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Full text of "E M Forster The Perils Of Humanism"

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E. M. 
THE PERILS 

"To uphold a 
does, would seem to 
established tradition, 
were conceived withi 
century liberalism an 
time each of the five 
The L,07igest Journey 
to Tread (1905), Re 
Howards End (1910 
(19 24 ) is analyzed ^ 

Frederick C. Crews 
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family background, hi; 
1901 at Cambridge, hi 
age. What was Forst< 
bury group"? How did 
dictions in the Engli 
picture grows in deta 
manist committed to 
tions, and to art. 

At the same time* 
creasingly, Forster s 
streaked with skeptic 
sor Crews examines t 
the symbolism of eae 
skeptical humanism* 
considers Forster's s 
handling of Greek m 
that it is Forster's er< 
A Passage to India, w 
acceptance of the pe::| 
Crews gives u 

CONTINUE 



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"1f Is difficult for most of us to 
reifi&e both the importance and the 
unimportance of reason. But it is a 
difficulty which the profcmndoc 

humanists have managed to solve/' 
I 1 ^ 

FORSTER, Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson 



Jid IE tho u gaze too long into an abyss y 

"ice; w ' ' ; 

Good and 



E. M. FORSTER 







BY FREDERIC^ a CREWS 



* 
^ 



Copyright 1962 by Princeton University Press 
London: Oxford University Press 

RIGHTS RESERVED 

LC Card: 62-7036 



Publication of this book has been aided by 
the Ford Foundation program to support publication, 

through university presses, 
of work in the humanities and social sciences. 



Chapter 9, "The Limitations of Mythology/* 
appeared originally as an article in Comparative 
Literature, Spring 1960, copyright <D 1960, by 
Comparative Literature; Chapter 5, "The Longest 
Journey" appeared originally as an article in 
ELH, Dec. 1959, copyright 1959, by.EJLH. 

The quotations from the following works of 
E. M. Forster are reprinted by permission of 
Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc.: A Passage to 
India, copyright 1924 by Harcourt, Brace & 
World, Inc,, copyright 3.952 by E. M. Forster; 
Aspects of the Novel, copyright 1927 by 
Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., copyright 
1955 ky E. M. Forster; Coldsworthy Lowes 
Dickinson, copyright 1934 by E. M. Forster; 
Abinger Harvest, copyright 1936 by E. M. 
Forster; Two Oheers for ^Democracy, copyright <D 
1938, 1939, *947, 1949, *95* by E* M. Forster; 
The HUl of Devi* copyright <S> 1953 by E. M. 
Forster; Marianne Thornton? copyright 1956 
by E. M. Forster. 

-0* 

Printed in the United States of America 
by Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey 



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(MO.) 

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The author wants to confess at the outset that this volume 
grows out of a doctoral dissertation* Such an admission usually 
braces the reader for a pedantically "objective" work in which 
trivial facts are substituted for judgments of value. It will, in- 
deed, be obvious that I am guilty of treating E. M. Forster more 
soberly than he treats himself; he could only be distressed or 
amused at the ponderous historical machinery I have wheeled 
up to his door. Still, I hope it will be seen that my book is 
founded on a sympathy with Forster's art and a commitment 
to some of his basic attitudes. 

I am much indebted to my thesis director, E. D. H. Johnson 
of Princeton, who put at my disposal his impressive background 
in British intellectual history. Several other scholars deserve 
thanks for valuable criticism of my work at various stages since 
1957: Noel Annan, Richard Ludwig, John H. Raleigh, Mark 
Schorer, and Ian Watt. Mrs. Henry Lynn, Jr. has been my 
dependable typist. I am also grateful for a grant from the 
Samuel S. Fels Foundation Fund in 1957-1958, for a President's 
Faculty Fellowship from the University of California in the 
summer of 1960, and for a publication grant from the Ford 
Foundation. 



FREDERICK C. CREWS 



BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA 
SPRING 1961 



Preface vii 

ONE Introductory 3 

TWO Forster and Religion: From 

Clapham to Bloomsbury 7 

THREE The Refuge of Liberalism 19 

FOUR Cambridge and "The Good" 37 

FIVE The Longest journey 50 

six The Italian Novels 71 

SEVEN The Comic Spirit 92 

EIGHT Howards End 105 

NINE The Limitations of Mythology 1 24 

TEN A Passage to India 142 

ELEVEN The Importance of Reason 164 

Index 181 



E. M. FORSTER: 
THE PERILS OF HUMANISM 




INTRODUCTORY 

The novels of E. M. Forster have, for many years now, enjoyed 
a modestly growing reputation for excellence. Lionel Trilling's 
slim but incisive E. M. Forster, published in 1943, began a 
wave of renewed interest in a writer who had gradually slipped 
from prominence after the success of A Passage to India in 
1924. 1 The wave has gathered force until Howards End and 
A Passage to India, Forster's most ambitious novels, have be- 
come widely accepted as "modern classics," Though Forster is 
still alive, this premature canonization is not at all to be won- 
dered at; as a novelist he has given us nothing since A Passage 
to India, and there are many reasons for regarding that novel as 
his definitive fictional statement. Forster's literary activity since 
1924 can strike us only as a series of footnotes, however bril- 
liant, to a career whose real center lies in the first decade of the 
twentieth century an era before the names of Proust and 
Joyce and Mann were widely known. 

Forster is thus an Edwardian in point of time, and he is 
equally so in spirit. His outlook on the world and his literary 
manner were already thoroughly developed in that epoch and 
have passed through the subsequent years of turbulence and 
cataclysm with remarkably little modification. He is, as he once 
wrote, "what my age and my upbringing have made me," 2 
namely, a kind of lapsed Victorian of the upper middle class, 
whose intellectual loyalties have remained with the Cambridge 
he first knew in 1897. '^ ie var i u$ modem revolutions in physics, 

1 For the immediate effect of Trilling's book, see Morton Dauwen Zabd, 
"A Forster Revival/' The Nation, CLVII (1943), I 5%t*> and E. K. Brown, 
"The Revival of E. M. Forster/' Jde Review, xxxm (1944), 668-681. 

*Abinger Harvest (New Yorik, 1936), p. 65. 

3 



INTRODUCTORY 

in psychology, in politics, even in literary style, have not escaped 
his intelligent notice, but they can scarcely be said to have in- 
fluenced him deeply. His response to the explosion of the Vic- 
torian dream of benevolent progress has been a modest and 
orderly retreat to safer ground to a tolerant individualism 
now unmixed with Utopian dreams, but nevertheless closer to 
Victorian ideals than to any of the popular creeds of today. 
Rather than conform to bad times, Forster prefers to remind 
us cheerfully that his views are atavistic. 

The strength of Forster's resistance to the twentieth cen- 
tury is especially apparent when we place him beside some of 
his fellow writers. If Joyce, Lawrence, Pound, and the early 
Eliot represent the main current of the modern literary move- 
ment in English, we must admit that Forster' s private stream 
runs in an older channel. These others were radical iconoclasts 
whose rejection of bourgeois-democratic life was violent and 
shattering. Equally shattering was their fragmentation of the 
polite cadences of Victorian literature. In seeing the falseness 
of the old psychology, they conceived a scorn for the hypocrite 
lecteur, their role as apocalyptic prophets, as nay-sayers to the 
boredom and specious rationality of modern life, demanded that 
they be obscure and idiosyncratic. Forster, in contrast, un- 
ashamedly calls himself a bourgeois and remains faithful to the 
tradition of calm intelligibility. He is anti-apocalyptic in both 
his politics and his literary sense. To some degree his novels re- 
turn us to the congenial Victorian relationship between writer 
and reader, with its unspoken agreement over the usefulness of 
the sociable virtues and its apotheosis of the happy family. 
Though Forstefs heroes straggle against ''society" as a body of 
inhibitions, their revolt is never truly radical. Instead of exercis- 
ing Stephen Dedaltis* silence, exile, and cunning against the 
intrtkliiig world, they merely try to it their individtiaKty into 
the domestic scheme that awaits them. And Footer's ironical 
style, though it is unsparing in its probing at shams and half- 
truths, presupposes a confidence in the reader's sympathy and 



INTRODUCTORY 

good judgment a confidence that seemed quite archaic to the 
other writers I have named. 

Forstef s resistance to modernity may account for the fact 
that his novels, though they are almost universally esteemed, 
have never won him a cult of fanatical disciples. Unlike Joyce 
and Lawrence, he is rarely consulted for oracular sayings or 
glossed like scripture. With a few exceptions, critics have tended 
to explicate and admire his works without becoming heated 
over the possible merit of his ideas. Yet Forster decidedly is a 
novelist of ideas, 8 and didactic moral content is hardly less con- 
spicuous in his work than in Lawrence's. Forster's persistent 
"moral" is that the life of affectionate personal relations, dis- 
engaged from political and religious zeal by means of a tolerant 
eclecticism, is supremely valuable. This is not a stirring creed; in 
fact, it is a warning against allowing oneself to be stirred by any 
creed. And the mildness of Forster's position is only reinforced 
by his manner of writing, which, as Stephen Spender has noted, 
curiously marries self-effacement and whimsicality with asser- 
tiveness and great precision. 4 Prophets and transvaluers of values 
take themselves more seriously than Forster does. 

It is understandable, yet regrettable, that Forster's offhand 
manner has successfully disguised the historical weight that lies 
behind his governing ideas. To uphold a pure individualism, as 
Forster does, would seem to imply a rejection of every estab- 
lished tradition. Actually, Forster's attitudes were conceived 

'Here I am in apparent disagreement with James McConkey, who 
denies the presence of ideas in Forster's novels. McConkey prefers to 
speak of literary techniques in their relation to the "tonal quality" of the 
"Forsterian voice." I gather, however, that the denial of ideas here is 
merely a precaution against narrowly "intentional" criticism, for Mc- 
Conkey later makes reference to "the stabilized Forsterian philosophic 
position." The differences between Forster the man and Forster the novelis- 
tic "voice" are not specified by McConkey, and I have been unable to 
decide what they might be, Forster's novels are often so explicitly moral 
and philosophical that the New-Critical task of divorcing the writer from 
his work seems, in this case, to entafl more trouble than it is worth. See 
James McConkey, TJw Novels of E. M. Forster (Ithaca, 1957), pp. 2-5, 86. 

* Stephen Spender, World Within World (London, 1951), p. 167. 



INTRODUCTORY 

within the frame of nineteenth-century liberalism and human- 
ism, and their real originality lies only in their refinement upon 
that body of thought. It would seem necessary, if we are to 
avoid misconstruing Forster as either an eccentric or an anti- 
quarian, to recall and examine the formative influences on his 
intellectual life. Beneath his diffident exterior we shall find a 
rigorous and consistent thinker who has defined his beliefs in 
terms of the basic issues of Victorian controversy issues that 
are now unfashionable but by no means dead. Indeed, Forster's 
ability to assimilate or ignore change deserves to be seen, not as 
a failure of alertness or flexibility, but as evidence of the thor- 
oughness and conviction in his early critique of Victorianism. 
His serenity is that of a man who has found that his education 
has on the whole provided him with a wider outlook than any 
contained in the fanaticisms of the following age. 

In stressing Forster's consistency, however, I do not mean to 
imply that his career shows no development at all. Though he 
has maintained a steady front toward the outside world, he 
seems to have been increasingly responsive to the implications of 
his own philosophy. I am thinking of Forster's whole position as 
a humanist as a man who places his faith in this world and 
who takes the individual human norm as the measure of every- 
thing. In theory Forster remains loyal to this position through- 
out his career, but as a novelist he finds himself drawn more and 
more to its negative side. We shall repeatedly be faced with the 
inference that Forster's artistic growth runs parallel to his pro- 
gressive embracing of the ironies and disappointments inherent 
in humanism. The acceptance of the perils of humanism be- 
comes, indeed, a major touchstone of value in his novels and 
finally emerges as his dominant tiheme. This phenomenon is the 
real object of our interest, and we shall look at it from various 
sides. First, however, we must define Footer's humanism more 
fully and locate its historical sources. 




FORSTER AND RELIGION! FROM 
CLAP H' AM TO BLOOMSBURY 

The importance of religious questions in E. M. Forster's novels, 
though easy to underestimate, is impossible to neglect entirely. 
Even "Where Angels Fear to Tread and A Room with a View 
are influenced, however discreetly, by convictions about the 
meaning of life, and this is more obviously true of The Longest 
Journey, Howards End, and A Passage to India. Yet Forster's 
anti-clericalism and his light regard for Christian theology can 
give a one-sided view of his religious position. Everyone knows 
that he is an agnostic, but his agnosticism is complicated by 
romantic evasions, by what we might call a thwarted fascination 
with the Absolute. 

Though Forster's temperament is ultimately responsible for 
his balance of attitudes, their range was limited by his back- 
ground. Forster himself is the first to recognize this; his slant 
on life, he has said, was "derived from the Thorntons," 1 his 
father's family. He adds, to be sure, that this slant was altered 
by later influences, and we shall examine some of these in subse- 
quent chapters. Meanwhile, however, we can understand the 
main source of Forster's agnosticism by seeing its emergence 
from a family and class tradition. 

Forster traces his ancestry to a particular branch of what Noel 
Annan has called the "intellectual aristocracy" of the British 
upper middle class. 2 His grandfather, the Reverend Charles 

1 E, M. Forster, Marianne Thornton: A Domestic Biography 1797-1887 
(New York, 1956), pp. 301! 

2 The incredible system of intermarriages that perpetuated this "aris- 
tocracy" is traced by Annan in Leslie Stephen: His Thought and Character 
in Rdation to His Time (Cambridge, Mass., 1952), pp. jf., and more 



FORSTER AND RELIGION 

Forster, was a relatively poor Irish clergyman, but when he 
married Laura Thornton in 1833 he allied himself and his heirs 
with one of the most important families in the English Evangel- 
ical movement. Although Charles Forster and his son Edward 
did not belong to the "Clapham Sect," E. M. Forster regards 
that circle as his intellectual starting-place. This is because 
Marianne Thornton, Forster's paternal great-aunt, took a partic- 
ular interest in him as a child, and because his mother, Alice 
Whichelo Forster, was herself a special prot6g<e of Marianne 
from the age of twelve. 8 There was thus a connection with the 
Evangelical Thorntons on both sides of the family, and al- 
though Forster was still an infant when his father died, his 
mother, grandmother, and great-aunt perpetuated the Thorn- 
ton influence. 

The Clapham Sect, derisively named by Sydney Smith, was 
not really a religious sect but a group of wealthy and pious 
Anglicans, members of the upper bourgeoisie, who worked to- 
gether to effect certain public reforms. Henry Thornton, Forster's 
great-grandfather, was the central figure; it was his house on 
Clapham Common that became the group's headquarters, and 
his money, energy, and skill in Parliament that gave the move- 
ment much of its original strength. The Sect agitated for Sab- 
batarianism, the abolition of slavery, the encouragement of 
relief for the poor, the abolition of cruel games, prison reform, 
reform of the game laws, and the spread of missionary societies. 
More important than any of these, however, was the indirect 
influence of the Sect's moral fervor, which touched all shades 
of religious belief and helped to determine the character of 
Victorian phiknthropy. Ulce other Evtngelicals, the Clap- 

faBy in *The Intellectual Aristocracy/* Studm In Sodd Hkt&ry: a TribuU 
to G. M. TmKtly<m> ed, J. BL Phmtb (London, New York* Toronto, 1955), 
pp. 243-287. It may suffice here to recall the names Arnold, Mactuky, 
Darwin, Htiadey, Stephen, Treve!ya% Corafotd, Bewnson, tad with special 
reference to Blcw>roslKiiy----B'eU y WooK, Sferachey,, Smith, and Keymes. 
* See Mmmm Thornton, pp. 179-281* 

8 



FORSTER AND RELIGION 

hamites laid emphasis on the personal assurance of salvation 
and on daily meditation and self-criticism. Their social promi- 
nence, however, gave them a certain repose, almost an eclectic 
quality, that was decidedly atypical of Evangelicalism. Forster 
writes that Battersea Rise, Marianne Thornton's home, "was 
anything but a 'Victorian' establishment and . . . charges of 
narrowness and stuffiness must be brought against it with cau- 
tion. It appears, rather, as a blend of feudal loyalty and eight- 
eenth-century enlightenment " (Marianne Thornton, p. 26) 

Of the Thorntons' religion he says approvingly: "The power of 
the Church over the Thorntons was moral rather than mystic. 
They were indifferent to ceremony, their references to Holy 
Communion are temperate, and though they desired sound 
doctrine they were not upset by deviations from it." (Ibid., 
p. 32) And in an essay reprinted in Two Cheers for Democracy, 
Forster admits that Henry Thornton's solid character is not 
"inspiring" to the restless modern mind and that the Thornton 
family prayers have no meaning for us, but he does not conceal 
his admiration for his ancestors' good sense, good taste, and 
dedication to good works. 

Only on two points does Forster consider the Thorntons to 
have been narrow-minded. One charge, that they were indiffer- 
ent to the evils of the industrial system to which they owed their 
vast power, will be taken up in the next chapter. Secondly, 
Forster gives us a brief but highly significant critique of the 
Thorntons' religion. The Clapham Sect, he says, was too easily 
led to reduce spiritual matters to the commonplace terms of 
daily life. Quakers, on the other hand, "have what the Clap- 
hamites lacked: a touch of mysticism, a sense of the unseen, and 
a capacity for martyrdom." Forster continues: "These impulses, 
whatever their objective value, do purge the soul, in a way which 
alms-giving and self-examination cannot; they do lift the partici- 
pant into a region outside money, whereas charity only keeps 
man running to and fro, from his business to his deserving cause, 
and then back to his business. . . . This indifference to the xin- 

9 



FORSTER AND RELIGION 

seen seems to me the great defect in my great-grandfather's set, 
and the reason why they have not made a bigger name in history. 
It came out in everything in the books they collected, in the 
letters my great-aunts wrote to one another, and in the com- 
ments which they made upon life, which are surprisingly dry 
for people so pious. Poetry, mystery, passion, ecstasy, music, 
don't count." 4 

In one sense this is a detached and casual estimate; Forster is 
little concerned with choosing among competing forms of 
Christianity. But "poetry, mystery, passion, ecstasy, music" 
express Forster's own strain of religiosity if not of religion, and 
it is important to him that these things are missing from his 
family heritage. He can share the Thorntons' temperance of 
manner, but he has never thought of restricting his spiritual 
horizon to theirs. 

If we pursue the "intellectual aristocracy" beyond the first 
two generations, however, we arrive at an atmosphere more 
pertinent to Forster. The Blooinsbury Group, Forster's circle 
of acquaintance in Cambridge and London, consisted entirely 
of this class, and formulated its values with deliberate reference 
to those of the previous, largely agnostic generation. The skep- 
ticism of Forster and his friends came not from personal ex- 
periences of disillusion but from a legacy which they accepted 
with varying degrees of earnestness. 

To see Forster's views in historical relief, therefore, we may 
examine those of the most famous "parent" of Bloomsbury, 
Leslie Stephen. 5 like Footer, he was linked to Claphara on 
both sides of his family.* The household of his father, Sir James 

*Two Cheers for Democracy (New York r 1951), p. 195. 

Editor of the first twenty-six volumes of me Dictionary of 'N&tiond 
JHogMphy, Stephen was author of the History of Engtkh Thougftt fa t h* 
EMitamth Centwy, Tft* En$Mi Utffitometrw, Tfm Sdwm of EtMcy, Eng- 
lish Literature and Society in the Eighteenth Century, and numerous biog- 
raphies. He was also, of corae, the father of Vteteia Wool! and Vanessa 
Bell 

Stephen's two p^ndfathers were the Rev, John Venn, Rector of 
Clapham, and James Stephen, an influential Claphamite. 

10 



FORSTER AND RELIGION 

Stephen, was typical of Clapham's second generation in the 
mildness of its religious atmosphere. The bulk of emphasis was 
laid, not upon dogmatic moral rules and the moment of con- 
version, but on a general sense of duty. At Cambridge, though 
he was obliged to take Holy Orders to qualify for a fellowship, 
Stephen read widely in the secular philosophers and did not 
hesitate to befriend irreligious and radical dons such as Henry 
Fawcett. When his religious crisis came, it was naturally less 
severe than those of Carlyle and Newman; indeed, it was hardly 
a crisis at all. He wrote of his conversion to agnosticism: "In 
truth, I did not feel that the solid ground was giving way 
beneath my feet, but rather that I was being relieved of a 
cumbrous burden. I was not discovering that my creed was 
false, but that I had never really believed it." 7 

Stephen's belief in scientific empiricism led him to view the 
paradoxes of religion as contradictions that proved the system 
invalid. In "An Agnostic's Apology" he concludes that philo- 
sophical speculation is fruitless. The standard difficulties of 
Christian theology, such as the problems of free will and of 
the relationship between the orders of nature and grace, are, 
he says, questions of fact. "Questions of fact can only be solved 
by examining facts," 8 and theologians cannot even agree on 
what facts there are to examine. Who is to decide which revela- 
tion is the true one? "The only appeal is to experience, and 
to appeal to experience is to admit the fundamental dogma 
of Agnosticism." 9 Having thus bound theology helplessly to 
matter, Stephen turns with approval to science the one reliable 

T Leslie Stephen, Some Early Impressions (London, 1924), p. 70. This 
is not to say, of course, that Stephen's generation was altogether happy 
with its disbelief. The words of W. K. Clifford, Stephen's contemporary, 
suggest a different mood: "We have seen the spring sun shine out of an 
empty heaven, to light up a soulless earth: we have felt with utter lone- 
liness that the Great Companion is dead"; from "The Influence upon 
Morality of a Decline in Religious Belief," The Ethics of Belief : ; and Other 
Essays (London, 1947) , p. 124. 

6 Leslie Stephen, An Agnostic's Apology; and Other Essays (London, 

38. 
p. 39. 

11 



FORSTER AND RELIGION 

tool for interpreting the knowable world. Science, he argues, 
does not take us far, but it shows us the limits of our intelli- 
gence and guards us against error: "Here we shall find sufficient 
guidance for the heeds of life, though we renounce for ever the 
attempt to get behind the veil which no one has succeeded 
in raising; if, indeed, there be anything behind." 10 

Like the Utilitarians who preceded him, Stephen not only 
undermined the traditional grounds of moral judgment, but 
attempted to introduce a "science" of morality in their place. 
The laws governing the health of the social organism were to be: 
discovered inductively, and to state them would be to lay down 
the moral code. 11 Here we have no melancholy retreat from 
religious issues, but a confidence that the Christian system can 
be surpassed. In practice Stephen retains Christian morality 
almost intact, but his subjection of it to "scientific" tests of 
legitimacy is a portentous deviation from the attitude of his 
forebears. 

The historical significance of Stephen's ideas lies more in 
their typicality than in their novelty. Stephen himself regarded 
his work as derivative; he acknowledged his ethical system to be 
an outgrowth of John Stuart Mill's theories as modified by 
Darwin and Spencer. 12 Many of Stephen's contemporaries, more- 
over, were engaged in constructing the same kind of agnostic 
synthesis as his own. Huxley, Spencer, John Tyndall, W. K. 
Clifford, and John Morley shared Stephen's faith that science 
could replace Christianity, and many third-generation Clap- 
hamites, such as John Venn, A, V* Dicey,, Sir G. G, Trevelyan, 
and Stephen's brother Fitzjames, concurred to the extent of 
ceasing to look for intellectual certainty in Christianity .** 
Stephen's attack on theology may have been more purposeful 
than those of 1m friends, but it Mted to shock or surprise any- 



40. 

See 4J n*e Scepticism of BelewC f6M^ pp. 7*! 
i* Leslie Stephen, The Sdrnm of Ethic* (uadon, i88a), Pw&ce, pp. 

& 

** See Annan, Ledie Stephen, p. 122. 



FORSTER AND RELIGION 

one; it was merely the articulation of a feeling that had become 
more or less general. 

If we now return to Forster we can see the effects of still 
further removal from Clapham. There is, of course, no reason to 
suppose that all the differences between Forster and Stephen are 
culturally meaningful, but it would be equally mistaken to 
attribute everything to personalities. Forster describes himself 
frankly as "a child of unbelief." (Abinger Harvest, p. 100) Else- 
where he explains that the very idea of religious belief offends 
him: "I do not believe in Belief. . . . Faith, to my mind, is a 
stiffening process, a sort of mental starch, which ought to be 
applied as sparingly as possible. I dislike the stuff. I do not be- 
lieve in it, for its own sake, at all. Herein I probably differ from 
most people, who believe in Belief, and are only sorry they can- 
not swallow even more than they do. My law-givers are Erasmus 
and Montaigne, not Moses and St. Paul. My temple stands not 
upon Mount Moriah but in that Elysian Field where even the 
immoral are admitted. My motto is: "Lord, I disbelieve help 
thou my unbelief/ " (Two Cheers, p. 67) 

This is an attitude quite different in its ease and wryness from 
the militant tone of Leslie Stephen. Yet Forster's basic reasoning 
is really akin to Stephen's. He is convinced, as Stephen was, that 
dogmatism shuts out the real complexity of things. His essays 
repeatedly assert that truth is evasive and only to be seized in 
fragments. "The human mind/' he has said, "is not a dignified 
organ, and I do not see how we can exercise it sincerely except 
through eclecticism." 1 * Or again: "There is no such person as a 
philosopher; no one is detached; the observer, like the observed, 
is in chains." (Two Cheers, p. 10) With this outlook Forster 
necessarily denies himself the hope of seeing life both steadily 
and whole; he would prefer to see it steadily and to admit the 
incompleteness of his conclusions. The only subject on which he 
is dogmatic, in fact, is that of man's innate limitations: "We 
cannot understand each other, except in a rough and ready way; 

Aspects of the Novel (New York, 1927), p. 212. 

IS 



FORSTER AND RELIGION 

we cannot reveal ourselves, even when we want to; what we call 
intimacy is only a makeshift; perfect knowledge is an illusion." 
(Aspects of the Novel, p. 98) 

This unusually low opinion of human faculties gives a pessi- 
mistic cast to Forster's rationalism. While he agrees with 
Stephen in rejecting authority and distrusting intuition, his 
belief in reason is less vigorous than Stephen's. Whereas 
Stephen thought of science virtually as a substitute for religion, 
Forster has seen it allied to the technology of war and thought- 
control. Nor does he follow Stephen in assuming that, because 
our knowledge cannot penetrate "beyond the veil" of the tan- 
gible world, there may not be anything beyond at all. He is 
obsessed with the idea that life has some significance we cannot 
quite grasp some pattern, perhaps a cruel one, which draws 
together things that analysis would never connect. 

Forster's sense of mystery, indeed, seems to be closely related 
to his sense of artistic value. He can say unblushingly of Van 
Gogh, as Leslie Stephen would never have said of anyone: "He 
has a home beyond comfort and common sense with the saints, 
and perhaps he sees God." (Two Cheers, p, 6) He can say ap- 
provingly of Ibsen that 4< his stage throbs with a mysteriousness 
for which no obvious preparation has been made, with beckon- 
ings, tremblings, sudden compressions of the air, and his charac- 
ters as they wrangle among the oval tables and stoves are watched 
by an unseen power which slips between their words." (Abfng^r 
Harvest, p. 86) In Forster's own writing this sense of elusive 
meaning governs the exploitation of fantasy and surprise; his 
characters, who are never quite in control of their destiny, are 
forcibly refunded that their mental equipment is imperfect. 

Forster, wt may say, has a theological preoccupation without 
a theology to satisfy it UnKke Stephen ancl his f rccthinHng 
comrades, who thought they needed only to erne superstition 
in order to achieve moral progress* he seems haunted by a f eeling 
of ultimate despair. This is best illustrated in a strange, brief 

U 



FORSTER AND RELIGION 

essay of 1919 entitled "The Game of Life." Life, Forster says, is 
reluctant to explain her meaning to us, but schoolmasters and 
moralists will tell us readily that life is a game: "They love dis- 
cussing what we ought to be instead of what we have to face 
reams about conduct and nothing about those agitating appari- 
tions that rise from the ground or fall from the sky/' (Ibid, 
p. 58) Nevertheless, the analogy of a game has some appropriate- 
ness, for life gives the illusion of producing winners and losers, 
successes and failures. Yet it is illusion and nothing more; life 
"has evolved the imposing doctrine of effort and reward to ob- 
scure her purposelessness " (Ibid., p. 58) And men are dimly 

aware of this truth, for their actual games fail to gratify them. 
Victory always seems shallow, while loss suggests "nasty in- 
finities" of correspondence with our ultimate fate. (Ibid., p. 58) . 
Forster's concern is thus not with "the rules of the game," 
but with the alarming thought that our playing fairly or un- 
fairly will probably not affect the predetermined outcome. He 
elaborates this idea with grim humor in the concluding para- 
graph of the essay, after he has facetiously decided that the best 
image of life is provided by piquet. "It is in the first place ob- 
viously and overwhelmingly unfair. Fate is dealt, despite skill in 
discarding, and neither in the rules of play nor in the marking is 
there the least attempt to redress misfortune or to give the 
sufferer a fresh chance. The bias is all the other way. Disaster is 
an additional reason for disaster culminating in the crowning 
butchery of Rubicon, where the very bones of the victim are 
gathered up by the conqueror and flung like sticks upon his 
bonfire. Yet this savage pastime admits the element of Free 
Will It is possible to retard or accelerate Fate. Play, subtle and 
vigorous play, goes on all the time, though the player is being 
swept to disaster or victory by causes beyond his control, and it 
is in the play, rather than the result, that the real interest of the 
game resides. Another affair, in which all the living and possibly 
all the dead are engaged, runs on similar lines. Failure or success 

15 



FORSTER AND RELIGION 

seem to have been allotted to men by their stars. But they retain 
the power of wriggling, of fighting with their star or against it, 
and in the whole universe the only really interesting movement 
is this wriggle." (Ibid., pp. 59^) 

"The Game of Life" is exceptional in its bitter sarcasm, but it 
does not misrepresent Forster's ideas about fate as we can gather 
them from his other writings. It is not too much to say that the 
imagination of disaster the perception of Matthew Arnold's 
"something that infects the world" is the necesary condition 
of Forster's detached irony. His scorn for human illusions sets 
him apart from all notions of success or salvation. Though he 
sees beauty in W. H. Auden's dream of an ideally Christian 
civilization, for example, he feels compelled to add: "For some of 
us who are non-Christian there still remains the comfort of the 
non-human, the relief, when we look up at the stars, of realising 
that they are uninhabitable." (Two Cheers, p. 268) It is as if 
Forster were consoling himself here with a kind of inverted 
Calvinism, an assurance that neither he nor anyone else is 
among the saved. 

It is this somewhat morbid feeling of neglect that most clearly 
separates Forster's attitude from Leslie Stephen's. Stephen and 
his friends turned to agnosticism because they found Christianity 
unconvincing as a version of history and incomplete as a moral 
system. Forster would reject Christianity, if for no other reason, 
simply because it is a moral system. He is more concerned with 
"those agitating apparitions that rise from the ground or fall 
from the sky" than with justifying man's right to God's attention. 
If our philosophy is, as William James proposed, "our individual 
way of just seeing and feeling the total push and pressure of 
the cosmos," 15 we can say that Forster^s philosophy is a more 
oppressed one than Leslie Stephen's. He has a sense of tran- 
scendent reality, but the reality he envisions is a universe almost 
lifeless, almost empty, and wholly devoid of respect for the hu- 

" William James, Pragmatism; <md Four Emm from The Meaning of 
Truth (New York, 1959), p. 18, 

16 



FORSTER AND RELIGION 

man. "The disintegrating sea, the twisted sky" 16 constitute the 
metaphysical backdrop for his thoughts. 

There are, of course, additional reasons for Forster's disap- 
proval of Christianity. Fanaticism of all kinds is repugnant to 
him, and he does not distinguish between Christianity in general 
and the fanaticism of the ascetic saints. Christians, according to 
Forster, believe in "wearing away the body by penance, in order 
that the quivering soul may be exposed"; but his own motto, 
derived from his notion of Hellenic reasonableness, is "cherish 
the body and you will cherish the soul." (Abinger Harvest, 
p. 172) Like Gibbon, he looks upon the advent of Christianity 
as a major catastrophe for civilization, a senseless and small- 
minded vengeance against the Greek ideal. The comparison is 
not random; Gibbon is Forster's favorite historian, 17 and his 
own treatment of history has a Gibbonesque urbanity. In Pharos 
and Pharillon, a collection of essays on Alexandria, he repeatedly 
asserts that Christianity barbarized the areas it conquered, and 
that it was able to thrive only "where the antique civilization 
had failed to make men dignified." 18 A good part of the book is 
taken up with sardonic accounts of theological quarreling within 
the early Church, and the emphasis is laid in every case upon the 
triumph of monomania, hypocrisy, and antihumanismu As for 
Christianity's persistent influence in the modern world, this, 
says Forster elsewhere, must be "due to the money behind it, 
rather than to its spiritual appeal." (Two Cheers, pp. 75^) 

The offhand manner of this dismissal calls to mind the early 
attitude of John Maynard Keynes, who in his Bloomsbury days 
regarded Christianity as mere "hocus-pocus." 19 Or, better yet, it 
may remind us of the young Lytton Strachey, who is said to 
have given up the idea of writing a life of Jesus because, he ex- 

1 The Collected Tales of E. M, Forster (New York, 1947), Introduc- 
tion, p. viii. 

* r See Abinger Harvest, pp. 218-225, and Two Cheers, pp. 162-166, 304. 

**J?haro and Pharillon (New York, 1923), p. 51. 

*John Maynard Keynes, Two Memoirs; Dr. Mekhior; A Defeated 
Enemy, and My Early Beliefs (London, 1949), p. 96. 

17 



FORSTER AND RELIGION 

plained, no evidence could be found for the existence of such a 
personage. 20 The third, or Bloomsbury, generation of Clapham's 
descendants was raised in ignorance of theology, and affected 
to look back on the Christian age with Voltairean amusement. 
In his passages of satire Forster is altogether typical of the 
Bloomsbury spirit. 

It is clear, however, that to take Forster only in his satirical 
mood is to remain on the surface. His wit, perhaps like all wit, 
is a means of coping with dissatisfaction, a compromise with 
misgivings that refuse to vanish. Forster's religious misgivings are 
stated plainly enough in "The Game of Life/' but, more im- 
portantly, they lurk behind each of his novels and finally step 
forward to assume control in A Passage to India. 

