Whether on business or vacation, a man—say he is middle-aged—leaves an England which is debased, industrial, and unpoetic for a Mediterranean country such as Italy or Greece. What he finds as if by accident in this more primitive, preindustrial country, in a momentary event that is both in and out of time, a surprising perception wherein he discovers his genuine identity, obliges him quite literally to change his living in accord with the new knowledge of self, or die. Such is the archetypal if not practical situation which lies at the base of the short stories of E. M. Forster. While few of the stories fully correspond to this pattern, it nevertheless furnishes a useful means for perceiving their basic unity. Forster’s short stories, written in general immediately before and immediately after his major novels, HOWARDS END and A PASSAGE TO INDIA, do not make claims as imposing as his major fiction and tend in fact to have a stylized period quality that in some cases does not wear well. The stylization may take the form of a brief allegory (“The Other Side of the Hedge”), pre-Orwell doom-predicting science fiction (“The Machine Stops”), the picaresque tale (“The Road from Colonus”). Certain themes, however, are persistent throughout all the stories, notably the theme of imprisonment (“chains” as a continuing metaphor) and escape, and often the escape is at once mental and geographical. The motif of travel as escape and discovery...
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