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Forster, E(dward) M(organ) 1879-1970
English short story writer, novelist, essayist, critic, travel writer, biographer, dramatist, librettist, and non-fiction writer.
Forster is best known as the author of Howards End (1910) and A Passage to India (1924), novels of manners depicting British morality and Edwardian society, but he is also recognized...
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- Critical Essays
Forster, E(dward) M(organ) 1879-1970
English short story writer, novelist, essayist, critic, travel writer, biographer, dramatist, librettist, and non-fiction writer.
Forster is best known as the author of Howards End (1910) and A Passage to India (1924), novels of manners depicting British morality and Edwardian society, but he is also recognized as a short story writer of considerable distinction. In the two collections published during Forster's lifetime—The Celestial Omnibus (1911) and The Eternal Moment (1928)—and in the posthumous collections The Life to Come (1972) and Arctic Summer (1980), readers find the essential Forster themes that figure so prominently in the longer works: the deficiencies of the undeveloped heart, the repressiveness of modern civilization, the possibility of transcendence, and the saving power of love. These themes are underscored by Forster's explorations of various mythologies and are imbued with his comic genius and liberal humanism. Forster scholars praise his exquisite craftsmanship, his success in creating believable characters placed in extraordinary situations, and his skillful fusion of realism and fantasy, of the natural and the supernatural. Recent cinematic adaptations of several of his novels and the posthumous publication of his letters, the novel Maurice (1971), and the short story collections, containing previously suppressed works replete with homosexual themes, have prompted critical revaluation and enhanced Forster's reputation as a major twentieth-century author.
Forster led a quiet upper middle-class boyhood, an only child cosseted by his widowed mother and other female relations. Among these was his great-aunt Marianne Thornton, whose legacy later enabled Forster to write without worrying about earning a living. After an unhappy period of public schooling in a conformist atmosphere, he attended Cambridge University where he enjoyed close relationships with a number of legendary teachers, including historians Oscar Browning, Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson, and philosopher G. E. Moore. Cambridge's influence on Forster was immense, for there he found intellectual stimulation, encouragement, and friendship. An important friendship was with classmate H. O. Meredith, whose homosexuality helped Forster to recognize his own sexual inclinations. With Meredith's aid, Forster became a member of the Cambridge Apostles, a society of intellectuals, which included Lytton Strachey and John Maynard Keynes. This society later evolved into the Bloomsbury Group, informally led by Virginia Woolf at her London home. Forster shared with the Bloomsbury Group a belief in the importance of the individual, a disdain for conventional values, a commitment to friendship, and a passion for truth, but differed from them in his greater affinity with the visionary and transcendent. Upon graduation, Forster traveled throughout the Mediterranean region, acquiring materials he would use in his essays, novels, and short stories. In 1902 he wrote his first short story, "The Story of a Panic," in which he employs a Mediterranean setting and Greek mythology to contrast the inhibited and complacent English culture with the spontaneous Italian culture; his first published short story, "Albergo Empedocle" (1903) and his first novel Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905) likewise use a Mediterranean setting to create a similar contrast. The years between 1903 and 1910 were tremendously productive for Forster, for he wrote four novels which are widely regarded as Edwardian masterpieces: Where Angels Fear to Tread, The Longest Journey (1907), A Room with a View (1908), and Howards End (1910). In 1911 Forster collected six stories under the title The Celestial Omnibus. A period of silence followed the publication of this collection, for with the exception of one short story published by the Woolfs' Hogarth Press, Forster did not publish any of his fiction until 1924 when A Passage to India, his most critically acclaimed novel, appeared before the public. Yet during this period and throughout his life, Forster privately continued to write fiction and to circulate his work among trusted friends. The homoerotic novel Maurice and several of the short stories of The Life to Come date from this period, although they remained unpublished until after Forster's death. Despite the public enthusiasm for Forster's work, occasioned in particular by A Passage to India, the publication of the short story collection The Eternal Moment marked the end of Forster's public fiction-writing. Henceforth, Forster devoted his artistry to literary criticism, travel writing, essays, and biographies. Following his death in 1970, Forster's editors published Maurice, The Life to Come, and Arctic Summer, a collection containing novel fragments and several short stories. The publishing of these works, in which homoeroticism figures heavily, and the disclosure of Forster's homosexuality by his biographers have illuminated Forster's personality and literary imagination.
Major Works of Short Fiction
The majority of Forster's short stories reveal a characteristic uniting of realism and fantasy. Enlarging upon the Victorian tradition of fantasy writing, Forster used the supernatural in his stories to break free from the restrictions of Edwardian society and to satirize its numerous failings. Of central importance to many of the early short stories is the mythological god of the woods, Pan, who in these stories symbolizes both man's primitive impulses and the formidable power of nature. In four of the stories from The Celestial Omnibus, Pan acts as a destructive but ultimately liberating force; those who encounter Pan are joyously transformed and their lives changed forever. Forster's short stories provide a sharp contrast between those who unite joyfully with Pan and those unfortunate individuals who lack vision or the possibility of transcendence. Thus, in "The Story of A Panic," Eustace, an unimaginative youth, is physically and spiritually vitalized after his vision of Pan, but his freedom entails the death of the sympathetic Italian serving boy who helps Eustace to escape from self-righteous relatives and hypocritical tourists. "The Road from Colonus" also relies on the opposition between vision and anti-vision, between nature and society, for it portrays an old man who momentarily achieves spiritual harmony with nature before his hypocritical daughter drags him from a sacred Greek shrine back to his joyless and noisy flat where he spends the remainder of his life in peevish misery. "The Celestial Omnibus" likewise reveals Forster's dissatisfaction with philistine middle-class values. In this story he satirizes those smug individuals who fail to recognize spiritual salvation when it presents itself, here in the form of the world's great literature.
Forster's concern with salvation is deepened in the stories of the second collection, The Eternal Moment, wherein he focuses on the need for people to recognize their bonds with each other. The principal theme of these stories may be summed up in the epigraph of his novel Howards End: "only connect." In this collection, critics have observed a change in the mood of his writing, for Forster's tone is less playful, less assured, and less hopeful. The somber work, "The Story of the Siren," demonstrates Forster's darkened view of man's fate. An Italian boatman tells a group of tourists of his brother's supernatural encounter with the Siren, a cosmic being who reveals the dire message of man's predicament, and of his subsequent marriage to a woman who had also seen the Siren. When his wife conceives a child, the corrupt townspeople fear she is carrying the Antichrist, and an evil priest pushes the pregnant woman from a cliff, thereby destroying their only connection to truth and possible salvation. In the apocalyptic science-fiction story, "The Machine Stops," Forster depicts an anti-Utopia where a giant machine dominates all aspects of life, and people have become dehumanized and isolated from each other. Kuno, the youthful hero who revolts against his barren existence, escapes from his underground cell and reunites with his mother briefly before he dies with the rest of his civilization. Although Forster suggests a new and more humane civilization may arise from the ashes of the destroyed machine-world, the story's horrific images of a sterile society prevail. "The Eternal Moment," a realistic narrative widely regarded as one of Forster's best short stories, similarly ends on an ambiguous note. Miss Raby, a middle-aged writer, returns to the place where she had experienced the most meaningful moment of her life, only to find that all has changed for the worse, including the handsome young guide who had confessed his passionate love for her. She is unable to reconnect with her former admirer or to recapture that lost moment of opportunity.
The short stories of the posthumous collection, The Life to Come, represent a new direction for Forster, in that many deal with explicitly homosexual issues. Yet typical Forster themes are present, particularly that of the undeveloped heart. In the most highly regarded stories, a character's denial of love reveals the constricting effects of conventional society and leads to his physical, emotional, or spiritual death. In "The Life to Come," a Christian missionary, who becomes a native's lover for one night, denies his feelings for his lover who later stabs him to death before killing himself. In "Dr Woolacott" a dying patient refuses the aid of his doctor and chooses instead the spirit-saving love of an unknown boy, even though his choice causes his physical death. "The Other Boat" tells of a homosexual liaison between two men of different cultures and ends with the death of both when the English officer kills his manipulative Indian lover and then jumps into the sea. "Ralph and Tony," from the Arctic Summer collection, similarly explores a relationship underscored by violence; the primitive Tony is unable to accept his homosexual feelings toward the effete Ralph and repeatedly acts with cruelty and aggression toward him, only to become completely powerless when his heart fails. In this, as in his other short stories, Forster exhibits fully his characteristic approach to the ambiguous aspects of human experience, namely that the efforts to reconcile truth and love are worthy and commendable, even if such a reconciliation is ultimately impossible.
Although Forster's short stories have never lacked appreciative readers, they have always been overshadowed by his novels. Lionel Trilling, whose pioneering study of Forster's liberal humanism established Forster as a leading author, set the tone for the discussion of the short stories when he described them as a useful index to the themes, symbols, and aesthetic techniques developed more successfully in the longer works. In general, critics have noted the special demands exacted by Forster's use of fantasy; they have either praised it as a marvelous vehicle of social satire or dismissed Forster's use of the supernatural as whimsical and irrelevant. For many critics, Forster's fantasies seemed particularly outdated after the horrible realities of World War I. Accordingly, the realistic story "The Eternal Moment" and the anti-Utopian story "The Machine Stops" have found greater favor with readers, not only for their darker vision, but also for their subtleties of characterization. Forster suppressed his homoerotic fiction during his lifetime because of the criminalization of homosexual acts and public attitudes toward homosexuality, but the posthumous publication of this fiction has reinvigorated Forster scholarship. Critics have found the stories of A Life to Come and Arctic Summer extraordinarily revealing, not only of Foster's personal life, but of his works as a whole. His admirers note that from beginning to end, Forster's artistic vision has revealed a keen understanding of life's complexities. Truth, beauty, desire, love, transcendence, connection, the impoverishment of the spirit—these are the themes that Forster handled deftly in a considerable number of his short stories. Critics agree that Forster's genius was better suited to the novel, but many observe that some of his short stories are powerful statements of Forster's ethos and rank among his best works of fiction. Remarkable achievements in their own right, Forster's most successful short stories incorporate social criticism with psychologically acute characterization, narrative complexity, and a luminous style. Forster's best stories make clear that although he was not a master of the short story, he was a distinguished practitioner of the art of short fiction writing, indeed, a short story writer of considerable imagination and merit.
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The Celestial Omnibus and Other Stories 1911
The Story of the Siren 1920
The Eternal Moment and Other Stories 1928
The Collected Tales of E. M. Forster 1947 [published in England as Collected Short Stories of E. M. Forster, 1948]
Albergo Empedocle and Other Writings 1971
The Life to Come and Other Stories 1972
Arctic Summer and Other Fiction (short stories, novel fragments, sketches) 1980
The New Collected Short Stories of E. M. Forster 1985
Other Major Works
Where Angels Fear to Tread (novel) 1905
The Longest Journey (novel) 1907
A Room with a View (novel) 1908
Howards End (novel) 1910
The Government of Egypt (history) 1920
Alexandria: A History and a Guide 1922
Pharos and Pharillon (history) 1923
A Passage to India (novel) 1924
Anonymity: An Enquiry (essay) 1925
Aspects of the Novel (criticism) 1927
A Letter to Madam Blanchard 1931
Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson (biography) 1934
Abinger Harvest (essays) 1936
What I Believe (essays) 1939
England's Pleasant Land, a Pageant Play 1940
Nordic Twilight (essays) 1940
Virginia Woolf: The Rede Lecture (criticism) 1942
The Development of English Prose Between 1918 and 1939 (criticism) 1944
Billy Budd: An Opera in Four Acts (libretto) 1951
Two Cheers for Democracy (essays) 1951
Desmond MacCarthy (criticism) 1952
The Hill of Devi (letters and reminiscences) 1953
Marianne Thornton (1797-1887): A Domestic Biography 1956
Maurice (novel) 1971
Commonplace Book (journal) 1978
The Abinger Edition of E. M. Forster 4 vols. 1972-84
Selected Letters of E. M. Forster 2 vols. 1983-84
Original Letters from India 1986
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SOURCE: "Throw Them Overboard!" in Novels and Novelists, Knopf, 1930, pp. 246-48.
[In this review, Mansfield, a highly respected writer and literary critic, cautiously praises Forster's "Story of the Siren" for its sensibility and humor, but notes that he does not entirely commit his imagination to his writing.]
The delightful event of a new story by Mr. E. M. Forster sets us wishing that it had not been so long to wait between his last novel and his new book. He is one of the very few younger English writers whose gifts are of a kind to compel our curiosity as well as our admiration. There is in all his novels a very delicate sense of the value of atmosphere, a fine precision of expression, and his appreciation of the uniqueness of the characters he portrays awakens in him a kind of special humour, half whimsical, half sympathetic. It is in his best-known novel, Howard's End, that he is most successful in conveying to the reader the effect of an assurance that he possesses a vision which reigns within; but in Howard's End, though less than elsewhere, we are teased by the feeling, difficult to define, that he has by no means exerted the whole of his imaginative power to create that world for his readers. This, indeed, it is which engages our curiosity. How is it that the writer is content to do less than explore his own delectable country?
There is a certain leisureliness which is of the very essence of Mr. Forster's style—a constant and fastidious choosing of what the unity shall be composed—but while admitting the necessity for this and the charm of it, we cannot deny the danger to the writer of drifting, of finding himself beset with fascinating preoccupations which tempt him to put off or even to turn aside from the difficulties which are outside his easy reach. In the case of Mr. Forster the danger is peculiarly urgent because of his extreme reluctance to—shall we say?—commit himself wholly. By letting himself be borne along, by welcoming any number of diversions, he can still appear to be a stranger, a wanderer, within the boundaries of his own country, and so escape from any declaration of allegiance. To sum this up as a cynical attitude on the part of the author would be, we are convinced, to do him a profound wrong. Might it not be that his conscience is over-developed, that he is himself his severest critic, his own reader full of eyes? So aware is he of his sensitiveness, his sense of humour, that they are become two spectators who follow him wherever he goes, and are for ever on the look-out for a display of feeling. . . .
It was the presence of 'my aunt and the chaplain' on the first page of 'The Story of the Siren' which suggested the tentative explanation above. The teller of the story is in a boat outside a little grotto on a great sunlit rock in the Mediterranean. His notebook has dropped over the side.
'It is such a pity,' said my aunt, 'that you will not finish your work at the hotel. Then you would have been free to enjoy yourself and this would never have happened.'
'Nothing of it but will change into something rich and strange,' warbled the chaplain. . . .
It would be extremely unfair to suggest that Mr. Forster's novels are alive with aunts and black with chaplains, and yet those two figures are so extraordinarily familiar, that we caught ourselves unjustifiably wondering why there must always be, on every adventure, an aunt and a warbling chaplain. Why must they always be there in the boat, bright, merciless, clad from head to foot in the armour of efficiency?
It is true that in this particular story the hero escapes from them almost immediately. He and Giuseppe are left on a rock outside the cave, so that the boatman may dive and recover his notebook. But the mischief is done. All through the enchanting story told by Giuseppe after the book is rescued, we seem to hear a ghostly accompaniment. They 'had been left together in a magic world, apart from all the commonplaces that are called reality, a world of blue whose floor was the sea and whose walls and roof of rock trembled with the sea's reflections'; but something has happened there which should not have happened there—so that the radiance is faintly dimmed, and that beautiful trembling blue is somehow just blurred, and the voice of Giuseppe has an edge on it which makes it his voice for the foreigner: the aunt and the chaplain, in fine, are never to be wholly got rid of. By this we do not wish to suggest for one moment that the key of the story should be changed, should be pitched any lower. It is exquisitely right. But we do wish Mr. Forster would believe that his music is too good to need any bush.
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SOURCE: Review of The Celestial Omnibus and Other Stories, in Dial, Vol. 76, 1924, pp. 452-56.
[In the following excerpt, Miles comments that civility is the essential quality of Forster's writing.]
Polite and distinguished is the solitude of Mr. Forster in the clatter of English letters. Within its security he stands alone, no giant prophet in a wilderness, not even a chef d'école, but urbanely, tranquilly, unmistakably unique. His solitary figure evokes (does it?) one of those discreetly elegant little houses lingering still on the outward fringes of London, modest country manors hardly a century ago, but encompassed now and for evermore by the hosts of, it is said, desirable villas. O and alas! All too obviously are those villas kept in touch with the conveniences of a metropolis by clanging tram-cars and scarlet buses, and, spiritually, by all the communistical apparatus of gramophones and broadcasting and circulating libraries. But somehow, in the general and miserable barbarism, the Forsterian manor remains inviolate, tinged perhaps with the delicately regretful melancholy of the virgin, but selfpossessed, integral, and in the best sense familiar. Passing within, one is aware that here at least, behind those curving bay-windows, there live books which will never return strapped and ticketed to their library, and music that is still played (yes) by hand, that it is still possible in summer to take one's tea (China, of course) outside under the Araucaria, and look southward towards Surrey and the Dorking Gap. Here the Times brings its news of the encroaching world and the tiny fluctuations of the more gilt-edged stocks; and although one cannot help being aware of these tram-cars lunging past on the roadway outside, even their roar is held back from a too damaging irruption into the Schumann sonatas, or, when the rector calls, the tea-table talk of the parish, or the plans for Easter at Assisi, by that lofty wall, topped with sherds of broken glass, which Grandfather so far-sightedly had strengthened and heightened, about the year of the Great Exhibition. . . .
But the peculiar and endearing virtue of Mr. Forster is simply this: that he is consummately civilized.
Alarming enigma! So far is this quality to seek among our novelists, that the fact of its existence has confounded half of Mr. Forster's critics, however much it has delighted his inarticulate admirers. Only watch his reviewers: with what anxious enthusiasm they have hastened to heap upon his slightly deprecating figure the very dearest jewels of their little thesaurus: charm, of course, and subtlety and insight, a beauty wild and strange, and wit—and a hundred more have been proffered. In vain. The enigma remains. When we feel that a writer is being adequately served by the bestowal of these amiable, decorative comments, we may wonder whether the bedizened one is anything more than a nine-days' marvel. But when (the case is rarer) their apt profusion leaves him still naked and unexplained, may we not be fairly certain that the content of his writing is of some stuff richer than at first sight appears?
For Mr. Forster's work, I would make that claim. Epithets leave it undescribed. Admittedly: no giant, no innovator, no seer. But the fact remains that somehow—by virtue, I would urge, of the peculiarly civilized quality pervading all his work—Mr. Forster is left standing alone among the English writers of our generation. Observe that none of the superficialities or voguish manners of "civilized" writing are here in question at all. The virtue of Mr. Forster is no painstaking sophistication of wit or intellect. Nor is it the elaborated urbanity of a Beerbohm. It is neither exotic nor saugrenu. It rests never on any glyptic cunning in words: on the contrary, his style is simple and direct with the trim, intuitive precision of Jane Austen. Its roots are deeper, springing from an intrinsic richness of human experience, a delicate sensibility to humane values. . . .
And in the half-dozen stories which make up The Celestial Omnibus, the seen and the unseen, gentlemen and demigods, are merged with a certainty and cunning of touch that leaves Mr. Forster, with this one volume (plus a single story, "The Song of the Siren," published separately) almost unrivalled in the genre. It is needless to comment on them. In themselves, they are complete and self-explanatory. They spring from a rare intimacy with that great pagan emotion which was too suddenly stilled when Thamus the mariner heard, over the Aegean, the false cry that a god was dead. In essence, they are more than the neat triflings of a story-writer with a taste for classical mythology; it would be wrong to be deceived by their air of polite and humorous detachment. "How suddenly," said Nietzsche, "the wilderness of our exhausted culture changes when the Dionysian magic touches it! A hurricane seizes all that is decrepit and decaying, collapsed and stunted—wraps it whirling into a red cloud of dust, and carries it like a vulture into the air . . . " And so on, tumultuously. In the sudden clarity of the "Dionysian magic," Nietzsche found the birth of Tragedy: in the touch of Pan upon the staleness and lethargy of our etiolated modern minds, Mr. Forster has seen a birth of finer life and deeper understanding. Thank God, he is far too agreeable a writer to say so, heavily, there, like that: but the best of his stories slip almost imperceptibly into one's consciousness, like poems, lingering, and evoking greater images than, in their modesty, they ventured to present.
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SOURCE: "E. M. Forster in the Vein of Fantasy," in The New York Times Book Review, May 6, 1928, p. 9.
[In this favorable review, Kronenberger notes Forster's successful venture into the realm of fantasy literature.]
"What does fantasy ask of us?" says Forster in his extraordinarily stimulating book called Aspects of the Novel, and then proceeds.
It asks us to pay something extra . . . It demands an additional adjustment because of the oddness of its method or subject matter—like a sideshow in an exhibition where you have to pay sixpence as well as the original entrance fee. Some readers pay with delight . . . others refuse with indignation.
Mr. Forster himself presents the case for his book of fantastic stories, The Eternal Moment. Either you are temperamentally minded to accept fantasy—to pay the extra sixpence—or you are not. Adeptness on the author's part counts, of course; but fantasy is so special a form of literature, appeals so unreservedly to one sensitive reader while leaving another equally sensitive reader cold, that it is less a question of creative art than of receptiveness in the reader. Not, to be sure, that all readers who can accept fantasy are alike; they must again be redivided according to their further equipment and culture, and where Jules Verne will do for some, for others who are charmed with Forster or Max Beerbohm he will not do at all.
Five of the six stories in The Eternal Moment are fantasies; and though the sixth story is unquestionably the finest of all, the other five are altogether worth reading—if you like fantasy. Not only do they offer us a new side of Forster's writing, but they give us variations of fantasy ranging from plainly humorous satire to plainly serious satire, from the visionary to the supernatural. Of the five stories, "The Machine Stops" is the most ambitious and powerful; and when we remember that it was written at least fifteen years ago, it seems even more of an achievement. "The Machine Stops" pictures for us a machine age of the future when people live not on but under the earth, quite alone, breathing artificial air, seeing and communicating with each other from afar, abhorring emotion and physical contact, and worshiping the machine which keeps them alive. This sort of thing is not new, of course; it remains for Forster to go beyond it, to picture the end of the machine age, the disruption of machine power and with the death of the machine the death of the universe, whose inhabitants are left helpless in a ruined world. It is a vividly imaginative satire, blocked out in heavy lines and then shaded with clever detail.
The four other fantasies are less important and successful, though three of them are highly enjoyable stories full—as the case may be—of charming humor and satire, delightful background, and (if you care to notice them) significant overtones. The fourth is called "The Point of It," but the point of it isn't plain. This is Mr. Forster's one failure in fantasy.
The sixth story in the book is not a fantasy at all. "The Eternal Moment" is an extraordinarily penetrating and subtle story which recalls the more familiar Forster of ARoom with a View. To summarize it would be difficult. It concerns a middle-aged woman novelist who returns to the little Alpine town she has ruined by making famous, to find the guide who had made love to her twenty years before now a "civilized" concierge, and who finds, suddenly, that all these years she has loved this guide, though she had repulsed him. She can love him no more. She has done unconscious mischief celebrating the town in her book. She tries anew to make amends—and fails. She understands much that nobody else understands, faces much that embarrasses or distresses others—but it does not help. A superbly told story, "The Eternal Moment" comes close to being also a profound one. It makes clear once again the impotence of both fine intelligence and fine emotion when there is nobody to appreciate or share them. It ranks with the best of Forster's work. The book to which it gives its name ranks lower, but presents a new side of a distinguished writer.
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SOURCE: Review of The Eternal Moment and Other Stories, in The Nation & Athenaeum, May 12, 1928, p. 184.
[In this mixed assessment, Muir praises the genius of several stories, but describes the remainder of the collection as flawed by sociological concerns.]
"These stories," Mr. Forster informs us, "were written at various dates previous to 1914, and represent, with those in the Celestial Omnibus volume, all that the writer is likely to attempt in a particular line." There is nothing for it but to accept this fact; Mr. Forster is the only judge of the matter; but the reader cannot but regret that an imagination so just and so original should cease to express itself in the form where its justice and originality are most incontestably evinced. When, apropos such novels as APassage to India, critics speak of Mr. Forster's genius, one has a feeling of doubt; talent, a talent so accomplished as to attain exquisiteness, one may allow the book; but there is some thing missing, and that, one imagines, is precisely genius. But if genius be the power to do what nobody else can, it cannot be denied to certain stories in this volume. The best are the deliberately symbolical, the stories about Heaven and Hell, and the supernatural in general. Of these, "The Point of It" and "The Siren's Story" are perhaps the most remarkable. The first is the tale of an amiable, sympathetic, cultured man before and after death. He is received into Hell. "He had seen good in everything, and this is itself a sign of decay. Whatever occurred he had been appreciative, tolerant, pliant. . . . He had mistaken self-criticism for self discipline, he had muffled in himself and others the keen. heroic edge. Yet the luxury of repentance was denied him. The fault was his, but the fate humanity's, for everyone grows hard or soft as he grows old." This passage is rather too flatly elucidatory, it may be complained; the best thing in the story, and indeed in the book, is the evocation of Hell, a Hell which breathes the atmosphere of humanity's hidden frustrations and shames, and is effective because it is psycho logically profound. "The Story of the Siren" is about an Italian sailor who sees the Siren and afterwards has no desire for action, and no interest in human affairs. He finds a woman who like him has seen the Siren, but when their child is about to be born, she is killed by a superstitious priest The man's brother tells the story: "Never in my life will there be both a man and woman from whom that child can be born, who will fetch up the Siren from the sea, and destroy silence, and save the world." That is all the tale says, but there is such a wealth of suggested meaning throughout, conveyed so certainly and yet with such an absence of direct insistence, that it stands out from all the others. It is pure imagination.
Except for these two stories, however, and "Mr. Andrews," a charming trifle, the volume is rather disappointing. "The Eternal Moment," though witty and profound in flashes, is unconvincing psychologically. "The Machine Stops," which takes up a third of the whole book, and stands at the beginning, is also unconvincing. When Mr. Forster is writing of Heaven and Hell he may let his imagination range freely, so long as it is in pursuit of symbolical truth. But in "The Machine Stops" he is writing of the future; and that future, as it is ours, must be conceivable in terms of the world we know. Mr. Forster's picture of the future is quite inconceivable, however. In its last stages, he tells us, humanity will live in cells under the ground, shut off from the outer air, the surface of the earth, the sea, the sky, and one another; and everything will be done for them by pressing a button. But we immediately want to know why they should live under the ground, and as we cannot imagine why, the story becomes unreal. Perhaps Mr. Forster's imagination is rather clogged here with sociological notions.
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SOURCE: "The Short Stories: A Statement of Themes," in E. M. Forster, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1964, pp. 27-40.
[In the excerpt below, Trilling discusses how Forster's short stories illumine our understanding of his novels.]
Surely the Greek myths made too deep an impression on Forster: of the twelve stories that have been reprinted in The Celestial Omnibus and The Eternal Moment, only two, "The Road from Colonus," and "The Eternal Moment," are not in the genre of mythical fantasy and these two endure best. The others have, sometimes, wit or point or charm, one of them, "The Story of the Siren," has power, and all of them are "true" but none of them is wholly satisfying. The two non-fantastic stories, however, succeed entirely. And they are of particular interest because they contain in embryo the themes, symbols and ideas of Forster's five novels.
"The Road from Colonus" is about old age and death, but chiefly it is about modern life: it tells of a commonplace English Oedipus who does not die properly at his Colonus and who therefore loses the transfiguration he might have had. The elderly Mr. Lucas is a tourist in Greece, traveling by donkey with his daughter and a party. One day, riding ahead of his companions, he arrives at a tiny hamlet. In a scorching landscape the hamlet is a deeply shaded spot, sheltered by great plane-trees. The greatest tree of all overhangs the primitive inn; it is hollow and from its roots gushes a spring of living water. The symbolic juxtaposition of hot rocks and flowing water we have encountered in The Waste Land; the sheltering plane-tree might recall Handel's great song in Xerxes and the scene in Herodotus which Handel was dramatizing. It is a votive tree and its hollow has been hung with tiny images of arms, legs, hearts and brains, "tokens of some recovery of strength or wisdom or love." To Mr. Lucas, who in this moment has "discovered not only Greece, but England and all the world and life, there seemed nothing ludicrous in the desire to hang within the tree another votive offering—a little model of an entire man." For he has stepped into the tree, the living spring is at his feet, and as he leans back into the huge hollow trunk his peace is so great that he is almost unconscious. He is aroused by a shock—"the shock of an arrival perhaps, for when he opened his eyes, something unimagined, indefinable, had passed over all things, and made them intelligible and good."
There was meaning in the stoop of the old woman over her work, and in the quick motions of the little pig, and in her diminishing globe of wool. A young man came singing over the streams on a mule, and there was beauty in his pose and sincerity in his greeting. The sun made no accidental patterns upon the spreading roots of the trees, and there was intention in the nodding clumps of asphodel, and in the music of the water.
Meaning, intention, no accidental pattern—and a little further on we are told of the coherent beauty Mr. Lucas saw: we perceive that here, continuing through a long century, is still the romantic quest. The romantic spirits from Wordsworth to Matthew Arnold had looked for coherence in nature's apparently "accidental pattern"; they did not want to believe in a dead or mechanical or merely neutral universe; they wanted to find what Mr. Lucas found, "meaning" and "intention." And the nearest they could come to finding them was when they felt, like Mr. Lucas, the sense of being a "whole man," an experience which seemed most often to come to them in the quiet contemplation of Nature or of the ancient, traditional life of humanity. They hoped to believe, and sometimes they could (Wordsworth more easily than Arnold) what Mr. Lucas now believed as he looked at the votive images in the tree, that "there was no such thing as the solitude of nature, for the sorrow and joys of humanity had pressed into the bosom of the tree." . . .
But Mr. Lucas's sad lucidity of soul is not to be in his own control. His party rides up and finds him standing in the tree; his daughter Ethel sees to it that he changes his wet boots and socks. His companions, like himself, are enchanted by the place but in a touristy way, and Ethel, to show her sensibility, announces that she must spend a week here. Mr. Lucas takes her seriously—it is his heart's desire, which he has not been able to utter. But then it comes time to go and Ethel shows herself to be a false Antigone: her intention of staying was only a way of speaking. For Mr. Lucas, however, it seems salvation to linger here with the simple people of the hamlet; he refuses to go, he will not budge. A strong young man of the party picks him up like a child and sets him on his mule.
We next see the Lucases in London. Ethel is to be married. Mr. Lucas has become petulant, nagging, self-centered. His hated sister is coming to keep house for him, he has not been able to sleep for the sound of the dogs, cats, singing, piano-playing and the gurgling of water in the drains. Life has become only an annoyance.
And as he and Ethel sit at breakfast the mail arrives, bringing a package of asphodel bulbs from Athens. Ethel, to test her modern Greek, begins to read the old Athenian newspapers in which the bulbs are wrapped. She reads of a disaster; in a great storm the plane-tree with the spring had fallen upon the little inn, killing all its occupants—and on the evening of the very day the Lucases had been there. But Mr. Lucas does not remember the place; he is planning a letter to his landlord, complaining of dogs, children, music and running water and he is not much interested, not even when Ethel speaks of his "marvelous deliverance."
[In] Forster's story death and love are one. "Death destroys a man," he says in Howards End, "but the idea of death saves him—that is the best account of it that has yet been given." In the same novel Helen Schlegel explains why this is so: "Injustice and greed would be the real thing if we lived forever. As it is, we must hold to other things, because Death is coming. I love Death—not morbidly, but because He explains. He shows me the emptiness of Money. Death and Money are the eternal foes. Not Death and Life."
Death and Money—death and a money-civilization from which the roots of life have been removed. Mr. Lucas lives, but in a way so base that we grieve he did not die. It could be objected, of course, that a petulant and degraded old age can come in any civilization and that the Greeks whom Forster so often invokes dreaded old age extravagantly. But this would not be to the point, which is that death and the value of the good life are related, that death is in league with love to support life: death, indeed, is what creates love. This is what Wordsworth is saying rather obscurely in his Immortality Ode: it is the thought of death that makes the meanest flower that blows bring thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears. The meanest thing is valuable to a mortal man, as the proudest thing could not be to an immortal.
The nature of death in Forster's novels has often been commented on; it is invariably sudden and invariably told about in the most casual way. But this is not, as one critic suggests, merely a bad habit. It is deeply related to Forster's view of life and it is significant that not only in "The Road to Colonus" but in two other of the early stories Forster has already begun to deal with it. In "The Point of It," a grim fantasy, one young man's early death in a spurt of physical energy is glorified as against his friend's living out a mildly honored life of respectable compromise. And in "The Story of the Siren," perhaps the best of the fantastic stories, the siren is death, and the young man who sees her in the Caves of the Sea becomes unhappy to the point of madness because he knows that every living thing must die; yet he marries a girl who has also seen the siren, and it is prophesied of their child that he will fetch up the siren into the air for all to see. "And thus, the prophecy goes on, the world will be saved." But the girl who was carrying this unborn savior was, at the instance of a priest, pushed into the sea and drowned.
Death punctuates all of Forster's novels and it is not until A Passage to India that he suggests that death is anything but benign, and even here his judgment is at least ambiguous. Mrs. Moore's vision of death in the Marabar Caves breaks and perhaps deteriorates her; nullity and the void are too much for her, but it is hinted that some good is to come of her despair. Roger Fry, in a letter quoted in Virginia Woolf s biography of him, wrote of A Passage to India, "I think it's a marvelous texture—really beautiful writing. But Oh Lord I wish he weren't a mystic, or that he would keep his mysticism out of his books." Fry was wrong about his old friend—Forster is not a mystic in any precise sense of the word. Yet there is an element in his work that does give the appearance of mysticism: it is his sense of life being confronted by death. A moneycivilization chooses not to consider this confrontation; it is one of our most pertinacious refusals and we support it by calling "mystical" anyone who does consider it.
The theme of the inadequacy of modern civilization, implied in "The Road from Colonus," is dealt with explicitly in the second of Forster's non-fantastic stories. "The Eternal Moment" is about a middle-aged novelist, Miss Raby, who after many years is visiting the Alpine town where, in her youth, she had had what seemed a trivial love adventure. A young man, a porter and guide, had put his pack down on the road and declared his love. The Miss Raby of years before had acted the insulted lady and the young fellow had apologized; the incident had ended. But like other such incidents in Forster's plots, it had not ended at all. And Miss Raby has another connection with the town, for tourists had "discovered" it when she had described and named it in her successful novel and the town had become prosperous. With prosperity had come corruption and crassness. The immemorial peasant life had been transformed to take advantage of the tourist trade. The old warm simplicity had chilled into the swank and the aggression of class—of money-class and of snobbery, the eternal vice which so particularly marks the "modern" era of any civilization, the vice which Forster was to find even in India. . . .
Miss Raby, a passionate democrat, feels that it is through her that the little town had so sadly altered. Her horror of the new town runs parallel with her recollection of the young porter's offer of love: her response to his declaration has sprung not only from an as yet undeveloped heart but also from her sense of class. She seeks out her former admirer. The athletic Italian porter has become the fat concierge of the most glittering of the new hotels. His gauche impulsiveness has given way to the diplomacy of the hotel lobby. When she recalls to him the vanished moment of their youth, he is at first frightened of blackmail, then he thinks her lewd. And she, desperate that a generous heart should have so dried and that a human town should have become an emptiness, makes of him the extraordinary request that he give her one of his children so that he may be reared free from the killing "stupidity" of the modern snobworld. He thinks her mad. And in this Miss Raby's traveling companion, up to that moment perhaps to be her husband, the intelligent and chaste Colonel Leyland, quite agrees with the vulgar hotel official. From the snob-world, the world of the underveloped heart, of no-feeling or of only class-feeling, death is the only escape. And it is to old age and death that Miss Raby turns for comfort in her despair.
Here, then, in these early stories are the clearly stated themes which Forster will develop through his career as a novelist—the basic theme of the inadequate heart, the themes of the insufficient imagination, of death, money, snobbery and salvation. And not only are Forster's persisting themes announced in these early works but also the character types which we shall encounter in all his novels. Thus Miss Raby is the delicate ancestress of Forster's most notable heroines, women elderly, or middleaged, or moving toward middle age—Mrs. Wilcox of Howards End and Margaret Schlegel of the same novel, Rickie's dead mother in The Longest Journey, Mrs. Moore of A Passage to India. She is the woman wise but powerless, in some way triumphant, in some way defeated, often confused yet gifted with an obscure certainty, as if remembering some ancient sibylline wisdom that the world no longer knows. Although three of the heroines are mothers of sons, their connections with their sons are tenuous. Mrs. Wilcox is far removed from her Paul and Charles, who are quite of another spirit; so is Mrs. Moore from her Ronny. Mrs. Wilcox finds her heir in Margaret Schlegel, Mrs. Moore finds a truer son than Ronny in Dr. Aziz.
