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Forster, Edward Morganfree

  • Nicola Beauman

Edward Morgan Forster (1879–1970)

by Dora Carrington, 1920

Forster, Edward Morgan (1879–1970), novelist and essayist, was born on 1 January 1879 at 6 Melcombe Place, Marylebone, London, the only child of Edward Morgan Llewellyn (Eddie) Forster (1847–1880), an architect, and his wife, Alice Clara (Lily) Whichelo (1855–1945); they were married on 2 January 1877. Forster's partly Irish paternal grandfather, Charles Forster (1789–1871), was a clergyman whose wife, Laura, twenty years younger than himself, was descended from members of the Clapham Sect, that 'industry in doing good' (Cowper, 10.31); Henry Whichelo, his maternal grandfather, was an artist, from a family of artists originally from Spain. From one side came the affluence and self-confidence that permitted social conscience, from the other unpretentiousness and knowledge of struggle.

Lily Whichelo was ‘taken up’ by Eddie Forster's aunt Marianne Thornton (1797–1887), but the family never forgot that she was the daughter of a Stockwell drawing-master who died suddenly and improvidently, that her mother took in lodgers, and that she had been a governess. In October 1880 Eddie Forster died of tuberculosis leaving £7000 which, prudently invested, would mean that his small family would always be comfortably off. When Marianne Thornton died in 1887 she left £2000 to Lily and £8000 in trust. This ensured that mother and son would be much more than merely comfortable; but his affluence was something about which Forster dissembled.


The widowed 'head of the family, occupation gentlewoman' (1881 census) now devoted herself to 'the Important One', Morgan or Morgie as Forster was known to his family and friends. As an adult Forster accused his mother of smothering him; however, she undeniably gave him great self-confidence and in early photographs he looks noticeably at ease with himself; it was only later, when human relations became complicated and painful, that he started to become gawky, his clothes ill-fitting, and his beautiful musician's hands held awkwardly. When, in 1883, mother and son moved to Rooksnest near Stevenage, Hertfordshire, a modestly beautiful house which was the model for Howards End, it was the start of a decade which was, in retrospect, a paradise: he enjoyed his closeness to his mother and played in the fields with local boys. Holidays were spent with his uncle Willie Forster in Northumberland, or Maimie Aylward at Salisbury, or with Laura Forster at West Hackhurst, near Abinger Hammer, Surrey, the only house designed by his father; with Rooksnest and with the Thornton family home, Battersea Rise, it was the third in an almost sacred trinity of houses. When the time came to leave Rooksnest, Forster went reluctantly: 'If I had been allowed to stop on there, I should have become a different person, married, and fought in the war' (unpublished paper, Memory, early 1930s, E. M. Forster archive, King's Cam.).

Tonbridge and Cambridge

In 1890 Forster was sent to board at Kent House, an Eastbourne preparatory school with a liberal reputation. Then, in September 1893, he and his mother moved to Dryhurst, Dry Hill Park Road, Tonbridge, so that he could be a day boy at the school. In later years he claimed that he was unhappy at Tonbridge. It is not clear that he was; nevertheless, public schools came to represent what he most hated in English life: philistinism, snobbery, the assumption of racial and class superiority, Englishmen going forth into the world 'with well-developed bodies, fairly developed minds, and undeveloped hearts' (Notes on the English character, 1926, Abinger Harvest, 15). Yet he began to develop his great love of classics at Tonbridge; and he had friends, for example Reginald Elliott Tiddy, who died on the Somme in August 1916. When Forster left in summer 1897, he had won both the Latin verse and the English essay prizes.

In the autumn Forster went up to King's College, Cambridge; it had a radical reputation and 'an unconquerable faith in the value and interest of human beings' (John Sheppard, Apostles paper King's or Trinity, 5 Dec 1903, King's Cam.). For the first year he lodged in rooms in Market Square. In October 1898, his mother having moved to 10 Earls Road, Tunbridge Wells, he took possession of two rooms at W7 Bodley's, overlooking the Backs. 'With a sigh of joy he entered the perishable home that was his for a couple of years' (The Longest Journey, 58). Now, as he wrote later about one of his mentors, Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson: 'Body and spirit, reason and emotion, work and play, architecture and scenery, laughter and seriousness, life and art—these pairs which are elsewhere contrasted were there fused into one' (Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson, 29). The 'cynical, aggressive, Mephistophelian' Nathaniel Wedd, his supervisor, was another influence; it was, Forster claimed, to Wedd 'more than to anyone – that I owe such awakening as has befallen me' (ibid., 61).