20 See R. F. Harrod, The Life of John Maynard Keynes (London, 1951), 
p. 84. 



18 




THE REFUGE OF LIBERALISM 

The relevance of Forster's political views to his novels is far 
from obvious. Of the novels, only Howards End and A Passage 
to India have to do with politics, and these are anything but 
partisan tracts. The theme of Howards End is the need not for 
reform but for broad compromises between men and women, 
innovation and tradition, intellect and action, the upper classes 
and the lower. A Passage to India moves still farther beyond a 
simple creed or platform. It suggests that we are doomed by our 
nature to ignorance of God and isolation from one another 
that not prayer nor politics nor social intercourse will save us 
from this fate. Such a Homeric perspective dwarfs the gestures 
of anti-imperialism that Forster does occasionally make in the 
novel. Personal political sentiments cannot seem very urgent in 
a book about the vanity of human wishes. 

In a refined sense, however, it is possible to see considerable 
political meaning in Forster's novels. Their very lack of overt 
partisanship is consistent with his version of liberalism, which 
we can identify as a narrow but by no means private current 
within the wider liberal tradition. Forster's nonfiction leaves 
no doubt as to the centrality of political beliefs in his moral 
framework, and the novels reflect his deepest and most general- 
ized thoughts on the subject. Indeed, the very existence of his 
novels has political interest if we consider them as a part of 
cultural history. Trained in the moral absolutes of a Liberal 
Party which lost both its power and its integrity while they were 
undergraduates, many of the Cambridge "intellectual aristocrats" 
of Forster's generation found in art the satisfaction their fathers 
had found in public life. It is not surprising to learn that Forster's 

19 



THE REFUGE OF LIBERALISM 

novels are conceived in terms of moral generalizations whose 
ultimate source is the political philosophy of liberalism. 

Forster's unwillingness to be a party man has been evident 
throughout his career, even in his occasional sallies into political 
journalism. These have been provoked rather by indignation at 
abuses of power than by sympathy with the powerful. A typical 
piece from the postwar era is his poem, "A Voter's Dilemma," 
which explains in acid couplets that Liberals and Conservatives 
alike are more concerned with munitions profiteering than with 
peace and justice, (see Abinger Harvest, p. 31) From time to 
time Forster has lent his services to the British government, but 
always in the character of a moralist. His Labour Research De- 
partment pamphlet, 'The Government of Egypt" (1920), for 
example, is a biting review of colonial policy, written out of an 
instinctive sympathy for the underdog. When in 1939 he served 
on the Lord Chancellor's committee to review the Law of 
Defamatory Libel, he was acting upon his lifelong hatred of 
censorship. Even his anti-Nazi essays and radio broadcasts dur- 
ing the Second World War bear the stamp of his unwillingness 
to indulge in political simplifications. While denouncing abuses 
of liberty in Germany he repeatedly turns back to England and 
cautions against the same abuses: "Not the beam in Dr. Goeb- 
bels' eye, but the mote in our own eye. Can we take it out? Is 
there as much freedom of expression and publication in this 
country as there might be?" (Two Cheers, p. 55) 

Though they come late in his career, Forster's pronounce- 
ments on the twentieth century's various orthodoxies can give 
us a more specific idea of his political reasoning. Fascism he finds 
utterly unthinkable: "Fascism does evil that evil may come." 
(Abinger Harvest, p. 64) Because of his distaste for "the chaos 
and carnage of international finance" (Two Cheers, p. 7) , he has 
praised the Communists for their effort to find something better. 
Communism, however, is too bloody in its methods of reform 
(see Abinger Harvest, pp. 64^, 76), and Stalinist Russia is a 
very imperf ect Utopia. Forster is even suspicious of the mildest 



THE REFUGE OF LIBERALISM 

of collectivist movements, English Fabianism, on the grounds 
that it is latently autocratic. "Our danger from Fascism," he 
wrote in 1935, " unless a war starts when anything may happen 
is negligible. We're menaced by something much more in- 
sidious by what I might call Tabio-Fascism/ by the dictator- 
spirit working quietly away behind the facade of constitutional 
forms, passing a little law (like the Sedition Act) here, endorsing 
a departmental tyranny there, emphasizing the national need 
of secrecy elsewhere, and whispering and cooing the so-called 
'news' every evening over the wireless, until opposition is tamed 
and gulled/' (I6id, pp. 65f.) While he has high praise for Bea- 
trice and Sidney Webb and for Edward Carpenter (Two Cheers, 
pp. 212-218), Forster refuses to commit himself to socialism or 
to become sentimental over the plight of the working class. 1 
Behind all these judgments lies an uncompromising indi- 
vidualism. Governments are good or bad, for Forster, strictly 
according to their tolerance of variety and criticism; this is the 
basis for his grudging "two cheers" for British constitutional de- 
mocracy. As for the positive achievements that a state might 
reach under one system or another, Forster counts them as noth- 
ing against the dangers that go along with governmental strength. 
If he is vaguely leftist in his sympathies, he is opposed in prin- 
ciple to the concentration of power that leftist programs require. 
He can agree, for instance, that housing must be found for 
London workers, but he cannot approve of commandeering a 
"satellite town" for them in the uprooted countryside of his own 
home country: "... I cannot equate the problem. It is a colli- 
sion of loyalties. I cannot free myself from the conviction that 
something irreplaceable has been destroyed, and that a little 
piece of England has died as surely as if a bomb had hit it." 
(Two Cheers, p. 59) Forstefs respect for the countryside, the 
last fortress of individualism in a world of urban sameness, over- 
rides his concern for the material benefit of the majority. 

1 See, e.g., Goldsworthy Lowes Dickmson (London, 1934), p. 87. 

SSI 



THE REFUGE OF LIBERALISM 

Ultimately we may say that it is Forstefs disbelief in the dis- 
crete reality of the state that checks his socialism. He sees the 
nation, not as an entity in itself with international interests to 
be protected, but simply as a sum total of individual citizens. 
To "make sacrifices for the state" is thus to trick oneself with 
words. 2 Occasionally Forster has tried to define a ground where 
national programs are possible "We want planning for the 
body and not for the spirit" (Two Cheers, p. 57) but in reality 
he can observe no such distinction. As a nominalist and a moral- 
ist he is forever afraid of the arbitrariness, the impersonality, 
and the blindness of group-power. "The more highly public life 
is organised/' he writes, "the lower does its morality sink." (Ibid., 

P-74) 
In this light it is hardly surprising that Forster has looked 

with increasing horror and despair upon the twentieth century's 
tendency to spawn dictatorships and superstates. In his best- 
known essay, "What I Believe," after explaining that he dis- 
believes in belief, gives only two cheers for democracy, and is 
solaced in the modern world only by friendship and art, he con- 
cludes: "The above are the reflections of an individualist and 
a liberal who has found liberalism crumbling beneath him and 
at first felt ashamed. Then, looking around, he decided there 
was no special reason for shame, since other people, whatever 
they felt, were equally insecure. And as for individualism there 
seems no way of getting off this, even if one wanted to. The 
dictator-hero can grind down his citizens till they are all alike, 
but he cannot melt them into a single man. That is beyond his 
power. He can order them to merge, he can incite them to mass- 

2 In this connection see especially 'The Menace to Freedom/* Two 
Cheers, p. 10: "Man has dallied with the idea of a social conscience, and 
has disguised the fear of the herd as loyalty towards the group, and has 
persuaded himself that when he sacrifices himself to the State he is ac- 
complishing a deed far more satisfying than anything which can be ac- 
complished alone. Alone? As if he had ever been alonel He has never had 
the opportunity. Only Heaven knows what Man might accomplish alonel 
The service that is perfect freedom, perhaps/' 

m 



THE REFUGE OF LIBERALISM 

antics, but they are obliged to be born separately, and to die 
separately, and, owing to these unavoidable termini, will always 
be running off the totalitarian rails. The memory of birth and 
the expectation of death always lurk within the human being, 
making him separate from his fellows and consequently capable 
of intercourse with them. Naked I came into the world, naked 
I shall go out of it! And a very good thing too, for it reminds 
me that I am naked under my shirt, whatever its colour." (Ibid, 

P- ?6) 3 

Here is rear-guard action of the least hopeful sort. Forster has 
conceded the political field to the dictator-hero; liberalism will 
not survive, and individualism can be nearly exterminated in the 
name of federal authority. 'The memory of birth and the ex- 
pectation of death" will hardly prove adequate consolation when 
Big Brother has finished his work of molding the ideal citizen, 
and Forster is understandably reluctant to play an active role 
in a world heading this way, "We who seek the truth," as he 
rather dramatically wrote in 1923, "are only concerned with 
politics when they deflect us from it." (Abinger Harvest, p. 
269)* 

The liberalism evident here would seem to be far removed 
from the politics of the Liberal Party or of any party, but this 
is not wholly true. Forster himself recognizes his debt to the 
tradition of nineteenth-century liberalism, and in one important 
passage he explains where he agrees and disagrees with his fore- 
bears: "I belong to the fag-end of Victorian liberalism, and can 
look back to an age whose challenges were moderate in their 

8 One is reminded here of Freud's answer to the charge that he was 
neither a Fascist nor a Communist, neither black nor red. "No/' he re- 
plied, "one should be flesh coloured." Quoted by Ernest Jones, The Life 
and Work of Sigmund Freud, Vol. m (New York, 1957), p. 343. Freud, 
incidentally, took his politics directly from John Stuart Mill. 

*A fuller statement appears in a letter, dated January 13, 1958, to the 
present writer: "I have never belonged to any political party, and have 
only become interested in public affairs when the community appeared to 
be oppressing the individual, or when one community appeared to be 
oppressing another/' (Quoted with Mr. Forster's permission.) 



THE REFUGE OF LIBERALISM 

tone, and the cloud on whose horizon was no bigger than a 
man's hand. In many ways it was an admirable age. It prac- 
tised benevolence and philanthropy, was humane and intellec- 
tually curious, upheld free speech, had little colour-prejudice, 
believed that individuals are and should be different, and enter- 
tained a sincere faith in the progress of society. The world was 
to become better and better, chiefly through the spread of par- 
liamentary institutions. The education I received in those far-off 
and fantastic days made me soft and I am very glad it did, for 
I have seen plenty of hardness since, and I know it does not 
even pay. . . . But though the education was humane it was 
imperfect, inasmuch as we none of us realised our economic 
position. In came the nice fat dividends, up rose the lofty 
thoughts, and we did not realise that all the time we were ex- 
ploiting the poor of our own country and the backward races 
abroad, and getting bigger profits from our investments than 
we should. We refused to face this unpalatable truth." (Two 
Cheers, p. 56) 

The notion of Victorian liberalism projected here accords well 
with Lionel Trilling's account of the liberal tradition as "that 
loose body of middle class opinion which includes such ideas as 
progress, collectivism and humanitariamsm." 5 To be historically 
scrupulous, however, one would have to point out that Trilling's 
definition is incomplete and even confused. Collectivism and 
humanitarianisin were once recognized as very antitheses of 
liberal doctrine, Forster's paragraph refers not to liberalism as 
a movement but to the practice of a minority of liberals, the 
descendants of Clapham, whose "benevolence and philanthropy" 
derived rather from their religion than from their politics. 
Forster is aligning himself only with those liberals who have 
rejected Idssez fdre economics while preserving and reinterpret- 
ing the liberal ideal of individualism. 

Forstefs offshoot of liberalism had developed chiefly from 

5 Lionel Trilling, E. M, Forsfer (London, 1944), p. 13, 

94 



THE REFUGE OF LIBERALISM 

John Stuart Mill's critique of Jeremy Bentham, Through most 
of the nineteenth century the word "liberalism*' was considered 
synonymous with Utilitarianism or philosophic radicalism, the 
economic theory of Adam Smith, Malthus, Ricardo, Bentham, 
and James Mill. At midcentury, when the younger Mill was sup- 
planting his father and Bentham as the leading radical theorist, 
Utilitarianism was little more than the articulation of middle- 
class capitalist interests. Its calculus of value according to "the 
greatest happiness of the greatest number" was in practice a ra- 
tionale for free trade, economic expansionism, and democratic 
government. Utilitarians favored individualism, but only in the 
business sense of the word; they recognized no intrinsic rights 
of individuals for protection against the majority will. It was 
only because the Utilitarians happened to concur with Rights- 
of-Man liberals in opposing the landed aristocracy and support- 
ing middle-class suffrage that radical economists found them- 
selves led, in Hal^vy's words, "to confound economic liberalism 
with moral liberalism." 6 

This confusion of liberalisms, which widely persisted until 
Forster's day and of which the Bloomsbury group was sharply 
aware, was the central issue in MilFs quarrel with his father's 
generation of radicals. Though he always considered himself a 
loyal Benthamite, Mill set out, as he later explained, "to show 
that there was a Radical philosophy, better and more complete 
than Bentham's, while recognizing and incorporating all of 
Bentham's which is permanently valuable." 1 He felt that Ben- 
tham had oversimplified human nature in assuming all pleasures 
and pains to be qualitatively equal; because of man's involve- 
ment with moral and religious sanctions, Mill argued, happiness 
cannot be gauged by statistics of production and consumption. 
In politics, too, Mill tempered Bentham's faith in democracy. 
While previous Utilitarians had felt that the government should 

6 Elie Hal6vy, The Growth of Philosophic Radicalism, tr, Mary Morris 
(London, 1934), p. 117. 

7 John Stuart Mfli Autobiography (New York, 1948), p. 150. 



THE REFUGE OF LIBERALISM 

swiftly enact the majority's wishes into law, Mill saw the long- 
range value of constitutional restraints. The Utilitarian prin- 
ciple, once freed from a purely economic definition of welfare, 
demanded that dissenters be protected. Society could not afford 
to stamp out the vital minority whose unpopular views might 
later turn out to be indispensable. 

Mill's reasoning is founded on a nominalism very similar to 
Forster's. His concern is not with defining the sacrifices we owe 
to the state, but with establishing "a limit to the legitimate 
interference of collective opinion with individual independ- 
ence/' 8 Again, a love of diversity is crucial in both writers. The 
power of the majority, for Mill, is valuable only so far as it is 
"tempered by respect for the personality of the individual, and 
deference to superiority of cultivated intelligence/' 9 Forster, 
living in a later age, is concerned about the likelihood that this 
respect for individuality will be overridden by Benthamite plan- 
ners. Such men, he says, "assure us that the new economy will 
evolve an appropriate morality, and that when all people are 
properly fed and housed, they will have an outlook which will 
be right, because they are the people. I cannot swallow that. I 
have no mystic faith in the people. I have in the individual. He 
seems to me a divine achievement and I mistrust any view 
which belittles him/' (Two Cheers, p. 57) 

If Forster's preference for laissez faire in the world of the 
spirit goes back to Mill, so too does his rejection of laissez faire 
in the economic world (see Ibid., p. 57). Though he always 
supported free trade, Mill eventually turned the Utilitarian prin- 
ciple against the prejudices of its founders. By the end of his 
career he was openly considering the possibility that socialism 
may be the expression of man's highest political goals. 10 The ulti- 

* John Start Mffl, "On Liberty," Utiliimmusm, Liberty, and Represen- 
tative Government (London, 1931), p. 68. 

Mill on Bentham md Coleridge, cd. F. R. Leavis (London, 1950), p. 
88. See also the epigraph to "On Liberty/' which proclaims "the absolute 
and essential importance of human development in its richest diversity " 

* See Michad St. John Packe, The Ufe of John Stuart Mm (London, 

PP- 



THE REFUGE OF LIBERALISM 

mate social problem, he and his wife decided, was "how to unite 
the greatest individual liberty of action, with a common owner- 
ship in the raw material of the globe, and an equal participation 
of all in the benefits of combined labour." 11 

This coincidence of liberal individualism with what English- 
men called "progressivism" and Americans "radicalism" has 
enabled Mill to be a kind of patron saint for two widely dif- 
ferent groups. Progressives such as Henry Fawcett, the Webbs, 
Shaw, and Wells could look to Mill as a theorist of the most 
sweeping reform of society. These men were opposed to laissez 
fdre, but their own politics belong in the Benthamite tradition 
of serving the greatest-happiness principle at the expense of 
existing institutions. It is the Benthamite side of Mill that has 
nourished English socialism. Mill's defense of private liberty, on 
the other hand, points toward the nonpolitical liberalism that 
we see in Forster. The liberalism of Walter Bagehot and T. H. 
Green, and more pertinently of Matthew Arnold and Samuel 
Butler, seems to belong to this tradition. Such a liberalism does 
not concern itself with adaptation to new economic and social 
conditions but with the protection of a fixed ideal of individual 
freedom. It fears the rule of the mob as well as the rule of the 
few, and tends finally to disengage itself from party loyalty. 

These two divergent branches of liberalism existed side by side 
within the Liberal Party. Gladstone, the quintessential Liberal, 
illustrated in his own person the contradictory sources of the 
party's strength. A High-Church Tory at heart, a friend of private 
fortunes, and a believer in "the rule of the best," he neverthe- 
less became the spokesman for popular democracy, free trade, 
Catholic emancipation, reform of the Civil Service, and Irish 
Home Rule, all but the last of which were congenial to the spirit 
of Benthamism. Gladstone was anything but "progressive" in 
his moral outlook. His ambition was to render the morality of 
private life totally applicable to politics in other words, to 
Christianize national policy. He supported repeal of the Corn 

11 Autobiography, p. 162. 

07 



THE REFUGE OF LIBERALISM 

Laws, for example, not as an economic reform but to satisfy a 
point of justice, and his campaign to alleviate poverty rose from 
a belief that greater material welfare would help to improve the 
nation's ethics. The distance between this kind of reasoning and 
the Utilitarian calculus is of course immense, but Gladstone's 
popularity, together with the concurrence of his policies with 
Benthamite programs, held the Liberal Party together until the 
1890'$. 

The inconsistency and weakness of the Liberal Party in that 
decade undoubtedly helped to confirm E. M. Forster in his 
abstention from partisanship. The Liberals had always been 
composed of a rather uneasy coalition of Whigs, Radicals, and 
Peelites, who were united more by their opposition to Disraeli 
than by any common ground of philosophy. With Disraeli's 
death in 1881, the debacle of Khartoum in 1885, and the public 
identification of Gladstone with Home Rule and Parnellism 
after that year, the party began to disintegrate rapidly. Glad- 
stone's second Home Rule defeat and retirement in 1894 left the 
party without a widely respected leader. And in the period 
1899-1902, when most of the future Bloomsbury writers were 
undergraduates at Cambridge, the Liberals were further weak- 
ened by the divisive issue of the South African War, 12 Almost all 
the remaining Imperialists in the Liberal Party had gone over to 
the Conservatives by 1902. Leslie Stephen described what had 
become, in 1903, an impossible tangle of party lines: "The 
Radical takes credit for having transferred political power to the 
democracy, though the democracy sets at defiance the old Radi- 
cal's hatred of Government interference and of all Socialistic 
legislation. The Tory boasts that the prejudice against State 
interference has vanished, though the rulers of the State have 
now to interfere as the servants and not as the masters of the 
democracy. Both sides have modified their creeds in the courae 

** See R. C. K, Eusor, "The Recession of LiberaHsm/' Idem and Be- 
liefs of the Victorians; An Hktoric Revaluation of the Victorian Age (Lon- 
don, 1949), pp. 396-402. 



THE REFUGE OF LIBERALISM 

of their flirtation with Socialism, till it is difficult to assign the 
true principle of either, or trace the affiliation of ideas/' 13 

Where were liberals of the more idealistic stamp expected to 
turn? Exasperation with the Liberal Party had reached a point 
where disengagement and reassessment of principles were im- 
perative. This was the case, for example, with the founders of the 
Independent Review, a journal whose principles we must now 
examine, for E. M. Forster "thought the new age had begun'* 
(Dickinson, p. 116) when he read the first number, and himself 
became a contributor to later numbers. It is the Independent 
Review that suggests most clearly the connection between liberal 
politics and Forster's art. 

One of this journal's founders was G. Lowes Dickinson, For- 
ster's teacher and friend at Cambridge, whose biography Forster 
wrote in 1934. There Forster gives us a vivid idea of what the 
Independent promised for disenchanted young liberals of the 
day: "The first number appeared in October, 1903. Edward 
Jenks was the editor; Dickinson, F. W. Hirst, C. F. G. Master- 
man, G. M. Trevelyan and Wedd were the members of the 
editorial council; Roger Fry designed the cover. The main aim 
of the review was political. It was founded to combat the ag- 
gressive Imperialism and the protection campaign of Joe Cham- 
berlain; and to advocate sanity in foreign affairs and a construc- 
tive policy at home. It was not so much a Liberal review as an 
appeal to Liberalism from the Left to be its better self one of 
those appeals which have continued until the extinction of the 
Liberal party. Dickinson thus defends the opening number of 
his review against the free-lancing of Ashbee (Letter of Novem- 
ber nth, 1903): If Liberals as you say are not "constructive" 
that perhaps is due to the fact that they believe in Liberty which 
means that they think all legislation can do is to give the ut- 
most scope to individuals to develop the best in them. That I 
confess is my own point of view. But I believe that to do that 
will mean gradual revolution of all the fundamentals of society, 

Early Impressions, pp. 8if. 



THE REFUGE OF LIBERALISM 

law of property, law of contract, law of marriage. Yet all that 
revolution would be abortive unless people have ideals for which 
they individually care and which are of the spirit and not mere 
megalomania. . . .'" 

Forster continues: ". . . The Independent Review' did not 
make much difference to the councils of the nation, but it struck 
a note which was new at that time, and had a great influence on 
a number of individuals young people for the most part. We 
were being offered something which we wanted. Those who 
were Liberals felt that the heavy, stocky, body of their party was 
about to grow wings and leave the ground. Those who were not 
Liberals were equally filled with hope: they saw avenues open- 
ing into literature, philosophy, human relationships, and the 
road of the future passing through not insurmountable dangers 
to a possible Utopia. Can you imagine decency touched with 
poetry? It was thus that the 'Independent' appeared to us a 
light rather than a fire, but a light that penetrated the emotions." 
(Ibid., pp. ii5f.) 

Here, certainly, the tradition of Mill is unmistakable; Dickin- 
son's statement that "all legislation can do is to give the utmost 
scope to individuals to develop the best in them" seems to come 
directly from On Liberty. Forster's perception of "avenues open- 
ing into literature, philosophy, human relationships" also re- 
flects the liberal belief that a man's political principles should 
be a consistent extension of his entire moral life. It is noteworthy, 
too, that Dickinson's remarks align him with the late, "Utopian" 
Mill rather than with the young defender of laissez jaire. He has 
reached Mill's idea that collectivist legislation is positively 
necessary to prevent society from exercising a tyranny of fortune 
and opinion over the individual. 

Although Forster's contributions to the Independent were 
not political,** the fact that he eagerly submitted short stories 

14 Only two of those contributions (the ninth and tenth in the follow- 
ing list) remain mncollected. The complete list follows: 
"Macolnia Shops/' i (1903), 311-313; "Gnidus/' n (1904), 278-282; 

80 



THE REFUGE OF LIBERALISM 

and "cultural" essays reflects his admiration for the editors' 
point of view. We need not assume that he was well versed in 
the complex problems of trade and Empire that were debated 
in the review by such experts as Jenks, Masterman, and Trevel- 
yan. It is more likely that his Cambridge years had predisposed 
him to a general sympathy with the liberalism of Arnold and the 
later Mill. If he was not exercised by all the collectivist reforms 
demanded by the Independent, he must certainly have approved 
of its repeated emphasis on freedom of discussion, equality of 
opportunity, and the importance of the individual man. 

One article, the unsigned editorial (probably by Jenks) in the 
opening number, will have to serve us as a sample of the Inde- 
pendent's political attitude. The author begins by castigating the 
Liberal Party for its confusion of laissez faire with human liberty 
in general, and suggests that the future lies with those who can 
draft collectivist laws to "ensure that individual enterprise is 
neither thwarted nor impaired, but merely guided into those 
channels in which it can produce its best results/' 15 In a tone of 
visionary altruism he calls for three types of reform: a more 
equal distribution of income; readier means of education for 
everyone; and a strict governmental control over abuses of pri- 
vate wealth. All three of these proposals had been anticipated 
by Mill. And when the author exhorts the Liberal Party to over- 
come its unwillingness "to combine the old freedom with the 
new demand for order," 18 we may recall Forster's sentence: "We 
want the New Economy with the Old Morality." (Two Cheers, 
p. 57) The only real difference between the two statements is 

"The Road from Colonus," m (1904), 124-134; "The Story of a Panic/' 
in (1904), 453-472; "The Other Side of the Hedge/' iv (1904), 297-301; 
"Cardan/' v (1905), 365-374; "The Eternal Moment/' vi (1905), 206- 
215, U. 86-95, 2 **-223 (this vol. has two sets of pagination); "Gemistus 
Pietho/' vn (1905), 211-223; "Rostock and Wismar/' vm (1906), 332- 
335; "Literary Eccentrics; A Review/' xi (1906), 105-110; and "The Celes- 
tial Omnibus/ 7 The Albany Review (N.S. of the Independent), i (1908), 

15 Independent Review, i (1903), 4, 
i ibid., p, 6. 

SI 



THE REFUGE OF LIBERALISM 

one of stress; the editors of the Independent are confident of the 
"old freedom" and are anxious to fulfill "the new demand for 
order/' whereas Forster, writing later in the century, is afraid 
that demands for order will gradually put the old freedom out 
of mind. 

The most suggestive essay in the Independent, for our pur- 
poses, is by a more familiar author, G. K. Chesterton. Though it 
is only peripherally linked to politics, it tells us a good deal 
about the climate of thinking among Forster's generation of 
liberals. The essay, entitled "The Poetic Quality in Liberalism," 
opens with a consideration of the unique freedom of literature. 
Chesterton finds that literature tends to absolve itself from the 
chances and limitations of real life in order to touch the Platonic 
essences of things. It is in this rescue of objects from "the tedium 
of law and the inevitable," says Chesterton, that literature 
expresses its antagonism to the spirit of science; "and it is in 
this that it comes nearest, again and again in human history, . . . 
to the spirit which we call Liberalism." 17 Chesterton explains 
that by "Liberalism" he does not mean the current imperialistic 
ideas of the Liberal Party. Nor does he mean the kind of op- 
portunism that seeks to justify immoral policies by resort to 
scientific necessity. He is thinking of the liberal principles of the 
French Revolution, which, like art, literature, and religion, seek 
to remove man from "the tyranny of circumstance" and make 
him "sacred and separate/' 18 True liberalism, for Chesterton, 
stands apart from utility and declares that men and nations have 
inherent rights that no one, however strong, can call into 
question. 

In most ways, of course, Chesterton is very different from 
Forster; the vague Platonism, the sense of absolute right and 
wrong, and the air of holiness in his essay are un-Forsterian. Nor 
does Chesterton's later career suggest any underlying agreement 
with Forste/s principles. Yet it remains trae that Forster is 

* T Independent Review, v (1905), 56, 



THE REFUGE OF LIBERALISM 

essentially a liberal of the sort described here. The hatred of 
expediency, the sympathy for the underdog, the opposition to 
imperialism, the fervent belief in private freedom are all recog- 
nizable. Neither Forster nor Chesterton is willing to say that 
nations are entitled to a moral license denied to individuals. To 
kill another nation is murder, and to abandon the old morality 
in order to meet new conditions is inadmissible. 

Of particular interest is Chesterton's assertion that true liber- 
alism is antiscientific. The Chestertonian liberal believes in free- 
dom because it is not to be found in nature: "Because Time is 
the enemy of all his children," he says, ". . * therefore we will 
ring them with a ring of swords, and write for them an in- 
violable charter; because they are weak we will make them im- 
mortal, that they may be themselves . . . for, like all other things 
which are human and therefore divine, they must have the 
sense of everlasting life in order to live at all/' 19 Forster's voice 
is less pompous, yet he too, we remember, has affirmed a "mystic 
faith" in the individual: "He seems to me a divine achievement 
and I mistrust any view which belittles him." And Forster, too, 
wants to sanctify the human condition by affording it more 
respect than it "naturally" commands. "TTie people I respect 
most," he writes, "behave as if they were immortal and as if 
society was eternal. Both assumptions are false: both of them 
must be accepted as true if we are to go on eating and working 
and loving, and are to keep open a few breathing holes for the 
human spirit," (Two Cheers, p. 71 ) 20 For Chesterton and For- 
ster alike, the sense of man's actual smallness and instability 
strengthens the impulse to protect weak persons and nations 
from the tyranny of stronger ones even if the stronger one 
should happen to be England. 

In Forster's novels this combination of pessimism and ideal- 
ism is rendered in terms of dialectical struggle. Forster's best 
characters yearn for sure knowledge and a sense of absolute or- 

* Independent Review, v, 6of . 

20 VlrteaBy the same statement occors in Abinger Harvest, p. 70. 

S3 



THE REFUGE OF LIBERALISM 

der; they would like to become "sacred and separate" from the 
chaos of nature. Forster's plots remind them, however, that 
they are very much involved in nature; all attempts to falsify 
their subjection to natural process end in catastrophe. There is 
thus a thread of tragic irony in Forster. The most sensitive char- 
acters, who feel a need for something higher than their own 
petty circumstances, are by consequence the characters most 
liable to disillusion. Their awareness of imperfection spurs them 
toward an impossible, yet heroic, effort to "see life steadily and 
see it whole, group in one vision its transitoriness and its eternal 
youth " 21 

Forster's valuation of art itself seems to spring from his ideal 
of rescuing something from nature. It is just the awareness of 
disorder and impermanence in the real world that impels For- 
ster to stress the unique value of art. "Art is valuable," he writes, 
"not because it is educational (though it may be), not because 
it is recreative (though it may be), not because everyone enjoys 
it (for everybody does not), not even because it has to do with 
beauty. It is valuable because it has to do with order, and 
creates little worlds of its own, possessing internal harmony, in 
the bosom of this disordered planet." (Two Cheers, pp. 59^) 

Chesterton's belief that literature at its best is "essentially a 
liberation of types, persons, and things" from "the tedium of 
law and the inevitable" bears comparison with Forster's ac- 
count of the power of words in a work of art: "It is their power 
to create not only atmosphere, but a world, which, while it lasts, 
seems more real and solid than this daily existence of pickpockets 
and trams. . . . We have entered a universe that only answers to 
its own laws, supports itself, internally coheres, and has a new 

standard of truth A poem is absolute. The world created by 

words exists neither in space nor time though it has semblances 
of both, it is eternal and indestructible " (Ibid., pp. 8i) 

*i Howards End (New York, 1954) , p. 269. Note that Forster borrows 
Matthew Arnold's phrase to characterize Ms intellectual ideal. 

34 



THE REFUGE OF LIBERALISM 

We can, I think, go one step farther and see a causal link 
between Forster's dependence on the orderliness of art and his 
disaffiliation from the unmanageable world of politics. Forster 
himself has more than once implied that art is his substitute for 
imperfect political creeds. In an essay of 1934 he recalled his 
distrust of all the "isms" but Communism, and added: "those 
who are, like myself, too old for communism or too conscious of 
the blood to be shed before its problematic victory, turn to 
literature, because it is disinterested." (Abinger Harvest, p. 76 ) 22 
Literature is "part of our armour" (Ibid., p. 75), it consoles us 
for our lack of power over real events. And in a later essay, "Art 
for Art's Sake," he proclaimed that order is "something evolved 
from within, not something imposed from without; it is an 
internal stability, a vital harmony, and in the social and political 
category it has never existed except for the convenience of his- 
torians." (Two Cheers, p. 90) Where is order to be found? In 
religion, for some people; but for Forster, chiefly in art. Art 
"achieves something which has often been promised by society, 
but always delusively. Ancient Athens made a mess but the 
Antigone stands up. Renaissance Rome made a mess but the 
ceiling of the Sistine got painted. James I made a mess but 
there was Macbeth. Louis XIV but there was Ph&dre" (Ibid., 
p. 92) Art, therefore, "is the cry of a thousand sentinels, the 
echo from a thousand labyrinths; it is the lighthouse which can- 
not be hidden: c'est le meilleur tdmoignage que nous puissions 
donner de noire digniti" (Ibid., p. 92) 

I do not mean to say, of course, that Forster suddenly aban- 
doned politics for art when the Liberal Party lost its moral pow- 
er. Following in Arnold's steps, he must have been somewhat de- 
tached from party loyalties from the first. We might remember, 
however, that such a detachment owes much to the politics of 
Mill. When Forster castigated the Liberal Party for being tied 

22 Again, the use of Arnold's terminology is significant. The passage, 
in fact, appears in an essay on the continuing relevance of Arnold in the 
modern world. 



THE REFUGE OF LIBERALISM 

down to material interests, he was simply showing loyalty to his 
own more detached liberalism. "It is better to be a human being 
dissatisfied than a pig satisfied/' Mill had written; "better to be 
Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied." 28 In purging itself of 
moral inconsistencies, one segment of nineteenth-century liber- 
alism broke free from the greatest-happiness principle and seized 
upon an ideal of individual self-cultivation that could find com- 
plete embodiment only in art and Forster's art will prove to be 
both sustained and, in the last analysis, restricted by that ideal. 

28 "Utilitarianism," Utilitarianism, p. 9. 



36 




CAMBRIDGE AND " T H E GOOD*' 



To say that Forster is a liberal, an individualist, and an agnostic 
is to be about as systematic as Forster himself; he distrusts labels 
and categories but is willing to name his loyalties in a general 
way. More specifically, however, we have already taken note of 
certain values that might be called absolute "goods" for Forster: 
sincerity, art, private freedom, diversity. And to this list we 
may add two items of comparable importance, namely, Forste/s 
belief in affectionate personal relations and his feeling for the 
English countryside and its traditions. 1 

A faith in love or friendship among individuals is Forster^s 
avowed starting-place in his attempt to find a measure of order 
in the chaotic modern world. Forster would sooner betray his 
country than betray a friend, for friendship is essential "if one is 
not to make a mess of life." (Two Cheers, p. 68) There exists, 
he says, an aristocracy of the sensitive, the considerate, and the 
plucky whose members are more loyal to each other than to any 
organization: "Their temple, as one of them remarked, is the 
Holiness of the Heart's Affection, and their kingdam, though 
they never possess it, is the wide-open world." (Ibid, p. 74) 2 In 
each of Forster's novels a contrast is established between classes 
or nations and individuals, and in each case the problem of the 
individuals is the same: to overcome the artificial barriers of 
status and reach out to find their true brothers. Though his 
characters are usually enmeshed in what they imagine to be 
social obligations, Forster himself feels that their primary duty 
is to be loyal to "the Heart's Affection," and in every case the 

*We might also consider the puisuit of truth as a separate "good 11 ; 
see especially Abinger Harvest, p. 269, and Two Cheers, p. 305. 
2 The allusion is to Keats. 