The implication seems to be that the sons have betrayed their mothers. Yet actually the mothers have remarkably little impulse toward their sons. Mrs. Wilcox seems never to have had a vital connection with Charles and Paul, which perhaps accounts for the masculine stupidity of the two men; Mrs. Moore is so easily alienated from Ronny and her tie with him so quickly broken that she seems never to have had an animal relation with him at all; Rickie Elliot's mother, although very tender, was late in coming to love her son and never seems wholly attached to him. Margaret Schlegel, Mrs. Wilcox's "heir," declares that she does not love or want children. In the counter-Wellsian fantasy of the future life, "The Machine Stops," it is the son who sins against the mechanical dispensation by discovering the forbidden filial affection; his mother does not match it with maternal feeling. This remote quality in Forster's elder heroines must check our natural tendency to find in them a symbol of the Earth which man has deserted (although the Earth-Mother identification is explicit in "The Machine Stops"). Appealing and good as these heroines are, they lack maternal warmth: perhaps it is dissatisfaction with their husbands that has turned them from their sons, though that is not the usual course of things; or perhaps what is responsible for the failure of normal maternal affection is the early rupture of the family tie by the public school, a thwarting of the normal family life that Forster deplores in The Longest Journey—in some way these modern Demeters have not only transcended sex, like the ancient goddess of whom Forster wrote on his Greek tour, but they have also transcended some kinds of love and our response to them is partly pity.
"The Eternal Moment" first sketches the type of the wise and gentle heroine who is to descend from Miss Raby; "The Road from Colonus" gives us our first example of the woman who is to be contrasted with her. Ethel Lucas, when her father is lifted on to his saddle by a Mr. Graham of the party, sighs that she "admires strength"; she is the progenitor of Forster's sadistic women. Agnes Pembroke of The Longest Journey, with her secret pleasure at the idea of the big strong boy bullying the little weak one; or Mrs. Failing of the same novel who will torture any defenseless person; or Mrs. Herriton of Where Angels Fear to Tread who breaks out of gentility with curses; or Mrs. Herriton's daughter Harriet whom religion fortifies in fierceness—all these will follow the sadistic pattern. The type will be institutionalized in A Passage to India in the wives of the English officials who regard the Indians with a vindictive cruelty which is usually absent from their husbands' feeling and which is said to constitute one of the major emotional difficulties of administration.
One other feminine type must be mentioned, the heroine that Forster seems to have taken over from Meredith. Appearing first as Evelyn Beaumont of "Other Kingdom"—who turns into a tree to escape her stuffy, possessive lover—she will recur as Lucy Honeychurch of A Room with a View and, somewhat modified, as Helen Schlegel of Howards End. Wholly feminine, natural, simple, passionate, right, this is the heroine trapped and in need of rescue by a man.
And as for Forster's men, they too are outlined for us in these first two stories. In the main, Forster's male characters will descend either from the young porter of "The Eternal Moment" or from Colonel Leyland. The porter is the ancestor of all the athletic young heroes whose physical beauty and strength are their spiritual grace. The first of the line may be defeated and corrupt, but in his later avatars he is triumphant and brings salvation. Gino of Where Angels Fear to Tread is one of his descendants, although in Gino money-vulgarity is absorbed into his general vitality. George Emerson of A Room with a View is the same young man endowed with a brain and sensibility, and Stephen Wonham of The Longest Journey is yet another manifestation, equipped with an English conscience. The hearts, or the brains, or the consciences of these young men are nourished by their physical life; they have the gift of love and, as old Mr. Emerson says in A Room with a View, "Love is of the body—not the body, but of the body."
The Pans of Forster's fantastic stories state, in various ways, this eternal lesson. Modern life—it is to be D. H. Lawrence's theme—can kill the masculine power and tenderness; Pan inhabits the woods and fields which men have forsaken. That is why Gino must be a provincial Italian and Stephen a rustic, just as Stephen's dead father had been a farmer who saved with love a loving and unhappy woman. George Emerson is of the city and he is a prey to philosophical despair, but he is freed by nakedness and sunlight. Inhabiting the woods and fields, Pan can bring about the liberation of an adolescent boy ("The Story of a Panic") or the salvation of a formerly facetious and insincere clergyman ("The Curate's Friend").
Colonel Leyland is the faint prototype of the man who betrays the female spirit. He combines a certain enlightened official insensitivity with an old-maidish fussiness. The old-maidishness will turn up in Philip Herriton and, in A Room with a View, in Cecil Vyse. The insensitivity is to appear in Herbert Pembroke and Gerald Dawes of The Longest Journey, in the Wilcox men of Howards End and in Ronny of A Passage to India.
These men and women, some of them shaped for greatness, some of them born for quiet, mediocre lives, are constantly being led through trifles to a confrontation with the largest possible matters. I have mentioned the part which death plays in the novels; there is also the portentous theme which I. A. Richards speaks of as the "survival theme"—"a special preoccupation, almost an obsession, with the continuance of life." Appearing first, in "The Eternal Moment," in the strange request Miss Raby makes of the concierge, that he give her one of his children to bring up, it dominates Where Angels Fear to Tread, a novel in which the great struggle is for the ownership of a baby, and in which parenthood is the strongest passion; or it appears in The Longest Journey, in the use made of Stephen Wonham's little girl and in the repeated play with the themes of heredity; or again in Howards End, with the son of Leonard Bast and Helen Schlegel, who is to inherit the disputed house. Even in A Passage to India the children of Mrs. Moore's second marriage are introduced to carry on, in some way, their mother's spirit.
It would appear that the theme of survival supplements the theme of death, and serves to heighten in Forster's work the effect of what Roger Fry called "mysticism." But if mysticism is not the word, the right word is hard to find. We might say of Forster's ideas that they are marked by a natural and naturalistic piety. This is a difficult emotion to deal with; there is always the danger of a lapse into religiosity: an 18th-century deistic sentimentality lies in wait for the writer who expresses large emotions about life and death, even if he is determined to be wholly naturalistic. With orthodox religion as an expression of natural piety Forster has considerable sympathy and in The Longest Journey and A Room with a View he deals tenderly with it. Yet he always regards with hostility the repressive morality of orthodoxy and his bitterness against the clergy is unremitting. In the short stories, the clergy is represented as stupid or trifling ("The Story of a Panic," "The Curate's Friend") or as malign ("The Story of the Siren"); later, the Harriet Herriton of Where Angels Fear to Tread, the Mr. Eager and the Mr. Beebe of A Room with a View, the imperialistic parsons at Simpson's in Howards End, the pointless missionaries of A Passage to India will all continue to express Forster's antipathy to organized faith.
As far back as 1920, Katherine Mansfield, in a review of "The Story of the Siren," spoke in protest against the omnipresence of clergymen, in company with spinsters, in Forster's writing. "Mr. Forster's novels are alive with aunts and black with chaplains," she wrote, and went on to wonder "why there must always be, on every adventure, an aunt and a warbling chaplain. Why must they always be there in the boat, bright, merciless, clad from head to foot in the armour of efficiency?" We may reply that as often as truth, fertility and sensuality are to have their opposites, aunts and chaplains must, in the logic of Forster's imagination, appear on the scene.
Yet all the characters of Forster's fiction are in the shadow of religion, the complex and "advanced" people as well as the simple. Whatever their mature beliefs, they will all have been brought up in an atmosphere suffused with religious feeling—after all, they were born in the 19th century, in a time when, in Robert Elsmere, a young man's religious difficulties and his liberalistic solution of them could charm millions of readers. It is appropriate, too, that these people who are still in the late 19th-century tradition of religion should find their largest emotions not in religion itself but in art, for, in the 19th century, art was raised nearly to the level of religion and endowed with a quasi-religious function.
And this is an insight for which Forster is perhaps unique among modern novelists—his understanding of the part played by art in the life of the middle classes. On the one hand, art is salvation and Forster appeals again and again to the freedom of imagination and to the disinterestedness of the true lover of art. But on the other hand, if art approaches religion, then its cultivation can approach the religious vices of hypocrisy, respectability and mere piousness, and Forster is the anatomist of the British tourist, with his Baedeker and his Alinari prints, and of the British intellectual with his Pater, his Symonds, and his Symons. He understands that art can be the instrument of an enormous snobbery and he enjoys the comedy of this fact; he knows, as we all know when we enter the perfectly decorated room, that taste can be an aggressive weapon.
And so, defender of the arts as he is, Forster cultivates a deep suspicion of good taste and is even inclined to find in tastelessness a kind of benevolence and vitality. The first defense of tastelessness, or even of bad taste, occurs in "The Eternal Moment" when Forster remarks that a Carlo Dolce or a Carracci, "a debased style—so the superior person and the textbooks say," is sometimes preferable to a Fra Angelico. He loves the baroque, even the sentimental baroque, and in Where Angels Fear to Tread he speaks affectionately of its manifestations in Italian bad taste.
There is something majestic in the bad taste of Italy; it is not the bad taste of a country which knows no better; it has not the nervous vulgarity of England, or the blinded vulgarity of Germany. It observes beauty and chooses to pass it by. But it attains to beauty's confidence.
Or in A Room with a View, Mr. Flack's ugly villas and Lucy's ugly but pleasant house are defended against the good taste of Cecil Vyse; in The Longest Journey the family of Stewart Ansell is said to live happily together not because it has a community of taste but because it has no taste at all, while Mr. Elliot, who has perfect taste, is petty, mean and cruel. Life in its generous and vital aspects, Forster seems to be saying, is seldom tasteful.
The true lovers of art in Forster are those who truly love life, and they are beset by those who love art aggressively, or by those who love it officially. Such a person is the cultivated Mildred of "Albergo Empedocle" who, when she is brought to believe that her stupid lover had really lived in ancient Acragas, cries out, "O marvelous idea! . . . I should run about, shriek, sing. Marvelous! Overwhelming! How can you be so calm! The mystery! and the poetry, oh, the poetry!" But the stolid Harold, who has really had the experience, replies, "I don't see any poetry. It just happened, that's all." And all Mildred's "culture" requires that she claim an equal distinction: "Harold, I too have lived in Acragas," she says, but Harold, although he adores her, replies, "No, Mildred darling, you have not." That she should thus appear a shifty, shallow hypocrite infuriates her and she sets out to destroy Harold. Similarly, the artist of "The Story of a Panic" loves art in the wrong ways. He is aggressive and superior about his "advanced" aesthetic ideas and he makes them official and false; and it is he who betrays the adolescent hero. So too Mr. Bons, the cultured churchwarden of "The Celestial Omnibus" affirms his belief in "the essential truth of poetry," by which he means he does not believe in it at all; when he is led by a little boy to the Heaven of poetry, this merely cultured man is so frightened by the shield of Achilles that he falls to earth and is found dead near the Bermondsey gas works.
These, then, are the dominant themes, the stuff out of which Forster will build his novels. What no summary can suggest is the complication with which the novels will treat them. As they appear first in the short stories, they are not especially impressive. They have to be attached to complex characters and situations and they require the infinite modulation which Forster is later able to contrive.
Forster's short stories, indeed, are on the whole not successful, and their interest lies not so much in themselves as in their connection with the novels. For one thing, their tone is usually imperfect, though from this charge I would exempt "The Road from Colonus," 'The Eternal Moment," and "The Story of the Siren." Three of the six stories of The Celestial Omnibus are narrated by what is in effect the same character, a very respectable person, small, timid, compromising, who nevertheless vaguely sees the true sanctities and obscurely wants to defend them; and tone of this unfortunate person somehow pervades all the stories, giving them what Edward Shanks, writing of the style of Forster's Pharos and Pharillon, has cruelly but accurately called a quality of "demurely bloodless gaiety."
Something of this tone results from the nature of the fantasy Forster uses. In Aspects of the Novel, he skillfully defends fantasy, although as one of the legitimate ways of serious thought fantasy needs no apology. And one knows what Forster is doing with his heavens and hells, his dryads and Pans; we may say of him what Rickie in The Longest Journey says of Mr. Jackson, "He tries to express all modern life in the terms of Greek mythology, because the Greeks looked very straight at things and Demeter or Aphrodite are thinner veils than 'The survival of the fittest,' or 'A marriage has been arranged,' and other draperies of modern journalese." But Forster's mythology is inappropriate to his theme. It is the most literary and conventionalized of all mythologies and in modern hands the most likely to seem academic and arch, and it generates a tone which is at war with the robust intention of the stories. Fortunately Forster was to find a device better than, though akin to, fantasy and allegory; in his first novel he was to discover plot and thus give to his ideas a power which fantasy, much as he loved it, could never give.
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SOURCE: Review of The Collected Tales of E. M. Forster, in The Saturday Review of Literature, July 12, 1947, p. 32.
[In this examination of Forster's short fiction, Redman focuses on the central theme of escape from the stifling conventionalities of ñre-World War I England.]
E. M. Forster is one of the unhurried authors of our age. He has taken his time about his writing, and his reputation has grown at a pace no less leisurely than his own. Whether or not this reputation is by now unduly inflated is a large question, too large for this department; but it may be suggested that some critics have mistaken Mr. Forster's remarkably smooth writing for writing of an even superior kind, and that they have tried to make his novels bear a weight of meaning for which, probably, they were not originally designed. Here, however, we are concerned only with his short stories, which were originally gathered in The Celestial Omnibus and The Eternal Moment, and which are now available in The Collected Tales of E. M. Forster.
The author calls these stories fantasies, and all but one deserve the name. They are fantastic, imaginative responses to the business of living, and, taken in the lump, they will give the thoughtful reader a pretty clear idea of what Mr. Forster's attitude towards that business is; or what it was when he wrote these tales "at various dates previous to the First World War."
They are, almost without exception, little stories of revolt and escape. Eustace's flight, in "The Story of a Panic," is only the most spectacular of the lot. The curate, of "The Curate's Friend," is liberated by his meeting with a faun, although he never dares confess his liberation. Miss Beaumont ("Other Kingdom") escapes into her copse of beeches, to elude forever her philistine lover. The boy of "The Celestial Omnibus" escapes from Surbiton into the heavens of literature. The narrator of "The Other Side of the Hedge" escapes from the routine of "the road," to find a fairer, greener land. In "The Machine Stops," Kuno defies the Machine, and achieves freedom in death. "The Point of It" tells how one young man escaped from life's sorry compromises, and how another was not spared. Mr. Lucas, in "The Road from Colonus," has his moment of vision when he stands in the hollow tree, but he is not strong enough to follow the gleam. Miss Raby ("The Eternal Moment") is a far stronger character than Mr. Lucas, but the world is too much for her also. As for the young man and the girl who saw the Siren, in "The Story of the Siren," their very act of seeing separated them from humanity by an impassable gulf.
And what were all these characters of Mr. Forster's revolting against, attempting to escape? Simply, the kind of life into which the author himself was born. They were seeking to escape from conventions, the correct thing, stuffiness, gentility, ritual, philistinism, "cricket," good form, smug superiority, ignorant complacency: in short, from the civilization which reached its perfect flowering in England just before the First World War.
That smug, tight little world has been swept away, and some of the young men who found themselves cribbed and irked by it have already grown old enough to look back at it with sentimental affection. So, with the year, Mr. Forster's tales have acquired a new, nostalgic quality. It is pleasant to read them all again, knowing that none of them could possibly be called great, but that in their various degrees of excellence (from "Mr. Andrews" up to "The Road from Colonus" and "The Eternal Moment") each of them speaks for a writer who was an expert workman even when he sat down to tell his first story at Ravello, so many years ago.
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SOURCE: "E. M. Forster's Quality of Insight," in The New York Times Book Review, July 13, 1947, pp. 5, 27.
[In this favorable estimation of The Collected Tales, Baker praises Forster for his power of imagination and insight]
As E. M. Forster nears the age of 70, his literary productiveness, which has always been distinguished for its quality rather than extinguished by its abundance, is not likely henceforth to be very great. In fact, though the fact seems incredible, it is nearly twenty years now since Forster has published any new fiction. While his five novels are generally available, his shorter fiction, except for the oftenreprinted "The Celestial Omnibus" and "The Machine Stops," has long been out of print, and either forgotten or generally unknown, in this country. Admirers of Forster will accordingly welcome this round dozen of tales from the master's hand—the total contents of the only two volumes of short fiction he has published, with a new four-page introduction by the author.
Although the locales and characters of these twelve stories are as various as could be, they seem, in conjointed perspective, to embrace a unifying theme: roughly the one Wordsworth had in mind when he complained that, late and soon, the materialistic aspects of the world are too much with us; getting and spending, gossiping and drinking tea or its equivalents, galloping after the crowd and forgetting the other side of the hedge, we lay waste our powers. The powers, in Mr. Forster's stories, clearly, are those of imagination, of comprehension and apprehension, of seeing into the ever-nascent life of things—or, put negatively, of never mistaking the name of the object for the deep, inner and intricate structure of the thing itself.
Forster's heroes and heroines are a widely assorted group; yet they are always those in whom this quality of insight is purest, those most susceptible, so to speak, of being educated. His villains, though ordinarily they are too stupid (yet dangerous enough, still) to be melodramatically villainous, are the hollow men, the stuffed men, with eyes that see not, and hearts that neither feel nor understand.
Forster calls his stories fantasies. They were written, he says, at various dates before World War I, and they represent all that he has accomplished in this particular genre. These days, as he truly believes, fantasy tends to retreat, or to dig in, or "to become apocalyptic out of deference to the atom." Yet fantasy can still be made to linger among the pages of a book like this one, and its function, once so caught, is seen to be triple: to serve as messenger from gods to men, as breaker of dictatorial machines and false images, or as "conductor of souls to a not-too-terrible hereafter."
It is as breaker of images and anti-mechanist that Forster (or his fantasy) is most memorable. Kuno of "The Machine Stops," the youth of the thirtieth or fortieth century, he who crawled with bleeding hands through the aperture that led from a clinically clean and almost absolutely corrupt subterranean machine-civilization and emerged, fighting for breath, upon the green earth's surface; he who denied that God could be found on page 729 of any catalogue, and sought Him instead, like the very ancient Greeks, among the constellations—this Kuno is harbinger to the ultimate failure of mechanism, of the gross obstetrics of the assembly line, of all that makes a standard standard. And the Machine, by the same token, is the type and symbol of all that Forster, or his fantasy, abhors. Readers too young to have known at first hand the impact of the Wellsian brand of fantasy may take due notice that "The Machine Stops" was intended as "a counterblast to one of the heavens of H. G. Wells."
What Forster opposes to the Wellsian goal of a technocratic civilization is a machineless world in which it is still possible to hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn. As so often happens, the two stories most frequently anthologized do not seem, in the full run of the collection, to be the best. Most of Forster's brief introduction is devoted to comment on another pair which he rightly prefers. These are "The Story of a Panic" and "The Road From Colonus,"—first and second tales in the whole canon, one set down with great rapidity after a walk near Ravello in May, 1902, and the other done in 1903 after a tour in Greece. Each owed its origin to a Tritonesque genius loci, says Forster. "A story met me in the open air," he adds, implying that this is where one meets the best, full-formed and gracious, ready to be told.
Who but one who had walked in the chestnut woods above Ravello would have thought, for example, that the career of the whey-faced Eustace, Eustace the lazy, Eustace the whining shuffler, would have taken such a turn as it did? The English trippers had been idly talking of the old gods when Eustace dawdled into a thicket to cut himself a whistle. Mr. Sandbach, the curate, "began to tell the striking story of the mariners who were sailing near the coast at the time of the birth of Christ, and three times heard a loud voice saying: The Great God Pan is dead.'"
Suddenly the teeth of the whole party were set on edge by a particularly discordant blast on Eustace's fresh-cut whistle, and as they watched in terror a catspaw of wind ran down a near by ridge, turning the light green leaves dark as it traveled, and began terribly to ascend to the eminence on which they stood. In helter-skelter panic they fled; but the experiences of the day were nothing to those of the ensuing evening when Eustace the shuffler, Eustace the lazy, escaped the narrow confines of his chamber to revel in panic glee in the back garden.
Even better than the story of the panic is "The Road from Colonus," generated, says the author, by a hollow tree in a glade near Olympia. When Mr. Lucas got ahead of his companions and discovered the pagan tree-shrine, he would have liked to put up for a week in the little Khan by its side in order to propitiate the sylvan sub-deities of that place. But—"Fleas!" said Mrs. Forman; "You'll miss the boat at Pairas," said Mr. Lucas' daughter; "These Greek brigands might knife you," said Mr. Graham. So Mr. Lucas was borne off against his will. Later on, when his daughter read him a news story of the fall of the tree and the death of the inhabitants of the Khan, Mr. Lucas paid her only trifling attention. He was composing a letter to the landlord, complaining of the noisy children next door.
The sounding brass of Forster's irony is always muted down, by intention, to the tinkle of a cymbal. But it always rings clear and true, though three or four of the stories in the book are not up to the level of the rest. When he hears messages from the gods, as in "The Other Side of the Hedge" and "The Point of It"; when he opposes his rebels to his stuffed shirts, as in "Other Kingdom" and "The Eternal Moment"; or when he invades in order to deflate rather tenderly the bourgeois heaven of the compact fable, in "Mr. Andrews," he is as full of revelations as Hermes Psychopompus, the god of fantasy, (as deft and limber as Forster's prose), to whom this collection is dedicated. As the twelve stories, newly launched, sail farther into a world they never foresaw, says Forster, the lightly built Hermes is a proper god "to stand in the prow and watch the disintegrating sea, the twisted sky."
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SOURCE: "Fiction Chronicle," in Partisan Review, Vol. 14, No. 5, 1947, pp. 533-38.
[In the following excerpt, Hardwick argues that Forster's stories are overly restrained and ultimately minor, despite his expert craftsmanship.]
Nothing could be further removed from Sartre and his notion that the writer cannot "sneak away" from his times than E. M. Forster's stories in The Celestial Omnibus and The Eternal Moment, . . . Forster looks backward to Greece or, with the passionate intensity of the heroine of "The Eternal Moment," to twenty years before when a charming hotel had not been defiled by electric signs and modern conveniences.
Of these shorter pieces of Forster's, most of them fantasies, one might ask with propriety the question that Forster in Aspects of the Novel amazingly asks himself about Joyce's Ulysses. "Does it come off?" he wants to know and then answers immediately, "No, not quite." I daresay Joyce has never been approached so simply and yet Forster, after his chilly beginning, warms up considerably and calls Ulysses, "a dogged attempt to cover the universe with mud .. . a simplification of human character in the interests of Hell. . . . The Night Town scene does not come off except as a superfetation of fantasies, a monstrous coupling of reminiscences . . . the aim of which is to degrade all things and most particularly civilization and art, by turning them inside out and upside down."
In a sense these stories of Forster's do for Heaven what Forster imagined Joyce did for Hell, but this particular heaven is, in spite of the great variety of possibilities Forster finds there, monotonously literary. People are killed for being too academic about art ("The Celestial Omnibus") or doomed for praising the mediocre ("The Point of If").
As Lionel Trilling has pointed out, Forster stories are not very successful in themselves, but chiefly interesting in connection with the author's novels. Forster himself in a new preface compares them with the god, Hermes Psychopompus, who, "Lightly built, . . . can anyhow stand in the prow and watch the disintegrating sea, the twisted sky." And yet the themes used here are far from slight. On the one hand they deal with the meaning of art, the false use of it by schoolmasters and the indifferent public; on the other hand they are allegories about the challenge of life and the fact that man must heed the most daring and alive part of himself, the song of the siren and the athlete's jump. In "The Road to Colonus" the promise that life holds for the courageous is beautifully treated in a highly symbolical and complex way; and in "The Point of It" the notion that only those who take great risks can know the meaning of existence is deeply felt in the fate of a young boy, an invalid, who is aroused by the challenge of the sea, determined to express his true nature, and literally rows himself to death. It is puzzling that Forster didn't like Henry James any better than he did since James too was obsessed by the necessity to live, take the dare and greet the moment when it comes. But James's stories are strengthened and deepened by the hinted evidence of immense and violent passions, the beast in the jungle, for which Forster too often substitutes the faun in the curate's garden.
Forster's reputation has of course been built, not on these stories, but upon his five novels which, though outstanding and full of vitality, are also bewilderingly minor in a way difficult to evaluate. Perhaps the novels, with their expert construction and wonderful subtleties of characterization, only tell us why Forster is good and his other work, his stories and criticism, explains his secret, why he is not a giant, why, even when one admires him greatly, there is something baffling about his career. The tone of these stories is restrained and controlled, but ultimately, beneath the refined surface, one begins to notice Forster's curious haughtiness. He reminds one not of an arrogant youth, but of a dominating grandmother, safe in the assurance that her standards are purer than those of the ruffians around her. At times one feels Forster has failed to be as great as he might have been, not from the lack of energy or bravado, but from the crafty workings of an excessive and morbid pride which will not stoop to express itself in outright megalomania. Instead he uses a double-edged, unique, aristocratic modesty, actually meant to be triumphant, but which very strangely keeps this odd man at its mercy. These "tales" are good examples of his divided nature. They have imagination, wit and irony; they are the work of a deliberate artist, often brilliantly defiant in his fancifulness, but in the end somehow apologetic, as though Forster were too quick to tell us that the fashionable will reject him as, he says mockingly in one story, "suitable for reading in the train."
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SOURCE: "Eternal Moments in the Short Fiction of E. M. Forster," in College English, Vol. 27, No. 3, December 1965, pp. 209-15.
[In this laudatory essay, Hagopian focuses on Forster's ironic yet sympathetic portrayal of his principal characters in "The Road from Colonus" and "The Eternal Moment."]
Forster's short stories can be divided into two groups: the allegorical fantasies such as "The Celestial Omnibus" and "The Other Side of the Hedge" which have become standard anthology pieces; and the realistic psycho-moral narratives such as "The Eternal Moment" and "The Road from Colonus" which, despite the fact that they most resemble his novels, have been neglected even though no less an authority than Lionel Trilling has judged them to be Forster's best stories. Perhaps the reason for such neglect is that, according to G. D. Klingopulos, "there is something in the stories themselves which discourages and seems to mock the whole business of careful definition and appraisal" (The Modern Age, 1963). This paper attempts to take up the challenge of rendering careful definition and appraisal of Forster's two most distinguished achievements in short fiction: "The Road from Colonus" (1903), which comes at the beginning of his career, and "The Eternal Moment" (1928), which comes at the end.
As the title and several references in the text make clear, "The Road from Colonus" is a variation on the theme of Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus. But it is significant that the road is from Colonus; i.e., leads away from the willing submission to death that transfigured the aged and deposed king of Thebes into the genius loci of a foreign place. Mr. Lucas at Plataniste, far from his native England, also feels that he may have found his apotheosis, but he is robbed of his transfiguration by the stout common sense of his mock-Antigone of a daughter and her crass friend Arthur Graham.
Forster divides the story into two main parts: (1) an account of the English travelling party's arrival, conflict, and departure at a remote Greek khan on a hot April day in 1903; and (2) a brief epilogue in the form of a dialogue during a London breakfast several months later. Since the story is told from the point of view of Mr. Lucas, who is on the verge of senility and cannot properly think through his experiences, the reader must be especially alert to implicit meanings.
Accompanied by a complacently imperious young Englishman named Arthur Graham, a garrulous, middle-aged Mrs. Forman, and his daughter Ethel, Mr. Lucas is fulfilling a forty-year-old dream of visiting Greece. But it is too late for him to appreciate his experience in the conventional way, for "the fever of Hellenism" that had seized him in his youth has been all but quenched by years of submission to middle-class values: "he had led a healthy, active life, had worked steadily, made money, educated his children."
Now in his old age he is dismayed that "Athens had been dusty, Delphi wet, Thermopylae flat, and he had listened in amazement and cynicism to the rapturous exclamations of his companions." However, en route to Olympia at a mysterious spring gushing from a hollowed-out plane tree, Mr. Lucas undergoes an experience that shows him far more susceptible to the powers of Hellenism than his hypocritical and conventionally rapturous companions. After some hesitation he boldly enters the tree-shrine and submits to the "presiding power," the genius loci. An intense mystical seizure rejuvenates him. The whole world seems suddenly charged with beauty, goodness and significance: "He had the strange feeling of one who is moving, yet at peace."
When his companions catch up with him, they seem "coarse . . . superficial, commonplace, and spasmodic," and he cannot bring himself to reveal to them what has happened. Nevertheless, he feels that "he would be a fool as well as a coward if he stirred from the place which brought him happiness and peace," and he insists upon remaining there. Ethel, losing her temper, appeals to his sense of middle-class comforts—"your meals . . . your bath . . . your letters . . . the London operas . . . your engagements"; but these things no longer mean anything to Mr. Lucas—"not merely because he had regained youth or seen beauty or found happiness, but because in that place and with those people [the Greek peasants] a supreme event was awaiting him that would transfigure the face of the world." In desperation Ethel appeals to Arthur Graham, a true son of the British Empire, who seizes Mr. Lucas, lifts him to his mule, and the party is away. The disappointed and frustrated Greeks stone the abductors, but are driven off. When Mr. Lucas resigns from the struggle, Ethel is relieved that her father appears to be his old self again. Thus, the first movement ends on a note of closure—"in another moment a spur of the hill hid the dangerous scene forever"—which rounds out a narrative sequence that, taken by itself, would have been quite a fine, self-contained, and complete work of art.
In the epilogue, however, Forster turns the screw toward a deeper and more bitterly poignant irony. The morning fog in London contrasts with the brilliant Greek afternoon of the first episode, just as Mr. Lucas's crotchety English disposition contrasts with his overwhelming Hellenic vision of glory. His betraying Antigone is now about to marry Arthur Graham and leave him to the care of his spinster sister Julia "whom he both feared and hated." An insomniac, he finds that everything irritates him: the door-bell ringing, cats and dogs fighting, the laughter and music of the neighbor's children, and—most significantly—the gurgling of water in the pipes. The delivery of some asphodel bulbs sent by Mrs. Forman from Athens vividly recalls to Ethel their recent trip, and to amuse and distract her father she translates from the Greek newspaper in which the bulbs are wrapped. To her horror she finds herself reading an account of an entire family killed by a falling tree at a place called Plataniste on the very night that her father wanted to stay there. She realizes that had he done so, he, too, would have been killed. "Such a marvellous deliverance does make one believe in Providence," she says, but Mr. Lucas, immured in his meaningless old age, ignores her. His mind is occupied with composing a complaint to the landlord: "the dogs bark, the children next door are intolerable, and I cannot stand the noise of running water." The pettiness of his life makes it clear that it would have been far better for him to have died the death of an Oedipus in a place where the sound of running water would have accompanied his transfiguration into a genius loci.
One of the dominant themes of Forster's major works is the immense contrast between the English and the Mediterranean cultures. That theme is ironically and dramatically embodied in "The Road from Colonus," but it is developed with even greater subtlety and complexity in "The Eternal Moment," a story which offers a much greater challenge to the reader. Both stories also express another important Forster motif, the subjective quality of time; but as its title suggests "The Eternal Moment" focuses it with greater intensity. "There seems to be something else in life besides time," said Forster in Aspects of the Novel, "something which may conveniently be called 'value,' something which is measured not by minutes or hours, but by intensity, so that when we look at our past it does not stretch back evenly but piles up into a few notable pinnacles." It is thus the intensity of a moment that may make it "eternal," and such a moment is cited in the opening lines of the story when Miss Raby says, "A young man fell in love with me .. . so nicely twenty years ago." The action of the story then moves toward two great climaxes as Miss Raby confronts first the social and then the personal consequences of that intense moment of the past. The bare plot may be rendered thus: As the elderly travelling companions, Miss Raby and Colonel Leyland, approach the Tyrolean valley of Vorta, Miss Raby recalls how twenty years before a young Italian porter had fallen in love with her there. She had used the experience as the basis of a novel, The Eternal Moment, which in turn had attracted hordes of tourists into the lovely mountain valley, bringing wealth but spoiling the scenery and corrupting the people. Miss Raby now feels deeply guilty over the consequences of her book. As a gesture of repentance she forsakes the plush modern hotel for the small pension of the old days, and there she makes a futile effort to confess her guilt to the owner, Signora Cantù. Discovering that the would-be Italian lover of her youth is now the fat, vulgar concierge of the modern hotel, Miss Raby attempts to revive in him the memory of that eternal moment, which she now feels must have sustained her throughout her life. Much to the concierge's embarrassment and the Colonel's chagrin, she persists in the attempt and even proposes to adopt the concierge's youngest son as an act of atonement for the great harm she feels she has done him by refusing his love and writing her novel. In scandal and defeat, she resigns herself to the cold triumph of moral victory, as the concierge—with relief and gratitude—accepts the Colonel's judgment that Miss Raby is mad.
The dominant ambiguity of the story centers on whether Miss Raby's sense of guilt and gestures of atonement are truly noble or whether Colonel Leyland is correct in thinking her silly. He says, "You think you've written a book which has spoilt the place and made the inhabitants corrupt and sordid. .. . So you will make yourself unhappy, and go about trying to put right what was never right." Much of the symbolism and action provides strong evidence to support the Colonel's condescension. For example, Signora Cantù, to whom Miss Raby feels impelled to make a grand confession and an appeal for forgiveness, turns out to be just as mean-spirited and peevish as her "corrupted" son who runs the Grand Hotel des Alpes. This lends a certain irony to Miss Raby's feeling that "she has no right to claim the luxury of a pardon," and renders melodramatically excessive her conviction that "with this interview her life had ended." Furthermore, it is apparent that, like the "debris which had fallen and which still fell" from the sides of the mountain and like the slowly moving landslip which destroyed Signora Cantù's little farm, change—even corrupting change—is in the nature of things. It is a kind of hubris for any individual to assume personal responsibility for it. Furthermore, those who really publicized Vorta—"Lady Anstey, Mrs. Heriot, the Marquis of Bamburgh, and many others," were probably more directly responsible for the tourist corruption of the valley than Miss Raby. Important, too, is the fact that not all the change was for the worse; there is the new campanile, "majestic tower of new grey stone" which "spoke magnificently to the mountains. .. . It had never occurred to her that the new thing might be beautiful." At the end of the story, the desperate Miss Raby turns toward it with a motion of love only to hear the concierge report that "the land is slipping from underneath, and that it will fall." It is perhaps symbolic not only of her failure, but of the failure of any attempt to make unchanging and eternal anything considered beautiful and good, be it a Tyrolean valley, a Venetian campanile, or a moment of love. Hence, Miss Raby would seem to be, as Colonel Leyland observes, "a foolish woman."
Yet Forster is apparently sympathetic toward such foolishness, and he seems also to sympathize with Miss Raby's attempt to redeem that other act of her past—her rejection of the love offered by Feo Ginori. Cyril Connelly in one of the early critiques of the story commented that "if we think how Proust, or Maugham, or Hemingway, or other novelists would have treated this story we see that they would all really have thought such an elderly lady insane, victim of a temporary sexual aberration. .. . But to Forster, who is a moralist, a concierge is a wicked thing. Miss Raby, who .. . has made it possible for the mountain guide to become a plump concierge, has indeed betrayed life and has every reason to take the blame" (Condemned Playground). More recently, Frederick McDowell has said that Miss Raby "finds that her former rejection of sexual love meant deterioration for a lover who forgot his aspirations in the pursuit of money. . . . Upon revisiting Vorta, she is too honest to disregard what she has done. . . . Miss Raby has a triumph of sorts because she refuses to evade the responsibilities visited upon her by her second moment of revelation" (Modern Fiction Studies, Autumn 1961). Both Connolly and McDowell assume that we must accept the moral perspective of Miss Raby, whose point of view dominates the story. But the action and the imagery substantially support Colonel Leyland's judgment that she is indeed mad, even if we do not adopt his reasons for thinking so.
Her irrationality in the final scene of the story is foreshadowed in the opening dialogue when Miss Raby says to the Colonel, "You are stupid. Kindness and money are both easy to part with [in dealing with social inferiors]. The only thing worth giving away is yourself . . . intentionally make a fool of yourself. . . . I've never done it properly. Hitherto I've never felt a really big fool; but when I do I hope I shall show it plainly." By her standards the only thing in the world worth having is "true intercourse," and the only way to have it is by "self-exposure." Despite the obvious irony of those terms, let us assume that she is right and that it is regrettable that twenty years before she had failed to risk making a fool of herself for the sake of love. Yet is it not curious that she should feel guilty about the destructive effect of her rejection not on herself but on Feo Ginori? Is there not a certain hubris or arrogance in Miss Raby's attributing to herself not only the responsibility but the power of altering his figure as well as his character, and in her assumption that "he was one of the products of The Eternal Moment"? Supposing that she had indeed been responsible for his corruption, was she not appealing to that very corruption in proposing that she take from him his youngest son to "live among rich people"? Indeed, this last proposal of hers (ignored by all other critics of the story) would alone be sufficient for suspecting Miss Raby to be "a victim of sexual aberration," for it suggests that although she had not submitted to Feo's sexual advances twenty years before, she is nevertheless now quite eager to have his child. She rejected his love and remained a spinster, but obviously he had managed to marry and have children. There is considerable irony in the fact that she who had remained sexually dead and who now travels as the Platonic companion of the semi-invalid Colonel Leyland should now hope that by recalling her eternal moment to Feo "he would become alive, that he would at all events escape the general doom which she had prepared for the place and the people." Being alive is hardly to be equated with sustaining the memory of a youthful ardor while remaining sexually dead. Yet at the end of the stormy scene of her proposal to Feo, Miss Feo had "a vision of herself, and she saw that she had lived worthily. She/was conscious of a triumph over experience and earthly facts, a triumph magnificent, cold, hardly human, whose existence no one but herself would ever surmise." Such is Miss Raby's final image of herself; it is ambiguous as well as ironic and need not be the final image of the reader.
