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About the Author
His first two novels, Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905) and The Longest Journey (1907), were both poorly received, and it was not until the publication of Howards End, in 1910, that Forster achieved his first major success as a novelist, with the work many considered his finest creation.
Forster first visited India during 1912 and 1913, and after three years as a noncombatant in Alexandria, Egypt, during World War I and several years in England, he returned for an extended visit in 1921. From those experiences came his most celebrated novel, A Passage to India, his darkest and most probing work and perhaps the best novel about India written by a foreigner.
As a man of letters , Forster was honored during and after World War II for his resistance to any and all forms of tyranny and totalitarianism, and King’s College awarded him a permanent fellowship in 1949. Forster spent his later years at Cambridge writing and teaching, and died at Coventry, England, on June 7, 1970. His novel, Maurice, written several decades earlier, was published posthumously in 1971.
Date of Birth:January 1, 1879
Date of Death:June 7, 1970
Place of Birth:London
Place of Death:Coventry, England
Education:B. A. in classics, King's College, Cambridge, 1900; B. A. in history, 1901; M.A., 1910
Read an Excerpt
'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 haveit.'
'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.
Reading Group Guide
"The more people one knows, the easier it is to replace them. It is one of the curses of London. I quite expect to end my life caring most for a place."
The place that E. M. Forster loved so deeply that he made it the centerpiece of one of his best-loved novels was a country house just north of London called Rooksnest. From the moment he moved in with his mother at age four, "I took it to my heart and hoped . . . that I would live and die there." Much more than just a house, for Forster, Rooksnest came to represent English country values—a connection to place, a respect for individuality, and a commitment to the contemplative life—that were increasingly threatened by the urbanization and industrialization sweeping Edwardian England. Forster's childhood idyll was to last only ten years, for at fourteen he moved with his mother to the newly fashionable bourgeois suburb of Tonbridge Wells, home to many members of the growing business class that would become a central concern of his fiction.
In Tonbridge Wells, Forster met families who, like the Wilcoxes of Howards End, were energetic capitalists focused on motorcars and moneymaking. And if Tonbridge Wells gave rise to the Wilcoxes, Cambridge was the likely birthplace of the other central family of Howards End, the Schlegels. It was as a university student at King's College that Forster was first inspired by the liberal humanism of philosopher George Moore, who advocated the contemplation of beauty and the cultivation of personal relations as a spiritual antidote to the rootless, mechanistic ethos of his age. Forster, together with the young men who would later form the Bloomsbury group of writers (Lytton Strachey, John Maynard Keynes, and Leonard Woolf, among others), embraced this challenge to traditional religious morality and to the growing commercial spirit of the time. Forster spent some of his happiest days in this company, a lifestyle mirrored in the Schlegels' passion for art, friendship, and the life of the mind.
Yet, like the Schlegel sisters, he was not completely satisfied by life among the London literati. More importantly, he was starting to understand the practicality of conformist values, of "social conventions, economic trend, efficiency," and he grew acutely aware of the limitations of liberal ideals. The Bloomsbury group's sitting-room debates and fashionable walking-parties were for Forster too narrow, too disdainful of the economic and material conditions that made their way of life possible. Against this backdrop, the character of Margaret emerged—her curious attraction to Henry, her appreciation of money, her pragmatism. Unlike her sister Helen, whose brief entrancement with the dynamic Wilcox men quickly evolves into contempt for them, Margaret, like the man who created her, envisions a marriage of soul and body, country and city, passion and prose, culture and commerce.
While Forster created the Wilcox and Schlegel families and the England they inhabit from his own experiences, the interior lives of Leonard Bast and Jacky were drawn purely from imagination. Leonard, a poor insurance clerk only a few steps removed from his rural, working-class roots, hopes to "come to Culture suddenly, much as the Revivalist hopes to come to Jesus." To Forster, who believed that "the character of the English is essentially middle-class," it was people like Leonard and the Wilcoxes—aspiring to wealth, political power, and culture—who would eventually "inherit" England, not the dying aristocratic class of the Schlegels nor the working classes. Forster used Leonard's connection with the Schlegels as the social conscience of the book. As critic Wilfred Stone wrote, "Just as [Leonard] stands on the edge of the social Ôabyss,' so he affords the Schlegels a glimpse into it— increasing both their 'panic and emptiness' and their guilt over class and money."