87 



CAMBRIDGE AND a THE GOOD 53 

novel's plot draws the principal characters toward this realiza- 
tion. 

No less conspicuous is Forster's reverence for the influence 
of traditional rural life the life of the closely-knit family whose 
roots are in the soil. As I. A. Richards observes, Forster's writ- 
ings are characterized by "a special preoccupation, almost an 
obsession, with the continuance of life, from parent to child, 
with the quality of life in the sense of blood or race, with the 
preservation of certain strains and the disappearance of others." 8 
His idea of family tradition is bound to his view of the part that 
Battersea Rise played in the Thorntons' lives, and to reminis- 
cences of his own boyhood home in Hertfordshire. Of the latter 
he has written, "I took it to my heart and hoped, as Marianne 
had of Battersea Rise, that I should live and die there/' (Mari- 
anne Thornton, p. 301) Actually, both houses were razed to 
make room for suburban tracts. Two of Forster's minor works, 
'The Abinger Pageant" (1934) and England's Pleasant Land 
(1938), were written to oppose this kind of "improvement." 
The point of both plays is that country people ought to cherish 
their local traditions, that a stand must be taken against the 
levelling force of urbanization. 

Much of this sentiment can be related to Forster's critical 
view of the Industrial Revolution, 4 but it also has a more positive 
basis in his temperament. What he says of Ibsen and Words- 
worth seems equally true of himself: he is haunted by the 
romantic possibilities of scenery. (Abinger Harvest, p. 88) 
The landscapes in his novels have an almost pantheistic vitality, 
and they are usually enlisted on the side of self-realization for 
the central characters. To be attuned to the spirit of the country- 
side is not simply to resist the shallowness of London, but to be 
awake to the full life of the senses, without which there is no 
real awakening of the soul. In The Longest Journey and Howards 

8 I. A. Richards, "A Passage to Forster; Reflections on a Novelist," The 
Forum, LXXVIII (1927), 918, 
* See especially Two Cheers, p. 273. 

38 



CAMBRIDGE AND "THE GOOD 55 

End particularly, the question of achieving a proper relation- 
ship to the rural landscape is inseparable from that of under- 
standing one's own nature and of putting oneself in fruitful 
connection with the past and the future. 

The presence in Forster of such obviously romantic opinions 
as these may lead us to ask where the center of his thought 
really lies. Many of his attitudes belong among those that Wil- 
liam James characterized as "tough-minded": empiricist, pes- 
simistic, irreligious, fatalistic, pluralistic, and skeptical 6 A mind 
of this quality supposedly prefers "the rich thicket of reality" 6 
to all unifying abstractions. In Forster's writing, however, there 
are a few affirmations that are virtually religious; we do not feel 
that any amount of contrary evidence could weaken them. The 
inconsistency is especially interesting in Forster's case because 
it is not merely temperamental, but points to contradictions 
within the intellectual climate of his formative years. 

Virtually all of Forster's beliefs owe something to his years 
at Cambridge, His undergraduate life at King's College, from 
1897 to 1901, was a period of self-discovery that was made more 
brilliant by the drabness of his previous life as a day boy at Ton- 
bridge. This is apparent from The Longest Journey, which is 
obliquely autobiographical, but it also shines through the bi- 
ography of Lowes Dickinson. Forster's account of Dickinson's 
introduction to Cambridge, for example, is revelatory: 

"He had no idea what Cambridge meant and I remember 
having the same lack of comprehension about the place myself, 
when my own turn came to go up there. It seems too good to be 
real. That the public school is not infinite and eternal, that 
there is something more compelling in life than team-work and 
more vital than cricket, that firmness, self-complacency and 
fatuity do not between them compose the whole armour of man, 
that lessons may have to do with leisure and grammar with 
literature it is difficult for an inexperienced boy to grasp 
truths so revolutionary. . . ." (Dickinson, p. 26) 

5 See Pragmatism, p. 22. ibid., p. 55. 



CAMBRIDGE AND a THE GOOD 3 ' 

The Cambridge that Forster knew in 1897 had much in com- 
mon with Leslie Stephen's Cambridge of 1850, though sweep- 
ing reforms (most notably the abolition of religious tests) had 
been instituted in the meantime. Perhaps the most important 
of these similarities, strengthened by the University's pre- 
eminence in mathematics and science at the end of the century, 
was a general reluctance to commit oneself about what Stephen 
had called the unknowable. There were, to be sure, conspicuous 
exceptions in both eras, but there remained a general atmosphere 
of common sense and empiricism as opposed to Oxford's ideal- 
ism and theology. 7 Both the Clapham Evangelicals and their 
agnostic descendants profited from a Cambridge tradition of 
liberal dissent that dated from the early years of the Ref- 
ormation. 

Forster's college, King's, has relevant traditions of its own. 
Founded exclusively for Etonians, it gradually improved its 
academic status by broadening its membership and admitting 
only students who were reading for Honours. By Forster's day it 
had become a haven for sensitive young men, many of them 
scholarship boys, who were unmoved by the popular ideals of 
success, sportsmanship, and horseplay. Its Fellows were, and 
still are, noted for their democratic and affectionate interest in 
the undergraduates. "In its exquisite enclosure," writes Forster, 
"a false idea can be gained of enclosures outside though not of 
the infinite verities." (Dickinson, p. 104) "The infinite verities" 
is hardly the phrase of a caustic iconoclast, and may suggest 
that Forster's romanticism was nurtured at King's. The world of 
King's is a placid and cloistered one where the religion of intense 
friendship and the pursuit of the Good and the Beautiful can 
flourish without much disturbance from outside. 

Still another fruitful tradition was that of the Cambridge 
Conversazione Society (the Apostles), the famous discussion 
group founded in 1820. Its membership at various times in- 
cluded Tennyson and Hallam, F. D. Maurice, itichard Trench, 

7 See Stephen, Some Early Imprmhns, pp. 15-16, 33*35. 



CAMBRIDGE AND "THE GOOD" 

Monckton Milnes, Walter Raleigh, Henry Sidgwick, A* N. 
Whitehead, William Harcourt, James Clerk-Maxwell, and G. E. 
Moore, among others scarcely less famous. Forster, Lowes Dick- 
inson, Roger Fry, Leonard Woolf, Lytton Strachey, and J. M. 
Keynes were all Apostles. From the Erst the Apostles were char- 
acterized by skepticism, liberalism, and moral earnestness, as 
well as by the equally Forsterian trait of self-effacement. 8 Sidg- 
wick reported that the discussions were marked by candor, hu- 
morous sarcasm, mutual respect, skepticism, and a willingness 
to entertain views opposed to one's own. 9 Forster, in writing of 
Cambridge discussion societies on the whole, emphasizes the 
same qualities. With their allowance for whimsicality, their 
deference to "truth rather than victory/ 7 and their informal 
friendliness, the societies "represent the very antithesis of the 
rotarian spirit." (Dickinson, p. 66) 

Cambridge philosophy in Forstef s day also deserves mention 
for its relevance to the Forsterian view of friendship. When For- 
ster writes that personal relations, though never perfect, can 'liint 
at perfection" (Ibid., p. 78), he is expressing a measure of agree- 
ment with an Apostle, J. E. McTaggart, whose philosophy was 
much in vogue at the turn of the century. McTaggart believed in 
"a possible communion between individuals, each from an under- 
standing of the other's essential nature, a communion that could 
transcend individual actions and fix itself only on the person- 
ality. . . ," 10 Forster was not a student of McTaggarf s writings, 
but, as it happens, he was on close terms with two of the men 
with whom McTaggart claimed to be in "communion": Lowes 
Dickinson and Nathaniel Wedd. Dickinson, too, had a semi- 
mystical view of friendship. Like Plato and Shelley, two of his 

8 Alan Wfllard Brown, The Metaphysical Society; Victorian Minds in 
Crisis, 1869-1880 (New York, 1947), p. 2. See also Frances M. Brook- 
field, The Cambridge "Apostles" (New York, 1907). 

9 See A[rthur] Spdgwick] and Eleanor] M. Spdgwick], Henry Sidgwick; 
A Memoir (London, 1900), pp. 34! 

G. Lowes Dickinson, /. McT. E. McTaggart (Cambridge, England, 
1931), pp. 77f. The sentence is by Basil Williams, who contributed one 
chapter of this book. 

41 



CAMBRIDGE AND "THE GOOD 5 ' 

idols, Dickinson believed that the experience of love between 
two individuals has something of the divine in it. 11 Whether or 
not McTaggart's other friend, Nathaniel Wedd, shared this 
view I do not know; but he certainly could have passed along some 
of McTaggart's ideas to Forster, for he taught Forster Classics at 
King's, and it was "to him more than to anyone/' Forster says, 
"that I owe such awakening as has befallen me." (Dickinson, 

P-73) 12 , , t . 

Forster's similarities to Lowes Dickinson do not end with their 

faith in personal relations, nor even with their agreement in 
political philosophy. The two men were friends for thirty-five 
years, and though Wedd may have "awakened" Forster, Dickin- 
son's range of sympathies is suggestively close to Forster's own. 
The conjunction of skepticism and romanticism in Forster is 
anticipated in Dickinson, who might be said to illustrate both 
sides of Forster's temperament in extreme form. With McTag- 
gart, he was rigorously agnostic toward every established religion 
while aspiring, in Virginia Woolf's words, "to climb the heights 
of the metaphysical Parnassus." 18 His Shelleyan religion of 
humanity led him to seek in poetry what he no longer found in 
Christ, and to work devotedly for the founding of the League of 
Nations. Though Forster does not expect the world to be saved 
through either poetry or international law, he does admire these 
things; he has Dickinson's notion of goodness without Dickin- 
son's faith that it can be put into practice on a broad scale. 

Forster and Dickinson are also close in their attitudes to- 
ward ancient Greece. Both of them connect Greece with the 
idea of accommodating bodily passion, and both therefore look 
to Greece as a kind of antidote to Christian asceticism. Dickin- 

* J See Dickinson, After Two Thousand Years; A Dialogue Between Plato 
and a Modern Young Man (London, 1930), passim, and Forster, Dickin- 
son, pp. 37-43. 

12 The third of McTaggarf s three "communing" friends was Roger Fry, 
who was not residing in Cambridge when* Forster was an undergraduate; 
he became associated with Bloomsbury in 1910. See J. K, Johnstone, The 
Btoomsbury Group; A Study of E. M. Forster, Lytton Strachey, Virginia 
Woolf, and Their Circle (New York, 1954), p. 15. 

"Virginia Woolf, Roger Fry; A Biography (New York, 1940), p. 102. 



CAMBRIDGE AND "THE GOOD" 

son originally went to Plato (and to Plotinus and Buddhism and 
Hinduism) to satisfy his thirst for esoteric religion, but after 
about 1890 he also steeped himself in Plato's theories of educa- 
tion, politics, and ethics, (see Dickinson, pp. 42-45) Forster is 
not a Platonist he is wary of any philosophy that smacks of 
other-worldliness but he shares Dickinson's view of Plato's 
importance: "The Greeks," he says, " and Plato particularly 
understand our political and social confusion, but they are not 
part of it, and so they can help us/' (Ibid., p. 46) For both Dick- 
inson and Forster the Greeks stand for a reasonable and civilized 
acceptance of man's full nature, a circumventing of the modern 
extremes of inhuman machine-worship and morbid salvationism. 
It would seem, however, that Dickinson's importance to the 
Bloomsbury group apart from Forster was not decisive. He had 
formed, at least as early as 1901, a "Discussion Society" to which 
Forster, J. M. Keynes, and probably others among the future 
Bloomsbury writers belonged, 14 but his greatest service was to 
introduce them to McTaggart, Bertrand Russell, and G. E. 
Moore especially Moore. 15 Dickinson's thinking was in the last 
analysis a bit too vague and wishful for Bloomsbury's taste. 
Nevertheless, he was held in high respect for his integrity and 
lack of bombast, and something of his spirit may have been 
passed along. Lytton Strachey, writing to J. M. Keynes, said of 
Sir Walter Raleigh that "he belongs to the age before the flood 
the pre-Dickinsonian era which is really fatal." 16 

See Dickinson, p. 102, and R. F. Harrod, The Life of John Maynard 
Keynes (London, 1951), p. 63. Harrod corrects Forster's dating of the 
Discussion Society from 1904. 

15 See Harrod, Keynes, p. 63, and Forster, Dickinson, pp. ii5f. 

16 Quoted by Harrod, Keynes, p. in. Strachey's opinion of McTaggart, 
expressed in a pithy quatrain, shows the new generation's hardening against 
vague theologizing: 

McTaggarfs seen through God, 

And put him on the shelf; 

Isn't it rather odd 

He don't see through himself. 

Quoted by Charles Richard Sanders, Lytton Strachey; His Mind and Art 
(New Haven, 1957), p. 32. 



CAMBRIDGE AND "THE GOOD" 

It is worthwhile to bear in mind the dates of Forster's years at 
Cambridge when we consider the provenance of his ideas. The 
nucleus of what was to become Bloomsbury was formed in the 
Midnight Society, another discussion group, at Trinity College 
in 1899. Strachey, Saxon Sydney-Turner, Leonard Woolf, Thoby 
Stephen, and Clive Bell all belonged to this circle. 17 Forster, how- 
ever, had been at Cambridge for two years before these men 
arrived, and had already undergone his awakening at King's. 
Keynes noted that the future Bloomsbury writers "did not see 
much of Forster" at Cambridge; Forster was "already the elusive 
colt of a dark horse/' 18 Nor, according to Vanessa Bell, was he 
more than an occasional visitor to the later sessions in Blooms- 
bury proper. 19 Clive Bell, writing in 1956, even professed to be 
unaware that Forster had ever "been branded with the fatal 
name" of Bloomsbury . 20t The point to be drawn from these recol- 
lections is that Forster's "Bloomsbury" characteristics probably 
owe a good deal to the general Cambridge atmosphere as it was 
breathed by the "intellectual aristocracy" at the turn of the 
century. If Forster was able to exchange ideas with his Blooms- 
bury friends it was because their heritage and training gave them 
a common ground on which to meet. 

To define Forster's relationship to Bloomsbury we must of 
course decide what Bloomsbury is a question that has too fre- 
quently been oversimplified. G. E. Moore's Principia Ethica 
(1903), as everyone recognizes, is the central document for an 
understanding of Bloomsbury values. Keynes thought of Moore's 
impact on the Midnight Society as "the beginning of a renais- 
sance, the opening of a new heaven on a new earth/' 21 and 

i^ See Clive Bell, Old Friends; Penond Recollections (London, 1956), 
pp. 129!. J. M. Keynes arrived at Trinity in 1902, 
18 John Maynard Keynes, Two Memoirs, p. 81. 
* See Annan, L^Zie Stephen, p, iijn. 

20 Bell, Old Friends, p. 131. Abo noteworthy is the omission of any 
mention of Forster in Duncan Grant's reminiscences of Bloomsbury meet- 
ings at the Stephen house in Fitzroy Square. See Duncan Grant, "Virginia 
Woolf," Horizon, in (June 1941), 402-406. 

21 Keynes, Two Memow, p, 82. 

u 



CAMBRIDGE AND a THE GOOD J> 

Lytton Strachey is said to have welcomed Moore's ascendancy 
with the cry, "The age of reason has come!" 22 It appears, how- 
ever, that the Bloomsbury writers by no means allowed Moore 
to demolish their previous values, but rather accepted those 
parts of his philosophy which they were already disposed to 
believe. 

Pnncipia Ethica contains three main points. The first and 
most important is that the predicate good represents a simple, 
indefinable attribute which cannot be identified with anything 
actually existent. To equate good with pleasure, for example, as 
Mill does, or with evolution, as Spencer does, is to commit "the 
naturalistic fallacy." Instead of finding the predicate good in the 
world, we evaluate the world by reference to our instinctive and 
a priori sense of good. 23 Secondly, Moore held that the "com- 
plex wholes" of consciousness involved in the pleasures of hu- 
man affection and the contemplation of beautiful objects are 
by far the most valuable things we can know. Good states of con- 
sciousness are, in fact, "the rational ultimate end of human ac- 
tion and the sole criterion of social progress." 2 * And thirdly, 
Moore stressed the great difficulty of deciding empirically 
whether a given action will have good effects, and concluded 
that we should follow either of two courses in practical ethics. 
In cases where there is no generally accepted precedent we 
should consult our private evaluation of the situation, but other- 
wise we "can ... be confidently recommended always to con- 
form to rules which are both generally useful and generally 
practised." 25 

2 *Forster, Dickinson, p. no. See also Leonard Woolf, 'The Influence 
and Thought of G. E. Moore; A Symposium of Reminiscence by Four 
of His Friends/' The Listener, LXI, No. 1570 ( April 30, 1959), 756. 

28 Though Moore himself was a Platonist in assuming the reality of 
ethical attributes, his successful insistence on their indefinability led philos- 
ophers away from the fin-de-sibcle vogue of Platonism. The inevitable 
was Wittgenstein's assertion that ethical predicates are not only 



next ste 
indefina 



)le but linguistically devoid of meaning. 



** George Edward Moore, Prindpia Ethica (Cambridge, England, 1903), 
p. 189. 

25 ibid., p. 164. 

45 



CAMBRIDGE AND "THE GOOD* 5 

Considering these arguments as part of a total chain of rea- 
soning, we have to agree with Bertrand Russell's opinion that 
Moore's ethics were "considerably distorted" by his Cambridge 
admirers. 26 J. M. Keynes himself acknowledges this distortion: 
"There was one chapter in the Principia of which we took not 
the slightest notice/' 27 This was the chapter called "Ethics in 
Relation to Conduct," which defends ethical conformity. "We 
accepted Moore's religion, so to speak, and discarded his morals. 
Indeed, in our opinion, one of the greatest advantages of his 
religion, was that it made morals unnecessary meaning by 
'religion' one's attitude towards oneself and the ultimate, and 
by 'morals' one's attitude towards the outside world and the 
intermediate." 28 Needless to say, this is not a legitimate exten- 
sion of Moore's emphasis upon art and personal relations. 
When Keynes and his friends decided to pursue these goals 
exclusively, they were behaving in effect as though "the Good" 
were simply equatable with art or love. They were committing 
the naturalistic fallacy. 29 

In all other respects, however, Moore's impact on Blooms- 
bury was decisive. Nothing mattered, says Keynes, but passionate 
contemplation of a beloved person, beauty, or truth, "and one's 
prime objects in life were love, the creation and enjoyment of 
aesthetic experience and the pursuit of knowledge." 30 Moore's 
analysis of aesthetic enjoyment, by emphasizing acuteness of 
cognitive judgment and propriety of emotion as well as in- 
trinsic worth in the contemplated object, provided a rationale 
for the Bloomsbury emphasis on taste. Cultivating one's taste, 
indeed, seems to have had somewhat the same moral urgency 

26 See "The Influence and Thought of G. E. Moore/' The Listener, 
LXI, 756. 

27 Two Memoirs, p. 82. 
ibid., p. 82. 

2 * Moore even argues that, all else being equal, conventional ethical 
behavior is preferable to unconventional because of the good example it 
sets (see Priwxpw, p. 163). Nothing could be farther from the Bloomsbury 
fear of banality. 

80 Two Memoirs, p. 83. 



CAMBRIDGE AND "THE GOOD 3 ' 

that cultivating one's sense of duty had had for Bloomsbury's 
Evangelical predecessors. We may also note that Moore broke 
the last link connecting the Bloomsbury undergraduates to 
Utilitarianism. Both Keynes and Bell give him credit for ex- 
posing the fallaciousness of the greatest-happiness principle. 31 
He inspired them to give themselves unashamedly to self-cul- 
tivation without worrying about a hypothetical general utility. 
And, finally, Moore's peculiar kind of Socratism had an effect 
upon Bloomsbury manners. Although Moore himself was a man 
of simplicity and unworldliness, his minute concern for defini- 
tions and his habit of peremptory cross-examination were copied 
in a semifrivolous spirit and became part of the mystique of 
Bloomsbury argumentation. 

If we now ask ourselves whether Forster's ideas are in har- 
mony with Moore's, the results seem impressive. Moore's afford- 
ing a chief position to aesthetic enjoyment and personal rela- 
tions, his freedom from Utilitarian ethical standards, his lack 
of interest in a life of action, and his anti-asceticism are all de- 
scriptive of Forster. Is Forster, then, a disciple of Moore's? "It 
was only for us, those who were active in 1903," says Keynes, 
"that Moore completely ousted McTaggart, Dickinson, Rus- 
sell." 82 And Forster writes that although Moore "did carry the 
younger men by storm," he himself is "a complete outsider" to 
the nature of the influence. (Dickinson, p. no) He remembers 
"the attractive blue cloth of the binding" of Principia Ethica, 
but he misdates its publication by two years and shows no first- 
hand acquaintance with its contents. (See ibid, p. in) 

This is not to say that Moore's influence did not finally reach 
Forster, however deviously. Although most of the attitudes 
shared by Moore and Forster can be found in the early Lowes 
Dickinson, 88 the differences in intellectual emphasis between 

81 See Two Memoirs, pp. 96f., and Old Friends, p. 133. 

82 Two Memoirs, pp. 8 if. 

88 Moore's refutation of Utilitarian ethics was famous and decisive, but 
was by no means the first attempt. Dickinson's own criticisms in The 
Meaning of Good (Glasgow, 1901, pp. 63-74) belong with a tradition of 

47 



CAMBRIDGE AND "THE GOOD" 

Dickinson and Forster reveal the success of Moore's assault on 
romanticism. Dickinson's love of humanity is diminished to 
Forster's qualified trust in individuals, and Dickinson's quest for 
metaphysical truth becomes Forster's urbane curiosity, well tem- 
pered with pyrrhonism. Forster's political detachment also sug- 
gests the new generation. The Victorian sense of life as a pil- 
grimage, which Dickinson still shared (See Dickinson, p. 119), 
projected the dream of a Utopia, a City of God on earth, where 
all progress would culminate; Dickinson's Fabianism and his 
internationalism were still directed by this dream, pale and im- 
probable as it seemed in the twentieth century. The followers 
of Moore, in contrast, saw life not as a pilgrimage but as an ad- 
venture, a series of discrete experiences whose value lay in the 
immediate moment of perception or contemplation. The First 
World War, though it brought an abrupt end to whatever liberal 
dreams had survived the Gladstonian era, was not needed to 
turn Forster and his friends away from Utopian politics. The 
doctrine of seeking the Good and the Beautiful only in personal 
relations and art had already been codified for them in Prin- 
cipia Ethica whether Forster read the book or not. 

Yet if we content ourselves with pinning the tag "Blooms- 
bury" on Forster, without considering his many ties to the previ- 
ous generation, we may oversimplify his art as well as his in- 
tellect* Though he professes to disdain "the trailing garments of 
Shelley," for instance, Shelley presides like a patron deity over 
The Longest Journey, and it is Shelley who underlies his theory 
of art-for-art*s-sake. 8 * Though he speaks with amusement of 
Dickinson's inability to grasp Roger Fry's formalism, Forster 
himself has exactly the same blind spot; Fry used to take him 
to galleries because "He found it an amusing change to be with 
someone who scarcely ever saw what the painter had painted/* 
(Two Cheers, p. 131) Forster has, indeed, never allowed his 

anti-Benthamism that originated, however reluctantly, with John Stuart 
Mill in the 1830'$, 
4 See Two Chem, p. 94. 

48 



CAMBRIDGE AND "THE GOOD" 

modern taste for the concise phrase and the refined symbol to 
extinguish his old-fashioned interest in storytelling and romance. 
His novels are closer in spirit to Hardy and Meredith, the lit- 
erary idols of the turn of the century, than they are to Virginia 
Woolf. 

Nor is Forster wholly immune from the Platonism and the 
Utopianisrn that he and his generation are supposed to have 
outgrown. We should bear in mind that he is perpetuating 
the tradition of McTaggart and Dickinson, not Moore, when 
he says that personal relations can "hint at perfection"; Moore 
would have reduced such a statement to nonsense with one 
stroke. Would Lytton Strachey agree that the human individual 
is "a divine achievement," or that his temple is "the Holiness 
of the Heart's Affection"? Or that beyond our daily affairs 
"There is the Beloved Republic to dream about and to work 
for through our dreams; the better polity which once seemed 
to be approaching on greased wheels; the City of God"? 
(ibid., p. 11 ) This is really the voice of Lowes Dickinson speak- 
ing through Forster, and it is by no means a unique instance. 85 

The persistence of such atavisms in Forster may prepare us 
for the intellectual world of his novels, which is sometimes as 
remote from us as his manner is familiar. Even his most "ad- 
vanced" novel, A Passage to India, strikes a faintly archaic note; 
it re-investigates the standard Victorian questions about God 
as if they had never been pronounced meaningless by pragmatists 
and linguists. Forster's agnosticism and romanticism, those 
delicate blooms from an earlier age, have remained curiously 
hardy in our inclement century. Beneath them, apparently 
stronger than any subsequent force in Forster's life, lies the 
Cambridge of Dickinson and Moore, with its own vital contra- 
dictions between idealism and empiricism, collectivism and 
individualism, religiosity and common sense. > 

85 See, e.g., Abinger Harvest, pp. 29!., 285. 




THE LONGEST JOURNEY 

The Longest Journey (1907), which Forster has repeatedly 
called his favorite of the five novels and the one in which he 
was most deeply engaged, offers us a close view of the various and 
sometimes conflicting influences we have traced in previous 
chapters. The view is close because Forster, writing only a few 
years after his graduation from Cambridge, was involved in es- 
sentially the same position as that of his semi-autobiographical 
hero, Riclde Elliot the position of having to reconcile the se- 
questered world of his college with the demands of ordinary 
existence. The problem, however, is not simply one of "adjust- 
ment/' of compromising the donnish temperament with the 
mundane. Forster's question is whether the purposeful, indi- 
vidualistic pursuit of the Good and the Beautiful the way of 
life embodied in Lowes Dickinson and justified in ethical terms 
by G. E. Moore has a proper right to existence at all. Will the 
pages of Shelley and Plato remain legible in the glare of every- 
day? 

This is not, of course, the philosophic heart of The Longest 
Journey, but simply a question of practical ethics that Rickie 
Elliot must resolve. Cambridge does not stand for one philos- 
ophy or another, but for an attitude of inquiry, of open-minded- 
ness and zeal for truth, that is challenged by the "outside world" 
in the novel, But as a philosophical novel The Longest Journey 
undertakes to cope with still broader matters* What is a man's 
relationship to his own past and his future, and to his ancestors 
and his heirs? What, indeed, is his relation to the cosmos at 
large? Where should he place his faith? Is the world One or 
is it Many? That a novel of some three hundred pages should 

60 



THE LONGEST JOURNEY 

offer replies to these questions is evidence enough that its au- 
thor had not been out of school very long. Yet The Longest 
Journey is surprisingly rewarding when read in philosophical 
terms. The rather tame adventures of Rickie Elliot reflect a 
complex and intelligible drama between opposed views of exist- 
ence, and this drama can show us the immediate workings of 
Forster's art and thought. 

To say that a book reveals its author is not, of course, to call 
it a successful work of art; it is hard to disagree with those who 
have found The Longest Journey uneven and sometimes grossly 
clumsy in execution. 1 This line of criticism, however, has tended 
to place the blame on Forster's confused vision of life; the novel 
is alleged to be messy because Forstef s thoughts are messy. I 
should say, rather, that Forster presents an extremely dense clash 
of visions, manipulated with conscious intelligence and brought 
to a carefully prepared resolution. The novel's confusion is 
aesthetic rather than thematic. Forster has difficulty in main- 
taining his narrative distance from Rickie Elliot, who is required 
to bear meaning both as a spokesman for Forster and as a vie- 
tim of certain errors and weaknesses. Because Rickie's mind 
provides the controlling point of view behind the narrative, we 
have to rely on him for most of our knowledge of the other 
characters. Yet one of Forster's crucial points is that Rickie's 
mode of vision is a falsifying one. There is, consequently, an 
uneasy marriage of representation and irony in what Forster 
permits us to see through Rickie's eyes. Forster's method of com- 
pensating for this is to blurt out, every now and then, an exact 
confession of what he himself wants the story to mean. The 
total result is a hodgepodge of concealment and revelation that 
does not make for smooth reading. 

Forster's "confessional" passages, nevertheless, prove very 
handy for the critic. The most significant of these, Chapter 

1 See, e.g., Trilling, E. M. Forster, p. 67, and John Harvey, "Imagina- 
tion and Moral Theme in E. M. Forster's The Longest Journey" Essays 
in Criticism, vi (October 1956), 418-433. 

51 



THE LONGEST JOURNEY 

XXVIII, can be taken as a philosophical gloss on the total ac- 
tion of the book. It is a chapter unique in all of Forster's work, 
not only for its brevity but because it makes no mention of the 
characters or their immediate problems. Here is the entire 
chapter: 

"The soul has her own currency. She mints her spiritual coin- 
age and stamps it with the image of some beloved face. With it 
she pays her debts, with it she reckons, saying, 'This man has 
worth, this man is worthless/ And in time she forgets its origin; 
it seems to her to be a thing unalterable, divine. But the soul 
can also have her bankruptcies. 

"Perhaps she will be the richer in the end. In her agony she 
learns to reckon clearly. Fair as the coin may have been, it was 
not accurate; and though she knew it not, there were treasures 
that it could not buy. The face, however beloved, was mortal, 
and as liable as the soul herself to err. We do but shift respon- 
sibility by making a standard of the dead. 

"There is, indeed, another coinage that bears on it not man's 
image but God's. It is incorruptible, and the soul may trust it 
safely; it will serve her beyond the stars. But it cannot give us 
friends, or the embrace of a lover, or the touch of children, for 
with our fellow-mortals it has no concern. It cannot even give 
the joys we call trivial fine weather, the pleasures of meat and 
drink, bathing and the hot sand afterwards, running, dreamless 
sleep. Have we learnt the true discipline of a bankruptcy if we 
turn to such coinage as this? Will it really profit us so much 
if we save our souls and lose the whole world?"* 

Forstefs question here is whether we should place our trust 
in a this-worldly or an other-worldly hope, in the "spiritual coin- 
age" of man's soul, or rather in the "incorraptible" coinage of 
God, Man's soul is liable to *Tnkraptcies/' that is, it may 

2 TJw Longest Journey (Norfolk, Connecticut, n4.) f p 260. 



THE LONGEST JOURNEY 

ascribe value wrongly and is bound to be thwarted eventually 
by the mortality of the objects of its faith. On the other hand, 
if we place our allegiance in God we may find ourselves deprived 
of richness in our present experience. The metaphor of coinage 
was perhaps suggested to Forster by the Biblical phrase, "For 
where your treasure is, there will your heart be also/' Forster, 
however, would reverse the two terms: where your heart is, he 
implies, there will your treasure be. And his own decision is still 
more directly an inversion of Scripture: "Will it really profit us 
so much if we save our souls and lose the whole world?" Al- 
though he makes a token gesture of deference to the belief in 
personal immortality, Forster clearly believes that our present 
world is the only one that ought to concern us. Though we seem 
doomed to failure, there is a "true discipline of bankruptcy" 
which may somehow make our souls "the richer in the end." 
This argument bears upon all the principal characters of The 
Longest Journey, but most conspicuously upon Rickie Elliot. 
Rickie's entire career may be viewed as an effort to "reckon 
clearly." He has temperamental leanings toward both the ascetic 
and the humanistic positions, and he vacillates precariously be- 
tween renouncing life and committing himself recklessly to it. 
Neither attitude, according to Forster's gloss, will be ultimately 
profitable: Rickie must avoid asceticism and yet beware of the 
"bankruptcy" that follows from overestimating the worth and 
permanence of the people he loves. The tripartite structure of 
The Longest Journey emphasizes Rickie's problem of arriving at 
a moderate arid discerning humanism, for the names of the 
book's three sections, "Cambridge," "Sawston," and "Wiltshire," 
are representative of rival outlooks that contend for his loyalty. 
At Cambridge he gives himself to the detached life of the mind, 
as epitomized in his friend Stewart Ansell. At Sawston he is 
dominated by his wife and his brother-in-law, Agnes and Herbert 
Pembroke, whose values are those of the public school they ad- 
minister: teamwork, self-sacrifice, conformity to rules and duties. 
And in Wiltshire Rickie learns a kind of natural piety from 



THE LONGEST JOURNEY 

his half-brother, Stephen Wonham, who is so obviously a sym- 
bol of bodily freedom that some readers have refused to consider 
him a literal character at all. 3 

Rickie's problem is to bring together the "Ansell" and "Ste- 
phen" sides of himself, that is, to connect the life of the mind 
with the life of the body. Both Ansell and Stephen are indi- 
vidualists and humanists: to be loyal to them is, for Rickie, 
equivalent to being loyal to his own better self. Sawston, which 
lies between Rickie and his spiritual goal like a Cave of Error or 
a House of Pride, offers him two spurious rewards for capitulat- 
ing to "society": sexual love (from his wife Agnes) and a posi- 
tion of authority (as a schoolmaster). Rickie's discovery that 
these temptations have ruined his life might be called the 
"bankruptcy" whose true discipline he tries to learn. And 
though the effort is only partially successful for Rickie, it does 
make Stephen Wonham "the richer in the end," as we shall 
explain. 