The reader's final image may well be that of Colonel Leyland, who touches his finger to his forehead. But that involves us in the problem of the Colonel's character, which is almost as complex and baffling as Miss Raby's. Cyril Connolly describes him as "an admiring and sensitive friend." McDowell sees him as "unimaginative, barren, and mean-spirited." Connolly is nearer the truth. Almost every negative statement about him in the text is sooner or later qualified: he is a military man who "respected Teutonia," but he is "neat rather than aggressive;" he is a "kind of aristocrat" who "did not like being entangled in a mixed conversation" with the lower classes, but he believes in being "fairly kind" to them; he thinks that a little sentimentality would cause "the whole army to go to pieces," but when Miss Raby changes hotels for sentimental reasons he makes a gesture "toward the village . . . with his hands" and whispers "dear lady!" He feels a "sudden disgust" on hearing that an Italian porter had once proposed to Miss Raby, but he has "courage of no mean order" in rejecting as "automatic conventionality" his sister's discomfort at his relationship with her. He knows that she is "an authoress, a kind of Radical," but he hopes that they can be "sage companions" together in their declining years, though "he was too delicate to admit, even to himself, the desirability of marrying two thousand a year."
In the end both he and Miss Raby find each other tested to the extreme and found wanting; each rejects the other. The Colonel finds himself degraded by her behavior in the hotel lounge and considers her mad; and she has for him "no careful explanation, no tender pity" and thinks he has "proved himself to be at the exact spiritual level" of the vulgar and sneaky concierge. Like Henry Wilcox and Margaret Schlegel in Howards End, they fail to "connect the passion and the prose" of life.
With great skill at symbolic subtlety Forster conditions or qualifies the perceptions of the characters by the settings in which they occur. It is at the moment that they cross the frontier from Italy into the Tyrol that Miss Raby's narrative of her "eternal moment" reaches ominous proportions and disgusts the Colonel. From that point on, a similar kind of scenic symbolism counterpoints the dramatic action throughout the story. The road (man-made controls) crosses over the debris fallen from the mountains (the destructive chaos of nature), as the orderly Colonel disapproves of the lady's passion. An automobile causes an uproar in the street just as Miss Raby is at the point of making her dramatic confession to Signora Cantù (civilization inhibiting passion). The presence of a bishop buying a picture postcard causes her to postpone her confession to Feo (the Church inhibiting passion), and later as she makes the confession she discerns a distant fire "high up in the mountains of youth," too far away for her to feel its warmth. Her failure with Feo is signalled by his announcement of the impending fall of the campanile (natural change bringing inevitable destruction). But the most sustained passage of scenic symbolism, a set piece resembling the Beethoven concert in Howards End or the Hindu celebration in Passage to India, deals with the fresco at the Hotel Biscione. It had been discovered during some repairs and still retained its bright colors; thus it, too, is an "eternal moment" of beauty and passion in the past (like Miss Raby's), not really lost after the passage of time. And it, too, appears high up in the mountains at the extreme boundary of Italy. Signora Cantù, a corrupted Italian like Feo, claims not to understand it, and the Americans, who prefer everything to be orderly and civilized, interpret the painted figures to be saints, i.e., purely western and Christian symbols. But Miss Raby, who is herself a sibyl figure, identifies them as sibyls. She senses a certain affinity to them, unaware that like the Cumaean Sibyl, she refused the love of an Apollo and as a consequence suffered longevity without youth and grew to be a shrivelled creature who yearned only for death.
The more prosaic Colonel Leyland hopes that he and Miss Raby could be together always, "not as egoistic lovers, craving for infinities of passion which they had no right to demand and no power to supply." But Miss Raby comes to the epiphany that "the incident upon the mountain [in her youth] had been one of the great moments in her life—perhaps the greatest, certainly the most enduring." She feels certain that "she had drawn unacknowledged power and inspiration from it, just as trees draw vigor from a subterranean spring. . . . The eternal remembrance of the vision had made life seem endurable and good." The Colonel is able to tolerate a good many eccentricities of this "funny lady," and even throughout most of her "inexpressibly coarse" behavior with Feo he attempts to defend her and restore some sort of sanity to the situation. But finally in her grotesque and anachronistic passion "she had hurt him too much. . . . She had discovered their nakedness to the alien." To understand his final gesture of touching his finger to his forehead, we must ask several questions. Does it indicate the truth about Miss Raby? Probably. Miss Raby herself feels that "her sanity forsook her" as she embarked on her interview with Feo. Why did the Colonel make the gesture? To restore the only social order and set of values he can live by; an excess of passion that transgresses the limits of class must be considered madness. Should he have done it? Probably not. It would have been more in keeping with his dignity as a kind of aristocrat to avoid personal communication with a concierge. But there is wry irony in the fact that such giving away of himself was exactly in accord with Miss Raby's conviction that "such self-exposure . . . was the only gate in the spiritual barrier that divided class from class." And the immense relief and gratitude of the concierge, which closes the story, may very well be for him a sort of "eternal moment."
In his personal declarations of faith, E. M. Forster has allied himself with feeling rather than sense and has defended (in "What I Believe") the "aristocracy of the sensitive, the considerate, and the plucky. . . . They represent the true human condition, the one permanent victory of our queer race over cruelty and chaos." Their cardinal virtues are characteristically understated as "tolerance, good temper, and sympathy." Yet in his two finest short stories, the tragic artist in Forster is dominant over the moralist. Both "The Road from Colonus" and "The Eternal Moment" present not the permanent victory of the race over cruelty and chaos, but rather—as in his great novels—the pathetic defeat of characters who aspire to his notion of saintliness. These stories embody a triumph of artistic truth and must remain among the masterpieces of short fiction in English.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4569
SOURCE: "The Short Stories," in The Fiction of E. M. Forster, Wayne State University Press, 1967, pp. 56-88.
[Here, Thomson, a noted Forster scholar, discusses the mythical and archetypal aspects of Forster's short stories.]
In Forster's stories, one way of symbolizing the complete division between innocence and experience is the two-kingdom geographical setting. We have this in "The Other Side of the Hedge," "The Machine Stops," and "The Celestial Omnibus." The stories we are now looking at create the same kind of effect by more indirect means. In "The Story of a Panic" the tourists are intruders in Pan's kingdom and must flee from the place of incarnation. Later the boy must flee from the inn and garden—the world of the tourists—into the open country. In "The Road from Colonus" Mr. Lucas is alone in the grove during the moments of his vision. The rest of the party are intruders. The importance of place is beautifully symbolized when, an hour after leaving the Inn, they come round the spur of a mountain and behold the grove of trees far below them. It makes its final appeal to Mr. Lucas but Ethel intervenes and he moves on toward the sterile inanity of his life in England.
In "Other Kingdom" the sense of a place apart is equally strong. But before coming to that, something should be said about the narrator of this story. Mr. Inskip is the employee of the prosperous, pompous, and impeccable Harcourt Worters. He is tutor to the master's ward, a very young man named Ford, and to the master's fiancée, a very unsophisticated and spirited Irish girl named Evelyn Beaumont. He is the most lively and entertaining of Forster's narrators. The first source of his allegiance to Mr. Worters is his salary; the second is a certain similarity of outlook. But the similarity is far from complete and he is able to appreciate, though never to support, Ford's scathing reactions to Mr. Worters. He is more complex than Forster's other narrators and is admirably equipped to convey the conflicting forces that ruffle the complacent surface of the Worters demesne. But he is incapable of understanding Miss Beaumont. Forster will not allow her glorious innocence and primal power to be more than guessed at by the mind of this worldly and corrupt narrator.
The characters are revealed to us through a very simple situation. Other Kingdom, a beach copse standing opposite Mr. Worters' house on the other side of a stream, is bought by him as a present for Miss Beaumont. She is in love with her property until, on a picnic to Other Kingdom, she learns that he plans to put a high fence all around it and build a path and bridge into it. Apparently broken in spirit, she at last agrees to these plans. But during a second visit to her Kingdom she escapes the deadening control of the Worters way of life by disappearing dryad-like in her beech grove. Except for the transformation, this sketch hardly touches the heart of the story which is to be found in the first visit to the wood.
Miss Beaumont, in a green dress, leads the procession. She dances in imitation of the trees and especially the beech. As they enter the woods, she induces them to sing, as if it were a litany, a line she and Ford had been translating from the classics: "Ah you silly ass gods live in woods." Once within her wood, she welcomes them and they bow to her. For the picnic she makes the seating arrangements and takes special care to have Ford stand in such a position that he will blot out her view of the Worters mansion, which the narrator cynically describes as looking "like a cottage with the dropsy." She goes further: "Just pull back your soft hat, Mr. Ford. Like a halo. Now you hide even the smoke from the chimneys. And it makes you look beautiful." And so, like a presiding deity, over them all stands "the silent, chivalrous figure of Ford."
Mr. Worters is not pleased. He chaffs Ford and tickles his ankles and legs. When Miss Beaumont again refers to blocking out the house, he runs his hand "up around the boy's ankle" and tumbles him to the ground. What follows is supposed to pass for play but Ford's cry is one of anger and pain. Later after Mr. Worters has indulged in a perfect Sir Willoughby Patterne rhapsody on the theme of the isolated and secluded bliss he and Miss Beaumont can look forward to, he stretches out his hand to cut their initials into a tree and reveals, to her horror, the "red stuff on his finger and thumb.
Mr. Worters is accustomed to imposing his will on others in a coldly sadistic manner. Here we have a physical symbol of his sadism. And we have more. He knows that Ford is his enemy and in precisely what way he is an enemy. The hand running up round the ankle with thumb and finger poised is a castration gesture. But unlike the parallel episode in "The Machine Stops," this one leads to a symbolic affirmation: Ford has made a blood sacrifice to the fulfillment of Miss Beaumont' ritual and, at the same time, has sealed their relationship in blood.
This brilliant scene deepens our understanding of the characters. Harcourt Worters, as we learn from the finest of hints, has purchased Other Kingdom by taking advantage of a widow. "Radiating energy and wealth, like a terrestrial sun," he has only to touch a thing and it turns to gold. He is Midas. Ford has told Miss Beaumont about Midas: "He just comes, he touches you, and you pay him several thousand per cent, at once. You're gold—a young golden lady—if he touches you." And Mr. Worters has told his mother that "in time Evelyn will repay me a thousandfold." When Evelyn insists on remaining alive and green and enlists Ford in the carrying out of her life-giving ritual, Mr. Worters reveals the full extent of his coldly perverted selfishness.
At the same time Ford reveals his heroic nature through a kind of stillness and radiance. In his role as presiding deity and devoted lover, he belongs with Forster's archetypal primitives, Gennaro, Gino (Where Angels Fear to Tread), and Stephen (The Longest Journey). He has their kind of wisdom. But unlike them he is educated, intelligent, a biting critic, and a wit. And for good measure, he has a notable quality of virility, a characteristic rare in Forster's men. He is the most complex and finely presented male character in the short stories and a match for any in the novels.
Evelyn Beaumont is equally fine. Few novelists can convey happiness and few can portray simple, spontaneous high-spirits. Forster can do both. He can catch, too, the suddenness of collapse when liveliness is thwarted. Because he can do these things, we believe in Evelyn Beaumont and accept her extraordinary transformation. Her visit to Other Kingdom prepares for this transformation by giving symbolic value to the flowing green dress, the tree dance, the ritual procession to the wood, and the feast presided over by Ford. The preparation is continued later in the image of the large branch torn from the wood and rolled by the wind over the bridge and up the path to the very front of the house, the image of Evelyn Beaumont torn from her Kingdom. Finally, her transformation is prefigured in the magnificent description of her flight to Other Kingdom: "She danced away from our society and our life, back, back, through the centuries till houses and fences fell and the earth lay wild to the sun."
She becomes one with her Kingdom. As they search for her, the narrator describes their feeling that she "was close by, that the delicate limbs were just behind this bole, the hair and the drapery quivering among those leaves. She was beside us, above us; here was her footstep on the purple-brown earth—her bosom, her neck—she was everywhere and nowhere." She is the Earth-Mother.
The tree of life and the wood of life are traditional mother symbols. That Other Kingdom belongs in this tradition is confirmed by the mythology of the story. Boys and girls have always come up to the wood to cut their initials together in the bark. "It's called the Fourth Time of Asking. . . . They cut their names and go away, and when the first child is born they come again and deepen the cuts. So for each child. That's how you know: the initials that go right through to the wood are the fathers and mothers of large families, and the scratches in the bark that soon close up are boys and girls who were never married at all." These are the words of Evelyn Beaumont and are followed by her plea to Mr. Worters not to fence her in by fencing her Kingdom in: "I must be on the outside, I must be where any one can reach me. Year by year—while the initials deepen—the only thing worth feeling—and at last they close up—but one has felt them."
Harcourt Worters learns that the earth, our mother, and all that is beautiful and joyous in it, cannot be bought and cannot be confined. Evelyn Beaumont has escaped him "absolutely, for ever and ever, as long as there are branches to shade men from the sun." But she embraces Ford in her shade for ever. No one can break him, for he is confirmed both as divine son and mortal lover of Earth, the bride-mother.
In probing the symbolic implications of "Other Kingdom," I have no doubt fallen into the error of making the story seem unduly portentous. Let me conclude by stressing the sureness and lightness of touch with which Forster handles his profoundly suggestive material. "Just pull back your soft hat," Miss Beaumont says. "Like a halo," and suddenly Ford stands before us as a radiant young god.
The central vision of this and all the best stories is the ecstatic experience of oneness with nature and an ideal past. About the past Forster is vague but evocative. It is a primitive pastoral world that looks with direct eyes on the power of nature and knows neither fences nor barriers; it is a youthful civilization in which even the old and the blind may regain youth and vision. Above all, it is the world of our ancestors which reaches into the present to give us strength and consolation. There is "no such thing as the solitude of nature, for the sorrows and joys of humanity [have] pressed even into the bosom of a tree." And silence, which so often heralds the moment of spiritual revelation, "is the voice of the earth and of the generations who have gone." Whatever the image, this sense of the past gives depth to man's experience of identity with nature. Moreover it implies that what has taken place is the integration into the conscious mind of ancestrally based unconscious elements.
Such an interpretation is confirmed by the preponderance of symbols representing an expanded, enhanced, or transcendent self. The hero conveys this sense of a reborn, renewed, and greater self; and the impression of a new self is supported by symbols which convey the same meaning and which frequently act as catalysts in the process of renewal. These symbols may be characters implied or present in the narrative: Achilles, Pan, the dying Oedipus, the family of man presiding over the Inn, Castor and Pollux, and Orion the hunter and hero. They may be objects of the natural world: the constellation of Orion, the shield of Achilles with its imaged universe, the everlasting river and the gulf-transcending rainbow, the valley like a vast green hand, the beech copse of Other Kingdom, and the grove of plane trees with its three equally impressive objects, the Inn, the bubbling spring, and the overflowing vessel which is both tree and shrine. All these are traditional symbols of the self or transparent modifications of traditional symbols. Sometimes the symbol is an event and represents directly the rebirth of the self as a greater and more inclusive being. Examples are the rebirth through water into the garden on the other side of the hedge, Harold's fierce rowing which induces a mystic state of pure being, the boy's leap onto the Mount Olympus of Achilles' shield, and the religious ritual at Other Kingdom.
Forster's heroes enter into an experience which can only be described as visionary. As a result of this experience they feel a sense of strength and renewal, of expansion and fulfillment. This feeling invariably arises from their achieving identity with nature though it may be nature mediated by the poetic imagination. And nature is always rooted in the human past. Thus, for example, Harold's ancestors call to him as he rows across the estuary. Since the experience of identity is, by definition, unconscious, it is reasonable to suppose that man's ancestral past is not simply inherent in outer nature but is inherent in his own inner nature, in the unconscious reaches of his own mind.
Once the bucket has been lowered and its contents brought up into the light, the unconscious may be mediated by the conscious mind and the renewed and greater self may enter into daily life. Such a transition is not easy. The subliminal nature of the vision calls from the depths, evoking the peacefulness of death-like oblivion; the supraliminal nature of the vision calls from the heights, evoking the exultation of splendid isolation.
In the short stories Forster is not much concerned with the way vision enters into and transforms daily life. But he gives full expression to the attraction of death and isolation as they exercise their power over the newborn self. A strange destiny awaits all those characters who are overtaken by vision. Harold in "The Point of It" dies immediately. Mr. Lucas is intended to die immediately. Gennaro dies that Eustace may live; and he can live only by escaping from society. The hero of "The Machine Stops" suffers both isolation and death. The hero of "Albergo Empedocle" is driven to the ultimate isolation of insanity. Both the divine child of "The Celestial Omnibus" and the bride-mother of "Other Kingdom" enter a place set apart; they have broken through the closed circle of the egocentered and unimaginative worlds from which they came. Only in the thoroughly inferior stories are death and isolation of no significance—proof, if more is needed, that in these stories Forster has falsified or failed to project the deeper implications of his vision.
The achieving of identity with nature, like the breaking down of the barrier between the ego and the unconscious, can best be described as a primitive experience. The elemental and absolute nature of the experience isolates the individual from the world. In prose fiction, the first great expressions of the phenomenon of primitive identity are Wuthering Heights and Moby-Dick. In comparison with the worlds created by these fictions, Forster's world of nature may appear to be romantically conceived: the same spirit informs both man and nature, and awareness of their unity gives to the individual such a sense of expansion and fulfillment that he experiences an escape from isolation. At a superficial level, Forster is inclined to regard nature in this way. But at a deeper level, he shows by the development of his stories that union with nature isolates the individual from humanity though at the same time it reveals to the individual the primitive power and joy that lies at the root of all being. The short stories, then, are a series of probings by Forster into the immediate elemental reality of his vision. The emphasis is on the power and joy of the experience of identity; death and isolation are accepted with a kind of exultation as the price demanded by the vision; indeed they appear as the guarantee of its supreme reality.
Though Forster's interest focuses on the immediate impact of vision, he begins in three of the stories to explore the question of whether the vision can survive and become operative in the world at large. "The Point of It" approaches the problem. It shows that the vision is easy to forget but that the desire to remember can bring personal salvation. "The Eternal Moment" tackles the problem outright, thus showing its uniqueness in yet another way. Miss Raby's vision has inspired her first and most ambitious novel, it has given her the courage to hold unpopular opinions and the integrity to act straight from the center of her being, and it has made her conscious of a triumph over experience and earthly fact, a triumph magnificent, cold, hardly human.
At least that is what we are told. What we feel amounts to much less—namely, that her memory of the eternal moment helps to sustain her in the face of a series of bitter and ironic disappointments. As a memory, her vision has conviction; as a continuing reality which transforms her day-to-day life, it has neither joy nor luminousness. In other words, it has lost most of its essential quality. It has become a kind of moral residue, good for clearing the eye and stiffening the spine but no good for anything else. The truth is—and Forster practically says so at one point—Miss Raby's Italian guide and her beautiful mountain are the only things she has ever loved deeply. Though her eternal moment is one of love, that love has not entered into the world. It has touched no one, it has tranformed no one; it is a piece of movable property the possession of which gives her security and strength. This is not the impression Forster wished to create; rather it is the impression arising from his failure to portray the vision as both a continuing and a living reality. His failure here may be contrasted with his success in "The Story of the Siren," which approaches the same problem symbolically rather than psychologically.
"The Story of the Siren," the last of Forster' s tales to be published, is one of the supreme achievements of his shorter fiction. It has been left to the end so that the fullest range of insights might be brought to its discussion. Let me add that in concentrating on its symbolic highlights I run the risk of making the story sound sensational. In fact, its power and scope are so quietly and unobtrusively conveyed that the casual reader might at first overlook them.
"The Story of the Siren" opens with a group of English tourists in Sicily. Among them is the narrator who is writing a dissertation on the Deist Controversy. Beyond this silly society is that of the town corrupted by commercialism; and beyond that again is the truly evil society of the Church and its black-clad priests. The Siren never leaves the sea because the priests have blessed the land and the air. Yet, for reasons the priests cannot understand, she reveals herself only to good people. When Giuseppe, a strong Italian youth, dives into the sea without crossing himself and sees the Siren, his life is forever changed. He is appalled rather than exhilarated for his vision is one of desolation. He becomes unhappy, "unhappy because he knew everything. Every living thing made him unhappy because he knew it would die." When he discovers a girl who has seen the Siren, he brings her home and marries her. But love cannot alter the knowledge that makes them unhappy. Then the priests turn the people against them and it is whispered that their child will be Antichrist. Before the child is born the girl goes down to the sea one stormy night and is pushed over the cliff by a priest. Giuseppe leaves his village and roams the world, searching until he dies for another human being who has seen the Siren.
What does she represent? Homer's Sirens sing, "For lo, we know all things .. . yea, we know all that shall hereafter be upon the fruitful earth." Jane Harrison, whose book on the myths of the Odyssey Forster is likely to have read, notes that Homer left them "shrouded in mystery, the mystery of the hidden things of the sea . . . —knowing all things, yet themselves for ever unknown. Nor is the manner of the death of their victims more clearly told. If, smitten with fell desire for knowledge, they hearken to the forbidden song, they must die—as, in the Semitic saga, they perish who taste of the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge . . . —die not at once, but by a slow wasting; . . . the hapless seafarer is cut off henceforth from all simple, human, wholesome joys of wife and babe, and consumed by a barren desire" [The Myth of the Odyssey in Art and Literature, 1882]. If we allow that in Forster's story knowledge of all things is simply given rather than fatally desired, this seems a fair account of Giuseppe's encounter with the Siren. . . .
Forster's Siren is a vision of youth. She too is the elemental and unconscious current of life. In her, too, every death meets. But she is also the permanent and eternal source of life. And though man, in ignorance and superstition, has confined her to the depths, she will some day—so the vision of youth asserts—be summoned into the light. When Giuseppe sees the Siren he sees life in its permanence and death in its everlastingness and he is desolate, for he knows that the vision of life's permanence is absent from the world and that death reigns over all.
"Nothing of it but will change into something rich and strange," warbles the chaplain with no slightest notion of how apposite his words are to become. Out of the vision of the world subject to death and infinite sadness comes a realization of the need for rebirth or renewal. So to a child born out of such sadness there might, as the Italian proverb says, come gladness. This is confirmed by the prophecy of the witch: "the child would always be speaking and laughing and perverting, and last of all he would go into the sea and fetch up the Siren into the air and all the world would see her and hear her sing. As soon as she sang, the Seven Vials would be opened and the Pope would die and Mongibello flame, and the veil of Santa Agata would be burned. Then the boy and the Siren would marry, and together they would rule the world for ever and ever." Giuseppe's brother interprets the prophecy: "never in my life will there be both a man and a woman from whom that child can be born, who will fetch up the Siren from the sea, and destroy silence, and save the world!" Then he adds: "Silence and loneliness cannot last for ever. It may be a hundred or a thousand years, but the sea lasts longer, and she shall come out of it and sing."
Here we have a kind of visionary map of the nature and range of the experience Forster is to explore and develop in his novels. The story does not solve the problem of how the vision can be assimilated and made operative in the world at large. But it gives fuller expression to the dark side of existence by representing death as inherent in the vision—a persistent theme in the novels. And it pictures, with greater boldness than elsewhere, the world that might be hoped for if the vision could prevail universally.
Salvation will mean the end of silence and loneliness. From his first work of fiction to his last, Forster makes splendid use of silence and loneliness. They may be associated with a revelation of spiritual power ("The Story of a Panic") or with the negation of spiritual power. In A Passage to India the silence beyond the remotest echo is a premonition of the nonexistence of spirit; and the cave is a symbol of narcissistic isolation, man's spirit turned inward upon itself in perfect aloneness. It is silence and loneliness of this order that the Siren will destroy. She will come up from the indestructible life-giving sea when a man, born out of the knowledge that all things must die (the preliminary truth which destroys the evil dream of the Church), recognizes the reality of death as a challenge and fashions another and greater reality: a vision of song and laughter, of love and companionship, a vision of the realities which are the highest fulfillment of man's spirit and which are coeternal with his spirit. And when the song of the Siren is heard, the Babylon of evil superstition will crash in ruin; and when the Siren marries the young man born out of the knowledge of death, it will be a sign that man's spirit reigns for ever and ever.
Forster frequently uses expressions like "eternal" and "for ever and ever." They have misled some of his readers and confused others. In fact they are a simple expression of the profoundly archetypal nature of his imaginative vision. Though most men are nonentities, one man may express the strength or beauty or wisdom of the human spirit. He is the hero whom Forster's imagination seizes upon. He is the one who in each of the short stories defines the essential character of the human spirit. It may be the poetic imagination or the active and joyous state of pure youthful being or the mighty affirmation of love and joy whose power is over death; but whatever it is, the hero or his surrogate gives expression to it. In that sense he is eternal.
In "The Story of the Siren" the total vision has a scope and profundity greater than that in any of the other stories. As a result the archetypal hero and heroine who embody the grandeur of this vision must be presented with immense skill and care if we are to believe in them. In this situation, Forster for the first time in the short stories resorts to the technique of extreme distancing. An Englishman narrates a story told by a young Italian about his brother who has seen the Siren but whose marriage fails to produce a son. The possibility of a permanent and life-enhancing vision is prefigured. But the divine child who is destined to become the hero remains unborn; the Siren, who is all unconscious life, individual and general, and the great universal bride-mother, remains in the sea; and the black priests like vultures remain guarding the cliffs.
By thus distancing the purest and grandest of his archetypal romance characters, Forster makes credible the most apocalyptic of all his visions. It is the boldest and farthest stretch of his imagination and the most absolute expression of his moral vision. With its two sharply divided worlds, with its boldly simple and elusively powerful symbols, and with its complex awareness of a new goodness not yet born out of the knowledge of death and an old evil not yet eradicated by the spirit of life, "The Story of the Siren" may fairly be given the central place in Forster's created world as the archetype of all his fictions.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4037
SOURCE: "The Short Stories," in The Other Kingdom, Oliver & Boyd, 1968, pp. 9-19.
[In this excerpt, Godfrey discusses Forster's preoccupation with the effects of the unseen supernatural as it relates to the plots and characterizations of his short stories.]
Although the stories accompanied rather than preceded the writing of the first four novels, it is possible to consider them collectively, to see them, in relation to the novels, as preparatory. In 1946, in an introduction to a collected edition, Mr Forster refers to the stories as fantasies, and such for the most part they are. In the most typical of them, fantasy, usually an occurrence of a supernatural kind, is made to erupt in the midst of, and in defiance of everyday reality, and the characters in accordance with the degree of their spiritual sensitivity react to it. An examination of three of the best known of the tales, beginning with "The Story of a Panic", will show the process at work.
The panic in question is, in the classical tradition, the unreasoning contagious terror inspired in mortals by the presence of the god Pan. The great god Pan, as Mr Sandbach the curate points out, died with the Birth of Christ; and yet here he is among the chestnut woods and slopes above Ravello in Italy once more in full manifestation, to the great discomfiture of a group of prosaic British tourists. From the supernatural presence of the god suggested by no more than a catspaw of wind and a terrible silence, the conventional tourists flee in mindless terror down the hillside. Only Eustace, a boy of fourteen, moody, unsatisfactory and not given to healthy exercise, is unaffected. The others return from their panic flight to find Eustace stretched serenely on the ground and when some goat prints, presumably of the god, are observed in the moist earth he rolls on them "as a dog rolls in dirt". From this point the boy, strangely transfigured, behaves with a bewildering eccentricity, racing through the woods, capturing a hare, kissing an old Italian peasant woman on the cheek. That night in the hotel, he escapes from his room, capers madly about the garden and is overheard addressing, with an extraordinary eloquence, a song of praise and blessing to the "great forces and manifestations of Nature". The uncomprehending adults close in to capture him, but the story ends with the shouts and laughter of the boy "escaping" down the valley to the sea. The other characters involved in this curious, whimsical blending of the real and the fantastic have reacted variously, but each in strict accordance with the degree of his or her spiritual sensitivity. Eustace, a maladjusted, much disapproved of boy of fourteen, has revealed in actual contact with the unseen a presence of mind, an insight that lifts him far above his disapproving elders. Only in the simple, also much disapproved of Italian waiter, Gennaro, does he find a kindred spirit, one who knows what has happened on the hillside, and exactly what it involves. Over against the inspired, the sensitive, have been set the spiritually obtuse, including those, like the artist Leyland and the clergyman Mr Sandbach, professionally committed to a belief in the unseen. In particular there has been the narrator, Mr Tytler, one whose every word gives him away, reveals him as in fact the antagonist of his own sententiously professed ideals. Measured in terms of their initial panic reaction to the manifestation of the unseen, and of their subsequent behaviour towards Eustace, and also towards Gennaro, all three stand condemned. The unseen in which they profess to believe, has challenged them and found them out. Especially revealing has been the obtuseness of the smugly British Mr Tytler towards Gennaro, in whom, as in all simple Italians, there resides—or so we are required to assume—a kind of superior wisdom deriving from an instinctive communion with the unseen.
The pattern, the formula, established by "The Story of a Panic", is to be repeated in essence and with only surface variations in both "The Celestial Omnibus" and "Other Kingdom". In the first of these, we again have a boy, younger even than Eustace, whose imaginative sensitivity is mocked and suppressed by uncomprehending elders. Again the unseen is made to erupt right in the heart of everyday suburban reality, this time in the form of a mysterious omnibus in which the boy is conveyed skywards into the realm of the imagination, escorted and welcomed thither by some of the creators of great literature and their created characters—Dante, for example, and Sir Thomas Browne, Mrs Gamp, the great Achilles. Obtuseness, spiritual insensitivity is here contributed by Mr Septimus Bons, president of the local Literary Society, an expert on Dante, and possesser of no less than seven copies of the works of Shelley. Mr Bons committed to the unseen through the medium of literature also makes the journey with the boy in the celestial omnibus; but while the boy is set in spiritual triumph on the shield of Achilles, Mr Bons, confronted at last with the reality of the literature he had theorised about so long and so glibly, panics and falls.
In "Other Kingdom" the supernatural event (a girl turns into a tree) occurs only at the end of the story and is thus less an instigator of events than a conclusion. However we are constantly being prepared for it, and again as in "The Story of a Panic" through the medium of the classics. "Other Kingdom" in fact begins with the classics, with the characters, under the eye of a tutor, Mr Inskip, translating the line from Vergil, "Quern fugis, ah demens, habitarunt di quoque silvas"—which in turn leads to a discussion on the classical habit of investing nature, woods in particular, with gods. The metamorphosis of mortals into laurels, into reeds is also touched on. So when a small wood of beech trees called "Other Kingdom" is introduced by the pompous Harcourt Worters as a gift for Miss Beaumont, his intended bride, we are already prepared for its endowment with unseen attributes, for its use as a spiritual touchstone for character. Most sensitive, most attuned to the invisible is Miss Beaumont herself, patronisingly picked out of Ireland by Mr Worters, despite her lack of money and connexions, and now in process of being moulded intellectually to become his wife. From the first she rejoices extravagantly in her Other Kingdom, arranges a picnic there and takes formal possession chanting a humorous translation of the line from Vergil "Ah you silly ass gods live in woods". Almost at once the wood raises between herself and Harcourt Worters the issue of the unseen; for Harcourt, like Mr Tytler before him, is one whose every word and action reveals him as the antagonist of his professed ideals. Hostile to the genuine spirituality he senses in Miss Beaumont, he seeks to control and destroy it, symbolically by fencing in Other Kingdom and linking it to his architecturally deplorable mansion by an asphalt path. Allied to Miss Beaumont in her battle for the spiritual, is the young Jack Ford, dependent on Harcourt Worters who is his guardian, and yet uncompromisingly aware of his falsity. Ford, a matured version of Eustace and of the boy in "The Celestial Omnibus", is both spiritually sensitive, fully initiated into the mystery of Other Kingdom, and at the same time dangerously dedicated to truth. In between the antagonists, and involved despite himself in the spiritual entanglement, is the narrator, Mr Inskip, dependent also in his capacity of tutor on the favour of Mr Worters. Unlike Ford, however, he is an equivocator, cynically aware of the side on which his bread is buttered. Seeing it all, and with the falsity of his employer as clear to him as to Ford, he yet stays obsequiously in line, ends up as Harcourt's private secretary.
Other Kingdom therefore, abode of gods, and ultimate refuge for Miss Beaumont through her metamorphosis into a tree, issues its challenge to integrity, to imagination, to character. Only to Ford, accused by Harcourt of abducting Miss Beaumont, is the ultimate truth revealed: that she has escaped "absolutely, for ever and ever, as long as there are branches to shade men from the sun".
Thus, in three of the most typical of the collected stories, the unseen is dominant, precipitating events, revealing character. To the three should also be added a lesser fourth "The Curate's Friend", in which a clergyman is saved from his own superficiality by an encounter with a faun on a down in Wiltshire. In each story a supernatural event is, as it were, postulated. We are not being asked to believe in it, or even to "suspend our disbelief", but rather to go along with it whimsically, for the sake of argument. Actual supernatural happenings—visions, the appearance of ghosts, hallucinations—are a part of human experience and acceptable as such in literature, but the occurrences in the four stories we have touched on are not of this order. Their whimsicality is most evident in "The Celestial Omnibus" where the seen and the unseen are so irrationally combined, that Mr Bons's fall from the celestial height to which the omnibus has transported him, becomes a literal fall through space and his body is found later in a "shockingly mutilated condition in the vicinity of the Bermondsey gas works". Such irrationality is of course intentional, part of the joke. As Mr Forster has himself confessed elsewhere,
I like that idea of fantasy, of muddling up the actual and the impossible until the reader isn't sure which is which, and I have sometimes tried to do it when writing myself. ["A Book That Influenced Me," Two Cheers for Democracy, 1951.]
What counts, in other words, in the stories, is not the impossible events but the reactions of the characters to them. These, assessed with an almost mathematical exactitude in terms of their sensitivity or insensitivity to a spiritual challenge, stand before us with an extraordinary vividness and reality. The method of assessment, the provision however whimsically of a spiritual touchstone, clearly justifies itself in the field of characterisation.
Next of the tales to be considered are those in which the unseen continues to be manifest, but less incongruously, less openly in defiance of our daily experience. In "The Point Of It" the seen and the unseen are kept conventionally apart, as we follow Michael first through a summary of his earthly career and then, fancifully, through a series of after-death experiences. The after-life, presented somewhat satirically in Christian terms, is also the setting for "Mr Andrews". In "Coordination" the seen and the unseen are once more blended, but humorously, with the shades of Napoleon and Beethoven comically and uncomprehendingly presiding over the curriculum of a girls' school. After death experiences also feature to some extent in the purely allegorical "The Other Side of the Hedge", where the dusty highway of life is fenced in by brown crackling hedges through which, nevertheless, one can force one's way at will into the pastoral paradise beyond. The dead, it is made clear, belong in this paradise, but the living also may penetrate to it, substitute its spiritual values for those obtaining along the dusty road. It cannot be said in any of these fantasies that the nature of man's after-death experience is being at all seriously postulated; at the most, humorously or allegorically, some aspects of what that experience may turn out to be are being speculated upon. However, preoccupation with the unseen is still there, basic to all four stories.
The unseen again, as conceived of this time in superstitious folk-lore, appears in "The Story of the Siren", related to us, or rather to the narrator, by a simple Sicilian boatman. Once more, as in "The Story of a Panic" a group of British tourists are involved, but their presence is perfunctory, and the narrator alone, poised on a rock with the boatman above the blue depths of the Mediterranean, hears what happens to those to whom the Siren has appeared. The boatman's story, an account of the dire supernatural consequences attendant on having seen the siren, is told with such matter-of-fact conviction that the narrator despite himself is moved, and in part persuaded:
The story .. . for all its absurdity and superstition, came nearer to reality than anything I had known before. I don't know why, but it filled me with desire to help others—the greatest of all our desires, I suppose, and the most fruitless.
To this extent, in respect that is to the effect of the boatman's story on the narrator, and by implication on the author as well, "The Story of the Siren" goes beyond "The Story of a Panic", where the supernatural event, despite its matter-of-fact acceptance by the simple Gennaro, is too obviously a device, whimsically presented. Meanwhile in "The Story of the Siren" our attention is again being drawn to the special spiritual sensitivity of the simple Italian: an instinctive sensitivity that issues forth in an attitude to life, in values to which the sophisticated, the intellectual, as represented by the British tourists, can no longer attain.
"The Machine Stops", a long science-fiction fantasy of the future, might seem to belong in a category of its own, to be ignoring the unseen altogether. And yet, by implication, through the mere fact of its being denied, the significance of the unseen is constantly being impressed upon us. For the scientific Utopia envisaged by the author, is one from which not only the unseen itself but all values derived from it have been ruthlessly eliminated. Living underground in a totally artificial machine-made and controlled environment, the world's inhabitants exist in impersonal isolation exchanging their limited machineconditioned ideas. Especially significant is the rejection by all devotees of the "Machine" of nature. When Vashti is compelled to travel by air-ship to visit her son, the rebellious, heretical Kuno, she observes the surface of the earth, even the might of the Himalayas, with disdain, and screens off the view with a metal blind. And when Kuno makes his escape from underground, it is to nature, the unseen in nature, that he finds himself mysteriously attracted. The hills he sees above ground are low and colourless, but yet vivid and alive:
I felt that those hills had called with incalculable force to men in the past, and that men had loved them. Now they sleep—perhaps for ever. They commune with humanity in dreams.
