E. M. Forster
Forster, E(dward) M(organ) (1 January 1879 - 7 June 1970)
A leading British novelist of the twentieth century, Forster highlighted the difficulty of forming human relationships in his best-known work, A Passage to India (1924). In 1968, he received the British Order of Merit.
Maurice (1914) was published after his death, and it was revolutionary in that he treated homosexuality as an inherent trait rather than simply a manner of behaving. Upon his mother’s death, he wrote, “Surely she will give up being dead now.” He also wrote, “I want to love a strong young man of the lower classes and be loved by him, and even hurt by him.” As for his democratic outlook, “Love and loyalty to an individual can run counter to the claims of the State. When they do–down with the State, say I, which means that the State would down me.”
Jim Herrick (New Humanist, May, 1990) spoke of Forster’s humanism upon an occasion when Forster’s cousin, Philip Whichelo, donated a portrait of Forster to the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association. He cited Forster’s description of humanism in his essay on Gide and George:
- The humanist has four leading characteristics - curiosity, a free mind, belief in good taste, and belief in the human race.
In Two Cheers for Democracy (1951), Forster wrote,
- I do not believe in belief. But this is an age of faith, in which one is surrounded by so many militant creeds that, in self defense, one has to formulate a creed of one’s own. Tolerance, good temper, and sympathy are no longer enough in a world which is rent by religious and racial persecution, in a world where ignorance rules, and science, which ought to have ruled, plays the subservient pimp. Tolerance, good temper, and sympathy–well, they are what matter really, and if the human race is not to collapse, they must come to the front before long. But for the moment they don’t seem enough; their action is no stronger than a flower battered beneath a military jack-boot. They want stiffening, even if the process coarsens them. Faith to my mind is a stiffening process, a sort of mental starch, which ought to be applied as sparingly as possible.
Forster once wrote,
- Two cheers for democracy; one because it admits variety, and two because it permits criticism. Two cheers are quite enough; there is no occasion to give three. Only Love, the Beloved Republic, deserves that. . . . I cannot believe that Christianity will ever cope with the present world-wide mess, and I think that such influence as it retains in modern society is due to its financial backing rather than to its spiritual appeal.
During World War I, while working in Egypt for the International Red Cross, Forster had a passionate liaison with a young tram conductor, Mohammed el Adl, whose premature death in 1922 greatly affected him. In 1930 he started a long-lasting relationship with a police constable, Bob Buckingham, one that continued even when Buckingham married in 1932 and lasted until Forster’s death in the Buckinghams’ home in 1970.
In addition to stating his views in “What I Believe,” Forster wrote “An Alternative in Humanism” and “How I Lost My Faith,” which were included in a Rationalist Press Association booklet. During his retirement in Cambridge, Forster was President of the Cambridge Humanist Society. Although he was not an active member, Forster knew of and worked with the British Humanist Association.
Frank Kermode's Concerning E. M. Forster (2010) is reviewed in The New York Times by Edmund White.
(See entry for Edward Carpenter.)