Forster, E(dward) M(organ) (Vol. 22)
E(dward) M(organ) Forster 1879–1970
English novelist, short story writer, essayist, and critic.
Liberal humanism pervades the writing of this major twentieth-century author. In his last major work of fiction and his most famous novel, A Passage to India, he demonstrates the deficiency of Christianity and posits instead Hinduism's central tenet of total acceptance as a unifying force for humanity. The recent posthumous publication of Arctic Summer and Other Fiction, Maurice, and The Life to Come provides new insight for Forster enthusiasts.
(See also CLC, Vols. 1, 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 13, 15, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 13-14; obituary, Vols. 25-28, rev. ed.; Contemporary Authors Permanent Series, Vol. 1.)
Since its publication in 1909, E. M. Forster's longest novella, "The Machine Stops," has received brief and sometimes begrudging critical attention, though a few critics have rightly recognized it as a masterpiece of science fiction…. For the imaginative predictions Forster made sixty-five years ago have proven to be frighteningly prophetic, and the story is one of the first of a distinguished family of serious twentieth-century anti-utopian novels. Written long before Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and George Orwell's 1984, "The Machine Stops" remains in many ways their superior in its tight compression, its impassioned warnings against the growing nightmare of technological dehumanization, and its brilliant satirical sting…. No one … has tried to explain why and how this neglected novella differs from his other works. Nor has another of Forster's comments on "The Machine Stops" been adequately explored. Referring to his novella in The Collected Tales as a "counterblast to one of the heavens of H. G. Wells," Forster has frankly acknowledged its connection, by way of satirical protest, to The Time Machine. But his comment, curiously enough, reveals a deeper significance in its conspicuous omission of a far more pervasive influence on "The Machine Stops" from a vastly older literary source. For in rejecting one type of utopia, Forster instinctively turned to another utopia—the "Myth of the Cave" section of Plato's...
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S. P. Rosenbaum
The argument of this essay is that G. E. Moore's 'The Refutation of Idealism' provided E. M. Forster with a philosophical argument about the perception of reality that he used to connect the central concerns of The Longest Journey. This use involved converting the refutation of epistemological Idealism into an ethical conclusion about accepting the objective reality of other people, of other loves, of other societies, of nature, and finally of time. From Moore's interest in arguments against the existence of objective reality Forster develops his own novelistic interest in the objective and subjective assumptions that his characters act upon in their lives. In his own fictional terms Forster 'refutes' their idealisms—both epistemological and altruistic—by showing their consequences especially in love. (pp. 52-3)
Forster's use of Moore will undoubtedly strike some philosophers and even some critics as hopelessly naïve. The Longest Journey will never rank as a great philosophical novel…. Forster may not have understood the philosophical significance of Moore's refutation, but The Longest Journey suggests that he recognised a revolution in thought when he saw one…. There are many things wrong with The Longest Journey: the sudden deaths that his plot needed, the sentimental characterisation of Stephen, the authorial essays and purple patches, the ambivalence about Rickie's inadequacy and priggishness,...
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Surveying the novels of [D. H. Lawrence and E. M. Forster] side by side, one is struck by a common curve in their careers. Each wrote an important early novel around the theme of an attractive young girl faced with a choice between two suitors, one of whom is acceptable by the standards of her own society, the other 'unsuitable' but more deeply attractive to her physically; in each case the novel proved difficult to work. The 'Lucy novel' took various forms in Forster's mind before it was published as A Room with a View in 1908; Lawrence's The White Peacock, similarly, went through various changes before its final version of January 1911.
As one compares these two novels, on the other hand, certain resemblances and differences between the two writers begin to define themselves. In A Room with a View, the heroine's choice is between Cecil Vyse, a cultivated and witty but enclosed young man on the one hand and George Emerson, an open-minded impulsive young man on the other. In the course of the novel she learns to trust the wholeness of her instinct towards George rather than the attractive aestheticism of Cecil. The choice is presented ultimately as one between enclosure and freedom: life in a succession of rooms with Cecil Vyse or life with an outward view, as offered by George.
By comparison Lettie Beardsall, the heroine of The White Peacock, seems more like a woman of the world. Her...
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Robin Jared Lewis
Forster's accounts of India and Indians show clearly that in writing A Passage to India he was very selective, lifting from personal experience only those elements that contributed to the novel's meaning. Life inevitably goes beyond art in these matters—the real person (Syed Ross Masood [the Indian friend he met at Oxford and later visited in India], for example) is far more complex and immediate than his fictional counterpart (Aziz)—so Forster simply took from experience what he needed and no more. In this sense, A Passage to India offers an intensely personal view of India under English rule, and Forster would have been the first to identify the book as such: he detested authors claiming to be purveyors of universal truths about "the real India." (pp. x-xi)
Although this study approaches A Passage to India primarily as a work of art, I hope that it also suggests indirectly the value of the novel as social history. One would certainly not want to take the book as the sole source for a portrait of social relations in British India early in this century. But as a corrective to and departure from the mainstream of Anglo-Indian writing, it has considerable significance. The heroism, courage, and efficiency that characterized so many of the English in India had already been amply chronicled in fiction; until A Passage to India, however, their darker qualities had not. Forster's novel rejected the traditional...
