E. M. Forster Forster, E(dward) M(organ) (Vol. 13)

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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Forster, E(dward) M(organ) 1879–1970

Forster was an English novelist, short story writer, essayist, and critic whose liberal humanism is evident in all his writing. He rejected the precepts of Christianity, and in his most famous work, A Passage to India, the central principle of Hinduism, total acceptance, is posited as the greatest unifying force for humanity. A Passage to India, published in 1924, was Forster's last major work, followed only by essays and minor pieces. Critics speculate that his inner struggle with his homosexuality, revealed only after his death, prevented Forster from adding to a collection of writing that marks him as a major twentieth-century author. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 13-14; obituary Vols. 25-28, rev. ed.; Contemporary Authors Permanent Series, Vol. 1.)

I. A. Richards

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Where another writer possessed of an unusual outlook on life would be careful to introduce it, gradually preparing the way by views from more ordinary standpoints, Mr. Forster does nothing of the kind. This very sentence tacitly assumes that the personal point of view is already occupied by the reader, who is left to orient himself as he can. This may lead to lamentable misunderstandings. For example, once we have picked up the author's position we see that the characters in his early books, Mrs. Herriton, Harriet, Gino, Mr. Eager, Old Mr. Emerson, are less to be regarded as social studies than as embodiments of moral forces. Hence the ease with which Miss Abbott, for example, turns momentarily into a goddess. Where Angels Fear to Tread is indeed far nearer in spirit to a mystery play than to a comedy of manners. This in spite of the astonishingly penetrating flashes of observation by which these figures are sometimes depicted. But to understand why, with all his equipment as an observer, Mr. Forster sometimes so wantonly disregards vivisimilitude we have to find his viewpoint and take up toward them the attitude of their creator. (pp. 15-16)

Mr. Forster never formulates his criticism of life in one of those principles which we can adhere to or discuss. He leaves it in the painful, concrete realm of practice, presenting it always and only in terms of actuality and never in the abstract. In other words, he has no doctrine but only an attitude…. (p. 16)

Mr. Forster is a peculiarly uncomfortable author for [those] who are not content merely to enjoy the surface graces of his writing and the delicacies of his wit, but make themselves sufficiently familiar with his temper to see life to some degree with his eyes. His real audience is youth, caught at that stage when rebellion against the comfortable conventions is easy because the cost of abandoning them has not been fully counted. (pp. 16-17)

It is Mr. Forster's peculiarity that he offers his discomforting vision with so urbane a manner. He is no "holy howl-storm upon the mountains." He has no thunders, no hoots, no grimaces, nor any of the airs of the denunciating prophet, yet at the heart of his work there is less satisfaction with human existence as he sees it than in the work of any other living writer I can call to mind. The earliest of his books, The Longest Journey, is perhaps an exception to what has just been remarked about his manner. It has the rawness and crudeness and violence we should expect in the work of a very young writer. Those who have not realized the intensity of the dissatisfaction behind Mr. Forster's work would do well to read it. There is much there, of course, which time has mellowed. But the essential standards, the primary demands from life, which still make unacceptable to him so much that ordinary people find sufficient, have not altered.

Mr. Forster's peculiar quality as a novelist is his fiercely critical sense of values. What was, in the days of Longest Journey, a revolt, has changed to a saddened and almost weary pessimism. He has, in his later writings, in Pharos and Pharillon and in A Passage to India , consoled himself to some...

(The entire section is 8,037 words.)