The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






E. M. Forster

(Redirected from E.M. Forster)

Edward Morgan Forster (January 1, 1879 - June 7, 1970) was an English novelist.

Born in London, the son of an architect, he was to have been named Henry, but was baptised Edward by accident. Forster attended Tonbridge School in Kent. At King's College, Cambridge in 1901, he became involved with a group known as the Cambridge Conversazione Society (aka The Cambridge Apostles). Many of its members went on to form the Bloomsbury group, of which Forster was also a member. Forster also belonged to an informal group of gay intellectuals which included Siegfried Sassoon, J. R. Ackerley and Forrest Reid. He travelled in Egypt, Germany and India with classicist G.L. Dickinson in 1914. He died in Coventry where he wished to spend his last moments.

Many of his novels have been filmed by Ismail Merchant and James Ivory.



Secular humanism

Forster's views as a secular humanist are at the heart of his work, which often features characters attempting to understand each other ('only connect...', in the words of Forster's famous epigraph to Howards End) across social barriers. In Howards End, for example, the central relationship, unacceptable to some of Forster's contemporary readers, is between working-class Leonard Bast and upper-middle-class Helen Schlegel.

In A Passage to India, the main barrier is one of race, a triangle of mistrust between the British and their Muslim and Hindu subjects. A young Indian Dr Aziz is falsely accused of raping a white British girl, Adela Quested. Although he is finally acquitted, the incident convinces him of the impossibility of friendship between Indians and the British, and damages his friendship with Fielding, a liberal-minded Englishman. Forster's goal seems to be to show that all humans are of one race, that the barriers between them are artificial, but also, pessimistically, that even if we can 'connect' emotionally, our relationships are often doomed to fail because of social pressure. Finally, in Maurice (see below), Forster addressed the subject of homosexual love.


The role of sex in Forster's writing can perhaps be most succinctly characterized as progressing from heterosexual love to homosexual love. Supposedly this was all started when Edward Carpenter and his lover George Merrill paid him a visit when he was 35. A particularly sensual touch by Carpenter on his back, as he later recalled, drove him to start working on Maurice, which he repeatedly rewrote later on. The two protagonists of that novel, Maurice and Alec, seem to some degree be modelled after Carpenter and Merrill, reflecting in particular their class difference, which Forster (just as so many other gay poets and authors of the time) perceived as liberating and an escape from the confinements of middle-class morals.

While gay subtexts are more hidden in A Passage to India, the title of this work gives away its origin in the Walt Whitman poem Passage to India, which is about male comradeship. Carpenter was again the medium by which this influence reached Forster.

After A Passage to India, Forster proclaimed he was unable to do any more stories in "their" way (that is, the way of heterosexuals). Forster wrote: "I shall never write another novel after [Passage], my patience with ordinary people has given out." He turned to writing short stories, often with gay themes. Maurice, in circulation only between his closest friends at his lifetime, was finally published posthumously, even though gay liberation had progressed considerably during the late 1960s and early 1970s, making the extreme caution seem somewhat strange. While Maurice may be in some ways relatively dated (for example, in Scudder's panic reaction after their first night spent together to try to extort money from Maurice), and was also considered obsolete by the author in his Terminal Note to Maurice, it still is appealing today for its emotional frankness, warm humor, and romantic (if somewhat unrealistic) ending.



Short Stories

  • The Celestial Omnibus (and other stories) 1911
  • The Eternal Moment (and other stories) 1928
  • Collected Short Stories (1947) - a combination of the above two titles, containing:
    • The Story of A Panic
    • The Other Side Of The Hedge
    • The Celestial Omnibus
    • Other Kingdom
    • The Curate's Friend
    • The Road From Colonus
    • The Machine Stops science fiction
    • The Point Of It
    • Mr Andrews
    • Co-ordination
    • The Story Of The Siren
    • The Eternal Moment
  • The Life to Come (and other stories) 1972 (posthumous)


  • England's Pleasant Land 1940



  • Alexandria: A History and Guide 1922
  • Pharos and Pharillon (A Novelist's Sketchbook of Alexandria Through the Ages) 1923
  • Aspects of the Novel 1927
  • Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson 1934
  • Abinger Harvest 1940
  • The Hill of Devi 1953
  • Marianne Thornton, A Domestic Biography 1956

Non-fiction Books

  • Two Cheers for Democracy
  • What I Believe and other Essays
  • Commonplace Book 1987 (posthumous)

External links

Last updated: 05-14-2005 21:38:12