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E. M. Forster
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E. M. Forster

Edward Morgan Forster (January 1, 1879 - June 7, 1970) was an English novelist.

He was born in London, the son of an architect. He was to have been named Henry, but was baptised Edward by accident. He attended Tonbridge School in Kent. At King's College, Cambridge in 1901, he became involved with a group known as the Cambridge Conversazione Society. Many of its members went on to form the Bloomsbury group, of which Forster was also a member. Forster also belonged to an informal group of gay intellectuals which included Siegfried Sassoon and J. R. Ackerley. He travelled in Egypt, Germany and India with classicist G.L. Dickinson in 1914. He died in Coventry.

Many of his novels have been filmed by Ismail Merchant and James Ivory.

Table of contents
1 Overview
2 Works
3 External links

Overview

Secular humanism

Forster's views as a
secular humanist are at the heart of his work, which often features characters attempting to understand each other ('only connect...', in the words of Forster's famous epigraph to Howards End) across social barriers. In Howard's End, for example, the central relationship, unacceptable to some of Forster's contemporary readers, is between working-class Leonard Bast and upper-middle-class Helen Schlegel.

In A Passage to India, the main barrier is one of race, a triangle of mistrust between the English and their Muslim and Hindu subjects. A young Indian Dr Aziz is falsely accused of raping white English girl Adela Quested. Although he is finally acquitted, the incident convinces him of the impossibility of friendship between Indians and the English, and damages his friendship with Fielding, a liberal-minded Englishman. Forster's goal seems to be to show that all humans are of one race, that the barriers between them are artificial, but also, pessimistically, that even if we can 'connect' emotionally, our relationships are often doomed to fail because of social pressure. Finally, in Maurice (see below), Forster addressed the subject of homosexual love.

Sexuality

The role of sex in Forster's writing can perhaps be most succinctly characterized as progressing from heterosexual love to homosexual love. Supposedly this was all started when Edward Carpenter and his lover George Merrill paid him a visit when he was 35. A particularly sensual touch by Carpenter on his back, as he later recalled, drove him to start working on Maurice, which he repeatedly rewrote later on. The two protagonists of that novel, Maurice and Alec, seem to some degree be modelled after Carpenter and Merrill, reflecting in particular their class difference, which Forster (just as so many other gay poets and authors of the time) perceived as liberating and an escape from the confinements of middle-class morals.

While gay subtexts are more hidden in A Passage to India, the title of this work gives away its origin in the Walt Whitman poem Passage to India, which is about male comradeship. Carpenter was again the medium by which this influence reached Forster.

After A Passage to India, Forster proclaimed he was unable to do any more stories in "their", i.e. 'the heterosexuals', way ("I shall never write another novel after it (Passage), my patience with ordinary people has given out.") and concentrated on writing short stories, often with gay themes. Maurice, in circulation only between his closest friends at his lifetime, was finally published posthumously, even though gay liberation had progressed considerably during the late 1960s and early 1970s, making the extreme caution seem somewhat strange. While Maurice may be in some ways relatively dated (for example Scudder's panic reaction after their first night spent together to try to extort money from Maurice), and was also considered obsolete by the author in his Terminal Note to Maurice, it still is appealing today for its emotional frankness, warm humor, and romantic (if somewhat unrealistic) ending.

Works

Novels

Short Stories

Plays

Libretto

Essays

Non-fiction Books

External links