Forster, E(dward) M(organ)
Forster, E(dward) M(organ) 1879-1970
English short story writer, novelist, essayist, critic, travel writer, biographer, dramatist, librettist, and non-fiction writer.
Forster is best known as the author of Howards End (1910) and A Passage to India (1924), novels of manners depicting British morality and Edwardian society, but he is also recognized as a short story writer of considerable distinction. In the two collections published during Forster's lifetime—The Celestial Omnibus (1911) and The Eternal Moment (1928)—and in the posthumous collections The Life to Come (1972) and Arctic Summer (1980), readers find the essential Forster themes that figure so prominently in the longer works: the deficiencies of the undeveloped heart, the repressiveness of modern civilization, the possibility of transcendence, and the saving power of love. These themes are underscored by Forster's explorations of various mythologies and are imbued with his comic genius and liberal humanism. Forster scholars praise his exquisite craftsmanship, his success in creating believable characters placed in extraordinary situations, and his skillful fusion of realism and fantasy, of the natural and the supernatural. Recent cinematic adaptations of several of his novels and the posthumous publication of his letters, the novel Maurice (1971), and the short story collections, containing previously suppressed works replete with homosexual themes, have prompted critical revaluation and enhanced Forster's reputation as a major twentieth-century author.
Forster led a quiet upper middle-class boyhood, an only child cosseted by his widowed mother and other female relations. Among these was his great-aunt Marianne Thornton, whose legacy later enabled Forster to write without worrying about earning a living. After an unhappy period of public schooling in a conformist atmosphere, he attended Cambridge University where he enjoyed close relationships with a number of legendary teachers, including historians Oscar Browning, Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson, and philosopher G. E. Moore. Cambridge's influence on Forster was immense, for there he found intellectual stimulation, encouragement, and friendship. An important friendship was with classmate H. O. Meredith, whose homosexuality helped Forster to recognize his own sexual inclinations. With Meredith's aid, Forster became a member of the Cambridge Apostles, a society of intellectuals, which included Lytton Strachey and John Maynard Keynes. This society later evolved into the Bloomsbury Group, informally led by Virginia Woolf at her London home. Forster shared with the Bloomsbury Group a belief in the importance of the individual, a disdain for conventional values, a commitment to friendship, and a passion for truth, but differed from them in his greater affinity with the visionary and transcendent. Upon graduation, Forster traveled throughout the Mediterranean region, acquiring materials he would use in his essays, novels, and short stories. In 1902 he wrote his first short story, "The Story of a Panic," in which he employs a Mediterranean setting and Greek mythology to contrast the inhibited and complacent English culture with the spontaneous Italian culture; his first published short story, "Albergo Empedocle" (1903) and his first novel Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905) likewise use a Mediterranean setting to create a similar contrast. The years between 1903 and 1910 were tremendously productive for Forster, for he wrote four novels which are widely regarded as Edwardian masterpieces: Where Angels Fear to Tread, The Longest Journey (1907), A Room with a View (1908), and Howards End (1910). In 1911 Forster collected six stories under the title The Celestial Omnibus. A period of silence followed the publication of this collection, for with the exception of one short story published by the Woolfs' Hogarth Press, Forster did not publish any of his fiction until 1924 when A Passage to India, his most critically acclaimed novel, appeared before the public. Yet during this period and throughout his life, Forster privately continued to write fiction and to circulate his work among trusted friends. The homoerotic novel Maurice and several of the short stories of The Life to Come date from this period, although they remained unpublished until after Forster's death. Despite the public enthusiasm for Forster's work, occasioned in particular by A Passage to India, the publication of the short story collection The Eternal Moment marked the end of Forster's public fiction-writing. Henceforth, Forster devoted his artistry to literary criticism, travel writing, essays, and biographies. Following his death in 1970, Forster's editors published Maurice, The Life to Come, and Arctic Summer, a collection containing novel fragments and several short stories. The publishing of these works, in which homoeroticism figures heavily, and the disclosure of Forster's homosexuality by his biographers have illuminated Forster's personality and literary imagination.
Major Works of Short Fiction
The majority of Forster's short stories reveal a characteristic uniting of realism and fantasy. Enlarging upon the Victorian tradition of fantasy writing, Forster used the supernatural in his stories to break free from the restrictions of Edwardian society and to satirize its numerous failings. Of central importance to many of the early short stories is the mythological god of the woods, Pan, who in these stories symbolizes both man's primitive impulses and the formidable power of nature. In four of the stories from The Celestial Omnibus, Pan acts as a destructive but ultimately liberating force; those who encounter Pan are joyously transformed and their lives changed forever. Forster's short stories provide a sharp contrast between those who unite joyfully with Pan and those unfortunate individuals who lack vision or the possibility of transcendence. Thus, in "The Story of A Panic," Eustace, an unimaginative youth, is physically and spiritually vitalized after his vision of Pan, but his freedom entails the death of the sympathetic Italian serving boy who helps Eustace to escape from self-righteous relatives and hypocritical tourists. "The Road from Colonus" also relies on the opposition between vision and anti-vision, between nature and society, for it portrays an old man who momentarily achieves spiritual harmony with nature before his hypocritical daughter drags him from a sacred Greek shrine back to his joyless and noisy flat where he spends the remainder of his life in peevish misery. "The Celestial Omnibus" likewise reveals Forster's dissatisfaction with philistine middle-class values. In this story he satirizes those smug individuals who fail to recognize spiritual salvation when it presents itself, here in the form of the world's great literature.
