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Posts Tagged ‘E M Forster’

maurice

Witten in around 1913/14 and dedicated ‘to a happier year’ – Maurice wasn’t published until – 1971 a year after Forster’s death.

*Apologies – there will be spoilers in this review – I have found it impossible to write about this book without them.*

“A happy ending was imperative. I shouldn’t have bothered to write otherwise. I was determined that in fiction anyway two men should fall in love and remain in it for the ever and ever that fiction allows, and in this sense, Maurice and Alec still roam the greenwood.”
(E M Forster 1960)

Forster had intended to write a novel that was frankly homosexual – a book which in the world of 1914 would have made Forster liable to prosecution. Resisting publication the book was put away – and by the time Maurice appeared the law had changed, attitudes were changing too.

Maurice Hall is a young man born into a conventional place in society – he is confidently aware of his place in that society. At fourteen, preparing to leave his prep school Maurice first talks about sex with a school master – who takes it upon himself to have such talks with the boys as they leave his care. At home Maurice lives with his mother and two sisters, his father having died, Maurice is rather a young snob, frequently irritated by the conventional world of his home, there are moments when he wants to rock that comfortable world of smug conformity.

As a young man Maurice finds himself very much at odds with the world – he never really feels that the traditional marriage is something he can see for himself. Maurice feels himself becoming more and more attracted to members of his own sex – he assumes that no other young man has ever felt as he does.

At Cambridge Maurice meets Clive Durham, it is here, growing closer to Clive that Maurice finally experiences a profound emotional and sexual awakening. Finally Maurice learns that he is not alone in the world – that there are other men like him. In Clive’s company – though their relationship remains chaste – Maurice is briefly ecstatically happy. However, following a bout of illness and a trip to Greece Clive suddenly announces he has become ‘normal’ and fully intends to marry. Clive revels in his apparent ‘normalness’ relieved to be taking his place within the society he sees around him. Maurice is left reeling, convinced by Clive that his own feelings really are unnatural – he considers going in search of a cure. With this in mind Maurice consults Lasker Jones a hypnotist in London – but it is soon apparent that there is no cure for Maurice.

“He would not deceive himself so much. He would not – and this was the test – pretend to care about women when the only sex that attracted him was his own. He loved men and always had loved them. He longed to embrace them and mingle his being with theirs. Now that the man who returned his love had been lost, he admitted this.”

On his country estate Clive is conventionally – though we suspect, not entirely satisfactorily – married to Anne, Maurice meanwhile is settled into the life of a stockbroker. Invited to stay by the man he must now only think of only as his old college friend – Maurice meets Alec – Clive’s gamekeeper. Recognising Maurice’s attraction to him, Alec climbs through a window into Clive’s room. Alec is due to emigrate to Argentina – and Maurice is appalled at the risk he has taken in sleeping with a man outside of his own class – he fears blackmail – and hurriedly returns to London to consult Lasker Jones one last time. Forster emphasises the class difference by having Alec call Maurice sir on several occasions, Alec is referred to by his surname Scudder. Alec writes to Maurice – letters Maurice tries to ignore. For a moment it even seems that Maurice’s fears of blackmail and scandal could come true, but Alec is really not that kind of man.

“Did you ever dream you had a friend, Alec? Someone to last your whole life and you his. I suppose such a thing can’t really happen outside sleep.”

However – Forster wanted his characters to have that happy ending – so naturally, Maurice and Alec do find one another again, and a happiness which would have been unpalatable to readers in 1914. Clive – those old feelings now apparently put firmly away – is horrified when Maurice tells him quite frankly of the nature of his relationship with Alec. One can’t help but wonder what the future will be for Clive and Anne – the future for Maurice and Alec being the one we feel more confidence in.

“I was yours once ’till death if you’d cared to keep me, but I’m someone else’s now – I can’t hang about whining forever – and he’s mine in a way that shocks you, but why don’t you stop being shocked, and attend to your own happiness?”

