E. M. Forster Forster, E(dward) M(organ)

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(Short Story Criticism)

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.

Biographical Information

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,...

(The entire section is 63,305 words.)