Forster's concern with salvation is deepened in the stories of the second collection, The Eternal Moment, wherein he focuses on the need for people to recognize their bonds with each other. The principal theme of these stories may be summed up in the epigraph of his novel Howards End: "only connect." In this collection, critics have observed a change in the mood of his writing, for Forster's tone is less playful, less assured, and less hopeful. The somber work, "The Story of the Siren," demonstrates Forster's darkened view of man's fate. An Italian boatman tells a group of tourists of his brother's supernatural encounter with the Siren, a cosmic being who reveals the dire message of man's predicament, and of his subsequent marriage to a woman who had also seen the Siren. When his wife conceives a child, the corrupt townspeople fear she is carrying the Antichrist, and an evil priest pushes the pregnant woman from a cliff, thereby destroying their only connection to truth and possible salvation. In the apocalyptic science-fiction story, "The Machine Stops," Forster depicts an anti-Utopia where a giant machine dominates all aspects of life, and people have become dehumanized and isolated from each other. Kuno, the youthful hero who revolts against his barren existence, escapes from his underground cell and reunites with his mother briefly before he dies with the rest of his civilization. Although Forster suggests a new and more humane civilization may arise from the ashes of the destroyed machine-world, the story's horrific images of a sterile society prevail. "The Eternal Moment," a realistic narrative widely regarded as one of Forster's best short stories, similarly ends on an ambiguous note. Miss Raby, a middle-aged writer, returns to the place where she had experienced the most meaningful moment of her life, only to find that all has changed for the worse, including the handsome young guide who had confessed his passionate love for her. She is unable to reconnect with her former admirer or to recapture that lost moment of opportunity.
The short stories of the posthumous collection, The Life to Come, represent a new direction for Forster, in that many deal with explicitly homosexual issues. Yet typical Forster themes are present, particularly that of the undeveloped heart. In the most highly regarded stories, a character's denial of love reveals the constricting effects of conventional society and leads to his physical, emotional, or spiritual death. In "The Life to Come," a Christian missionary, who becomes a native's lover for one night, denies his feelings for his lover who later stabs him to death before killing himself. In "Dr Woolacott" a dying patient refuses the aid of his doctor and chooses instead the spirit-saving love of an unknown boy, even though his choice causes his physical death. "The Other Boat" tells of a homosexual liaison between two men of different cultures and ends with the death of both when the English officer kills his manipulative Indian lover and then jumps into the sea. "Ralph and Tony," from the Arctic Summer collection, similarly explores a relationship underscored by violence; the primitive Tony is unable to accept his homosexual feelings toward the effete Ralph and repeatedly acts with cruelty and aggression toward him, only to become completely powerless when his heart fails. In this, as in his other short stories, Forster exhibits fully his characteristic approach to the ambiguous aspects of human experience, namely that the efforts to reconcile truth and love are worthy and commendable, even if such a reconciliation is ultimately impossible.
Although Forster's short stories have never lacked appreciative readers, they have always been overshadowed by his novels. Lionel Trilling, whose pioneering study of Forster's liberal humanism established Forster as a leading author, set the tone for the discussion of the short stories when he described them as a useful index to the themes, symbols, and aesthetic techniques developed more successfully in the longer works. In general, critics have noted the special demands exacted by Forster's use of fantasy; they have either praised it as a marvelous vehicle of social satire or dismissed Forster's use of the supernatural as whimsical and irrelevant. For many critics, Forster's fantasies seemed particularly outdated after the horrible realities of World War I. Accordingly, the realistic story "The Eternal Moment" and the anti-Utopian story "The Machine Stops" have found greater favor with readers, not only for their darker vision, but also for their subtleties of characterization. Forster suppressed his homoerotic fiction during his lifetime because of the criminalization of homosexual acts and public attitudes toward homosexuality, but the posthumous publication of this fiction has reinvigorated Forster scholarship. Critics have found the stories of A Life to Come and Arctic Summer extraordinarily revealing, not only of Foster's personal life, but of his works as a whole. His admirers note that from beginning to end, Forster's artistic vision has revealed a keen understanding of life's complexities. Truth, beauty, desire, love, transcendence, connection, the impoverishment of the spirit—these are the themes that Forster handled deftly in a considerable number of his short stories. Critics agree that Forster's genius was better suited to the novel, but many observe that some of his short stories are powerful statements of Forster's ethos and rank among his best works of fiction. Remarkable achievements in their own right, Forster's most successful short stories incorporate social criticism with psychologically acute characterization, narrative complexity, and a luminous style. Forster's best stories make clear that although he was not a master of the short story, he was a distinguished practitioner of the art of short fiction writing, indeed, a short story writer of considerable imagination and merit.