Maurice is a deeply personal work; brave, honest it’s beautifully written, and very compelling. Condemning the attitudes prevalent in Britain at the time the book was written, Maurice is a poignant love story, and has become an important early work of modern gay literature.

EM forster

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aroomwithaview

I have to confess that although I knew I had read this before – it was a long time ago – I had no clear memory of it. However as I started reading I clearly remembered the brilliant opening chapter at the Pension Bertolini which caters to a certain class of English tourist.

“It was pleasant to wake up in Florence, to open the eyes upon a bright bare room, with a floor of red tiles which look clean though they are not; with a painted ceiling whereon pink griffins and blue amorini sport in a forest of yellow violins and bassoons. It was pleasant, too, to fling wide the windows, pinching the fingers in unfamiliar fastenings, to lean out into sunshine with beautiful hills and trees and marble churches opposite, and, close below, Arno, gurgling against the embankment of the road.”

To the Bertolini in Florence, come young Lucy Honeychurch and her older spinster cousin Charlotte Bartlett in the role of chaperone. For Lucy, ripe for experience and enlightenment, Italy marks a kind of coming of age, a completion of her conventional education. Lucy stands at something of a distance from the reader at this point in the novel, thus Forster demonstrates her inexperience and reliance on others for her opinions. For the English tourists and ex-pats that Lucy and Charlotte are thrown together with, exist in a world of genteel snobbery and conventional ideas. Clergyman Mr Beebe – soon to be installed in the Parish where Lucy lives, Miss Lavish, a would be novelist and sisters the Misses Alan and Mr Eager, the English chaplain in Florence, represent respectable society, while the other guests Mr Emerson and his son George – are definitely considered to be unconventional and to really “not do.” Lucy can’t help but be interested in the Emersons but she is influenced by those around her who regard the Emersons with a degree of suspicion.
Lucy, Charlotte and the others from the Pension Bertolini go out for a drive one day to look at a particular view. When Lucy stumbles and falls into a patch of violets, George Emerson forgets himself just long enough to kiss Lucy.

“George had turned at the sound of her arrival. For a moment he contemplated her, as one who had fallen out of heaven. He saw radiant joy in her face, he saw the flowers beat against her dress in blue waves. The bushes above them closed. He stepped quickly forward and kissed her.
Before she could speak, almost before she could feel, a voice called ‘Lucy! Lucy! Lucy!’ The silence of life had been broken by Miss Bartlett, who stood brown against the view.”

Charlotte the only witness, immediately fears that George will talk about the episode and spirits Lucy away to Rome.
Back in England, Lucy is newly engaged to the extremely conventional, slightly pompous Cecil Vyse. Soon Lucy is reunited – rather awkwardly with the Emersons when they take a small villa in the neighbourhood after meeting Cecil at an exhibition of Italian art in London. Lucy’s younger brother Freddie, and George Emerson are both very much men of the future, they are irrepressible and full of life, as demonstrated by a wonderful scene where Freddie, George, and rather hilariously Mr Beebe go bathing in a pond.

“But either because the sun was shedding a most glorious heat, or because two of the gentlemen were young in years and the third young in the spirit – for some reason or other a change came over them, and they forgot Italy and Botany and Fate. They began to play. Mr Beebe and Freddy splashed each other. A little deferentially, they splashed George. He was quiet; they feared they had offended him. Then all the forces of youth burst out. He smiled, flung himself at them, splashed them, ducked them, kicked them, muddied them, and drove them out of the pool.”

Cecil Vyse is a man of the past, he seems incapable of doing things just for fun –playing tennis for instance – and disapproves of so much, and is often quite rude – Lucy finds herself defending him constantly, before the scales necessarily fall from her eyes. So often irritated by her cousin Charlotte, Lucy fails to realise that Charlotte may be more sympathetic to her true feelings for George Emerson than she may have at first supposed.
A Room with a View has been described as a comedy of manners, a satire on English society and a romance; well I suppose it is all those things, and it is also a coming of age tale. As the novel progresses we see Lucy change, she begins to develop her own ideas and in breaking with Cecil Vyse she turns away from the conventional path.
This was such an enjoyable read, and I have the classic club spin to thank for nudging me toward it now.