Because Forster did not keep comprehensive journals during his most fertile period as a writer and later destroyed some of his diaries, it is not possible to trace the entire composition of Howards End. It is known that the outline for the book crystallized sometime in 1908, about two years after Forster made a trip to the countryside to spend time with the Postens, an oddly matched stockbroker and his clever, cultured second wife who provided the immediate model for the relationship between Henry and Margaret. In a journal entry of February 1910, Forster wrote, "Am grinding out my novel into a contrast between money and death—the latter is truly an ally of the personal against the mechanical." Clearly the advancing machine age was at the forefront of Forster's consciousness at the time. With the social issues of man versus machine, country versus city, and culture versus money weighing on his mind, Forster completed his fourth novel. Published in November 1910, Howards End was greeted with glorious reviews, making Forster a literary star.
Over the years, Howards End has remained one of Forster's most beloved novels. Few works combine social comedy and political commentary with the skillful characterizations seen in the Schlegel sisters. Writing during a time of lively discussion about his country's socioeconomic conditions, Forster conceived the work as a "condition-of-England novel," a work designed to enter Edwardian debates about wealth and poverty, art and pragmatism, country life and urban sprawl that would not have sounded unfamiliar in Thatcher's England or Reagan's America. Forster, with a comic suspicion of the dogmas championed by liberals and conservatives alike, provides a distinctly humanistic perspective on some of the central debates of his time and ours.
Ultimately, Howards End is the most optimistic expression of Forster's unique vision, a sensibility that transcends the temporal confines of his novel. Its richly drawn characters and the struggles they face—to maintain human connection in an increasingly depersonalized society, to find a spiritual home in the world—are still as current as they were at the beginning of the twentieth century.
ABOUT THE E.M. FORSTER
Edward Morgan Forster was born on New Year's Day, 1879, in Dorset Square, London, the second child (the first died soon after birth) of middle-class parents, Edward Llewellyn Forster, a Cambridge graduate and architect, and Alice Clara "Lily" Whichelo. When his son was just one, Forster's father died after a long battle with consumption, leaving the family little money and making Lily a widow at twenty-five. Unwilling to live with relatives and unable to afford a London apartment, Lily moved to a house in the English countryside, Rooksnest, where she devoted herself to her son. At Rooksnest, Forster's life was spent in the nurturing, overprotective "haze of elderly ladies" that included paternal aunts and Lily's friends, and he formed a deep emotional attachment to the place, drawing later on the memories for Howards End.
When Forster was fourteen years old, he and Lily faced the disheartening news that their lease at Rooksnest was up, and they sadly moved to the suburb of Tonbridge Wells. Here, Forster attended the boarding school as a day boy, with classics as his major study. At Tonbridge he wrote for the school newspaper and won several awards for his essays, but nonetheless it was here, a place that contrasted so sharply with his happy home life, where his feelings of being an outsider hardened into an abiding distaste for the English school system.
Forster's intellectual and social life blossomed when, in 1897, he entered King's College, Cambridge. With the guidance and encouragement of his classics professor, Forster grew to admire the modern European writers Tolstoy, Proust, and Ibsen, and began to test his own powers as a writer. It was during these years, too, that he first began to acknowledge his homosexuality, falling in love with another undergraduate, H. O. Meredith, who would be the center of his posthumously published novel Maurice (finished in 1914). Meredith helped Forster become a member of the "Apostles," the university's foremost discussion group, where he formed friendships with many of the intellectuals later associated with the Bloomsbury group in London.
In 1901, with his formal education over and uncertain about a career, Forster, accompanied by Lily, set off on a year-long trip to Italy to study Italian history, language, art, and literature, and to work on a novel-in-progress. In 1903 he published his first short story, "Albergo Empedocle," and soon thereafter started to write for the Independent Review, a social and political journal founded by his Cambridge friends, to which he would contribute regularly for many years. His first three published novels, Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905), The Longest Journey (1907), and A Room with a View (1908) received generally favorable reviews and made him a minor literary celebrity, but not until the publication of Howards End (1910) did Forster achieve major acclaim as a writer.
During 1912 and 1913 Forster journeyed to India, beginning a lifelong fascination with the subcontinent. A return journey to India in 1921 provided the inspiration for A Passage to India (1924), which was hailed as a masterpiece on publication. After writing five novels in succession, then ending a fourteen-year hiatus with A Passage to India, Forster retired as a novelist at the age of forty-five.
He spent the second half of his life as a voracious reader, reviewer, and supporter of young writers such as J. R. Ackerley and Eudora Welty. A prominent public intellectual, Forster became the first president of England's National Council on Civil Liberties and was a lifelong spokesman for personal and political tolerance, testifying in the trial that successfully overturned the ban on D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover. King's College awarded Forster an honorary fellowship in 1946, and he spent the rest of his years in Cambridge. Leading an active literary and social life to the end, Forster died in 1970 at age 91.