E. M. Forster Biography

Biography (History of the World: The 20th Century)

E. M. Forster E. M. Forster Image via writersmug.com

Article abstract: A liberal and a humanist, Forster was more centrist than extreme, and as such, he was an almost perfect embodiment of an early twentieth century realist who accepted the primacy of facts but insisted on balancing them with intuition or spirit.

Early Life

Edward Morgan Forster was born in London on January 1, 1879, to an upper-middle-class British family. His father, Edward Morgan Llewellyn Forster, an architect, died a year after the birth of his son, and Morgan, as the child was called, was brought up by a devoted mother, Lily (born Whichelo), whose own family had a history of artistic pursuits. Forster was an only child, and his relationship with his mother was very intense; he maintained a home with her until her death in 1945, when he was sixty-six. His mother was not his only female relation during his childhood. Rather, he had the loving attention, also, of his father’s sister, Laura, his grandmother Whichelo, and, perhaps more important, his great-aunt on his father’s side, Marianne Thornton, about whom he later wrote a biography (Marianne Thornton: A Domestic Biography, 1955) and from whom he inherited eight thousand pounds, money that later enabled him to attend Cambridge and to begin his writing career. Reared in such loving and protected surroundings, he was spoiled, self-centered, and also precocious, reading without specific instruction at the age of four and assimilating factual knowledge with astonishing speed.

Given such a background, it is not surprising that Forster had trouble when he entered a preparatory boarding school at Eastbourne. Indeed, his unhappiness caused his mother to move to Tonbridge so that her son could attend day school there and live at home. There, life was better but not without considerable strain, for Forster was not the epitome of what the all-male school was trying to produce—boys with well-developed bodies who would fit into a mold defined by a middle-class patriarchy. Forster was a small and thin child, delicately built, interested in the realm of the imagination rather than in physical activities, and tending more toward an interest in artistic creation than in making money. Though he would grow taller, he remained all of his life, until very old age, notably thin; with his large and hooked nose, and habit of standing with one leg wound around the other, he seemed almost birdlike in demeanor.

It was not until he entered King’s College, Cambridge, at the age of eighteen, that he finally found a male support system whose values and interests were, in the main, similar to his own. At Cambridge, Forster studied classics for three years and history for his fourth year, and it was during his fourth year that he was elected to the Apostles, an exclusive and long-established society whose goal was the pursuit of truth by a group of friends by means of serious dialogue. Other members of the Apostles included men who were, with Forster and others, to establish the so-called Bloomsbury Group (John Maynard Keynes, Roger Fry, Leonard Woolf, and Virginia Woolf’s brother Thoby Stephen).

The Bloomsbury Group, however, was not exclusively male; it included such forceful females as Virginia Woolf and her sister, Vanessa Bell, and one of its goals was freedom for discussion of topics previously taboo, including the equality of women and various modes of sexuality. Predictably, Forster maintained a close relationship with Leonard Woolf but apparently had occasional difficulty in relating to Virginia Woolf, who would, along with Forster, become one of the greatest novelists of the time.

After Cambridge and because of his inheritance from his great-aunt, Forster was able to undertake a variety of activities while he was beginning to pursue seriously his writing career. In October of 1901, he went on a one-year tour of Italy and Austria with his mother. During this time, he began the short story, “The Story of a Panic.” Returning from London, Forster began teaching Latin at a weekly session in the Working Men’s College, and during the next several years, while also lecturing on Italian art and history, he began to contribute essays and stories to Independent Review, a journal founded by several of his friends and mentors from Cambridge.

Around this time, he also began A Room with a View (1908). In 1905, while in Germany, he began to tutor the children of an aristocratic family. A year later, back in England, he began to teach Latin to Syed Ross Maswood, a Muslim from India with whom Forster began a long friendship and whom he visited in India in 1910. War service in the Red Cross from 1915 to 1919 brought Forster to Egypt, and after the war, in 1921, Forster went to India as secretary to the Maharajah of Dewas State Senior. During this stay, Forster attempted to learn about the Hindus as he had previously learned about the Muslims.

Life’s Work

During all these travels, Forster completed and published the novels and short stories that would establish his reputation as a British novelist of the first rank. The travels and the fiction exist in symbiotic relationship, his travels often corresponding to the settings and themes of his published works insofar as settings shape characters at deep levels of the subconscious. Regardless of the specific settings or thematic contents present in each of the novels or stories, Forster’s overall point of view seems to be that of a classic humanist, as he himself pointed out in reply to a friend who challenged the usefulness of his philosophy. At that time, Forster indicated that he had been and would continue to be a gentle man as well as a kind and tolerant one, and he would continue to be, in his words, “demure.” Moreover, he said that his attitude could best be defined as both semi-idealistic and semicynical. In short, Forster concluded, he was a liberal and a humanist.