In 1900, having gained a second in the classics tripos (but won a Latin verse prize and an English essay prize) and his college exhibition having been renewed, Forster decided to stay on for a fourth year. He lived at 12 King's Parade and read history; and also started to write essays for the King's magazine Basileon and began 'Nottingham Lace', a novel about a young man who encourages another to spurn conventional thinking. In the following year he was elected to the Conversazione Society, a self-selecting group of Apostles who met in secret to discuss each other's papers on philosophical and moral questions. He replaced G. E. Moore and joined Desmond MacCarthy, Austin Smyth, G. H. Hardy, A. R. Ainsworth, Ralph Hawtrey, and H. O. Meredith; now he could truly start to shed some of his ancestral values and embrace truth, beauty, and personal relations. But some weeks later any thoughts he might have had about remaining in Cambridge came to an end when he was again awarded a second. He had no idea what to do next, yet was in the unfortunate position of not needing to earn his living. Lily put their possessions in store, and they set out for Europe.

Travels in Italy and Greece

Forster and his mother arrived in Florence at the end of October 1901, staying at the Pensione Simi on the ground and first floor of 2 lungarno alle Grazie. A Room with a View, inspired by the vista from this hotel, was begun in Rome, in December, 'Nottingham Lace' having been abandoned. Then, in spring 1902 Forster wrote two short stories, including in Ravello 'The Story of a Panic'; he

would bring some middle-class Britishers to picnic in this remote spot. I would expose their vulgarity. I would cause them to be terribly frightened they knew not why and I would make it clear by subsequent events that they had encountered and offended the Great God Pan.

Three countries, 1959, The Hill of Devi, 290

After some weeks in northern Italy and Austria the Forsters returned to London in October 1902. They settled into a hotel in Bloomsbury, but apart from teaching a weekly Latin class at the working men's college in Great Ormond Street (with which he had connections for some years to come), Forster was no closer to knowing what to do. Then, in the following spring, he went with other Kingsmen on a three-week cruise round the Greek islands. This turned out to be a time of supreme happiness, so much so that the loss of King's now came to matter as much as the loss of Rooksnest: Forster had begun to realize that the companionship of male intellectual equals was what he longed for more than anything else. When, during the previous winter of 1902–3, he and Meredith had an intense if chaste love affair, 'it was, he felt, as if all the “greatness” of the world had been opened up to him. He counted this as the second grand “discovery” of his youth—his emancipation from Christianity being the first' (Furbank, 1.98). He had not yet confronted his homosexuality, but like Ralph in the unpublished fragment 'Ralph and Tony' written at this time: 'he did not need health or self-confidence or success … He merely needed human love, and then without argument or effort all his doubts and weaknesses and unhappiness would disappear' (Arctic Summer, 76).

Weybridge, 1904–1912

Settled once more in a hotel in Bloomsbury, Forster applied to be taken on by the Cambridge University local lectures board: during the years 1903–11 he gave eleven courses entitled 'The republic of Florence' at places such as Harpenden, Lowestoft, and Harrow. A piece about Greece appeared in print, and a short story; the quiet success of these gave him the impetus to return to the early draft of A Room with a View; he also began working on a new edition of the Aeneid. During spring 1904, when he and Lily were living at 11 Drayton Court, in South Kensington, London, he went on writing his novel; then, in July, he abandoned it again and started Where Angels Fear to Tread. By the time they had bought and moved into Harnham (now Revard), 19 Monument Green, Weybridge, Surrey, in September 1904, this, his first published novel, was close to being finished; and here all his six novels were completed or written.