Over against the Machine, and the desolation of mechanical ideas, is thus set the mysticism of nature already suggested to us, for example, by the panegyric of the boy Eustace and by the whimsical peopling of nature in story after story with classical divinities. Explicitly in fact, as well as by implication, the unseen is omnipresent in "The Machine Stops", and basic to it. And again we should note the antagonism brought against the unseen in this story by "ideas", by an intellectualism, a sophisticated rationality such as we have already encountered in Mr Tytler, in Inskip and Harcourt Worters, in Mr Bons. This barren rationality, so clever and plausible on the surface, so outwardly cultured and humane, is already being identified for the dangerous enemy that it will turn out to be in the novels, an arch-destroyer of the human soul.
Two stories, essentially different from those touched on so far still remain—"The Road from Colonus" and "The Eternal Moment". In both of them the unseen, or rather forces from out of the unseen, are manifest, but now realistically, in terms, so to speak, of everyday life. So far the unseen has been presented to us on the level of fantasy, whimsically, humorously, allegorically, or through the medium of naïve superstition. We have not been invited to accept it as indeed operating actually and literally in real life. Now, fantasy is to be set aside, and the actual impact of the unseen, at least by implication, demonstrated.
Mr Lucas, the Oedipus figure of "The Road from Colonus", is on a visit to Greece, and in common with the Oedipus of legend is growing very old. He has lost interest in people and their affairs, and seldom listens when they speak to him. The dream of his life, a visit to Greece, is being realised, but with none of the magic to which he had confidently looked forward for forty years. Then beside a tiny Khan, or country inn, surrounded by magnificent trees, a transfiguring moment awaits him. One of the great trees is hollow, and from out of it there gushes, to his amazement, an impetuous spring coating the bank with fern and moss and flowing on to create a fertile meadow beyond. The simple country folk paying "to beauty and mystery such tribute as they could" have cut a shrine in the rind of the tree and adorned it with native offerings to the "presiding Power". With a curious sense of companionship, Mr Lucas approaches, spreads out his arms and leans back against the tree:
His eyes closed, and he had the strange feeling of one who is moving, yet at peace—the feeling of the swimmer, who, after long struggle with chopping seas, finds that after all the tide will sweep him to his goal.
Aroused at length by the shock of some kind of arrival, he opens his eyes to find that "something unimagined, indefinable, had passed over all things, and made them intelligible and good". Meaning and beauty have flowed back into life, transfiguring the commonplace, and in a single moment of experience Mr Lucas has "discovered not only Greece, but England and all the world and life". He has a passionate longing to prolong his ecstasy, to spend a night, perhaps a week in the Khan among the gracious, kind-eyed country people, but his companions, arrogantly practical, intellectual and insensitive, soon arrive to ridicule the suggestion. He fights back, fortified by the wordless appeal directed to him from the simple Greeks, and because in that place and with those people he knows that "a supreme event was awaiting him which would transfigure the face of the world". But in vain. Losing patience with the tiresome old man, his companions hoist him onto his mule and lead him away, pursued by the execrations and stones of the instinctively percipient villagers. Mr Lucas accepts his fate, reverts to his former, dessicated self and deteriorates further. We see him next in England, in loveless companionship with his daughter Ethel, a querulous old man testily preoccupied with trivialities. And when a Greek newspaper arriving by chance informs them of a rural tragedy, a tree blown down killing the occupants of a village Khan, and Ethel, translating it out loud, checks the date and the locality and is promptly aghast with realisation, the old man babbles on with his grievances uninterested, indeed unhearing. Ethel perceives the delivering hand of Providence, but the reader knows that death in the Khan would have been for Mr Lucas a fulfilment, that in fact at the Khan he had already died.
"The Eternal Moment", last and most considerable of the tales, has much in common with "The Road from Colonus". For again the unseen is operative, as the title suggests, by influencing though without intruding upon a sequence of everyday events. In fact the surface happenings are here more consistently commonplace than in the "Road from Colonus", where the contrived coincidence of the ending, the destruction of the Khan, is an intrusion somewhat difficult to accept. Even the "Eternal Moment" itself, Miss Raby's romantic encounter on the mountain side with the Italian guide, Feo Genori, is already twenty years distant in the past, and we are to be concerned only with its sequel.
Returning, after twenty years, to the Alpine village of Vorta, Miss Raby finds herself haunted by a sense of betrayal. For thanks to her, to her portrayal of it in a successful novel, Vorta has become known and fashionable, blossoming forth into a vulgar and prosperous tourist resort. Famous, in the evening of her life, and accompanied by the prosaic Col Leyland, she must now confront the spiritual devastation for which she has been responsible.
The reality surpasses her fears. Fleeing in disgust from the pretentious Hotel des Alpes, she returns to the Albergo Biscione, the simple, gracious inn of her first visit, only to find it a pathetic survival, excluded from the new order, the new prosperity. She visits the ailing, aged proprietress, the aristocratic Signora Cantù, who can talk of nothing now but her grievances, especially against her son, the proprietor of the infamous Hotel des Alpes. Listening to her and perceiving all the degradation for which she has been to blame, Miss Raby experiences a kind of death:
It seemed to her that with this interview her life had ended. She had done all that was possible. She had done much evil. It only remained for her to fold her hands and to wait, till her ugliness and her incompetence went the way of beauty and strength.
Yet one hope, one person remains—Feo Genori. Perhaps through him, through the shared recollection of their eternal moment together, her craving for atonement can be appeased. But the meeting with Feo, now the fat and unattractive concierge at the Hotel des Alpes, is a total catastrophe. He does not recognise her, and when, recklessly, she forces him to remember, he panics, fearing blackmail. Col Leyland appears and the misunderstandings multiply, become grotesque. Hearing that Feo now has three children, Miss Raby pursues her quest for atonement by desperately offering to adopt one. But Feo, after some mercenary calculations, declines. His wife is too sharp, and might find out about his past indiscretion. The scandal spreads through the hotel, and the situation is saved only by the intervention of Col Leyland who enters into a secret, vulgar pact with Feo. They will explain that Miss Raby is not responsible, not quite right in the head.
Her defeat is total, her attempt at atonement repudiated, and yet Miss Raby finds herself not altogether forsaken:
In that moment of final failure, there had been vouchsafed to her a vision of herself, and she saw that she had lived worthily. She was conscious of a triumph over experience and earthly facts, a triumph magnificent, cold, hardly human, whose existence no one but herself would ever surmise.
The eternal moment on the mountain side, the remembrance of which had spiritually irradiated all her subsequent life, had not after all been invalidated. Always it had been to her a source of power and inspiration, "just as trees draw vigour from a subterranean spring", and so now it enables her to go beyond experience and earthly facts, to accept her own and the tragedy of Vorta, and the coming of age. "I suppose this is old age," she thought. "It's not so very dreadful".
In the short stories then, in a variety of ways, the workings of the unseen have been suggested: through fantasy, classical mythology and superstitious folklore, through the implication of spiritual forces manifesting in nature, in the instincts of simple, especially Italian, people, and in the events of everyday life. On the whole fantasy has predominated, a whimsical fantasy which the author invites us not to take too seriously. Yet the unseen, fantastic or otherwise, has been the common basic factor in all the stories, and will continue to be basic in the novels. Observable also in the stories has been a certain progress away from the whimsical, the equivocal towards a concept of a literal unseen actually at work with its forces within everyday reality. And again, even in those tales where the unseen is manifestly fantastical, it has always been presented as a precipitator of significant events, a touchstone for the judgement of character. The novels will lead more deeply into human experience, into far more subtle interpretations of events and people, but in one respect at least they will not go beyond the stories. Consistent in the novels as in the stories will be the author's interpretation of life and people in terms of an invisible underlying reality.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 694
SOURCE: "Love, Madness, & Other Anxieties," in Encounter, Vol. 40, No. 1, January 1973, pp. 80-5.
[In this unfavorable review of The Life to Come, Scruton describes the collection as unpleasant and indecent in its callow portrayal of homosexual relationships.]
The theme of the values of friendship is a familiar part of E. M. Forster's repertoire, and one would not have been surprised to find it developed in The Life to Come, a collection of stories most of which have not before been published. This volume contains all the stories that Forster judged either too weak or too "indecent" to be published in his lifetime, and, in the opinion of the present reviewer, it is a great pity that Forster's judgment in these matters was not allowed to prevail. It goes without saying that the stories are far from bad: they are written with imagination and skill, and with the author's characteristic gift for dramatic irony. Their main fault lies in a callow vision of human relationships, which exists here in the absence of the qualities—strong delineation of character and brilliant description—that make the novels so often successful. In his published stories, indeed, Forster frequently allowed his whimsical romanticism to dominate: he presented neither scenes nor characters, but only idylls. But while the previous collections—The Celestial Omnibus and The Eternal Moment—are charming and inconsequential, at least half of the present stories are distinctly unpleasant, with a grotesque mixture of heavy-handed melodrama and adolescent sensuality that renders them at times almost unreadable. It comes as a surprise to find Forster writing so openly about the physical aspect of homosexual passion, although one can scarcely claim to be shocked by a treatment that is, by present standards, so mildly phrased. But set against the background of unreal and futile relationships that Forster creates in these stories, the homosexual scenes have an "indecent" and unpleasant quality beyond anything in Le Journal du Voleur, or in Notre Dame des Fleurs. Suddenly, in the middle of a laboured evocation of middle-class sociability, we find an ageing businessman hurrying into the bushes with a milkman whom he has greeted on his morning round. Not only is the milkman young, handsome, genial, good-natured and consumed with generous passion for a middle-aged stranger in a dressing-gown—he is also selfsacrificing to the point of attempting to refuse a gift of money and, later, denying to the police all knowledge of his lover's identity. This characterisation of rustic motives is only absurd because of the attempted realism; as an erotic idyll the scene would be at least acceptable, if slight. A powerful tension exists between the unreality of motive and an insistent earthiness of description, and this lends a tone of wish-fulfilment to the story.
This sentimentalising of physical passion is certainly the most obnoxious feature of the present stories. It leads to no genuine exploitation of sexuality for dramatic ends; on the contrary the sexual encounter becomes a meaningless and vapid endpoint (identified in one story with death itself) in which the very attempt at individual existence comes to rest. One might point here to the contrast with Genet—and it is to be expected that a writer of Forster's sophistication would have accepted the possibility of a Genetesque treatment of homosexual feeling. For Genet, the sexual encounter serves not as the conclusion of a romantic episode, but rather as a premise from which to begin the exploration of unusual feelings and inverted states of mind. By being explicit Genet merely sets the tone of his particular kind of realism: the motives of his characters, seen through a sophisticated introspection that is not their own, are tested against the banality of the sexual encounter and so given distinction. It is part of Genet's excellence that he avoids all sense that it is in homosexuality that his characters find their raison d'être. It merely provides the soil in which more complex passions can achieve fruition. In this way the suggestion of "indecency" is after all avoided. Set beside Genet's achievement, one can see at once that Forster's stories fail for just the reason that persuaded him they should not be published.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2284
SOURCE: "A Collection of Old New Stories by E. M. Forster," in The New York Times Book Review, May 13, 1973, pp. 27-8, 30.
[In the following excerpt, Welty, an acclaimed novelist and essayist, notes that while the stories of The Life to Come are linked to Forster's other fiction by their emphasis on passion, they are flawed by the absence of Forster's comic genius.]
The Life to Come is the title of a short story that was written 70 years ago by E. M. Forster and is receiving its first publication today. The author himself valued it: it "came more from my heart than anything else I have been able to turn out," containing "a great deal of sorrow and passion that I have myself experienced." But because the sorrow and passion had a homosexual nature, the story has gone unpublished. Upon Forster's death, not quite three years ago, it was bequeathed to King's College, Cambridge, along with his other unpublished papers: two novels in "substantial fragments" (in addition to Maurice), and stories, plays, poems, essays, letters, notebooks, diaries. Of the total work of Forster, who lived to be 91, the reading public saw during his lifetime no more than perhaps one-half. Now,The Life to Come is giving its title to one volume of what is being published in England as a new and "as nearly as possible" complete edition of E. M. Forster.
Oliver Stallybrass, who is editor of the Abinger Edition (so named for a place of long association with Forster's family) has included in this book all the completed stories that Forster did not include in The Celestial Omnibus and The Eternal Moment. Of the 14, only two have been published before; the rest were rejected by magazines or withheld by the author. They range in date of composition from 1903 to 1958; seven were written after the publication of A Passage to India; upon completing that novel, Forster said in a letter, "My patience with ordinary people has given out."
For the texts here, the editor has followed as scrupulously as he could Forster's "latest intentions"; the manuscripts he has found to be in an untidy state. The handwriting is puzzling, the punctuation slapdash—Forster so rarely remembered to close his quotation marks—and more than one version turns up of most of the stories, "The Other Boat" in variations Mr. Stallybrass had to label from (a) to (g). At least one story seems to have risen from the ashes. What writer could live with his unpublished pages and let them alone?
And "How dependent on approval!" Forster wrote of himself in his diary. Going unpublished, he tried out his stories on a circle of his friends. How much did they help matters, we wonder? While Lytton Strachey thought The Life to Come, was good, T. E. Lawrence gave it a laugh. Golds worthy Lowes Dickinson's disgust at a "Rabelaisian" story was enough to put Forster off his work on Maurice. The young William Plomer, allowed to read a story and not caring for it, was never shown another.
Forster, worshiper of sylvan places and the sunlit open, of freedom of every kind, felt obliged to keep his work put away in the drawer. But works of fiction—growths of the mind, the green shoots of feeling—need air and circulation to give them nourishment. They need the world. These stories often show cramp and strain, understandably for not having reached the good light of acceptance.
All the stories inThe Life to Come, like the familiar ones, are fantasies. The form suited Forster's temperament and was flexible to his needs. The title story, laid in a savage country, tells of the mistaking by "the wildest, strongest, most stubborn of all the inland chiefs" of an erotic passion that he feels for a British missionary for the love of Christ. "Dr. Woolacott" is the story of an ill young man, who suffers from daydreams "of the kind forbidden"; in spite of Dr. Woolacott, "who treats everybody," he is in love with death and longs for its coming. But when he has received a portentous visitor at last, "he was left with a human being who had somehow trespassed and been caught, and blundered over the furniture in the dark, bruising his defenceless body, and whispering 'Hide me.'"
This story, too, meant much to Forster; and in it comes a touching passage in which the genius of all these stories might be musing:
"A violin had apparently been heard playing in the great house for the last half-hour, and no one could find out where it was. Playing all sorts of music, gay, grave and passionate. But never completing a theme. Always breaking off. A beautiful instrument. Yet so unsatisfying . . . leaving the hearers much sadder than if it had never performed. What was the use (some asked) of music like that? Better silence absolute than this aimless disturbance of our peace."
"Arthur Snatchfold" is less mysterious, a straightforward account of the "netting" of a jolly young milkman in a yellow shirt. It opens with a view of the conventional world characteristic of all these stories, here as a country house on a Sunday morning, "with so much ahead to be eaten, and so little to be said": something is missing, which has left the world empty or asleep or simply waiting. It appears at the turning point in "The Other Boat"—the best story in the book and, one is glad to note, the latestwritten, dated 1958. Young Lionel, after an exhausting scene with his young native lover "Cocoanut" down in the cramped cabin of a P. & O. liner, has come up on deck "to recover his poise and his sense of leadership":
The deck was covered with passengers who had had their bedding carried up and now slept under the stars. They lay prone in every direction, and he had to step carefully between them on his way to the railing. He had forgotten that this migration happened nightly as soon as a boat entered the Red Sea; his nights had passed otherwise and elsewhere. Here lay a guileless subaltern, cherry-cheeked; there lay Colonel Arbuthnot, his bottom turned. Mrs. Arbuthnot lay parted from her lord in the ladies' section. . . . How decent and reliable they looked, the folk to whom he belonged! He had been born one of them, he had his work with them, he meant to marry into their caste. If he forfeited their companionship he would become nobody and nothing. The widening expanse of the sea, the winking lighthouse, helped to compose him, but what really recalled him to his sanity was this quiet sleeping company of his peers.
But this recalling is the herald of the murder and suicide with which the story ends. Like most of the stories, it is carrying a heavy burden of emotion with nowhere to go. As Forster saw, the stories were homosexual daydreams; like all daydreams, they go rushing toward the sanctuaries of extremes, and can end only in violence.
According to Forster's biographer, P. N. Furbank, it was the facetious homosexual stories rather than these serious ones that caused him misgivings. Mr. Stallybrass quotes Forster's diary entry for April 8, 1922: "Have this moment burnt my indecent writings or as many as the fire will take. Not a moral repentance, but the belief that they clogged me artistically. They were written not to express myself but to excite myself. .. . I am not ashamed of them. It is just that they were a wrong channel for my pen."
Without being able to account for their coming through the flames, Mr. Stallybrass has produced three for this book. "What Does It Matter? A Morality" is one, moving at slapstick speed, about a mythical kingdom with an agent provocateur, winking policemen, doors popping open onto mismatched lovers, a concealed microphone under the mattress. The old facetiousness dances like a skeleton.
Clearly, nothing has got away from Mr. Stallybrass, and I consulted Forster here, turning to what he had to say about the Chapman edition of Jane Austen, a writer whom he loved as much as I love Forster. Yes, he says, all scraps are for bringing forth, because they "throw light." Print anything, however trival, that will help in the "final estimate." (And Heaven knows, it was having to keep his work away from view that had been the affiction of his life.)
And so we have "Three Courses and a Dessert: Being a New and Gastronomic Version of the Game of Consequences," an outstanding example of a scrap. It's a composite story written by four friends for a magazine called Wine and Food; it saw print in 1944 and never did anybody any harm. Forster contributed the fish course.
But one misses comedy (as distinct from glee), so familiar a part of his fiction—to see at once the reason for its absence: when the women went out of his stories, they took the comedy with them. (And they were also a cause of much of the beauty of his work; they afforded him a good deal of his irony; and he has not got a thoroughly good sounding board without them.) Those women allowed to remain can be got down in a phrase ("that vengeful onswishing of skirts . . . !") or by a tag ("She was one of those women who behave alternately well and badly."). Perpetua, in "The Torque," belongs to the familiar sisterhood of Forster old maids, though she is the only one he disposed of by reducing her to ashes with a bolt of lightning. (Her brother "duly mourned his distinguished sister and collected what could be found of her in an urn. But what a relief not to have her about!")
Central place is perhaps occupied by Lionel's mother, in "The Other Boat," not in person but seen in Lionel's thoughts: "Blind-eyed in the midst of the enormous web she had spun—filaments drifting everywhere, strands catching. There was no reasoning with her or about her, she understood nothing and controlled everything. She had suffered too much and was too highminded to be judged like other people, she was outside carnality and incapable of pardoning it."
There are flaws in these stories, and they show; but they are never flaws of feeling. Herein lies their relationship with Forster's other stories.
None have attempted the broader proportions of "The Road From Colonus," nor do they reach that story's nobility. When the traveler in Greece, who had felt only that "something great was wrong" and, vowing that "I will pretend no longer," steps inside the hollow tree, it is to find that "from its living trunk there gushed an impetuous spring." What all these stories say in part is here said perfectly. Here, Forster is writing about all human desire, and its epitome in the defiance of one half-helpless old man: he would cling to life at its most meaningful point, just where he had found it, never willingly to let himself to be torn away.
It will be sad if the aspect of homosexuality, which kept Forster's stories from reaching print in his own day, turns out to be their only focus of interest for today's readers. It will be sadder if it reanimates the "re-evaluators," who, upon the debut of Maurice, a novel then aged 57, wanted a go at the whole of Forster's work on the basis of news freshly received by them concerning his private life. Have we been as ready for Forster' s honesty as we thought we were?
Forster, whose greatness surely had root in his capacity to treat all human relationships seriously and truthfully, has Clive in that novel speak of homosexual love as "a passion we can direct, like any other, to good or bad." And of course, the best realized of the homosexual stories dovetail perfectly into the best of all his work. Even the earliest and most ephemeral of them will be recognized as the frailer embodiments of the same passionate convictions that made for the moral iron in his novels.
What engaged Forster was not the issue of respectability vs. homosexuality, but that of respectability vs. Apollo. The weights in the balance are always spiritual life, spiritual death.
As for the light thrown by the present volume, it has given us more knowledge about a writing life of immense fidelity—it was to be the truth or nothing—that from its beginning was difficult and sad, though lit with comic glints. It is much along the lines of a Forster novel, which continues to unwind itself after his death and is now heading for its ironic conclusion. . . .
The Abinger Edition will not be the measure of Forster's achievement except in pound-weight; the complete is not answerable to standards, is as blind to excellence as to the lack of it, and passion counts for exactly the same as punctuation, although the latter can be corrected. But the complete has its own excuse for being. Knowing that it is to exist, Forster readers here will find it hard to settle for the occasional parcel. We must hope.
If Forster himself could have the last word on the destination of his books, that word might well be "Eternity." He spoke of Eternity often and in familiar terms, and it was indeed upon her that he placed his reliance for that final estimate. And will there be a reader who won't see, in each of these books being launched, the paper boat in The Longest Journey? It is being lighted and set into the stream at last, taking the current, going under the bridge—to be watched, from wherever we stand, "still afloat, far through the arch, burning as if it would burn forever."
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 953
SOURCE: "Hazards of An Honest Life," in Washington Post Book World, June 3, 1973, p. 3.
[Below, Hynes notes that Forster's recently published sexual fantasies lack artistic merit but command interest for their honesty.]
"I am quite sure I am not a great novelist," Forster once remarked in an interview. "Because I have only got down on to paper really three types of people: the person I think I am, the people who irritate me, and the people I like." There is a charming, Forsterian modesty in that judgment, but we had better take it seriously; Forster was a penetrating critic, and he knew the value of what he had done. His remark describes what less-than-great fiction is like, but it also describes the personal, limited sources out of which it rises. Forster knew that he was not a great novelist, and he knew why—because he was locked in himself.
One of the personal sources of art is the artist's sexual nature and experience, and in Forster's case that was homosexual, though apparently both knowledge and experience came late. The "Terminal Note" to Maurice dates the turning point in his sexual awareness as September 1913, when he was 34, and had written all but one of the novels that he published during his lifetime. Immediately after that date he wrote Maurice, an explicitly homosexual novel that remained in manuscript until after his death, and following that, A Passage to India, where the homosexual themes are muted, but evident. Then, as he put it, he dried up. He felt no decline in his powers, and he still wanted to write, but he no longer wanted to write what he called "respectable novels."
Instead he wrote, and went on writing, what he called his "indecent writings"—short stories about homosexual acts and desires. He kept these stories secret; to have published them would, he thought, have brought him scandal and notoriety. One can't help thinking that it might also have made him a hero, that publication would have been a brave gesture in defense of the freedom to love; but Forster was not made for heroism. Like the elderly character in one of his stories, faced with a similar choice, "he did not want greatness. He was not up to it." And so he went on writing his sexual fantasies, sharing some with sympathetic friends like T. E. Lawrence and Lytton Strachey, destroying others, but keeping the secret of his sexual nature from the world.
In a time of Last Exits and Last Tangos, Forster's defensive reticence must seem extreme. But then, he wasn't of our time. He was born nearly a century ago, came of age while Victoria still reigned, and wrote all but one of his novels before the First World War. Those novels strike us as mild enough now, but even their restrained improprieties were shocking once: Edmund Gosse thought Howards End "sensational and dirty and affected" because it contained a high-born maiden who has a baby; what would he have made of "The Life to Come," in which a missionary makes love to a native chief? How, in his own lifetime, could Forster have published the person he thought he was? Yet, being the honest man he was, how could he deny what he was? The only possible course was the one he chose—to go on writing, but to be silent in public, and to accept the consequences of silence. "I should have been a more famous writer if I had written or rather published more," he wrote in his diary just before his death; "but sex has prevented the latter." Obviously he regretted that this should be true, but he accepted it, as he accepted the other hazards of an honest life.
The "indecent writings" of a man like Forster are bound to be interesting. From them we can learn a good deal about social attitudes toward sexual deviance in his time. More important, perhaps, we can learn something about the relation between Forster's sexual nature and his creative imagination (and perhaps, by extension, something about this complex relationship in general). We can see, looking back from these stories to Forster's major novels, that the conflicts are the same: on the one hand Society, "the people who irritate me," the insensitive and cruel social demand for conformity, and on the other hand the Individual, "the person I think I am," desiring freedom, but weak, confined and guilty. There is only one Forster theme, really: he simply told it over and over, in different terms.
Yet, having said that the stories are interesting, I must add that as stories they are not very good—and this applies not only to the overtly homosexual stories but to the halfdozen other pieces in the volume, the gathered cast-offs of Forster's early career. They are worth reading, because the inferior work of any major artist is worth attending to, but none has any great literary merit. Some notices of this book have obscured this simple truth, in the process of canonizing Forster as a sort of secular saint of Liberalism. I've never met a saint, and I never met Forster, but I see no reason to believe that he was more saintly than other men, and even if he was, what has that to do with his work? Surely what we owe him, by his own example, is honesty. What could be more un-Forsterian than to praise bad writing in the name of affection? And this is, by his standards, bad. But never mind, there is enough good Forster to feed our affections for a long while; and even what is less than good is worth having, as a part of the one story of his work.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2729
SOURCE: "Forster and his Merry Men," in The New York Review of Books, June 28, 1973, pp. 9-11.
[In the following excerpt, Miller argues that the constrained quality of Forster's posthumous publications justifies the author's own misgivings about their literary merit.]
Despite what is said about literature's power to shock, it is rare for a piece of writing to send a thrill of horror through those whose nerves are in reasonably good condition. Such a thrill, however, is administered by one of this collection of largely unknown stories by E. M. Forster: only two have hitherto appeared in print. The story is called "The Classical Annex." The prissy curator of a dull museum in a boring town with the apt name of Bigglesmouth discovers that the objects in the Classical section have come to life and been damaged. The fig leaf falls from an inferior stone statue, which develops, mirabile dictu, an erection. By making the sign of the Cross, the curator stills his animated antiquities and sets off home, catching a tram.
His wife, who has pale blue Northern eyes, greets him with the news that their son Denis has gone to meet him: since he doesn't usually take the tram, Denis is likely to have proceeded to the museum, with almost nothing on except his football shorts. The curator, alarmed, retraces his steps, and arrives at the museum to hear the sound of his son's giggles as he accepts the Mediterranean embraces of the Priapus of the Classical section. The curator retires from his post. Denis dies in the act, or something, and his seduction magically endures in stone, supplying the museum with a new and acceptably gladiatorial statue. Applauding this sporting, rather than sportive, statue, and speaking in the extravagantly distinctive language which Forster often assigns to his working-class characters, a philistine local councilor says: "Look 'ow the elder brother's got the little chappie down. Look 'ow well the little chappie's taking it."
I should explain that what I take to be objectionable in the story is not so much Denis's rape as the violence done to his dad in the form of a kind of trick or practical joke. The story is in Forster's fanciful vein, which was placed here at the service of the homosexual cause or interest, at a time when such a thing could confidently be supposed to exist in Britain. The trick played in the story is played for the same reason. The collection is full of such tricks. Why did this writer want to play them?
The answer must partly lie in homosexuality's long history of proscription and clandestinity, which has engendered, among other things, tricks, revenges, a spiteful sense of grievance, and a robust chauvinism. In 1967 a Private Member's Bill was passed in the House of Commons (the Labour government of the day did not promote it, and voting was on a non-party basis) which seemed to many to bring that history to an end by stating that homosexual behavior between consenting adults should no longer be accounted a criminal offense. But the liberating effects of the Sexual Offences Act are by no means as extensive as is generally assumed.
In 1935, at the age of fifty-six, Forster set down in a personal memorandum the kind of resolution which a young man might make with regard to his hopes for adult life: "I want to love a strong young man of the lower classes and be loved by him and even hurt by him. That is my ticket, and then I have wanted to write respectable novels." In fact, it was already apparent to him many years before, when he embarked on his "indecent writings," that this was his ticket. In 1922 he had this to say in his diary on the subject of these writings:
They were written not to express myself but to excite myself, and when first—15 years back?—I began them, I had a feeling that I was doing something positively dangerous to my career as a novelist. I am not ashamed of them. . . .
Some of the indecent writings suggest, however, that he hadn't had much personal experience of the indecencies which are celebrated there. Solitariness and dreaming are at the heart of several of the stories, which enact delirious consents and idyllic "sharings" in the long grass. "Come!" cries the tortured youth as he lies in bed, and the strong young man of the lower classes bounds obligingly through the open window. A discontented public-school boy ails and loiters in some country house, where a working-class pagan—reeking of the Greenwood and of Robin Hood and his merry men—arrives to rescue him.
I admired and liked Forster very much, and I am sorry that I cannot be warmer about the clandestine productions. His own misgivings of 1922 were, in my opinion, justified. His indecent writings are special and partisan in a way that interfered with the exercise of his talents as a writer of fiction. He was exciting himself. Many good writers excite themselves and indulge in daydreams: there's a lot of that about, and it's perfectly safe to refer to it as literature, and not as anything disreputable. But Forster's daydreams are severely constrained by the predicament from which they arose. He grew up a shy, proud man with a distinct pudeur—to use a word that Leavis has used to evoke with approval a quality that was frequently encountered in Englishmen of his own generation, which was also Forster's—in a country which forbade him his sexual desires, which seems in effect to have enjoined celibacy on him for much of his life, and which locked him in visions of a quaint world largely populated by colonels and gamekeepers, silly women and jolly sailors, giggling youths and those whom they are successfully deceiving.
Some of the stories have a school-boy naughtiness, and some appear to lack knowledge of the conduct they describe. The mischievous daydreams with which he comforted and beguiled himself cannot bear comparison with those works of his in which he knows rather than dreams his subject, in which he undertakes to address an audience not entirely composed of friends and fellow homosexuals, and in which he is not noticeably constrained by the difficulties which may come to someone who wishes to make forbidden love to his inferiors and to celebrate that love in fiction.
Perhaps the acid test of his indecent writings is the women in them. The author of A Passage to India and Howards End showed that he could create interesting, if not "exciting" women. But the women in his indecent writings tend to be resented and belittled stereotypes. These sisters and maters, like the sirs and sahibs to whom they belong, are introduced mainly in order to be humiliated: they are all of them seen as no more than the oppressors of his lads.
It is a measure of the restrictive character of the reveries that sprang from his imprisoned condition that in one of the stories where his dislike for his females is most marked the tone is closer to the stories of Somerset Maugham than it is to A Passage to India. "The Obelisk" has more than a taste of Maugham's beady, worldly quality. "Ernest was an elementary schoolmaster, and very very small." Hilda, his wife, for all her dissatisfaction with his size, is not much bigger herself. Both are mediocre. "She tried to steady herself by her modesty, which was considerable, and well-grounded."
They set off to climb a hill to look at the obelisk which is the pride of the seaside town they're visiting, and they meet two sailors, one large and endearingly uncouth, the other a suave Ronald Colman. On the way up, Ronald Colman and Hilda diverge from the others, and she yields to him in the bushes with the dreamlike rapidity which distinguishes many of the yieldings in the book. Presently the four of them foregather at the foot of the hill: reasons are given for the separation that has occurred, and they behave as if they have seen the obelisk. Hilda is stirred and edified by her seduction. Then she discovers that the obelisk is no longer there, that it has fallen from its rock during a spell of heavy rain (it must have been a very mediocre obelisk). She deduces that Ernest, too, has been sharing in the bushes, with the other, the uncouth matelot. What larks! She takes a peep at her husband: "He looked handsomer than usual, and happier, and his lips were parted in a natural smile."
The British navy has often sailed to the rescue of the sexually oppressed. But on this occasion it is difficult to cheer. Hilda has been tricked, as Forster sometimes wanted his women to be tricked. She had much to be modest about: now she has a bit more, though perhaps she will benefit from Ernest's ability to summon a natural smile....The belittling of Hilda in this story is assisted by the scholarship of Mr. Stallybrass.
"Her eyes filled with happy tears of happiness." There may be a manuscript error here, Mr. Stallybrass concedes, "but it seems possible that the tautology is meant to match the banal, cliché-ridden quality of Hilda's thoughts in this paragraph." It seems more likely to have been a mistake. But there is nothing like casting the last stone, even if it means publishing a sentence that would make even a misogynist wince.
A better tale of stolen delights and the deception of the enemy is entitled "Arthur Snatchfold." A tolerant, bisexual, middle-aged tycoon—of a kind that the writer, who spent some years as a Fellow of King's College, Cambridge, must have dined with at high table—is enduring a dull country weekend at the house of a business associate. The editorial introduction speaks rather wildly of "the horrors of a vapid, pointless, sham-rural weekend in uncongenial company," which are "enough to drive anyone to a roll in the bracken with the milkman." This almost suggests that milkmen may be counted on to oblige an exasperated tycoon. And it's true that golden-shirted Arthur (gold serves as an erotic signal in these stories) assents with a readiness which captivates Sir Richard Conway. "Thus, exactly thus, should the smaller pleasures of life be approached. They understood one another with a precision impossible for lovers. He laid his face on the warm skin over the clavicle.... "
While it accords with the droll, clodhopping traits not uncommon in the Forsterian working class, Arthur Snatchfold is a funny name for the milkman, carrying as it does intimations of theft and of vaginas. Arthur, in fact, is very virile and no thief, and when he is brought before the local magistrate, Conway's business associate, for an act of indecency in the bracken, he refuses to identify his male partner. The unidentified partner, Conway himself, is told about the case by the magistrate in a sharply handled scene in a London club, and he feels distressed and ashamed. These feelings are made all the more convincing for being seen as consistent with the knowledge that he will have no further dealings with the owner of that "obliging body." Sir Richard is no martyr: he will not reveal his own role, or roll, and he will not be visiting Arthur in jail.
Like the golden lad he is, Arthur has trouble with the English language. Conway has no such trouble, nor does the author of these stories, who can write sentences which have a high-table ring, a magisterial confidence. Usually he does so in fun, or ironically: "Onto him thus desperately situated the Arbuthnots descended." This is not one of his best sentences, but it occurs in what is perhaps the best story in the book, "The Other Boat," which was written very late, in 1957-1958. It follows one of the book's best effects: Captain Lionel March "showed the dash and decision that had so advantaged him in desert warfare: in other words he did not know what he was doing."
"The Other Boat" concerns a shipboard love affair between March and a supple Eurasian known as Cocoanut, wise in the ways of the flesh and of international finance. Cocoanut (again, the humble, absurd name, in polemical contrast with his lover's grand one) is a reminder of Forster's skepticism about the sexual capacities of the English, who need to be taught by such people. The lovemaking of the officer and the wog, the lion and the monkey, is very well done, and is passionate in a way that persuades. It travels far beyond a touching of the clavicle. The melodramatic and sticky end seems right, as do the closing ironies directed at March's sahib mother, who has already figured in an earlier scene on board another ship, when the lovers first met as children, and whose irritable presence seems to hover over their Liebestod.
The book ends with a literary parlor game run by the magazine Wine and Food in 1944: practiced hands were invited to collaborate in the telling of a spy story set in a seaside resort which has been requisitioned by the army. Christopher Dilke starts the game off with a sprightly piece, and Forster enters into the spirit of the thing. An English Mata Hari contributes to the war effort. The resort lacks an obelisk, and there's not a lad in sight. At this stage in the collection, their absence is hard to regret.
Some have claimed that the publication of these stories is a disservice to Forster, but I think, on balance, that the decision to publish them was correct. Together with Maurice, they are bound to inject doubts into the settled admiration which his work has long commanded, but to withhold them could hardly have helped seeming cowardly and untruthful. He is a good enough writer to bear the weight of his failures, and in any case these failures are interesting and explanatory.
The very weakness of his recourse to the invention of beguiling adventures and petty revenges testifies poignantly to the difficulties faced in his personal life and to the exactions of his society. These sweet, sadomasochistic dreams were an aspect of the Edwardian caste system: they were firmly roped to the British Raj, whose cruelties and snobberies he attached. In a sense, they were the Raj. I don't believe, however, that the assault on the Raj in these stories is seriously compromised by the difficulties that attended it, or by any important measure of collusion with the enemy. The critique of Imperial England is neither fanciful nor unfair: there is plenty of supporting evidence for it.
Fresh evidence, also of a posthumous kind, has been provided by Evelyn Waugh's diaries, which are currently being serialized in Britain. Here, too, homosexuality is the Raj—and the rage. At school and then at Oxford, Waugh found what Saint Augustine found at Carthage, where, according to the Confessions, "a whole frying-pan full of abominable loves crackled round about me." Waugh lingered in the kitchen savoring and sneering, sneering hard at nearly everything: a spiritual exercise which continued in later life to appeal to the Blessed Evelyn, whose conversion could have gone a good deal further than it did.
At Oxford, friendships with women might almost appear to have been less socially acceptable than those between men: "Peter Quennell has been sent down for consorting with a woman called Cara." In the bracken and elsewhere, the upper classes performed the great de haut en bas of l'entre deux guerres. The original of his Captain Grimes, Waugh reports, "seduced a garage boy in the hedge." In varying proportions, these abominable loves united compassion and condescension. They made many people happy, exciting them, exalting them, giving them a life to lead, and helping them to put up with the heartlessness to which they were exposed. But buggery has very little to do with social justice, and these loves may be reckoned to have served, as well as subverted, an oppressive social system. Likely lads were required to lie low. That was what was so nice about them.
