E. M. Forster

(1879—1970) novelist and essayist

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British novelist and literary critic. He became a CH in 1953 and was appointed to the OM in 1969.

After a childhood pampered by his widowed mother and several adoring aunts, Forster went to Tonbridge School (1893), where he was predictably miserable. He then won a classical exhibition to King's College, Cambridge (1897), where his tutor encouraged him to write. After graduating (1901) he travelled in Greece and Italy, where he found the Mediterranean passion, beauty, and spontaneity a liberating contrast to the cold and narrow English middle classes. He began writing short stories and in 1905 published his first novel, Where Angels Fear to Tread (filmed 1991), which, like A Room With a View (1908; filmed 1985), is partly set in Italy. The Longest Journey (1907) is a sad tale of hopes ruined by a disastrous marriage. Howards End (1910; filmed 1991) is partly inspired by the beneficent aura of his childhood home, recreated as a haven for those who follow their hearts rather than the ‘life of telegrams and anger’.

In 1912 he accompanied his Cambridge friend G. Lowes Dickinson to India. On his return he lived with his mother and published very little. At this time he was working on Maurice, a novel depicting a homosexual relationship, such as Forster craved and eventually found for himself with the policeman Bob Buckingham, whom he met in 1930. Maurice was not published until 1971 (it was filmed in 1987). During World War I Forster worked for the Red Cross in Alexandria (1915–18), where he met the Greek poet Cavafy, whose work Forster later publicized to the English-speaking world. Forster's second visit to India (1921), this time as private secretary to a maharajah, resulted in his greatest novel, A Passage to India (1924; filmed 1984). He was then invited back to Cambridge to deliver the prestigious Clark lectures (published in 1927 as Aspects of the Novel) and for a time (1927–33) was a fellow of King's. He continued to write essays, criticism, talks, and biographies; some of the shorter pieces were published in Abinger Harvest (1936). In 1934 he became first president of the National Council for Civil Liberties.

After his mother's death (1945) Forster was elected an honorary fellow of King's and spent the rest of his life there. Although he knew many leading writers well, he particularly valued his many friendships with undergraduates. Among his later works, Two Cheers for Democracy (1951) reflects the deep concern for individual liberty that dominated his thinking before and after World War II. In 1953 he published an account of his 1921 visit to India, The Hill of Devi, which shows his sympathy for Muslim and Hindu culture already apparent in A Passage to India. He also collaborated with Benjamin Britten on the libretto for Billy Budd (1951).

Subjects: Literature.

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