In spring 1905 Forster went to Germany to be tutor to the daughters of the writer Elizabeth von Arnim (the aunt of his friend Sydney Waterlow) at Nassenheide in Pomerania. During that summer three instalments of a long short story appeared in the Independent Review, and by the time he returned to England in September 1905 his career as a writer was a reality: Where Angels Fear to Tread was published in October. 'The object of the book', Forster told R. C. Trevelyan (28 October 1905, Where Angels Fear to Tread, 161) 'is the improvement of Philip', a young Englishman whose sister-in-law marries the son of an Italian dentist; after she dies in childbirth he travels to Italy from Sawston/Tonbridge, 'a joyless, straggling place, full of people who pretended' (ibid., 113), in order to return the baby to England and English values. The novel's brevity, humour, and insight were quite unlike those of any contemporary fiction, as reviewers recognized: 'This is a book which one begins with pleased interest and gradually finds to be astonishing' (Gardner, 43). 'What Mr Forster has done with a refreshing and brilliantly original touch in his novel is … to expose Sawston's ideals and ways of life in the glare of the vertical Italian sun' (ibid., 50).

During winter 1905–6 and all through the next year Forster was at work on The Longest Journey, a novel with strongly autobiographical elements (it was his own favourite) about Rickie Elliott, who is idyllically happy at Cambridge but then stumbles into marriage and a life teaching at an English public school. Its themes are truth and loyalty versus convention and self-interest, the English countryside versus suburbia, the constrictions of bourgeois marriage, the aesthetic impulse versus the worldly, the tragic result of ignoring the defining or ‘symbolic’ moment. It was published in April 1907. 'Critics approve,' wrote its author, 'except the Queen & the World. All say “jerky”, “too many deaths”' (notebook journal, 12 June 1907, E. M. Forster archive).

The pattern of Forster's life was now set—living with Lily in Weybridge and going to stay with Whichelo or Forster relations, or with friends from Cambridge; writing in his room while the domestic life of the household went on downstairs; occasionally giving a lecture or course of lectures; taking long solitary walks; playing the piano; and paying visits in London. His circle was expanding fast and he was getting to know people such as Edward Marsh, Rupert Brooke, Forrest Reid, Edward Garnett, and Lady Ottoline Morrell, and deepening his friendship with members of the Bloomsbury group (particularly Leonard Woolf) and with friends from Cambridge such as George Barger, Edward Dent, and Hilton Young. They were beginning to marry ('the astonishing glass shade had fallen that interposes between married couples and the world'; Howards End, 177) and Forster had begun to see that it was unlikely he would ever do the same, noting 'I'm going to be a minority if not a solitary, and I'd best make copy out of my position' (notebook journal, 21 March 1904, E. M. Forster archive). But two years later he met a young Indian named Syed Ross Masood (1889–1937), to whom he gave Latin coaching before he went up to Oxford, and a close friendship developed; eventually Forster believed himself to be in love, even though he knew, as he wrote in his diary, 'He is not that sort—no one whom I like seems to be' (ibid., 22 Nov 1908).

In summer 1907 Forster went back to his drafts of A Room with a View. He had already written the first part, showing the effect of sunny, uninhibited Italy on the chilly suburban English, and was now at work on the second, in which Lucy, the heroine, returns to England and resumes the kind of life he knew so well; she too escapes from ‘daily life’ through playing the piano, and if she 'ever takes to live as she plays, it will be very exciting—both for us and for her' (A Room with a View, 52). When the novel was published in autumn 1908 the reviews were spread over the usual spectrum from perceptive (C. F. G. Masterman, in The Nation wrote that although each of his characters 'approves of the orderly comfort of the “room”, there is within all of them some wild or exultant element which responds to the high calling of the “view”'; Gardner, 112), to crass ('an irresponsible work about people who never act or talk sanely'; Gardner, 116).

There are two alternatives for Lucy—an unconventional life with the bohemian George, or a conventional one with suburban Cecil. To Forster either was beginning to seem unattainable. 'Am anxious not to widen a gulf that must always remain wide,' he noted; 'there is no doubt that I do not resemble other people, and even they notice it' (notebook journal, 31 Dec 1907, E. M. Forster archive). But a few days later (ibid., 27 Jan 1908) he had a unique vision: the news had come that a man had briefly flown in an air machine.