If we take the word asceticism to mean the suppression of hu- 
man values for the sake of incorruptibility, we may say that anti- 
asceticism is the dominant theme of The Longest Journey. The 
very phrase, "longest journey," which is taken from Shelley's 
Epipsychidion, bears this force in the novel. The relevant lines 
from Shelley are these: 

I never was attached to that grerft sect, 

Whose doctrine is, that each one should select 

Out of the crowd a mistress or a friend, f 

And all the rest, though fair and wise, coiynend 

To cold oblivion, though it is in the code ,;', 

Of modern morals, and the beaten road J 

Which those poor slaves with weary fqjbtsteps tread, 

Who travel to their home among the <j||ad 

By the broad highway of the world, tod so 

* See, e.g., E. K. Brown, "The Revival of A M. Forster," Jde Review, 
acorn ( 1944), 673. 

54 



THE LONGEST JOURNEY 

With one chained friend, perhaps a jealous foe, 
The dreariest and the longest journey go. 

(ii. 149-159) 

Shelley's attitude here toward the "one chained friend" or the 
"jealous foe" is reflected in Forster's treatment of Agnes Pem- 
broke, who marries Rickie and forces him to "commend to cold 
oblivion" both Stephen and Ansell (the "fair and wise," respec- 
tively). Rickie's decline from self-loyalty and his eventual resurg- 
ence are exactly parallel to his degree of subservience to Agnes, 
and Forster reminds us at several points that we should see this 
fact in Shelleyan terms. At Cambridge Rickie comes across the 
passage from Epipsychidion and marks it "very good" in the 
margin, but two years later, when he has become engaged to 
Agnes, he rereads the lines and finds them "a little inhuman." 
(p. 147) When married, he is confident that "never again must 
he feel lonely, or as one who stands out of the broad highway 
of the world and fears, like poor Shelley, to undertake the long- 
est journey." (p. 192) And when he has finally escaped from 
Agnes he announces to Herbert Pembroke: "I never did belong 
to that great sect whose doctrine is that each one should select 
at least, I'm not going to belong to it any longer." (p. 283) 
At this point he finds a new pleasure in reading the poems of 
Shelley, "a man," Forster adds clumsily, "less foolish than you 
supposed." (p. 298) Such heavy-handed allusions leave us in no 
doubt that a simple equation is intended between Rickie's free- 
dom from Agnes and his faithfulness to what Forster (now mis- 
quoting Keats) designates as "the holiness of the heart's imagi- 
nation." (p. 240) 

It is significant that both Stephen and Ansell, despite their 
profound differences of temperament, are distrustful of Agnes 
and opposed to the "longest journey" in general. Stephen, whose 
moral creed is simply "here am I and there are you," has no 
desire to find a soulmate: "Love for one person was never to be 
the greatest thing he knew." (p. 276) He is convinced, as he 

55 



THE LONGEST JOURNEY 

puts it, that "all one's thoughts can't belong to any single per- 
son," (p. 307) Ansell's view is identical with Stephen's, though 
phrased more aphoristically: "Man wants to love mankind; 
woman wants to love one man/' (p. 97) 4 Ansell is a prophet of 
the religion of which Stephen is the living embodiment: the 
religion of freedom from spiritual constraint. Though he looks 
up at the dome of the British Museum reading room "as other 
men look at the sky" (p. 207), what he finds there is substan- 
tially what Stephen finds in the countryside of Wiltshire. Ansell 
(following George Meredith) calls it "the Spirit of Life." "My- 
self I've found it in books," he explains. "Some people find it 
out of doors or in each other. Never mind. It's the same spirit, 
and I trust myself to know it anywhere, and to use it rightly." 
(p. 209) Ansell does recognize it at his first contact with Ste- 
phen, and he does use it rightly: he persuades Rickie to accept 
Stephen as his brother. 

Stephen and Ansell have, to be sure, very different motives 
for their common attitude toward the longest journey. Stephen 
fully intends to marry and eventually he does; his only reserva- 
tion is his belief that "you can't own people." (p. 307) Ansell's 
misgivings, however, seem attributable to a basically homosexual 
temperament. His intense disapproval of Rickie's engagement to 
Agnes stems from simple jealousy as much as from his aware- 
ness that Agnes will make a poor wife. For, as he acknowledges 
to himself late in the novel, his feeling for Rickie has been one 
of love (see p. 238). In this light an early scene between Rickie 
and Ansell takes on a special meaning. The two boys have been 
lying in a meadow outside Cambridge, and Rickie gets up to 
leave in order to keep an appointment with Agnes. Ansell seizes 
him by the ankle: 

" Don't go/ he said idly, 'It's much better for you to talk 
to me/ 

* Ansell may have borrowed the thought from Byron, Don Juan f i. 
1545?., but he could also have learned it firom Lowes Dickinson. See For- 
ster, DicHnson, p. 41. 

56 



THE LONGEST JOURNEY 

" 'Lemme go, Stewart/ 

" It's amusing that you're so feeble. You simply can't get 
away. I wish I wanted to bully you/ 

"Rickie laughed, and suddenly overbalanced into the grass. 
Ansell, with unusual playfulness, held him prisoner. They lay 
there for [a] few minutes, talking and ragging aimlessly/' (p. 79) 

The nature of this "unusual playfulness" is not out of keep- 
ing with Ansell's general disaffection with women (see, for ex- 
ample, pp. 94, 98), nor with his confessed inability to cope with 
the facts of sex and birth (see p. 210). It is noteworthy that 
Agnes, who is more than a little possessive toward Rickie, is 
intensely jealous of Ansell (see p. 202). 

These suggestions, which are by no means conspicuous in the 
total pattern of the novel, nevertheless take on a considerable 
importance when we discover that Rickie, too, is unable to live 
happily with a woman. The early speculation by one of Rickie's 
Cambridge friends that he is "a little effeminate" (p. 95) and 
Ansell's admonition that he is "not a person who ought to marry 
at all" (p. 97) seem to be at least partially borne out by his 
total surrender of authority to Agnes. Rickie, who suffers from 
a hereditary defect of lameness, has never regarded himself as 
altogether fit to raise a family, and when his one daughter by 
Agnes is born lame and soon dies of pneumonia, he concludes 
that he should never again attempt to have a child. He is not, 
strictly speaking, a homosexual, but his physical handicap and 
his effeminacy are such that the more genuine strains of homo- 
sexuality in Ansel strike a responsive chord in him. 5 

Rickie's vaguely homosexual imagination, indeed, seems large- 
ly responsible for his original interest in Agnes. He is attracted 

8 In this connection one is reminded of Rickie's early exchange of letters 
with Ansell on the subject of Rickie's engagement When Ansell warns 
his friend against "the eternal feminine," Rickie answers that "this letter 
of yours is the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to me yet 
more wonderful (I don't exaggerate) than the moment when Agnes prom- 
ised to marry me," He assures Ansell that Agnes will never come between 
them, and asks rhetorically: "Can't I love you both?" (p. 98) 

57 



THE LONGEST JOURNEY 

to her not for her own sake but because he has idolized the 
athletic prowess of her dead fianc6, Gerald Dawes; a single 
glimpse of Gerald embracing Agnes becomes his introduction to 
the idea of sexual love and his permanent emblem for it (see pp. 
51-53). It is not Agnes, but the image of Agnes and Gerald 
together, that enraptures Rickie. When Gerald dies in a foot- 
ball match, Rickie forces Agnes to "mind" her loss because he 
himself minds it, and he marries her on the perverse assumption 
that both he and she will remain loyal to Gerald's memory. 
Thus Rickie interprets his role as a husband altogether vicari- 
ously. Having attached a masochistic significance to the fact 
that Gerald bullied him as a boy (see pp. 49-50), he is more 
than half willing to be bullied by Agnes, who has shared Ger- 
ald's embrace. 6 

This complicated rationale behind Rickie's marriage exposes 
his most incurable habit of thought and his greatest weakness: 
an inherent tendency to view his experience symbolically rather 
than realistically. Gerald and Agnes do not appear to him as 
human beings but as figures in an emblem of sexual passion, and 
thus he is unable to perceive the threat that Agnes poses to his 
spiritual freedom. Ansell, who lives wholly in a world of books, 
and Stephen, who is wholly "natural," are equally qualified to 
see Agnes as she is, but Rickie is blinded by his effort to equate 
the world of books to the world of nature to find fixed literary 
symbols in his everyday experience. This temptation is particu- 
larly strong in his dealings with Stephen, who is entangled in 
Rickie's sense of his own identity. Rickie's morbid temperament 
is governed by the idea of the suffering that his beloved mother 
endured at the hands of his father, a philanderer and a heredi- 
tary weakling who has bequeathed his lameness to Rickie. When 

6 A similar motive may be involved in Agnes* willingness to many 
EJdcie. She too is incapable of genuine passion apart from Gerald, but 
she has heard of Gerald's early treatment of Rickie, and "she had a thrill 
of joy when she thought of the weak boy in the clutches of the strong 
one." (p. 63) The same sadist-masochist relationship that held between 
Gerald and Rickie is resumed between Agnes and Rickie. 

68 



THE LONGEST JOURNEY 

Rickie first learns that Stephen is his illegitimate brother, he 
assumes that he and Stephen share the same father, and he 
willingly defers to Agnes' opinion that Stephen is a self-seeking 
boor. All is changed, however, when Ansell explains that Stephen 
is the son of Rickie's mother, not his father. In this revelation 
Rickie sees an opportunity of fulfilling his ambition to have a 
brother and, more importantly, to "resurrect" his dead mother. 
He and Stephen have, he thinks, "got behind right and wrong, 
to a place where only one thing matters that the Beloved 
should rise from the dead." (p. 283) 

We know from the "coinage" chapter that this effort of 
Rickie's cannot bring him out of his spiritual bankruptcy: "We 
do but shift responsibility by making a standard of the dead/' 
Nevertheless, Stephen does possess a legitimate symbolic value 
both for Rickie and in the total scheme of The Longest Journey. 
This value hinges upon the other half of Stephen's parentage. 
We learn toward the end of the novel that Mrs. Elliot's lover, 
a man designated only as Robert, was a civilized and imaginative 
fanner, a "natural man," yet a highly articulate spokesman for 
naturalness. "As he talked, the earth became a living being or 
rather a being with a living skin and manure no longer dirty 
stuff, but a symbol of regeneration. . . ." (p. 264) This im- 
plausible person is himself a symbol of man's secular vigor and 
potential decency. He rejects the Christian antithesis between 
sensual and spiritual, admitting only that love, whether illicit 
or not, is more valuable than the barren "duty" of renunciation: 
he too is among the characters who win Forster's approval by 
placing an individual notion of propriety above a social one. He 
and Mrs. Elliot run off to Stockholm to achieve their liberty, 
but, significantly, Robert drowns as the two of them "raced for 
the open sea." (p. 271) First, however, Stephen is conceived, a 
boy who is destined to have "a cloudless spirit the spirit of 
the seventeen days in which he was created." (p. 276) The 
reader need not be reminded that the actual begetting of a child 
takes something less than seventeen days, yet Forster means just 

59 



THE LONGEST JOURNEY 

what he says: Stephen's spirit is an expression of the whole un- 
dertaking of the trip to Stockholm, that is, of the symbolic rup- 
ture with society. When Stephen persuades Rickie to desert 
Agnes he performs the identical service that his father did for 
Mrs. Elliot. He intrudes the wisdom of nature into a custom- 
ridden marriage, enabling one of the partners to experience both 
the perilousness and the desirability of following "the heart's 
imagination." 



This brings us to the question of the ultimate philosophy 
projected by The Longest Journey as a whole. It is evident from 
the size and complexity of Forster's plot that he is not leading 
us to a simple "moral" about the wisdom of the heart. Nor 
could we say that Platonic or homosexual friendship is pre- 
sented as an absolute ideal. The Robert-Mrs. Elliot episode con- 
tradicts this, and Rickie correctly ascribes the failure of his 
own marriage to his shortcomings of character (see p. 313) . Nor 
can we entirely reconcile Ansell's disinterested pursuit of truth 
with Stephen's anti-intellectualism. Stephen himself, though a 
model of independence and masculinity, is by no means a perfect 
character; through most of the novel he is something of a drunk- 
ard and a sullen bully. If we are to find a unifying principle in 
The Longest Journey I think we must look beyond the immedi- 
ate moral issues to a larger question that is posed by the com- 
mon situation of the various characters. Forster's attitude toward 
this question sets the tone of the novel and establishes the most 
important connection between the characters' adventures and 
Forster's own passages of commentary. 

The central difficulty, as the "coinage" chapter suggests, is that 
of properly evaluating human life. How large is man when 
viewed against the backdrop of his universe? Is it possible, or 
even worthwhile, to uphold our private standards of value in a 
world that is indifferent to our existence? The issue is raised 
obliquely on the opening page of the book, in the form of still 

60 



THE LONGEST JOURNEY 

another question: what is real? The rather inept debate in 
Rickie's Cambridge room over the existence or nonexistence of 
an unperceived cow is, as Lionel Trilling observes, a clue to the 
novel's theme. 7 One of Rickie's friends, apparently under the 
momentary sway of Bishop Berkeley, argues that the cow ceases 
to exist when the perceiver removes his attention. Significantly, 
it is Ansell who takes the opposite stand: "Whether I'm in Cam- 
bridge or Iceland or dead, the cow will be there." (p. 11) Though 
he later denies the existence of Agnes, he does so on grounds 
that are at least superficially consonant with his original posi- 
tion. Seeing the gap between Agnes' true character and the Ag- 
nes whom Rickie thinks he knows, Ansell calls her "the sub- 
jective product of a diseased imagination." (p. 27) His point 
here is ethical rather than metaphysical, and elsewhere he is 
consistent in his anti-Berkeleyanism. Since he believes that there 
is a more or less unchanging world which exists independently 
of any human mind, and that no single person is equipped to 
perceive more than an infinitesimal fraction of this whole, he 
will not allow himself to be persuaded that his own experience 
is any less valid than another's. Unlike Rickie, he does not brood 
over the seeming isolation of Cambridge from the "great world/' 
and at one point he states his philosophy outright: 

"There is no great world at all, only a little earth, for ever 
isolated from the rest of the little solar system. The earth is full 
of tiny societies, and Cambridge is one of them. All the societies 
are narrow, but some are good and some are bad. . . . The good 
societies say, 1 tell you to do this because I am Cambridge.' The 
bad ones say, 1 tell you to do that because I am the great 
world'. . . . They lie. And fools like you [Rickie] listen to them, 
and believe that they are a thing which does not exist and never 
has existed, and confuse 'great,' which has no meaning whatever, 
with 'good/ which means salvation." (p. 77) 

Ansell's sense of value hinges upon what we might call his 
cosmology; he feels that since the universe has no distinctive 

t E.M. Forster, p. 67. 

61 



THE LONGEST JOURNEY 

character after which we can model our lives, we must develop 
a private idea of "the Good" and cling to it at all cost. It is not 
coincidental that Rickie, who expects his Cambridge ideals to 
be refuted by the "great world/' falls an easy victim to the Pem- 
brokes* philosophy that "school is the world in miniature/' nor 
that it is the unsymbolical, frankly bookish Ansell who rescues 
him from error. AnselFs notion of the Good is unclouded be- 
cause he feels no need to seek confirmation for it in the out- 
side world. 8 

One's notion of the Good need not be derived solely from 
books, however; Ansell himself confesses, as we have seen, that 
"some people find it out of doors." Robert and his son Stephen 
exemplify this possibility. This is not to say that they find nature 
itself an unmixed good or an Emersonian preceptor of moral 
truths, but simply that they find good within nature. Both Rob- 
ert and Stephen are in agreement with Ansell over the necessity 
of maintaining a human code of values in opposition to the 
blind wastefulness of nature, but at the same time their own vir- 
tues masculinity, practicality, independence of thought seem 
somehow to have been drawn from the soil. They are strong 
because their sense of the Good is contiguous with their sense 
of reality in the countryside. 

Rickie, by contrast, is burdened with two incompatible views 
of nature, one overly poetic and the other quite disillusioned and 
prosaic. His sense of beauty leads him to believe that "poetry, 
not prose, lies at the core" of the natural world (p. 201), but 
his Christian training and his own deformity, in conjunction 
with the "natural" cruelty that he witnesses among the pupils 
at Herbert Pembroke's school, convince him that nature is es- 
sentially wanton. He secretly understands that "Nature has no 
use for us: she has cut her stuff differently." (p. 78) In the suf- 

8 We may note in passing that Ansell's argument corresponds roughly 
to the main point in G. E. Moore's Prindpia Ethica, Ansell, like Moore, 
remains Platonistic in believing that ethical attributes really exist, but he 
also shares Moore's rejection of the "naturalistic fallacy" of finding these 
a priori attributes within the perceived "great world/' 

68 



THE LONGEST JOURNEY 

fering of a schoolboy he "perceived more clearly the cruelty of 
Nature, to whom our refinement and piety are but as bubbles, 
hurrying downwards on the turbid waters. They break, and the 
stream continues." (p. 221) And Stephen, too, presents Rickie 
temporarily with an instance of nature's fickleness. It seems the 
height of injustice that Stephen should be likely to perpetuate 
the worthless line of Rickie's father while Rickie himself is to 
die without an heir. Rickie shields himself from such reflections 
by seeking in his relationship with Agnes a purity altogether ex- 
empt from reality, and by composing a series of mythological 
fantasies about communion with nature stories that are con- 
vincing neither to a publisher nor to Stephen, the touchstone 
of the "natural" in The Longest Journey. 

Rickie's outlook is significantly altered, however, when he 
learns that Stephen is his mother's son, for this suggests to him 
that "natural selection" may preserve the best as well as the 
worst hereditary strains. To Rickie's emblematic imagination 
the crucial fact about Stephen is that he represents a survival 
of their wholly "spiritual" mother; his very existence strikes 
Rickie as evidence that the spiritual and the natural need not 
be contradictory. He comes to feel that we can perpetuate what 
we love only by accepting the earthly side of our lives as a legiti- 
mate fact by living within nature rather than erecting a rival 
world of impossibly sexless ideals. This is the "clear reckoning" 
that emerges from his bankruptcy. 

Stephen's own views on the natural world are far from ir- 
relevant to Rickie's philosophical problem. Although he has no 
personal grievances against nature, he wonders "what lucky 
chance had heated him up, and sent him . . . into a passive 
world." "He was proud of his good circulation, and in the morn- 
ing it seemed quite natural. But at night, why should there be 
this difference between him and the acres of land that cooled 
all round him until the sun returned?" (p. 274) His reaction 
to such doubts is in conspicuous contrast to Rickie's. Instead of 
clinging to a duaKstic theology that gives a subordinate impor- 

63 



THE LONGEST JOURNEY 

tance to the realm of nature, Stephen becomes an enthusiastic 
though inexpert freethinker: "He worried infinity as if it was 
a bone." (p. 106) 

This phase is brief, but Stephen never abandons his contempt 
for religion, and Forster plainly intends us to see his attitude as 
at once more practical and more reasonable than a Christian 
one. The point is brought home in an incident that occurs while 
Rickie and Agnes are journeying to Cadover to visit Mrs. Failing, 
Rickie's aunt. Their train, as Stephen informs them, has struck 
and killed a small child. Mrs. Failing, the Christian, taunts 
Stephen with questions about the fate of the dead child's soul. 
Stephen's "natural" conscience is horrified by such an imper- 
sonal way of thinking about death. " 'There wants a bridge/ he 
exploded. 'A bridge instead of all this rotten talk and the level- 
crossing. . . . Then the child's soul, as you call it well, nothing 
would have happened to the child at all.' " (pp. nzf.) Not 
believing, as Mrs. Failing does, that this present world is merely 
a way station to heaven or hell, Stephen places a high value on 
the preservation of life; he agrees with Forster that it will not 
profit us to save our souls and lose the world. And in this con- 
nection it is worth remembering that Stephen and Ansell share 
the same criterion for judging their acquaintances: "They must 
be convinced that our life is a state of some importance, and 
our earth not a place to beat time on." (p. 302) 

The moral victory of humanism in The Longest Journey is 
costly but unmistakably plain. Rickie dies, unable to make use 
of his "clear reckoning," but in dying he saves Stephen from 
being crushed by a train- possibly the same train that killed the 
child. It is, perhaps, the train of indifference to human life, or, 
as James McConkey suggests, the train of temporality that 
threatens to sever the human past from the human future; it 
must be "bridged" by an intelligent reverence for life. 9 The 
bridge is built both in fact and in metaphor: Stephen survives 

8 See McConkey, The Novels of E. M. Forsfer, pp. 115-117. 

64 



THE LONGEST JOURNEY 

to raise a family and to cherish the memory of Rickie and their 
common mother, and the final chapter of the novel projects a 
hope that Stephen and his children will hold their own against 
both "society" and mutability, the two enemies of humanistic 
value in The Longest Journey. The waste and decay that have 
befallen the other characters, however, make it fitting that even 
in the final scene of his happiness Stephen should be troubled 
by the ultimate metaphysical question of the novel: "He was 
alive and had created life. By whose authority? Though he 
could not phrase it, he believed that he guided the future of 
our race, and that, century after century, his thoughts and his 
passions would triumph in England. The dead who had evoked 
hjm, the unborn whom he would evoke he governed the paths 
between them. By whose authority?" (p. 326) 



The thematic weight of The Longest Journey is conveyed not 
only through the overt plot and Forster's passages of commen- 
tary, but more subtly through the manipulation of symbols. 
James McConkey is correct in arguing that the entire sym- 
bolic pattern of the novel is built around the characters' pursuit 
of uniformity and stability in a treacherously changeable world. 10 
Just as the pervasive imagery of streams and rivers is employed 
to suggest the purposeless flux of nature and the difficulty of as- 
serting our human sense of importance (as Rickie thinks, "We 
fly together, like straws in an eddy, to part in the open stream"; 
p. 78), so the imagery of chalk and chalk-pits shows us the 
other face of nature, its continuity and oneness. Ridges of chalk 
constitute "the fibres of England" (p. 147), uniting Cambridge 
and Wiltshire and implying a consistent "substratum" of natural 
impulse beneath the artificial distinctions of society. At one 
point, for example, Stephen twists Herbert Pembroke around 
and forces him to see the chalk of Salisbury Plain: "There's one 

10 See tZdL, pp. 107-117, 

66 



THE LONGEST JOURNEY 

world, Pembroke/' he insists, "and you can't tidy men out of it/' 
(pp. 3 2 5 f.) 

The humanistic theme of The Longest Journey depends upon 
our simultaneous awareness of these contradictory symbols, of 
what McConkey calls "the coexistence of unity with mutabil- 
ity." 11 As in Howards End, the central problem of the novel is 
"Only connect": only connect the past with the future, the 
mind with the body, the human with the natural. A sense of 
difficulty and peril is essential to this undertaking, for the human 
condition is itself perilous; we must recognize and acquiesce in 
our tenuous position if we are to make use of the few opportuni- 
ties for true meaning that are afforded us. This attitude is 
summed up in the posthumous words of Rickie's uncle, Anthony 
Failing, whose epigrams provide much of the moral gloss to The 
Longest Journey: "Let us love one another. Let our children, 
physical and spiritual, love one another. It is all that we can do. 
Perhaps the earth will neglect our love. Perhaps she will confirm 
it, and suffer some rallying-point, spire, mound, for the new 
generations to cherish." (p. 311) The Longest Journey is full 
of symbolic rallying-points, many of which fail to meet Forster's 
austere standard of validity. The Catholic Church at Cambridge, 
for example, "[which asserts], however wildly, that here is eter- 
nity, stability, and bubbles unbreakable upon a windless sea" 
(p. 71), is clearly disparaged, for this description comes shortly 
after Rickie has learned "once for all that we are all of us bubbles 
on an extremely rough sea." (p. 70) Sawston School is an inade- 
quate symbol for the opposite reason: by selling out to "society" 
it has failed to assign any importance to private human values. 
It is in Wiltshire, where man's life is properly related to the 
earth, that the most convincing monuments stand: Salisbury 
Cathedral and the burial mound of the Cadbury Rings (the 
"spire" and "mound" respectively in Anthony Failing's credo). 
Both are valid symbols because they assert the persistence of 

p. 117. 

66 



THE LONGEST JOURNEY 

human love amidst the forgetfulness of nature rather than apart 
from it. 12 

This criterion applies, of course, not only to the literal monu- 
ments in the novel but also to the memories and relationships 
that Rickie attempts to "immortalize," such as the voice of his 
mother, his brotherhood with Stephen, and the embrace of 
Gerald and Agnes all of which he distorts by removing them 
from their natural context. Furthermore, Riclde's shortcomings 
as a writer appear to stem from this very inability to distinguish 
between symbol and prosaic fact. Most of his extravagantly al- 
legorical short stories about communion with nature are prod- 
ucts of his "Agnes" period, when "the heart of all things was 
hidden" from him. (p. 167) The difficulty with his stories is 
identical with the difficulty in his life: he permits his imagina- 
tion to isolate a few moments of heightened experience and to 
forget the chaotic flux from which those moments were ab- 
stracted. After he has deserted Agnes and absorbed some of 
Stephen's matter-of-factness, he finds himself able to write a 
realistic novel which becomes posthumously successful. 

So far I have said little of the autobiographical implications 
of The Longest Journey, but at this point the connection be- 
tween Rickie's career and Forster's becomes too overt to be 
ignored. Rickie's allegory that literally puts Stephen to sleep 
is identical in plot with Forster's story, "Other Kingdom" (see 

12 It may seem inconsistent that Forster should praise a Christian cathe- 
dral in so un-Christian a novel, but this is not in real violation of his anti- 
asceticism. Salisbury has value because generations of simple villagers *Tiave 
found in her the reasonable crisis of their lives." (p. 281) The ascetic 
side of Christianity is epitomized in Cadover Church, whose weak, cracked 
bell reminds Rickie of his own unsturdiness. Forster's contrast of this bell 
with the rich, harmonious bell of Salisbury emphasizes the difference 
between Rickie and Stephen. It possibly also recalls a passage from Nietz- 
sche's Genealogy of Morals: 'The right of the happy to existence, the 
right of bells with a full tone over the discordant cracked bells, is verily a 
thousand times greater: they alone are the sureties of the future, they 
alone are bound to man's future." (The Philosophy of Nietzsche. New 
York, 1927, p. 751.) The sentence could stand as an epigraph for the 
whole of The Longest Journey. 

67 



THE LONGEST JOURNEY 

pp. 86, 140 ), and Rickie's other stories reflect the allegorical 
classicism of Forster's early fantasies. When Stephen drops the 
counterpart of "Other Kingdom" into a rain gutter we can 
hardly avoid concluding that a slur is intended upon Forster's 
own tales. And, in a broader sense, the thinness of RicKIe's 
stories makes us ask whether The Longest Journey may not be, 
among other things, an implicit critique of the symbolic habit 
of mind and hence a statement of dissatisfaction with Forster r s 
own overdependence on symbolism. 

In one sense, to be sure, The Longest Journey merely per- 
petuates the chief use of symbolism throughout Forster's early 
fiction. Many of the short stories present their central charac- 
ters with "symbolic moments" that must be seized and cher- 
ished. 13 Since "the years are bound either to liquefy a man or to 
stiffen him," 14 it is the part of wisdom to transfix some moment 
of youthful endeavor and freedom in which one has been loyal 
to his finest instincts. The same idea appears prominently in 
each of the early novels. Caroline Abbott in Where Angels Fear 
to Tread (1905) is "saved" from Sawston values by an unforgetta- 
ble glimpse of Gino Carella fondling his baby, and another 
character, Philip Herriton, is likewise saved by his memory of Ca- 
roline's passion for Gino. Though Philip's experience is hardly 
less vicarious than Rickie's, he has discovered "something in- 
destructible something which she, who had given it, could 
never take away." 15 And Lucy Honeychurch, the heroine of 
A Room With a View (1908), confronts her future husband in 
three such symbolic moments, each of which helps to free her 
from the hypocrisies of society. 

This justification for symbolic thinking is spelled out by 
Rickie in The Longest Journey: "It seems to me that here and 
there in life we meet with a person or incident that is symbolical. 
It's nothing in itself, yet for the moment it stands for some eter- 

18 See Collected Tdes r "The Road from Colonus/' "The Story of a 
Panic/' "Other Kingdom," "The Curate's Friend/' "The Point of It," 
and "The Eternal Moment/' 

i* 'The Point of It," &&., p. 218. 

15 Where Angels Fear to Tread (New York, 1958), p. 183. 

68 



THE LONGEST JOURNEY 

nal principle. We accept it, at whatever costs, and we have ac- 
cepted life. But if we are frightened and reject it, the moment, 
so to speak, passes; the symbol is never offered again." (p. 158; 
see also p. 289) Rickie knows whereof he speaks, for he has had 
two such moments himself: his confrontation of Gerald and 
Agnes and his meeting with Stephen just after he has learned 
that Stephen is his brother. He has, in a sense, "accepted life" 
by remembering the Gerald-Agnes emblem of sexual passion. 
His subsequent tragedy, however, implies that this abstraction, 
this fixation, of Agnes has been destructive. And this is pre- 
cisely the point at which The Longest Journey seems to mark 
a departure. It is no longer sufficient for the hero to experience 
a symbolic moment in order to be "saved"; he must also re- 
turn to the prosaic everyday world and make his peace with 
"nature." The irony of Rickie's fate is that his newfound 
interest in nature (that is, in heterosexual love) is precisely 
what prevents him from behaving naturally; his unrealistic at- 
titude toward Agnes draws him unawares into the heresies of 
Sawston. As for his second opportunity for symbolism, Agnes 
has, as she boasts (p. 159), prevented him from seizing it. 
Rickie's life from that day onward is a continual effort to recap- 
ture his true relationship to Stephen; but, since the crucial mo- 
ment has come and gone already, the effort is doomed to failure. 
And in a parallel sense, Rickie's allegories are equally doomed 
by their unnaturalness. Because they imply that communion 
with nature is merely an ideal, an intellectual concept rather 
than a possible reality, they fail to support Rickie's meager faith 
that "poetry, not prose, lies at the core" of nature. 

The significant connection between Rickie's art and Forster's 
would seem to be that both men are hampered by their latent 
skepticism about the availability of meaning. Forster is con- 
vinced, as Rickie is, that certain moments in life have a legiti- 
mate symbolic value, but he is also aware of the obverse of this: 
most moments are part of a senseless flux. While The Longest 
Journey upholds the value of true symbolism, most of its em- 
phasis is laid on the negative side. The artist's virtually im- 



THE LONGEST JOURNEY 

possible task is seen to be that of the humanist as Forster out- 
lined it in his "coinage" chapter: to seek for meaning only in 
the real world, yet somehow to forestall the "bankruptcy" of 
disillusionment. We see in Rickie's case that the only easy 
course, the retreat to allegorical fancy, is both an artistic and 
a moral error, and we infer from this that Forster is pressing 
himself toward a more realistic ideal. As a novel of ideas, we 
may say, The Longest Journey is an attempt to dramatize the 
aesthetic consequence of Forster's pessimism. 

This attempt is, to be sure, only partially successful. In fore- 
going the comic framework of Where Angels Fear to Tread 
and A Room With a View, Forster occasionally lapses into 
passages of sentimental Meredithian philosophizing, of which 
the "coinage" chapter is perhaps the most extreme example. 
The inconvenience is not permanent, however; in Howards End 
Forster regains his urbanity of tone while managing to treat 
the same serious theme he broached in The Longest Journey. 
The "goblins" of panic and emptiness that are met and tem- 
porarily exorcised in that novel are representative of the same 
misgivings that haunt Rickie Elliot, and they seem more con- 
spicuous and menacing than in the earlier novel. And in A Pas- 
sage to India, Forster's major achievement as a novelist, his 
skepticism has in a sense become the subject of the book. No 
effort is made to contradict the fear that certain knowledge 
of God is unavailable; that our friendships, though important 
to us, have no bearing on the rest of the universe; and that we 
are doomed by our nature to be victimized by prejudice and 
delusion. From insisting thinly that we ought to love one an- 
other, Forster passes to admitting that whether we do or not, 
the gods will not take note of it. Rickie Elliot's bankruptcy, 
which is presented as a result of personal limitations of character 
and vision, is generalized in A Passage to India to encompass 
the bankruptcy of any and every attempt to find human mean- 
ing endorsed by the physical universe. 



70 




THE ITALIAN NOVELS 

Although Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905) and A Room 
With a View (1908) straddle The Longest Journey in date of 
publication, they would seem to stand together in more impor- 
tant ways. The two "Italian" novels, both of which were under- 
taken before The Longest Journey was published, are similar 
in tone, in theme, and in setting. Most obviously, they are con- 
nected by their common use of Italy as a scene of action and a 
symbolic force. In these novels Forster partakes of the Romantic 
tradition of embracing Italy as the home of brilliance and pas- 
sion, of emergence from the English fog of snobbery and moral- 
ism. Like Shelley and Brpwning, Forster finds Italy rich in moral 
and emotional extremes that make the stuff of melodrama; 
Where Angels Fear to Tread treats of violence as inevitably as 
The Cenci or The Ring and the Book. Forster's dominant mode, 
however, is not melodrama but social comedy, and Italy pro- 
vides an inexhaustible fund of occasions for satire and surprise. 
The contrast in The Longest Journey between the spirits of 
Sawston and Wiltshire is resumed in the Italian novels, but it 
is much enlivened by Wiltshire's being replaced by Italy, where 
the Sawston virtues are ineffective and unknown. The English 
visitors, many of whom harbor a lurking romanticism beneath 
their sang-froid, 1 find themselves in a world that is both alien 

i Cf. Footer's "Notes on the English Character": the inhibited English 
"go forth into a world that is not entirely composed of public-school men 
or even of Anglo-Saxons, but of men who are as various as the sands of 
the sea; into a world of whose richness and subtlety they have no concep- 
tion. They go forth into it with well-developed bodies, fairly developed 
minds, and undeveloped hearts. And it is this undeveloped heart that is 
largely responsible for the difficulties of Englishmen abroad. An undevel- 
oped heart not a cold one." (Abinger Harvest, p, 5) 

n 



THE ITALIAN NOVELS 

and seductive, and the wide range of their responses from 
puritanical recoil to complete surrender generates the main 
action of both novels. 

