Other Literary Forms
E. M. Forster wrote six novels, one of which (Maurice, 1971) was published posthumously because of its homosexual theme. He also wrote travel books, essays, reviews, criticism, biography, and some poetry. Together with Eric Crozier he wrote the libretto for the four-act opera Billy Budd (1951), adapted from Herman Melville’s famous work.
As a novelist of rare distinction and one of the great literary figures of the twentieth century, E. M. Forster enjoyed international recognition and received many literary awards and honors. In 1921, as private secretary to the Maharajah of Dewas State Senior, he was awarded the Sir Tukojirao Gold Medal. The publication of A Passage to India (1924) brought him much acclaim, including the Femina Vie Heureuse Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1925. In 1927, he was elected Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge, and he delivered Clark Lectures at Trinity College. In 1937, the Royal Society of Literature honored him with the Benson Medal. In 1945, he was made Honorary Fellow, King’s College, Cambridge, where he remained until his death in 1970. In 1953, he was received by Queen Elizabeth II as a Companion of Honor. Between 1947 and 1958, several universities, including Cambridge, conferred on him the honorary degree of LL.D. In 1961, the Royal Society of Literature named him a Companion of Literature. He attained the greatest recognition when, on his ninetieth birthday, on January 1, 1969, he was appointed to the Order of Merit by Queen Elizabeth II.
Other literary forms
In addition to his novels, E. M. Forster wrote short stories, travel books, biographies, essays, and criticism. A number of these works, as well as his novels, appear in the seventeen-volume standard Abinger Edition (1972-1998). The Celestial Omnibus, and Other Stories (1911) includes his frequently anthologized story “The Road from Colonus” and five other stories written in a fantastic vein that is found much less frequently in his novels. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel (1927) remains one of the most widely read discussions of that genre, and the essays of Abinger Harvest (1936) and Two Cheers for Democracy (1951) have also found many receptive readers. In Marianne Thornton: A Domestic Biography, 1797-1887 (1956), Forster recalls his great-aunt, a woman whose long life plunged him into the social history of a milieu going back to the closing years of the eighteenth century. A useful description of Forster’s uncollected writings by George H. Thomson may be found in Aspects of E. M. Forster (1969), a Festschrift honoring the author on his ninetieth birthday. In the same volume, Benjamin Britten recounts one more achievement: the libretto Forster coauthored with Eric Crozier for Britten’s opera Billy Budd (1951).
E. M. Forster will continue to stand a little apart from other major novelists of the twentieth century. Because he made it difficult to decide by which standards his work should be judged, assessing it fairly presents problems. Unlike many of his Bloomsbury friends, he did not rebel against the Victorians or their literary habits; neither did he embrace the literary trends of his own time with any great enthusiasm. He lamented the encroachment of a commercial culture, but he did not declare war on the modern world. Although he composed a set of lectures on the novel, its plural title, Aspects of the Novel, anticipates his refusal to develop therein any single theory of the form in which he distinguished himself. On one hand, his work is impossible to pigeonhole; on the other hand, his six novels do not entitle him to a lonely eminence overshadowing his most able contemporaries.
Readers of the novel will not lose sight of Forster, however, because the very ambiguities and inconsistencies that frustrate efforts to find a niche for him continue to intrigue critics. Forster lived long enough to see his reputation fade and then rebound strongly. He had gained critical acclaim while still in his twenties, written a masterpiece in midlife, and...
(The entire section is 1,840 words.)