'To me,' D. H. Lawerence once wrote to E. M. forster, 'you are the last Englishman.' Indeed, Forster's novels offer contemporary readers clear, vibrant portraits of life in Edwardian England. Published in 1908 to both critical and popular acclaim, A Room with a View is a whimsical comedy of manners that owes more to Jane Austen that perhaps any other of his works. The central character is a muddled young girl named Lucy Honeychurch, who runs away from the man who stirs her emotions, remaining engaged to a rich ...
'To me,' D. H. Lawerence once wrote to E. M. forster, 'you are the last Englishman.' Indeed, Forster's novels offer contemporary readers clear, vibrant portraits of life in Edwardian England. Published in 1908 to both critical and popular acclaim, A Room with a View is a whimsical comedy of manners that owes more to Jane Austen that perhaps any other of his works. The central character is a muddled young girl named Lucy Honeychurch, who runs away from the man who stirs her emotions, remaining engaged to a rich snob. Forster considered it his 'nicest' novel, and today it remains probably his most well liked. Its moral is utterly simple. Throw away your etiquette book and listen to your heart. But it was Forster's next book, Howards End, a story about who would inhabit a charming old country house (and who, in a larger sense, would inherit England), that earned him recognition as a major writer. Centered around the conflict between the wealthy, materialistic Wilcox family and the cultured, idealistic Schlegel sisters-and informed by Forester's famous dictum 'Only connect'-it is full of tenderness towards favorite characters. 'Howards End is a classic English novel . . . superb and wholly cherishable . . . one that admirers have no trouble reading over and over again,' said Alfred Kazin.
Edward Morgan Forster was born at 6 Melcombe Place, Dorset Square, London, on January 1, 1879, into a middle-class Victorian family of Anglo-Irish and Welsh ancestry. His father, an architect, died a year and a half after the boy's birth, and Forster was raised by a bevy of female relatives--including a beloved great aunt who left him a legacy of ú8,000. Possibly the most important aspect of his early life was his residence with his mother at Rooksnest, a cozy house in Hertfordshire that became the model for Howards End. But the family had to leave Rooksnest for Tonbridge so that Forster could attend school. There he enrolled as a day boy at the Tonbridge School--memorably depicted as the hellish Sawston School in Forster's second novel, The Longest Journey (1907)--only to be despised by boarders who viewed him as an enemy of the public school regard for leadership and team spirit.
By contrast, Cambridge University proved to be an inspiring milieu for Forster. At King's College he became a member of the Cambridge Conversazione Society, a nucleus of young men who passionately debated moral, intellectual, and aesthetic issues--and who were later active as London's Bloomsbury group. Speculative discussion, social change, and, above all, personal relationships were considered of central importance. ('I hate the idea of causes, and if I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country,' he later wrote.) It was also while at Cambridge that Forster began the process of his emotional and sexual maturation.
Forster had no particular career in mind upon graduation from King's College in 1901, although he had begun writing short stories. He was soon able to satisfy his social conscience by teaching Latin at the well-known Working Men's College in Bloomsbury. And then--as was de rigueur in his circle--Forster embarked with his mother on momentous cultural tours of Italy and Greece. A vivid diarist, he filled his journals with observations (and pages of dialogue) of moralizing English tourists who colonized the pensioni and small hotels. Over the next decade, in a burst of creative energy, he used these notebooks to write Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905) and A Room with a View (1908). Forster succeeded at once with these two novels about bourgeois Edwardians who discover their feelings and attain self-completion through liberating journeys abroad. But it was the publication of Howards End (1910) that secured his reputation as both a comic and profound novelist. The quintessential 'Bloomsbury novel,' it eloquently addresses the question, Who shall inherit England?