Waugh's diaries are enough to make anyone feel affectionate toward Forster's dreams, though Waugh is certainly the funnier of the two. Waugh yearned for privilege, while Forster yearned to escape from it. Waugh got what he wanted. But I am not sure that Forster did.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1215
SOURCE: "Fizzling Sexual Time Bombs," in Commonweal, September 21, 1973, pp. 506-08.
[In this excerpt, Meyers asserts that the homosexual stories of The Life to Come are feeble, timid, and selfindulgent.]
Those who have read the abundant memoirs of the Bloomsburies—the famous group of artists and writers who lived in squares and loved in triangles—know that the reticent E. M. Forster wrote a considerable amount of overtly homosexual fiction that remained unpublished during his lifetime. As Lytton Strachey recorded after a successful house party in the 1920s, "Morgan was charming at the week-end. He read two stories to Carrington and me—improper—quite amusing." These stories were amusing precisely because they were improper, and in the days when both homosexuality and pornography were illegal, these underground writings could only circulate privately among homosexual writers like Strachey, Siegfried S assoon and T. E. Lawrence. In A Room With A View and The Longest Journey, the public complement to these stories, the homosexual themes were disguised as male friendship, after the fashion of the Greeks, and were expressed slyly and covertly; as in Forster's description of the Maharajah in The Hill of Devi: "He penetrated into rare regions and he was always hoping that others would follow him there." . . .
In the eight homosexual stories of this volume (there are also six weak "straight" stories) Forster has left a sexual time bomb that fails to explode ("he gave the zip at the throat a downward pull. Much slid into view"). In "The Obelisk," for example, an unattractive couple are temporarily revived when the wife is serviced by one sailor and the husband buggered by another, after the symbolic obelisk has "fallen right over into the landslip upside-down, and the tip of it's gone in ever so far." The brief excerpts from Forster's diary and letters, quoted in the Introduction, are actually more interesting than the fictional leavings. Forster notes in his diary for 1911, the year he published Howards End, "a cause of my sterility is weariness of the only subject that I both can and may treat—the love of men for women & vice versa"; and when he completed A Passage to India in 1923 he tells Siegfried Sassoon, "I shall never write another novel after it—my patience with ordinary people has given out." Unlike Proust, who transformed his "secretary" Alberto into the fictional Albertine, Forster never wrote of homosexual love in a heterosexual disguise.
As Forster himself recognized, these stories of inversion are a kind of literary masturbation: "These were written not to express myself but to excite myself." They are all somewhat precious, freighted with coincidence, and filled with fantasy and sudden violence. The dominant theme is the "call to life," where the intuitive and impulsive momentarily triumphs over the rational and repressive mode of experience, and a quickening into love is achieved through a homosexual encounter. Forster writes in his diary of 1935, "I want to love a strong young man of the lower classes and be loved by him and even hurt by him," and in his fictional fantasies his stiff heroes achieve salvation with milkmen, soldiers and Indians who, like the animals in one tale, "clucked and copulated as usual." Forster's repressed hero is always condescending and patronizing, and his liaison, no matter how successful, never has a future:
The affair had been trivial and crude, and yet they both had behaved perfectly. They would never meet again, and they did not exchange names. After a hearty handshake, the young man swung away down the path, the sunlight and shadow rushing over his back.
Forster's need to be "hurt" by his lovers, to punish his guilt, is reflected in all the serious stories. In "Arthur Snatchfold," the milkman is arrested in the sacred wood as soon as he walks off; and the two most ambitious stories, "The Life to Come" and "The Other Boat," which concern the relations between an Englishman and his sensual Indian lover, both end in disaster. In the former the naked Indian stabs the Englishman to death and jumps off the roof, and in the latter the Englishman stabs the naked Indian and jumps off the ship.
Two of the stories have a curious origin. In "The Classical Annex" the Curator sees the fig leaves fall of the sculpture and observes "an obscene change in the statue's physique." After his premature retirement the museum acquires "The Wrestling Match" and the Town Councillor remarks: "'Very nice piece, very decent. Look 'ow the elder brother's got the little chappie down. Look 'ow well the little chappie's taking it.'" This was probably inspired by the obscene statue of Hercules and Diomedes (Diomedes, held upside down, grasps Hercules' parts) in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, for Forster sent Joe Ackerley a postcard (now in Austin) of this sculpture with a suitable comment.
"The Torque" illustrates Lytton Strachey's witty retort when asked what he would do if a man tried to rape his sister: "I would attempt to interpose myself between them." For when Marcian and his holy sister Perpetua are attacked by savage Goths, "Marcian intervened to save her. . . . 'I will hold them off from you. Escape.' She escaped and he got raped." It is characteristic of Forster that at the crucial moment of this fetishistic story (the torque "had been round his lover's neck once. He swayed against it and found himself in his lover's arms") he lapses into Latin tags ("destillat ab inguine virus"), like the Life of Tiberius in an expurgated version.
Perhaps the most interesting story is "Dr. Woolacott," a kind of Lady Chatterley's Lover in which Connie is omitted, the gamekeeper ministers to the Master, and homosexuality is treated as an illness that can be "cured" by an indulgent inoculation. In a moment of critical aberration T. E. Lawrence praised the story in a military-sexual metaphor: "The most powerful thing I ever read . . . more charged with the real high explosive than anything I've ever met." But the editor does not explain the reason for Lawrence's enthusiasm: that he was the model for the "war-obsessed" stranger who liberates the invalid from death-in-life to an exultant Liebestöd. Forster dedicated The Eternal Moment "To T. E. in the absence of anything else," and "The Point of It" is the story that Forster told Lawrence is "a feeble timid premonition of the one ["Dr. Wooiacott"] which is with you now and which is yours really, and that is what the dedication really means."
In 1964 Forster wrote in his diary, "I should have been a more famous writer if I had written or rather published more, but sex has prevented the latter." In fact, neither his homosexual novel Maurice nor these stories, none of which is as good as "Oedipus at Colonus" or "The Eternal Moment," adds to Forster's stature as an author; and the editor sounds more like a blurb writer than a critic when he states that the two most ambitious tales, "show Forster at the height of his powers, with a tragic grandeur unequalled in his stories, and unsurpassed even in A Passage to India" These homosexual stories were better therapy than art, and they seem rather trivial when compared to The Immoralist and Death in Venice, where the homosexual theme is transfigured into a literary masterpiece.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5390
SOURCE: "Short Stories," in E. M. Forster, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975, pp. 25-41.
[In the following excerpt, Colmer discusses the role of place, the supernatural, pagan mythology, and the importance of the past as dominant themes in Forster's short fiction.]
In many ways the short stories form an ideal introduction to Forster's fictional universe, since they represent some of his earliest writing and introduce us to his characteristic blend of poetry and realism. They also explore themes that are more amply developed in the novels, such themes as salvation, the 'rescue party', the past, personal relations, getting in touch with nature, money, and the attack on conventional ideas of good form. . . .
In the Introduction to Collected Short Stories Forster calls his tales 'fantasies'. They are certainly not to be judged by standards appropriate to realism. Some, such as 'The Other Side of the Hedge' and 'Mr Andrews', are pure fantasy; others, such as 'The Story of a Panic' and the 'Other Kingdom', combine fantasy and social realism. The supernatural irrupts and shatters the surface of polite society, the infinite invades the finite world of picnics and civilized chatter. One story, 'The Eternal Moment', is not really a fantasy at all. In an essay on Butler's Erewhon, written in 1944, Forster remarked: 'I like that idea of fantasy, of muddling up the actual and the impossible until the reader isn't sure which is which, and I have sometimes tried to do it when writing myself. It is the only 'muddle' he condones. The mode suits his preference for obliquity, surprise, and understatement.
Fantasy occupies a curious middle ground between allegory and symbolism. It establishes its own laws, revels in swift flights of fancy, is playful, often witty, makes great demands on its readers—it 'makes us pay more', says Forster in his chapter on Fantasy in Aspects of the Novel (1927). Below it however lies the bottomless pit of English whimsy. It is into this pit that some of Forster's stories fall when he indulges in facetious make-believe, donnish asides, and the humour of the schoolroom. But the short story is the ideal form for fantasy, since what it normally offers is a poetic image of life, not a realistic chronicle. Essentially, Forster's short stories offer us the truths of poetry not the facts of prose fiction; yet even in the comedy of manners, the genre of his novels, the poetic or visionary element plays a crucial role. How well does he fuse these two elements, poetry and realism? This is the central critical question to be asked about Forster; and the short stories are the first of his works to pose it.
Forster turned to the short story for a variety of reasons connected with his temperament and the spirit of his age. It seemed the right form to contain his personal blend of poetry and deft social comedy; moreover it offered itself as the first obvious step in authorship. The years 1880-1920 mark the great period of the short story. In Europe, the masters were Maupassant and Chekov; in England, they were Henry James, Kipling and Conrad. There were probably more magazines publishing short stories then than at any other period and Forster had several friends on the board of one of the magazines, the Independent Review. Many of the major English novelists produced some of their most distinguished work in this form; it had a peculiar fascination for writers who wished to combine realism and fantasy, the natural and the supernatural. Thus, in writing stories about Pan and the intervention of the supernatural, Forster was in part conforming to a current literary fashion; but he was also responding to the direct challenge and inspiration of the Italian landscape.
At the time he had not read Arthur Machen's 'The Great God Pan' and even if he had, it is doubtful whether such a contrived piece of fin de siècle evil and horror would have made much appeal. But it was not necessary to have read Machen. The theme of Pan was 'in the air', as Forster recalled many years later in a radio talk on Machen; in fact, it was all pervasive. It may be found in Yeats's poetry of the 1890s, in Meredith's novels (much admired by Forster when he first began to write), in the nature writing of Richard Jefferies (who also celebrates the spirit of place and the eternal moment), and, at a much more popular level, in Saki and in Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows. The cult had two sides: satanic and benevolent, the latter being part of the Romantic heritage, with its worship of nature, and consoling pantheism, the former an expression of late-nineteenth-century decadence.
Almost as pervasive was the related cult of the supernatural. Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, and M. R. James were the acknowledged masters of this form of entertainment. But Henry James in The Turn of the Screw showed that it was possible to adapt the ghost story to serious artistic ends; this is, in part, what Forster too attempted. However, in January 1905, he wrote to his friend R. C. Trevelyan, 'I somehow think I am too refined to write a ghost story'. It seems likely that he may have received the same advice from an editor as his fictional creation, Rickie Elliott: 'Write a really good ghost story and we'd take it at once'. Forster's own attempt to write such a story, however, 'The Purple Envelope', was rejected by the editor of the Temple Bar and much later by the publishers of the collection The Celestial Omnibus, in 1911. 'The Purple Envelope' is a confused story about mysterious words that appear in a shaving glass; it includes sleep-walking, sudden death, and a hidden will. In spite of such ingredients, it causes no frisson; and the mystery has to be awkwardly explained at the end.
By the time Forster's stories first appeared in book form in 1911 and 1928, he was an established novelist with four novels to his credit, including the best-seller Howards End. Readers and reviewers were therefore puzzled by his choice of theme in the short stories, the combination of poetry and realism, the occasional immaturity, the thinness of the social documentation. Few related the tales to their early origin and their appropriate literary context. To do this is the first step in a just appreciation of these stories that are simultaneously characteristic products of the turn of the century and of the author's early vision of life.
'The Story of a Panic' . . . illustrates many of the characteristic features of Forster's short stories: the use of an obtuse narrator, the sudden irruption of the supernatural, the contrast between the instinctive and the conventional life, the related themes of salvation and brotherhood. Like 'The Road from Colonus' and the less successful 'The Rock'. . . . 'The Story of a Panic' was inspired by the genius loci. In the Introduction to the Collected Short Stories, Forster explains how it came to be written. It originated in a walk near Ravello in May 1902.
I sat down in a valley, a few miles above the town, and suddenly the first chapter of the story rushed into my mind as if it had waited for me there. I received it as an entity and wrote it out as soon as I returned to the hotel. But it seemed unfinished and a few days later I added some more until it was three times as long; as now printed.
Even though this experience of 'sitting down on the theme as if it were an anthill' may have been rare, the spirit of place, if not necessarily the immediate inspiration of place, plays almost as important a part in Forster's writing as it does in that of D. H. Lawrence.
The narrator of 'The Story of a Panic' is an insensitive, conventionally minded Englishman—a convenient device for dramatizing contrasting scales of value. Together with his two daughters, he is staying in a hotel at Ravello. Also staying there are the Miss Robinsons and their nephew, Eustace, who resists the narrator's attempts to make him conform to the respectable stereotype of an athletic public schoolboy. Completing the company are Mr Sandbach, who is a retired clergyman, and Mr Leyland, an artist. The English visitors picnic in the chestnut woods above Ravello. While the adults talk about picturesque beauty, Eustace cuts a piece of wood to make a whistle (a Pan pipe, we later realize). Leyland's complaint that 'the woods no longer give shelter to Pan', provides Mr Sandbach with his cue for an informal sermon and the reader with the essential donnée of the story.
Pan!' cried Mr Sandbach, his mellow voice filling the valley as if it had been a great green church, Tan is dead. That is why the woods do not shelter him.' And he began to tell the striking story of the mariners who were sailing near the coast at the time of the birth of Christ, and three times heard a loud voice saying: The Great God Pan is dead'.
This 'striking story', originally told by Plutarch (Moralia, 'De Defectu Oraculorum', XVII), had been put in a Christian framework by Eusebius, and it is this version Mr Sandbach, as a good Christian, recounts. Disproof follows. A few minutes later, all experience a moment of panic, even the stolid narrator, and they run away.
It was not the spiritual fear that one has known at other times, but brutal overmastering physical fear, stopping up the ears, and dropping clouds before the eyes, and filling the mouth with foul tastes. And it was no ordinary humiliation that survived; for I had been afraid, not as a man, but as a beast.
The testimony wrung from the commonplace narrator about this extraordinary event imparts the necessary dramatic conviction to this part of the story.
When the frightened English visitors recover, they find that Eustace is missing. They discover him in the chestnut woods, lying on his back, blissfully happy, but with the unmistakable traces of Pan, of goat hooves near by. Mr Sandbach performs an impromptu exorcism of 'The Evil One'. All agree to say nothing about the event. But the boy Eustace takes no part in the conversation or the agreement. He shows a sudden eagerness to know where Gennaro 'the stop-gap waiter, a clumsy impertinent fisherlad' is (clearly the Italian counterpart of Forster's childhood playmate, Ansell, the garden-boy). Eustace races about the wood and reappears with a poor dazed hare on his arm. A little later, he spontaneously kisses an old Italian woman and offers her flowers. Returning to the hotel, he runs to embrace Gennaro. The adults decide that he is mad and requires careful watching. The narrator officiously reproves Gennaro for using the familiar second personal singular 'tu' in addressing Eustace. But clearly Eustace and Gennaro are now brothers, an early affirmation of the connection between the instinctive response to nature and human brotherhood, more fully explored in The Longest Journey and Maurice.
The last section of the story explores a typical complex of Forsterian themes: the misguided rescue party, the theme of salvation, money as an agent of corruption and death. At night, the narrator wakes to discover Eustace performing extraordinary antics outside the hotel. 'Eustace Robinson, aged fourteen, was standing in his nightshirt saluting, praising, and blessing, the great forces and manifestations of Nature'. The narrator, at the instigation of his daughter, who recognizes the bond between Gennaro and Eustace which her father is too obtuse to understand, suborns Gennaro to help catch Eustace. The scene between the tempter and the poor Italian boy is filled with astute irony. The two boys, brothers in nature, now meet. At the very moment that Eustace's love of nature recreates the bond of brotherhood, the narrator crackles a new ten lira note. Gennaro sticks out his hand with a jerk, but the unsuspecting Eustace grips it in his own. As he shares confidences with his Italian brother, the watching adults pounce. 'He gave a shrill heart piercing scream; and the white roses, which were falling that year, descended in showers on him as we dragged him to the house'. But the rescue party fails. Both boys leap out of a window and 'land with a heavy thud on the asphalt path'. Eustace escapes and never returns. Gennaro, the unwilling accomplice in the plot, recognizes instinctively that Eustace has gone in answer to the call of the Great God Pan, and cries out: 'He has understood and he is saved . . . Now, instead of dying he will live!' Overcome himself with remorse for selling his friend, he grasps the ten lira note, and dies. The tale ends with the narrator's remark that the leap from the window would never have killed an Englishman, and the sounds of happiness far down the valley, where 'still resounded the shouts and laughter of the escaping boy'.
Two other stories are inspired immediately by a particular place, 'The Road from Colonus', the story of a modern Oedipus who in saving his life loses his soul, and 'The Rock'. Both are also centrally concerned with the theme of salvation. The first is a success, the second a comparative failure—a 'complete flop', according to its author, even though the original inspiration at Gurnard's Head in Cornwall had been genuine. Several qualities go to make 'The Road from Colonus' the fine story that it is. To begin with, the themes of true and false salvation, the symbolic moment of choice, and the transfiguration of the ordinary world of a Greek inn and a votive tree, are firmly embedded in fully realized character, scene and action; the themes are not external or over-obtrusive as they are in 'The Rock'. In the story set in Greece, Forster exploits to the full 'the romantic possibilities of scenery'. . . .
The irony that plays on the two different senses in which one may save one's life is more deft in 'The Road from Colonus' than in 'The Rock', in which the actual saving of the hero from drowning leads explicitly to the question: what is a life worth and how much should the hero give to his rescuers. Again the dialogue in 'The Road from Colonus', although it develops potent symbolic overtones, is more natural. In 'The Rock', the wife spells out too obviously the meaning to the narrator when she says that 'there are no such things as purely practical questions. Every question springs straight out of the infinite, and until you acknowledge that you will never answer it'. Moreover, when the narrator hears that the hero has finally decided, one day when the sun 'was flaming under the wych elm', to reward his rescuers with nothing, but to go and live with them, the comment, this taught him 'that some of us can meet reality on this side of the grave', sticks out awkwardly in the story. He was to embody the sentiment more subtly in his novels. And the wych elm turns up again in Howards End. Finally, where the climax of 'The Road from Colonus' rests on the sober irony that Mr Lucas, who was granted a vision of the waters of salvation in Greece, ends his days in London complaining of the noise of children and 'running water', 'The Rock' ends with a sentimental and unrealized vision of the possibility of combining passion and self-denial. Although 'The Rock' is shot through with Forster's favourite and private images, it proves that something more than the inspiration of place and a symbolic situation are necessary to produce a good short story. What it lacks is the art of suggestion and ironic control.
Much of Forster's irony in the short stories is directed at those who substitute second-hand literary notions and ideas of good form for a genuine insight into reality. 'The Celestial Omnibus' provides a typical example. In this story, the respectable and pompous Mr Bons, whose name is 'snob' reversed, talks knowledgeably about literature and art, but is aghast when he meets the heroes of literature and the great writers of the past, as he accompanies the boy on his journey in 'The Celestial Omnibus'. In terror, he screams to be saved. To the driver of the Omnibus, he says, 'I have honoured you. I have quoted you. I have bound you in vellum. Take me back to my world'. To which Dante replies:
I am the means and not the end. I am the food and not the life. Stand by yourself, as that boy has stood. I cannot save you. For poetry is a spirit; and they that would worship it must worship in spirit and in truth.
Both the 'Other Kingdom' and 'Albergo Empedocle' also contrast conventional respect for the classics with a natural response to the spirit of pagan mythology. In the 'Other Kingdom', it is the 'crude unsophisticated person', Miss Beaumont, who establishes her kinship with ancient myths; she escapes from the possessiveness of her suitor by becoming a tree. And in 'Albergo Empedocle', it is not the young lady who knows all about the transmigration of souls who becomes a natural Greek, but Harold whose 'character was so simple; it consisted of little more than two things, the power to love and the desire for truth'. 'It is imagination', Mildred declares, 'that makes the past live'. But the story asks us to accept that the only true access to the past is through a simple love of beauty and truth: and this Harold possesses. Already we encounter that over-valuation of the untutored instinct that recurs in Forster's athletic primitives and so disturbs the balance of his moral vision.
Two stories that have similar descriptions of academic notes floating downward through water also develop a strong contrast between the world of learning and the world of the passions. These are 'Ansell' and 'The Story of the Siren'. The first is a slight piece, written as early as 1902 or 1903, but not published until 1972; its chief interest is autobiographical, for it clearly relates to Forster's own friendship with Ansell, the garden-boy. This experience liberated Forster into a freer, more natural world. The story is a subsequent tribute to that liberation. 'Whenever we pass the place Ansell looks over and says "Them Books" and laughs, and I laugh too as heartily as he'. 'The Story of the Siren', a tale that contrasts the repressive force of Christianity with a pagan spirit capable of destroying silence and saving the world, is the tribute of a gentle civilized writer to the unconscious and violent energies expressed by simple peasant people. Rebecca West, who reviewed it in 1920, noted how Forster's attempt to bring back paganism, a religion beyond recall, gave this story an 'atmosphere of the ghostly hour before twilight'. The simple evocative quality of the prose raises this story of violence and superstition to the status of a powerful myth.
'Save the world?' I cried. 'Did the prophecy end like that?' He leaned back against the rock, breathing deep. Through all the blue-green reflections I saw him colour. I heard him say: 'Silence and loneliness cannot last for ever. It may be a hundred or a thousand years, but the sea lasts longer, and she shall come out of it and sing'. I would have asked him more, but at that moment the whole cave darkened, and there rode in through its narrow entrance the returning boat.
'The Story of the Siren' is one of Forster's few successful attempts to present violence as the corrective to the values of Christian civilization without appearing to condone brutality, as he sometimes seems to do in The Longest Journey, Where Angels Fear to Tread, and Maurice.
Most of the stories focus on the importance of the past, either the spirit of the classical past or a past moment in the life of one of the characters, a moment of heightened consciousness, instinctive joy or vision that momentarily transfigures the ordinary world but which is either rejected or forgotten. Especially notable in this second category is 'The Eternal Moment', which, unlike the rest of the stories, contains no element of fantasy. It recounts the return of a female novelist to a small Italian town that her novel had helped to put on the literary map and thus spoil (had not Forster himself put San Gimignano into Where Angels Fear to Tread under the thinly disguised name of Monteriano?). The past experience that constitutes Miss Raby's eternal moment is a kiss from a young Italian guide, 'a presumptuous boy' who had taken her 'to the gates of heaven'. On her return, years later, she discovers that her former guide has become as hopelessly vulgarized as the town itself; and she is forced to recognize that she is no longer in love with him, that although the 'incident upon the mountain had been one of the great moments of her life—perhaps the greatest, certainly the most enduring', it belonged to the past. Yet the past moment remains eternal because it has been deeply felt. It constitutes the index of reality by which Miss Raby understands and judges the present. But because it exists only in memory it is neither recoverable nor repeatable. And the moment was never consummated except in the fleeting kiss. Her exposure of 'her thoughts and desires to a man of another class' is for Colonel Leyland, her companion and typical representative of the undeveloped heart in English society, unpardonable, because she has revealed the 'nakedness' of the middle-class 'to the alien'.
The idea of the eternal moment occurs frequently in Forster's fiction, for example in Lucy's kiss on the violet slopes at Fiesole in A Room with a View and Rickie's vision of Agnes's and Gerald's love in The Longest Journey. The short story 'The Eternal Moment', taken in conjunction with the homosexual stories in The Life to Come volume, suggests that at the personal level the idea may have been a convenient imaginative transfiguration of chance homosexual encounters, which, given the inhibitions of Forster's temperament and the moral and literary taboos of society, must remain unfulfilled and be expressed only indirectly.
The notion of imaginative transposition of homosexual into heterosexual relations also throws light on the sense of guilt and remorse that so frequently accompanies the eternal moment in Forster's fiction, previously so puzzling to most readers. However, the idea of the eternal moment has deep roots in the literary tradition as well as in the author's psyche: it represents one of Forster's most obvious debts to nineteenth-century Romanticism. In The Prelude, Wordsworth celebrates the importance of certain 'spots of time' and shows they possess a 'vivifying virtue'. Pater's Marius experiences such moments of heightened consciousness; but for him they 'only left the actual world more lonely than ever'. The same fin de siècle sense of loss occasionally casts a melancholy light over Forster's eternal moments, as it does too over Joyce's 'epiphanies' in the Dubliners (1914). In general, however, Forster assimilates the visionary moments of high Romanticism into the more decorous world of domestic comedy, but not without some incongruity, not without creating the impression that joy always lives in the past, as such dissimilar characters as Miss Abbott, Rickie, Helen Schlegel, and Maurice affirm. For someone who was forced by convention to celebrate heterosexual love when his chief insight lay elsewhere, the idea of the eternal moment was specially attractive. It was easier to render the past symbolic moment than the passionate present. The result is, however, that for all the beauty, the high intelligence and sparkling wit of Forster's fiction, the emphasis placed on the past creates a sadness, an emptiness, a withdrawal of living energies from the present that is damaging to his art. Most damaging of all, Forster's fantasies invite the charge of sentimentality, since the actual rendering of the moment does not always justify the peculiar value placed upon it.
Several stories are more concerned with the visionary future than with the visionary past. 'Mr Andrews' for example, is a brief fantasy that presents the souls of the dead ascending towards the Judgment Seat at the Gate of Heaven, among them the soul of a respectable English Christian, Mr Andrews, and the soul of a Turk, who has pillaged the villages of the infidel and married three times. They enter as brothers, each praying that the other be admitted, but they soon decide to leave, having tired of their limited visions of perfection. "'I am going," said Mr Andrews at last. "We desire infinity and we cannot imagine it. How can we expect it to be granted? I have never imagined anything infinitely good or beautiful excepting in my dreams.'" They therefore depart from the unsatisfactory heaven of their own devising and expectations and join the World Soul, but 'with all the experiences they had gained, and all the love and wisdom they had generated', which somehow pass into the World Soul and make it better. In its limited way this brief fantasy foreshadows A Passage to India, partly in its theme of interracial brotherhood, and partly in its concern with man's inability to comprehend the infinite: the simultaneously humanizing and yet dwarfing effect of the infinite, rendered with such reverberating power in the last scene between Fielding and Adela in A Passage to India, where 'a friendliness, as of dwarfs shaking hands, was in the air'.
A strange little story called 'The Point of It', which puzzled reviewers but delighted Edith Sitwell, who thought it wonderful, also projects its moment of ultimate revelation into the life beyond the grave. The chief interest of this story is that Micky, who has not so much rejected as failed to understand the symbolic moment of his friend Harold's death, is given what Henry James called a 'second go', a second chance of salvation. He does not, like so many of Forster's other heroes, join the ranks of the benighted irredeemably, although indeed his second chance does not come until he is dead.
Hell made her last effort, and all that is evil in creation, all the distortions of love and truth by which we are vexed, came surging down the estuary, and the boat hung motionless. Micky heard the pant of breath through the roaring, the crack of muscles; then he heard a voice say, 'The point of it ... ' and a weight fell off his body and he crossed mid-stream.
Unique among the stories that focus upon the visionary future is 'The Machine Stops', an anti-Wellsian fantasy published in 1909, which presents a horrifying picture of what may happen when machinery comes to control our lives and man ceases to be the measure of all things. Edwin Muir, himself a distinguished exponent of fantasy, complained that Forster gave no reason why humanity in its last stages should 'live in cells under the ground, shut off from the outer air, the surface of the earth, the sea, the sky, and one another' and that therefore the story became 'unreal'. . . . Compared with such other writers of Utopian or anti-utopian fiction as Zamyatin, Wells, Huxley, and Orwell, it is true that Forster spends little time in demonstrating that the fantasy future is a logical development from the present, or in establishing its origin and precise psychological and scientific basis. Even Morris's News from Nowhere (1891) and Butler's Erewhon (1872), which Forster admired, break off to explain how their fantasy worlds came into existence. But Muir is mistaken in suggesting that Forster provides no explanation: he does. The world of 'The Machine Stops' is made to seem a perfectly logical extension of our own. And the critique it offers is in complete harmony with Forster's whole vision of life. He sees that man no longer lives in direct contact with the earth, that he no longer experiences life through the senses, the five portals of the soul, but takes his knowledge second-hand from lectures, newspapers, books, and screens, and is therefore gradually becoming subservient to the machinery and technology of which he was once the master. As soon as the Machine has annihilated space and made every country alike there is no point in travel. As he remarked in an essay on Auden's The Enchaféd Flood in 1951, 'we have annihilated time and space, we have furrowed the desert, and spanned the sea, only to find at the end of every vista our own unattractive features'. . . . In the world of 'The Machine Stops', men therefore naturally retreat into their air-conditioned cells to enjoy the illusory joys of machine culture.
Most original of all is Forster's insight into the possibility that man will become so uncritically dependent on the machine that he will not notice its gradual deterioration: he will accept the jarring sounds as part of the harmony, the foul air and diminished light as natural. The relevance of this to modern-day world-pollution and the break-down in basic social services is obvious. The people in the world of the machines have never known silence. When the machine stops and there is silence, thousands of people are killed out-right. Ultimately only Vashti and her son Kuni escape—escape in spirit, if not in body.
They wept for humanity, those two, not for themselves. They could not bear that this should be the end. Ere silence was completed their hearts were opened, and they knew what had been important on earth. Man, the flower of all flesh, the noblest of all creatures visible, man who had once made god in his image, and had mirrored his strength on the constellations, beautiful naked man was dying, strangled in the garments he had woven. . . . The sin against the body—it was for that they wept in chief; the centuries of wrong against the muscles and the nerves, and those five portals by which we apprehend.
An airship crashes down through one of the vomitories and explodes. 'For a moment they saw the nations of the dead, and, before they joined them, scraps of the untainted sky'. Edith Sitwell wrote to the author that this story made her feel as though she came 'out of a dark tunnel' in which she had always lived into an immense open space and was 'seeing things living for the first time' (letter, 30 March 1928). 'The Machine Stops', so unlike Forster's other writing in its science fiction framework, expresses the essence of Forster's humanist faith, with its message that man is the measure of all things, that the body is holy, and that our lives are only complete within a perspective that includes the infinite. In this story the infinite is imaged in the 'untainted sky', in A Passage to India in the Overarching sky'.
'"When real things are so wonderful, what is the point of pretending?'", reflects Rickie as he compares one of his little stories about Pan with the reality of the love between Agnes and Gerald. For Rickie's creator, fantasy offered a means of focusing simultaneously on the finite and the infinite, of relating the unseen to the seen, and thus of achieving the 'double vision', but it is questionable whether he succeeded in fusing the two perspectives in his short stories as well as in his novels. In the short stories, the unseen too often assumes the fashionable guise of Pan, and this leads either to learned evasion or—as Lawrence saw—to a meaningless primitivism, 'saying the source is everything'. Years later, in 1928, Forster wrote in his Commonplace Book: 'What a pity the poetry in me has got mixed up with Pan'. In the novels, the unseen assumes more varied guises. To brood too much on the 'superiority of the unseen to the seen' is medieval, Margaret Schlegel warns her sister in Howards End. '"Our business is not to contrast the two, but to reconcile them.'" The characters in Forster's novels are haunted by the unseen; infinity attends them and the world they inhabit. But the effect in the novels, as opposed to the short stories, comes through such original inventions as Helen's vision of panic and emptiness as she hears the goblin foot-falls in Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and Mrs Moore's vision of an echoing universe; it comes through the hauntingly evocative quality of Forster's prose: it does not come from exploring fantasy or following the cloven hoof of Pan.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2590
SOURCE: "Short Stories: The Life to Come," in E. M. Forster's Posthumous Fiction, University of Victoria, 1977, pp. 21-66.
[Here, Page analyzes how the posthumous stories develop more fully the central themes and techniques first explored in the early short stories.]
By considering briefly the stories published in Forster's lifetime, it will be possible to gauge the extent to which the posthumous stories represent an extension or modification of themes and techniques. First, however, the chronological caveat made earlier must be repeated. It is not unusual, even in published discussions of Forster's work, to find confusion concerning the dating of his work. We read in a recent book, for example, that 'E. M. Forster began by writing fantasies, short stories of youths who turned into trees and omnibuses which left with regularity for the celestial regions where Shelley dwelt. When he came to exchange fantasy for plot, he wrote novels ... '. This will never do. By the time 'Other Kingdom' (in which it is, of course, a young woman, not a youth, who was metamorphosed) appeared in 1909, Forster had already published three novels. The other story referred to, 'The Celestial Omnibus', had appeared in the previous year, in the same year, that is, as the third of his novels. A dozen years later, Forster was still writing fantasy (the latest story in the same volume is 'The Story of the Siren'). Not only do the short stories and the novels overlap in time, but the two volumes of short stories overlap with each other: The Life to Come contains stories almost as early as anything in the other collections, though it also contains others later than anything to be found therein. In a word, fantasy was not a kind of literary acne which Forster quickly outgrew before maturely passing on to more serious things: it was a mode to which he chose to return from time to time even after he had achieved success in writing novels in the traditional mode of English realism.
'The Story of a Panic' was described by Forster as 'the first story I ever wrote'; it contains much that was to be taken up in his later work, and demonstrates very neatly the essential continuity of his preoccupations and fictional contrivances. A party of English tourists, picnicking in 'the chestnut woods above Ravello', receive a visitation from Pan after agreeing in conversation that 'Pan is dead'. Later, Eustace, an English boy, hitherto lethargic and bored, manifests the influence of the god and shocks his conventional countrymen by forming a close relationship with Gennaro, a fisher-lad acting as hotel waiter; the narrative gathers speed, and ends with Eustace escaping to the woods and Gennaro, corrupted by English bribes, dying after jumping from a window. The Italian setting, the confrontation of visitors and natives, of rich and poor, the corrupting influence of the former on the latter, the male friendship cutting across class boundaries, the antithesis between life lived by a primly restrictive social code and the life of nature and the instincts, the irruption of melodrama and sudden death into a domestic setting—all these were to reappear frequently in the later fiction. The use of Pan gives the story a period flavour—the flavour, if anything, of a period considerably earlier than that of composition; for the re-emergence of Pan in English literature belongs to Forster's childhood or earlier. Before he was born, Elizabeth Barrett Browning had treated in The Dead Pan' the ancient tradition referred to in the story. Soon after his birth, Robert Louis Stevenson had predicted the essence of the story in his essay on 'Pan's Pipes' in Virginibus Puerisque (1881): 'Pan is not dead, but of all the classic hierarchy alone survives in triumph'. This particular overworked vein of late romanticism might have seemed to have little to offer a young writer in the opening years of the twentieth century, though it was evidently still potent in the Cambridge of Forster's undergraduate days—the Cambridge, that is to say, of the late nineties. Critics have not usually shown much enthusiasm for the Pan-haunted stories: F. R. Leavis, for instance, remarks that Forster's stories 'may fairly be said to specialize in "poetry"' [The Common Pursuit, 1976], and the force of the quotation marks is unmistakable. It is only fair, though, to recognize that they embody one of his central themes, the importance of the instinctive and the impulsive as against the conscious and rational, though admittedly in an undeveloped form: when Forster tackles this same theme in his later work (as in 'Dr Woolacott', 1922) it is tempting to suppose that the influence of Lawrence may have been at work, but it is as well to remember that he had already defined it as one of his own, just as he anticipated Lawrence's use of the gamekeeper-hero, long before Lawrence began to write or Forster to read him.
With hindsight derived from the posthumous stories we can also see in 'The Story of a Panic' the prototype of the recurring situation in which a homosexual relationship exists between two men of different backgrounds. At this stage, inevitably, it is presented as nothing more startling than a conspiratorial boyish camaraderie, but its basic elements are those of such later stories as 'Arthur Snatenfold' and 'The Other Boat'. It is possible, in fact, to see the classical trappings as intended to have a reassuring effect upon the nervous or suspicious reader: the secret and mysterious relationship between the boys hardly demands to be probed when the mode of the story is fantasy. The Daily Mail reviewer's comment that Forster's paganism is 'refreshingly wholesome', charmingly dated as it is, is an unconscious tribute to his prudence in exploiting classical whimsy to prevent potentially explosive situations from being taken too seriously. 'Albergo Empedocle' has already been noted as disarming moral objection in the same way.
'The Story of a Panic' is not a remarkable tale in itself, but it is remarkable as showing how, in 1902, at the tender age of twenty-three, Forster was already in possession of many of the themes to which he was to return, at various levels of seriousness and complexity, over the next half-century or more.
A later story, 'The Eternal Moment', returns to the relationships of rich tourists and poor natives, and the former's proneness to corrupt the latter and thus to destroy a way of life they profess to admire and envy. In reacting against the insensitive arrogance of the English abroad, it falls victim to a sentimentalising of the Italian peasant; even though at first glance it may seem to be anti-pastoral in intention, with its portrait of Arcady commercialised, the underlying attitude is an idealisation of the Italian villager and a tendency to treat him as an object sharing the aesthetic appeal of a beautiful landscape rather than as a creature possessed of free will. There is no doubt of the spell the Mediterranean scene cast, aesthetically and sensuously, upon Forster, but it also serves him as a useful stick to beat his own kind, at the price of a certain distortion of the reality of its inhabitants.