It's coming quickly, and if I live to be old I shall see the sky as pestilential as the roads. It really is a new civilization. I have been born at the end of the age of peace and can't expect to feel anything but despair. Science, instead of freeing man … is enslaving him to machines. Nationality will go, but the brotherhood of man will not come … The little houses that I am used to will be swept away, the fields will stink of petrol, and the airships will shatter the stars … such a soul as mine will be crushed out.

Later in the year Forster wrote 'The Machine Stops', a short story describing man as he might become after the machine has finally triumphed. It was one of the first of the twentieth century's anti-utopias, written in part as a reaction to H. G. Wells. This vision was also the impetus for Howards End (1910), which contrasts the ideals and preoccupations of the Schlegels and the Wilcoxes and their attempts to connect (the words 'Only connect' appear on the frontispiece), to build 'the rainbow bridge that should connect the prose in us with the passion' (Howards End, 187). It explores themes such as business and imperialism versus the intellect and the imagination; that 'England and Germany are bound to fight' (ibid., 74); the intertwining of money and death because of inherited wealth, exile, and rootlessness; Mr Wilcox's belief that 'one sound man of business did more good to the world than a dozen of your social reformers' (ibid., 38); and the Schlegel sisters' credo that 'personal relations are the important thing for ever and ever, and not this outer life of telegrams and anger' (ibid., 176).

This key sentence links directly with Forster's next novel, Maurice (written in 1910–13). The hero may have been partly based on a King's man named Ernest Merz (1881–1909) who took his own life, and the book seems to have been inspired by Forster's admiration for Edward Carpenter, the author of The Intermediate Sex (1906). We see Maurice's life at Cambridge, his platonic love for Clive, his thoughts of suicide when Clive marries, and his happiness when his love for the gamekeeper Alex is requited; although 'by pleasuring the body Maurice had confirmed … his spirit in its perversion, and cut himself off from the congregation of normal man' (Maurice, 199). One of the few novels about homosexual love to have been written in the years before gay liberation, it could not, of course, be published; but it was revised and quietly circulated among Forster's friends for the next fifty years. It was finally published after his death in 1971 (when some criticized his decision not to publish once it had become legally possible to do so).

After eight intensely creative years Forster was beginning to feel that he had lost his way as a novelist. 'Weariness of the only subject that I both can and may treat—the love of men for women & vice versa' (Locked journal, 16 June 1911, E. M. Forster archive). But he began to write stories on homoerotic themes (published posthumously as The Life to Come in 1972), as well as starting a novel called 'Arctic Summer' in which he tried to imagine, using two characters called Martin and Venetia, what married life would have been like. And now Masood's words two years before—'You know my great wish is to get you to write a book on India, for I feel convinced from what I know of you that it will be a great book' (Furbank, 1.194)—were to take effect: with Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson and R. C. Trevelyan he went on a passage to India.

India, Alexandria, and India again, 1912–1924

Forster arrived in October 1912, staying initially with Masood and his family at Aligarh, and then travelling to Delhi, to Lahore (his first encounter with real Anglo-India), to the Khyber Pass, Simla, Chhatarpur, Bhopal, and Indore (where he was appalled by the English Club). He spent Christmas with his King's friend Malcolm Darling and his wife at Dewas, then went to Allahabad and Benares and visited Masood at Bankipore (Chandrapore in A Passage to India). It was here he finally accepted that he and Masood would never be lovers; that his novel began to germinate; and from where, on 28 January 1913, he went to the Barabar caves. He did a great deal more travelling, before returning to England in April 1913.

In Weybridge Forster managed to write the first seven chapters of A Passage to India and several articles for the New Weekly. But he felt that 'I am leading the life of a little girl so long as I am tied to home' (Forster to Florence Barger, 10 Aug 1913, Selected Letters, 1.229) and that he spent 'his time in rowing old ladies upon the river' (V. Woolf, 31 Aug 1915, Letters, 63). He started working part-time in the cataloguing department of the National Gallery, to some extent as an escape; he was reviewing seriously (he considered Virginia Woolf's The Voyage Out a masterpiece); and he began a book on Samuel Butler. When the First World War broke out his attitude towards it was ambivalent and he was glad to have an excuse to go abroad; in October 1915 he set out for Alexandria, to be a Red Cross searcher tracing missing soldiers. He enjoyed the work, because he felt useful, but the war dismayed him: '“We must fight again as soon as we are strong enough” is all I expect the war to teach Europe' (Forster to Dickinson, 5 April 1916, E. M. Forster archive).