After Howards End, Forster experienced great difficulty in writing long fiction, although he did produce short stories and literary criticism. (He also made a fateful journey to India to immerse himself in Indian sights and life.) The society he had captured so well in his novels had begun to disintegrate; furthermore, Forster lost interest in hetero-sexually oriented narratives and became preoccupied with writing Maurice, his novel about a homosexual love affair. It was a disastrous step in a novelist's life because the book was unpublishable under British law. (Maurice was post-humously published in 1971.) While working for the Red Cross in Egypt during World War I, Forster defied barriers of both class and race to experience his first sexual affair--with a young Egyptian tram conductor.
In 1921 Forster made a second trip to India to become secretary to Maharajah Bapu Sahib; upon his return to England he completed what would be his final novel, A Passage to India (1924). Afterward he concentrated on writing essays and a critical treatise, Aspects of the Novel (1927). From the 1930s on, he also played a leading part in campaigns for civil liberties and intellectual freedom. Following the death of his mother in 1945, Forster accepted an honorary lifetime fellowship at King's College; in his remaining years he produced the incisive Two Cheers for Democracy (1951) and The Hill of Devi (1953), reminiscences of his experiences in India. To the end of his life Forster continued to be an influential voice on the modern cultural scene and an admired presence in Cambridge--and was awarded the Order of Merit by Queen Elizabeth II in 1969. E. M. Forster died on June 7, 1970, following a massive stroke; among the many mourners at his funeral was Bob Buckingham, the policeman who had been his close friend for forty years.
'The Signora had no business to do it,' said Miss Bartlett, 'no business at all. She promised us south rooms with a view close together, instead of which here are north rooms, looking into a courtyard, and a long way apart. Oh, Lucy!'
'And a Cockney, besides!' said Lucy, who had been further saddened by the Signora's unexpected accent. 'It might be London.' She looked at the two rows of English people who were sitting at the table; at the row of white bottles of water and red bottles of wine that ran between the English people; at the portraits of the late Queen and the late Poet Laureate that hung behind the English people, heavily framed; at the notice of the English church (Rev. Cuthbert Eager, M.A. Oxon.), that was the only other decoration of the wall. 'Charlotte, don't you feel, too, that we might be in London? I can hardly believe that all kinds of other things are just outside. I suppose it is one's being so tired.'
'This meat has surely been used for soup,' said Miss Bartlett, laying down her fork.
'I want so to see the Arno. The rooms the Signora promised us in her letter would have looked over the Arno. The Signora had no business to do it at all. Oh, it is a shame!'
'Any nook does for me,' Miss Bartlett continued; 'but it does seem hard that you shouldn't have a view.'
Lucy felt that she had been selfish. 'Charlotte, you mustn't spoil me: of course, you must look over the Arno, too. I meant that. The first vacant room in the front--'
'You must have it,' said Miss Bartlett, part of whose travelling expenses were paid by Lucy's mother--a piece of generosity to which she made many a tactful allusion.
'No, no. You must have it.'
'I insist on it. Your mother would never forgive me, Lucy.'
'She would never forgive me.'
The ladies' voices grew animated, and--if the sad truth be owned--a little peevish. They were tired, and under the guise of unselfishness they wrangled. Some of their neighbours interchanged glances, and one of them--one of the ill-bred people whom one does meet abroad--leant forward over the table and actually intruded into their argument. He said:
'I have a view, I have a view.'
Miss Bartlett was startled. Generally at a pension people looked them over for a day or two before speaking, and often did not find out that they would 'do' till they had gone. She knew that the intruder was ill-bred, even before she glanced at him. He was an old man, of heavy build, with a fair, shaven face and large eyes. There was something childish in those eyes, though it was not the childishness of senility. What exactly it was Miss Bartlett did not stop to consider, for her glance passed on to his clothes. These did not attract her. He was probably trying to become acquainted with them before they got into the swim. So she assumed a dazed expression when he spoke to her, and then said: 'A view? Oh, a view! How delightful a view is!'
'This is my son,' said the old man; 'his name's George. He has a view too.'
'Ah,' said Miss Bartlett, repressing Lucy, who was about to speak.