EM forster

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howards end

Howards End is quite often described as E M Forster’s masterpiece. First published in 1910 it is the story of the class war in England at the beginning if the twentieth century.
The story concerns three families: The Schlegel siblings, Margaret, Helen, and young Tibby well off upper middle class half German intellectuals, the lower middle class Basts, Leonard with his desire for culture and his older disreputable wife Jacky, and the wealthy capatalist Wilcoxes. The Wilcoxes and the Schlegels meet on a holiday in Germany, while Leonard Bast meets Margaret and Helen at a concert, there is a mix up of umbrellas and an exchange of cards. The novel opens as Helen is staying with the Wilcoxes at Howards End, the beautiful farmhouse home which belongs to Ruth Wilcox. When an embarrassing misunderstanding between Helen and the Wilcoxes younger son Paul occurs, Helen’s Aunt Mrs Munt arrives and spirits her back to London. However the association doesn’t end there, when the Wilcoxes take a flat in London right opposite the Schlegel’s house. Ruth Wilcox is gradually drawn into a fragile friendship with Margaret Schlegel – Ruth has a desire to see Howards End lived in by people who appreciate it, as she feels her family doesn’t. Ruth knows that she is dying, and so scribbles down her wish for Margaret Schlegel to inherit Howards End after her death. The piece of paper is sent to her family after her death and of course causes great consternation.

“Some leave our life with tears, others with an insane frigidity; Mrs. Wilcox had taken the middle course, which only rarer natures can pursue. She had kept proportion. She had told a little of her grim secret to her friends, but not too much; she had shut up her heart–almost, but not entirely. It is thus, if there is any rule, that we ought to die–neither as victim nor as fanatic, but as the seafarer who can greet with an equal eye the deep that he is entering, and the shore that he must leave.”

Charles Wilcox the eldest bullying son of Ruth and Henry Wilcox is convinced that Margaret wants to do them out of Howards End. It soon becomes apparent however that Margaret knows nothing of the last minute bequest; the family breathes a sigh of relief, and offers Margaret a silver vinaigrette as a keepsake, which she happily accepts.
Helen determines to help Leonard Bast and his wife. When a chance conversation between the Schlegel sisters and Henry Wilcox about the company Leonard Bast works for it sets in motion a series of events. Leonard is persuaded – wrongly to give up a secure position, and take up one much less secure, the result is that he is left in a far worse position. For this Helen feels Henry Wilcox responsible, and is unable to forgive him, even when he marries her sister Margaret. Helen becomes determined to help Leonard; however her help has a tragic outcome.

“He built up a situation that was far enough from the truth. It never occurred to him that Helen was to blame. He forgot the intensity of their talk, the charm that had been lent him by sincerity, the magic of Oniton under darkness and of the whispering river. Helen loved the absolute. Leonard had been ruined absolutely, and had appeared to her as a man apart, isolated from the world. A real man, who cared for adventure and beauty, who desired to live decently and pay his way, who could have travelled more gloriously through life than the Juggernaut car that was crushing him.”

Margaret understands Henry and his imperfections, forgiving him an earlier indiscretion that comes to light. However Henry is unwilling to extend this same spirit of forgiveness to his sister in law Helen when she falls victim to a similar indiscretion. It is only at the end of the novel, with his son Charles disgraced, that Henry is able to appreciate the world his wife Margaret has created at Howards End.
Howards End was the latest book in my month long re-reading project. It is probably the book I remembered least well of those I had selected to read this month. I remember it as being the first EM Forster novel I read – I then went on to read all the others, my favourite by far and eclipsing all the others was A Passage to India. However I enjoyed reading Howards End so much this time, I might now even prefer it to a Passage of India which I re-read in July. Howards End is a powerful story of class and hypocrisy. My memory of it not being an easy read is understandable, it is not an especially easy read, but I found it enormously readable although it did take me a while to get into it. Several of Forster’s characters are not very likeable, Charles is insufferable, his wife rather ridiculous, Helen is possibly too idealistic, and though she is forced to wake up, she, unlike Leonard doesn’t really suffer for it. Margaret is really the only likeable character, she is practical and sensible, and not shying away from what is difficult she is a cool head, who ultimately manages her family well. Forster’s treatment of Leonard Bast is depressing, yet in his fate it is probably possible to see the realities of the inequalities of society.