The Celestial Omnibus and Other Stories 1911
The Story of the Siren 1920
The Eternal Moment and Other Stories 1928
The Collected Tales of E. M. Forster 1947 [published in England as Collected Short Stories of E. M. Forster, 1948]
Albergo Empedocle and Other Writings 1971
The Life to Come and Other Stories 1972
Arctic Summer and Other Fiction (short stories, novel fragments, sketches) 1980
The New Collected Short Stories of E. M. Forster 1985
Other Major Works
Where Angels Fear to Tread (novel) 1905
The Longest Journey (novel) 1907
A Room with a View (novel) 1908
Howards End (novel) 1910
The Government of Egypt (history) 1920
Alexandria: A History and a Guide 1922
Pharos and Pharillon (history) 1923
A Passage to India (novel) 1924
Anonymity: An Enquiry (essay) 1925
Aspects of the Novel (criticism) 1927
A Letter to Madam Blanchard 1931
Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson (biography) 1934
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SOURCE: "Throw Them Overboard!" in Novels and Novelists, Knopf, 1930, pp. 246-48.
[In this review, Mansfield, a highly respected writer and literary critic, cautiously praises Forster's "Story of the Siren" for its sensibility and humor, but notes that he does not entirely commit his imagination to his writing.]
The delightful event of a new story by Mr. E. M. Forster sets us wishing that it had not been so long to wait between his last novel and his new book. He is one of the very few younger English writers whose gifts are of a kind to compel our curiosity as well as our admiration. There is in all his novels a very delicate sense of the value of atmosphere, a fine precision of expression, and his appreciation of the uniqueness of the characters he portrays awakens in him a kind of special humour, half whimsical, half sympathetic. It is in his best-known novel, Howard's End, that he is most successful in conveying to the reader the effect of an assurance that he possesses a vision which reigns within; but in Howard's End, though less than elsewhere, we are teased by the feeling, difficult to define, that he has by no means exerted the whole of his imaginative power to create that world for his readers. This, indeed, it is which engages our curiosity. How is it that the writer is content to do less than explore his own delectable country?
There is a certain...
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SOURCE: Review of The Celestial Omnibus and Other Stories, in Dial, Vol. 76, 1924, pp. 452-56.
[In the following excerpt, Miles comments that civility is the essential quality of Forster's writing.]
Polite and distinguished is the solitude of Mr. Forster in the clatter of English letters. Within its security he stands alone, no giant prophet in a wilderness, not even a chef d'école, but urbanely, tranquilly, unmistakably unique. His solitary figure evokes (does it?) one of those discreetly elegant little houses lingering still on the outward fringes of London, modest country manors hardly a century ago, but encompassed now and for evermore by the hosts of, it is said, desirable villas. O and alas! All too obviously are those villas kept in touch with the conveniences of a metropolis by clanging tram-cars and scarlet buses, and, spiritually, by all the communistical apparatus of gramophones and broadcasting and circulating libraries. But somehow, in the general and miserable barbarism, the Forsterian manor remains inviolate, tinged perhaps with the delicately regretful melancholy of the virgin, but selfpossessed, integral, and in the best sense familiar. Passing within, one is aware that here at least, behind those curving bay-windows, there live books which will never return strapped and ticketed to their library, and music that is still played (yes) by hand, that it is still possible in...
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SOURCE: "E. M. Forster in the Vein of Fantasy," in The New York Times Book Review, May 6, 1928, p. 9.
[In this favorable review, Kronenberger notes Forster's successful venture into the realm of fantasy literature.]
"What does fantasy ask of us?" says Forster in his extraordinarily stimulating book called Aspects of the Novel, and then proceeds.
It asks us to pay something extra . . . It demands an additional adjustment because of the oddness of its method or subject matter—like a sideshow in an exhibition where you have to pay sixpence as well as the original entrance fee. Some readers pay with delight . . . others refuse with indignation.
Mr. Forster himself presents the case for his book of fantastic stories, The Eternal Moment. Either you are temperamentally minded to accept fantasy—to pay the extra sixpence—or you are not. Adeptness on the author's part counts, of course; but fantasy is so special a form of literature, appeals so unreservedly to one sensitive reader while leaving another equally sensitive reader cold, that it is less a question of creative art than of receptiveness in the reader. Not, to be sure, that all readers who can accept fantasy are alike; they must again be redivided according to their further equipment and culture, and where Jules Verne will do for some, for others who are charmed...
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SOURCE: Review of The Eternal Moment and Other Stories, in The Nation & Athenaeum, May 12, 1928, p. 184.
[In this mixed assessment, Muir praises the genius of several stories, but describes the remainder of the collection as flawed by sociological concerns.]
"These stories," Mr. Forster informs us, "were written at various dates previous to 1914, and represent, with those in the Celestial Omnibus volume, all that the writer is likely to attempt in a particular line." There is nothing for it but to accept this fact; Mr. Forster is the only judge of the matter; but the reader cannot but regret that an imagination so just and so original should cease to express itself in the form where its justice and originality are most incontestably evinced. When, apropos such novels as APassage to India, critics speak of Mr. Forster's genius, one has a feeling of doubt; talent, a talent so accomplished as to attain exquisiteness, one may allow the book; but there is some thing missing, and that, one imagines, is precisely genius. But if genius be the power to do what nobody else can, it cannot be denied to certain stories in this volume. The best are the deliberately symbolical, the stories about Heaven and Hell, and the supernatural in general. Of these, "The Point of It" and "The Siren's Story" are perhaps the most remarkable. The first is the tale of an amiable, sympathetic, cultured...
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SOURCE: "The Short Stories: A Statement of Themes," in E. M. Forster, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1964, pp. 27-40.
[In the excerpt below, Trilling discusses how Forster's short stories illumine our understanding of his novels.]
