On this day, in 1970, one of our favorites from the Bloomsbury Group, E.M. Forster (Edward Morgan Forster) died of stroke at the ripe old age of 91.
Mr. Forster, as we’ve said above, was a member of the Bloomsbury Group, which also included, writer Virginia Woolf and the well known art critic, Clive Bell.
Though you may know his name for his most successful work, which is undoubtedly, Howard’s End, you may also be familiar with the titles of some of his earlier works, which include Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905), The Longest Journey (1907), and A Room with a View (1908), (which is incidentally, one of our favorite films!)
Forster often wrote about the difficulties of class and the human struggle to find one’s place. As someone who was forced to repress his sexuality all his life, it is easy to read between the lines and see another human struggle he was expressing simultaneously.
In fact, one of our very favorite works by Forster is his novel, Maurice, which was published posthumously (but written in 1913) and has also since been made into a film. Maurice examines a homosexual relationship between two men, and follows their extremely different life choices throughout adulthood. It is said that when the manuscript was discovered after his death, there was a note atop it which read “Publishable, but worth it?” Keep in mind, when he wrote this in 1913, England was still reeling from the “Oscar Wilde scandal”.
Forster also contributed much to the nonfiction genre and wrote a plethora of essays, which are often used in college classrooms today. Perhaps the most noted and influential of these is the volume of criticism Aspects of the Novel, the text of the Clark Lectures which Forster delivered in 1927. This work advances a theory of characterization and of “pattern and rhythm” in the novel. Forster asserts that “characters are either flat - types or caricatures, particularly useful in comedy - or round - capable of surprising the reader, yet in a totally convincing fashion.” We strongly encourage any and all writers of fiction out there to take a look at this collection and add it to your arsenal of craft.
On the title page of Howard’s End, Forster had placed the phrase “Only connect.” It is Forster’s instruction to people whose greatest failure, as he sees it, is their reluctance to destroy the barriers of prejudice and social intolerance that have risen to divide them.
So, our suggestion to you all today is to remember Mr. Forster by going out there in the world and “connecting”. Say hello to someone you normally wouldn’t. Write about your own prejudices, examine them, observe them in others.
“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.”—J.D. Salinger (from The Catcher in the Rye)