'The Story of the Siren', more explicitly than 'The Story of a Panic', sets up a potentially erotic situation involving a young English intellectual and a Sicilian boatman: the one concerned about his notes on the Deist Controversy, which fall into the Mediterranean (one observes Forster reworking an incident from 'Ansell'), the other seen as a vigorous naked peasant, here unblushingly idealized ('past all description...infinitely happy, infinitely wise'), though the first person narrative permits us to attribute this enthusiasm to the Englishman (who nevertheless has much in common with Forster). It is interesting that this should have been by a long way the last of the stories in this collection to achieve publication; by 1920 Forster had already embarked on his 'private' fiction (Maurice precedes it, 'The Life to Come' closely follows it). Given that it was written for, and achieved, publication, it comes as close as the age permitted to presenting a romantic idyll or homosexual fantasy, as the two young men are left alone on a rock at the entrance to a grotto. Anticipating the story of the missionary and the native in 'The Life to Come' and the Fielding-Aziz relationship in A Passage to India, fictional situations which followed closely on Forster's own visits to India and his wartime experiences in Alexandria, it shows two men divided by race and religion but united by age and sex.
Strong throughout nearly all of Forster's earlier stories as far as 'Dr Woolacott' (1927) are the elements of fantasy, classical or modern, and the supernatural, often disrupting the commonplace surface of modern life: Pan among the tourists, a faun in Wiltshire, a girl transformed into a tree, a vision of the future in 'The Machine Stops'. The evidence of contemporary reviews, letters and other documents suggests that Forster's earlier readers were tolerant, or even enthusiastic, in the face of his deliberate refusal to bring to his short stories the kind of sharply-observant critical spirit which distinguishes his novels. Present-day readers, perhaps inhibited by their own lack of taste for the whimsical-poetical and romantic-pastoral—for, to cite specific cases, the kind of qualities which make much of the work of Kenneth Grahame and Richard Jefferies to-day virtually unreadable—are more likely to deplore his decision to write short stories that should not be simply offshoots of his major fictional enterprises but should conform to a different set of specifications. J. B. Beer has argued that Forster's method of 'fantasy within domestic comedy' was an experiment which failed: boldly aiming to blend the modes of realism and allegory, he did not succeed in coming up with a workable mixture, and in the finished product comedy tends to undermine seriousness [The Achievement of E. M. Forster, 1962]. This is persuasive, and the move towards realism in the later stories suggests that Forster himself may have come to a similar conclusion. Still, without going all the way with George H. Thomson's claim that the stories are essentially similar in kind to the novels, and 'are best seen as the first statement of Forster's permanent vision' [The Fiction of E. M. Forster, 1967] (chronology alone poses an obstacle to full agreement), it seems worth pointing out that there is a degree of continuity of theme and situation between stories and novels which makes it regrettable that the former have been so readily ignored or dismissed by many of Forster's critics.
How far, if at all, beyond the limits laid down by the Collected Short Stories do the contents of the posthumous volume go? As already suggested, the mode of fantasy is less prominent: although some of the stories of a very early date ('Albergo Empedocle', 'The Purple Envelope') offer nothing new, 'The Rock' is a severe moral fable rather than a fantasy, and 'Ansell' a less serious one; by the time we reach the later stories, 'Arthur Snatchfold' and 'The Other Boat' embody a realism found nowhere in the other volume. Along with the move away from fantasy goes a widening of the emotional range: the horror, pity and remorse in the conclusion of 'Arthur Snatchfold', and the intense feelings depicted in 'The Other Boat', have no precedents. Even the most effective of the earlier collection ('The Road from Colonus' would be my own choice) have a detached, almost schematic quality: the ending to 'The Road from Colonus' makes an interesting comparison with that of 'The Other Boat', both of them, as it happens, involving a letter, and the comparison seems to me very much to the advantage of the later story. There is a broadening, too, of the humour: the coy, bookish, self-indulgent whimsy of some of the earlier items (e.g., the embarrassing 'Co-ordination') gives way to more robust and infectious varieties of comedy: it is as if Forster has quitted the gentility of his mother's drawing-room for the company of congenial and broadminded friends. These last two characteristics, the increase of humour and the wider emotional range, can be related to a technical shift: the earlier stories often resort to a narrator who is a pedantic observer of, and intrusive commentator upon, the life of others, as if in deliberate counterweight to the elements of fantasy; but the best stories in the posthumous volume employ a more objective style free from the constraints of the 'plain simple man' who narrates 'The Story of a Panic', or the tutor ("'I always brighten the classics—it is part of my system'") in 'Other Kingdom'.
Most important of all, however, is the assigning in the later stories of a central place to the theme of love. In the earlier stories, intended for publication, he cannot write except very tentatively and tangentially of the love of men for each other and is disqualified and indeed disinclined to write of men and women: the engagements in 'Other Kingdom' and 'Albergo Empedocle' are perfunctorily treated, and the twenty-year-old passion in 'The Eternal Moment' seems to me unconvincing, to be taken on trust rather than actually rendered. The best of the posthumous stories, on the other hand, liberated from the effects of a wary eye constantly kept on public reactions, treat love frankly and, if not in all respects fully, at least with fullness unparalleled in the fiction Forster published during his lifetime.
Critics have sometimes observed that the short story form was ill-suited to Forster's particular gifts as a writer of fiction. Frederick C. Crews, for example, notes his reliance on fairly conventional anti-theses and points out that the compass of the short story cannot accommodate the subtlety and the capacity for surprising the reader that we find in the novels: the extended quest for definition, the knack of upsetting neat formulations, the reaching of a balance by (in Margaret Schlegel's words) 'excursions into either realm' [E. M. Forster: the Perils of Humanism, 1962]. This was indeed one of Forster's quintessential qualities, and P. N. Furbank has noted it as a feature of his private behaviour: 'his mind was a vast breeding-ground for discriminations. He endlessly picked and chose and could distinguish between two blades of grass' ['The Personality of E. M. Forster," Encounter, Vol. 35, 1970]. For such picking and choosing the short story offers little scope, and I have already proposed an example of the tendency toward evasive oversimplification in 'The Eternal Moment'. Nevertheless, the best of the posthumous stories leave us with no sense that the author is constrained by the limitations of the form, or driven into the kind of over-emphatic presentation of a moral situation which he would not have permitted himself in a novel. One reason for this, no doubt, is that the best stories forsake large, abstract themes in favour of a rendering of limited episodes of private experience. 'The Other Boat' and 'Arthur Snatenfold' seem to me considerably finer than anything to be found in the earlier volume—than, say, the much-anthologized and greatly overrated 'The Machine Stops', or even than 'The Road from Colonus' and 'The Eternal Moment'. In a minor way 'Ansell', too, is excellent; 'Dr Woolacott', though not a complete success, is undeniably powerful; and the comic stories, especially 'The Obelisk', are memorable. In short, The Life to Come demands some reconsideration of the traditional dismissal of Forster as a writer of short stories; in the best of its contents he achieved a control and finish of construction and style which are not always to be found in the more ambitious enterprises of his major fiction.
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SOURCE: "Maurice and the Later Stories," in A Reading of E. M. Forster, The MacMillan Press, 1979, pp. 129-45.
[In the following excerpt, Cavaliero praises the posthumously published short stories for their irreverent humor and satirical power.]
Forster's late stories pose problems for the reader. His own valuation of them was confused. Although written, he said, 'not to express myself but to excite myself he felt that they were 'a wrong channel for my pen'. He burnt some of these stories in 1922; those that survive were either written later or were saved by the approval of his friends. They demand a certain suspension of accustomed sensitivity from such of his readers as may be inclined with Jeffrey Meyers to dismiss them as 'puerile, pathetic, sentimental and thoroughly unimaginative fantasies' [Homosexuality and Literature, 1977]. But, read sympathetically, they are not pornographic, though one or two are decidedly and cheerfully erotic. All are filled with a vigour and intention lacking in the weaker of his earlier tales.
Four of them are light-hearted, not to say ribald, in tone, written with the desire to outrage Sawston standards. In this they differ markedly from the final tale, 'The Other Boat', which evokes a compassionate indignation, and from Maurice. In the latter the Platonic idealism of the world of Carpenter and Lowes Dickinson, which sought to counter the social rejection of homosexuality with a specific and superior Uranian (the term is Carpenter's) morality of its own, leads to an enfeeblement of sensory presentation. The novel was a plea to the world; but the late stories were written at the world, and replace apologetic with attack. They make their points through scorn, and that in the name of a wider sensuality than their ostensible occasion.
The hypocrisy, confusion and dangerous (though frequently creative) repressiveness of the late-nineteenth-century sexual ethics under which Forster grew up are supposed to have been left behind today. But the flourishing pornographic-film industry and much contemporary fiction in fact cater for a taste essentially parasitic upon hereditary repressions; while psychological, social, and commercial pressures enforce, almost as much as Victorian religion inhibited, displays of sexual feeling. In each case there is an embargo on tenderness; and both Forster and Lawrence (who invested that word with a depth of meaning peculiar to him) were tilting at the same enemy, though, of the two, it was Lawrence who was to draw out the connection between sexual ethics and the social and economic structures which support them. Forster's sexual nature, however, gave him a viewpoint of his own. The element of play is prominent in these stories; they might have been written with the homosexual's use of 'gay' in mind. They satirise contemporary repressive legislation in the name of uncomplicated sensuality. As Mirko says in 'What Does It Matter?', 'Poking doesn't count'. It is something done by (nearly) everybody.
This particular story is a 'Rumanian' fantasy, and one of the funniest that Forster ever wrote. The scheming Count Waghagrhen desires to topple the President of Pottibakia, and contrives that its First Lady shall discover him in bed with his mistress. As it turns out, the mistress is far more shocked than is the wife, whose main concern is to get her lunch. He then arranges for the President's seduction by a young guardsman in the mistress's villa, to be followed by their discovery by both ladies (not to mention the Bessarabian ambassador and his wife). But in the end all three decide that there is nothing here to make a fuss about. It is not necessary to pursue the story to its outrageous but salutary conclusion to recognise the author's comment that the social commotion attendant upon sexual irregularity is far more damaging than the irregularity itself: he was to make the same point by implication in A Passage to India. Possibly he was recalling the aftermath of that boyhood misadventure on the Downs.
'The Torque', though more irreverent, is less convincing. In the person of the bossy and disagreeable Perpetua, hell-bent on sanctity, the cult of virginity is subject to sharp comment, comment that is more persuasive than are the sexual fantasies of her young brother: in this historical tale Forster seems to have got his literary modes confused, and the writing shows it. Rather more successful is 'The Classical Annex'. This, the slightest of these stories, also draws on the ancient world to make its points: here a large male statue in a provincial museum comes alive with bizarre results. Once again the erotic element is secondary to the exposure of folly. The Councillor who had insisted on the imposition of a fig-leaf is unable to perceive the implications in a statue of two wrestlers. The prude's eye is not innocent but blind.
Forster's aim in these stories is not only to mock the prurient but also to help cast out the prevailing fear that surrounded the subject of sex in contemporary attitudes. Thus in 'The Obelisk' he shows the liberating and not the punishing effects of yielding to casual, friendly desire: a drab middle-aged man and wife are physically renewed by a chance meeting with two sailors. This is a story in which Forster for the one and only time shows an understanding of and sympathy with female sexuality. Another unusual feature of several of these tales (and one in part accounted for by their original purpose) is the spectacle of older men giving and receiving pleasure with younger ones. This is really more unconventional than the homo-erotic content itself, and also serves to reinforce the overall protest against restrictive barriers of sex, class or age.
In 'Arthur Snatchfold', however, such an encounter has a grim outcome. Here the cheerful young milkman who livens up an elderly widowed businessman on a dull weekend is arrested after their encounter, and goes to gaol rather than reveal the identity of his companion—an unlikely event, the cynical may feel. The rather too larky dialogue apart, the story is well told, funny and desolatingly sad. The manoeuvres of the law when trying to interfere with illegal sensuality are exposed as more indecent than the crime itself; while the account of Sir Richard Conway's realisation of his escape perfectly captures the complex emotions of those who run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. What these stories reveal above all is that Forster, when engaged on the theme which inevitably preoccupied him, could write with a power and a directness far removed from the delicate irony with which he is usually associated. The sense of guilt and terror is as pervasive as the note of scornful mockery.
The terror surrounding the legal and social attitudes to homosexual love, the denial that it ever can be honourable love, the association of it with filth, bestiality and other abusive terms reaches its climax in 'Dr Woolacott', 'The Life to Come' and 'The Other Boat'. The first two are fables. In 'Dr Woolacott' the self-punishment theme reappears, as the young invalid squire encounters a phantom labourer who declares that his state is being worsened not cured by the venerated, endlessly solicitous Dr Woolacott. The sick man's dilemma is solved by a death in ecstasy: an ambiguous conclusion. The figure of the doctor is a subtle representation of that view of sex which regards it as something to be considered gingerly or to be treated as a disease. More than once in these tales Forster suggests that, just as it is the attitude of society towards homosexuals which creates most of the problems it deplores, so a repressive attitude to all sexuality can only be met by a refusal to take that repression at its own valuation. ' .. . not a single man he touched ever got well. Woolacott dosed, Woolacott inoculated, Woolacott operated, Woolacott spoke a kind word even, and there they were and here they are.'
This case is argued with still greater force in 'The Life to Come'. A beautifully constructed four-act drama, it moves from farce of a mildly salacious kind through satire to stark tragedy. The native chieftain takes quite literally the missionary's call to love, and, by a neat Forsterian irony, wholesale conversion follows on a night of illegal and, from the missionary's point of view, immoral sexual congress. The remorseful Mr Pinmay is unable to clear up the misunderstanding, and rewards the long years of Vithobai's patient wooing with rejection. His murder by Vithobai (now renamed Barnabas) on the latter's deathbed forms a logical conclusion: if love has divided them, then death shall not. This tale shows the poetic nature of Forster's imagination. The story works through its symbols—the hut where they 'share', the wood where the missionary refuses to follow, the death-in-life endured by Vithobai followed by the life-in-death posited for Pinmay. The contrast between the rigid European Christian code and the more relaxed ethic of the native resembles that made in 'The Torque' (though in fact 'primitive' man is less easy in his sexual behaviour than modern Western man would like to think). The names too—Pinmay, Barnabas (which means 'Son of Consolation')—have dramatic force. The latter's speech speaks for more than his immediate situation: 'First the grapes of my body are pressed. Then I am silenced. Now I am punished. Night, evening and a day. What remains?' The cadence and vocabulary of this are reminiscent of T. F. Powys, a writer whose literary affinities with Forster would repay exploration.
But the finest of these tales, and Forster's last completed work of fiction, is 'The Other Boat'. Begun in 1913, the first part was published in The Listener in 1948, as 'Entrance to an Unwritten Novel'. It was completed ten years later. But, despite this piecemeal mode of composition, it has the austerely encouraging quality of consistent art. Here the themes and preoccupations of the earlier stories are put to a serious and fully worked-out purpose. The sexual relationship between the callow young army officer and the devious but devoted half-caste becomes the focus for a study of all the barriers, sexual, ethical and racial, which separate man from man. The other voyagers on this second passage to India, while belonging to the Sawston world, are not caricatured. But Mrs March, the officer's mother, wronged but avenging, is the culmination of all the dominant females in the earlier books. The moment when Lionel invokes her image on the deck, after his quarrel with Cocoanut, is terrifying.
But behind Isabel, behind the Army, was another power, whom he could not consider calmly: his mother, blind-eyed in the midst of the enormous web she had spun—filaments drifting everywhere, strands catching. There was no reasoning with her or about her, she understood nothing and controlled everything. She had suffered too much and was too high-minded to be judged like other people, she was outside carnality and incapable of pardoning it. Earlier in the evening, when Cocoa mentioned her, he had tried to imagine her with his father, enjoying the sensations he was beginning to find so pleasant, but the attempt was sacrilegious and he was shocked at himself. From the great blank country she inhabited came a voice condemning him and all her children for sin, but condemning him most.
Forster had never written quite so forcefully as here: gone are all the rhetorical decorations and manoeuvrings, all the uncertainties and whimsical self-mockery. Mrs March has become a figure of archetypal terror and the embodiment of an attitude to life that (figuratively) slays young men by thousands.
The quarrel with Cocoanut is precisely rendered: the issue of the latter's allowing the cabin door to remain unlocked while the young men are making love embodies two ways of life, two attitudes, of doing and being. And the final resolution, Lionel's suicide, following the murder of his lover, while sombre and almost despairing, still leaves room for the sardonic comedy of the final paragraphs.
In 'The Other Boat' Forster vindicates the approach to sexuality which he has employed in the earlier stories. He does indeed provide a new slant on the age-old question of how to reconcile one's private fantasies and urges with the requirements of the societies and communities in which we live. The element of play, inseparable as Forster sees it, from the kind of love-making he envisages allows him to 'take the heat off, to avoid the element of preaching that we find in, for example, the more strenuous declarations of Lawrence. Freedom from the pressures (though also from the consolations) of children and family life, although the aspect of homosexual love which may account for what seems its frequent irresponsibility, is put to good literary and moral purpose here. Forster, the anatomiser of the idealistic, maintains that sex in isolation can be funny and that no life is ever quite immune from its demands. And he maintains this without recourse to psychological knowingness, without invoking Freud and the secular counterparts of patristic demonology. His Mediterranean dream of spontaneity remained for him the moral touchstone he had found it to be from the start of his literary career.
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SOURCE: "Injunctions and Disjunctions," in E. M. Forster, Chelsea House Publishers, 1987, pp. 67-106.
[In this excerpt, Wilde argues that Forster's acceptance of chaos, evidenced in the posthumous short stories, reflects a diminishing of Forster's vision.]
When Sir Richard Conway [in "Arthur Snatchfold"], surveying the remainder of his dull, country weekend, thinks to himself: "The visit, like the view, threatened monotony," he gives perfect expression to Forster's sense of ordinary existence in The Life to Come. Not the metaphysical terror of the caves [in A Passage to India] but the monotony of "normal" life serves as the background of these stories, and their heroes, unlike Mrs. Moore or Fielding, who react by a movement inward, accept that monotony as an inevitable part of life's texture, while actively accommodating themselves to what are now seen (in a dramatic reversal of Forster's attitude in his last novel) as the intermittent pleasures of life's surface. At least, most of them do. Of the stories I am concerned with (those which, according to the dates offered in Oliver Stallybrass's admirable edition, were composed at about the same time as or later than A Passage to India), three deal with love. Significantly, "The Life to Come," "Dr. Woolacott," and "The Other Boat," which I'll examine in greater detail later on, are closer in feeling and strategy to Forster's earlier work. More ambitious and morally more ambiguous than the other five stories, they are also more obviously sentimental, sometimes, as in the opening of "The Life to Come," embarrassingly so. And in the first two at least, the attempt to render love leads to a style that is poetic by intention, yet curiously flat, thin, and conventional.
More striking is that fact that each of these stories ends with death. And although it is possible, given their orthodox psychology, to regard the endings as inevitable effects of causes specified in the stories, it is difficult to avoid the sense that what is being revealed more clearly still is a psychological pattern in Forster. If Maurice is predicated on a happy ending, these stories express the more typical lure of failure in matters of homosexual love. Or, rather, not homosexuality as such but, as I've suggested, the conflation of love and sex. To combine the two is, in Forster's imaginative world, to invite, indeed to ensure disaster. To the last, as "The Other Boat" makes clear, Forster was unable to envisage the stability of complete human relationships in a universe of temporal and psychological change. What his imagination sought and intermittently found was a nondynamic world, freed from the impersonal determinations of causality as from the more subtle connections of love. It is, in part, the world to which the endings of many of the earlier fantasies (and of "Dr. Woolacott") unsatisfactorily point; it is also the world of the remaining five stories: "other kingdom" brought down to earth.
The deliberarte avoidance of love in this second group has as its corollary the acceptance of sex as sex and for the moment. What Forster is after is described perfectly in "Arthur Snatchfold" as "the smaller pleasures of life," a one-time affair conducted "with a precision impossible for lovers." "Equality of character" gives way totally in The Life to Come to a series of unequal confrontations; and now that physical contact is out in the open, the abrasiveness I spoke of earlier is still more apparent. Indeed, the looser, freer structures of most of the sexual stories create, for the first time, a fictional world congruent with the asymmetric relationships they celebrate—one in which the new allegiance to surface is revealingly defined by means of the curious psychological discontinuity that marks their heroes. Even in "The Other Boat," Lionel, in the midst of his affair, forgets "any depths through which he might have passed." In the sexual stories this habit of mind is endemic: characters forget the men to whom they have been attracted, with whom they have had an affair, indeed by whom they have been raped—thereby ignoring or refusing the depth implied by memory and created by continuity of feeling. In all these stories, depth—spatial, temporal, and psychological—is inessential, inimical, or impossible: a force operating against the disequality of character that is now more than ever a positive good, a barrier not to be minimized or ignored but to be pleasurably overcome.
But the relationships achieved make for an "equality of manners" that needs to be further defined with reference to Forster himself. Furbank' s comment: "He valued sex for its power to release his own capacities for tenderness and devotion, but he never expected an equal sexual relationship" indicates that equality is, in fact and paradoxically, inequality: a peculiarly limited, discrete moment, in which connecting becomes coupling and love, of course, sex. It is in the contact alone that the participants are leveled—equal in their enjoyment of their unequal pleasures. And so it is in the stories. Freed from sentiment, if not from sentimentality, they represent a movement from Forster's familiar "as if to a very different "as it is": self joining with world in an unresonant acceptance of amoral pleasure.
It is part of the donnée of The Life to Come that pleasure remains the object of general disapproval, and so Forster continues to attack his old enemy Mrs. Grundy and her relations, who, in the chronological progression of the stories, go down to increasingly violent defeat. Each of the stories has its villain; all are the object of Forster's sometimes unpleasant satire, the corollary to the singleminded assertion of his ideal relationship. Where sex is refused or scorned or rejected, there is, in all eight of the stories, an eruption of violence and vengeance, darkened at times, as in the curious nastiness of "The Classical Annex," by the shadow of sado-masochistic impulses. But Forster's antipathies are more wide-ranging still. The cruelty directed at Hilda in "The Obelisk" derives presumably from Forster's rejection of her rhetoric of salvation, which, whether or not it was so intended, comes across as an inversion and parody of almost identical language in Where Angels Fear to Tread. Philip's attitude is clearly no more acceptable by now than his sister's. The search for romance and the mating of character, like the transformation of sex into idealized love, define the attitudes of those who cannot accept the smaller pleasures of life.
The passage of time obviously made imaginative assent to his sexual ideal more of a possibility for Forster. In "Arthur Snatchfold," the first of the group, Forster seems unable as yet to conceive of pleasure triumphant and unpunished, and the story in fact registers a defeat for the smaller pleasures. In the second story, the obelisk that symbolizes them may, in its fallen state, undermine the sense of phallic potency—though one would hardly judge so from the activities of its two sailors. But there is, in any case, no question about the other three stories, which are in every sense tumescent. Forster's rising joy is, however, no guarantee of the reader's sympathy. Unless one accepts the criteria that determine Forster's approval (and which so markedly exclude large areas of human needs and desires), it is hard to accept the repulsive Ernest of "The Obelisk" or the sadistic gladiator of "The Classical Annex" or even Mirko, Forster's generally attractive porteparole in "What Does It Matter?" who includes among the things that do matter "baiting the Jews." All three are presumably meant to be "natural," but from Gino and Stephen Wonham onward, naturalness is more than a little suspect in Forster's writings: a Nietzschean temptation unrelieved, as it is in Gide, by a consistent moral alertness. And it is at the least curious that Forster can accept, if not approve, Mirko's statement.
Still, it is easy enough to see what Forster is after. "What Does It Matter?" is subtitled "A Morality," and, along with Sir Richard and the Roman Marcian, Mirko is the most genial expression of Forster's ethic: the need for diversity and tolerance, especially in sexual matters. The Pottibakians, "do[ing] as they like" inhabit Forster's utopia of activity and participation and acceptance. And so too does Marcian, after the destruction of the basilica and its virgo victrix in "The Torque." The movement of the story's final pages is, by way of the animals, who "clucked and copulated as usual," away from Christianity and ascetic morality toward a "natural," sexual life, in which where he is is enough for Marcian. "There was nothing to exorcize," the Bishop unhappily discovers, "and Marcian became gay and happy as well as energetic, and no longer yearned nostalgically for the hills." Despite its misplaced touch of fantasy at the end, "The Torque" attains to Forster's final vision of the here and now. Marcian, with his take-it-as-it-comes philosophy, is, along with Mirko, a natural inhabitant of a world "equally dispossessed of good and evil" and thus immune to conventional ethical categories.
Taken together, the sexual stories in The Life to Come define the final stage of irony in Forster's work: an acceptance of contingency that is perhaps best illustrated, by its absence, in the figure of Count Waghaghren, the villain of "What Does It Matter?" and a man "unaccustomed to incidents without consequence." Obliquely, the description hints at the suspensiveness of Forster's irony and at the priapic ethos of the sexual tales. For Forster's late figures are, to repeat, men unconcerned with consequences; and the stories explore and celebrate, precisely, a world without causality, sequence, or depth. The results of this change of attitude, apparently so striking, need to be recognized and understood. In the movement from cosmos to chaos and, further, from the melancholy awareness to the feverish acceptance of surface; from redemptive moments to desperate snatches of pleasure; from "the power to love and the desire for truth" of "Albergo Empedocle" (and Where Angels Fear to Tread) to the truth of that discordant sexuality heretofore at least partly concealed in Forster's fiction, what has most strikingly disappeared is the all-embracing ideal of connection set forth in Howards End. Along with the asymmetry of relationships comes, or seems to come, the acceptance of randomness and multiplicity as the very definition and condition of life and its satisfactions; and, in the light of Forster's earlier work, the acceptance is as radical as it is surprising. In The Life to Come, Forster goes beyond not only A Passage to India but the prewar fiction of his chief disciple, Christopher Isherwood. The Berlin Stories take place, as it were, "in the cave": cosmos is gone, chaos is unthinkable; one tries (uncomfortably) to live in time and space. But the overriding concern of Isherwood's novels with disconnection and discontinuity implies the ability still to imagine the theoretical possibility of wholeness and unity as an ideal.
Forster's is a further step: not merely from logical sequence to simple succession but from surface conceived of as the limited and limiting prison of the self to the perception of it as the open ground of the self's sporadic but total fulfillment—an area something like what Wylie Sypher describes as "a visual field, which is quite unlike the visual world we 'know' . . . [and which] cannot be perceived all at once." In other words, we have moved into a world where, although everything continues to exist by contiguity alone, that state of affairs is now for the first time accepted and indeed welcomed. Looking back at the prewar years, W. H. Auden described the need for the writers of his generation to adopt irony as a style of writing and, it is implied, of living:
And where should we find shelter
For joy or mere content
When little was left standing
But the suburb of dissent?
The Life to Come positions itself quite differently: situated neither between heaven and hell, nor in the shadow of infinity, nor yet "in the cave," it exists, by intention at least, firmly in the midst of the suburb of assent.
To invoke the notion of assent at this point is to trespass on the problem of the anironic .. . ; but there is no easy way of separating into discrete bundles the complementary visions of acceptance and assent: the ironic and anironic impulses that together define Forster's ultimate response (or, since my concern for the moment is still with the sexual stories, one aspect of it) to his world. The fact is that just as Forster's acceptance of contingency leaves behind, or seems to leave behind, mediate and disjunctive irony altogether, so it provides the basis for the anironic counterpart of suspensive irony, namely, the desire for unmediated experience, for direct participation in the world. And indeed, despite the continuation of satiric impulses, Forster is essentially the celebrator, not the critic, of the world he fictionalizes in his final stories. Furthermore, the total collapse of Forster's characteristic distance from his subject matter is, far more than in the love stories (though without their rhetorical infelicities) an assent to a unity achieved through "equality of manners" and "the smaller pleasures of life."
But as one begins to examine more closely the nature of these pleasures, something odd and unsettling emerges, which calls into doubt, as it does in the case of those later and lesser writers Forster adumbrates in The Life to Come, both the thoroughgoingness of his acceptance and the vitality of his assent. To begin with the latter: as one surveys the opposite ends of Forster's career, taking as terminal points the stories in The Celestial Omnibus and those in The Life to Come that I've been discussing, it becomes clear that if the early ones express the need for love (compare again too the "human love" of Where Angels Fear to Tread) and the later ones for sex, still what is central to both is the idea: the idea of love, the idea of sexuality—"Maîtresses de l'âme, Idées." And as the early stories subdue Pan, their tutelary and informing presence, into an urgency made conformable to the demands of consciousness, so the later, priapic tales, for all their often attractive exuberance, remain equally and curiously theoretical: blueprints of desire, amusing schemata of passion, which, because of their abstractness, qualify, in their comparatively decorous way, as at least quasi-pornographic.
Forster's assent is, then, something less than it seems at first glance: not genuine participation but, again, the idea of participation. But that is not all. Like the early stories, the later ones achieve their ends through a process of exclusion or substitution. Which is to say that Forster's suspensiveness is less genuine, less comprehensive than it appears; that a world of insupportable density and facticity has been replaced by a more manageable, because more abstract, version of it. Consequently, Forster's response to the dilemma of A Passage to India is less a transfiguration than an evasion of his earlier problem: the awareness that "everything exists, nothing has value" is not so much overcome and faced as it is neutralized by the foregrounding of occasional intensities at the expense of the random, incoherent world they imply. What purports to be a movement toward inclusion is in fact the extreme of exclusion: a spurious unity superimposed on a still fragmented world, whose fragmentation is only partly acknowledged. In short, the inadequacy of the sexual stories is twofold. On the one hand, Forster's earthly paradise speaks of assent, of passion, vigor, and sexuality, but the thinness of the dream belies its reality—if not the longing for it. On the other hand, and more importantly, the naturalization of Eden, which is what, in the context of Forster's career, the sexual tales represent, refuses at the last to recognize or to accept fully the background against which the new Eden is made to arise: the contingent world that is in fact its source and meaning. The resolute and deliberate affirmation of a small part of life's possibilities may be stoic or tragic—even and especially the origin of a limited joy. But to act, while celebrating local and discrete pleasures, as if the whole had been embraced and all its parts connected is a delusion and an illusion: the ground equally of pathos and, for the reader aware of the discrepancy between intention and result, of an irony of an altogether conventional kind.
The Life to Come bears most immediately on Forster's own earlier work, and it has already called forth reinterpretations and revaluations of it; but it has other implications as well, which become apparent when one views it in a larger context. The growing insistence in recent years that art is definitively rejecting depth involves not only an animus against ultimate realities and Newtonianly-ordered world views but a reassertion of the relationship between the self and the phenomenal world. "Il est clair, dès à présent," Francastel writes, celebrating the end of Renaissance space, "que le nouvel espace sera un espace construit davantage en fonction de nos comportements que de notre réflexion."
But the movement from Sein to Dasein, "the return to the surface," has assumed at least two radically different alternative forms. On the one hand, there are those writers who, beginning with an awareness of modernist irony, move beyond or transform it. In the writing of Merleau-Ponty, for example, with its repeated invocations of "horizons" or its notion of co-presence, there is implied, as in Between the Acts, a dynamic interaction of consciousness and world leading to a new kind of creation. The world suggested may be predicated on surface, but it is neither fragmented nor static nor flat—as Forster's so conspicuously is.
The Life to Come, on the other hand, predicts not phenomenological art and thought but figures such as Warhol and Robbe-Grillet, certain of the photo-realists, and, in general, those contemporary writers, both French and American, given to the celebration of reflexivity. As in the works of these novelists and artists, Forster presents a surface that is opaque and unresonant; and like the painters in particular, he points to the problem involved in the discrepancy between intention and response. Obviously less neutral than they, he resembles them, by way of his subject matter, in his manifest but not fully realized abandonment of the Arnoldian responsibility for seeing life steadily and whole. From "the smaller pleasures of life" to Campbell's soup cans the psychological and aesthetic leap is not that great; nor is it from Forster's ultimately drab assent to a comment made by one recent painter: "I'm not saying that what I picture is good or bad. It's up to the viewer to make his own response." Whether deliberately or not, the burden of commitment and subjectivity has been shifted to the reader or viewer—along with the recognition that in these cases the artist's uncertain acceptance of his content is the irony.
A less ambiguous but finally more evasive approach to the question of intention is to be found in the critical writings of Robbe-Grillet. The business of the novelist, he writes, is to record distances "and to insist further on the fact that these are only distances (and not divisions)." The implications of this statement are enormous. If there are no divisions, then all of the anguish of modernist literature is meaningless. Indeed, to see separation as disturbing is to assume that there is such a thing as depth or interiority or transcendence. But there is, in fact, only surface: "The world is neither significant nor absurd. It is, quite simply." The attitude is, again, one of acceptance, but the acceptance is achieved not, as in the case of Merleau-Ponty or the later Virginia Woolf, by a restructuring of the relations between self and world but by a semantic sleight-of-hand, whereby the ominous "division" becomes the neutral "distance."
Forster's strategy is the same: redefinition becomes the solution to the problem—in his case, the problem of connecting. The final irony of Forster's suspensive irony is, however, that in The Life to Come he does achieve a connection of sorts. But it is a connection by reduction: the joining of self and world at the expense of consciousness. Man is not incarnated in his body; he is body, his sexual self, finally an object, a thing. At the last, it is a sad, pinched, meager vision of life that The Life to Come expresses. "Give pain, give pleasure an outer body," a character thinks in The Years, "and by increasing the surface diminish them." The words suggest the impulse behind Forster's final stories, written one feels, not simply, as he acknowledged, "to excite [him]self ' but for personal salvation. They may well have served their purpose, but the diminishing of pain is, inevitably, the circumscribing of pleasure as well.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1142
SOURCE; "Maurice and Fictions of Homosexuality," in Forster's Narrative Vision, Cornell University Press, 1982, pp. 150-83.
[In this excerpt, Rosecrance notes that the homosexual stories reveal defeat and the fragmentation of Forster's artistry.]
"The Other Boat," Forster's last story, is a painful and remarkable narrative. Its strong characterizations of the Englishman and his half-caste lover and its signification of the psychic power of the mother in Forster's mind give it greater artistic interest than the other homosexual stories. Lionel March, a British officer en route to Bombay, is seduced by Cocoa, a young but sophisticated half-caste, into an affair that ends in violence and catastrophe. Cocoa's native status, appearance, perceptiveness, and opportunism a little recall Aziz, but March is no Fielding; rather he is like Maurice, an unintellectual, physically attractive Anglo-Indian, unaware of his charms or his nature. Once drawn into sexual relations, March faces the conflict between sexuality and convention; in the crisis, he denies his deepest impulses and chooses society. The outcome presents Forster's final and most explosive depiction of the defeat of homosexual passion.
To the love affair Forster counterpoints March's relationship with his mother, on whom he blames Lionel's predicament, and whose symbolic and emotional influence receive extraordinary development. March is the center of a triangle composed of lover and mother, and Mrs. March correctly identifies Cocoa as the agent of subversion in a prologue that pairs Lionel and Cocoa as childhood playmates on an earlier voyage. Similarly, although Mrs. March is not present during the story's major action, Cocoa's fear of her influence on his lover looms large in the plot.
What is significant is the mother's importance as influence and threat. She resembles the Anglo-Indian ladies of A Passage to India whom Forster repudiates with efficient astringency. But in this story the Anglo-Indian mother is a major figure. Whereas in the novels such mothers as Mrs. Honeychurch, Mrs. Wilcox, and Mrs. Moore are objects of affection or awe, Mrs. March, antithetically valued, is equally potent. She represents, both in character and in her presence in March's mind, the inhibitions and conventions he cannot overcome in his attempt to bridge the sexual and social chasms that separate him from Cocoa. As daughter of a clergyman and wife of an officer, the mother not only symbolizes British ruling institutions; she embodies for her son the taboo against sexuality. Sexual temptation is punishable by death, and, as the perceptive half-caste realizes, this principle underlies the mother's hatred of him. For, deserted by her husband for a native lover (presumably male), Mrs. March has relaxed her vigilance over the children with whom she is returning to England, to flirt on board with an English officer. The youngest child dies subsequently, and Mrs. March identifies the cause as the seductions of Cocoa, which her neglect has permitted. Thus, the mother's sexual guilt informs her hostility to natives, both as they deflect her from duty and as they represent a sexuality she lacks. The story's ultimate significance seems to lie in the rebound of these guilty sexualities on their creator.
The figure of the mother assumes symbolic dimension as fate, an incomprehending, unaware, all-powerful force: She is "another power, . . . blind-eyed in the midst of the enormous web she had spun—filaments drifting everywhere, strands catching. There was no reasoning with her or about her, she understood nothing and controlled everything." Lionel sees her both as the source of all his conflicts and the ideal from which he has fallen through indulgence of his sexuality. Her control comes from his reverence and anxiety rather than from any action she performs. His falling away, finally, from the internalized ideal of feminine purity is the cause of his selfexecution. Lionel's sin has been no less than the violation of his mother. His murder and suicide expiate a sexuality whose ambiguous manifestations have additional implications. For carnality and brutality unite in this story, and from start to finish the blossoming of sexuality in Lionel presents a final testimony to Forster's admiration of violence.
Forster's attitude to the lovers mixes attraction and condescension. Cocoa is nicknamed "Monkey" and portrayed as predatory. Initiating Lionel into experience, the half-caste seeks to subjugate March to his sexual desires. Cocoa's destruction occurs because he provocatively tries to assert his dominance, first by disregarding the secrecy that permits the Englishman to violate sexual and class taboos, then by a symbolic move into the forbidden reaches of the Englishman's upper bunk. Neither sexual nor class connection can be accomplished, and the Götterdämmerung that follows Cocoa's final provocation, an attempt to seduce March by violence, obliterates both protagonists and ends Forster's explorations of homosexuality in fiction.