Surely the Greek myths made too deep an impression on Forster: of the twelve stories that have been reprinted in The Celestial Omnibus and The Eternal Moment, only two, "The Road from Colonus," and "The Eternal Moment," are not in the genre of mythical fantasy and these two endure best. The others have, sometimes, wit or point or charm, one of them, "The Story of the Siren," has power, and all of them are "true" but none of them is wholly satisfying. The two non-fantastic stories, however, succeed entirely. And they are of particular interest because they contain in embryo the themes, symbols and ideas of Forster's five novels.
"The Road from Colonus" is about old age and death, but chiefly it is about modern life: it tells of a commonplace English Oedipus who does not die properly at his Colonus and who therefore loses the transfiguration he might have had. The elderly Mr. Lucas is a tourist in Greece, traveling by donkey with his daughter and a party. One day, riding ahead of his companions, he arrives at a tiny hamlet. In a scorching landscape the hamlet is a deeply shaded spot, sheltered by great plane-trees. The greatest tree of all overhangs...
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SOURCE: Review of The Collected Tales of E. M. Forster, in The Saturday Review of Literature, July 12, 1947, p. 32.
[In this examination of Forster's short fiction, Redman focuses on the central theme of escape from the stifling conventionalities of ñre-World War I England.]
E. M. Forster is one of the unhurried authors of our age. He has taken his time about his writing, and his reputation has grown at a pace no less leisurely than his own. Whether or not this reputation is by now unduly inflated is a large question, too large for this department; but it may be suggested that some critics have mistaken Mr. Forster's remarkably smooth writing for writing of an even superior kind, and that they have tried to make his novels bear a weight of meaning for which, probably, they were not originally designed. Here, however, we are concerned only with his short stories, which were originally gathered in The Celestial Omnibus and The Eternal Moment, and which are now available in The Collected Tales of E. M. Forster.
The author calls these stories fantasies, and all but one deserve the name. They are fantastic, imaginative responses to the business of living, and, taken in the lump, they will give the thoughtful reader a pretty clear idea of what Mr. Forster's attitude towards that business is; or what it was when he wrote these tales "at various dates previous to...
(The entire section is 635 words.)
SOURCE: "E. M. Forster's Quality of Insight," in The New York Times Book Review, July 13, 1947, pp. 5, 27.
[In this favorable estimation of The Collected Tales, Baker praises Forster for his power of imagination and insight]
As E. M. Forster nears the age of 70, his literary productiveness, which has always been distinguished for its quality rather than extinguished by its abundance, is not likely henceforth to be very great. In fact, though the fact seems incredible, it is nearly twenty years now since Forster has published any new fiction. While his five novels are generally available, his shorter fiction, except for the oftenreprinted "The Celestial Omnibus" and "The Machine Stops," has long been out of print, and either forgotten or generally unknown, in this country. Admirers of Forster will accordingly welcome this round dozen of tales from the master's hand—the total contents of the only two volumes of short fiction he has published, with a new four-page introduction by the author.
Although the locales and characters of these twelve stories are as various as could be, they seem, in conjointed perspective, to embrace a unifying theme: roughly the one Wordsworth had in mind when he complained that, late and soon, the materialistic aspects of the world are too much with us; getting and spending, gossiping and drinking tea or its equivalents, galloping after the crowd and...
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SOURCE: "Fiction Chronicle," in Partisan Review, Vol. 14, No. 5, 1947, pp. 533-38.
[In the following excerpt, Hardwick argues that Forster's stories are overly restrained and ultimately minor, despite his expert craftsmanship.]
Nothing could be further removed from Sartre and his notion that the writer cannot "sneak away" from his times than E. M. Forster's stories in The Celestial Omnibus and The Eternal Moment, . . . Forster looks backward to Greece or, with the passionate intensity of the heroine of "The Eternal Moment," to twenty years before when a charming hotel had not been defiled by electric signs and modern conveniences.
Of these shorter pieces of Forster's, most of them fantasies, one might ask with propriety the question that Forster in Aspects of the Novel amazingly asks himself about Joyce's Ulysses. "Does it come off?" he wants to know and then answers immediately, "No, not quite." I daresay Joyce has never been approached so simply and yet Forster, after his chilly beginning, warms up considerably and calls Ulysses, "a dogged attempt to cover the universe with mud .. . a simplification of human character in the interests of Hell. . . . The Night Town scene does not come off except as a superfetation of fantasies, a monstrous coupling of reminiscences . . . the aim of which is to degrade all things and most particularly civilization and...
(The entire section is 812 words.)
SOURCE: "Eternal Moments in the Short Fiction of E. M. Forster," in College English, Vol. 27, No. 3, December 1965, pp. 209-15.
[In this laudatory essay, Hagopian focuses on Forster's ironic yet sympathetic portrayal of his principal characters in "The Road from Colonus" and "The Eternal Moment."]
Forster's short stories can be divided into two groups: the allegorical fantasies such as "The Celestial Omnibus" and "The Other Side of the Hedge" which have become standard anthology pieces; and the realistic psycho-moral narratives such as "The Eternal Moment" and "The Road from Colonus" which, despite the fact that they most resemble his novels, have been neglected even though no less an authority than Lionel Trilling has judged them to be Forster's best stories. Perhaps the reason for such neglect is that, according to G. D. Klingopulos, "there is something in the stories themselves which discourages and seems to mock the whole business of careful definition and appraisal" (The Modern Age, 1963). This paper attempts to take up the challenge of rendering careful definition and appraisal of Forster's two most distinguished achievements in short fiction: "The Road from Colonus" (1903), which comes at the beginning of his career, and "The Eternal Moment" (1928), which comes at the end.