One of the friends Forster made was the poet C. P. Cavafy, and possibly because of him—Cavafy was an active homosexual—he now had his first sexual encounter, and then began an affair with a young tram conductor named Muhammad al-Adl. As well as working for the Red Cross he published short pieces in the Egyptian Gazette and Mail and wrote a guidebook to Alexandria (published in 1922). When he returned to England in January 1919, a few days after his fortieth birthday, the pattern of the rest of his long life was set: he was trying to finish A Passage to India, and wrote the occasional short story; and his intellectual and emotional maturity meant that he was now becoming a respected man of letters. As Virginia Woolf wrote at this time, 'he says the simple things that clever people don't say; I find him the best of critics for that reason' (V. Woolf, 6 Nov 1919, Diary, 1.311).

In 1921 Forster accepted an invitation from the maharaja of Dewas to take up the post of private secretary, partly in the hope that a return to India would give impetus to his novel. He was content in a world which 'can have no parallel, except in a Gilbert and Sullivan opera' (The Hill of Devi, 6), and wrote detailed letters home (published in The Hill of Devi in 1953). Upon leaving he went to Egypt to visit al-Adl, who was seriously ill with tuberculosis and died a few weeks later, and returned to England, according to Virginia Woolf,

depressed to the verge of inanition. To come back to Weybridge, to come back to an ugly house a mile from the station, an old, fussy, exacting mother, to come back having lost your Rajah, without a novel, & with no power to write one … The middle age of b[—]s is not to be contemplated without horror.

V. Woolf, 12 March 1922, Diary, 2.171

Forster himself could foresee that his life would be literary, companionable, yet without love, just as it was before. 'I want to love a strong young man of the lower classes and be loved by him' (28 Aug 1920, Locked journal, E. M. Forster archive) he had written—but he meant permanently. Yet he saw something of writers such as Thomas Hardy, D. H. Lawrence, T. E. Lawrence, Walter de la Mare, Desmond MacCarthy, and Naomi Mitchison; a great deal of others such as Siegfried Sassoon, Sebastian Sprott, and William Plomer; and was intimate with members of the Bloomsbury group such as the Bells, Duncan Grant, Maynard Keynes, and Roger Fry, and with Lytton Strachey and Dora Carrington. Indeed Leonard and Virginia Woolf counted him among their closest friends; and it was only with their active encouragement that he managed to finish his novel.

A Passage to India describes Adela Quested going out to India with the intention of marrying an Englishman whose 'self-complacency, his censoriousness, his lack of subtlety, all grew vivid beneath a tropic sky' (Passage to India, 96). Through her attempts to see the ‘real India’, her encounter with the Indian Aziz and the English Fielding, and her reaction to what happens in the Barabar/Marabar caves, Forster explores themes such as the importance of personal relations, imperialism, Adela's dislike of institutions and the machinery of power, and the impossibility of accord between English and Indian given that the former are 'associated with a system that supported rudeness in railway carriages' (Reflections in India, 21 Jan 1922, The Prince's Tale, 243): 'One touch of regret—not the canny substitute but the true regret from the heart—would have made [Ronny Hislop] a different man, and the British Empire a different institution' (Passage to India, 70). The last third of the book, over which Forster had had such difficulty, explores the Hindu ethos, and was more 'philosophical and poetic' (The Hill of Devi, 298) than anything he had ever written before as it leads to the final, pessimistic conclusion:

‘Why can't we be friends now?’ said [Fielding], holding [Aziz] affectionately. ‘It's what I want. It's what you want.’But the horses didn't want it—they swerved apart; the earth didn't want it …

Passage to India, 316

It was this abyss of separation between the English and the Indians which became fertile ground for post-colonial studies when they emerged in the 1970s: was Forster imposing on the Indians the limitations and prejudices of his English imagination, or was he a pioneer in recognizing an independent Indian identity, whether that of the Westernizing Aziz or of the eternal rhythms of the Hindu masses?