The homosexual stories concern themselves not with the meaning of life but with a byway of experience, the thrills and punishments of homosexual passion. As Alan Wilde recently noted, Forster moves here from depths to surfaces, and the stories are striking in their loss of the authorial distance and irony that characterize Forster's best fiction ["Depths and Surfaces: Dimensions of Forsterian Irony," English Literature in Transition, Vol. 16:4, 1973]. Despite Forster's description of them as recreation, these stories are noteworthy also for the sense of despair they project. Love and sex now exist only in discontinuity. The fantasy of the greenwood has become a chance roll on the sward of a country estate; homosexual unions have no place in the world, and Forster's protagonists can escape the prison of solipsism and the repressions of society only through death. In their repudiation of the solution of Maurice, the more serious stories make final acknowledgment of the incompatibility of homosexual unions both with Forster's contemporary social and legal codes and with his divided self. Their orgies of rape, mutilation, and death project anguish, but also a questionable pleasure in violence, selfpunishment, and destruction. Ultimately the significance of these stories is private, in whatever personal solace they gave their author. Their minor status should also, I hope, free them from the burden of their temporal position, which has caused so astute a critic as Alan Wilde to place them implicitly on the same conceptual level as A Passage to India. In their reversion to surface, their narrow concern with sexual pleasure and torment, these stories display Forster's artistic fragmentation after A Passage to India. The creative impulse that achieved integration there seems in a sense to split into rational and psychic components, a schism between mind and impulse, expressed on the one hand through the urbane intelligence and moral passion of Forster's nonfiction, on the other in these private fantasies, whose limitations of both form and subject debar them from consideration or judgment with the mainstream of Forster's fiction. Thus, despite their greater contemporaneity, the homosexual stories close the byway opened in Maurice with a no-exit sign and direct our attention to the culmination of Forster's art in A Passage to India.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 787
SOURCE: "Other Kingdoms: The Short Fiction," in E. M. Forster, Frederick Ungar Publishing, 1983, pp. 237-94.
[In the following excerpt, Summers notes the importance of Forster's short fiction to our understanding of his artistic vision.]
Forster is not a master of the short story. His importance as a writer rests on the novels and the nonfiction. Yet the stories are not negligible. Some of them are significant achievements in their own right, and taken together, they help reveal the complexity of Forster's art. They locate the source of some of his most characteristic effects in the tension generated by an imagination that is at once visionary and local, romantic and realistic. They make obvious the romantic base of his vision, tracing—in various ways and with varying degrees of success—the quest for a nostalgic wholeness, glimpsed fleetingly during those Wordsworthian "spots of time" in which the creative mind and external nature intersect to yield an organic whole and to imagine other kingdoms whose existence tellingly exposes the world of local reality. As Judith Scherer Herz has observed, the stories may indeed be "far closer to the sources of Forster's imagination, even if we may finally value more the transformation of that material into the novel's social gesture than into the short fiction's parables, visions, and prophecies" ["From Myth to Scripture: An Approach to Forster's Later Short Fiction," English Literature in Transition, Vol. 24, 1981].
On first reading, the stories may seem whimsical and light, more amusing than ambitious. Actually, the stories are far more serious than they initially appear, but this appearance calls attention to the balance of realism and fantasy that characterizes the entire canon. In the novels, realistic character study and social analysis prevail, whereas in the stories, fantasy and romance elements dominate. But just as the novels are themselves poetic in their emphases on symbolic moments, transfigurations, and metaphysical probings, so the stories also combine the passion with the prose. The fantasy is always anchored to the realistic, and the visionary illuminates the mundane.
In fact, the stories articulate the same social criticism that animates the novels. English insularity, materialism, class consciousness, indifference to art, and repression of natural instinct are all attacked. But in the stories, Forster does not so much analyze these social conditions as envision an escape from them into other kingdoms of his own imagining, frequently set in the past or the future. This is not to say that the stories are merely escapist but that they imagine romantically conceived alternatives to the realistically depicted worlds of complacency and convention. In some of the stories, the effect of this imagining is whimsical to the point of preciosity, but in the best—especially in "The Celestial Omnibus" and "The Life to Come"—the effect is wholly satisfying. In these, Forster beautifully juxtaposes worlds of bourgeois philistinism and kingdoms of the spirit. His self-conscious awareness that the stories are in fact fantasies actually serves to focus their social comment, just as the social realism of the novels provides the concrete background against which their mythic and symbolic counterplots reverberate.
The plots of nearly all the stories chronicle the breaking loose of characters, frequently children or adolescents, from the imprisonment of social conventions. The stories often pivot on genius loci, the apprehension of a particular spirit of place and the appreciation of elemental forces of nature. They are especially distinguished by their narrative techniques, sometimes employing obtuse narrators who fail to comprehend the import of the events that they relate, and by their lush prose. The use of untrustworthy narrators facilitates irony, placing the reader in a position superior to the characters, and it enhances mystery, making the reader aware that there is a story behind the story being narrated. The ecstatic prose functions to elevate the imagined worlds and eternal moments and to underline the contrast between the transcendent and the mundane, though sometimes this technique fails to convince and the prose seems merely strained or precious.
Spanning as they do more than fifty years, from "The Story of a Panic," which was written in 1902, to "The Other Boat," the final version of which was probably begun in 1957 and completed in 1958, the stories are especially important as evidence of Forster's consistent preoccupation with questions of wholeness, connection, and transcendence. The external subjects and the solutions vary, as does the quality of the individual explorations, but the Forsterian world view remains consistent. The visions of other kingdoms where connections can be made and wholeness thereby achieved mock the broken images and disconnected lives that animate Forster's art even as the imagined kingdoms transcend the restrictions of mundane reality. The stories offer fascinating insight into the issues that absorbed the man and helped shape the novelist.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3648
SOURCE: "E. M. Forster," in Supernatural Fiction Writers, Vol. I, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1985, pp. 479-84.
[In the following excerpt, Kessel argues that Forster used fantasy elements to clarify his belief that human salvation depends on the ability of people to connect.]
You will expect me now to say that a fantastic book asks us to accept the supernatural. .. . I would rather hedge as much as possible, and say that [it asks] us to accept either the supernatural or its absence.
This passage from E. M. Forster's Aspects of the Novel (1927) illuminates both Forster's fantasy and his characteristic reticence about making unequivocal judgments. For in Forster we have a writer who does not care about the supernatural except as it can be used in fiction to illuminate how human relationships fail through a lack of emotional development.
The quotation comes from a chapter in which Forster defends fantasy as a serious form of literature. Yet he slides past the question many critics would consider essential to any definition of fantasy—whether such works need contain the supernatural. For Forster a work is fantasy because of the kind of world it presents—a world where the supernatural would not be out of place even if it does not appear directly in the story. Forster's own works of fantasy are dependent much more on the reactions of his characters to this possibility of the fantastic than on the overt appearance of the supernatural itself.
In the same chapter Forster identifies two other characteristics of fantasy. The first is that fantasy demands that the reader "pay something extra." It compels the reader to make more adjustments than realism; "other novelists say 'Here's something that might occur in your lives,' the fantasist says 'Here's something that could not occur. I must ask you first to accept my book as a whole, and secondly to accept certain things in my book.'"
The second characteristic of fantasy Forster identifies lies at the heart of his own method, explaining why he can classify works like Tristram Shandy as fantasy although they contain no supernatural elements. Forster maintains that a work of fantasy can transcend the rational rules that may fairly be applied to other works of fiction:
There is more in the novel than time or people or logic or any of their derivatives, more even than Fate. And by "more" I do not mean something that excludes these aspects nor something that includes them, embraces them. I mean something that cuts across them like a bar of light, that is intimately connected with them at one place and patiently illumines all their problems, and at another place shoots over or through them as if they did not exist. We shall give that bar of light two names, fantasy and prophecy.
Note that the three traits of fantasy Forster identifies—the potentiality if not the actuality of the supernatural, the demand for an additional suspension of disbelief from the reader, and the occasional transcendence of conventional storytelling patterns in the service of some higher meaning—are descriptive rather than prescriptive. Forster abhors dogmatism and strives to avoid codifying observations into rules; he is more content to observe and describe than to set boundaries. This is as true of the content of his fantasy as it is of his definition of it. We shall see how those characters in his stories who set boundaries are morally and emotionally deficient. Forster seeks to break down the boundaries between fantasy and realism, and between people: the epigraph of his novel Howards End (1910) is "Only connect. ...".. .
Forster's fantasy stories may be divided into two types: those that depend for their premises on the intrusion of beings from Greek mythology into the modern world and those in which the fantasy is based on other sorts of departures from reality. The first group comprises "The Story of a Panic," "Other Kingdom," "The Curate's Friend," "The Story of the Siren," and "The Road from Colonus."
In "The Story of a Panic," which leads off The Celestial Omnibus and which Forster identified as the first story he ever wrote, his method and characteristic concerns are already highly developed. A group of British tourists is picnicking in the woods above Ravello, Italy. They represent a cross section of the educated middle class: the two Miss Robinsons with their lazy nephew Eustace, the curate Mr. Sandbach, the conceited artist Leyland, the narrator Mr. Tytler, and his wife and two daughters. While they are sitting in a hillside clearing debating the virtues of the scenery, they are suddenly affected by a "panic" in both the literal and figurative sense of the word—they become aware of the presence of the Greek god Pan, and they scatter through the woods in terror, "not the spiritual fear that one has known at other times, but brutal overmastering physical fear, stopping up the ears, and dropping clouds before the eyes, and filling the mouth with foul tastes." The only person who does not flee is Eustace, and when the others return they find him strangely altered. There are a goat's tracks in the dirt, which the curate calls footprints of Satan, and which Eustace rolls in like a dog. The boy's erratic behavior disturbs the tourists, and they lock him in a room at their inn. The only sympathetic adult is Gennaro, a disreputable servant, who first helps the others subdue Eustace and then dies helping him escape.
The first of the three sections of the story is late-Victorian social comedy. Pompous Mr. Tytler narrates the story; the dialogue reveals the characters' particular failings precisely. The supernatural element—the appearance of Pan—is eerily implied rather than stated: there is no physical manifestation other than a slight breath of wind and the goat's prints. Instead Forster concentrates on the actions of the characters and in this way creates fantasy with a minimal, ambiguous intrusion of the supernatural. The physical manifestation of the Greek god is not as essential as the possibilities of human behavior he represents.
Pan as a character was much written of in the late 1800's, appearing in the fantasies of Arthur Machen (The Great God Pan, 1894) and Saki, and reduced to sentimental impotence in J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan (1904). Sentimentality is often the sign of an attempt to defuse a strong emotion so that it no longer threatens. The Pan that Machen and Forster use and that B arrie emasculates represents an animal sexuality, with its attendant loss of control, that Edwardian society felt threatened by unless it was tamed to the merely "naughty." And the faun of Greek mythology confounds that society's desire to separate the physical and the spiritual by being both fleshly and supernatural. Forster may equivocate over whether this god literally exists, but he does not hesitate to demonstrate how those who attempt to ignore Pan are lacking, at the very least, in some essential human sympathy.
Thus, in "The Story of a Panic," we have the artist Leyland, whose constant bemoaning the loss of the simplicity of nature is revealed to be a hollow pose by his terror when he is confronted by the natural god; the clergyman Sandbach, whose profession is to comprehend the spiritual but who does not attempt to understand this sprite; and Mr. Tytler, who is damned by his own insensitivity as he tells the story. When Eustace leaps into Gennaro's arms upon their return to the hotel, Mr. Tytler remarks: "I always make a point of behaving pleasantly to Italians, however little they may deserve it; but this habit of promiscuous intimacy was perfectly intolerable, and could only lead to familiarity and mortification for all." The only one who understands Eustace's ecstasy is Gennaro, and he is dismissed as uncouth, little more than an animal.
It must be added that Eustace's escape and the death of Gennaro are frightening as well as liberating; Forster demonstrates the inadequacies of his well-bred countrymen and their "undeveloped hearts," but the destructive power of natural emotion can be heard in the boy's exultant cries.
A similar frightening metamorphosis occurs in "Other Kingdom," in which Miss Beaumont, betrothed to the subtly brutal Mr. Worters, escapes her coming spiritual destruction in a way familiar to maidens of classical mythology—she turns into a tree. Like "The Story of a Panic," "Other Kingdom" is told by a narrator who himself represents the emotional failings Forster is criticizing, and the story works very well on the level of bright social comedy. These stories may not move the reader powerfully, but they make their points without becoming ponderous.
This is unfortunately not true of all of Forster's fantasies. In "The Curate's Friend" a clergyman tells how the friendship of a faun has saved his soul but lost him his fiancée, Emily. The faun does this by showing that the curate does not really care for Emily, nor she for him. He teaches the curate to express his emotions genuinely instead of hiding them from himself and others. The theme is similar to that of "The Story of a Panic," and the use of the faun as the fantasy element is characteristic, but the writing is stilted to the point of self-parody. When Emily and a young man (tediously referred to only as "the little friend"), touched by the faun, find that they are in love, the curate surprises them:
"Miscreant!" I shouted, bursting from the wood. "You have betrayed me."
"I know it: I care not," cried the little friend. "Stand aside. You are in the presence of that which you do not understand. In the great solitude we have found ourselves at last."
"Remove your accursed hands!" I shrieked to the Faun.
He obeyed and the little friend continued more calmly: "It is idle to chide. What should you know, poor clerical creature, of the mystery of love of the eternal man and the eternal woman, of the self-effectuation of a soul?"
"That is true," said Emily angrily.
In defense of this graceless dialogue it might be objected that since this story is told by the curate himself, the rhetorical overkill is his, not Forster' s. But if we accept this as a story of the curate's redemption through his acceptance of honest emotions, we must also accept that Forster means for us to take the curate's story seriously. This is not a very good story by normal standards: characterization, plot, and dialogue fail, and despite Forster's insistence in Aspects of the Novel that fantasy cuts across such standards, we are still left with a botched whimsy. In "Other Kingdom" and "The Story of a Panic," Forster gives us fantasy that illuminates without asking us to pay by giving up the values of well-written fiction.
The heavy reliance of these fantasies on the intrusion of classical myth—Pan, fauns of other sorts, water nymphs, sirens, and dryads—is in fact the hardest thing about them to appreciate. There is little doubt that for the young Forster who wrote these stories, as for many of his readers, the mythology he calls upon to convey his criticisms of modem life still carried some power. But today it is hard to accept such a conception as anything more than precious.
Similarly, Forster's continual use of clean-limbed young southern European peasants to represent emotional and sexual directness has become a cliché so outworn that a piece like "The Story of the Siren" sacrifices a degree of the reader's willing acceptance when it talks about a young Sicilian like "a silver statue, alive beneath the sea, through whom life throbbed in blue and green." This story contains some beautiful writing and a serious point about how an acceptance of death (represented by the siren) is essential to make life worthwhile, but some of its turn-ofthe-century furniture has dated badly.
It is thus surprising that "The Road from Colonus," which contains both classical allusion and simple Greek peasants, remains one of Forster's strongest fantasies. The title alludes to Oedipus at Colonus. Like the Oedipus in that play, Mr. Lucas is an old man being cared for by his daughter. He is tired, querulous, and discontented, awaiting death. Touring the countryside on a visit to Greece, Mr. Lucas rides ahead of the rest of his group and comes upon a country inn in the shade of a huge plane tree out of which a spring flows to nourish a fertile field. Beneath this tree, Mr. Lucas finds the peace that he sought by coming to Greece. The tree has been made into the shrine to the Virgin Mary by the peasants, but the spiritual presence he feels has more to do with naiads and dryads, and as he stands against the tree with his feet in the water, "something unimagined, indefinable . . . passed over all things and made them intelligible and good."
At once everything that Mr. Lucas found meaningless in the world makes sense. His daughter Ethel and the other tourists arrive. They profusely praise the scenery and the inn, and when Mr. Lucas says he would like to spend the night there, Ethel tops him by insisting they stay a week. Mr. Lucas is overjoyed because this will let him solidify his new peace of mind, but Ethel is merely posing, and as soon as they finish lunch she insists they leave. When Mr. Lucas balks the tourists grab him and load him onto his mule, despite the attempts of the Greek family that lives at the inn to come to his rescue.
The story leaps months ahead, back to England, where Mr. Lucas has returned to his querulous self and Ethel, now engaged, has arranged to have his sister take care of him. They receive a package from Greece wrapped in an old newspaper, and Ethel reads in this paper that the plane tree fell over onto the inn, killing all inside, the very evening that she forced Mr. Lucas to leave. Ethel sees in this the hand of Providence, but Mr. Lucas is too preoccupied with senile complaints about the plumbing and the neighbors to listen.
"The Road from Colonus" works because it is understated and grounded in reality where "The Curate's Friend" is overblown and silly. The action is presented economically, in the third person, without the screen of a pompous narrator. The implications of Mr. Lucas' "salvation" are left to the reader to determine, yet the story is so constructed that one cannot help but realize that his true salvation would have been to stay at the inn and die. All the characteristic elements of a Forster fantasy are present the barest suggestion of the supernatural intrusion into everyday affairs, the group of self-centered and insincere British tourists, the earthy Greek peasants, the comedy of manners, and the ironic tone.
In this story these elements come magically together. The illumination that Forster claims is the essence of fantasy plays over the materials of the story so that there is more here than meets the eye. That "more" may be the supernatural, but we are not obliged to read it that way. However, those elements that might be ascribed to the supernatural—the vision Mr. Lucas has of an integrated world and the coincidental death of the people at the inn at which he wanted to stay—are at the heart of the story's meaning. Forster is saying that the world can slide together into meaning in an instant, and that this coming together has something to do with the recognition that death may be imminent and not necessarily something to be avoided. Whether or not we invoke the supernatural to explain this vision is either irrelevant or supremely relevant, depending on one's belief in the unseen. In the end it does not matter whether Mr. Lucas is in Greece or England if he can stop in the shade of the tree long enough to make the revelation his own. When he is torn away through the blindness of his countrymen (who could reasonably expect them to understand?), our feeling of loss is extreme. Ethel's talk in the epilogue of salvation, when we see Mr. Lucas has lost everything, is bitterly ironic.
Virtually all of Forster's fantasies turn on this single point: the characters are offered some means to salvation from the petty existence they live in the social world. Usually this involves some recognition of their bonds with other people, some abandonment of pretense and emotional barriers. In the mythological stories the agent of this salvation is some aspect of Greek mythology; turning now to the remaining fantasies we find the means to be spiritual revelation, desire, or death. These stories, like the mythological ones, vary widely in quality. "Mr. Andrews" and "Co-ordination," both included in The Eternal Moment, are like "The Curate's Friend" in being too slight to take very seriously and not witty enough to rise above the weighty messages underlying them. "The Machine Stops" is an important and well-constructed story, but as science fiction it falls outside the scope of this essay. "The Eternal Moment," also a strong story, is not fantasy. This leaves "The Point of It," "The Other Side of the Hedge," and "The Celestial Omnibus."
"The Point of It" is divided into three sections that differ in tone. The first describes Michael and Harold, young men returning from an outing, rowing against the tide in an estuary. It ends powerfully with Harold dropping dead of a heart attack. The second tells of Michael's life after the accident and until his death. This section is told primarily in summary. Michael soon forgets about Harold and leads a successful public life, marrying and raising three children. He is satisfied with his life, but he has in fact devoted himself to mediocrity, or, rather, has devoted himself to nothing and therefore achieved mediocrity, for which he receives public acclaim and a comfortable living.
The third section, which reverts to dramatization, takes us to hell with Michael after he dies. It is the hell of the soft. It is the hell of those who praised that which was beneath praise although they knew better, and one of its torments is that the souls there must praise this hell as well. Michael realizes his mistakes and is given the chance to cross over the river that separates hell from heaven; all he need do is desire. Passion frees him, and he finds himself in a boat crossing the river against the tide, just as he did with Harold as a young man.
The story works tolerably well, though it wavers between story and parable. The description of hell is vivid, and Forster's ever-present irony holds the reader's interest. Its strongest scene is the first, Harold's unexpected death, and his cryptic last words (Michael says he doesn't see the point of it; Harold replies that he will someday), propel the rest of the story. In the end we realize that achieving a balance of desire and contentment, of hard and soft, is the real "point" of the story—exemplified by the state of mind of Harold moments before his death.
He made himself all will and muscle. He began not to know where he was. The thrill of the stretcher against his feet, and of the tide up his arms, merged with his friend's voice towards one nameless sensation; he was approaching the mystic state that is the athlete's true though unacknowledged goal, he was beginning to be.
Skipping "The Other Side of the Hedge," a straightforward parable that draws an analogy between the life society demands of us and a narrow road between two hedges, we come to "The Celestial Omnibus," Forster's most playful fantasy. In this story the agent of proffered salvation is literature.
A young boy in a stuffy suburban family discovers that a "celestial omnibus" leaves from the blind alley across the street from his house every morning and evening. The omnibus, whose various drivers include Dante and Sir Thomas Browne, travels to the heaven of literature, where the boy meets Achilles, Tom Jones, and Dickens' Mrs. Gamp. His parents do not believe him. He tries to vindicate himself by taking along the literary man Mr. Bons ("Snob" spelled backward) on a return trip, but Mr. Bons is terrified at experiencing literature in the flesh; he refuses to see and in terror falls from this heaven. His mutilated body is found lying "in the vicinity of the Bermondsey gas-works."
Like some of Wells's lighter fantasies ("The Man Who Could Work Miracles," for instance), "The Celestial Omnibus" is an amusing satire; in this case the fantasy is overt, and the tale is told as much for the delight of its telling as to make a point. And once again we have the tale of a boy—like Eustace in "The Story of a Panic"—able to accept the grace that is offered where the adults cannot even see that they need to be saved. They do not feel that they are missing anything. Mr. Bons proudly points out that he already has seven copies of Shelley.
Forster's fantasy stories have not, on the whole, aged as well as his novels or the fantasies of some of his contemporaries. Though at least half of them are still interesting for themselves, and all of them shed light on ideas he dealt with in more detail in his longer works, Forster's critical reputation is destined to depend on the novels. His reputation as a fantasist is not likely to exceed the renown that a single story—"The Machine Stops"—has gained him among readers of science fiction. Nevertheless, the critical defense he makes of fantasy in Aspects of the Novel is still cogent. And at its best, as in "The Road from Colonus," Forster's fantasy exhibits wit, a deft prose style, a sharp eye for character, and an ability to move the reader profoundly.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2598
SOURCE: "Publishable and Worth It: Forster's Hitherto Unpublished Fiction," in Twilight of Dawn: Studies in English Literature in Transition, University of Arizona Press, 1987, pp. 189-205.
[In this excerpt, an eminent Forster scholar favorably assesses Forster's posthumous fiction for its intensity and complexity. ]
Arctic Summer and Other Fiction, a volume in the monumental Abinger Edition of E. M. Forster, is unusually interesting for students of modern literature and for Forster scholars. In this volume the editors (Oliver Stallybrass and, after his death, Elizabeth Heine) have reprinted works that Forster either abandoned or never submitted for publication; even those that seem to be complete units were probably not finished to his full satisfaction. Except for eight short fragments at the end of the volume, the reprinted items are more than fragments and possess, some of them, considerable literary value, in addition to being sources of record for what they tell us about Forster himself and for the light that they shed on his other works. The stories—"Ralph and Tony," "The Tomb of Pletone," "Unfinished Short Story," and perhaps "Little Imber"—are equal in merit to those gathered in The Life to Come and Other Short Stories, and "Ralph and Tony," I think, ranks among Forster's best works in the short story. . . .
Though most of the works are so nearly finished, they nevertheless reveal that Forster had some difficulty in establishing his narrative line in them; he tended to be indecisive as to the direction that a narrative, so far articulated, would take in its further development. He seems, in short, to have been at the mercy of the "story" element in fiction, for which he was to register a lack of enthusiasm in Aspects of the Novel. All of these works show some failure in the implementation of an initial vision, in inventiveness, but the failures are much less crucial than Forster thought, with the result that most of these works are more complete than he gave them credit for being. In perusing them, we recognize that Forster experienced difficulty in extending beyond the envisaging of an arresting initial situation. But these initial sequences have the unity, the intensity, and the complexity that characterize excellent short fictions, and are best considered in this light. Such an approach would be able to disregard the attempts, mostly abortive, at a full amplification of the initial donnée and to accept the donnée itself as Forster had so far articulated it. . . .
Superficially it might seem perplexing that the virtually completed "Ralph and Tony" (dating from 1903-1904) should have remained obscure for so long and that Forster apparently never mentioned it or made any efforts to publish it. But considering the autobiographical aspects of the story (Ralph Holme and his mother closely resemble Forster and his mother) and the personal longings that Ralph explicitly and implicitly expresses in it, the reader can better appreciate why Forster did not make the story public. It would have been too close to a confession for a reticent individual like Forster to have made, and the homosexual aspects of the story could have been embarrassing to him. Whether his mother could have tolerated in print the thinly disguised portraits of herself and her son is questionable. Whatever the cause, we have been deprived of a complex, moving, and accomplished work of narrative art.
The tale explores a personal relationship that is, from the first, marked by extremity and violence. Tony is a London medical student whose spiritual home is the mountains and whose inner being is marked by the freedom and the explosiveness of untamed nature: "He was in fact a pure pagan, all the more complete for being unconscious, living the glorious unquestioning life of the body, with instinct as a soul." He is vacationing with his sister Margaret in the Tyrol when an unprepossessing Englishman, Ralph Holme, and his mother intrude upon his privacy and, without realizing quite that they are doing so, upon his sense of personal sanctity. Tony feels physical revulsion in the presence of one whom he deems "affected, decadent, morbid, neurotic" and whom he calls "an affectionate worm." Tony's antipathy increases in proportion to Ralph's growing devotion to him. Ralph perhaps innocently touches some strand in Tony that the latter would wish to deny; Ralph reaches through, as it were, to some central core of his being that causes him to acknowledge guilt.
Tony's fierce expressions of loathing toward Ralph comprise an expression by his conscious mind of unconscious impulses that he is reluctant to face—undoubtedly, homosexual feeling. How else account for the violence that follows Ralph's prostration before Tony when Ralph pleads with Tony to love him? Cruelty, violence, and sadism are likely to be concomitants of the awakening of unexpected passion that society proscribes. On an expedition into the mountains to walk to the summit of Giau mountain, Tony derives sadistic pleasure from telling Ralph all his defects and then lying to him to prevent him from going further up the mountain with him and Margaret. Brother and sister on the way down experience a transcendent expansion of their souls as a result of a thunderstorm overtaking them, "Tony singing or rather howling, mad with bodily excitement and the joy of life." Such uninhibited emotion would have been impossible to express in Ralph's presence. Brother and sister come upon him kneeling, seemingly in prayer to the mountains; but this quasi-intellectualizing of strong emotion excites Tony's scorn and active contempt.
Before his involvement with Ralph, Tony had appeared to be a primitive sensibility in close rapport with nature. We view him at the time mostly through the eyes of the admiring Margaret, who sees him always against the mountains, as "a radiant demigod who had seen into heaven," as lovable, tall, strong, "a beautiful half-wild animal," only content on the heights, where he finds satisfaction in being with the chamois hunters, "living among clouds and glaciers, faring roughly among rough men." As we first see him, he is a personification of Nature and her energies, and he possesses, therefore, the large contours and the suggestive proportions of an archetypal or mythic presence. Though Margaret feels strong sympathy with her brother, she also begins to feel that his behavior, especially toward Ralph, is extreme—overly militant and overly aggressive. Ralph has disturbed Tony's equilibrium forever, and Tony struggles against this, to him, sinister influence. Tony represents, in essence, innocence that is corrupted by experience, although the agent of that corruption is a man of sincerity and integrity.
The tale comes to climax after the scene when Tony is brutal to Ralph, continually kicking him in anger at the suggestion that Tony should love him. Ralph's profession of love had been the result of his intense quest, as he explains to Margaret, to find some sort of standard. Though it would be easier not to involve himself in the search for Justice, he feels he must not give over his endeavor. Margaret recognizes also that Ralph needs love and, specifically, needs to be loved by those whom he loves. After an outburst from Tony, Margaret thinks of herself as a possible recipient of Ralph's love; at another point she has a vision of a relationship that might become transcendent between the two men if Tony would allow himself to respond. Ralph is attracted to Margaret as well as to Tony, and he proposes to Tony that he marry Margaret so that the three might live together. After Tony's violent rejection of him, Ralph feels that he must prove himself to himself; otherwise, he cannot survive with his self-image so torn asunder. Early in the story he had said that he had "never been to the top of anything" in his life; he fails to reach the top of the Giau mountain on the walk with Tony and Margaret. He must now climb to the top of the mountain that he calls Justice in order to prove that he can achieve something tangible and at the same time attain some transcendent state which will give him peace and insight: a sense of serenity and a feeling of identity with the cosmic processes.
Ralph gets higher into the mountains than he has ever been before. He would persist in his dangerous climb on an untenable path, perhaps courting the death that might give at last some coherence to his fragmented life. Against Ralph's will, Tony intervenes, knocks him senseless, and carries him to safety, but is himself physically overcome by his exertions. It develops that Tony has a weak heart—has in fact always had one without knowing it. This defect of body will not only prevent him from pursuing an active life again in the mountains but keep him from even being in their presence because of the adverse effects of altitude upon the heart. Tony is humiliated that he, who has always been as a god, is in fact mortal and can suffer from disease, like Ralph or any other human being. If he is diseased in body, might he not also be diseased in spirit?
Nevertheless, Tony also undergoes an enlargement of spirit at the same time that, in another direction, his spirit contracts. In a dream that descends on him in his sickbed, he sees humanity climbing a great mountain, and only surviving through the forces of love and mutual understanding. This dream impels him to act. Though he is weary and can only act with great effort, he summons Ralph in order to suggest a reconciliation. He now sees Ralph in altered perspective and can now appreciate that he has been "so heroic under the extreme misery, so utterly true in word and spirit." Victory or defeat? Whose victory or defeat? Tony at least learns that he cannot live forever at the extremities of emotion and that personal relationships must supplement the impersonal joy deriving from nature. But the progress is costly because the hero and the god are reduced to the human and the encompassable. Ralph will undoubtedly experience renewal, but is this a renewal at the expense of his friend upon whose vitality he may, vampirelike, have been feeding? Will Tony's passion and the violence induced by passion be effectively subdued? Can homosexual love find more than a covert expression in a ménage à trois?
The story is fascinating to consider in light of all the speculative issues that it raises but leaves suspended. It is also prototypic, in that it adumbrates the relationships between men that are so much a part of the Forsterian universe: Philip Herriton and Gino Carella, Rickie Elliot and Stephen Wonham, Rickie and Stewart Ansell, Maurice and Clive Durham (and Alec Scudder), Aziz and Fielding, are those that most readily come to mind. The clarity of line and structure in the tale, despite its complexities, its masterful relating of the psychic conflicts of the characters to external Nature, and its symbolic extensions, insinuations, and ramifications all contribute to its force and persuasiveness and make of "Ralph and Tony" an exciting addition to the Forster canon.
Three other stories are relatively complete as they are printed here for the first time. "The Tomb of Pletone" reveals Forster's fascination with the Mediterranean civilizations, and it belongs with sketches in Abinger Harvest such as "Cnidus," "Cardan," and "Gemisthus Pletho." "The Tomb of Pletone" is, in effect, an expansion of the last paragraph of "Gemisthus Pletho" and recounts the circumstances whereby Sismondo Malatesta was able to bring Pletho's tomb back to Rimini from Mount Taygetus near Sparta. An Italian banker and a one-time classics scholar, Astorre also intends to bring his friend of long ago, Jacobo Vernagallo, to Italy. Malatesta just manages to get the tomb on board ship before the Turks overrun the area. Astorre is not so fortunate. He is a man of good intentions that are undercut by lack of personal force though, paradoxically, during a crisis he had saved the ship, forcibly taking the place of an incompetent helmsman. Astorre is killed by accident, or perhaps by Malatesta's design, as he helps carry the tomb down a flight of stairs. In this story Forster captures the individualism and the largeness of outlook, the violence and the love of learning, the cruelty and the capacity for passionate friendship, the worship of the life-energies and the contempt for the individual life, characteristic of the Italian Renaissance. As a story based in history, it is, I think, more successful than "The Torque," which is reprinted in The Life to Come and Other Stories because the characters are not so limited, defined, and distorted by their primal sexual natures.
"Unfinished Short Story" is perhaps as finished as it needs to be, considering that the central situation in the tale concerns the fragmented and apparently meaningless existence of Gregory Dale, an English official stationed at a ministry in Egypt. His existence is one of quiet desperation. In the first part, he is at odds with his wife and an aristocratic patron, Lady Concannon, and disillusioned with his life in Cairo. In the second, he tries to escape tedium by recourse to a lively prostitute in Alexandria, a Mademoiselle Marcelle: he forces himself to act as the world does but derives little pleasure from his escapade. In the third, he is lifted out, but only temporarily, from his barren routine by a flight in an airplane over Alexandria and Akoubir, a flight which Forster describes with much gusto and vividness. The parts of the story are apparently unconnected, but they have a deeper unity as they comment upon the futility of Dale's entire existence. Forster is expert at eliciting the psychic ramifications of his materials: the drabness of the Alexandria red light district and the acuteness of his sensations as he flies over the city dramatize Dale's life of dullness as it is punctuated by occasional thrills.
"Little Imber" contains an appealing element of whimsical fantasy, though the depiction of the sexual encounter lacks subtlety and emotional depth. In spite of his homosexuality, in Where Angels Fear to Tread, The Longest Journey, and Maurice Forster regarded paternity as representing a crucial fulfillment for the individual, his sympathetic characters in these books desiring for themselves the only certain immortality, perpetuity through their progeny. Forster was intrigued with the notion of personal continuance being made possible through one's descendants. The difficulties, needless to say, for a homosexual to overcome in achieving paternity are formidable. "Little Imber" solves the problem through the means of wishfulfilling fantasy. At a time in the future when males are scarce, two venturesome men (one elderly and the other a youth, Little Imber by name), who are hired by the state to impregnate women, discover that life may be generated by the contact of one male with another. So the problem of continuing the race is solved, and the desire of the male to attain immortality without resorting to intercourse with women is satisfied. And sensual pleasure is not ruled out. The line of the story is a bit simplistic perhaps, yet an energy and geniality of presentation prove effective within the tale's rather narrow dimensions. . . .
[These previously unpublished works] have not only the interest that attaches to anything written by a first-rate writer, but they are sometimes first-rate—or close to firstrate—themselves. Critics certainly cannot afford to neglect "Ralph and Tony" and Arctic Summer in any complete discussion of Forster and his career. The density, the complexities, and the ambiguities, characteristic of Forster the writer and thinker at his best, are sufficiently present in these works to establish their authenticity and stature.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5666
SOURCE: "The Stories II: Narrative Modes," in The Short Narratives of E. M. Forster, St. Martin's Press, 1988, pp. 48-63.
[In this excerpt, Herz discusses the doubleness of Forster's short fiction as revealed in the disjunctive relationship between narrative strategies and narrative voice .]
Forster's stories are complex fictions whose significance and accomplishment are far from exhausted by identifying their mythic materials. Indeed, it is precisely because they are strong fictions and not, as they have too often been considered, juvenilia or whimsical exercises in turn-of-the-century Hellenism, that they can sustain an inquiry directed at identifying their multiple levels of meaning and the strategies invented to present (or conceal) these meanings. In a Forsterian narrative several stories are proceeding simultaneously—that is, one set of words may 'tell' several stories, or, alternatively, the story may exist apart from the words that tell it. Nearly all the stories, moreover, have some form of double structure and participate in two or more genres or modes—story/essay, story/novel, fantasy/realism, homosexual romance/heterosexual romance. This doubleness in part results . . . from Forster's development of a complex narrative voice that enlarges the story beyond the primary narrator's comprehension. It is also related to the creation of a voice that functions as a filter for other voices, and it is most interestingly related to a structural pattern that situates meaning in the gap between the overt and covert text.
A passage from 'The Road from Colonus' offers a suggestive text for these concerns. The group of travellers is in ecstacies about the beauties of the grove but Mr Lucas finds their enthusiasm 'superficial, commonplace'. He tries to explain his own feelings:
I am altogether pleased with the appearance of this place. It impresses me very favourably. The trees are fine, remarkably fine for Greece, and there is something very poetic in the spring of clear running water. The people too seem kindly and civil. It is decidedly an attractive place.
Not surprisingly, one of the others calls his words 'tepid praise'. They all join in, full of their literary enthusiasms: it is just like the Colonus of Sophocles they exclaim; Ethel is Antigone, and, of course, Mr Lucas is Oedipus; these two must stop for a week at least. Of course, none of them means a word of any of this—except Mr Lucas. For him, words may be inadequate counters for his experience, for that sense of clarification, that feeling of continuity and presence he had met in the hollow of the tree. But inadequate as they are, they point to that experience; they carry an irreducible minimum of meaning. What the scene makes painfully clear, however, is that this minimum can be as readily baffled by words as communicated by them, and that it is as difficult to be an adequate narrator of one's experience as a reader of another's narrative (the other characters are all, of course, false readers, first of Sophocles' play and then of Mr Lucas's 'story').