As the title and several references in the text make clear, "The Road from Colonus" is a variation on...
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SOURCE: "The Short Stories," in The Fiction of E. M. Forster, Wayne State University Press, 1967, pp. 56-88.
[Here, Thomson, a noted Forster scholar, discusses the mythical and archetypal aspects of Forster's short stories.]
In Forster's stories, one way of symbolizing the complete division between innocence and experience is the two-kingdom geographical setting. We have this in "The Other Side of the Hedge," "The Machine Stops," and "The Celestial Omnibus." The stories we are now looking at create the same kind of effect by more indirect means. In "The Story of a Panic" the tourists are intruders in Pan's kingdom and must flee from the place of incarnation. Later the boy must flee from the inn and garden—the world of the tourists—into the open country. In "The Road from Colonus" Mr. Lucas is alone in the grove during the moments of his vision. The rest of the party are intruders. The importance of place is beautifully symbolized when, an hour after leaving the Inn, they come round the spur of a mountain and behold the grove of trees far below them. It makes its final appeal to Mr. Lucas but Ethel intervenes and he moves on toward the sterile inanity of his life in England.
In "Other Kingdom" the sense of a place apart is equally strong. But before coming to that, something should be said about the narrator of this story. Mr. Inskip is the employee of the prosperous, pompous, and...
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SOURCE: "The Short Stories," in The Other Kingdom, Oliver & Boyd, 1968, pp. 9-19.
[In this excerpt, Godfrey discusses Forster's preoccupation with the effects of the unseen supernatural as it relates to the plots and characterizations of his short stories.]
Although the stories accompanied rather than preceded the writing of the first four novels, it is possible to consider them collectively, to see them, in relation to the novels, as preparatory. In 1946, in an introduction to a collected edition, Mr Forster refers to the stories as fantasies, and such for the most part they are. In the most typical of them, fantasy, usually an occurrence of a supernatural kind, is made to erupt in the midst of, and in defiance of everyday reality, and the characters in accordance with the degree of their spiritual sensitivity react to it. An examination of three of the best known of the tales, beginning with "The Story of a Panic", will show the process at work.
The panic in question is, in the classical tradition, the unreasoning contagious terror inspired in mortals by the presence of the god Pan. The great god Pan, as Mr Sandbach the curate points out, died with the Birth of Christ; and yet here he is among the chestnut woods and slopes above Ravello in Italy once more in full manifestation, to the great discomfiture of a group of prosaic British tourists. From the supernatural presence of the...
(The entire section is 4037 words.)
SOURCE: "Love, Madness, & Other Anxieties," in Encounter, Vol. 40, No. 1, January 1973, pp. 80-5.
[In this unfavorable review of The Life to Come, Scruton describes the collection as unpleasant and indecent in its callow portrayal of homosexual relationships.]
The theme of the values of friendship is a familiar part of E. M. Forster's repertoire, and one would not have been surprised to find it developed in The Life to Come, a collection of stories most of which have not before been published. This volume contains all the stories that Forster judged either too weak or too "indecent" to be published in his lifetime, and, in the opinion of the present reviewer, it is a great pity that Forster's judgment in these matters was not allowed to prevail. It goes without saying that the stories are far from bad: they are written with imagination and skill, and with the author's characteristic gift for dramatic irony. Their main fault lies in a callow vision of human relationships, which exists here in the absence of the qualities—strong delineation of character and brilliant description—that make the novels so often successful. In his published stories, indeed, Forster frequently allowed his whimsical romanticism to dominate: he presented neither scenes nor characters, but only idylls. But while the previous collections—The Celestial Omnibus and The Eternal...
(The entire section is 694 words.)
SOURCE: "A Collection of Old New Stories by E. M. Forster," in The New York Times Book Review, May 13, 1973, pp. 27-8, 30.
[In the following excerpt, Welty, an acclaimed novelist and essayist, notes that while the stories of The Life to Come are linked to Forster's other fiction by their emphasis on passion, they are flawed by the absence of Forster's comic genius.]
The Life to Come is the title of a short story that was written 70 years ago by E. M. Forster and is receiving its first publication today. The author himself valued it: it "came more from my heart than anything else I have been able to turn out," containing "a great deal of sorrow and passion that I have myself experienced." But because the sorrow and passion had a homosexual nature, the story has gone unpublished. Upon Forster's death, not quite three years ago, it was bequeathed to King's College, Cambridge, along with his other unpublished papers: two novels in "substantial fragments" (in addition to Maurice), and stories, plays, poems, essays, letters, notebooks, diaries. Of the total work of Forster, who lived to be 91, the reading public saw during his lifetime no more than perhaps one-half. Now,The Life to Come is giving its title to one volume of what is being published in England as a new and "as nearly as possible" complete edition of E. M. Forster.
Oliver Stallybrass, who...
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SOURCE: "Hazards of An Honest Life," in Washington Post Book World, June 3, 1973, p. 3.
[Below, Hynes notes that Forster's recently published sexual fantasies lack artistic merit but command interest for their honesty.]