The moral issue in the Italian novels is the familiar one of 
whether we should heed the voice of passion or that of respect- 
ability. Forster believes in passion and eventually forces his 
characters to bow to it, but he is also aware of its dangers; we 
are not asked simply to agree that the Italian heart is preferable 
to the English spine. Still, the moral world of these novels is a 
relatively simple and schematic one. In The Longest Journey 
a Hardy-like sense of tragedy broods over the entire novel; how- 
ever Rickie Elliot decides to behave, his fate is apparently con- 
trolled by complicated external forces. Here, however, Forster 
sees to it that his characters are rewarded or punished according 
to whether they adopt the right attitude toward passion. The 
universe of these novels, in other words, is comic rather than 
realistic. And this indicates what seems to me the most impor- 
tant difference between the Italian novels and the other three 
namely, that here Forstef s problematic metaphysics are not 
dialectically worked out within the plot. The "view" that Lucy 
Honeychurch must accept in A Room With a View is certainly 
a view of man's place in the universe, but her acceptance of it 
is merely symbolic; she is really concerned only with fulfillment 
in love. In neither of the Italian novels does Forster use his plot 
to extend or resolve his doubts about the underlying meaning 
of life. 

Where Angels Fear to Tread and A Room With a View are 
thus self-contained and highly polished books. Instead of the 
internal strain that one feels throughout The Longest Journey, 
with its concentration on the soul of a single character and 
its groping for an adequate philosophy of man, we have novels 
that never threaten to crack the mold of their plots. Their 
meaning is largely ethical, and Forster is quite certain about 
his ethics. His certainty manifests itself in the form of ironic 
control over narrative language and the total structure of plot. 

n 



THE ITALIAN NOVELS 

With the metaphysical background virtually eliminated, the 
social foreground can be rendered with an easy assurance of 
tone and a deft manipulation of comic adventure. Since the 
theme is now simple and clear, the reader's interest is drawn 
not to subtlety of meaning but to verbal and dramatic irony. 
Each of the Italian novels is tightly stitched together by this 
irony and by what Forster calls "rhythm" the use of repetition 
and variation to strike recurrent chords in the reader's mind. 2 
Forster himself as a moral commentator is somewhat less con- 
spicuous than he is in The Longest Journey. We are expected 
to see through the "wrong" characters without his help, and 
to turn our attention to the suspense of his well-made plots. 
The continuity of ethical concern between Where Angels Fear 
to Tread and The Longest Journey is neatly suggested in the 
fact that Sawston appears under the same name in both novels. 8 
The opposing outlook is now represented by Monteriano, an 
Italian village quite isolated from the middle-class proprieties 
that the Sawstonians will import to it. The road to Monteriano 
"must traverse innumerable flowers." (Where Angels Fear to 
Tread, p. 25) Birth, love, and death compose the visible fabric 
of existence there, and the human tendencies that are most 
efficiently thwarted in Sawston are openly expressed: extrava- 
gance, superstition, theatricality, violence, coarse democracy 
among men, and ruthless subjugation of women. These are not 
"virtues" for Forster, but they help to complete the limited pic- 
ture of reality available at Sawston. To acknowledge their right 
to existence is to loosen the grip of Sawston's provinciality, and 
hence, in Forster's private ethics, to be "saved." This is what 
Philip Herriton and Caroline Abbott, the principal English 
characters, manage to do (see ibid., p. 112). It is inevitable that 
the character who remains least vulnerable to Monteriano's ap- 

2 See Aspects of the NoveZ, pp. 235-242. 

8 We might also note that "a certain Miss Herriton" is mentioned in 
The Longest Journey (p. 174) as a suitable matron for the boardmghouse 
of Herbert Pembroke's school. This is probably the Harriet Herriton of 
Where Angels Fear to Tread. 

73 



THE ITALIAN NOVELS 

peal turns out to be the villainess of the novel. Because she 
cannot accommodate or understand passion, Harriet Herriton 
misjudges Gino Carella, the incarnation of Monteriano's spirit. 
Gino is at once brutal and tender, a bad husband but a good 
father, venal in some matters but incorruptible in others; one 
must be morally flexible to see his nature in its true colors. 
Harriet's puritanical loathing of Gino prompts her to "rescue" 
his baby from him by kidnapping it, and the result of her 
meddling is fatal. 

Reduced to schematic terms, the plot of Where Angels Fear 
to Tread consists of the gradual exposure of four Sawstonians 
to Monteriano. In each case it is Gino Carella who exercises the 
decisive influence. Lilia Herriton, who is a Sawstonian only 
by marriage and widowhood, succumbs at once to Gino's raw 
masculinity; Gino appears to her as the embodiment of a free- 
dom the Herritons have kept from her ever since she married 
their son. Lilia's view of Gino, however, is as wrong in its way 
as Harriet's. Her vulgarity of judgment prevents her from see- 
ing, until it is too late, the immense social gulf between Gino 
and herself. After their marriage Gino treats her as a slave; he 
exhibits flashes of sadism which terrify her; and he betrays the 
marriage bed without a flicker of remorse. Lilia's death in child- 
birth, and the later death of her baby during Harriet's kidnap- 
ping, are palpable symbols of the danger of thinking that the 
two opposite cultures can be easily reconciled. In retrospect we 
see that the only possibility of success for the Gino-Lilia mar- 
riage would have been a mutual interest in sex. In fact, how- 
ever, the passion of the supposedly cold Northerner, Lilia, has 
not been shared by the supposedly amorous Latin, Gino. Gino's 
"first great desire, the first great passion of his life" (p. 67) is 
his wish for a son, an heir to perpetuate his own existence 
beyond the grave. Neither Lilia nor Harriet can take account 
of this passion, for it does not belong in either of their hack- 
neyed outlines of the Italian character. 

Caroline Abbott, Lilia's chaperone in Italy, is both more in- 

U 



THE ITALIAN NOVELS 

telligent and more inhibited than Lilia; at the beginning of 
the novel, at least, she is an orthodox representative of Saw- 
ston's belief in decorum. But Monteriano and Gino in par- 
ticular eventually succeed in evoking a Caroline who was quite 
unknown in Sawston. Even at the outset she fails in her mission 
to save Lilia from being seduced by Italy, for she secretly shares 
Lilia's desire for freedom. As the novel progresses Caroline is 
both increasingly reminded of her commitment to Sawston 
morality and increasingly attracted to Gino as a man. The cru- 
cial moment in her internal debate is her realization, in watch- 
ing Gino bathing his child, that he is the very image of an ideal 
father. "The horrible truth, that wicked people are capable of 
love, stood naked before her, and her moral being was abashed." 
(p. 136) Caroline herself falls in love with Gino, not in the gen- 
teel way that might be condoned in Sawston but "because he's 
handsome, that's been enough." (p. 181) 

Caroline's whole previous frame of judgment is thus shat- 
tered; she is forced by the blossoming of her own nature to re- 
ject Sawston's pious convictions as to what is acceptable or 
objectionable. This is not to say, however, that she becomes 
free to live as she pleases. At best, she learns exactly what it is 
that she has excluded from her life; her return to Sawston at 
the end is a frank admission of the impossibility of fulfillment. 
In a tragic sense, though, her character has been enlarged and 
ennobled by what she has experienced. In the eyes of Philip 
Herriton "she seemed to be transfigured, and to have indeed 
no part with refinement or unrefinement any longer." (p. 183) 

The third visitor to Monteriano, and the one whose mind 
we are allowed to examine most closely, is Philip Herriton. His 
provinciality is more complicated than that of most Sawstoni- 
ans, for he has already travelled in Italy and pronounced it in- 
finitely superior to home. His sister Harriet is scandalized by his 
seemingly cosmopolitan disdain for the sacred institutions of 
Sawston: "The Book Club, the Debating Society, the Progres- 
sive Whist, the bazaars." (pp. 13^) It is Philip, in fact, who 

75 



THE ITALIAN NOVELS 

urges Lilia to visit Monteriano and to love and understand the 
Italian people a piece of advice he soon regrets when he learns 
how literally and fully it has been accepted. He and Harriet to- 
gether rush off to Monteriano to prevent the wedding with 
Gino (which has already taken place). Philip, however, is still 
an Italophile at heart. Like Caroline, but in a more bookish 
way, he secretly approves of Lilians marrying into the land of 
pageantry and passion, and he mentally stipulates that he will 
not oppose the match if it is really "acceptable." Gino, however, 
is not a Renaissance prince but the unemployed son of a dentist, 
and when Philip hears this his Baedeker vision of Italy is sud- 
denly closed off: 

"Philip gave a cry of personal disgust and pain. He shud- 
dered all over, and edged away from his companion. A dentist! 
A dentist at Monteriano. A dentist in fairyland! False teeth and 
laughing gas and the tilting chair at a place which knew the 
Etruscan League, and the Pax Romana, and Alaric himself, and 
the Countess Matilda, and the Middle Ages, all fighting and 
holiness, and the Renaissance, all fighting and beauty! He 
thought of Lilia no longer. He was anxious for himself: he 
feared that Romance might die." (p. 26) 

This is only the first of a series of reassessments of Italy in 
Philip's mind. At Monteriano he finds it increasingly hard to re- 
main disillusioned, until one day he finds that he agrees entirely 
with Caroline's low opinion of Sawston. "There is no power 
on earth," he declares at this stage, "that can prevent your 
criticizing and despising mediocrity nothing that can stop 
you retreating into splendour and beauty into the thoughts 
and beliefs that make the real life the real you/' (p. 78) This 
dictum, which is the heart of AnselFs advice to Rickie Elliot 
throughout The Longest Journey, goes along with an acceptance 
of Monteriano as a romantic image of the buried life; Philip, 
like Rickie in his dell at Madingley, is fortifying himself to re- 
sist the spurious "great world" of Sawston. Again, however, like 
Rickie, he finds himself caught up in Sawston's hypocrisies, and 

76 



THE ITALIAN NOVELS 

after only seven months at home he has lost his sense of romance 
once more. (pp. 79-81) Now when he is charged to return to 
Monteriano to bribe Gino into giving up his baby, he goes as a 
loyal agent of his sister. 

This time, however, Philip and Gino meet entirely on Gino's 
ground, in circumstances such that the vulgarity and irresistible 
charm of Monteriano are inseparable. Philip has been prepared 
to revise his low opinion of Gino by the simple fact of Caroline's 
having told him that Gino admires him; flattery leads him to 
conclude that "romance had come back to Italy; there were no 
cads in her; she was beautiful, courteous, lovable, as of old/' 
(p. 111) Though there is little that is courteous or beautiful 
in the opera performance Philip witnesses that night, there is 
much that is lovable. His reaction to the noisy, ugly, but ef- 
fusively human spectacle is the reverse of Harriet's, and when 
Gino spies him and insists that he desert Harriet's box to join 
him, Philip delightedly agrees. The episode is an hilarious sym- 
bolic tug-of-war between Sawston and Monteriano, and, equally, 
between natural self-expression and snobbish decorum. Mon- 
teriano's victory is unequivocal. From this point on Philip is 
sympathetic with Gino, and though he fails to oppose Harriet 
strongly and hence fails to prevent the disastrous kidnapping, 
he remains on Gino's side even after Gino in his grief has at- 
tempted to murder him. The scene of this assault ends with a 
tableau of Caroline holding the bereaved Gino's head upon her 
breast. In taking note of the elemental compassion and dignity 
of her role, Philip becomes assured "that there was greatness in 
the world. . . . Quietly, without hysterical prayers or banging 
of drams, he underwent conversion. He was saved." (p. 173) 
Though his worship of Caroline is not reciprocated (any more 
than is Caroline's love for Gino) both he and Caroline have 
found in Monteriano a sense of life's possible majesty. 

The fourth visitor is Harriet, who has, in Philip's description, 
"bolted all the cardinal virtues and couldn't digest them." (p. 
13) She alone remains immune to Monteriano and hostile to 

77 



THE ITALIAN NOVELS 

Gino, and Forster will not let us forget that it is her Low-Church 
fervor, her insensitivity to all distinctions save moral ones, that 
blinds her. She typifies what Caroline calls the "petty unselfish- 
ness" (p. 76) of Sawston; her basic flaw is simply to be "the same 
in Italy as in England/' (p. 114) Inspired by the Old Testa- 
ment* and looking "like some bony prophetess Judith, or 
Deborah, or Jael" (p. 160), she steals Gino's baby. The baby 
literally suffocates in her hands. The overturning of her carriage 
is the overturning of narrow Sawston morality, and her subse- 
quent nervous collapse is the collapse of Sawston complacency 
when confronted by too sudden and too brilliant an exposure to 
reality. 

The scene of the crash, which is the dramatic catastrophe 
of the novel, is packed with "rhythmical" elements that draw 
together the main thematic strands. When Philip, who is tech- 
nically innocent of the kidnapping, discovers that Harriet is 
holding Gino's swaddled baby, he recalls that he has last seen 
the baby "sprawling on the knees of Miss Abbott, shining and 
naked, with twenty miles of view behind him, and his father 
kneeling by his feet." (p. 160) The recollection provides a stark 
effect of chiaroscuro, for now Gino and Caroline have been re- 
placed by Harriet, the stiff and spinsterish enemy of life; there 
is no "view" in either sense of the word; the baby is not naked 
but heavily wrapped, not bronze but nearly invisible in the wet 
darkness. Furthermore, it is crying inaudibly, not yelling as in 
the other scene; we are reminded of Gino's assurance to Caro- 
line, "If he cries silently then you may be frightened/' (p. 138) 
Even the olive groves outside Monteriano, which have previous- 
ly been described as "terrible and mysterious" (p. 56), contribute 
to the air of disaster here. They are only partly visible in the 
autumnal rain as the death carriage reels past them, but they are 
felt as a kind of insidious force of retribution. Italy is about to 

4 Harriet leaves for the kidnapping with her Bible open to Psalm 144:1; 
""Blessed be the Lord my God who teacheth my hands to war and my 
fingers to fight." (ibid., p. 157) 

78 



THE ITALIAN NOVELS 

show its displeasure with those who have been insensitive to its 
full-bodied life. Violets have previously been identified with pas- 
sion, and the baby dies in "that little wood where violets were so 
plentiful in spring." (p. 162) 

Rhythmical elements of this sort can be found on virtually 
every page of Where Angels Fear to Tread, though rarely with 
this degree of concentration. Wherever Forster's "rhythms" be- 
come really conspicuous, they verge on symbolism. Such, for 
example, is his mention of one of Monteriano's medieval tow- 
ers, which is said by Philip to reach up to heaven and down to 
hell. Philip adds, all too pointedly, "Is it to be a symbol of the 
town?" (p. 113) Later, just when Harriet is snatching the baby, 
Philip gazes vacantly at this tower: "He could only see the base, 
fresh papered with the advertisements of quacks." (p. 157) The 
reminiscence here is subtle; not only do we recall the previous 
reference to "heaven and hell," but we are also meant to see 
an identity between petty quackery and Harriet's Christian 
zeal. 

The "internal stitching" of Where Angels Fear to Tread ex- 
tends from the very dimmest threads such as Gino's identical 
stance before menacing his wife and before really attacking 
Philip (see pp. 58, 168) to obvious "literary" themes, such as 
the occasional references to the "New Life" (Dante's La Vita 
Nuova) that Italy affords. Occasionally, too, a seemingly off- 
hand quotation will have a serious thematic relevance. One of 
Gino's first actions in the novel is to recite the opening lines 
of the Inferno (p. 32), and we later remember that each of the 
principal characters is more or less "in the middle of the journey 
of our life"; that two of them, Philip and Harriet, "come to 
themselves in a dark wood" (where the baby is killed); and 
that "the straight way is lost" to every character until the drama 
has been acted through. Such allusive subtlety, I repeat, can 
only succeed in a work whose themes and authorial point of 
view are under perfect control from the beginning. 

79 



THE ITALIAN NOVELS 

Lionel Trilling is right in comparing Where Angels Fear to 
Tread to The Ambassadors, both novels being concerned with 
"the effect of a foreign country and a strange culture upon in- 
sular ideas and provincial personalities." 5 The comparison can 
be worked out in considerable detail so far, indeed, that a 
direct influence of James's novel on Forster's seems possible. 
Philip Herriton's education is close to Lambert Strether's in 
many ways. Both men come from a small town that is ridden 
by a Calvinistic fear of sex, and both turn against this quality 
in the course of a half-hearted mission to rescue a fellow- 
countryman from seduction by a European. Both, too, fall short 
of fully remodelling their lives according to their new, more 
liberal picture of human possibility though both of them 
briefly entertain this ambition in the form of contemplating 
marriage to a woman who shares their point of view. They re- 
turn whence they came, resigned to living in surroundings which 
they no longer consider sufficiently various or vital. Further- 
more, Strether's incessant shifting of his attitude toward Paris 
is matched by Philip's toward Monteriano; they alternately 
overestimate and underestimate the foreign culture until at 
last they can accept its crude and beautiful elements together. 

Thus the most important similarity of all is that Strether 
and Philip reach an understanding of what Forster designates 
in The Longest Journey as good-and-evil the enormous moral 
complexity of the world. The concern for rectitude that is ex- 
aggerated in Sawston and Woollett cannot be altogether dis- 
carded, nor can the secularity of Monteriano and Paris; both 
must be retained if one is to be faithful to the truth of things. 
Yet Strether and Philip, being passive intellectuals by nature, 
are aware that life cannot be seen steadily and whole. They 
are paralyzed by the very magnitude of what they have learned, 
and their return to Woollett and to Sawston is an admission that 
the whole life of man cannot be mirrored in a single limited 

8 Trilling, E. M. Forvter, p. 52. 

80 



THE ITALIAN NOVELS 



existence. As Philip sees it: "Life was greater than he had sup- 
posed, but it was even less complete. He had seen the need for 
strenuous work and for righteousness. And now he saw what 
a very little way those things would go." (p. 177) 



If A Room With a View (1908) is more frankly comic in 
plot than Where Angels Fear to Tread, it is quite equivalent 
in theme; in fact, the later-published novel is the more obvi- 
ously connected to Forstefs serious philosophy. George Emer- 
son, the hero, has a "view" in the sense that he is concerned 
over man's apparent tininess and isolation in the universe; he is 
obsessed by the sort of awareness that Philip Herriton seems on 
the brink of acquiring at the very end of Where Angels Fear 
to Tread, and which Rickie, Ansell, and Stephen all have in 
The Longest Journey. Cecil Vyse, the unsuccessful suitor who 
is the butt of much of Forster's humor in the present novel, has 
no view at all; and Lucy Honeychurch, the heroine, ratifies 
George's view when she decides to marry him instead of Cecil. 
In this innocuous sense A Room With a View is a philosophical 
novel; and, indeed, this level of reference gives an unorthodox 
twist to the traditional comedy of manners. In most works of 
this genre the humor derives from the failure of certain charac- 
ters to fulfill their social roles, whereas here the comic charac- 
ters are precisely those who take society too seriously. The 
only ones who survive Footer's satiric barbs are those whose 
"view" enables them to see through the social code and recog- 
nize their enduring relationships to nature and their fellow men. 

These relationships are defined for us quite dogmatically by 
George Emerson's father, whose role is comparable to Anthony 
Failing's in The Longest Journey. Mr. Emerson, as we might 
expect, prefers the unconscious life of instinct to the repressions 
of society. His humanism, like Mr. Failing's, is sharpened by a 
romantic sense of doom. He and George agree "that we come 

81 



THE ITALIAN NOVELS 

from the winds, and that we shall return to them; that all life 
is perhaps a knot, a tangle, a blemish in the eternal smooth- 
ness." 8 Although this reflection fills George with adolescent 
Weltschmerz, it makes his father only more determined to 
assert the Spirit of Life. George's despair represents the state 
of mind of, say, Mill and Carlyle in their period of disillu- 
sionment with human hopes, while the ebullient Mr. Emer- 
son represents the stage of recovery and new-found faith in 
humanity. His language on this subject is actually borrowed 
from Sartor Resartus: he asks Lucy to help George realize 
"that by the side of the Everlasting Why there is a Yes a 
transitory Yes if you like, but a Yes." (p. 49) 

Our awareness of the Everlasting Why in A Room With a 
View makes "society" appear not merely undesirable but posi- 
tively sinister; by providing an illusion of completeness to lives, 
such as Lucy Honeychurch's, that are actually very constricted, 
society obscures the pressing need for sincerity and fidelity to 
instinct. The novel's happy conclusion, while anticipated as 
the proper ending to a comedy, is also a last-minute rescue from 
real disaster. In accepting George Emerson, Lucy effectively re- 
signs from "the vast armies of the benighted, who follow neither 
the heart nor the brain, and march to their destiny by catch- 
words." (pp. 265^) 

It may be objected that this way of treating a rather frothy 
social comedy is disproportionately solemn. I agree. The dis- 
proportion, however, already exists within A Room With a View. 
While Forster wisely refrains from adopting too much of the 
Emersons* tone of profundity, their philosophy remains the 
thematic center of the book. Forstefs sympathy with it is dis- 
guised, however flimsily, in his comic narrative manner. Unlike, 
say, D. H. Lawrence, he does not strike out directly at the social 
restraints that are keeping his heroine from self-fulfillment. 
Rather, he allows the code of the intolerant English tourists to 

8 A Room With a View (Norfolk, Conn., n.d.), p. 49. 



THE ITALIAN NOVELS 

provide an easy, though false, interpretation of the plot. We 
are not deceived by this technique for a moment, but we are 
grateful for having it; it keeps the novel on a keel of good- 
humored irony that is sometimes menaced by the weighty sin- 
cerity of the Emersons. 

When we look at Forster's setting, characters, and plot with- 
out considering the Emersons' flights of agnostic religiosity, we 
find the elements of a thoroughly traditional love-comedy. The 
background of Florence, Fiesole, and rural England is appropri- 
ate for both romance and the exercise of snobbery. Lucy is a two- 
dimensional heroine; if we simply remember that she is a pretty 
girl who would like to be more passionate and honest than she 
is allowed to be, we have a key to everything she says and does 
in the novel. Stripped of his aphorisms and, in one scene, of 
his clothes George Emerson is an acceptably normal suitor, 
against whose attractive openness Cecil Vyse is seen as a stock 
example of the priggish rival. Nor is Lucy wanting in well- 
meaning friends and relations to help her undervalue the hero 
until the proper moment for reversal. The opposition of per- 
sonalities is so bright that the plot, aided by a series of improba- 
ble comic coincidences, unfolds itself with a neat inevitability, 
in patent contradiction to the Emersons' opinion that "things 
don't fit." (p. 49) 

This plot revolves around the familiar symbolic opposition 
between geographical influences, but less clearly so than in 
Where Angels Fear to Tread. The environs of Florence are suf- 
ficiently romantic and evocative of passion, but, on the other 
hand, so is the Surrey estate of the Honeychurches, and the 
"Gino" of this novel is George Emerson, an Englishman. It is 
also noteworthy that Lucy's upbringing has not been especially 
prudish or hypocritical. If we ask, then, what is the repressive 
force that opposes fulfillment for Lucy, the answer is not Eng- 
land but English Christianity or, more precisely, watered-down 
English Puritanism. 

83 



THE ITALIAN NOVELS 

Two Anglican priests, for example, play important roles in 
the general conspiracy to keep George and Lucy apart. The 
chaplain in Florence, Mr. Eager, is a pious fraud who succeeds 
in turning Lucy away from the Emersons early in the novel. 
George and his father have volunteered to trade their rooms in 
a Florentine pensione with Lucy and Charlotte Bartlett, her 
cousin and chaperone, so that the two ladies can have a view of 
the city, and this offer is accepted after Charlotte's exaggerated 
concern for propriety has been appeased. Lucy encounters 
George Emerson twice more by chance and finds him more in- 
teresting than she cares to admit; on the second occasion she 
half-willingly submits to a passionate kiss. By this time, how- 
ever, the Reverend Eager has told Charlotte and Lucy what 
he knows about the Emersons. Not only are they Socialists, 
disbelievers, and the descendants of laborers, but Mr. Emerson 
is a criminal as well. He has "murdered his wife in the sight 
of God." (p. 90) The effect of this innuendo is to make the 
Emersons more appealing to Lucy; she cannot believe the ac- 
cusation but it adds to the romantic air of Florence, "a magic 
city," she thinks, "where people thought and did the most 
extraordinary things." (p. 91) Lucy's instinctive fair-mindedness 
is also activated by this slur on the Emersons, and she unknow- 
ingly begins to take their part. The ultimate result of Mr. Eager's 
words is the reverse of what he intends: Lucy discovers that it 
was Mr. Eager himself, not Mr. Emerson, who was the "mur- 
derer"; he harried Mrs. Emerson to death by convincing her that 
her son George had contracted typhoid fever as a result of his 
not having been baptized. 

The other priest, Mr. Beebe, takes an opposite role through 
most of the novel. At the beginning he mediates the exchange 
of rooms over Charlotte's protest, and he is the organizer of 
the picnic that ends in the sudden embrace. He is tolerant, 
sympathetic, and witty so much so, remarks Lucy indiscreetly, 
that "no one would take him for a clergyman." (p. 23) Toward 
the end of the novel, however, we come to suspect that his 

84 



THE ITALIAN NOVELS 

humanism is only skin-deep. His reaction to the breaking of 
Lucy's and Cecil's engagement is revealing: "His belief in 
celibacy, so reticent, so carefully concealed beneath his tolerance 
and culture, now came to the surface and expanded like some 
delicate flower. 'They that marry do well, but they that refrain 
do better/ So ran his belief, and he never heard that an en- 
gagement was broken off but with a slight feeling of pleasure/' 
(p. 284) r This secret reasoning would appear to be harmless, 
since the reader, too, is glad the engagement is over, but another 
circumstance casts a darker light on it. Mr, Beebe has just con- 
ferred with Charlotte over the necessity of Lucy's embarking 
at once for Greece, and Mr. Beebe, not knowing that Charlotte's 
motive is a desire to thwart George Emerson, has agreed to 
plead this cause with Mrs. Honeychurch. At the last minute 
Mr. Emerson meets Lucy in Mr. Beebe's rectory and forces her 
to see that she loves George and must marry him, but Mr. Beebe 
tries to prevent the meeting and nearly succeeds. This amiable 
and seemingly harmless man becomes dangerous in the crucial 
scene of the novel; and, of course, it is his Christian distrust 
of the body that lies behind his action. 

The anti-Christian theme of A Room With a View applies 
to Charlotte and Cecil, too, but in their cases a lurking asceti- 
cism is indistinguishable from enslavement to social form. 
Charlotte's puritanical education has kept her from any notion 
of possible comradeship between the sexes, and she does her 
best to drive Lucy into a barren spinsterhood like her own. 
Some of her obstructive advice, such as her refusal at first to ac- 
cept the Emersons' rooms, springs merely from a respect for 
decorum; but later, when she begins to see the seriousness of 
George's feeling for Lucy, she deliberately attempts to turn Lucy 
against him. It is she who interrupts the embrace on the hill- 

7 Is it possible that Mr. Beebe's position is homosexual as well as doc- 
trinal? "Girls like Lucy were charming to look at, but Mr. Beebe was, 
from rather profound reasons, somewhat chilly in his attitude towards the 
other sex, and preferred to be interested rather than enthralled." (ibid., 

P- 57) 

86 



THE ITALIAN NOVELS 

side near Fiesole: "The silence of life had been broken by Miss 
Bartlett, who stood brown against the view." (p. no) And much 
later, after George has kissed Lucy again, Charlotte silently pre- 
sides over a scene in which Lucy, bewildered and angry, de- 
mands that George never see her again. 

Before the end, however, Charlotte unexpectedly betrays a 
change of heart. Just as Mr. Beebe turns out to be less tolerant 
than we expected, Charlotte suddenly appears more so; she 
overrules his desire to keep Lucy from Mr. Emerson in the rec- 
tory, thus providing Lucy with the occasion for recognizing her 
love for George. The reversal, like Mr. Beebe's, adds a hint of 
complexity to an otherwise flat character, but it is not at all 
inconsistent with the novel's theme. If Charlotte has really 
wanted George and Lucy to marry, as George believes, it is 
because she is "not withered up all through" (p. 318) because, 
that is, she retains a human spark which religion and society 
have not yet snuffed out. 

Cecil, though he has nothing to say on the subject of re- 
ligion, is clearly the product of a "Christian" milieu. His snob- 
bery and bookishness are personal traits, but they go to make 
up an asceticism as rigid as Mr. Beebe's. The very first descrip- 
tion of him makes this clear: 

"He was mediaeval. Like a Gothic statue. Tall and refined, 
with shoulders that seemed braced square by an effort of the 
will, and a head that was tilted a little higher than the usual 
level of vision, he resembled those fastidious saints who guard 
the portals of a French cathedral. Well educated, well en- 
dowed, and not deficient physically, he remained in the grip of 
a certain devil whom the modern world knows as self-conscious- 
ness, and whom the mediaeval, with dimmer vision, worshipped 
as asceticism." (p. 136) 

This image of Cecil as a medieval figure is preserved through- 
out the book; the last chapter, in which George and Lucy are 
seen together in an earthly paradise that Cecil would have 
found disgusting, is entitled "The End of the Middle Ages/' 

86 



THE ITALIAN NOVELS 

Unlike George, who is so unchivalrous that he enjoys beating 
Lucy at tennis, Cecil is punctiliously courteous to every woman; 
"The only relationship which Cecil conceived was feudal: that 
of protector and protected/' (p. 235) In this he agrees with 
Charlotte, who tells Lucy that woman's role is not to participate 
in things but to exercise influence "by means of tact and a 
spotless name/' (p. 67) 

Forster of course regards this theory as pure cant. It is sweet, 
he says, to be chivalrous to one's wife when she has cooked the 
dinner well, "But alas! the creature grows degenerate. In her 
heart also there are springing up strange desires/' (p. 68) The 
so-called Eternal Woman begins to feel a need to experience 
the world directly as her transitory self; she is a sentient, curious 
person, not a symbol of purity. Forster believes in absolute sexual 
equality, though not, incidentally, in "emancipation" as a way 
of life. The "emancipated" woman in A Room With a View, 
Miss Lavish, is a lady novelist whose efforts at daring produce 
only a fidgety romanticism. It is worth remembering that Lucy, 
who finally embodies Forster's idea of the happy modem woman, 
is last seen in the act of mending her husband's socks. 

What Forster does want for woman is equality within a 
relationship of passionate love. This is what Lucy seems to ob- 
tain with George, who is aware of the overbearing tendency 
in his own temper and is determined to keep it in check (see 
p. 254). The marriage promises to be successful at least as long 
as the partners share a tenderness springing directly from physi- 
cal love. "Passion is sanity" (p. 298), as Mr. Emerson declares; 
or again, "love is of the body; not the body, but of the body." 
(p. 307) Lucy by the end of the novel has learned what Rickie 
Elliot tried to learn and what Caroline Abbott and Philip Her- 
riton were shown in Monteriano. Mr. Emerson's philosophy has 
triumphed: "He had robbed the body of its taint, the world's 
taunts of their sting; he had shown her the holiness of direct 
desire." (p. 311) 

87 



THE ITALIAN NOVELS 

The moral of A Room With a View, then, is utterly simple: 
throw away your etiquette book and listen to your heart. The 
point is made with even less qualification than in Where Angels 
Fear to Tread, where Lilians fate reminds us that the heart, too, 
can be mistaken. Like the earlier novel, A Room With a View 
gets its complexity not from theme but from comic tangles and 
the interpenetration of "rhythms." Many of the same devices, 
indeed, are carried over. In both novels the Italian countryside 
has symbolic value. The violets of passion outside Monteriano 
reappear on the hillside where George and Lucy first embrace: 
"Violets ran down in rivulets and streams and cataracts. . . ." 
(p. no) This terrace of flowers, explains Forster, "was the well- 
head, the primal source whence beauty gushed out to water the 
earth" (p. no), an image of obvious sexual meaning. In subse- 
quent chapters Lucy associates the Emersons with violets, 
though she cannot remember why; Charlotte recalls that the 
carriage driver who brought Lucy to George had a violet be- 
tween his teeth (p. 223); and flowers in general are in evidence 
when passion is in question. 8 

In both novels, too, the passage from spring to late autumn 
has an emblematic meaning. In the Italian sunshine passion is 
always imminent, but the threat of cold moralism becomes 
more oppressive as winter approaches. Toward the end of A 
Room With a View, while Lucy seems on the brink of per- 
manent spinsterhood, the blustering weather reflects her danger. 
Windy Corner, her home, lies like "a beacon in the roaring 
tides of darkness." (p. 288) Lucy herself is so confused that she 
fears confidences, "for they might lead to self-knowledge and 
to that king of terrors Light" (p. 291) The reader is hardly 
aware that the first of these images has a physical basis, the 

* The same device appears in The Longest Journey with these overtones. 
When the elder Mr. Elliot is deserted by his passionate wife, he becomes 
aware that bis drawing-room is 'Tittered with sweet-peas. Their colour got 
on his nerves. . . He tried to pick them up, and they escaped. He trod 
them underfoot, and they multiplied and danced in the triumph of sum- 
mer like a thousand butterflies." (The Longest Journey, p. 269) 

88 



THE ITALIAN NOVELS 

stormy weather, while the second does not. When Lucy is 
rescued she is both metaphorically and literally eligible to re- 
turn to the Italian spring, where we find her at the end. Forster 
has worked the pathetic fallacy for all it is worth. 

