Author of the Month - E.M. Forster

3 min read

Edward Morgan Forster was an English novelist, essayist and short story writer. He is best known for his ironic novels, most notably A Room with a View, Howards Endand A Passage to India,which examine class difference and hypocrisy in Twentieth Century British society.

Discussions of class in E.M. Forster's books

Forster’s novels act as a bridge between nineteenth and twentieth century literature. He sought to shake of Victorian models and adopt a more colloquial style. His writing contains a strong thread of social comment, satirising the middle and upper classes with his witty prose.

Forster explores and tests class boundaries and expectations in his novels. He observes the problems embedded in “class-based” English society where people were expected to conform to certain conventions. His works critically expose the cultural restrictions, class differences and rigid social hierarchy that gradually swallowed English society.

A Room with a View, 1988

E.M. Forster,  A Room with a View, vintage edition

In A Room with a View, Forster clearly presents his views on the limitations of the middle classes. These limitations are embodied in part by Forster’s central character, Lucy Honeychurch, whose fixed, middle class life has been set out for her.

This predetermined existence is however thrown off course during a trip to Italy. Lucy’s eyes are gradually opened to a different kind of world, one filled with unconventional characters and passions. She becomes torn between the intensity of Italian life and her repressed existence back in England.

Forster carefully pitches notions of sedate Englishness and Italian passions against one another in his novel. He juxtaposes different modes to emphasise the problems embedded within middle class society, problems caused in part by the inability to let go of Victorian ideals. His writing is both serious and humorous, rigid and romantic, traditional and unpredictable and exposes the impact of class and propriety on human relationships.

Howards End, 1965

E.M. Forster, Howard's End, vintage edition

Written in 1910, Howards End  greatly contributed to Forster’s literary success. As in A Room with a View,the novel explores the precariousness of middle class existence. Set at the start of the Twentieth Century, the story follows the lives of three families living in England: The Schlegels, Wilcoxes and Basts who embody liberal imagination, commerce, and the aspirations of the lower classes respectively.

Forster once again uses contrasts to highlight the societal limitations. While Henry Wilcox, a brutal capitalist, believes in keeping everyone within their own ‘type’, Margaret Schlegel values imagination as a means of transcending class differences. Like her sisters however, she represents a German idealism which is also flawed.

Leonard Bast offers brings in a third dimension. His presence highlights the problematic relationship between the wealthy and the poor in Edwardian England. Leonard strives for culture but is merely an imitator whose attempts are futile. However, Forster’s writing suggests that despite class differences, an appreciation of art and literature can ultimately transcend social boundaries.

A Passage to India, 1965

E.M. Forster, A Passage to India, vintage Penguin edition

A Passage to India  was inspired by Forster’s first trip to India in October 1912. The story is set around the Indian independence movement of the 1920s. First published in 1924, it acted as a bridge between the east and west. The book deals with more than just politics however, also exploring different aspects of British, Muslim and Hindu India.

Set in the Indian town of Chandrapore, the plot focuses on four central characters: Dr. Aziz, his British friend Cyril Fielding, Miss Adela Quested and her elderly companion Mrs. Moore. While Dr. Aziz is much respected within his community, an incident involving Adela thrusts him into the heart of a scandal.

The events of this novel highlight the common racial tensions between Indians and the British during the colonial era. It is one of many complex themes Forster explores throughout the novel and impacts the relationship between his characters and their cultures. A Passage to Indiais a true masterpiece and has become integral to post-colonial literary scholarship.

The Impact of Social Class and Propriety on Human Relationships

Throughout his novels, Forster explores the connection between human nature, culture, and society. He deals with social conventions and relational hypocrisies prevalent in Victorian and Edwardian England.

Forster’s novels explore the importance of establishing some kind of affinity between people and society. He suggests that the intellectual, cultural and commercial aspects of society should be brought together through unified understanding. It is not just society that needs to unify however, but also the emotional and rational sides of the self.

Tolerance, sympathy and even love become the key to mending the human relationships confused and torn apart by social class and propriety.

E.M. Forster at Country House Library

Shop across a range of vintage editions of E.M. Forster's works at Country House Library, or if you are looking for a particular title we don't seem to have let us know!

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