"I am quite sure I am not a great novelist," Forster once remarked in an interview. "Because I have only got down on to paper really three types of people: the person I think I am, the people who irritate me, and the people I like." There is a charming, Forsterian modesty in that judgment, but we had better take it seriously; Forster was a penetrating critic, and he knew the value of what he had done. His remark describes what less-than-great fiction is like, but it also describes the personal, limited sources out of which it rises. Forster knew that he was not a great novelist, and he knew why—because he was locked in himself.
One of the personal sources of art is the artist's sexual nature and experience, and in Forster's case that was homosexual, though apparently both knowledge and experience came late. The "Terminal Note" to Maurice dates the turning point in his sexual awareness as September 1913, when he was 34, and had written all but one of the novels that he published during his lifetime. Immediately after that date he wrote Maurice, an explicitly homosexual novel that remained in manuscript until after his death, and following that, A...
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SOURCE: "Forster and his Merry Men," in The New York Review of Books, June 28, 1973, pp. 9-11.
[In the following excerpt, Miller argues that the constrained quality of Forster's posthumous publications justifies the author's own misgivings about their literary merit.]
Despite what is said about literature's power to shock, it is rare for a piece of writing to send a thrill of horror through those whose nerves are in reasonably good condition. Such a thrill, however, is administered by one of this collection of largely unknown stories by E. M. Forster: only two have hitherto appeared in print. The story is called "The Classical Annex." The prissy curator of a dull museum in a boring town with the apt name of Bigglesmouth discovers that the objects in the Classical section have come to life and been damaged. The fig leaf falls from an inferior stone statue, which develops, mirabile dictu, an erection. By making the sign of the Cross, the curator stills his animated antiquities and sets off home, catching a tram.
His wife, who has pale blue Northern eyes, greets him with the news that their son Denis has gone to meet him: since he doesn't usually take the tram, Denis is likely to have proceeded to the museum, with almost nothing on except his football shorts. The curator, alarmed, retraces his steps, and arrives at the museum to hear the sound of his son's giggles as he accepts the...
(The entire section is 2729 words.)
SOURCE: "Fizzling Sexual Time Bombs," in Commonweal, September 21, 1973, pp. 506-08.
[In this excerpt, Meyers asserts that the homosexual stories of The Life to Come are feeble, timid, and selfindulgent.]
Those who have read the abundant memoirs of the Bloomsburies—the famous group of artists and writers who lived in squares and loved in triangles—know that the reticent E. M. Forster wrote a considerable amount of overtly homosexual fiction that remained unpublished during his lifetime. As Lytton Strachey recorded after a successful house party in the 1920s, "Morgan was charming at the week-end. He read two stories to Carrington and me—improper—quite amusing." These stories were amusing precisely because they were improper, and in the days when both homosexuality and pornography were illegal, these underground writings could only circulate privately among homosexual writers like Strachey, Siegfried S assoon and T. E. Lawrence. In A Room With A View and The Longest Journey, the public complement to these stories, the homosexual themes were disguised as male friendship, after the fashion of the Greeks, and were expressed slyly and covertly; as in Forster's description of the Maharajah in The Hill of Devi: "He penetrated into rare regions and he was always hoping that others would follow him there." . . .
In the eight homosexual stories of this volume...
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SOURCE: "Short Stories," in E. M. Forster, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975, pp. 25-41.
[In the following excerpt, Colmer discusses the role of place, the supernatural, pagan mythology, and the importance of the past as dominant themes in Forster's short fiction.]
In many ways the short stories form an ideal introduction to Forster's fictional universe, since they represent some of his earliest writing and introduce us to his characteristic blend of poetry and realism. They also explore themes that are more amply developed in the novels, such themes as salvation, the 'rescue party', the past, personal relations, getting in touch with nature, money, and the attack on conventional ideas of good form. . . .
In the Introduction to Collected Short Stories Forster calls his tales 'fantasies'. They are certainly not to be judged by standards appropriate to realism. Some, such as 'The Other Side of the Hedge' and 'Mr Andrews', are pure fantasy; others, such as 'The Story of a Panic' and the 'Other Kingdom', combine fantasy and social realism. The supernatural irrupts and shatters the surface of polite society, the infinite invades the finite world of picnics and civilized chatter. One story, 'The Eternal Moment', is not really a fantasy at all. In an essay on Butler's Erewhon, written in 1944, Forster remarked: 'I like that idea of fantasy, of muddling up the actual and the...
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SOURCE: "Short Stories: The Life to Come," in E. M. Forster's Posthumous Fiction, University of Victoria, 1977, pp. 21-66.
[Here, Page analyzes how the posthumous stories develop more fully the central themes and techniques first explored in the early short stories.]
By considering briefly the stories published in Forster's lifetime, it will be possible to gauge the extent to which the posthumous stories represent an extension or modification of themes and techniques. First, however, the chronological caveat made earlier must be repeated. It is not unusual, even in published discussions of Forster's work, to find confusion concerning the dating of his work. We read in a recent book, for example, that 'E. M. Forster began by writing fantasies, short stories of youths who turned into trees and omnibuses which left with regularity for the celestial regions where Shelley dwelt. When he came to exchange fantasy for plot, he wrote novels ... '. This will never do. By the time 'Other Kingdom' (in which it is, of course, a young woman, not a youth, who was metamorphosed) appeared in 1909, Forster had already published three novels. The other story referred to, 'The Celestial Omnibus', had appeared in the previous year, in the same year, that is, as the third of his novels. A dozen years later, Forster was still writing fantasy (the latest story in the same volume is 'The Story of the Siren'). Not only do...
