E. M. Forster Essay - Biography


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 and HOWARD’S END. 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 novels, although he lived forty-six years.

Forster was at the height of his powers, Beauman contends, when he discovered and explored the conflicts in himself between middle-class respectability and individuality. The conflict was particularly hard on himself because he came from a thoroughly conventional and prominent family whose approval he craved even as he found his vocation as a writer who subtly exposed and undermined the status quo. Forster had to consider himself an even odder case, because he was also homosexual and could not hope to fit into what society considered the normal categories.

Forster developed an oblique technique that allowed him to write novels that are social comedies akin to Jane Austen’s. At the same time, in his private life he sought friends to share his emotional frustrations and his love. He was not entirely successful until traveling to Greece and India, where he was exposed to more open and sensual societies that allowed him to become a practicing homosexual. The clash of cultures and values became the great theme of his masterpiece, A PASSAGE TO INDIA.

In his mid-forties, Forster declared an end to novel writing, turning to nonfiction and a series of friendships and love affairs that fulfilled the yearning apparent in his early years. In her superbly crafted biography, Beauman comes close to saying that happiness killed off the creativity—but not before Forster had achieved a remarkably complete set of six novels that rank with the greatest of the century.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XC, February 15, 1994, p. 1034.

Choice. XXXII, September, 1994, p. 100.

The Christian Science Monitor. May 10, 1994, p. 15.

Kirkus Reviews. LXII, February 15, 1994, p. 184.

Library Journal. CXIX, March 15, 1994, p. 72.

The New Republic. CCXI, August 22, 1994, p. 40.

The New York Times Book Review. XCIX, April 3, 1994, p. 7.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLI, February 14, 1994, p. 73.

The Wall Street Journal. June 2, 1994, p. A12.

The Washington Post Book World. XXIV, April 3, 1994, p. 8.