in the Marabar Caves.
(1971) was published after the novelist's death. It is a homosexual
love story which also returns to areas familiar from Forster's
first three novels such as the suburbs of London in the English
home counties, the experience of being at Cambridge, and the wild
landscape of Wiltshire.
Forster's views as a secular humanist are at the heart of his
work, which often features characters attempting to understand
each other, in the words of Forster's famous epigraph, across
social barriers. His humanist views are expressed in the non-fictional
essay What I Believe.
two most noted works, A Passage to India and Howards End, explore
the irreconcilability of class differences. Although considered
by some to have less serious literary weight, A Room with a View
is also notable as his most widely read and accessible work, remaining
popular for the near century since its original publication. His
1914 novel Maurice, published posthumously in 1971, explores the
possibility of reconciling class differences as part of a homosexual
is another key theme in Forster's works and it has been argued
that Forster's writing can be characterized as moving from heterosexual
love to homosexual love. The foreword to Maurice expresses his
struggle with his own homosexuality, while similar themes were
explored in several volumes of homosexual-themed short stories.
Forster's explicitly homosexual writings, the novel Maurice and
the short-story collection The Life to Come, were published shortly
after his death and caused controversy.