'What I mean,' he continued, 'is that you can have our rooms, and we'll have yours. We'll change.'
The better class of tourist was shocked at this, and sympathized with the new-comers. Miss Bartlett, in reply, opened her mouth as little as possible, and said:
'Thank you very much indeed; that is out of the question.'
'Why?' said the old man, with both fists on the table.
'Because it is quite out of the question, thank you.'
'You see, we don't like to take--' began Lucy.
Her cousin again repressed her.
'But why?' he persisted. 'Women like looking at a view; men don't.' And he thumped with his fists like a naughty child, and turned to his son, saying, 'George, persuade them!'
'It's so obvious they should have the rooms,' said the son. 'There's nothing else to say.'
He did not look at the ladies as he spoke, but his voice was perplexed and sorrowful. Lucy, too, was perplexed; but she saw that they were in for what is known as 'quite a scene,' and she had an odd feeling that whenever these ill-bred tourists spoke the contest widened and deepened till it dealt, not with rooms and views, but with--well, with something quite different, whose existence she had not realized before. Now the old man attacked Miss Bartlett almost violently: Why should she not change? What possible objection had she? They would clear out in half an hour.
Miss Bartlett, though skilled in the delicacies of conversation, was powerless in the presence of brutality. It was impossible to snub any one so gross. Her face reddened with displeasure. She looked around as much as to say, 'Are you all like this?' And two little old ladies, who were sitting further up the table, with shawls hanging over the backs of the chairs, looked back, clearly indicating 'We are not; we are genteel.'
'Eat your dinner, dear,' she said to Lucy, and began to toy again with the meat that she had once censured.
Lucy mumbled that those seemed very odd people opposite.
'Eat your dinner, dear. This pension is a failure. Tomorrow we will make a change.'
Hardly had she announced this fell decision when she reversed it. The curtains at the end of the room parted, and revealed a clergyman, stout but attractive, who hurried forward to take his place at the table, cheerfully apologizing for his lateness. Lucy, who had not yet acquired decency, at once rose to her feet, exclaiming: 'Oh, oh! Why, it's Mr. Beebe! Oh, how perfectly lovely! Oh, Charlotte, we must stop now, however bad the rooms are. Oh!'
Miss Bartlett said with more restraint:
'How do you do, Mr. Beebe? I expect that you have forgotten us: Miss Bartlett and Miss Honeychurch, who were at Tunbridge Wells when you helped the Vicar of St. Peter's that very cold Easter.'
The clergyman, who had the air of one on a holiday, did not remember the ladies quite as clearly as they remembered him. But he came forward pleasantly enough and accepted the chair into which he was beckoned by Lucy.
'I am so glad to see you,&rdquo said the girl, who was in a state of spiritual starvation, and would have been glad to see the waiter if her cousin had permitted it. 'Just fancy how small the world is. Summer Street, too, makes it so specially funny.'
'Miss Honeychurch lives in the parish of Summer Street,' said Miss Bartlett, filling up the gap, 'and she happened to tell me in the course of conversation that you have just accepted the living--'
'Yes, I heard from mother so last week. She didn't know that I knew you at Tunbridge Wells; but I wrote back at once, and I said: 'Mr. Beebe is--'
'Quite right,' said the clergyman. 'I move into the Rectory at Summer Street next June. I am lucky to be appointed to such a charming neighbourhood.'
'Oh, how glad I am! The name of our house is Windy Corner.'
Mr. Beebe bowed.
'There is mother and me generally, and my brother, though it's not often we get him to ch-- The church is rather far off, I mean.'
'Lucy, dearest, let Mr. Beebe eat his dinner.'
'I am eating it, thank you, and enjoying it.'
He preferred to talk to Lucy, whose playing he remembered, rather than to Miss Bartlett, who probably remembered his sermons. He asked the girl whether she knew Florence well, and was informed at some length that she had never been there before. It is delightful to advise a new-comer, and he was first in the field.