Abinger Hammer, 1925–1945

Early in 1925 Forster and his mother moved to West Hackhurst, Abinger Hammer, Surrey; and a pied-à-terre in London (at Brunswick Square, Bloomsbury) gave Forster some independence and a place to meet the male acquaintances with whom he had casual relationships. He was by now writing for publications such as the Atlantic Monthly, the New Leader, and The Criterion. Early in 1927 he gave the Clark lectures at Trinity College, Cambridge, published as Aspects of the Novel later that year; he was also elected to a supernumerary fellowship at King's College and started to spend six weeks a year in Cambridge. A Passage to India was translated into French by Charles Mauron, with whom he became close friends. A collection of his short stories was published as The Eternal Moment (1928). He also actively promoted Cavafy's poetry and enjoyed a revival of interest in his early novels.

But apart from some hasty sexual encounters, and an affair with a young policeman named Harry Daley in mid-1926, Forster was still lonely. 'Famous, wealthy, miserable' was how he described himself (Locked journal, 2 Jan 1925, E. M. Forster archive), for the huge success of A Passage to India (17,000 copies sold in Britain by the end of 1924 and 54,000 in the USA; 1 million by the time he died in 1970) meant that he was indeed famous. Then, in April 1930, at J. R. Ackerley's house in Hammersmith, he met a young policeman named Robert Joseph (Bob) Buckingham; it was a relationship that lasted until his death. For the last two years 'I have been happy', he wrote in 1932, 'and would like to remind others that their turns can come too. It is the only message worth giving' (Commonplace Book, 94); and, later, 'I am happier now than ever in my life' (7 Oct 1934, Locked journal, E. M. Forster archive). Even after Buckingham's marriage in 1932 the two men continued to be close; eventually Forster became deeply fond of both his wife, May, and of his son Robert Morgan. It was accepted by now that there would be no new novels, and over the years many reasons were put forward about why this was so: his authorized biographer P. N. Furbank suggested that it was because:

he received his whole inspiration—a vision, a kind of plot, a message—all at once, in early manhood. He became an artist because of that early experience, an experience of salvation, and his inspiration as a novelist always harked back to that moment of enlightenment.

Furbank, 2.132

In the 1930s Forster emerged as a public figure representing the liberal conscience. His clear insights, his compassion, his accessibility, and his direct, unaffected tone of voice coalesced with his beautiful prose style and he became a highly respected commentator and broadcaster. In 1928 he had protested publicly against the banning of the lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness. In 1934 he was elected the first president of the National Council for Civil Liberties and in 1939 he sat on the lord chancellor's committee on defamatory libel. He wrote articles, sat on committees, and signed letters on individual liberty, censorship, penal reform, and the rise of fascism (but was never tempted to become a communist). Stephen Spender, who considered Forster, T. S. Eliot, and Virginia Woolf to be the only older writers 'who made themselves present to contemporaries twenty years younger' (The Thirties and After, 1978, 257) wrote:

When during the thirties E. M. Forster appeared on front populaire platforms he did so because the time demanded that he should assume a role in which he had no confidence and for which he felt little enthusiasm. His presence at Congresses of the Intellectuals during the anti-fascist period, and that of young English poets, was an exceptional action produced by exceptional times.

ibid., 187

When the Second World War was imminent he wrote 'Two cheers for democracy', later called 'What I believe', an essay which included the famous credo: 'I hate the idea of causes, and if I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country' (Two Cheers, 76). During the war huge audiences listened to his broadcasts on the BBC, as he argued for the importance of the individual and of personal freedom, and above all for tolerance: the post-war world should be based on 'the negative virtues: not being huffy, touchy, irritable, revengeful' (ibid., 55).