“We are not concerned with the very poor. They are unthinkable, and only to be approached by the statistician or the poet. This story deals with gentlefolk, or with those who are obliged to pretend that they are gentlefolk.”

It is Bast of course who must suffer for the mistakes made by his social superiors. Howards End is still a brilliant family drama, with a stunning sense of time and place.

EM forster

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First published in 1924 – A Passage to India weaves together two complex themes, the friendship between men of different cultures and the colonialism and racism that continually divided those two cultures in British India. E M Forster is a severe chronicler of the British Raj in this novel, although neither British nor Indian come out on top in his story: Forster does not appear to take sides.
When Adele Quested arrives in British India with Mrs Moore – the mother of the city magistrate Ronnie Heaslop, – they are both determined to see something of the real India.

“She watched the moon, whose radiance stained with primrose the purple of the surrounding sky. In England the moon had seemed dead and alien; here she was caught in the shawl of night together with earth and all the other stars.”

Mrs Moore becomes acquainted with Dr Aziz after a moonlit encounter in a local mosque. Mr Fielding a college principle exists outside of the British club – he is a moderate thinking man, unprejudiced he is happy in the company of Indians – and so regarded with a certain amount of suspicion by the British. When the Collector – issues garden party invitations to local Indian gentlemen Dr Aziz finally gets to meet Mr Fielding – and a friendship is immediately born. Their friendship is not an easy one – mirroring the complexities of the relationship between the ruling white’s and both the educated and subservient Indians – they are continually misunderstanding one another.

  An outing to the famous Marabar caves gives Mrs Moore and Adele Quested the chance they want to see the real India. However Miss Quested comes rushing out of the caves in great distress – and returns without the rest of her party – having apparently accused Aziz of some kind of assault. The British rise up against Aziz in defence of a young woman none of them had particularly liked or taken much notice of. Fielding though believes Aziz to be innocent – which puts him even more at odds with his countrymen and women.
The aftermath of his trial leaves Aziz cynical and bitter – his fragile relationship with Fielding is put under greater strain. Although Fielding is sympathetic to his Indian friends – he is still English and for a bruised Aziz represents much of the system which was at work to bring him down.
There are many stereotypes in this novel, stereotypes which would have been particularly recognisable at the time this novel was first published. E M Forster was exposing the British Raj’s racist injustices at a time when in India itself there was beginning the first rumble of the push to Independence from Britain. Forster’s conclusion was sombre but realistic. The following passage coming right at the end.

“Why can’t we be friends now?” said the other, holding him affectionately. “It’s what I want. It’s what you want.” But the horses didn’t want it — they swerved apart: the earth didn’t want it, sending up rocks through which riders must pass single file; the temple, the tank, the jail, the palace, the birds, the carrion, the Guest House, that came into view as they emerged from the gap and saw Mau beneath: they didn’t want it, they said in their hundred voices “No, not yet,” and the sky said “No, not there.”

I first read A Passage to India about twenty years ago. I loved it then – and later loved the film just as much. I have remembered it with affection ever since. Luckily I still love it now. I was surprised though by my memory of Dr Aziz – in my memory he remained a wholly sympathetic character – all the flawed characters I had thought were the British. However I see now that in fact Aziz becomes less sympathetic after the incident in the Marabar caves. Not surprisingly given what had happened to him – so his attitude and bitterness remain understandable – but I found this side of him more irritating this time around. I did love Mr Fielding still too and Mrs Moore. I had also forgotten that this is quite a slow – wordy read – I don’t mind that however – and I liked many of Forster’s descriptions of India.

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