Typical of Forster' s ingenuity with rhythms in this novel is 
his handling of the parallel images of music and water. When 
Mr. Beebe predicts of Lucy that "the water-tight compartments 
in her will break down, and music and life will mingle" (p. 144), 
he is joining two elaborate sets of metaphors. Lucy's playing 
of Beethoven sonatas, expressing passion and '"Victory" rather 
than technical skill (see, for example, pp. 52f.), becomes equated 
with her self-fulfillment. When, for example, she ventures into 
the streets of Florence, half-hoping to meet someone like George, 
Mr. Beebe explains disapprovingly, "I put it down to too much 
Beethoven." (p. 66) When she does find George and hears him 
declare fervently, "I shall want to live, I say," Lucy "contem- 
plated the River Arno, whose roar was suggesting some unex- 
pected melody to her ears." (p. 76) 9 And at the very end, when 
the newlyweds have heard a song that "announced passion re- 
quited, love attained," the sound of the song becomes replaced 
by that of the Arno, "bearing down the snows of winter into 
the Mediterranean." (p. 318) 10 

As in Where Angels Fear to Tread, the scenes of climactic 
import tend to bind up the rhythms that ran separately through 
the rest of the novel. The murder-scene in the Piazza Signoria 
is such an occasion; it is Lucy's introduction to violence and 
drama, to the passionate self she has not yet recognized. The 
most obvious symbol here is a photograph of Botticdlf s "Birth 

9 Cf. Rickie's feeling at the moment of his discovering sexual passion: 
"Music flowed past him like a river. He stood at the springs of creation 
and heard the primeval monotony." (The Longest Journey, p. 52) 

10 One might also mention the use of water imagery to play upon the 
idea of true and false baptism. George has not had a Christian baptism, 
but he gets a pagan one in a mysterious pool near Windy Corner, where 
his worldly salvation is to be effected; and we may recall, when we find 
George immersed in this rite, that on the Fiesole hillside he had looked 
'like a swimmer who prepares." (ibid., p. no) 



THE ITALIAN NOVELS 

of Venus" which Lucy carries until it becomes bloodied and is 
dropped in the Arno by George. 11 Love and death, the realities 
cloaked by suburban religion, are emblematically joined, and 
the link is strengthened by the dying man's turning to Lucy 
"as if he had an important message for her." (p. 70) The mes- 
sage would seem to be that it is better to bring your passion out, 
even if it is murderous, than to remain unaware of its presence. 
When the driver on the Fiesole picnic conducts Lucy to George, 
Forster comments: "He alone had interpreted the message that 
Lucy had received five days before from the lips of a dying man." 
(p. 112) 

There is, of course, no pretense of novelistic plausibility in 
devices of this sort. The carriage-driver's "interpretation" of 
words he never heard is purely a thematic gloss on Forster's 
part, a little nudge and wink at the reader. And, in a broader 
sense, the whole of A Room With a View is in the grip of 
Forster's preoccupation with theme. The scenery, the weather, 
the minor characters, and the apparent chances of plot are as 
rigidly governed by theme as in any novel by Henry James. It is 
certainly wrong to say of A Room With a View, as H. J. Oliver 
says of all Forster's novels, that its plot fights a losing battle 
with its characters. 12 Both plot and characters are mastered by 
Forster's desire to point a psychological moral. When George, 
for example, appears from nowhere to catch the fainting Lucy 
at the murder-scene, when the two of them are suddenly face 
to face on the hillside, and when they meet again at Windy 
Corner, we do not imagine that we are witnessing a series of 
realistic coincidences. On every occasion Lucy's passion de- 
mands that George appear; he is conjured up by her need of 
him. It is in this spirit, too, that Philip encounters Gino at 
the opera in Where Angels Fear to Tread. In these novels Fors- 
ter is liberally indulging the dramatist's prerogative of seeing 

11 An analysis of the mythological aspects of this scene is given on pp. 
13 iff. below, 
i* See The Art of E. M. Forster (London and New York, 1960), p. 17. 

90 



THE ITALIAN NOVELS 

that his events of plot work harmoniously with his gradual un- 
raveling of theme. 

The technical virtuosity of the Italian novels is bound to- 
gether with their final narrowness of appeal. It is not that Forster 
resorts to improbable devices of plot one could find the same 
practice in any of the other novels as well but that the uni-* 
verse suggested by either of these works is no larger than the 
plot it contains. Where Angels Fear to Tread and A Room 
With a View are delightful books, but they do not attempt to 
touch us deeply or to recast our idea of the world's meaning. 
Their success, despite the bitter catastrophe in Where Angels 
Fear to Tread, is comic success; and Forster's career was to bring 
him a broader and more difficult mode of success in his two 
final novels. 



91 




THE COMIC SPIRIT 

Forster's preoccupation as an artist, as we saw in The Longest 
Journey, has been with finding a viable symbolism. The sym- 
bolist wants to see universality and timelessness within his 
temporal experience, but he runs the risk of shallowness when 
this desire presses him too urgently. He must learn to "immor- 
talize" only those moments in which the real world is naturally 
suffused with meaning. The trouble with Rickie Elliot's short 
stories, and equally with Forster's own, is an overbalance of 
meaningfulness at the expense of represented life a prepon- 
derance of "unearned" symbolism. That this imperfection is less 
conspicuous in Forster's novels is largely due, I think, to the 
operation of a contrary feeling, his sense of the comic. Comedy 
provides the counterweight to keep the symbolist from slipping 
too far toward allegory; it continually refreshes his awareness of 
the world's intractability to private patterns of meaning. 

In saying this I do not mean that comedy and symbolism, 
taken as literary methods, are opposites. Forster's Italian novels, 
with their purposeful selectivity of detail and their almost geo- 
metrical structure, are also highly comic; the recurrent symbols 
or rhythms can appear with equal plausibility in scenes of trag- 
edy and of farce. This is made possible, however, by the fact 
that Forster's sense of irony governs the world of these novels. 
To a great extent the meaning he wants to create is ironic 
meaning; the significant moments are usually the ones that 
confound our surface expectations and those of the comically 
wrong-headed characters. A fictional world of this kind is patent- 
ly artificial, for its details are chosen for their usefulness to the 
author's practical jokes. There is no urgency here to the char- 
acters' task of extracting "symbolic moments" from the chaotic 



THE COMIC SPIRIT 

world, for the represented world is not chaotic at all; it has al- 
ready been severely trimmed to suit the purpose of the plot. 

The opposition between symbolism and comedy pertains 
rather to the author's own search for meaning. If he is a hu- 
manist in the sense we have described a man who disbelieves 
in all authority and order not verified by himself he will be 
tempted to perceive the world in terms of his private values in 
order to protect himself from total disorder. As an artist he 
must reject this impulse; his symbolism has communicative 
power only insofar as it is grounded in the objective world 
known to his readers. The comic mode of vision is thus a helpful 
restraint upon the writer's zeal for meaning. In reminding him 
that there will be cakes and ale whether we accept his values 
or not, comedy insures him against facile self-importance and 
obscurantism. 

This checks-and-balances notion of the writer's mind is the 
keynote of Aspects of the Novel Forster's position on every 
question of theory is a middle one, involving a vital balance be- 
tween extremes that threaten to "tyrannize" the novel. A novel 
should exist simultaneously in a world of time and a world of 
value, without giving itself wholly to either measure. It must 
be "sogged with humanity" (Aspects of the Novel, p. 43), but 
must possess formal unity. It must be beautiful without aiming 
at beauty; impressive, but never at the expense of truthfulness. 
Pattern is desirable, but not beyond the point where it begins 
to restrict "the immense richness of material which life pro- 
vides." (p. 233) And a great part of this richness, for Forster, is 
unavailable to logical categories; it falls under the heading of 
"muddle," and is hence perceivable only by a sense of the in- 
congruous. For this reason the "charmed stagnation" of Tris- 
tram Shandy is more congenial to Forster's taste than the re- 
lentless purposefulness of The Ambassadors. "The army of un- 
utterable muddle" (p. 164) lies behind Sterne's masterpiece and 
provides its appeal. Or again, though Forster admires "prophetic" 
works like BUly Budd, he regrets that they require a suspension 

9$ 



THE COMIC SPIRIT 

of the sense of humor (p. 211), for a sense of humor is needed 
to round out any vision of life, however glorious or intense it 

may be. 

Forster's respect for muddle may help us to see the limitations 
of a fictional technique that he employs in most of his allegori- 
cal tales but generally eschews in his novels, namely, fantasy. 
Fantasy is, in Forster's definition, the "muddling up the actual 
and the impossible until the reader isn't sure which is which/' 
(Two Cheers, p. 222) It consists of violating the conventions of 
plausibility without wholly dismissing them, so that the reader 
must take up two problematical views of reality instead of a 
single unquestioned one. The peculiar advantage of this tech- 
nique (as of fantasy in its psychoanalytical meaning) is that it 
frees the writer from being strictly accountable to a world of 
distasteful facts. His wish for a more congenial order is projected 
onto an otherwise realistic narrative, thus sparing him a hopeless 
antagonism to his subject-matter. Though Forster wrings comic 
effects from his use of fantasy, 1 the technique is obviously not a 
tool of the comic spirit as I have defined it. Fantasy, we might 
say, is symbolism that has seized control of reality; it is the 
extreme luxury of self-indulgence which the true symbolist will 
try to avoid. In many of his tales Forster uses fantasy to manifest 
his belief in freedom and passion in the typical situation a 
comically inhibited character is confronted with an ideally "free" 
world which he fails to comprehend but the technique itself 
suggests an inflexible dogmatism of attitude. Since it undermines 
plausibility, we are not surprised to find that it plays only a 
minor part in Forster/s relatively realistic longer fiction. 2 

* See, e.g., 'The Story of a Panic," "The Other Side of the Hedge/' 
"The Celestial Omnibus/' and 'The Curate's Friend/' in the Collected 
Tdles. Each of these stories embodies a sweeping criticism of accepted in- 
stitutions or ideas, but each can remain good-humored because the satirized 
world is not the only one available. 

2 Forster does occasionally create a vague atmosphere of fantasy in his 
novels when he wants to suggest that the realm of value is asserting its 
claims over drab temporality. In A Room With a View this is the case 
in the murder-scene and in the dreamlike conclusion to the Fiesole episode, 

94 



THE COMIC SPIRIT 

Forster's sense of muddle, his willingness to admit violations 
and absurdities into his moral universe, is really quite opposite 
in spirit to his use of fantasy. It is one thing to produce effects 
of muddle by thwarting the expectations of narrow-minded char- 
acters fantasy is well suited for this but something else again 
to allow one's own values to be softened or qualified by a feel- 
ing for comedy. As a creator of fantasy Forster aligns himself 
with the Swift of Gulliver's Travels and the Butler of Erewhon: 
that is, with contrivers of schematic machinery for satirizing at- 
titudes that are opposite to their own. His writing is also dis- 
tinguished, however, by comedy in the restraining, self-critical 
sense. Like the Butler of The Way of All Flesh, Forster usually 
manages to satirize intolerant people without losing his charac- 
teristic modesty and nonchalance; he does not fall into the tone 
of the saint or the misanthrope. I return to Butler because For- 
ster has confessed to a strong temperamental sympathy with 
him not only with his common sense and intelligence, but 
with his good temper, graciousness, and "willingness to abandon 
any moral standard at a pinch." (Two Cheers, p. 221) This last 
quality suggests a healthy respect for the comic discrepancy be- 
tween black-and-white values and the actual complexity and 
unpredictability of experience. Butler's influence on Forster, 
which was considerable, 8 was perhaps nowhere so great as in 

and we may regard the theoretical presence of "ghosts" in Howards End 
and A Passage to India in a similar light. However far he may drift to- 
ward fantasy, though, Forster the novelist always remains anchored to the 
familiar and the tangible. 

8 Forster/s specific borrowings from Butler, as well as some general similar- 
ities of opinion, are listed by Lee Elbert Holt, "E. M. Forster and Samuel 
Butler/' PMLA, LXI (September 1946), 804-819. After Holt's article ap- 
peared, Forster produced an essay on Butler in which he confirmed the deep 
influence of Butler's eclecticism, and noted that he lectured on Butler 
"somewhere about 1910" and had contracted to write a book about him 
when the war broke out. Butler, he summarizes, "stands for the undog- 
matic outlook, for tolerance, good temper, good taste, empiricism, and 
reasonableness." See Forster, "The Legacy of Samuel Butler," The Lis- 
tener, XLVII (June 12, 1952), 955^ 

95 



THE COMIC SPIRIT 

helping to fix his dominant attitude of self-belittlement, his 
application of comic irony to his own position as a moralist. 

We can best describe the operation of the comic spirit in 
Forster's novels if we place him beside Jane Austen, his fa- 
vorite novelist. As in her works, Forster's comedy is usually 
generated by ironic contrasts between what is superficially 
"proper" and what is truly reasonable. Characters like Cecil 
Vyse and Jane Austen's Mr. Collins are figures of fun because 
they lack self-knowledge; though Lucy Honeychurch and Eliz- 
abeth Bennett do not hesitate to tell us what to think of these 
stuffy gentlemen, the real satire is conveyed through verbal 
ironies within a narrow social context. And our standard of 
comic judgment in both cases is not a Puritanical concern for 
rectitude but simply an Augustan love of good sense. When the 
author has succeeded in exposing all the pride and prejudice, 
not only in these flagrant cases but also in the reformable cen- 
tral characters, the social structure remains intact. We have not 
been persuaded that family, class, and nation are bad, but that 
in order to live comfortably with these institutions one must 
see the modesty of one's place in the total scheme. Elizabeth 
Bennett, for all her caustic railing against hypocrisy, finally takes 
her privileged place in the social world, and so in a lesser degree 
does Lucy Honeychurch; the self-knowledge that has made them 
aware of their affections also tells them not to expand their 
revolt to Swiftian dimensions. 

Where Forster's comedy chiefly differs from Jane Austen's 
is in the acceleration of its witty reversals, the greater density 
of thematic irony, and the greater freedom with which Forster 
moves his focus from the world of his characters to that of gen- 
eral human nature. The "double vision" that Lowes Dickinson 
found in his friend's work, and which James McConkey wisely 
takes as his starting-point in discussing Forster, is exercised al- 
most incessantly. For illustration, let us see how the Fiesole 
outing in A Room With a View draws to its climax. Jane Aus- 
ten would never offer us such an episode of complex disorder 

96 



THE COMIC SPIRIT 

as this one; we seem to be closer to the world of Fielding or of 
Smollett, Neither Fielding nor Smollett, however, would press 
so much thematic meaning from his scene. In Forster the comic 
chaos is only apparent, for underneath it there always runs a 
discernible thread of logic, a reason in madness, that leads us 
straight to Forster's moral position. 

The trip to Fiesole, we remember, culminates in the first kiss 
between George and Lucy, a "good" result in terms of the 
total plot of A Room With a View. It is introduced, however, 
by a series of comic mistakes, confusions, and petty social 
grudges among the English characters on the outing, who pride 
themselves on their national virtues of self-control and fair play. 
The broad irony of the sequence of events is obvious: the blunt 
and unsociable George Emerson will introduce Lucy to the pos- 
sible harmony of her inward life, her true self, after the specious 
harmony of "society" has broken down. The elder Mr. Emerson 
helpfully states the theme, "Non fate guerra al Maggio," and 
adds, after his free translation of Lorenzo's line is pedantically 
contested by the Reverend Eager, "Do you suppose there's any 
difference between Spring in nature and Spring in man?" (A 
Room With a View, pp. 1031 ) The day's voyage into the bloom- 
ing Italian spring, against which the inhibited characters try 
unsuccessfully to "make war," brings Lucy and George to their 
own personal springtime of emotion. Through several patently 
symbolic devices, including the amorous sporting of a carriage 
driver and his sweetheart whom Forster calls "Phaethon" and 
"Persephone," Forster ensures that even the most obtuse reader 
will see the real drift of the scene. 

What makes this episode distinctively Forsterian, however, is 
not simply its thematic weight but the multiplicity of its social 
ironies, which lead causally to the "celestial irony" (p. 97) of 
George and Lucy's encounter. The prospective lovers are to- 
gether on this day only because the Reverend Beebe, who con- 
siders himself more "advanced" than the equally provincial 
Reverend Eager, has invited the Emersons without the latter^ 

97 



THE COMIC SPIRIT 

knowledge. The conversation during the drive consists of such 
appropriate remarks as Mr. Eager's observation that English 
tourists in Italy seem "quite unconscious of anything that is out- 
side Baedeker/' and the timidly adventuresome Miss Lavishes 
agreement that "the narrowness and superficiality of the Anglo- 
Saxon tourist is nothing less than a menace." (p. 98) A few 
moments later the same Mr. Eager is found berating the car- 
riage driver for his loose morals while Miss Lavish is heroically 
trying to take a bohemian view of the case. The driver, with 
seeming implausibility, appeals to Lucy for support; like the 
murder-victim in the Piazza Signoria, he seems to be endowed 
with a special knowledge of her inner life. When "Persephone" 
has been exiled over Mr. Emerson's protests and the two car- 
riages have arrived at their destination, the ironies of plot begin 
to quicken. Social antagonisms cause the party to split into 
three groups and then into stray individuals. Lucy, for instance, 
is set apart with Miss Lavish and Charlotte, but feels obliged 
to leave them when a fuss is made over the distribution of two 
mackintosh ground-cloths among the three ladies. The petty 
machinery of social form malfunctions so completely that Lucy 
is free to meet George unchaperoned. 

Lucy, however, does not know that she wants to find George; 
she goes off in search of the two clergymen. In halting Italian 
she asks the carriage driver where the two "buoni uomini" can 
be found. The driver, who has been given a cigar by the sim- 
patici Emersons, understands perfectly; he leads her straight to 
George. Lest we miss the implication that this is Lucy's buried 
wish, Forster now heightens the air of hidden meaningfulness 
in his narrative. Italians, he says, "are born knowing the way"; 
finding the right people is "a gift from God." (p. 108) From 
this point on Lucy increasingly rejoices in the contagious "in- 
fluence of the Spring," until, when she is about to find George, 
Forster resumes the novel's central pun: "The view was forming 
at last." (p. 109) As Lucy stumbles into the bed of violets where 
George is waiting, the driver calls out in English: "Courage! 

98 



THE COMIC SPIRIT 

Courage and love" (p. 110), suggesting to us, as a last turn 
of irony, that Lucy's fortunate inability to communicate her 
surface meaning to him has been due to her tourist's grasp of 
the Italian language. Had she been more articulate, like the 
Reverend Eager and Miss Lavish, or less so, necessitating a 
conversation in English, she might not have been led to George. 
Altogether, Forster has arranged things so that his thematically 
inevitable climax is produced through a quick series of trivial 
comic surprises each of which, however, is realistically justifi- 
able in terms of the personalities involved. I can think of no 
other novelist who unravels his strands of social irony with such 
deft rapidity and complexity as this. 

However believable any one of Forster's coincidences of plot 
may be, the hand of the puppet-master is clearly in view above 
his "meaningful" scenes of comedy. The Italian novels are so 
rigidly governed by thematic irony that their plots give a total 
effect of fantasy; we find ourselves in a world where error is al- 
ways punished with ironic appropriateness. And this fact may 
suggest the name of another novelist whose influence on For- 
ster seems hardly less important than Butler's or Jane Austen's. 
I am thinking of George Meredith, whose popular theory of 
comedy seems to be, if anything, more relevant to Forster's novels 
than to Meredith's own. Meredith insisted that the province of 
comedy was quite different from that of ordinary, plausible 
realism: 

"Comedy is a game played to throw reflections upon social 
life, and it deals with human nature in the drawing-room of 
civilized men and women, where we have no dust of the strag- 
gling outer world, no mire, no violent crashes, to make the cor- 
rectness of the representation convincing. Credulity is not wooed 
through the impressionable senses; nor have we recourse to the 
small circular glow of the watch-maker's eye to raise in bright 
relief minutest grains of evidence for the routing of incredulity. 
The comic spirit conceives a definite situation for a number of 
characters, and rejects all accessories in the exclusive pursuit of 

99 



THE COMIC SPIRIT 

them and their speech. For being a spirit, he hunts the spirit 
in men; vision and ardor constitute his merit; he has not a 
thought of persuading you to believe in him." 4 

Instead of recording things as they are, Meredith's comic 
spirit focuses on human egoism and sees that it is justly pun- 
ished. The comic plot assumes the function of a moral scourge, 
a purposeful agent of retribution against all forms of self-im- 
portance. And this can be said equally of Forster's own plots, 
particularly the early ones. Each of them enforces the proverb 
from Ecclesiastes that Anthony Failing expands to read, "Cast 
bitter bread upon the waters, and after many days it really will 
come back to you/' (The Longest Journey 9 p. 157) 

It is in the gentleness and impartiality of his comic spirit 
that Forster is more Meredithian than Meredith. In his famous 
Essay on Comedy Meredith laid special stress on the necessity 
for u a most subtle delicacy 7 ' 5 in the comic writer. His laughter 
must be both thoughtful and polite: neither charged with 
pathos like the humorist's nor barbed with malice like the 
satirist's. True comedy, for Meredith, involves the reader and 
even the author in the follies it exposes; as a tool of "clear rea- 
son" and common sense, it avoids the note of contempt that 
would place its user beyond comic criticism himself. "You may 
estimate your capacity for Comic perception," says Meredith, 
"by being able to detect the ridicule of them you love, without 
loving them less: and more by being able to see yourself some- 
what ridiculous in dear eyes, and accepting the correction their 
image of you proposes." 6 It is very questionable, however, 
whether Meredith can pass his own test of objectivity. No reader 
of The Egoist can fail to sense the vengeful scorn that is heaped 
on the comic victim, Willoughby Patterne, and we search in 
vain through Meredith's novels for evidence that the author 
could laugh urbanely at himself. Forster, in contrast, remains 

* George Meredith, The Egoist (New York, 1951), p. 3. 

5 George Meredith, Miscellaneous Prose (New York, 1910), p. 3. 

fl ibid,, p. 41. 

100 



THE COMIC SPIRIT 

both tolerant and affectionate toward his characters with "un- 
developed hearts." His politeness, instead of being a surface 
manner which checks a savage indignation, is intrinsic to his 
benevolent and self-critical approach to human nature. 

The fact remains, however, that Forster's early plots are 
closely bound to the Meredithian formula of thwarting egoism. 
The role of Monteriano in Where Angels Fear to Tread is to 
administer comic justice to the English egoists. Egoism, in 
Meredith's terms, covers all forms of pretense and self-deception; 
not only Harriet Herriton, but also Philip, Caroline, and Lilia 
are tainted with egoism, for each is partly blind to his own na- 
ture. Philip and Caroline, the most flexible characters, are chas^- 
tened and enlightened in the course of the plot. They are 
brought sharply against the truth of their desires and limitations, 
and they have to conclude that the world is larger and more 
complicated than they once thought. Lilia, whose susceptibility 
to infatuation stems from an unawareness of anything beyond 
her immediate passions, must live out the prosaic reality of her 
"romantic" marriage and finally die in childbirth. It is not be- 
cause she is romantic that she is punished Forster surely agrees 
with Meredith that the comic spirit "is not opposed to ro- 
mance" 7 but because her grasp of reality is weakened by senti- 
mentalism. Harriet, who lacks "the very slightest sense of the 
ludicrous" (Where Angels Fear to Tread, p. 102), suffers a 
nervous breakdown after her abortive kidnapping. She has not 
really learned anything, but she has been severely chastened for 
her pretense of moral superiority. And the fact that a sense of 
the comic is a sign of self-knowledge also lies behind the farcical 
opera scene, which, for all its boisterous foolishness, is offered 
to the reader as a highly significant occasion, a moment of trans- 
formation for Philip. It is his escape from egoism toward Mr. 
Failing's principle that "nonsense and beauty have close con- 
nections, closer connections than Art will allow." (The Long- 
est Journey , p. 139) Harriet's inability to stand the zany antics 

* The Egoist, p. 5. 

101 



THE COMIC SPIRIT 

of the Italian opera audience is consistent with her later indif- 
ference to a father's love for his son, and is thus the sign of a 
cardinal flaw of character that must be avenged. 

Meredith's comic formula is more overtly the basis for For- 
ster's treatment of Cecil Vyse in A Room With a View. Cecil 
himself is a great fan of Meredith's, and he regards himself as 
the agent of Meredith's Comic Muse. "George Meredith's 
right," he announces, "the cause of Comedy and the cause of 
Truth are really the same." (A Room With a View, p. 180) 
Cecil, of course, is the egoist whose own machinations produce 
his downfall. By bringing the Einersons to Windy Corner "in 
the interests of the Comic Muse and of Truth" (ibid, p. 182), 
he hastens Lucy's realization that George Emerson is the man 
she really loves. 8 It is significant, too, that Cecil's insensttivity 
to the ludicrous is directly involved in Lucy's awakening. His 
absence from the "baptism" scene at the woodside pool, where 
the idea of salvation is again involved in an episode of farce, is 
as meaningful as George's presence there, and it is Cecil's re- 
fusal to make an ass of himself by joining a tennis match that 
suddenly persuades Lucy how "absolutely intolerable" he is. 
(p. 257) The plot of A Room With a View rescues Lucy herself 
from the form of egoism to which Charlotte Bartlett has al- 
ready succumbed, that of setting herself above the vulgarity of 
sexual love. 

In The Longest Journey we have a more complex and more 
serious novel, but one which nonetheless punishes its egoists <i 
la Meredith. Rickie suffers for his effort to repudiate his physical 
nature, and Herbert and Agnes are rebuffed for their humorless 
self-importance. Mrs. Failing, it is true, seems to be spared by 
the Comic Muse, but her life is already devoid of comforting 

* At this point in his career Forster is unabashedly taking the role of 
Comic Muse himself. "The Comic Muse," he writes, "though able to look 
after her own interests, did not disdain the assistance of Mr. Vyse. His idea 
of bringing the Emersons to Windy Corner struck her as decidedly good, 
and she carried through the negotiations without a hitch." (A Room With 
a View, p. 185) 



THE COMIC SPIRIT 

illusions. The Longest Journey also takes up another of Mere- 
dith's comic ideas, that of the "hero" as it is ironically developed 
in The Ordeal of Richard Feverel. Stephen Wonham strikes 
Mrs* Failing as a hero, whose chief characteristics, she ex- 
plains, "are infinite disregard for the feelings of others, plus 
general inability to understand them." (The Longest Journey, 
p. 121) As in Meredith's novel, this definition is of crucial im- 
portance, for in both cases (and in The Egoist as well) the 
resolution of the plot depends on whether a certain character 
is accepted in his "heroic" role or as an ordinary man. Stephen 
is idolized by Rickie in the same sense that Richard Feverel 
and Willoughby Patterne are idolized by Lucy Desborough and 
Laetitia Dale. Stephen is truly heroic, however, only by fits and 
starts, and when Rickie is forced to see his self-indulgent side, 
he turns against Stephen altogether. "To yield to temptation," 
Forster explains, "is not fatal for most of us. But it was the 
end of everything for a hero." (The Longest Journey, p. 318) Our 
last view of Stephen, however, refutes the opposite simplifica- 
tion, that of Mrs. Failing. The consummately normal Stephen, 
who shows himself to be an affectionate husband and father, 
has escaped from the categories of both hero and mock-hero. 
In bringing his Meredithian theme to this conclusion Forster 
is not simply going beyond Meredith's pattern of inflicting 
vengeance on the false hero; he is also, it seems, questioning 
the legitimacy of that pattern. The Meredithian narrator who 
reserves for himself the luxury of exploding the myth of the 
hero becomes a character in Forster's novel (Mrs. Failing) and 
is subjected to Forster's criticism. Mrs. Failing's iconoclasm 
takes its place alongside Ridde's symbol-making as a falsifica- 
tion of the real world. I think we can see this, plus the fate of 
the Meredithian humorist Cecil in A Room With a View, as a 
kind of declaration of independence from Meredith's comic 
vogue. Forster makes free use of the current literary fashion of 
Meredithianism, but he is careful to show us that he is aware 
of its facility. By the time of Aspects of the Novel, certainly, 

10S 



THE COMIC SPIRIT 

Forster was ready to dissociate himself from Meredith alto- 
gether: "What with the faking, what with the preaching, which 
was never agreeable and is now said to be hollow, and what 
with the home counties posing as the universe, it is no wonder 
Meredith now lies in the trough/' (Aspects of the Novel, p. 
136) 

In view of this, we are not surprised to find that the idea of 
comic justice becomes progressively less relevant to our under- 
standing of Forster's two final novels. Forster retains his satiri- 
cal attitude toward egoists, of course, but his plots are not pri- 
marily concerned with exposing them. As moral questions be- 
come subordinate to questions about the ultimate meaning of 
human existence, the plot necessarily loses its function of super- 
intending private morality. Indeed, the very possibility of a 
Meredithian comic plot diminishes as Forster's total attitude 
toward life becomes more conspicuous. That attitude, we re- 
member, is one of extreme skepticism about the existence of a 
providential order. Such skepticism naturally precludes belief 
in a mechanical system of retribution against egoists; a novel 
based on such a system must be offered with a certain facetious 
flair. Now, however, we shall be turning to two novels that re- 
sume the effort, gingerly undertaken in The Longest Journey, 
to reflect the real poignancy of man's isolation from meaning. 
Forstef s plots remain comic in that the characters are handled 
ironically, but his comic distance from them begins to take on 
a sober philosophical import until, in A Passage to India, the 
comic vision accurately conveys Forster's view of human preten- 
sions in general. Forster remains comic, but in somewhat the 
same way that Chaucer is comic at the end of Troilus and Cri- 
seyde, where human tragedy is seen from the belittling perspec- 
tive of divine indifference to our imperfect and undignified lives. 



104 




HO WAR D S END 

In turning our attention to Howards End (1910;, we reach a 
novel that puts into dramatic terms the liberal creed we 
examined at the end of Chapter Three. The framework of the 
novel is a series of antitheses between this liberalism and its 
opposite, a kind of blunt and humorless materialism; and the 
course of the plot, we might say, is an extended test of liberal- 
ism's ability to come to terms with its antagonist. Margaret 
Schlegel, the heroine, does not in any way reject the lofty no- 
tions with which she begins, but she does come to understand 
how difficult it is to preserve her ideals in the actual world. As 
is customary in Forster's novels, the triumph of an idea is 
purchased with a good deal of human anguish. Nevertheless, 
Howards End is the one novel in Forstefs career that projects 
a reasonable hope for the survival of liberalism. 

In the previous novels, liberal individualism wins out over 
"the world" or is beaten by it; in either case "the world" is felt 
only as a set of restrictions that can be dismissed or embraced 
simply through moral choice. Here, however, Forstei has at- 
tempted to treat external reality as an imposing and permanent 
fact rather than as one term in a dialectical argument; there 
is no more possibility of "rejecting" the world in Howards End 
than there would be of rejecting the Alps or the Atlantic Ocean. 
And because Forster takes the trouble here to embody the anti- 
liberal forces in a complex and altogether human character, he 
has opened the possibility for a more realistic give-and-take 
a marriage, in fact between the supposed enemies. Henry Wil- 
cox is somewhat awesome in his practical power, yet at the same 
time he is pitiful in his ignorance of private values. He needs 

105 



HOWARDS END 

the civilizing force of liberalism, just as liberalism needs his 
political and economic power. In the final, though perilously 
maintained, marriage between Henry and Margaret Schlegel, 
Forster voices his guarded hope that some place will actually 
be found for his own liberalism in modern industrial England. 

This summary is not meant to reduce Howards End to al- 
legory. But it is important to recognize that the book is sche- 
matic in its opposition of social and political values among the 
protagonists. If we look, first of all, at Helen and Margaret 
Schlegel, we find a joint incarnation of Forster's liberalism as we 
have defined it. English daughters of a naturalized German who 
turned against Germany's imperialism and materialism, they 
have been raised to feel that "any human being lies nearer to 
the unseen than any organization" (Howards End, p. 30) and 
therefore, of course, that individuals outrank nations. Though 
weary of plans and "lines of action/' they are concerned with 
politics: "They desired that public life should mirror whatever 
is good in the life within. Temperance, tolerance, and sexual 
equality were intelligible cries to them; whereas they did not 
follow our Forward Policy in Thibet with the keen attention 
that it merits, and would at times dismiss the whole British Em- 
pire with a puzzled, if reverent, sigh/' (p. 28) Margaret Schlegel 
sees it as her duty "to be humble and kind, to go straight ahead, 
to love people rather than pity them, to remember the sub- 
merged/' (p. 73) It is Forster's creed, and a simple one; but 
the action of Howards End springs from the fact that these 
principles are misunderstood and opposed by the busy world, 
that is, by the Wilcoxes. 

Being "English to the backbone," the Wilcoxes are neither 
humble nor kind, nor do they "go straight ahead" morally, nor 
do they love outsiders least of all those who have been "sub- 
merged" by the economic system that has provided their own 
affluence. They are "at best when serving on committees" (p. 
98), which is to say that the personal side of life means very 
little to them. Or perhaps, as Helen Schlegel thinks, they realize 

106 



HOWARDS END 

its importance but are afraid of it because it reminds them of 
the hollowness of their self-importance (see p. 92). This self- 
importance is founded on their success in business, which in 
turn is interpreted as the result of "strength of character/" Thus 
"Equality was nonsense, Votes for Women nonsense, Socialism 
nonsense, Art and Literature, except when conducive to strength- 
ening the character, nonsense." (p. 24) 

These are not harmless eccentricities, but grave and typical 
threats to the future of English culture, for the Wilcoxes and 
their kind are in control of industrialism, mechanization, ur- 
banism the forces to which all others seem fated to bow. 
Interestingly enough, the Wilcoxes represent a class that would 
certainly have voted Liberal before the decline of Gladstone's 
power, and for all we know they may be Liberals during the 
period covered by the novel. If they are, however, they belong 
among the Liberal imperialists from whom Chesterton was so 
anxious to distinguish himself. Having ridden to power on the 
crest of the Industrial Revolution, they are connected neither in 
spirit nor in fact to the gentle, rural, tradition-minded England 
that Forster loves. Their assumption of the role of landowners 
is, indeed, symptomatic of the late-nineteenth-century consoli- 
dation of the monied classes (landowners and industrialists to- 
gether) in common opposition to the democratic movement. 1 
It was a spurious alliance, and the Wilcoxes unwittingly expose 
its hollowness. The blundering destractiveness of Henry and 
especially of Charles Wilcox, his son, springs from the "panic 
and emptiness" of the purely acquisitive life, divorced from the 
liberalizing influences of the past. 

Forster's pitiless anatomy of the Wilcoxes makes it impos- 
sible for us to sympathize with them; yet this, within certain 
rather narrow limits, is what the novel seems to be asking us 
to do. Although neither Forster nor his heroine is tempera- 
mentally equipped to love the Wilcoxes, both feel the necessity 

1 This alliance is dearly described by a contemporary: A. Hook, "Labour 
and Politics," The Independent Review, vi (1905), 197-205. 