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MICHAEL N. STANTON and GRANT CRICHFIELD
Ten of the 14 short stories in E. M. Forster's posthumously published collection, The Life to Come, deal in one way or another with love between males. They vary widely in tone and setting, from the Ruritanian farce of "What Does It Matter?" to the grim realism of "The Other Boat," from the English domesticity of "Arthur Snatchfold" to the exotic locale of "The Life to Come." What binds all these stories together is the basic myth or fable which underlies them, and which seems to have recurred often to Forster's mind throughout the five or more decades of their creation. We wish here to explore that myth and some of its implications for Forster's view of life, as he saw it in the perspective of homosexuality, and to explore his attitudes toward the possibilities and qualities of homosexual relationships.
The myth may be simply described as that of the Gay Noble Savage. In all the stories the male protagonist, usually young, English, and middle-class, is involved with another male who is as different from him as the context of the tale will permit. Sir Richard Conway, successful businessman, has a hurried liaison with the local milkman, Arthur Snatchfold, in the story of that name. In "The Other Boat," the affair is between a young English officer, Lionel March, and a native boy, Co-coanut…. In the title story of the collection the relationship is between a young English priest and a native (tribal) chieftain, Athobai. He is an...
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More than most successful writers E. M. Forster proceeded by fits and starts; success with him never produced a formula he could go on using. Two novels at least were aborted. The first, known as Nottingham Lace from its opening words, was Forster's first attempt, and petered out after 50 pages. The second, which he proposed to call Arctic Summer, exists in two major fragments, representing different attempts to come to grips with the plot. It was begun in 1911, a year after Howards End had made for him a reputation which he would have liked to exploit. Other bits and pieces, lovingly assembled and edited in [Arctic Summer and Other Fiction], are tales and short items which Forster either was unsatisfied with or else judged unfit for publication, together with a remarkable sexual fantasy written at the age of 83.
Arranged as they are, the fragments will illustrate the ambivalence of Forster's attitudes. On the one hand there is the self-generating rebellion against established authority—social, sexual, and clerical—with which he became identified and which related him to Samuel Butler, Wells, Shaw, and the early Lawrence. On the other hand there are different kinds of submission, less definitive but just as rigorous, to a heroic ethos—an ethos he found embodied in quiet, sunburned, inarticulate men, soldiers and policemen. Here the relation is not so much to Lawrence as to Kipling. By culture and...
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[Arctic Summer is] not of very great interest except to Forster enthusiasts. Becoming a Forster enthusiast is luckily not difficult, and anyone reading or rereading P. N. Furbank's [E. M. Forster: A Life], in particular, would find it worthwhile to look at these fragments for the light they throw on Forster's themes and preoccupations. Being unfinished, they can show at what points he became blocked in his writing and why….
["Nottingham Lace" and "Ralph and Tony"] are about philistinism, sensibility, loneliness, and rescue; they are dominated by the conflict between Forster's two versions of masculinity, the sensitive and the strong. "Ralph and Tony" is an odd and rather confused account of a threesome on holiday in the Alps (the woman of the three, however, is an irrelevancy). Tony is the mountain-climbing hearty, Ralph the agonized aesthete who deeply disgusts him. Tony saves the frail Ralph's life in the mountains but suffers a heart attack as a result; it is the strong man who proves the weaker. Tony will never climb again; but he has a dream which is a kind of revelation of the Forsterian values—a crowd of people struggling to get to the top of a mountain, while he calls out to dissuade them….
"Nottingham Lace", Forster's first attempt at fiction, is longer and was intended for a novel…. Again we have philistinism versus sensitivity: Edgar, lonely fifteen-year-old orphan, is stranded in his...
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[Arctic Summer and Other Fiction contains] the remnants of Forster's unpublished or uncompleted novels and short stories…. All these pieces and fragments date from the earliest years of the author's activity, roughly from 1899 to 1914 and show him experimenting with themes and methods of presentation. (p. 94)
Prominent themes throughout the collection are those for which Forster later became well known as an adept in their handling—class differences; the friendship and affection between men, especially younger men; the contrast between two marked types of young men, namely, the 'aesthetic' and the 'conventional' or 'heroic' he-male. Only one of the shorter stories is overtly homosexual and that in a most bizarre and original way, a kind of weird attempt at sci-fi that somehow totally fails to convince at any level. Its chief interest is as a sign of the weakness of Forster's imagination when he strayed from the 'real' world of 'real' people….
Because all the fragments reproduced in this collection are very early experiments before he had fully developed his power as a writer there are many examples where his writing strikes a false note and appears artificial or strained. Perhaps this is most evident in Ralph and Tony, an essay in contrast between decadent weakness and manly vigour, where the writing sometimes becomes sentimental to the point of absurdity, especially in Ralph's hero-worshipping...
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