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Edward Morgan Forster (1879-1970)
English author and critic, member of Bloomsbury group and friend of Virginia Woolf. After gaining fame as a novelist, Forster spent his 46 remaining years publishing mainly short stories and non-fiction. Of his five important novels four appeared before World War I. Forster's major concern was that individuals should 'connect the prose with the passion' within themselves, and that one of the most exacting aspect of the novel is prophecy.
"If human nature does alter it will be because individuals manage to look at themselves in a new way. Here and there people - a very few people, but a few novelists are among them - are trying to do this. Every institution and vested interest in against such a search: organized religion, the State, the family in its economic aspect, have nothing to gain, and it is only when outward prohibitions weaken that it can proceed: history conditions it to that extent." (from Aspects of the Novel, 1927)
Edward Morgan Forster was born in London as the son of an architect, who died before his only child was two years old. Forster's childhood and much of his adult life was dominated by his mother and his aunts. The legacy of her paternal great-aunt Marianne Thornton, descendant of the Clapham Sect of evangelists and reformers, gave later Forster the freedom to travel and to write. Forster's years at Tonbridge School as a teenager were difficult - he suffered from the cruelty of his classmates.
Forster attended King's College, Cambridge (1897-1901), where he met members of the later formed Bloomsbury group. In the atmosphere of skepticism, he became under the influence of Sir Jamer Frazer, Nathaniel Wedd, Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson, and G.E. Moore, and shed his not very deep Christian faith. After graduating he travelled in Italy and Greece with his mother, and on his return began to write essays and short stories for the liberal Independent Review. In 1905 Foster spent several month in German as tutor to the children of the Countess von Armin.
In the same year appeared his first novel, WHERE ANGELS FEAR TO TREAD. In the following year he lectured on Italian art and history for the Cambridge Local Lectures Board. In 1907 appeared THE LONGEST JOURNEY, then A ROOM WITH A VIEW (1908), based partly on the material from extended holidays in Italy with his mother. The first part of the novel is set in Florence, where the young Lucy Honeychurch is visitng with her older cousin Charlotte Bartless. Lucy witnesses a murder and becomes caught between two man, shallow, conventional Cecil Vyse and George Emerson, who kisses Lucy during a picnic. The second half of the novel takes place at Windy Corner, Lucy's home on Summer Street. She accepts a marriage proposal from Cecil. The Emerson become friends of the Honeychurches after George, Mr. Beebe, who is a clergyman, and Freddie, Lucy's brother, are discovered bathing nude in the woods. Finally Lucy overcomes prejudices and marries George. Forster also wrote during the pre-war years a number of short stories, which were collected in THE CELESTIAL OMNIBUS (1914). Most of them were symbolic fantasies or fables.
HOWARDS END (1910) was a story that centered on an English country house and dealt with the clash between two families, one interested in art and literature, the other only in business. The book brought together the themes of money, business and culture. "To trust people is a luxury in which only the wealthy can indulge; the poor cannot afford it." (from Howards End) The novel established Forster's reputation, and he embarked upon a new novel with a homosexual theme, MAURICE. The picture of British attitudes not long after Wilde was revised several times during his life, and finally published posthumously in 1971. His personal life Forster hid from public discussion. In 1930 he had a relationship with a London policeman. This important contact continued after the marriage of his London friend.
Between the years 1912 and 1913 Forster travelled in India. From 1914 to 1915 he worked for the National Gallery in London. Following the outbreak of World War I, Forster joined the Red Cross and served in Alexandria, Egypt. There he met the Greek poet C.P. Cavafy, and published a selection of his poems in PHARAOS AND PHARILLON (1923). In 1921 Forster returned to India, working as a private secretary to the Maharajah of Dewas. The land was the scene of his masterwork A PASSAGE TO INDIA (1924), an account of India under British rule. It was Forter's last novel - and for the remaining 46 years of his life he devoted himself to other activities. Writing novels was not the most important element in his life. In the book he wrote: "Most of life is so dull that there is nothing to be said about it and the books and talk that would describe it as interesting are obliged to exaggerate, in the hope of justifying their own existence. Inside its cocoon of work or social obligation, the human spirit slumbers for the most part, registering the distinction between pleasure and pain, but not nearly as alert as we pretend." After Forster's death his literary executors turned down approaches from Joseph Losey, Ismail Merchant and James Ivory, and Waris Hussein, to make a feature film version of the book, but eventually David Lean was approved as director. Forster had shared with T.E. Lawrence a dislike and distrut of the cinema. The two last chapetrs of A Passage to India Forster