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SOURCE: "Maurice and the Later Stories," in A Reading of E. M. Forster, The MacMillan Press, 1979, pp. 129-45.
[In the following excerpt, Cavaliero praises the posthumously published short stories for their irreverent humor and satirical power.]
Forster's late stories pose problems for the reader. His own valuation of them was confused. Although written, he said, 'not to express myself but to excite myself he felt that they were 'a wrong channel for my pen'. He burnt some of these stories in 1922; those that survive were either written later or were saved by the approval of his friends. They demand a certain suspension of accustomed sensitivity from such of his readers as may be inclined with Jeffrey Meyers to dismiss them as 'puerile, pathetic, sentimental and thoroughly unimaginative fantasies' [Homosexuality and Literature, 1977]. But, read sympathetically, they are not pornographic, though one or two are decidedly and cheerfully erotic. All are filled with a vigour and intention lacking in the weaker of his earlier tales.
Four of them are light-hearted, not to say ribald, in tone, written with the desire to outrage Sawston standards. In this they differ markedly from the final tale, 'The Other Boat', which evokes a compassionate indignation, and from Maurice. In the latter the Platonic idealism of the world of Carpenter and Lowes Dickinson, which sought to...
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SOURCE: "Injunctions and Disjunctions," in E. M. Forster, Chelsea House Publishers, 1987, pp. 67-106.
[In this excerpt, Wilde argues that Forster's acceptance of chaos, evidenced in the posthumous short stories, reflects a diminishing of Forster's vision.]
When Sir Richard Conway [in "Arthur Snatchfold"], surveying the remainder of his dull, country weekend, thinks to himself: "The visit, like the view, threatened monotony," he gives perfect expression to Forster's sense of ordinary existence in The Life to Come. Not the metaphysical terror of the caves [in A Passage to India] but the monotony of "normal" life serves as the background of these stories, and their heroes, unlike Mrs. Moore or Fielding, who react by a movement inward, accept that monotony as an inevitable part of life's texture, while actively accommodating themselves to what are now seen (in a dramatic reversal of Forster's attitude in his last novel) as the intermittent pleasures of life's surface. At least, most of them do. Of the stories I am concerned with (those which, according to the dates offered in Oliver Stallybrass's admirable edition, were composed at about the same time as or later than A Passage to India), three deal with love. Significantly, "The Life to Come," "Dr. Woolacott," and "The Other Boat," which I'll examine in greater detail later on, are closer in feeling and strategy to Forster's...
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SOURCE; "Maurice and Fictions of Homosexuality," in Forster's Narrative Vision, Cornell University Press, 1982, pp. 150-83.
[In this excerpt, Rosecrance notes that the homosexual stories reveal defeat and the fragmentation of Forster's artistry.]
"The Other Boat," Forster's last story, is a painful and remarkable narrative. Its strong characterizations of the Englishman and his half-caste lover and its signification of the psychic power of the mother in Forster's mind give it greater artistic interest than the other homosexual stories. Lionel March, a British officer en route to Bombay, is seduced by Cocoa, a young but sophisticated half-caste, into an affair that ends in violence and catastrophe. Cocoa's native status, appearance, perceptiveness, and opportunism a little recall Aziz, but March is no Fielding; rather he is like Maurice, an unintellectual, physically attractive Anglo-Indian, unaware of his charms or his nature. Once drawn into sexual relations, March faces the conflict between sexuality and convention; in the crisis, he denies his deepest impulses and chooses society. The outcome presents Forster's final and most explosive depiction of the defeat of homosexual passion.
To the love affair Forster counterpoints March's relationship with his mother, on whom he blames Lionel's predicament, and whose symbolic and emotional influence receive extraordinary development....
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SOURCE: "Other Kingdoms: The Short Fiction," in E. M. Forster, Frederick Ungar Publishing, 1983, pp. 237-94.
[In the following excerpt, Summers notes the importance of Forster's short fiction to our understanding of his artistic vision.]
Forster is not a master of the short story. His importance as a writer rests on the novels and the nonfiction. Yet the stories are not negligible. Some of them are significant achievements in their own right, and taken together, they help reveal the complexity of Forster's art. They locate the source of some of his most characteristic effects in the tension generated by an imagination that is at once visionary and local, romantic and realistic. They make obvious the romantic base of his vision, tracing—in various ways and with varying degrees of success—the quest for a nostalgic wholeness, glimpsed fleetingly during those Wordsworthian "spots of time" in which the creative mind and external nature intersect to yield an organic whole and to imagine other kingdoms whose existence tellingly exposes the world of local reality. As Judith Scherer Herz has observed, the stories may indeed be "far closer to the sources of Forster's imagination, even if we may finally value more the transformation of that material into the novel's social gesture than into the short fiction's parables, visions, and prophecies" ["From Myth to Scripture: An Approach to Forster's Later Short...
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SOURCE: "E. M. Forster," in Supernatural Fiction Writers, Vol. I, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1985, pp. 479-84.
[In the following excerpt, Kessel argues that Forster used fantasy elements to clarify his belief that human salvation depends on the ability of people to connect.]
