Forster, E(dward) M(organ) (Vol. 10)
Forster, E(dward) M(organ) 1879–1970
Forster was an English novelist, short story writer, essayist, and critic. His concept of humanism, reflected in all of his novels, was forged through an understanding and acceptance of both traditional and modern interpretations of the term. That is, he was concerned with both the study of classical texts and with the philosophy of human relationships and values. He rejected the precepts of Christianity, as is evidenced in his most famous work, A Passage to India, where the central principle of Hinduism, that of total acceptance, is posited as the greatest unifying force for mankind. A Passage to India, published in 1924, was Forster's last major work, followed only by essays and small minor pieces. Critics speculate that his inner struggle with his homosexuality (revealed only after his death) prevented Forster from adding to a collection of work that marks him as a major twentieth-century author. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 2, 3, 4, 9, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 13-14; obituary, Vols. 25-28, rev. ed.; Contemporary Authors Permanent Series, Vol. 1.)
Mr. Forster is a kind of Symbolist. He declares for the autonomy of the work of art; for co-essence of form and meaning; for art as "organic and free from dead matter"; for music as a criterion of formal purity; for the work's essential anonymity. Like all art, he thinks, the novel must fuse differentiation into unity, in order to provide meaning we can experience; art is "the one orderly product that our muddling race has produced," the only unity and therefore the only meaning. This is Symbolist. But there are interesting qualifications to be made; they bear on the question of differentiation, of stresses within the unity…. (pp. 90-1)
The first qualification arises from Mr. Forster's celebrated insistence on the point that the novel tells a story…. In the novel, the matter which seeks pure form is itself impure. This sounds like the old Symbolist envy of music; but we soon learn that Mr. Forster really values this impurity…. He agrees with [H. G. Wells] that "life should be given the preference, and must not be whittled or distended for a pattern's sake." If "life" in this sense is pattern-resisting, impure, nevertheless our direct revelation of reality, pure as it is, must somehow include it. One thinks of Valéry, who said that no poem could be pure poetry and still be a poem. Unity implies the inclusion of impurity.
The second qualification again brings the French Symbolist to mind. "Organic unity"—art's...
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Recent criticism of Forster has tended to take a different approach [from earlier commentaries]; in a variety of ways it has demonstrated that Forster's intellectual and technical character is a good deal more complex and more modern than the earlier view allows. What has been shown to us clearly over recent years is—among other things—the complexity and resource of Forster's fictional method, particularly in Howards End and A Passage to India, his last two novels…. On the other hand, the balance of criticism has now turned so far in favour of regarding Forster as a modern symbolist that we are sometimes in danger of forgetting the important fact about him that many earlier critics never got beyond—that he is a comic social novelist, a writer of comedy of manners, a man who manifests and is attentive to the social and historical context out of which he derives. This is not the whole Forster, but it is a Forster who never ceases to be present in all the novels, short stories, travel books, and essays.
There is another view of Forster—associated with the opinion that his fictional manner is Victorian—which has also tended to fade. This is the view that he is intellectually a Victorian, that he is visibly the child of English middle-class liberalism, a liberalism that has an evident historical location in the heyday of the advanced, but wealthy, intellectual bourgeoisie. To locate a writer like this is...
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FREDERICK P. W. McDOWELL
Forster's chief failure in Maurice is his conception of his protagonist. It is not that Maurice Hall does not possess life; rather, it is the kind of life he possesses that is disconcerting. In order for him to illustrate the difficulties that an average man would face if he were to express homosexual urges, Forster drastically limits Maurice as a human being. He never expands, therefore, to the point that he threatens Forster's austere control of him, never expands to the point that he runs away with his author as Forster's best characters tend to do. In order to keep his homosexual subject matter in full prominence, Forster seems to have felt that he must downplay his central character, that he must conceive someone "completely unlike myself or what I supposed myself to be: someone handsome, healthy, bodily attractive, mentally torpid, not a bad business man and rather a snob."… To establish Maurice's mediocrity, Forster is, on the one hand, excessively tolerant of a type of individual that he does not like and, on the other hand, he is unnaturally condescending toward him and hypercritical of him. It is difficult, then, for us to feel much empathy with someone so lackluster as Maurice Hall. (p. 46)
The character fails to support the author's projected values because the author has not supported the character fully enough in the first place. Can an exceptional problem be accorded compelling literary treatment when the...
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Forster's novella The Machine Stops established the essential outlines of the dystopian parable. It is set, of course, in the future, at a time when men have abandoned the surface of the earth to live in massive underground cities resembling air-conditioned anthills. Here, in a completely controlled and artificial environment, they are removed from all contact with Nature…. (p. 90)
In this story … Forster has anticipated most, if not quite all, of the themes of subsequent dystopian novels: the horrors of a society "perfected" by technology; the totalitarian face of a regime deifying "reason" in all its regulations; the denial of the body, the passions and the instincts, and the consequent automatization of man; and the lone rebel's attempt to escape from his mega-civilization and return to Nature. As in the classic dystopias, the rebel fails, crushed beneath the juggernaut of the Machine; but here the Machine fails too. One day the Machine stops. And in a few elegiac pages, Forster movingly chronicles the death of a world. (p. 91)
[Many contend that] The Machine Stops lacks the immediacy of the trio of important dystopian novels that follow it—We (1924), Brave New World (1932), and 1984 (1948)—because "it concentrates on the technological aspects of Utopianism and pays scant attention to its social and political implications." I would argue, however, that precisely this...
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