Cambridge again, 1945–1970

Lily died in March 1945 and, to add to Forster's despondency, some months later the West Hackhurst landlord decided not to renew his lease. However, King's were able to offer him an honorary fellowship as well as the room that had been Wedd's. He arrived in Cambridge in November 1946, taking lodgings at 3 Trumpington Street before, in 1953, moving to King's permanently; here he became a familiar and much-loved figure, a symbol of the civilized, liberal values that he had always held so dear. One aspect of these was an antipathy to the showy, a lack of worldliness, which was reflected even in his personal appearance. William Plomer wrote in the 1940s:

In appearance he was the reverse of a dandy. Incurious fellow passengers in a train, seeing him in a cheap cloth cap and a scruffy waterproof, and carrying the sort of little bag that might have been carried in 1890 by the man who came to wind the clocks, might have thought him a dim provincial of settled habits and taken no more notice of him.

Plomer, 107

During his last quarter of a century Forster travelled, went to stay with the Buckinghams, saw friends (many old ones, but also each new generation of undergraduates, including P. N. Furbank), wrote articles, and dealt with a vast correspondence—all the accoutrements of the successful elder statesman's literary life. He was translated into numerous languages and, especially after Lionel Trilling published his critical book in 1944, began to be taken seriously by literary critics. He refused permission for his books to be made into films, perhaps fearing the simplifications and nostalgic glow of the widely acclaimed films of David Lean and Merchant–Ivory made after his death. With Eric Crozier he wrote the libretto for Benjamin Britten's opera Billy Budd (1951). Abinger Harvest, a collection of his essays and reviews, had been published in 1936 and a second collection, Two Cheers for Democracy, appeared in 1951. His biography of Marianne Thornton appeared in 1956. In 1960 he was a defence witness in the case brought by the crown against Penguin Books after the publication of Lady Chatterley's Lover. But it was at about this time that there were muttered attacks by contemporaries on Forster's public reticence on the subject of his homosexuality: Angus Wilson was one of those who criticized what he saw as his lack of moral courage for not openly declaring his sexual orientation. Yet Forster, who was by then nearly eighty, gave a large donation to the Homosexual Law Reform Society in the 1960s and wrote the occasional article quietly championing reform of the law.

Forster refused a knighthood in 1949 ('I seem to be a Great Man', he said wearily to J. R. Ackerley; Ackerley, 12), but in 1953 became a Companion of Honour and on his ninetieth birthday received the Order of Merit. He received eight honorary degrees. Honours such as these recognized that Forster was not only one of the most important novelists of the twentieth century but also, in the words of Lord Annan, that 'he spoke for liberal humanism':

No one wrote with greater simplicity or originality in defence of such well-worn concepts as liberty, democracy, and tolerance. He was unafraid of the contradictions in life which he believed liberals ought to face: that friendship may mean being hard on friends; that freedom and art depended on money and inequality; that racial prejudice was iniquitous but that it was folly to deny that chasms between cultures and races existed and that the bridges between them were flimsy; that his working-class friends needed houses but the new housing estates meant the death of rural England and destroyed man's healing contact with nature. But if a choice had to be made he would make it. He distrusted size, pomp, the Establishment, empires, politics, the upper classes, planners, institutions. He put his trust in individuals, small groups and insignificant people, the life of the heart and mind, personal relations.


It was at King's in May 1970 that Forster had a stroke, after a succession of smaller ones during the previous months. He was well enough to be moved to the Buckinghams' house at 11 Salisbury Avenue, Coventry, and here he died on 7 June. He was cremated and his ashes scattered on the rose bed in Coventry's crematorium.

In the thirty years after Forster's death the huge success of the Merchant–Ivory films has made a new generation familiar with the novels, most of which continue to be available in paperback. However, the average high street bookshop finds room for only one or two of them, and then only if they are texts for schools; neither of the two biographies is in print. Yet E. M. Forster is one of the greatest English novelists of the twentieth century and his remark, in an interview in 1959, that 'I am quite sure I am not a great novelist' will one day be seen as far too modest.