107 



HOWARDS END 

of trying, and the plot of the novel implies that at least some 
sort of modus vivendi can be reached. The case in favor of the 
Wilcoxes, which Forster presents as heartily as he can, rests on 
the fact that they are tenacious and practical. Margaret, who 
is more broadminded than the other Schlegels, formulates this 
positive argument in a pro-Wilcox moment: "Once past the 
rocks of emotion, they knew so well what to do, whom to send 
for; their hands were on all the ropes, they had grit as well as 
grittiness, and she valued grit enormously. They led a life that 
she could not attain to the outer life of 'telegrams and anger' 
... To Margaret this life was to remain a real force. ... It 
fostered such virtues as neatness, decision, and obedience, vir- 
tues of the second rank, no doubt, but they have formed our 
civilization. They form character, too; Margaret could not 
doubt it: they keep the soul from becoming sloppy. How dare 
Schlegels despise Wilcoxes, when it takes all sorts to make a 
world?" (pp. 103^) 

The tone of this passage is revelatory, particularly in the 
clich^ at the end: both Margaret and Forster struggle uncon- 
vincingly to remind themselves of the Wilcox virtues. Those 
virtues, as Margaret knows too well, are basically unimportant 
if one is to place the highest value on spiritual things. It is also 
worth mentioning that the plot of Howards End eventually dis- 
proves a significant portion of the Wilcoxes' claim for recog- 
nition. Neither Henry nor Charles Wilcox has "character" in 
a moral sense, and their souls are sloppy if one means by that 
an inability to recognize the consequences of their actions. It 
is the Schlegels, and particularly Margaret, whose souls are clear 
and whose characters are strong. It is precisely Margaret's su- 
perior character, in fact, that enables her to forgive Henry for 
his moral blindness and to rescue him from despair at the end 
of the novel. Forster has not portioned out his real sympathy 
evenly enough to support the novel's schematic meaning. 2 De- 

*D. H. Lawrence seems to have caught this false note. ". . . YOE did 
make a nearly deadly mistake/' he wrote to Forstei in 1922, "glorifying 

108 



HOWARDS END 

spite his effort to give the Wilcoxes their due, the real point of 
Howards End is the familiar individualistic one. As Helen 
Schlegel puts it, "I know that personal relations are the real 
life, for ever and ever" to which Margaret honestly replies, 
"Amen!" (p. 28) Margaret finally stays with Henry because she 
has seen how incomplete a world the Wilcoxes would build 
without the humanistic Schlegels to look after their souls. 

Not the least important drawback of the Wilcoxes, in For- 
ste/s view, is their alliance with the power of urbanization. One 
of the central ironies of the novel is that the rural-minded 
Schlegels are for the most part constrained in London while 
the Wilcoxes, whose money has been made in cities, have been 
able to buy a chain of country estates and represent themselves 
as landowning aristocracy. Nomads at heart, the Wilcoxes are 
spiritually allied to the encroachment of cities onto the country- 
side. Howards End itself, standing in Southern Hertfordshire, is 
menaced by the expanding suburbs of London, but the Wilcoxes 
are indifferent to the danger, and still less, of course, do they 
appreciate the fact that it is really themselves who are rooting 
up England. They are restless, impatient, impervious to beauty; 
worshippers of the automobile, they ride across the hills and 
break them. The dust that they raise in speeding through coun- 
try vilkges is only a foretaste of the urban soot that will shortly 
follow. 

Forster's objections to London, though manifold, can be 
reduced to the charge that London frustrates the life of personal 
relations. The city refuses to lend itself to description in in- 
dividual human terms: "One visualizes it as a tract of quivering 
grey, intelligent without purpose, and excitable without love; as 

those business people in Howard's [sic] End. Business is no good." D. H. 
Lawrence, Selected Literary Criticism, ed. Anthony Beal (Melbourne, Lon- 
don, Toronto, 1955), p. 139- Lawrence, incidentally, who detested Blooms- 
buiy, was not at afl fond of Foiste/s art in general. See Angus Wilson, "A 
Conversation with E. M. Foister," Encounter, No. 50 (November 1957), 

54- 

109 



HOWARDS END 

a spirit that has altered before it can be chronicled; as a heart 
that certainly beats, but with no pulsation of humanity. It lies 
beyond everything: Nature, with all her cruelty, comes nearer 
to us than do these crowds of men. A friend explains himself: 
the earth is explicable from her we came, and we must return 
to her. But who can explain Westminster Bridge Road or Liver- 
pool Street in the morning the city inhaling; or the same thor- 
oughfares in the evening the city exhaling her exhausted air? 
We reach in desperation beyond the fog, beyond the very stars, 
the voids of the universe are ransacked to justify the monster, 
and stamped with a human face. London is religion's oppor- 
tunity not the decorous religion of theologians, but anthropo- 
morphic, crude. Yes, the continuous flow would be tolerable if 
a man of our own sort not anyone pompous or tearful were 
caring for us up in the sky." (p. 108) 

We may note in passing that this connection of the city's 
inhumanity with the religious impulse illustrates Forster's idea 
that supernatural religion flourishes only where man's true rela- 
tion to nature and other men has been frustrated. There is a 
form of religion that Forster does endorse in Howards End, but 
it is the this-worldly faith described in the "coinage" chapter 
of The Longest Journey a faith that can be fully realized only 
in the countryside or among people who have been taught to 
feel the countryside's beneficent influence. 

The autobiographical significance of Howards End the as- 
sociation of it with Forster's own boyhood home is explicitly 
stated in Marianne Thornton* More obscure but more impor- 
tant is the nature of its effect upon the characters of the novel. 
Howards End is a repository of family tradition, and as such 
it has a mysterious ability to communicate the wisdom of its 
former residents to those who are willing to listen. Mrs. Ruth 
Wilcox, who was born there, has inherited this instinctive lore: 
"She seemed to belong not to the young people and their motor, 

8 See Marianne Thornton, p. 301. 

110 



HOWARDS END 

but to the house, and to the tree that overshadowed it. One 
knew that she worshipped the past, and that the instinctive wis- 
dom the past can alone bestow had descended upon her the 
wisdom to which we give the clumsy name of aristocracy. High- 
born she might not be. But assuredly she cared about her an- 
cestors, and let them help her/' (p. 22) 

Like Mrs. Moore in A Passage to India, Mrs. Wilcox "means" 
more after her death than before it. Margaret Schlegel in par- 
ticular feels her posthumous guidance, until Mrs. Wilcox has 
become virtually a patron deity for her. As Margaret says to 
Helen, "I feel that you and I and Henry are only fragments of 
that woman's mind. She knows everything. She is everything. 
She is the house, and the tree that leans over it. ... I cannot 
believe that knowledge such as hers will perish with knowledge 
such as mine/' (pp. 31 3f.) This semi-apotheosis raises more 
questions than it answers, but it does serve to merge the char- 
acter of Mrs. Wilcox with that of Howards End, so that the two 
become interchangeable figures for the persistence of the past. 

Mrs. Wilcox's role in the plot of Howards End is at once 
practical and highly symbolic. Although Margaret is not literally 
related to her, the two women are sisters in spirit. The dying 
Mrs. Wilcox declares Margaret the heir to Howards End, a 
bequest that is dismissed by the surviving Wilcoxes as the whim 
of a feverish brain. In one sense Margaret is temporarily cheated 
of what is hers, but in a deeper sense she is justly denied a role 
that she has not yet earned. The real bequest of Mrs. Wilcox 
is her nearly superhuman tolerance and self-control, the fruits of 
her continuity with the traditions of Howards End. Margaret 
possesses these virtues in theory but has not had to exercise 
them. Though believing utterly in what Mrs. Wilcox stands 
for, she must endure a period of trial and growth in which she 
will be tempted to exclude from her sympathy those who di- 
rectly threaten her dearest values the other Wilcoxes. By the 
end of the novel she will have become the new Mrs. Wilcox 
both in fact and in spirit, and thus will have resumed Ruth 

111 



HOWARDS END 

Wilcox's interrupted program of civilizing those who might 
otherwise melt down the world. 

It has become commonplace since Trilling's E. M. Forster 
to recognize that Howards End represents England itself and 
is the locus of a symbolic battle over England's destiny. It has 
another aspect, however, which has received little attention, yet 
which suggests a theme no less important than the political one. 
The house apparently stands for the integrated family life that 
was led there by Ruth Wilcox and is to be continued by Mar- 
garet. Howards End at its best that is, when controlled by a 
woman of Mrs. Wilcox's type represents an ideal, a standard, 
by which each of the novel's characters must be judged, and 
which Margaret herself must come to accept before she can 
replace Mrs. Wilcox. Like the novels that precede it, this one 
poses the question: how is life to be lived most fully? or, what 
is the proper relation between body and soul? Body and soul 
in the first three novels appear at first to be symbolically rep- 
resented in geographical antitheses such as Sawston versus 
Monteriano, Cambridge versus Wiltshire, but the reader learns 
in each case that the place where the body is frankly accepted 
is also the best place for the development of the soul. In the 
present novel Howards End itself is the single emblem for 
Forster's ideal of harmony between the spiritual and the physi- 
cal; to understand the meaning of the house is to dissolve the 
traditional opposition between these two elements. 

This is seen most clearly in an episode during the period be- 
tween the tenures of the two Mrs. Wilcoxes, when Howards 
End is deserted. Margaret, who has married the widowed Henry 
after a rather lengthy spinsterhood and is now thinking of re- 
opening Howards End, visits her prospective home on a rainy, 
desolate day. She is struck by the beauty of the house, particu- 
larly in its relation to the land that provides its context; she 
regains the feeling of space and proportion that was upset by 
London and by Henry's jostling automobile. She wonders to 
herself whether Helen has been right in arguing that one must 



HOWARDS END 

sacrifice important things to be a housewife: "She was not so 
sure. For instance, she would double her kingdom by opening 
the door that concealed the stairs/' (p. 201 ) In other words, her 
life will be richer if she accepts both the "upstairs" and the 
"downstairs" of her new opportunities, the bedroom as well as 
the drawing room. Hitherto Margaret has lived in a world of 
books and plays and of close but merely "spiritual" friendships; 
here at Howards End she can live as a woman and a wife. There 
is room for her father's books the life of the mind in the 
library; there is room for Helen and her sisterly love; but there 
is also an upstairs, a physical life, which must be brought into 
concert with the rest. 

Another way of formulating the same theme is to say that 
Howards End is a novel about reconciling the feminine with 
the masculine nature. The Schlegels, being dominantiy femi- 
nine, run the risk of effeminacy; the masculine Wilcoxes verge 
on brutality. 4 Tibby Schlegel, the dilettantish brother of Mar- 
garet and Helen, is indeed effeminate, and Charles Wilcox is 
indeed brutal. Margaret and Henry, the most mature represen- 
tatives of the two sides, fall in love and marry, thus providing 
at least a hypothetical union of opposites. Before she can make 
this marriage succeed, however, Margaret must realize the ac- 
tual distance between Henry's nature and her own, and must 
adjust her hopes accordingly. As she tells Helen at the end, 
"people are far more different than is pretended. All over the 
world men and women are worrying because they cannot de- 
velop as they are supposed to develop. Here and there they have 
the matter out, and it comforts them." (p. 337) Margaret and 
Henry go through this ordeal themselves, and in "having the 
matter out" Margaret learns Forster's perennial lesson that 
physical lave can be a cohesive force where mere rationality is 
insufficient. In the final stage of her development she has ceased 
to blame Henry for his peculiarly masculine callousness and has 
managed to accept him for what he is. 

4 Tliis antithesis is stated explicitly by Margaret, p, 44. 

113 



HOWARDS END 

As usual in Forster's novels, the moral value sought by the 
hero or heroine is placed in relief by several characters who are 
conspicuously deficient in it. Helen Schlegel, though certainly a 
sympathetic figure throughout the book, lacks Margaret's and 
Mrs. Wilcox's moral flexibility, and she lacks it precisely because 
she is incapable of normal sexual love. She recognizes this in- 
capacity "I can only entice and be enticed" (p. 194), as she 
puts it but she fails to see its restrictive effect on her judgments 
of the world. Her reason for preferring Margaret's love to that 
of any man involves a typical delusion among Forster's "incom- 
plete" characters. "You and I have built up something real/' she 
tells Margaret, "because it is purely spiritual. There's no veil 
of mystery over us. Unreality and mystery begin as soon as one 
touches the body." (p. 194) 

This heresy against Forsterian dogma reveals an attitude com- 
parable to Rickie Elliot's when he aspired to an unearthly sym- 
bolic relationship with his wife; and the result here is scarcely 
less disastrous than in The Longest Journey, Helen begins by 
"enticing" Paul Wilcox and immediately repenting of it, after 
which she becomes fanatically anti-Wilcox, that is, anti-male. 
This rigid stance leads directly to her tragedy. In resentment over 
Henry Wilcox's treatment of Leonard Bast, a young man whose 
low social position has placed him at the Wilcoxes' mercy, 
Helen spends a night with Leonard and conceives a child. Her 
desire to embody in a single act her opposition to Wilcoxism 
brings about a long period of unhappiness for herself and, in 
addition, nearly wrecks Margaret's resolution to put up with 
Henry. When Henry takes a priggish attitude toward her "sin," 
Helen almost persuades Margaret to join her crusade against 
masculinity. Margaret sequesters Helen in Howards End, in- 
sisting that Henry stay away: "A new feeling came over her; 
she was fighting for women against men. She did not care about 
rights, but if men came into Howards End, it should be over 
her body." (p. 290) This represents the triumph of Helen's 
narrow view, and, conversely, the rejection of Ruth Wilcox's 

114 



HOWARDS END 

ideal of harmony. It is only a momentary defeat, however; 
eventually even Helen reaches a sympathetic understanding of 
Margaret's heroic compromise. Though she can never love a 
man, she discovers that she can give her affection freely to her 
child. Margaret, in contrast, sincerely loves Henry but is not 
interested in children (see pp. 198!, 273), and the two sisters 
together, both living on at Howards End, finally compose an 
adequate substitute for Ruth Wilcox, the wife and mother com- 
bined. 

Another character with an inadequate grasp of the interde- 
pendence of body and soul is Henry Wilcox. While Helen dis- 
trusts sex because it complicates life beyond her power of mas- 
tery, Henry distrusts it on religious grounds. Forster uses him 
to illustrate his well-known view about the psychological effer^ 
of asceticism: "Outwardly he was cheerful, reliable, and brave; 
but within, all had reverted to chaos, ruled, so far as it was 
ruled at all, by an incomplete asceticism. Whether as boy, hus- 
band, or widower, he had always the sneaking belief that bodily 
passion is bad, a belief that is desirable only when held pas- 
sionately. Religion had confirmed him. The words that were 
read aloud on Sunday to him and to other respectable men 
were the words that had once kindled the souls of St. Catherine 
and St. Francis into a white-hot hatred of the carnal. He could 
not be as the saints and love the Infinite with a seraphic ardour, 
but he could be a little ashamed of loving a wife." (p. 186) 

This furtive religiosity sits especially ill on Henry, who has 
been unfaithful to Ruth Wilcox with the present common- 
law wife of Leonard Bast, and who has never really applied re- 
ligious standards in judgment of his own amours. A believer in 
sowing wild oats, he refuses to distinguish between unchastity 
and infidelity, that is, between technical "sin" and the violation 
of his wife's trust. The difference is a crucial one for Forster 
because of his faith in personal relations as opposed to abstract 
moral law: to harm another person is worse than to debauch 

115 



HOWARDS END 

oneself. 5 It is Henry's Christianity that prevents him from 
seeing this distinction, and it is also his Christianity that enables 
him to excuse his conduct as being typical of sinful mankind. 
And, of course, Forster does not expect us to miss the connec- 
tion between Henry's infidelities and his embarrassment over 
loving his wife. A smattering of religion can make us ashamed 
of our bodies but it cannot make us less carnal; the part of 
Henry that seems out of place in his "pure" and "respectable" 
marriage finds expression in his affair with the appropriately 
"low" Jackie Bast. 

Forster tells us explicitly that the Middle Ages have been Hen- 
ry's only moral teacher (p. 259). In this light it is understand- 
able that the other side of his sneaking prurience should be a 
chivalrous protectiveness toward women, like that of the "medie- 
val" Cecil Vyse. Forster is always satirical about this superior 
gallantry; it is simply a means of denying the equality of the 
sexes, and hence of obstructing that true rapport between men 
and women which, Forster says, is an outcome of sex but is not 
to be confused with it. Henry and Helen are alike in their in- 
ability to find this relationship. What Forster says of Helen is 
largely true of Henry: "Helen forgot people. They were husks 
that had enclosed her emotion. She could pity, or sacrifice her- 
self, or have instincts, but had she ever loved in the noblest 
way, where man and woman, having lost themselves in sex, de- 
sire to lose sex itself in comradeship?" (p. 311) Though they 
are different in every other way, Henry and Helen together are 
deprived of a full emotional and imaginative life because of their 
distorted understanding of sex. 6 

With these two important characters predisposed to a limited 

8 In this connection one is reminded of MuTs argument in On Liberty 
that society is justified in restraining personal action only when that action 
threatens the welfare of other people. Staring Mill's disbelief in sin, For- 
ster is led to a moral Utilitarianism basically similar to Mill's. 

6 Tibby Schlegel is another such character, and Forster's plot, in making 
Tibby's indifference to Kfe an oblique cause of Leonard Bast's death (How- 
ard* End, pp. 310!), underscores the moral importance of passion. 

116 



HOWARDS END 

point of view, our attention falls centrally on Margaret, the 
most flexible and self-examining person in Howards End. Helen 
and Henry draw her in opposite directions, toward "spirituality" 
and sexual tenderness respectively. What finally saves her from 
Helen's exclusive feminism, however, is not so much Henry's 
appeal as her own conscientious desire to be truthful to her na- 
ture. "Few women," we are told, "had tried more earnestly to 
pierce the accretions in which body and soul are enwrapped/' 
(p. 103) Margaret's investigations lead her, not surprisingly, to 
Forster's own conviction that there is a human mean where 
the artificial choice between asceticism and depravity disappears 
a "tenderness that kills the Monk and the Beast at a single 
blow." (p. 220) 

This is not to say that body and soul themselves are exposed 
as invalid categories; on the contrary, Margaret wants to subject 
herself to their opposite attractions. In resisting Helen's facile 
acquaintance "with reality and the absolute," Margaret thinks 
to herself: "The business man who assumes that this life is 
everything, and the mystic who asserts that it is nothing, fail, on 
this side and on that, to hit the truth. Tes, I see, dear; it's about 
halfway between,' Aunt Juley had hazarded in earlier years. No; 
truth, being alive, was not halfway between anything. It was only 
to be found by continuous excursions into either realm, and 
though proportion is the final secret, to espouse it at the outset 
is to insure sterility." (p. 195) The plot of Howards End forces 
these "continuous excursions" upon Margaret until she has 
actually arrived at the secret of proportion. As Howards End 
successfully connects nature with the human past and present, 
so Margaret, by accepting her desires and limitations, succeeds 
in reconciling the spiritual and physical sides of herself. 

The imaginative wisdom that enables Margaret to draw this 
connection is also required for another important problem in 
Howards End, that of social responsibility. The center of dis- 
pute here is Leonard Bast, whose very name suggests his the- 
matic role: he is the illegitimate offspring of the social system 

117 



HOWARDS END 

that has pampered both the Wilcoxes and the Schlegels. He is 
"at the extreme verge of gentility" (p. 45), neither starving nor 
quite respectable. Though he aspires to the Schlegels' degree of 
culture, he is inhibited by his consciousness of the abyss of 
poverty beneath him, and his efforts to "improve" himself are 
pathetically misdirected. He becomes, for the Schlegel sisters as 
well as for Forster, a symbol of the worst effects of modern capi- 
talism, which encourages people like Leonard to be dissatisfied 
with their circumstances and at the same time frustrates their 
desire for recognition. 

Leonard's very existence poses the question of what is to be 
done to improve the social structure, and the Schlegels use him 
as the locus of a rather frivolous debate on this subject early 
in the novel But again, the plot of Howards End provides a 
more vivid and drastic working-out of the issue than is possible 
through mere argumentation. Leonard becomes involved in the 
lives of both Schlegels and Wilcoxes, and his symbolic role 
develops from the way he is treated by these representatives of 
other classes. Each of the other major characters must discover 
whether he can take Leonard into his field of vision without dis- 
torting the entire perspective. Each must decide, in other words, 
whether he can afford to acknowledge that his own well-being is 
founded on the intimidation and plundering of others who are 
less favored socially. 

In a sense the Wilcoxes do recognize this; they take the Ben- 
thamite position that there will always be rich and poor, and 
that the market of free competition justly eliminates the weak 
and unworthy. It does not occur to them, however, that Leonard 
is poor because his grandparents were driven out of the country- 
side by the same economic force that has enriched the Wilcoxes 
themselves (see p. 237), and because Leonard himself, having 
been deprived of the life of the body, has been given no resources 
to cultivate the life of the spirit (see p. 115). Furthermore, 
Henry Wilcox has contributed personally to Leonard's degrada- 
tion, first by "raining" the woman who has subsequently at- 

118 



HOWARDS END 

tached herself to Leonard and helped to submerge him, and 
secondly by offering him a word of mistaken advice which per- 
suades him to give up his job and thus become really destitute. 
These two facts converge when Leonard returns with Jacky to 
beg Henry for aid; Henry sees his ex-mistress, suspects blackmail, 
and turns his back on both of them. On one level it is merely 
a coincidence of plot that Henry and Jacky are already ac- 
quainted; but thematically it is not coincidental at all. Henry, 
the successful entrepreneur, has used the lower-class, relatively 
helpless Jacky for his pleasure and then abandoned her. Con- 
fronted with the image of his guilt a guilt which is at once 
personal and social and economic Henry characteristically 
places the blame on the abused party rather than on himself. 
He is blind to his actual and theoretical indebtedness to the 
Baste. 

Margaret, in contrast, is quite sensitive to the interdependence 
of the various levels of society. While the supposedly realistic 
Henry converts every social question into terms of "character" 
and "backbone," the idealistic Margaret understands the pri- 
mary importance of economic privilege. "You and I and the 
Wilcoxes," she tells her aunt, "stand upon money as upon 
islands." (p. 61) This awareness enables Margaret to see that 
her own opinions, including those about moral right and wrong, 
originate in her social background, and this in turn provides her 
with a charitable attitude toward those, such as Leonard, who 
live not upon islands of money but "below the sea." (p. 61) It 
is not a question of pretending that Leonard is superior in dig- 
nity because he is downtrodden; neither Margaret nor Forster 
believes that the poor are especially blessed. They see, rather, 
that Leonard's want of dignity has something to do with his 
circumstances; they pity him without glorifying him. 

Once again, we find that Helen Schlegel has a blind spot simi- 
lar to Henry's. Unlike Margaret, she does create a romanticized 
picture of the Leonard who might have existed if conditions had 
permitted: "A real man, who cared for adventure and beauty, 

119 



HOWARDS END 

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." (p. 316) Henry, of course, disagrees 
absolutely with this analysis, but his own is comparable in sim- 
plicity; as Helen exaggerates economic pressure, Henry exag- 
gerates "character/' Toward the end of the novel Helen comes 
to understand the mistake she has made about Leonard, and her 
explanation is incisive: "One isolates/' she says. "I isolated Mr. 
Wilcox from the other forces that were pulling Leonard down- 
hill/' (p. 312) This is precisely what Henry has done with the 
element of "character" a real factor in Leonard's submersion, 
but by no means the only one. Helen and Henry together are 
people who isolate and simplify rather than allowing their imagi- 
nations to play across a broad range of related circumstances. 
They fail to connect; and "Only connect . . , ," as every reader 
of Howards End will remember, is the motto on the title-page 
of the book. 

It is not surprising, then, that the "panic and emptiness" 
behind the Wilcoxes' fagade of importance (see, for example, 
pp. 26, 92, 235) assault Helen, too, when she learns of Mar- 
garet's engagement and again when she has slept with Leonard, 
(pp. 172, 313) Both the Wilcoxes and Helen are reluctant to 
come to grips with prosaic reality. Like Rickie Elliot and to a 
lesser extent like Cecil Vyse and Philip Herriton, they live in a 
world of make-believe which shuts out both ecstasy and tragedy, 
and which falls in ruins at the first intrusion of either. The 
dominant moral value of Howards End, as of The Longest 
Journey, is the ability to accept the actual world for what it is: 
to "live in fragments no longer," as Margaret puts it. (p. 187) 
Panic and emptiness are inherent in the human situation, and 
if one is not to be suddenly paralyzed by them he must recog- 
nize them from the first and somehow placate them. This, for 
Helen, is the meaning of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony: the 
"goblins" of panic and emptiness are deliberately evoked and 
then exorcised through the assertion of human order. In her own 

mo 



HOWARDS END 

life, however, Helen is unable to cope with her doubts. Her semi- 
hysterical sympathy with Leonard, like Henry's obtuseness to- 
wards him, reflects the dangerously narrow limits of her sense 
of truth. Only Margaret, whose nature is firmly rooted in prosaic 
fact, can meet the central crisis of the novel and rescue the 
others from disillusion. 

Margaret's redeeming virtue, the ability to "connect," operates 
on every level of action in Howards End. In her own psyche 
she resolves the antagonism between body and soul by accepting 
her role of wife in the fullest sense. In dealing with Leonard 
she connects the restrictive force of his background with his 
fundamental mediocrity; she does not explain one purely in 
terms of the other, but is able to see the two facts as discrete 
yet related. At the same time, she sees the connection between 
Leonard's poverty and her own wealth; she accepts a share of 
hereditary responsibility for his ill-treatment. Again, and in 
conspicuous contrast to the Wilcoxes, Margaret can connect 
the human past with the present and future. Her sense of tradi- 
tion, centering on Howards End, is indistinguishable from the 
quiet strength of her moral nature. And, finally, in "connecting" 
herself to Henry Wilcox through marriage, she not only bridges 
the perilous gap between male and female, but symbolically mar- 
ries her civilizing force to the power of modern England. In 
every case it is Forster's own humanistic faith, his belief in the 
value of individual love and tolerance, that sees Margaret 
through. And this faith, as we have noted in the other novels, 
expresses both a yearning for permanence and a realistic sense 
of limitation. Henry lacks it because he recognizes no boundaries 
to his selfhood; Helen lacks it because she secretly despises the 
real world; and Leonard lacks it because his class consciousness 
is too oppressive. Margaret is the heroine of Howards End not 
because she is the "best" character, but because she is the only 
one who can gauge the scope of her own power. 



HOWARDS END 

For all its moral consistency, however, we may be permitted 
to wonder whether Howards End is, as Lionel Trilling asserts, 
"undoubtedly Forster's masterpiece." 7 It is easy to agree that 
this novel "develops to the full the themes and attitudes of the 
early books," and that it shows "a more mature sense of respon- 
sibility"; 8 but moral responsibility and aesthetic value are not 
the same thing. Indeed, in a writer whose sense of reality is so 
ironic as Forstef s, one sometimes feels the effort to be "respon- 
sible" as an impediment to sincerity. What we have in Howards 
End, in my opinion, is a novel that tries schematically to qualify 
Forster's previously oversimplified antithesis between the inner 
and outer worlds. This, at any rate, is the task that Forster sets 
for Margaret Schlegel. But the more closely we scrutinize the 
Wilcoxes, the less convinced we are that Forster has been able 
to compromise his original feelings. The outer world remains 
alien panic and emptiness, telegrams and anger, the mindless 
destruction of personal values. Margaret's "connection" with 
the Wilcoxes is merely diagrammatic. Her actual relationship 
to Henry at the end of the novel is more eloquent: having tamed 
him and demonstrated her indispensability to him, she is willing 
to nurse him in his helplessness. However eclectic and concilia- 
tory Forster tries to be, however disinterestedly he reminds us of 
our dependence on society, his novel ends by crashing society 
on the altar of the private life. 

This is to say that Howards End, in undertaking more than 
its predecessors, suffers from a greater strain between what is in- 
tended and what is sensed between the lines. Forster's misgivings 
about "the world," which are everpresent in his writing, are 
damaging here precisely because he has made such a bold effort 
to allay them. His plot must finally retreat to an unconvincingly 
"moral" ending it must revert to comic justice, in other words 
in order to be saved from disintegration. Thus we can speak of 
both development and failure in Howards End: development in 

7 E. M. Forster, p. 99. 

8 ibid., p. 99. 



HOWARDS END 

that Forster has expanded his willingness to admit the prosaic 
outer world into his fiction, but failure in the task of truly rec- 
onciling this world with his own values. As Forstefs art grows 
more realistic, his humanism is more clearly seen as an isolated 
phenomenon, a candle in the dark, until finally in A Passage 
to India we find ourselves peering uncertainly into the dark itself. 




THE LIMITATIONS OF MYTHOLOGY 

It is difficult, if not impossible, to speak of chronological "prog- 
ress" among Forster's novels prior to Howards End. The dates 
of composition of the three earlier works overlap, and the dif- 
ferences of tone and theme among them seem to be controlled 
more by genre or intention than by Forster's growth as an 
artist. With Howards End, however, the stages of Forster's 
career begin to assume an intelligible order. Though his method 
of seeing the world is not perceptibly different, his art acquires 
a new seriousness of purpose, a new intricacy of plot and sym- 
bolism, a broadening of social and metaphysical reference. It 
now becomes possible to recognize not only a technical develop- 
ment, but also an extension of the total meaning of Forster's 
fictional universe. We can, in fact, see this extension of mean- 
ing within his handling of technical devices. The gradual dis- 
appearance of allusions to Greek mythology, for example, 
marks a growing independence from a certain current of shallow 
moralism that runs through the earlier novels. Forster's ideas 
about man and nature remain much the same, but his shift of 
method in presenting them reflects a radical change of emphasis. 
Some orientation to the problem of interpreting Forster's 
use of mythology may be gotten from Nietzsche's famous dis- 
tinction between the Apollonian and the Dionysian principles. 
The Dionysian, according to Nietzsche in The Birth of Tragedy, 
is the spirit that feels the oneness of all things, and which con- 
sequently shares in all the pain and ecstasy in the universe. 
Its Promethean seizure of forbidden experience quickly becomes 
unbearable and must be succeeded by the spirit of Apollonian- 
ism. The Apollonian is the principium individuationis; it recog- 
nizes forms, borders, and categories, and imposes the image of 



THE LIMITATIONS OF MYTHOLOGY 

finite humanity upon the disorder of experience. As opposed to 
the Dionysian involvement in excess, the Apollonian insists on 
measure and morality; it substitutes the ideal of knowledge for 
that of participation. Tragedy, the highest of the arts, ideally 
transfixes experience at the moment when the Dionysian con- 
sciousness, tormented by its too-inclusive grasp of chaos, creates 
for itself an image-world in which its vision is "sorted out" into 
stage conflicts just the moment at which the unbearable is 
made bearable. Art is doomed to sterility, for Nietzsche, unless 
it draws its Apollonian images from a Dionysian intoxication 
with the primal unity. 

If we ask to what extent these two terms apply to Forster's 
English predecessors who borrowed Greek mythology, we find a 
general trend of Apollonianism. Among Romantic works, one 
thinks at once of Keats's Hyperion, which was meant to cele- 
brate the dethronement of the Titans by a relatively gentle, lyre- 
strumming Apollo. And Shelley's Prometheus Unbound, while 
glorifying the rebellious Titans, is utterly Apollonian in spirit. 
Shelley's Prometheus is as far from Dionysus as his Jupiter is. 
The Shelleyan apotheosis of human reason, the triumph of 
good over evil, the humanization of nature are all foreign to 
Nietzsche's Prometheanism, which defies the gods from a self- 
immolating, not a self-improving, urge. Most of the Victorians 
are still further removed from Nietzsche's sense of the Diony- 
sian. In Tennyson and Browning the myths become merely 
decoration for modern themes or occasions for the construction 
of psychological "characters." Matthew Arnold's classicism was 
more deeply felt but was equally free of Nietzschean frenzy. It 
was sweetness and light, not the brutal ecstasy of Dionysus, that 
Arnold looked for in the Greek nature, and his ideal was al- 
ways the Apollonian one of self-cultivation. 1 

There are, however, certain Victorians who reveal the con- 

* The foregoing paragraph is indebted to Douglas Bush, Mythology and 
the Romantic Tradition in English Poetry (Cambridge, Mass., 1937), 



THE LIMITATIONS OF MYTHOLOGY 

trary spirit. Swinburne, though basically a humanist, dwelt on 
the erotic and sadistic elements that Nietzsche includes in the 
Dionysian, and was in fact a student of the ancient cult of 
Dionysus. Pater, too, was fascinated by the Dionysian. His 
semi-anthropological essay, "A Study of Dionysus/* attempts 
to be objective about the cult but contains such implicit value- 
judgments as the following: "A type of second birth, from first 
to last, [Dionysus] opens, in his series of annual changes, for 
minds on the look-out for it, the hope of a possible analogy, 
between the resurrection of nature, and something else, as yet 
unrealised, reserved for human souls; and the beautiful, weeping 
creature, vexed by the wind, suffering, torn to pieces, and rejuve- 
nescent again at last . . . becomes an emblem or ideal of chasten- 
ing and purification, and of final victory through suffering/' 2 

This is really Victorian ameliorism in disguise; as Pater con- 
fesses, he is referring only "to ethical culture, to the perfecting 
of the moral nature." 8 Yet elsewhere Pater shows a less tenden- 
tious understanding of the myth. In his imaginary portrait, "De- 
nys L'Auxerrois," he reincarnates the figure of Dionysus in a 
medieval French town. Denys (Dionysus) awakens the latent 
Dionysianism of the Christian villagers, who pass through the 
successive phases of the bacchant: exuberant joy, morbid sav- 
agery, and, finally, satiation and lethargy. It is unlikely that Pater 
intends us either to approve or disapprove of this sequence; he 
seems only to be dramatizing the idea that human nature in any 
age is susceptible to immersion in the Dionysian. Yet his story 
is suggestive in that it recognizes the sacrifices involved in Diony- 
sianism; Pater would seem to accept the Nietzschean point that 
true "harmony with nature" entails a rejection of the human 
norm, a subversion of rational morality. 