You will expect me now to say that a fantastic book asks us to accept the supernatural. .. . I would rather hedge as much as possible, and say that [it asks] us to accept either the supernatural or its absence.
This passage from E. M. Forster's Aspects of the Novel (1927) illuminates both Forster's fantasy and his characteristic reticence about making unequivocal judgments. For in Forster we have a writer who does not care about the supernatural except as it can be used in fiction to illuminate how human relationships fail through a lack of emotional development.
The quotation comes from a chapter in which Forster defends fantasy as a serious form of literature. Yet he slides past the question many critics would consider essential to any definition of fantasy—whether such works need contain the supernatural. For Forster a work is fantasy because of the kind of world it presents—a world where the supernatural would not be out of place even if it does not appear directly in the story. Forster's own works of fantasy are dependent much more on the reactions...
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SOURCE: "Publishable and Worth It: Forster's Hitherto Unpublished Fiction," in Twilight of Dawn: Studies in English Literature in Transition, University of Arizona Press, 1987, pp. 189-205.
[In this excerpt, an eminent Forster scholar favorably assesses Forster's posthumous fiction for its intensity and complexity. ]
Arctic Summer and Other Fiction, a volume in the monumental Abinger Edition of E. M. Forster, is unusually interesting for students of modern literature and for Forster scholars. In this volume the editors (Oliver Stallybrass and, after his death, Elizabeth Heine) have reprinted works that Forster either abandoned or never submitted for publication; even those that seem to be complete units were probably not finished to his full satisfaction. Except for eight short fragments at the end of the volume, the reprinted items are more than fragments and possess, some of them, considerable literary value, in addition to being sources of record for what they tell us about Forster himself and for the light that they shed on his other works. The stories—"Ralph and Tony," "The Tomb of Pletone," "Unfinished Short Story," and perhaps "Little Imber"—are equal in merit to those gathered in The Life to Come and Other Short Stories, and "Ralph and Tony," I think, ranks among Forster's best works in the short story. . . .
Though most of the works are so nearly finished,...
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SOURCE: "The Stories II: Narrative Modes," in The Short Narratives of E. M. Forster, St. Martin's Press, 1988, pp. 48-63.
[In this excerpt, Herz discusses the doubleness of Forster's short fiction as revealed in the disjunctive relationship between narrative strategies and narrative voice .]
Forster's stories are complex fictions whose significance and accomplishment are far from exhausted by identifying their mythic materials. Indeed, it is precisely because they are strong fictions and not, as they have too often been considered, juvenilia or whimsical exercises in turn-of-the-century Hellenism, that they can sustain an inquiry directed at identifying their multiple levels of meaning and the strategies invented to present (or conceal) these meanings. In a Forsterian narrative several stories are proceeding simultaneously—that is, one set of words may 'tell' several stories, or, alternatively, the story may exist apart from the words that tell it. Nearly all the stories, moreover, have some form of double structure and participate in two or more genres or modes—story/essay, story/novel, fantasy/realism, homosexual romance/heterosexual romance. This doubleness in part results . . . from Forster's development of a complex narrative voice that enlarges the story beyond the primary narrator's comprehension. It is also related to the creation of a voice that functions as a filter for other voices, and it...
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SOURCE: "The Lonely Voice," in E. M. Forster: A Literary Life, St. Martin's Press, 1995, pp. 131-39.
[In this excerpt, Lago considers the posthumously published short fiction a valuable and rewarding epilogue to Forster's publishing history .]
Although Forster defined himself as novelist, the short story is the literary form with which his writing career really began and to which he returned with great seriousness after he had given up work on any new novels. In 1902, when he wrote his first story, 'The Story of a Panic', he was one of the number of experimenters who were making the English short story modern. The Irish writer Frank O'Connor has called it The Lonely Voice': lonely because 'almost from its beginnings it abandoned the device of a public art in which the storyteller assumed the mass consent of an audience to his wildest improvisations.' The modern short story, O'Connor says, 'began, and continues to function, as a private art intended to satisfy the standard of the individual, solitary, critical reader' [The Lonely Voice: A Study of the Short Story, 1965]. For both author and reader it is as personal as the lyric poem. Its crucial action is interior to a central character or characters or to a first-person narrator. It turns upon an epiphany of some kind, a revelation or sudden insight that works an irreversible change. It makes that point obliquely. Its plot is open-ended, and it...
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Beer, J. B. The Achievement of E. M. Forster. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1962, 225 p.
A highly regarded examination of Forster's life and works.
Furbank, P. N. E. M. Forster: A Life. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1981, 672 p.
The standard biography of Forster's life.
Ben-Ephraim, Gavriel. "Dying in the Right Place: The Importance of Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus to E. M. Forster's The Road from Colonus'." Hebrew University Studies in Literature III, No. 1 (Spring 1975): 37-46.
Discusses how Forster uses the Oedipus myth to reveal the inadequacy of the modern response to the possibility of transcendence and the finality of death.
Bloom, Harold, ed. E. M. Forster. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987, 198 p.
Representative selection of critical essays devoted to Forster's writings.
Cavaliero, Glen. A Reading of E. M. Forster. London: The MacMillan Press, 1979, 187 p.
An interpretation of Forster's fiction within the context of his personal life and social climate.
Das, G. K., and John Beer, eds. E. M. Forster: A Human Exploration. New York: New York University Press, 1979, 314 p.
Collection of 24 essays on various aspects of...
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