There are thus two distinct functions embedded in Mr Lucas's role. As a mythic character, he is presented as one who has lost his 'moment', defeated by his daughter and Mr Graham, his 'supreme event' nullified as water and children become the substance of his querulous complaints, not the source of his rejuvenation. But as a narrator of that experience he retains his integrity to the end, summing his diminished experience as he had summed that supreme event: 'I shall write to the landlord and say, "The reason I am giving up the house is this: the dog barks, the children next door are intolerable, and I cannot stand the noise of running water'".
Within the fiction, each of his narrative attempts, from the point of view of the other characters, is a failure. His 'tepid praise' hardly prepares the enthusiasts for his belief that he and his daughter were indeed to spend a week at the khan, that 'he would be a fool .. . if he stirred from the place which brought him happiness and peace'. And his letter to the landlord is only so much babbling to the distracted ears of his soon-to-be married daughter. The story's narrator, however, affirms these attempts, no matter if they have failed. His narrative, in fact, is the successful version of Mr Lucas's failed efforts. But the poignant incapacity of the sub-narrator puts even that competent voice in jeopardy as it signals the disjunction between story and words on the one hand, words and meaning on the other.
The story that makes such disjunction its explicit concern is 'The Curate's Friend' (1907), although that text usually enters discussions in terms of its variations on the Pan motif. But what is most interesting about its handling of that motif is the way it makes it emblematic of the essential doubleness of fiction, a doubleness that is also duplicity in terms of the story's generating metaphor of the curate's bewitchment by and subsequent happy life with the to-everyone-else-invisible faun. This doubleness is given a specifically generic definition in the story's concluding sentence:
Therefore in the place of the lyrical and rhetorical treatment, so suitable to the subject, so congenial to my profession, I have been forced to use the unworthy medium of a narrative, and to delude you by declaring that this is a short story, suitable for reading in the train.
That is, to delude you, the reader, into thinking this is a story about fauns. The subject is poetry ('that evening, for the first time, I heard the chalk downs singing to each other across the valleys'); the medium is prose.
Using prose is indeed what the story is about—that is the curate's adoption of the necessary strategies for survival so that he can remain 'an asset to [his] parish, [instead of being] .. . an expense to the nation'. Bursting into song is as dangerous, the curate senses, as declaring the truth about his present life. Both readers and parishoners require the delusion of narrative. Whereas Mr Lucas is not conscious of the gap between his words and his listener's understanding, the curate certainly is and thus constructs his account in such a way that vision and epiphany can be flattened between the covers of a book 'suitable for .. . the train' (Claude Summers nicely points out the comic allusion here to Gwendolen Fairfax's diary in Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest [E. M. Forster, 1983].) A whole range of potential readers is thus satisfied, from the amateur geologist interested in mapping the chalk downs to the train travellers who keep up with their reading enough to know that fauns are in fashion this year.
Not only are there several audiences, but the speaker's voice is multiple as well. At the centre of the story there is the conversation between the narrator and the faun, the voices closest to lyric for the undeluded reader, but they are contained by a prosing narrative voice that comically illustrates its own dullness. In this voice, the narrator chatters on about his preference for a countryside that is 'snug and pretty', how he had turned away from the 'great sombre expanses' that the view revealed 'as soon as propriety allowed and said "and may I now prepare the cup that cheers?'". But this demonstration of how he had 'presented the perfect semblance' of a fool in the unawakened torpor of his life before the faun, comes through a narrative voice that has already completed the process of correction and transformation (hinted at in such phrases as 'in those days'). For this narrator the gap between words and meaning is a necessity in his relation to his audience, but it also allows for the comic misunderstanding of the confrontation scene and is thus necessary for the readjustment of all internal relationships that constitute the story's peripeteia. 'Miscreant . . . you have betrayed me', shouts the curate to the faun, as he bursts upon the scene where his fiancée and the friend who had accompanied them on this eventful picnic are embracing. (The setting on Box Hill is an even more topsy-turvy and chaotic scene than was staged in Emma.) The friend naturally assumes that he is the one addressed and responds in comically inflated terms: 'I know it: I care not. . . . You are in the presence of that which you do not understand'. But in moments the reversal is complete. There has been no betrayal at all and it is the friend who has not 'understood'. The curate's subsequent protestations dwindle rapidly away, and, as earlier, in 'Aliseli', the moment of release comes when he is able to laugh.
Thus, at its conclusion, 'The Curate's Friend' provides a happy, albeit somewhat subversive, revision of the earlier 'Albergo Empedocle', a story whose main character does indeed end up as an 'expense to the nation'. It also offers a partial reversal and then extension of 'A Story of a Panic'. Its most important affinity, however, is with The Longest Journey, which was not only published in the same year but similarly used the Wiltshire setting as an imaginatively generating, mythic space. For the kind of narrative that the story proposes, poetry disguised as prose, is precisely that of the novel—indeed, provides in miniature a model for reading the novel. Like the story . . . The Longest Journey maintains a double story line, a surface heterosexual romance in counterpoise with an interior homosexual romance, and it is from the tension between surface story and suppressed inner narrative that both novel and story derive much of their energy. The story, however, dissolves the tension in its happy ending, and in this way it is closer to the essay than to the novel. Since the story characters can simply bear the ideas out of which they were constructed, resolution can be achieved on an essayistic rather than on a fictional level; statement is sufficient.
The sort of doubleness I am discussing, observable throughout Forster's writing, is visible in its most schematic form in 'The Obelisk' (1939). There the resolution of the double structure takes the form of a good joke consummately well timed and delivered. In that story the two 'romances' are literally played out together. The wife's story (the heterosexual romance) and the husband's story (the homosexual romance) contain the same characters, setting, events and words. But the stories absolutely oppose each other and, because the wife's story finally includes the husband's (she realizes what must have happened; he does not), the comic punch line turns on itself and both wife and reader are left with an awareness that the laughter cannot quite displace.
The story, however, that presents the most complex investigation of doubleness, both on the level of plot and characterization and on the level of narrative procedure (i.e. the disposition of the story's elements and the narrator's relation to his materials) is 'The Other Boat'. It is a story that doubles back on itself and replays itself. Indeed the actual writing was itself a replaying, a taking-up of earlier work and changing it, not by rewriting but by resetting it, thereby both reinterpreting and re-creating it.
The original pages were written sometime in 1913 while Forster was working on Arctic Summer, and were most likely intended as an exploration of the early life of one of the two main characters, Clesant March (the names shift from fragment to fragment; in the story he is Lionel). Although the entire project was shortly abandoned, these pages may have hastened that process, since the direction they point in is quite different from that of the other extant fragments. The novel that had already begun to take shape was centred on the 'antithesis between the civilised man, . . . and the heroic man'. 'The Other Boat' fragment, by contrast, pits heroism against fate and cunning, the real against the unreal, the known against the unknown, and it does so in terms that could have had no outlet in the novel as it then stood. With that impasse it is no wonder that Forster put the whole project aside.
The title under which those pages were published thirty five years later, 'Entrance to an Unwritten Novel', might better have been 'Exit from ...' . By freeing them from their Arctic Summer matrix, Forster simultaneously proposed a complete fiction, for there is a form of closure, at least of enclosure, in the figure of the chalk circle which seems to enfeeble Mrs March as it empowers Cocoa, and the possibility of an entirely new beginning. The new story, finished around 1958, in many ways draws together the whole of Forster's oeuvre, and is particularly related to two important writing projects of that 1948-58 period, the rearranging and editing of his Indian letters for The Hill of Devi, and the writing of the libretto for Britten's Billy Budd. The former certainly brought back the Anglo-Indian world of privilege and power suggestively and dangerously embodied in the story by the Arbuthnots and Mannings; the latter provided a focus for the quasi-mystical conclusion, at once tragic and transcendent.
The story proposes an interesting symmetry between the act of writing and the subject of the writing. Just as the writer, in fact, recovered his past efforts and went back over his material, his two characters are similarly engaged in a process of repetition, a reliving of an earlier set of events. The voyage home of the first section is now a voyage out; saloon deck and forecastle have become upper deck and cabin; playing at soldiers—in particular, playing at dying—has ceased being a game and Death is no longer acting.
The world Forster sets out in the story is at once completely self-contained (the ship) and utterly divided, its two characters, Cocoa and Lionel, the human embodiments of this configuration. Cocoa, from the moment he entered the chalk circle, becomes a unitary figure, his power totally deriving from the self, exempt from all contingency ('the door shut, the door unshut, is nothing, and is the same'). But Lionel is a completely split figure; in him there is no mediating space, no possibility of compromise. Deck and cabin worlds are thus analogues of the split within, of the knowledge of self masked by the lie of self, that leads inevitably to violence and death. A reader may be uneasy with the violence of the conclusion, but it is neither arbitrary nor gratuitous, for it is the only means of bridging the fatal split in Lionel. Thus the union allowed can occur only after death, both with the mother, as she is a figure of the sea itself (Lionel had communed with her/it moments before the last encounter), and with the lover when Cocoa's body moves northward against the current, the undertow carrying it toward Lionel.
Thus both the structure of the story and the history of its composition enact its central thematics of separation and closure. But one of the curious features of the story is that closure is achieved in the symbolic mode, whereas separation, fissure are proposed in the realistic mode. The manipulation of these two essentially antithetical modes gives the story its extraordinary edge, for each event has its daylight and its dark side. Thus the highly detailed foreground action—the deck-life rituals of bridge games, drinks and sleeping arrangements—is made part of a larger, essentially mythic action in which the journey out is felt both as descent into Hell and ecstatic, mystical release. The figure that links the two modes is the mother; at the start a 'character' in the conventional sense, she is pure symbol at the close.
The story opens on a journey home from India, where, from the mother's point of view, relationships do not matter, for the boat world is taken to be unreal. But it is precisely the so-called unreal relationship, that between Lionel and Cocoa, that the story realizes, while the mother's world turns into shadow as she is doubly deserted, first by a husband gone native, and now by her son, a scandalous suicide in the Red Sea. Although a felt presence throughout the story, she is a purely negative creation, a dimmer, indeed inverted, version of Mrs Moore, whose death and burial at sea provide the paradigm for the mother-sea association in Forster's writing. Yet she understands the story better than the others; she can reconstitute it from its partial narrations, from Colonel Arbuthnot's letter after the fact, from Lionel's transparent letter beforehand. Both these letters omit our 'story' completely; together they compose it through their silence. But the story is entirely consumed in her reading: 'and she never mentioned his name again'.
However, Forster plays that reading against another. For, if Mrs March's reading denies the story, the crew's response to the burial of Cocoa affirms it:
There was a slight disturbance at the funeral. The native crew had become interested in it, no one understood why, and when the corpse was lowered were heard betting which way it would float. It moved northwards—contrary to the prevailing current—and there were clappings of hands and some smiles.
In 'The Other Boat' he both corrects and vindicates his earlier misreading of Melville, for it is in some such mystical terms as I have indicated that Forster set the closing, uncanny moments of that story. The solace he allowed his characters, however, was not that of a Christian consolation, but of a Liebestod (to borrow another literary—musical analogy). At the same time he continued to direct his irony toward the ship-deck world where propriety and decorum maintain their sway. His crew does not break into song, but there is a similar note of celebration in their response to the lovers' fate.
Yet, despite this almost mystical conclusion, 'The Other Boat' remains one of the most novelistic of Forster's stories (second only to 'The Eternal Moment', although that story was once described by Edith Sitwell as 'the most horrifying ghost story' she had ever read). Indeed, except for the final detail of the body moving against the current, nothing that happens is strictly inexplicable. But, as in many of the stories, everything seems immersed in some other element, making the story world at once magical and real. This mingling of the real and the fantastic is, as we have seen, a marked characteristic of much of Forster's writing. But it is less a literary device in its own terms than a direct function of the double plot structures that I have been discussing in this chapter. The fantastic, for Forster, identifies not so much a separate genre, or even a mode within a genre, as a tonal variable, a means of modulating a set of simultaneous narratives within a fiction. . . .
Furbank, from the perspective of the biographer, remarks how liberating an experience the writing of[' The Story of a Panic'] must have been for Forster, as it expressed Forster's own 'feelings of standing in the sunlight at last and possessing his own soul'. Nonetheless, within the fiction neither author nor creation seems fully to comprehend what has been unleashed. For, if the author was not completely in touch with the sub-plot of his own story, Eustace passes through the pages as a character only in spite of himself. Although the centre of the text, he decentres it by his silence. All the other characters are concerned with interpreting his actions, with reading him. But he takes his actions and his pre-language ('a strange loud cry, such as I should not have thought the human voice could have produced') and simply leaves the story. What comes to conclusion, as a result, is the telling, not the told. For, in so far as Eustace equals the told, the story absolutely resists closure. On the other hand, the story as Mr Tytler's telling is complete—the parodied Christian elements of betrayal, the thirty talents, death and rebirth closing it off even more completely than the account of his own complicity in the dénouement. Thus closure is verbal, the using-up of the story's language, rather than narrative, the exhaustion of the predicated experience.
Although 'The Story of a Panic' obviously uses several of the devices of fantasy—the strange footprints, a sudden demonic irruption, an ambiguous conclusion—it is primarily the narrator, in his meticulous documenting of what he imagines himself to have seen, who supplies what Todorov considers the precondition of the fantastic: 'that hesitation experienced by a person who knows only the laws of nature, confronting an apparently supernatural event [The Fantastic, 1975]. But, unlike the writer of fantasy, Forster is not really interested in that 'hesitation', for the fantasist's aim, to authenticate the unreal or supernatural, is not his. Rather than emphasize the otherness of the supernatural experience, he dwells on the otherness of the natural. There is a blurring of boundaries, but in this story, which develops a poetics of desire rather than of fantasy, it is the object of desire that is blurred rather than the boundary between the real and the unreal.
It is worth recalling Edith Sitwell's odd reaction to 'The Eternal Moment' in this connection. For what she identified in describing it as 'the most horrifying ghost story' she had ever read, is precisely this sense of the otherness of the natural, where the uncanny is firmly fixed in the quotidian yet liable to sudden eruption. Indeed, one way of describing the central event of that story is as an encounter with a ghost, the 'dead' lover, Feo, now materialized as the stout and greasy concierge. The encounter is terrifying in so far as it is this 'ghost' that defines the present reality. But it is a displaced reality, for what seems real is the result of a fiction, has, in fact, its origins in a fiction. (It was the success of Miss Raby's novel that both made and unmade the village, creating its ghastly/ghostly present.) Here, however, the uncanny evolves from within; it is both a form of heightened seeing and a means of redefining reality: 'In that moment of final failure, there had been vouchsafed to her a vision of herself, and she saw that she had lived worthily'. There is not, as there is in 'The Story of a Panic', an intrusion from without. But 'The Eternal Moment', like that story of the previous year, also depicts the triumph of solipsism. In fact, reading it in the context of 'The Story of a Panic' and 'The Road from Colonus', particularly in terms of its handling of the final moments of vision, clarifies the endings of all three stories. Here the writer-heroine wills the unreality of the other characters as she triumphantly re-enters her own fiction. She is not a failed narrator like Mr Lucas. Although it may seem as if she had lost her moment those years ago on the hillside, she is able now to restore her fiction and render her moment 'eternal'. Thus at the story's end she is far closer to the position of Eustace than to Mr Lucas. The 'shouts and laughter of the escaping boy' have their parallel in her epiphanic recovery of her own past:
She was conscious of a triumph over experience and earthly facts, a triumph magnificent, cold, hardly human, whose existence no one but herself would ever surmise. From the view-terrace she looked down on the perishing and perishable beauty of the valley, and, though she loved it no less, it seemed to be infinitely distant, like a valley in a star. At that moment, if kind voices had called her from the hotel, she would not have returned.
Like Eustace she is entirely true to her own vision. There is no breaking of faith, although it is worth noting the ironic echo in the name of the concierge, Feo, with its allusion to 'faith', but in a poetized or literary form that is appropriate to the false story in which he figured (the ordinary Italian word would have been fede).
Many of the early stories depend on a pattern involving a rupture between character and setting which is then generalized to individual and society. The details vary, but the pattern remains constant. All the characters, save the hero(ine), merge into a single and complicitous 'other': Colonel Leyland and Feo in 'The Eternal Moment', the narrator and Gennaro in 'The Story of a Panic', Inkskip and Worters in 'Other Kingdom', the daughter and the tourists in 'The Road from Colonus'. Although the fictions derive much of their energy from their vivid realizing of a 'real world' in all its specificity and comic detailing, that world is nonetheless repudiated in the central character's solitary and transforming vision. (This is true even of 'The Road from Colonus', where, in the querulous aftermath of the failed vision, Mr Lucas is still granted a human presence allowed no other character.) The fantastic in Forster's writing is entirely in the service of that vision, functioning both as a strategy of concealment for the writer and, from the perspective of the central character, of revelation.
However, there is one form of the fantastic with which Forster experimented where he, at least superficially, followed the norms and conventions of what we now know as science fiction, or, as it was called at the turn of the century, 'scientific romance' or 'scientific fantasy'. But 'The Machine Stops' (1909), the often-anthologized evidence of this experiment, is at least as much a polemic against as an example of the genre whose practices and forms it so deftly uses. Forster himself described it as 'a counterblast to one of the heavens of H. G. Wells', referring, most likely, to such texts as 'A Story of the Days to Come' (1899), 'When the Sleeper Wakes' (1899), Anticipations (1901), Mankind in the Making (1902) and A Modern Utopia (1905). All of these depend in varying degree on the assumption of a technologically advanced future society. Even the somewhat more fancifully imagined The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth (1904) and In the Days of the Comet (1906) may have been the object of Forster's 'counterblast'. These last two were in fact described by Wells some years later as 'distinctly on the optimistic side'. Not that Wells's view of human nature was particularly Panglossian; he claimed to be 'neither a pessimist nor an optimist . . . [for] this is an entirely indifferent world in which wilful wisdom seems to have a perfectly fair chance' [Preface to Seven Famous Novels by H. G. Wells, 1978]. But for Wells, 'wilful wisdom' could properly be directed at inventing machines that would ease life's physical difficulties, thus transforming society and solacing the spirit. Such a meliorist point of view was, of course, totally antithetical to Forster's. In a diary entry of 1908 (the year in which he was writing 'The Machine Stops'), Forster makes this clear in terms that are particularly pertinent to this story: 'No more fighting, please, between the soul and the body, until they have beaten their common enemy, the machine.'
Indeed, such a statement could well be regarded as the essayistic kernel of his fiction. For this story, like 'Mr Andrews' and 'The Other Side of the Hedge', develops its generating idea both fictionally and discursively. The idea both precedes and is embedded in the story, taking its fictional form in Kuno's defiance of the machine by his physical strength. Since it was then 'a demerit to be muscular', his refusal to let his body become 'a swaddled lump of flesh' was in itself a moral act which had the practical consequence of allowing his escape. It is precisely because he resists the machine on a physical level, because he insists upon presence and touch, that he can fight the machine with his soul. Unlike the others, he is not 'seized with the terrors of direct experience'; on the contrary, he seeks that experience, searching, like Dante's pilgrim, for a glimpse of the stars.
The metaphor for Kuno's quest—the constellation Orion—is, like Hermes as the spirit of fantasy, part of Forster's private myth-making. From The Longest Journey onward, Orion, in his frosty glories, rising in autumn with his promise of freedom, provided a nucleus of important associations and constituted a radiant image of desire. Within the story, the image has both personal significance for Kuno and a generalized relevance for those fragments of humanity who were waiting 'in the mist and the ferns until our civilization stops'. When the whole hideous edifice of Our civilization' comes crashing down, the 'untainted sky' and the stars remain, especially those stars that suggest a man: 'The four big stars are the man's shoulders and his knees. The three stars in the middle are like the belts that men wore once, and the three stars hanging are like a sword'.
His attempts to make his mother understand this 'idea' fail, for she still believes that it is the machine that is the measure of all things, not man as Kuno has come to understand. But Kuno's insight, won even at the cost of his hideous maiming by the worm-like mending apparatus, that 'a man of my sort lived in the sky', is literally as well as metaphorically true. Even the landscape partakes of this anthropomorphic quality: 'to me they [the hills] were living and the turf that covered them was a skin, under which their muscles rippled'.
It is Kuno's voice, especially in his account of his attempted escape, that is closest to the narrator's, but the narrative point of view stays with Vashti. The effect is, in a sense, to split the narrator's function, for he is both satirist and meditator. But, as the story moves to its climax, the satiric voice that in the first two sections parodied Utopian language and, for a large part of the third, dystopian conventions, merges with the meditative in an apocalyptic vision of the end of things. Primarily, however, the narrator is an essayist, looking for a fictional analogue for a metaphysical speculation. Indeed, from the very first line, when he invites the reader to assist him in this search ('imagine, if you can ...') , it is clear that the fiction is subordinate to the discourse: 'It was thus that she opened her prison and escaped—escaped in the spirit: at least so it seems to me, ere my meditation closes. That she escapes in the body—I cannot perceive that'. The narrator is both inside and outside the fiction; what he is looking at is an abstraction that temporarily has assumed human, i.e. fictional, form.
The story thus conflates a fictional and an essayistic perspective through a voice that would seem intrusive even in so highly determined a fiction as 'The Celestial Omnibus' but that here seems perfectly at home. For in 'The Machine Stops' the voice is the story; everything else is secondary to it. The conventions of 'scientific fantasy' function chiefly to give human scale to ideas, but these ideas are what the story is about. (This nicely reverses one of the points of satire within the fiction. In this future world everyone always talks of 'new ideas', but only if they are detached from direct experience. To Vashti, Kuno's 'idea that they [the stars in Orion] were like a man' is incomprehensible.) Thus, if in 'The Story of a Panic' closure was achieved in the telling but not the told, here the process is reversed. What is told is complete: 'The world, as they understood it, ended'. But telling—here coextensive with a voice located on the boundary between essay and fiction, and speaking through those figures it has asked the reader to imagine—is not confined by fictional closure and is, indeed, the major creation of the text.
'The Machine Stops' focuses many of the issues raised in the first four chapters—story as essay, story as private myth, story as vehicle for voice. It further illustrates what may be called the salvation paradigm that Forster described in his Commonplace Book: Two people pulling each other into salvation is the only theme I find worthwhile'. Certainly the movement from confusion to salvation is both organizing principle and primary thematic concern in nearly every story. Sometimes the line between the two poles—confusion and salvation—is straight, as in 'Mr Andrews' or 'The Celestial Omnibus'; sometimes curving, as in 'The Other Side of the Hedge', or even more indirect, as in 'The Machine Stops' when Vashti finally breaks her complicity with the others to take the hand of her son; and sometimes it is involuted and tortuous, as in 'The Life to Come' and 'The Other Boat'. Even in stories where it doesn't function, 'The Eternal Moment' or 'Arthur Snatchfold' for example, it offers an oblique comment on the ironically disclosed turn of events. Indeed the later story presents the exact reversal of the ending of the much earlier one. For in that story it is as if the Feo of 'The Eternal Moment' had become a worthy object. As the unheroic Sir Richard Conway is forced to confront his own diminished life, he knows that he is not saved in the terms that the salvation paradigm would suggest, although Arthur Snatchfold had certainly saved him in the more worldly terms Conway has based his life on.
Finally one may observe that 'Arthur Snatchfold' is not only an example of the story as novel in all its finely ironic social detailing, but, even more, like 'The Machine Stops', an example of the story as essay. Its great achievement is to endow Conway's moment of recognition with enormous human weight, making that moment comment on his entire life in the way such revelations do in Chekhov and Mansfield. Unlike Mansfield, however, who constructed such moments chiefly to illuminate her character (or to shock the reader into an equivalent illumination), Forster continues to speak through his character, never losing sight of the discursive argument that the character is made to bear, and bear the more impressively because of the human specificity with which he is invested.
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SOURCE: "The Lonely Voice," in E. M. Forster: A Literary Life, St. Martin's Press, 1995, pp. 131-39.
[In this excerpt, Lago considers the posthumously published short fiction a valuable and rewarding epilogue to Forster's publishing history .]
Although Forster defined himself as novelist, the short story is the literary form with which his writing career really began and to which he returned with great seriousness after he had given up work on any new novels. In 1902, when he wrote his first story, 'The Story of a Panic', he was one of the number of experimenters who were making the English short story modern. The Irish writer Frank O'Connor has called it The Lonely Voice': lonely because 'almost from its beginnings it abandoned the device of a public art in which the storyteller assumed the mass consent of an audience to his wildest improvisations.' The modern short story, O'Connor says, 'began, and continues to function, as a private art intended to satisfy the standard of the individual, solitary, critical reader' [The Lonely Voice: A Study of the Short Story, 1965]. For both author and reader it is as personal as the lyric poem. Its crucial action is interior to a central character or characters or to a first-person narrator. It turns upon an epiphany of some kind, a revelation or sudden insight that works an irreversible change. It makes that point obliquely. Its plot is open-ended, and it leaves a question, to which the reader must find the answer, that bears upon an important personal issue and sometimes upon connections between the personal and the social, as in the stories of James Joyce's Dubliners. The more interior the action, the more closely the reader, if brave enough to follow the author's lead, must examine his own motives, actions, values.
Forster particularly valued the stories that came to him as a kind of literary epiphany: simply there, fully developed and waiting for him to take them in hand. 'The Story of a Panic' came to him in that way, and the revelation was the 'assurance that his gift, or as he called it, his "equipment" mattered'. He saw a way of substituting 'warmth' for the influential pessimism of Flaubert and Zola. That was the point at which 'something had shifted in his soul, and energies he had only half-glimpsed in himself were now in his possession'. That story, and the five with it in his first collection, The Celestial Omnibus and Other Stories, are fantasies of transformation, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse, in which the prosaic and the philistine fail to comprehend a supernatural or semi-supernatural phenomenon that offers enlightenment and liberation. Forster frequently embodied that phenomenon in the god Pan, an Edwardian conceit that he himself mocked gently when he gave the title Tan Pipes' to Rickie Elliott's stories in The Longest Journey, but the principal target of his mockery was the commercialism that the unimaginative Pembrokes try to impose upon them.
Despite his new-found feeling of power and competence, Forster realised that he depended a great deal on his friends' approval. When 'The Celestial Omnibus' and Other Stories was in preparation in 1910, he thought of Roger Fry to design end-papers but wanted to know whether Fry disliked the stories and therefore might find the work 'uncongenial' or even "'contemptuous'", but he told Trevelyan that he himself felt confident about them. When the book appeared in 1911 a number of critics agreed with the Athenaeum's reviewer, who thought that the stories 'all have a smack of the fantastically supernatural' that failed to convince. Perhaps, when James Barrie added Peter to Pan he coarsened the idea of the classical Pan whom Forster made his deus ex arboribus. When his next collection, 'The Eternal Moment' and Other Stories, appeared in 1928, the critics' reaction was similar; this time it was the awful reality of the 1914 War that had intervened to make irrelevant the Edwardian fascination with fantasy and supernatural whimsy. Subsequent history made such fantasy seem even more remote, so that by 1964 Samuel Hynes could dismiss in one paragraph all of Forster's stories published up to that time as full of 'Panridden goings on' and 'not distinguished enough to survive without the support of the novels' ["The Old Man at King's: Forster at 85," Edwardian Occasions: Essays on English Writing in the Early Twentieth Century, 1972]. At least two of the stories revised in the 1950s and first published in 1972 must modify that judgement. . . .
'The Life to Come', dated 1922, is the earliest of eight of the surviving complete stories on the theme of homosexual love. The latest of those is 'The Other Boat', which was intended for a novel but was left as a fragment and not completed until 1957-8. These two, which are among his most powerful works of fiction, may be considered together as Forster's damning verdict not only on public prejudice toward homosexuals, but also on the colonisers who followed upon the heels of the merchants to consolidate British control of the Eastern Empire: the missionary and the soldier. In Passage he lets the missionaries off lightly by making them shadowy, ineffective figures who live among the outcaste leather-workers on the fringe of Chandrapore. But in 'The Life to Come' all his distrust of missionary motives and hatred for the consequences of their efforts are undiluted. In 'The Other Boat' the central figure is a young English officer in the Indian Army, an upstanding model of the type, certain to rise in his profession, destined for officialdom. But when the youthful charm has worn away he would certainly be found compressed into the narrow mould of a Captain McBryde.
'The Life to Come' began, as Forster told [Siegfried] Sassoon, 'with a purely obscene fancy of a Missionary in difficulties'. But as the story progressed, his own 'sorrow and passion' took its place. The story had passed through the refiner's fire and emerged as gold. In it, Paul Pinmay, the homosexual missionary, tries through strenuous evangelisation to atone for his one night with Vithobai, the young village chief who, in embracing both Pinmay and Christianity, fatally conflates religious with sexual love and Pinmay with Christ. Pinmay re-names him Barnabas. Like the biblical Barnabas, who vouched at Jerusalem for the good intentions of the converted Saul, the pagan Barnabas persuades his village to trust Paul Pinmay and follow his lead. But this Paul is not trustworthy and does not understand the obligations of either religious or sexual love. His missionary colleagues honour him for thoroughly Christianising the village, but in the process he destroys its culture and makes it a debased miniature of a Western industrial society. In the end, Vithobai-Barnabas, dying of tuberculosis, stabs Pinmay to death and kills himself so that they may be together in the Eternity that Pinmay has promised. Forster considered adding an extra chapter, a kind of Shavian 'Mr Pinmay in Hell', in which Pinmay and Vithobai would have been together in an Underworld that is Vithobai's heaven. There Pinmay, simply because he died first, is a slave, while Vithobai, who had the last word, 'reigns with his peers'. However, Pinmay's sentence to a perverse Eternity is less the point of this parable than the truth that the distortion of love is a crime against the spirit, and Forster wisely resisted the extra chapter. Pinmay has distorted the meaning of love as cruelly as he has distorted the indigenous culture.
In 'The Other Boat' the distortion of love proceeds from caste-consciousness: not from Cocoa, who being half-caste has no caste at all, but from Lionel, the model young officer. They had met as children on an earlier passage from India when Lionel's mother fled with her children from the scandal that resulted after her husband, he too rising rapidly in the Indian Army, 'went native' and disappeared into Burma. Lionel now returns to India to redeem the family's reputation. Cocoa, now a fixer or hustler or possibly smuggler, has manoeuvred him onto the overcrowded boat and himself into Lionel's cabin. Lionel's double life on shipboard alternates between ecstatic interludes in the cabin with Cocoa, and the pukka Anglo-Indians above, with their bridge games and vocabulary of racist terms and jokes: wog, tar-brush, darkies, dagoes, black that comes off on the sheets. Lionel is like Ronny Heaslop, who feels competent and self-possessed when he can get away from Indians. When Lionel fears for his professional reputation if this new scandal were to become public, he begins 'to recover his poise and his sense of leadership' as soon as he joins the Anglo-Indians on the deck above. When sexual guilt overwhelms him, he hides among sanctimonious reflections about English womanhood and the girl he thinks he might marry. He blames Cocoa, who 'had woken up so much that might have slept'. But sex, which Lionel, properly brought up and correctly disciplined, had thought under control, had come 'charging back like a bull'. This story too ends in a murder and a suicide, with Cocoa strangled and Lionel drowned, victims of Lionel's guilty feelings about sex that is homosexual, interracial and contrary to caste—his own. P. N. Furbank remembers how work on 'The Other Boat' revitalised Forster, and not only because he had taken an early fragment suggested by observations of shipboard passengers and had made it into a new and finished piece of fiction. He knew that he had produced something 'at his very best level, and in a way, of a new kind for him'. It also 'revived Forster's interest in his own career and reputation' [E. M. Forster: A Life, 1977-78]. He sorted the manuscripts of the stories, and he told Ackerley: 'I should like this side of me to have a chance of survival'.
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Beer, J. B. The Achievement of E. M. Forster. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1962, 225 p.
A highly regarded examination of Forster's life and works.
Furbank, P. N. E. M. Forster: A Life. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1981, 672 p.
The standard biography of Forster's life.
Ben-Ephraim, Gavriel. "Dying in the Right Place: The Importance of Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus to E. M. Forster's The Road from Colonus'." Hebrew University Studies in Literature III, No. 1 (Spring 1975): 37-46.
Discusses how Forster uses the Oedipus myth to reveal the inadequacy of the modern response to the possibility of transcendence and the finality of death.
Bloom, Harold, ed. E. M. Forster. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987, 198 p.
Representative selection of critical essays devoted to Forster's writings.
Cavaliero, Glen. A Reading of E. M. Forster. London: The MacMillan Press, 1979, 187 p.
An interpretation of Forster's fiction within the context of his personal life and social climate.
Das, G. K., and John Beer, eds. E. M. Forster: A Human Exploration. New York: New York University Press, 1979, 314 p.
Collection of 24 essays on various aspects of Forster's works.
Dellamora, Richard. "E. M. Forster at the End." In Fictions of Masculinity: Crossing Cultures, Crossing Sexualities. New York: New York University Press, 1994, pp. 268-89.
Discusses the inverted homosexuality underlying the early short story "Albergo Empedocle."
Herz, Judith Scherer. The Short Narratives of E. M. Forster. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1988, 168 p.
Examines the relationship between the short stories and the essays, as well as Forster's private mythmaking and narrative strategies.
Lago, Mary. E. M. Forster: A Literary Life. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995, 170 p.
Discusses the progression of Forster's literary life, focusing on his working within various genres.
Malek, James S. "Forster's 'Albergo Empedocle': A Precursor of Maurice." Studies in Short Fiction XI, No. 4 (Fall 1974): 427-30.
Discusses Forster's early development of the theme of the saving power of homosexual love.
McDowell, Frederick P. W. "The Italian Novels and the Early Short Stories." In E. M. Forster. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1982, pp. 18-45.
Notes that the best of Forster's early short stories are a skillful merging of fantasy and realism.
Moore, Harry T. E. M. Forster. New York: Columbia University Press, 1965, pp. 6-12.
Observes that Forster's short stories rely on the element of surprise.
Nierenberg, Edwin. "The Prophecy of E. M. Forster." In Queen's Quarterly LXXI, No. 2 (Summer 1964): 189-202.
Discusses Forster's belief as demonstrated in "Mr Andrews" and "The Story of the Siren" that the world's religions must change profoundly if true brotherhood is to occur.
Page, Norman. E. M. Forster's Posthumous Fiction. Victoria, British Columbia: University of Victoria, 1977, 107 p.
Interprets the posthumous fiction for the light it sheds on earlier readings.
Rose, Martial. "Short Stories." In E. M. Forster. London: The Camelot Press, 1970, pp. 30-9.
Notes the important role that geographical place and Greek mythology play in the short stories.
Shusterman, David. "The Short Stories: The Uneasy Truant." In The Quest for Certitude in E. M. Forster's Fiction. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1965, pp. 36-59.
Discusses Forster as a Dantesque artist seeking to understand the complexities of human existence for the benefit of all mankind.
Stape, J. H., ed. E. M. Forster: Interviews and Recollections. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993, 235 p.
An insightful compilation of memoirs, interviews, and recollections.
——. "Myth, Allusion, and Symbol in E. M. Forster's The Other Side of the Hedge'." Studies in Short Fiction XIV, No. 4 (Fall 1977): 375-78.
Examines Forster's use of Virgilian sources and Romantic imagery.
Stone, Wilfred. "The Stories: Fantasy." In The Cave and the Mountain: A Study of E. M. Forster. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1966, pp. 122-61.
Provides a detailed examination of Forster's fantasies, which he describes as rebellions against the obstacles that alienate humans from each other.
Tambling, Jeremy, ed. E. M. Forster. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995, 236 p.
Collection of twelve essays that focus on English modernism and gender issues.
Thomson, George H. The Fiction of E. M. Forster. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1967, 304 p.
Discusses the centrality of symbolism, archetypes, and mythology to Forster's fiction.
Thorpe, Michael."E. M. Forster's Short Stories." In A Garland for E. M. Forster. Mysore, India: The Literary Half-Yearly, 1969, pp. 69-75.
Examines the Victorian and Edwardian aspects of the short stories.
Trilling, Lionel. E. M. Forster. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1943, 148 p.
A seminal study of Forster's liberal humanism.
Wilde, Alan. Art and Order: A Study of E. M. Forster. New York: New York University Press, 1964, 179 p.
Discusses Forster's affirmation of art as a means of achieving order.
Wilde, Alan, ed. Critical Essays on E. M. Forster. Boston: G. K. Hall & Co., 1985, 181 p.
A collection of sixteen essays that provide an overview of Forster criticism.
Wilcox, Stewart C. "The Allegory of Forster's 'The Celestial Omnibus'." Modern Fiction Studies II (1956): 191-96.
Discusses "The Celestial Omnibus" as a skillful allegory combining elements of ancient, medieval, and modern literature.
Additional coverage of Forster's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Gale Research: Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Vol. 2; Concise Dictionary of British Literary Biography 1914-1945; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 13-14, 25-28R; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 45; Contemporary Authors Permanent Series, Vol. 1; Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vols. 1-4, 9-10, 13, 15, 22, 45, 77; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 34, 98, 162; Dictionary of Literary Biography Documentary Series, Vol. 10; DISCovering Authors; DISCovering Authors: British; DISCovering Authors: Canadian; DISCovering Authors: Most-Studied Authors Module; DISCovering Authors: Novelists Module; Major 20th-century Writers; Something about the Author, Vol. 57; and World Literature Criticism.