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A Passage to India | Study Guide

E. M. Forster

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E. M. Forster | Biography


Family and Education

Edward Morgan (E.M.) Forster was born into a comfortable London family on January 1, 1879. When Forster was one year old, his father, an architect, died; he then was raised by his mother and an aunt in the southern English county of Hertfordshire, where he enjoyed a happy childhood. Known as Morgan to his friends, Forster was surrounded by strong female role models, which likely led him to develop strong female characters in his novels.

As a boy Forster attended Tonbridge, a private school. Later he attended King's College, Cambridge, where he found intellectual freedom and began to explore the ideas that would eventually surface in his novels. Forster considered himself a humanist, valuing "curiosity, a free mind, belief in good taste, and belief in the human race." At Cambridge he met people who would become his lifelong friends. Some formed part of a group of writers eventually known as the Bloomsbury group. Forster graduated with degrees in classics in 1900 and history in 1901.

Literary Life

Forster then became a full-time writer—an occupation made possible in part by an inheritance from a relative—and produced novels, operas, short stories, literary criticism, and other works. Forster was greatly interested in the differences between traditional English society and the cultures of other parts of the world. His novels set outside England draw heavily on his experiences overseas, featuring detailed descriptions of places, people, and cultures, often seen through the eyes of English tourists and expatriates. For example his 1908 novel A Room with a View offers Forster's acute observations about day-to-day Italian life as seen from the viewpoint of an Englishman, and it includes a barbed portrayal of stereotypical tourists clinging to their guidebooks. The novel tells the story of Lucy Honeychurch, an energetic young Englishwoman who finds her sense of life's possibilities opened up by traveling in Italy. It reflects Forster's ideas about the value of human individuality and of love based on authenticity.

Although A Room with a View was well received, Forster was not rewarded with major literary distinction until his next novel, Howards End (1910). Howards End tells the story of Margaret and Helen Schlegel, two upper-class, progressive sisters who learn about class and the value of human relationships in early 20th-century England. The novel includes Forster's famous epigraph, "Only connect!" Forster wrote Maurice, a novel about homosexuality, between 1910 and 1913. He decided not to publish the novel until after his death, because homosexuality was considered a crime at the time.

Influenced by War

Forster was in his mid-30s when World War I broke out, and he worked with the Red Cross to trace missing soldiers. His greatest achievement as a novelist would come with A Passage to India, published in 1924. Inspired by his friendship with a young Muslim Indian student he tutored in England, Forster visited India in 1912 and again in 1921. While there he traveled all over the country. The question of how Indian and English people could connect as individuals while trapped in the web of colonialism formed the basis for the novel. A Passage to India was instantly recognized as a classic; it won the 1924 James Tait Black Memorial Prize, one of Britain's oldest literary awards.

Forster never wrote another novel, although he kept writing essays, literary criticism, book reviews, and other nonfiction pieces, including his popular 1927 book Aspects of the Novel. It was compiled from a series of lectures delivered at Cambridge University. In 1946 King's College, Cambridge, named him an Honorary Fellow and invited him to live on campus. He remained there for the rest of his life. Forster died on June 7, 1970.

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