For most critics, Forster’s short stories are important not for their aesthetic value but for their adumbrations and variations of themes and techniques employed in the novels—Where...

(The entire section is 2506 words.)

E. M. Forster Biography (Novels for Students)

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Edward Morgan Forster was born in London on January 1, 1879. He was the great-grandson of Henry Thornton, a prominent member of the Evangelical Clapham Sect and a member of parliament. His father, an architect, died early, and he was brought up by his mother and his great-aunt, Marianne Thornton (whose biography he published in 1956). He received his early education at Tonbridge School, but he did not like the public school atmosphere. His bitter criticism of the English public school system appears in his portrayal of Sawston School in his first two novels, Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905) and The Longest Journey (1907). From Tonbridge, Forster went on to the University of Cambridge—thanks to the rich...

(The entire section is 485 words.)

E. M. Forster Biography (Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Edward Morgan Forster lived a long but rather uneventful life. Born on New Year’s Day, 1879, he was reared by his possessive mother and worshipful great-aunt (whose biography he later wrote) after the death of his father from tuberculosis before Forster turned two. Happy, protected, and dominated by women in his early years, he suffered painfully the transition to the masculine, athletically oriented Tonbridge School—later the model for Sawston School in The Longest Journey. After a more congenial four years, 1897 to 1901, at King’s College, Cambridge, he took a second-class degree. In the next few years, he wrote seriously, traveled in Italy and Greece, tutored the children of a German countess, and indulged in...

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E. M. Forster Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111228251-Forster.jpg E. M. Forster. Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Edward Morgan Forster (FOR-stur) was born in London, England, on January 1, 1879, the only son of Edward Morgan Llewellyn Forster, a descendant of prominent members of the Clapham Sect, an evangelical group of social activists, and Alice Clara (Lily) Whichelo Forster. His father, an architect who had studied with Sir Arthur Blomfield (Thomas Hardy’s mentor), died unexpectedly in 1880. That left the one-year-old Edward Forster in the care of his mother, his maternal grandmother, Louisa Whichelo, and his paternal great-aunt and godmother, Marianne Thornton, who financed his education and became his benefactress. In 1893, Forster and his mother moved to Tonbridge and he attended Tonbridge School, where he was very unhappy, from 1893...

(The entire section is 691 words.)

E. M. Forster Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

E. M. Forster writes: “As a rule, if a writer has a romantic temperament, he will find relationships beautiful.” This statement encapsulates the optimistic truths that Forster asserts in his literature about the nature of humanity. Considered by some critics to be one of the greatest moralists of his time, Forster directs his attention to character flaws that cause temporary disharmony in personal relationships.

In “E. M. Forster as Victorian and Modern: Howards End and A Passage to India,” Malcolm Bradbury contends that Forster demands a personal connection between inner and outer worlds and demands that both society and humankind be whole. This explains the fact that Forster’s works focus...

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E. M. Forster Biography (Nonfiction Classics for Students)

Edward Morgan Forster was born in London on January 1, 1879, the only surviving son of Edward Morgan Llewellyn Forster, an architect, and...

(The entire section is 426 words.)

E. M. Forster Biography (Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Edward Morgan Forster was born on January 1, 1879, in Coventry, England. His father died when he was only a year and a half old, leaving him...

(The entire section is 519 words.)

E. M. Forster Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Among twentieth century novelists, Edward Morgan Forster (FOR-stur) ranks just below D. H. Lawrence, James Joyce, and William Faulkner. He was the only surviving child of Edward Morgan Llewellyn Forster, an architect, and Alice Clara Whichelow, who was called Lily. After Forster’s father died in October, 1880, Lily reared the boy with the assistance of various doting female relatives, including her husband’s elderly aunt, Marianne Thornton, who generously funded the boy’s education at Tonbridge School and King’s College, Cambridge, and provided him the means to travel and write at leisure upon his graduation in 1901. He repaid her memory later by writing her biography. During this time Forster traveled through Italy (the...

(The entire section is 991 words.)

E. M. Forster Biography (Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

E. M. Forster has enjoyed both a high reputation and popularity as a novelist. Several of his novels have been filmed—most notably A Room with a View (1908; film, 1986) and Howards End (1910; film, 1992). His first novel, Where Angels Fear to Tread, was published in 1905, and his last, A Passage to India, in 1924. Thereafter he published no fiction, although he lived another forty-six years. Why he should have experienced a twenty-year burst of creativity and then lapsed into silence cannot be entirely explained, but Nicola Beauman makes a superb effort, as well as demonstrating how complete Forster’s career as a novelist actually was and why, even though he stopped producing fiction in...

(The entire section is 2023 words.)

E. M. Forster Biography (Novels for Students)

Edward Morgan Forster was born on January 1, 1879, in Coventry, England. His father died when he was only a year and a half old, leaving him...

(The entire section is 491 words.)