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E.M. Forster: Novelist, Short Story Writer, Essayist and Librettist

English novelist, short story writer, essayist and librettist E.M. Forster (Edward Morgan Forster) born in England in 1879, receiving an honorary doctorate from Leiden University (1954). Photo: Joop van Bilsen (ANEFO) – Cropped from GaHetNa (Nationaal Archief NL) CC BY 4.0

NEW YORK, NY – From my earliest youth, I have loved literature and philosophy. When I was a young person, there were always books in the house galore and my mother was an English teacher and a librarian; my father was a lawyer and the author of a classical legal text “Disputed Paternity Proceedings.” Both my sisters have advanced degrees in classical music, classical languages, and Greek and Latin, and one sister is a Doctor of Theology. From my earliest youth, I have loved and have had a life of learning. English literature was and is my first love that has always been part of me since my days began, as well as the many years of study in classical languages, Greek and Latin and also Hebrew, from high school on through college, and ending in three years of graduate school where I concentrated in classics in college and graduate school but also came to know and love Hebrew and the Hebrew bible; the Psalms; Genesis; and the Book of Job. Since my days began, I have loved the great English writers such as Dickens, Donne, Milton, Conrad, Keats, Shelly, Byron, Browning, Tennyson, James, Sir Walter Scott, Jane Austen, and many others, some largely forgotten and no longer noticed or not read in the rush of modernity and the current fashionable and the politically correct world.

When I read these writers, first my mind and thinking are uplifted and; second, I am entranced by the beauty of their style and the sounds and beauty of their verbal expressions or, perhaps better put, the vocalic sounds of their words. The same is true of the great thinkers of the past such as William James, John Stuart Mill, and Bertrand Russell, whose thinking challenges me and emboldens me to think more deeply and with wider care and concern for their thoughts and the expression of these thoughts. For my classical education, I owe a great debt to the great classical writers such as Vergil, Livy, Horace, Catullus, Homer, Greek lyric poetry, and the tragedians such as Euripides.

Moving on to an author I deeply love and care for may be known to few in this present day, but he was a very great novelist, one, I think, of the greatest. E.M. Forster (Edward Morgan Forster) was born in England in 1879, attended the Tonbridge School as a boy, and went on to Kings College Cambridge where he later became a fellow. He made several trips to India. He related his experiences as he recollected them in his book “The Longest Journey.” At Tonbridge, he wrote a number of books, one called “A Room with a View,” which analyzed and dissected a tour of Italy by Lucy Honeychurch who is portrayed as stifled and inhibited by the restrictive conventions of Edwardian England. A similar theme is presented in his book “Where Angels Fear to Tread” when a young English widow takes off on the grand tour and marries along the way a penniless Italian. The marriage fails and Lilia dies tragically, and the widow has a baby. Again, the theme is visited by Mr. Forster in these earlier books including the book entitled “A Room with a View” and the others Forster writes of cultural collision and the dryness and sterility of the English Middle class.

What I regard as his greatest work that no person who does not read these books has not lived fully and absolutely, although I am not entirely sure of this statement and opinion, is “Howard’s End.” Forster returns to earlier themes where he follows the relationship of the Wilcox family, ancient landed aristocrats whose sole concern is their money and keeping it and increasing it, and the Schlegel sisters, Helen and Margaret, cultivated and liberal and formed and attracted to art and the artistic. E.M. Foster in this very great novel examines the tension and clash of the materialism and greed with artistic sensitivity and the novel examines the clash of art as against commercial and monied values. The novel examines the tension of class-bound materialism with art and beauty; the book sets about to examine class tensions and their possible resolution.

Finally, E.M. Forster’s other great book is “A Passage to India,” which examines the clash between western and eastern culture during British rule in India through the lens of a rape accusation. E.M. Forster is the most sensitive of writers and through his most sensitive lens the reader is presented the dynamics of personal relations.

For me E.M. Forster is and always will be the greatest of English writers, and of all writers, since in the two books I have spoken of and mentioned here can be seen and understood the clash of cultures on the thinnest of intellectual surfaces and the clash of class relations and values. Whether these continue to be a living issue I am not sure, but his examination of social and personal relations remains compelling and well worth our understanding and examination.

For those who wish, with Mr. Forster, to go beneath the surface to the intricacy of human relations, I recommend you get and read these books, as well as “Two Cheers for Democracy” and “Abinger Harvest.” They will change and transform you in their most beautiful English language style, and will change you in every way in spirit, soul, and person.

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