Best known for his haunting novel A Passage to India (1924), E. M. Forster in The Longest Journey creates a less exotic setting but an equally powerful delineation of character and exploration of humanist values. The primary theme of The Longest Journey is Rickie Elliot’s progression from unloved child to responsible brother, a lengthy progression of his own soul epitomized by the novel’s very title. Unlike Rickie, Forster had a close attachment to his mother, but like his character, Forster had a very lonely childhood that did not end until he entered King’s College, Cambridge, in 1897. As an undergraduate there, he studied classics and history and joined a circle of intellectuals—the so-called Cambridge Apostles—who met regularly to discuss aesthetics and art. It was the sort of life that Forster thoroughly enjoyed, and he was sorry to see it end upon his graduation in 1901. After he had established himself as an important writer with the publication of A Passage to India, Cambridge invited him to deliver a series of lectures about the art of fiction; these lectures were revised and published as Aspects of the Novel (1927). He later became an honorary Fellow at King’s College and continued to visit and lecture at Cambridge until his death on June 7, 1970.
To understand the primary theme of The Longest Journey—Rickie’s gradual acceptance of responsibility for his half brother, Stephen Wonham—one should consider the characters symbolically. Forster conceives Rickie as an Everyman, a person intended to set an example for the reader. After a life of frustrations, Rickie thinks he finally understands the nature of things and, more important, of himself. As it turns out, all his hard-earned knowledge is irrelevant when he is confronted by a person who is anti-intellectual and continually acts from impulse. This person is Rickie’s own half brother, who symbolizes passion. At first, Rickie denies the importance of his half brother and rejects the notion of any relationship between them....
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