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


(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, 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.

Critical Reception

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.

Principal Works

(Short Story Criticism)

Short Fiction

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


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Katherine Mansfield (review date 1920)

(Short Story Criticism)

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...

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Hamish Miles (review date 1924)

(Short Story Criticism)

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...

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Louis Kronenberger (review date 1928)

(Short Story Criticism)

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...

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Edwin Muir (review date 1928)

(Short Story Criticism)

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...

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Lionel Trilling (essay date 1943)

(Short Story Criticism)

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...

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Ben Ray Redman (review date 1947)

(Short Story Criticism)

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...

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Carlos Baker (review date 1947)

(Short Story Criticism)

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"...

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Elizabeth Hardwick (review date 1947)

(Short Story Criticism)

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.


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John V. Hagopian (essay date 1965)

(Short Story Criticism)

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...

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George H. Thomson (essay date 1967)

(Short Story Criticism)

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...

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Denis Godfrey (essay date 1968)

(Short Story Criticism)

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,...

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Roger Scruton (review date 1973)

(Short Story Criticism)

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...

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Eudora Welty (review date 1973)

(Short Story Criticism)

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...

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Samuel Hynes (review date 1973)

(Short Story Criticism)

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...

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Karl Miller (review date 1973)

(Short Story Criticism)

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...

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Jeffrey Meyers (review date 1973)

(Short Story Criticism)

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...

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John Colmer (essay date 1975)

(Short Story Criticism)

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...

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Norman Page (essay date 1977)

(Short Story Criticism)

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...

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Glen Cavaliero (essay date 1979)

(Short Story Criticism)

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...

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Alan Wilde (essay date 1981)

(Short Story Criticism)

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...

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Barbara Rosecrance (essay date 1982)

(Short Story Criticism)

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...

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Claude J. Summers (essay date 1983)

(Short Story Criticism)

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...

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John J. Kessel (essay date 1985)

(Short Story Criticism)

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...

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Frederick P. W. McDowell (essay date 1987)

(Short Story Criticism)

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...

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Judith Scherer Herz (essay date 1988)

(Short Story Criticism)

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...

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Mary Lago (essay date 1995)

(Short Story Criticism)

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...

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Further Reading

(Short Story Criticism)


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...

(The entire section is 895 words.)