Questionnaire concerning EM Forster


These questions were put to A Passage through Forster columnist, Rachel, by a student, Sarah, in April 2000 for research purposes. Here for anyone interested in these ideas, is the interview in full.

1.) What is your experience with E.M. Forster? What works have you read? Is this a hobby? What caused you to have an interest in his works?

Yes, this is a hobby. My first experience with Forster was in the theaters when "A Room With A View" was released in 1984. I ran out to buy the book, and it also contained "Howards End." I started collecting Forster books slowly and now have (and have read) all his novels, some of his short stories, essays and biographies. I'm still working through a huge biography of his (by P.N. Furbank) and "Two Cheers for Democracy." It was Forster's writing style that caught me up - he's concise yet never fails to give you a complete picture, and he has a sublime sense of humor. Forster seemed to understand human nature remarkably well, and his characters were very life-like. He showed his heroes'/ heroines' flaws and his villains' sensitivities and didn't let you worship or hate any of his characters.

2.) What are some themes that you think run throughout his works?

Personal social repression/conflict is a theme that has struck me in all Forster's novels. I think he related to this personally and depicted it especially well because of his homosexuality. His characters often seem caught between propriety and personal desire. His stories always have a character(s) who bucks the system. In ARWAV, it was the Emersons, Helen in "Howards End", Lilia in "Where Angels Fear to Tread," the title character in "Maurice," and even, to some extent, Cyril Fielding in "A Passage to India." (I refrain on commenting on "The Longest Journey" here because I've only read it once, quite a while ago so I don't know it well enough.) Just as many of his characters are stuck in good old-fashioned English convention, and they are often depicted as being hypocritical and cruel.

I think that Forster saw English society as being cruel in many ways. In "Maurice," the hypnotist tells the main character, "England has always been disinclined to accept human nature." He depicted this generally through the eyes of women or foreigners in his novels - those novels were hints at what he spoke plainly in "Maurice."

3.) How do you think his works are influenced by his childhood, his homosexuality, or any other personality traits that he has?

It is difficult to say how Forster's childhood influenced his writing. Growing up without a father has an undoubtedly large effect on any human - some proponents of "gay theories" will tell you this is why he was homosexual, but I doubt any responsible psychologist would agree. Fatherless or motherless children grow up to run the gamut from celebrated geniuses to criminals. I think Forster's homosexuality had the larger influence on his writings and life views. His experiences with inadequacy, fear and shame that would necessarily result from his sexuality would also condition him to possess the sensitivity that comes through in his works.

4.) In what ways would you best describe his writing(tone, description, etc...)?

I will try to emulate Forster in this, as it would be easy to run on: Concise but rich.

5.) Do you find repeated character types in his books? Please explain.

See the answer to question 2.

6.) Do you think that Forster's difficulty with finding a lasting relationship is reflected in his books?

Forster often created characters who were destined to fail in relationships, but he also allowed love for some of them. When you examine the success rate of human relationships, he may have been kinder to them than life had been to him or to most people he knew. However, I think Forster was keen enough to realize that (especially given the time during which he lived) the success rate in homosexual relationships was lower than most "socially unacceptable" relationships.

7.) What do you think Forster's feelings are in reference to his own country, England?

I think Forster was realistic about England on an intellectual level - he recognized both her greatness and her flaws, the need for political reform and social change for the overall benefit of the commoner. On an emotional level, I think Forster felt rejected and perhaps a little resentful due to England's stance on homosexuality. While he loved Abinger, he spent long periods of his life outside the country. I think this displays his inner conflict over England.

8.) What is your favorite work of Forster's? Why?

That's a difficult question, because it's a toss-up between "Howards End" and "A Room With A View." Forster was in his best humor when he wrote ARWAV but perhaps the most perceptive of human nature in Howards End.

9.) Why do you think Forster is so appealing to modern day audiences?

Perhaps part of it is the same reason people are reading Jane Austen and other classic writers - we're looking for fulfilling stories about people by good writers - without having explicit sex and violence thrown at us from every page or television program. I think people's "future shock" is making them flock backwards to times when people were more polite and had more social boundaries.

10.) Do you have any other interesting points you might like to share with me?

There is a personal quality to Forster's writing that defies categorization. He's one of the few authors whom I've read and truly wondered about as a person solely because of the writing. His insights into the human individual and society were truly remarkable.

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I hope that these answers help you with whatever it is you're seeking regarding Forster. You must realize, of course, that my view of Forster is influenced by my own personality, as are any such opinions. It will never do adopt without question another's opinion in literature - your own is just as or more important! Good luck!

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