FORSTER, E(dward) M(organ) ([1 Jan.] 1879 - [7 June] 1970), was the only child of Edward Morgan Forster, architect, who died in 188o, and of Alice 'Lily' Whichelo (1855-1945).
His boyhood was dominated by women, among them his influential great-aunt and benefactress Marianne Thornton, whose father had been a leading member of the *'Clapham Sect'; on her death in 1887 she left him £8,ooo in trust. His happiest childhood years (1883-93) were spent at Rooksnest, Stevenage, a house he evokes in *Howards End . In 1893 he and his mother moved to Tonbridge, and Forster attended Tonbridge School, where he was deeply unhappy and developed a lasting dislike of public-school values.
In 1897 he went to King's College, Cambridge, where he found congenial friends; the atmosphere of free intellectual discussion, and a stress on the importance of personal relationships inspired partly by G. E. *Moore was to have a profound influence on his work. In 1901 he was elected to the *Apostles and largely through them was later drawn into closer contact with *Bloomsbury.
A year of travel in Italy with his mother and a cruise to Greece followed, providing material for his early novels, which satirize the attitudes of English tourists abroad, Baedeker in hand, clinging to English pensioni, and suspicions of anything foreign. On his return from Greece he began to write for the new Independent Review launched in 1903 by a group of Cambridge friends, led by G. M. *Trevelyan; in 1904 it published his first short story 'The Story of a Panic'.
In 1905 he completed *Where Angels Fear to Tread , which was published the same year, and spent some months in Germany as tutor to the children of the Conntess *von Arnim In 19o6, now established with his mother in Weybridge, he became tutor to Syed Ross Masood, a striking and colonial Indian Muslim patriot, for whom Forster developed an intense affection. *The Longest Journey appeared in 1907, A Room with a View in 1908, and Howards End , which established Forster as a writer of importance, in 1910. In 1911 he published a collection of short stories, mostly pastoral and whimsical in tone and subject-matter, The Celestial Omnibus.
In 1912-13 he visited India for some months, meeting Masood in Aligarh and traveling with him. In 1913 another significant visit to the home of E. *Carpenter near Chesterfield resulted in his writing Maurice, a novel with a homosexual theme which he circulated privately; it was published posthumously in 1971. It did not as he had hoped open a new vein of creativity and the outbreak of war further impeded his career. He worked for a while at the National Gallery then went to Alexandria in 1915 for the Red Cross; his Alexandria: A History and a Guide was published somewhat abortively in 1922 (almost the entire stock was burned) and reprinted in revised form in 1938. In Alexandria he met *Cavafy whose works, on his return to England in 1919, he helped to introduce; an essay on Cavafy appears in Pharos and Pharillon (1923).
In 1921-22 he revisited India, working as personal secretary for the maharajah of the native state of Dewas Senior for several months. The completion of *A Passage to India (1922-4) which he had begun before the war, was overshadowed by the death of his closest Egyptian friend Mohammed, but when the novel appeared in June 1924 it was highly acclaimed. Forster's fears that this would be his last novel proved correct, and the remainder of his life was devoted to a wide range of literary activities; over many years he took a firm stand against censorship, involving himself in the work of PEN and the NCCL, of which he became the first president, campaigning in 1928 against the suppression of R. *Hall's The Well of Loneliness, and appearing in 1960 as a witness for the defence in th
e trial of the publishers of *Lady Chatterley's Lover.
In 1927 he delivered the Clark lectures at Cambridge printed the same year as Aspects of the Novel; his tone in these was in his own words 'informal, indeed talkative', and they contain the celebrated comment, 'yes-oh dear yes-the novel tells a story.' *Leavis, representing the new school of Cambridge criticism, found the lectures 'intellectually null', but they were a popular success, and King's offered him a 3-year-fellowship, and, in 1946, an honorary fellowship and a permanent home.
In 1928 The Eternal Moment, a volume of pre-1914 short stories, whimsical and dealing with the supernatural appeared. He wrote two biographies, Goldsworthy Lowes Dickenson (1934) and Marianne Thornton (1956). Abinger Harvest, essays named after the village in Surrey in which Forster inherited a house on 1924, appeared in 1936, Two Cheers for Democracy in 1951, The Hill of Devi, a portrait of India through letters and commentary, in 1953.
Between 1949 and 1951 he worked with Eric Crozier on the libretto for *Britten's opera Billy Budd. He spent his last year in King's College, and was awarded the OM in 1969, Maurice was followed by another posthumous publication, The Life to Come (1972), a collection of short stories, many with homosexual themes, including the tragic story 'The Other Boat' written 1957-8.
See biography by P.N. Furbank (2 vols, 1977-8); Selected Letters, ed. M. Lago and P.N. Furbank, 1983, 1985.
(Text from Drabble, Margaret. The Oxford Companion to English Literature. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998. © Margaret Drabble and Oxford University Press 1985, 1995; cited here by permission of Oxford University Press.)
Did you know...?
...that Forster was registered as Henry Morgan after his birth. Only by mistake was he christened Edward Morgan Forster.