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Forster, E(dward) M(organ)

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(British, 1879–1970)

Born in London, E. M. Forster was educated at King's College, Cambridge, of which he became an honorary fellow in 1946. Eminent for over fifty years among the liberal intellectuals of his day, he received the Order of Merit in 1966. Begin with his first novel, the tragi-comic Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905). Set largely in Tuscany, the book centres on tensions between the repressive codes of the English middle classes and the life-affirming spontaneity of Italian culture. Forster's characteristic tone of compassionate scepticism runs through the story of an Englishwoman's love-match with a young Italian and her family's fateful attempts to intervene. Italy is the source of regenerative possibilities in A Room with a View (1908), which contrasts the Surrey village of Summer Street with Florence and its surroundings. The story concerns Lucy Honeychurch's dilemma in choosing for a husband either the cultured but emotionally inert Cecil Vyse or the impulsively vital George Emerson. The comedy of fallibly refined English manners ends with Lucy and George released from the tedium of village life on their honeymoon in Florence. They are last seen happily staying at the pensione in which they met earlier in the novel.

The liberating effect of self-knowledge gained through emotional honesty in these novels remains an important theme in Howards End (1910). The book contains Forster's most ambitious treatment of conflicting class attitudes as a major English social ill. The differences between the intellectually cultivated Schlegels and the affluent, worldly Wilcoxes are eventually reconciled in a difficult but enduring marriage. The disastrous fate of the lower-class but culturally aspiring Leonard Bast, however, points the moral that cultivation and its part in human fulfilment are functions of social and economic privilege. Widely considered his masterpiece, A Passage to India (1924) drew on Forster's visits to India in 1912 and 1921 for its vivid descriptions of Chandrapore and memorable evocations of landscape. The novel attracted controversy for its portrayal of the prejudiced and exclusive society of British expatriates who turn against Aziz, a formerly respected Indian physician. He is groundlessly accused of abusing Miss Quested, a visiting Englishwoman, during an expedition to the Marabar caves which he has taken great pains to organize. Miss Quested's psychological instability becomes apparent when she withdraws her allegations at Aziz's trial. The affair forces him out of sympathy with the British and into a position of committed Indian nationalism. Years later Fielding, a former British official in Chandrapore, revisits India to find Aziz philosophically settled in his belief that the British must give up India. The posthumously published Maurice (1971), originally written in 1914, describes the hard-won emergence of its homosexual protagonist to a state of psychological health after he accepts his sexuality. Informed by Forster's own homosexuality, the novel is most directly autobiographical in the sections presenting Maurice as a young man at Cambridge.

Henry James, D. H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf. See SEXUAL POLITICS  DH

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