  • J. H. Stape, An E. M. Forster chronology (1993)
  • M. Lago, ed., Calendar of the letters of E. M. Forster (1985)
  • F. King, E. M. Forster and his world (1978)
  • N. Beauman, Morgan: a biography of E. M. Forster (1993)
  • L. Trilling, E. M. Forster (1944)
  • B. J. Kirkpatrick, A bibliography of E. M. Forster (1965)
  • F. P. W. McDowell, E. M. Forster: an annotated bibliography of writings about him (1976)
  • P. Gardner, ed., E. M. Forster: the critical heritage (1973)
  • J. Stape, E. M. Forster: interviews and recollections (1993)
  • E. M. Forster, Marianne Thornton (1956)
  • E. M. Forster, The hill of Devi, ed. E. Heine (1983)
  • E. M. Forster, ‘Arctic summer’ and other fiction, ed. E. Heine (1980)
  • [E. M. Forster], ‘The prince's tale’ and other uncollected writings, ed. P. N. Furbank (1998)
  • E. M. Forster, Maurice (1971)
  • The letters of Virginia Woolf, ed. A. O. Bell, 2 (1980)
  • The diary of Virginia Woolf, ed. A. O. Bell and A. McNeillie, 5 vols. (1977–84), vols. 1–2
  • L. Woolf, Sowing (1960)
  • W. Plomer, At home (1958)
  • J. R. Ackerley, E. M. Forster: a portrait (1970)
  • W. Cowper, ‘In memory of the late John Thornton esq’, Works, 10.31 [Nov 1790]
  • d. cert.


  • King's AC Cam., corresp., literary MSS, journals, other papers
  • NRA, letters
  • University of San Francisco, Richard A. Gleeson Library, letters and literary MSS
  • BL, letters to S. S. Koteliansky, Add. MS 48974
  • BL, corresp. with the Society of Authors, Add. MS 56704
  • BL, corresp. with Marie Stopes, Add. MS 58502
  • Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with Sibyl Colefax
  • Bodl. Oxf., letters to E. J. Thompson
  • CUL, letters to V. N. Datta
  • CUL, letters to Lord Kennet and Lady Kennet
  • Hunt. L., corresp. with Christopher Isherwood
  • King's AC Cam., letters to Sir George Barnes
  • King's AC Cam., letters to Vanessa Bell
  • King's AC Cam., corresp. with the Buckingham family
  • King's AC Cam., corresp. with A. E. Felkin
  • King's AC Cam., corresp. with J. M. Keynes
  • King's AC Cam., letters, postcards, and telegram to G. H. W. Rylands
  • King's AC Cam., letters to W. G. H. Sprott
  • King's Lond., Liddell Hart C., corresp. with Sir B. H. Liddell Hart
  • Lpool RO, corresp. with James Hanley
  • NL Scot., letters to Naomi Mitchison
  • Ransom HRC, letters to Hugh Walpole
  • Tate collection, corresp. with Lord Clark
  • Trinity Cam., letters to Elizabeth Trevelyan
  • U. Durham, letters to William Plomer
  • U. Sussex, letters to Kingsley Martin
  • U. Sussex, corresp. with New Statesman magazine
  • U. Sussex, corresp. with Leonard Woolf
  • U. Sussex, corresp. with Leonard Woolf and Virginia Woolf
  • University of Bristol Library, corresp. and statements relating to the trial of Lady Chatterley's lover
  • University of Victoria, British Columbia, McPherson Library, letters to Sir Alex Randall


  • BL NSA, performance recordings


  • R. Fry, portrait, 1911, Evert Barger collection
  • D. Grant, pencil, 1919, NPG
  • D. Carrington, oils, 1920, NPG [see illus.]
  • W. Rothenstein, chalk drawing, 1923, King's Cam.
  • E. Kapp, drawing, 1930, King's Cam.
  • E. Kapp, drawing, 1930, Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham
  • H. Coster, photographs, 1930–39, NPG
  • M. Beerbohm, caricature, drawing, 1940, King's Cam.
  • B. Brandt, photograph, 1947, NPG
  • F. Topolski, pen-and-ink, 1960, NPG
  • D. Bachardy, pencil, 1961, NPG
  • F. Topolski, oils, 1961, U. Texas
  • C. Beaton, photograph, NPG
  • photographs, Hult. Arch.
  • photographs, King's Cam.

Wealth at Death

£68,298: probate, 6 Nov 1970, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

, 63 vols. (1885–1900), suppl., 3 vols. (1901); repr. in 22 vols. (1908–9); 10 further suppls. (1912–96); (1993)