The relevance of all this to Forster would seem at first to be 
nil. As an avowed humanist and apostle of reason, he is wary 

2 Walter Pater, Greek Studies; A Series of Essays (New York, 1894), pp. 
44f. 
2d., p. 44. 

186 



THE LIMITATIONS OF MYTHOLOGY 

of emotional excesses. Tragedy is not his mode of seeing things; 4 
and as for removing the veil of Maya and joining the totality 
of experience, A Passage to India tests the idea and finds it 
wanting. "Visions are supposed to entail profundity/' he writes, 
"butWait till you get one, dear reader!" 5 In an age of cata- 
clysms that might have satisfied even Nietzsche's appetite for 
the titanic and the barbaric, Forster has persistently argued for 
the Apollonian spirit of moderation. His intellectual ideals of 
tolerance, skepticism, and respect for factual truth form the es- 
sence of what Nietzsche stigmatized as Socratism. 6 

Forster's Cambridge training in classics, however, might en- 
courage us to look for traces of Dionysianism in his work. It is 
unlikely that he remained unaware of a trend in Cambridge 
anthropology that was influencing the interpretation of litera- 
ture at the turn of the century. J. G. Frazer's The Golden Bough, 
the first of whose twelve volumes appeared in 1890, vastly ex- 
tended the concept of primitivism beyond the limits of aborigi- 
nal cultures. Drawing examples from both the modern and the 
ancient world, Frazer revealed a substructure of magical beliefs 
under even the most advanced societies. The relevance of this 
demonstration to classical studies is evident if we recall how 
suddenly Greek civilization blossomed; in W. K. C. Guthrie's 
words, "It had sprung at a bound from darkness into light." 1 
As anthropologists began scrutinizing the classics for atavisms, so 

* Witness, e.g., his attitude toward war. Writing in 1939, he asked: 
"Ought we not, at such a moment, to act as Wagnerian heroes and heroines, 
who are raised above themselves by the conviction that all is lost or that 
all can be saved, and stride singing into the flames?" (Two Cheers, p. 21) 
Nietzsche, for whom Wagner at one time represented the ideally tragic 
consciousness, would probably have replied in the affirmative. Forster, 
however, simply remarks with customary sobriety: "No one who debates 
whether he shall behave tragically can possibly be a tragic character.'' 
(ibid., p. 21) 

B A Passage to India (New York, 1924), p. 208. 

It should be added that Nietzsche admired these virtues, and even 
admired Socrates. It was the lack of a counterbalancing Dionysian ex- 
pansiveness that made them disagreeable to him. 

W. K. C. Guthrie, The Greeks and Their Gods (London, 1950), 
p. 18. 



THE LIMITATIONS OF MYTHOLOGY 

classicists acquired a new respect for anthropology. Jane Harri- 
son, herself a Cambridge scholar, was to recall that "we classical 
deaf-adders stopped our ears and closed our eyes; but at the 
mere sound of the magical words 'Golden Bough' the scales fell 
we heard and understood/' 8 

What the classicists understood was, among other things, that 
the Olympian deities were to be regarded no longer in the 
decorative, static, half-serious fashion that had been customary 
since Ovid. Rather, they were the survivors of a battle with an 
earlier and cruder religion. The point made by Nietzsche in 
The Birth of Tragedy, that Apollonian religion gains its impetus 
from an awareness of the Dionysian chaos that precedes it, was 
more or less corroborated. 9 And literary people were quick to 
see the application of Frazer's researches to psychology. When 
Gilbert Murray wrote that "there is hardly any horror of primi- 
tive superstition of which we cannot find some distant traces in 
our Greek record," 10 he was adducing a reason for, not against, 
the study of Greek religion. The "dark gods" who recur in the 
pages of Joyce, Yeats, Lawrence, and Eliot are now personifi- 
cations of unconscious human forces. The mysterious and often 
savage underside of man's nature became a major subject of 
modern art, and with it came a revitalized notion of the truth 
of the Greek myths. 

Whether or not Forster felt this current, it is certain that his 
early stories show a distinct hospitality to the idea of Dionysian- 
ism. "The Story of a Panic" comes to mind at once in this con- 
nection. It deals with the transformation of a normal English 

8 Jane Ellen Harrison, Reminiscences of a Student's Life (London, 1925) , 
P- 8 3- > 

8 1 gather that one of the fruits of recent anthropology, however, has 
been the discovery that the simple antithesis between the cults of Dionysus 
and Apollo is untenable. There is evidence, indeed, that at certain mo- 
ments the two deities were considered identical. See W. K. C. Guthrie, 
Orpheus md Greek Religion; A Study of the Orphic Movement (London^ 
1952), pp. 43, 46, 218. 

10 Gilbert Murray, Five Stages of Greek Religion (New York, 1925), 
pp. 15!. 



THE LIMITATIONS OF MYTHOLOGY 

boy named Eustace into a disciple of "the great god Pan/' who 
appears (or one of whose satyrs appears) to Eustace in the 
Italian countryside. The story is built around the comic mis- 
understanding that Eustace's fellow-Englishmen, including the 
narrator, display in trying to curb the new Eustace's activities. 
These include a delirious romp in the woods and a flow of 
rhetoric about "great forces and manifestations of nature": 

"He spoke first of night and the stars and planets above his 
head, of the swarms of fire-flies below him, of the invisible sea 
below the fire-flies, of the great rocks covered with anemones 
and shells that were slumbering in the invisible sea. He spoke 
of the rivers and waterfalls, of the ripening bunches of grapes, 
of the smoking cone of Vesuvius and the hidden fire-channels 
that made the smoke, of the myriads of lizards who were lying 
curled up in the crannies of the sultry earth, of the showers of 
white rose-leaves that were tangled in his hair. And then he 
spoke of the rain and the wind by which all things are changed, 
of the air through which all things live, and of the woods in 
which all things can be hidden/' (Collected Tales, pp. 28f.) 

This is at least superficially similar to the Dionysian participa- 
tion in all experience. It is significant, too, that Forster neglects 
to claim that Eustace has been morally improved by his new 
naturalness; although we are sympathetic with his escape from 
his staid countrymen, it is made clear that his Apollonian "char- 
acter" has disintegrated. Insofar as the Dionysian equates free- 
dom with wild excess, "The Story of a Panic" is Dionysian. 

Less mythological, though similar in theme, is 'The Other 
Side of the Hedge," which presents its hero with a choice be- 
tween the ordinary temporal world and a timeless existence in 
which he can perceive "the magic song of nightingales, aftd the 
odour of invisible hay, and stars piercing the fading sky." (p. 
48) Dionysian wildness is missing, but the stor/s logic is 
Nietzschean an awareness of the unity of all things is granted 
only after the temporal, "Socratic" spirit has been abandoned. 
Then, too, there is "The Story of the Siren," an account of the 



THE LIMITATIONS OF MYTHOLOGY 

destruction of two people who claim to have seen a siren and 
are considered mad by society. The moral of the story is obscure, 
but its frame, again, is a contrast between the workaday human 
world and a darker, mythic order of experience. 

It is not difficult, however, to see that these stories are really 
in harmony with Forster's total ethical ideal. That ideal is the 
Apollonian one of proportion, but of vital proportion, between 
body and soul, passion and intellect. In his novels, particularly 
in The Longest Journey and Howards End, Forster has the lei- 
sure to bring his central characters to this balance by subjecting 
them to Margaret Schlegel's "continuous excursions into either 
realm/' The short stories, on the other hand, must confine them- 
selves to a single psychological reversal, and this usually means 
that only the first "excursion" toward a final harmony can be 
taken, namely, a confronting of the passionate side of one's 
nature. At bottom, Forster's tales rest on a rather conventional 
antithesis between naturalness and inhibition, paganism and 
suburban Christianity. 

This antithesis is the key to interpreting several of his other 
tales. In "Other Kingdom," for example, the Apollo-Daphne 
myth is given a refreshing twist: the girl who becomes a tree is 
spared not from ravishment, but from the opposite, a life in 
which her senses would have been starved. Again, the faun who 
appears unexpectedly to the curate in "The Curate's Friend" 
is at once a representative of the spirit of the countryside and 
a mirror in which the curate and his fiancee can see their true 
selves their selves in natural rather than otherworldly terms. 
And "The Road From Colonus" offers its aged hero the hope 
of "becoming a god" like Oedipus. Standing in a hollow tree, 
he feds himself accepted into the heart of nature for the first 
time, and, though his companions save his life by cajoling him 
away, we are plainly expected to sympathize with his original 
wish. 

In each of these tales the Dionysian identification with nature 
points dimly ahead toward the Apollonian ideal of self-knowl- 

130 



THE LIMITATIONS OF MYTHOLOGY 

edge. Instead of losing all sense of relationship in empathy with 
the world-soul, Forster's characters begin to see more relation- 
ships than previously; they cherish their individuality more 
dearly. Forster himself, though he concurs with the Nietzschean 
view that man has a deep kinship with the forces of nature, 
recoils from any true commitment to the Dionysian. His pagan- 
ism, like Pater's, refers "to ethical culture, to the perfecting 
of the moral nature." Between his attitude and Nietzsche's lies 
a gap as broad as that between skepticism and mysticism, com- 
edy and tragedy, moderation and heedless revolt. 

On the whole, then, Forster's use of mythology in his tales 
does not depart from the English Romantic tradition. We need 
not refer to the anthropologists to see parallels to his way of 
regarding the Greeks: it is implicit in Cambridge classicism of 
the 1890'$ and in the fashionable literature of that decade. We 
have already seen that his interest in Greek civilization, and 
specifically his admiration of its freedom from asceticism, closely 
follows the views of Lowes Dickinson; the Greek acceptance of 
passion within the ideal of proportion was one of the axioms 
of life at King's. And here again, the name of George Mere- 
dith suggests itself. Forster's morality of passion does not really 
go far beyond Meredith's belief in steering between the ascetic 
rocks and the sensual whirlpools. Forster is a little franker, a 
little more "psychological," but his early work still employs the 
Meredithian formula of cloaking ethical questions in the elegant 
garb of mythology. When Forster confesses in Howards End 
that "of Pan and the elemental forces, the public has heard a 
little too much" (Howards End, p. 108), he is announcing the 
end of the late-Victorian tradition in which he himself has 
participated. 11 

11 It is impo$sible here to catalogue the various uses to which mythology 
was put in late-Victorian literature. Douglas Bush summarizes: "In the lat- 
ter half of the century there is sufficient evidence that Pan is dead in the 
almost annual assertions that he is not; and so far as Dionysus could be 
said to have a renewal of life in the eighties and nineties, the wine of the 
world was perhaps less potent in nature than when put up in bottles." 

131 



THE LIMITATIONS OF MYTHOLOGY 

Among Forster's three earliest novels. Where Angels Fear to 
Tread is the least saturated with mythological allusions. The 
values endorsed there sincerity, spontaneity, and freedom from 
sexual repression are "pagan/* but the pagan gods do not ap- 
pear in the novel. There is, to be sure, a trace of Dionysianism 
embodied in the violence of Gino Carella and symbolized in the 
"terrible and mysterious" olive trees surrounding Monteriano; 
and the revelation of Caroline's fruitless desire for Gino strikes 
Philip as an instance of the "cruel antique malice of the gods." 
"Centuries of aspiration and culture," Philip thinks, " and the 
world could not escape it." (Where Angels Fear to Tread, p. 
182) Here, at least, Forster is asking us to stand in awe of the 
force of passion; but it is repression, not passion, whose sway 
produces the central catastrophe of the novel. 12 

The ambivalence of passion its potentiality for both de- 
structive and creative results is equally prominent in A Room 
With a View. The Florentine setting for the early action seems 
to elicit this duality. "Was there more in her [Florence's] frank 
beauty than met the eye," asks Forster, " the power, perhaps, 
to evoke passions, good and bad, and to bring them speedily 
to a fulfillment?" (A Room With a View, p. 91) Florence wit- 
nesses not only the valuable passion of Lucy and George, but 
also the fatal passion between the two quarrelers in the Piazza 
Signoria. The blood of the dying man, we remember, spatters 
Lucy's picture of Venus, showing all too literally the nearness 
of the two passions of love and wrath. This whole scene is pre- 
sided over by the pagan gods who inhabit the fountain in the 
Piazza (pp. 69^), whose immortality "has come to them after 
experience, not before. Here, not only in the solitude of Nature, 
might a hero meet a goddess, or a heroine a god." (pp. 



(Mythology cmd the Romantic Tradition, p. 396) For the figure of Pan in 
Forster's novels, see A Room With a View, p. in, and The Longest 
Journey, p. 213. 

12 It is also worth noting that Caroline in her ministrations to the be* 
leaved Gino appears to Philip as a "goddess" (ibid,, p. 172), for this is 
her first moment of instinctive, *'pagan" freedom in the novel. 

132 



THE LIMITATIONS OF MYTHOLOGY 

This is plainly a Meredithian gloss on the meeting of George 
and Lucy. Both Lucy's propriety and George's adolescent Welt- 
schmerz must be subdued in the course of the novel, and the 
process begins here under the aegis of the gods of experience. 

Characteristically, Forster reinvokes these early mythological 
references at later points when the question of passion between 
George and Lucy is at issue. When she meets him unexpectedly 
on the Fiesole hillside, Lucy finds George reminiscent of "He- 
roes gods the nonsense of schoolgirls" (p. 116), and when, 
much later, she has greeted him at the pool near Windy Cor- 
ner, she reflects that she "had bowed but to whom? To gods, 
to heroes, to the nonsense of school-girls! She had bowed across 
the rubbish that cumbers the world." (pp. 205^) By recalling 
his previous words but putting them in a more affirmative con- 
text, Forster reveals that Lucy is approaching a conscious knowl- 
edge of her true feelings. 

This growth of awareness is subtly enhanced by other changes 
in the novel's pagan allusions. We may remember that the trip 
to the Fiesole picnic, whose consequences seem at first to be 
so unpleasant for everyone, is likened to the reckless charioting 
of Phaethon (see p. 95); while the second kiss, occurring 
in an English summer rather than an Italian spring, is observed 
by a sun "guided, not by Phaethon, but by Apollo, competent, 
unswerving, divine." (p. 226) When George, strengthened 
by his pagan baptism in the woods, finally succeeds in winning 
Lucy away from her conventional fears, Lucy has "a sense 
of deities reconciled." (p. 310) The deities are presumably 
Aphrodite and Pallas Athene, for Mr. Emerson has just an- 
nounced, a few lines earlier, that in fighting for love we are also 
fighting for truth. In accepting George's love Lucy becomes true 
to her own nature; the familiar Apollonian virtue of self-knowl- 
edge emerges side-by-side with passionate love. 

Of all Forstefs novels, The Longest Journey is the most 
deeply imbued with mythology, and it is also the one whose 
meaning depends most crucially on our interpretation of its 

133 



THE LIMITATIONS OF MYTHOLOGY 

myths. Its plot, like that of the other two early novels, consists 
of a gradual movement away from middle-class prejudice toward 
a kind of pagan clear-sightedness, but this movement is com- 
plicated by the fact that Rickie Elliot begins with a certain 
degree of enlightenment. What he must do is to reacquire and 
deepen the paganism of his Cambridge days. His pretense that 
the elms in his college courtyard are dryads, his personification 
of the stars as "gods and heroes," and his frequent retreats to 
his private dell near Madingley constitute a pale, literary Hel- 
lenism that is nonetheless superior to the "great world" that will 
shortly envelop him. The middle section of the book, accord- 
ingly, is laden with contrasts between Rickie's mythological 
way of apprehending the world and the literal and arid way of 
the Pembrokes. These false ascetics have in their hallway a 
replica of the Hermes of Praxiteles "of course only the bust" 
(The Longest Journey, p. 44), for reasons of decency. The su- 
premely pagan Stephen Wonham indicates the true extent to 
which this plaster statuary represents loyalty to Greek values: he 
hangs his hat on it and later smashes it to pieces (see pp. 
251,283). 

The gesture toward paganism, however, is an important fea- 
ture of the Pembrokes' attitude; their condescending patronage 
of mythology expresses the latent flaw in Rickie's own pagan- 
ism, his lurking belief that the "great world" will invalidate the 
truth of the myths. Agnes begins her enticement of Rickie by 
faking an interest in dryads, and she momentarily takes the role 
of dryad herself (see pp. 88f.); but her true opinion of 
Rickie's Greek notion that "poetry, not prose, lies at the core" 
is concisely spoken after their marriage: "balder-dash." (p. 
201 ) Rickie will never be capable of the pagan life, but Stephen 
and Ansell will at least succeed in rescuing him from the Pem- 
brokes' narrow-sighted conformism. 

Mythology is closely interwoven with Rickie's psychological 
development. Gerald Dawes, whose bullying he has remembered 
in a spirit of masochism, has had the body of a Greek athlete, 

134 



THE LIMITATIONS OF MYTHOLOGY 

and after his death he becomes a kind of god for Riclde. It is 
Rickie's worship of Gerald, we recall, that lies behind his mar- 
riage of Agnes. This becomes relevant when we come across 
Stephen Wonham, who distinctly resembles Gerald: "the Gerald 
of history, not the Gerald of romance." (p. 125) Stephen 
now replaces Gerald as the object of Rickie's devotion; but 
unlike Gerald, he remains alive to baffle every effort to idolize 
him. His resemblance to Gerald, in fact, is just sufficient to re- 
mind Rickie of his own inadequacy as a surrogate Gerald; for 
Rickie has, in spite of his intention, gradually "dethroned" 
Gerald as the consort of his "goddess," Agnes, (p. 80) 
Stephen's function is thus to draw Rickie out of his symbolic 
interpretation of things, or rather, to show him that the real 
symbolic value in his life must be found in relationships deeper 
than those created by his neurosis. Stephen's "brotherhood" is 
vital to Rickie, but Stephen will not allow himself to be treated 
as a brother unless his separate existence is respected; he re- 
fuses, for example, to become simply a surrogate for the late 
Mrs. Elliot. In a sense, therefore, he cautions Rickie against 
mythology. Though he frees Rickie from the Pembrokes' bond- 
age to society, he also deprives him of his private pantheon and 
his allegorical daydreams about nature. The Rickie who even- 
tually writes a successful realistic novel has learned, at least 
temporarily, to take the world at face value. 

Forster himself, however, resorts to a good deal of mythology 
in order to symbolize the issues that Rickie must meet. The 
most important of his mythological symbols is the figure of 
Demeter, "the goddess rejoicing in the spring." (p. 289) 
This is the Demeter whose myth explained the earth, accord- 
ing to Pater, "in its sorrow and its promise, its darkness and 
its helpfulness to man." 18 She is an embodiment, not just of 
pastoral gaiety, but of suffering and hope, of disappointment 
and salvation combined. The photograph of Demeter in Ste- 
phen's possession happens to be of a statue that Pater singled out 

i* Greek Studies, p. 98. 



THE LIMITATIONS OF MYTHOLOGY 

for special comment. This is the Demeter of Cnidus, discovered 
in 1857 and transported to the British Museum, where Forster 
undoubtedly saw it. 14 Pater says of it that it transfixes Demeter 
"in some pause of her restless wandering over the world in 
search of the lost child" and that it offers "an abstract type of 
the wanderer/' 15 The description would seem to be relevant to 
Rickie Elliot's spiritual odyssey in search of his dead mother and 
lost brother; and Demeter's "shattered knees" in The Longest 
Journey (p, 325, for example) , which are a feature of the dam- 
aged Cnidian statue, recall the lameness of Rickie, whose own 
knees are finally shattered by the railroad train that kills him. 16 
The chief function of Forstef s Demeter, however, is not to 
provide a type for the hero but to symbolize a natural principle 
with which he must come to grips, that of fertility. The elaborate 
reasoning behind Rickie's decision to marry could be condensed 
into the statement that he is anxious to make his peace with 
Demeter. He knows, intellectually, that his home is not in 
literature or ideality but in the solid physical world, and he 
wants to recognize his dependence upon nature; yet this nature 
has made him an orphan and a cripple, and has left him poorly 
suited for a normal masculine role. Ansell, who is both more 
practical and more homosexual than Rickie, has no illusions 
about his own adaptability. When he hears that Rickie is 
about to become a father he passes by the Cnidian Demeter 
in the British Museum and thinks to himself frankly "that here 
were powers he could not cope with, nor, as yet, under- 
stand." (p. 210) And Stephen's position is at the opposite pole; 
being utterly committed to Demetefs spirit, he is the one char- 

14 See his essay, "Cnidus/' in Abinger Harvest, pp. 175-178. 

18 Greek Studies, p. 149. 

16 Rickie's mother may provide a closer parallel to Demeter than Rickie 
himself. Her spirit searches through the earth for her lost child (Stephen) . 
Her advice to Rickie, to let the Elliots die out, points toward the rebirth 
in the novel, for Stephen's "springtime" arrives only after Rickie has been 
killed in rescuing him. These correspondences are of course very approximate 
and do not suggest the presence of allegory. 

136 



THE LIMITATIONS OF MYTHOLOGY 

acter who can bind himself to future generations of mankind. 
The pathos of The Longest Journey is Rickie's because he alone 
is capable of self-delusion about his relationship to the natural 
forces that have produced him. 

Submission to Demeter, then, betokens a state of mind 
nearly opposite to the allegorical consciousness that directs 
Rickie's and Forstefs own short stories. Yet the very employ- 
ment of Demeter to illustrate this theme is a concession to the 
old allegorical spirit. Stephen's photograph of Demeter, like 
Lucy Honeychurch's of Venus, is as blatantly emblematic as 
the Slough of Despond, and indicates how incompletely The 
Longest Journey answers to its own ideal of art. Still, the more 
realistic credo is implied, and we are not surprised to find that 
it has been put into effect in Howards End. 

Very little is heard of the Greek myths in Howards End, and 
that little is of the nature of burlesque. Leonard Bast's employer, 
for example, the Porphyrion Corporation, has as its emblem a 
giant whom Forster likens to an impulsive and obscure Olym- 
pian (Howards End, p. 139) . And the nymphs of modern Hert- 
fordshire, we are told, should properly be depicted as inde- 
terminate, smoky, and insipid, with eyes averted from their ap- 
proaching urban fate, (see pp. igyf.) Such allusions merely 
illustrate the author's decision to represent modern life as the 
unpoetic and specifically un-Greek thing it is. 

Howards End is full of symbolism, but it tends to be pri- 
vate and local rather than literary. The obvious symbols to 
which the story coheres, such as the house, the sword, the in- 
herited library, and the elm tree at Howards End, are drawn 
from the physical ingredients of the story itself; when the char- 
acters seek foi meaning they now find it in their immediate 
experience, not in pictures or books. There is a good deal of 
emphasis upon pagan legends, but the legends, significantly, 
are English and are focused directly upon the spot where 

137 



THE LIMITATIONS OF MYTHOLOGY 

Howards End stands. 17 What they signify is essentially what 
Demeter means in The Longest Journey: the characters* in- 
volvement with the common lot of humanity, living, dead, and 
unborn. In Howards End this involvement appears not as a 
threat to "spirituality" but as a saving fact, a refuge from the 
rootlessness of urbanism and commerce. The insistent theme of 
"only connect" is served by the attractive power of the local 
myths, which exert a vague but persistent influence over Ruth 
Wilcox and Margaret SchlegeL In becoming mistress of the 
myth-haunted Howards End, Margaret takes a sanctified role 
as transmitter of the ancient strength and wisdom of her race. 
In terms of plot we might say that the cardinal difference 
between The Longest Journey and Howards End is that the 
heroine of the latter novel succeeds, where Rickie fails, in mak- 
ing peace with the prosaic side of her world. Margaret's prob- 
lem, like Rickie's, is to overcome the fear that no valid meaning 
is to be found anywhere. She is able to make Forster's demanded 
"connections" only after she has faced down the goblins of 
panic and emptiness mythological figures, if you like who 
declare that there is "no such thing as splendour or heroism in 
the world/' (Howards End, p. 33) Though she is more adapt- 
able than Rickie, her challenge is also greater: she must pre- 
serve her sense of truth and beauty while remaining within the 
"great world" that Rickie fled. And this new aim would seem 
to be related to Forster's refinement of technique in drawing 
the novel's symbolism entirely from the tangible setting of the 
action. The relative concreteness and self-sufficiency of Howards 
End's world suggests that Forster has become more willing to 
take things as they are found. He, too, sees the folly of turning 
one's back on the Wilcoxes, and his achievement in making 
them believable (compare, for instance, Henry Wilcox with 
Herbert Pembroke for "roundness" of character) undoubtedly 
owes much to this more resigned and realistic attitude. 

IT Note, eg v the refrain of allusions to the wych-elm at Howards End 
that has a vaguely draidic tradition attached to it. ibid., pp. 3, 22, jiL, 
189!., 206. 

188 



THE LIMITATIONS OF MYTHOLOGY 

In A Passage to India, finally, the mythology of harmony 
with the earth is inconspicuous, for the good reason that har- 
mony with the Indian earth means madness. Indeed, the per- 
vasive theme of the irreconcilability of the human order with 
the divine or natural is destructive of the very idea of humanistic 
symbolism. Yet A Passage to India is an intricately symbolic 
novel, in which the slightest details of landscape or plot can 
carry hints of transcendental secrets. The dominant symbol of 
the Marabar Caves and their echoes strikes a note of anti- 
meaning that reverberates throughout the book. No extraneous 
myths need intrude to underline the humanistic moral, for the 
moral itself disappears in the face of a paralyzing vision of dis- 
order. 

We shall find that the quest for meaning that was partially 
rewarded in the lives of Philip Herriton and Caroline Abbott, 
of Lucy Honeychurch and George Emerson, of Rickie Elliot, 
and of Margaret Schlegel, becomes futile and even ridiculous in 
A Passage to India. Aziz, who "desired to remember his wife 
and could not" (A Passage to India, p. 56) ; Adela Quested, who 
thinks that the pressure of Ronny Heaslop's hand "surely meant 
something" (p. 94), but discovers the contrary; Cyril Fielding, 
whose moment of possible enlightenment passes by "with 
averted face and on swift wings" (p. 191); and Mrs. Moore, 
who is incapable of entertaining "one large thought" (p. 208) 
after her mystical realization that all value resolves itself to 
"bourn" all these characters are victims of Forster's intensified 
doubts about the usefulness of that undignified organ, the hu- 
man mind. The process we have traced in Forstefs art, of in- 
creasing deference to the hostile or indifferent powers by whose 
leave we exist, is here carried one step too far. The humanistic 
virtue of looking steadily at the world develops into a compul- 
sion to gaze helplessly into the abyss. 

In the contrast between the inhibited English colonials and 
several unselfconscious, sexually vigorous, and "godlike" Indians, 
however, there are echoes of Forster's earlier mythological 

139 



THE LIMITATIONS OF MYTHOLOGY 

devices. The most striking of these references occurs in the court- 
room scene, when Adela Quested, who is trying to recall whether 
Aziz wanted to rape her or vice versa, notices an Indian menial 
who is operating the fan: "Almost naked, and splendidly formed 
... he caught her attention as she came in, and he seemed to 
control the proceedings. He had the strength and beauty that 
sometimes come to flower in Indians of low birth. When that 
strange race nears the dust and is condemned as untouchable, 
then nature remembers the physical perfection that she accom- 
plished elsewhere, and throws out a god not many, but one 
here and there, to prove to society how little its categories im- 
press her. . . . Pulling the rope towards him, relaxing it rhythmi- 
cally, sending swirls of air over others, receiving none himself, 
he seemed apart from human destinies, a male fate, a winnower 
of souls." (p. 217) 

The physique of this man (to say nothing of his porten- 
tous movements) possibly helps Adela to recall the attraction 
she felt for Aziz, his countryman, for she withdraws her charges 
shortly afterward. His mythical power is nothing more or less 
than his sexuality, but it is more effective in every sense than 
Forster's earlier allusions to Venus and Demeter. 

There are, to be sure, "thematic" literary allusions in A Pas- 
sage to India, but they refer to the literature of Islam and Hin- 
duism, and are unobtrusively woven into Forstefs narrative of 
events. No longer are the characters required to trudge around 
with photographs of their patron gods and goddesses, and no 
longer do they speak in mottoes quoted or paraphrased from 
Shelley, Butler, and Meredith, These are unnecessary because 
Forster's intent is now metaphysical, not moral. Instead of rec- 
ommending that we behave in such-and-such a way, his novel 
tries simply to show us an image of our drastic plight as human 
beings. 

This progress in Forster's career may be understood if we 
borrow (and abuse) the Nietzschean terms with which we be- 
gan. Forstef s tone in A Passage to India is more "Apollonian" 

140 



THE LIMITATIONS OF MYTHOLOGY 

than ever in its sober dismissal of romantic illusions, yet this is 
also the most poetic of his novels, in the sense that poetry seeks 
for images to state the felt relationship between man and his 
universe. To show the relative insignificance of morality against 
a background of total disorder is to have given the Dionysian 
principle its due. Here Forster turns over his art, for the first 
and apparently the last time, to a single controlling vision, 
which, though it eclipses his humanism, finally produces a novel 
with something of the power and wholeness of a myth itself. 
Such an art, in Nietzsche's words, "may transform these horrible 
reflections on the terror and absurdity of existence into rep- 
resentations with which man may live." 18 

ia The Birth of Tragedy. The Philosophy of Nietzsche, p. 985. 



141 




A PASSAGE TO INDIA 

A Passage to India (1924), deservedly the best-known of For- 
ster's novels, is also the most difficult to interpret consistently. 
Critics have generally recognized that, philosophically, it is 
Forster's most ambitious work, but not everyone has professed 
to be happy with this fact; the novel's story, we are sometimes 
told, is too frail to bear the weight of its supposed metaphysical 
implications. Furthermore, what are those implications, and 
how do they bear upon the narrower issues of ethics and Empire 
that are raised? The novel has inspired some perceptive critics 
to reach quite opposite conclusions as to its ethical point of 
view. It seems to me, however, that Lionel Trilling comes 
closest to the truth when he says that A Passage to India, rather 
than telling us what is to be done, simply restates the familiar 
political and social dilemmas in the light of the total human 
situation. 1 

Such a light, of course, must be cast from a great distance; 
hence the necessity for extreme detachment in the tone of For- 
ster's narrative and commentary. Hence, too, the incongruity 
between the novel's trivial action and its hints of enormous 
meaning. This incongruity is essential to Forster's intentions; 
indeed, if I were to assign a single theme to A Passage to India, 
I would call it the incongruity between aspiration and reality. 
Religiously, politically, and simply in terms of the characters' 
efforts to get along with one another, this incongruity is per- 
vasive. The strands of the novel are unified by the thematic 
principle that unity is not to be obtained, and the plot is trivial 
because Forster's restatements of the ordinary questions imply 

*E t M. Forster, p. 138. 

14* 



A PASSAGE TO INDIA 

that all of human life, whether great or small in our customary 
opinion, is ensnared in pettiness. 

It may be difficult at first to adjust our critical focus to this 
lofty contemplation of man's helplessness, yet the departure 
from Forster's earlier novels is not extreme. Even in Where An- 
gels Fear to Tread, we remember, Philip Herriton's conclusion 
is that life is greater but less complete than he has supposed; 
he discovers that his humanistic virtues have not really led him 
to an understanding of the world. A Room With a View, 
though it ends pleasantly enough for its heroine, suggests, in 
the Carlylean agnosticism of the Emersons, a similar uneasiness 
about the ultimate order. In The Longest Journey all three of 
the central male characters suspect that the universe is indif- 
ferent or hostile to humanity. And the satisfactory conclusion 
to Howards End is reached, not by Margaret Schlegel's having 
acquiesced in the providential scheme, but through her striving 
against the panic and emptiness of a godless world. In each 
of the four novels there is a measure of heroism, but it is always 
strictly bordered by a sense of human limitation.^The difference 
in emphasis between these books and^A Passage to India is sim- 
ply that the latter neglects to overcome the latent fear of chaos; 
it continues to illustrate the humanistic struggle against mean- 
inglessness, but fails to affirm that a victory is possible. 

The situation of the novel is partly familiar* partly n^w. In 
several ways the basic contrast between India and England, or 
between India and Anglo-India, brings us back to the world of 
Where Angels Fear to Tread and A Room with a View. The 
English sexual prudery, the emphasis on duty and good form, 
the distrust of everything foreign are all brought into expected 
relief against the spontaneity of a manifestly un-English coun- 
try. The colonial administrators of Chandrapore and their big- 
oted wives stumble through a typically comic series of misinter- 
pretations of India and individual Indians, just as the earlier 
tourists misinterpret Italy; and some of the central English 
characters Adek Quested, Cyril Fielding, Mrs. Moore un- 

143 



A PASSAGE TO INDIA 

dergo the customary Forsterian shift of sympathy toward the 
"native" point of view. Socially, however, the novel is much 
more complicated than the earlier ones. India, too, has a strati- 
fied society, one that is in fact more rigidly discriminatory than 
England's; and the Indian protagonist, Aziz, is only slightly 
closer to, say, Gino Carella than are the Englishmen in the 
novel. He, too, is restrained on all sides by barriers of class and 
race. 

Similarly, we look in vain for romantic suggestions that India, 
like Italy, stands for a passionate release of the human spirit; 
India is apparently more of a muddle than a mystery, and it 
distinctly does not embody a tidy moral for the English visitors 
to ponder on their way home. This brings us to a basic difference 
in the way Forster now regards his subject-matter. The foreign 
civilization is no longer a moralized backdrop to the novel's 
action, but is itself a kind of protagonist. It is not simply that 
we come to know the Indian Aziz more thoroughly than any of 
the English characters, but that the image of India as a whole 
is more important than any of the figures, English or Indian, 
who move across it. To understand India is to understand the 
rationale of the whole creation; but the characters do not under- 
stand it, and Forstefs plot makes us ask whether human facul- 
ties are capable of such understanding at all. After each charac- 
ter has made his feeble effort to grasp the total pattern, we are 
left again with the enormous and irrational presence of India, 
a riddle that can be ignored but never solved. 

The literal plot of A Passage to India seems at first to be un- 
related to this symbolic level of meaning. Its chief issue is one 
that is suitable to a detective story: whether or not Aziz has actu- 
ally attempted to rape Adela Quested in the Marabar Caves. 
This, however, is bound up with the whole problem of Anglo- 
Indian misunderstanding, for the occasion of the supposed as- 
sault is a picnic organized by Aziz in the interest of interracial 
friendship. Adda's near-disastrous haDucuiation is, completely 
apart from Its religious implications, a symbolic breakdown of 

1U 



A PASSAGE TO INDIA 

the effort at mutual sympathy between the two countries. Adela 
herself has come to Chandrapore not simply to marry Ronny 
Heaslop, the City Magistrate, but to "know India" on its own 
terms. Mrs. Moore, too, her traveling-companion and Kenny's 
mother, has come with a willingness to understand and love the 
Indians. Much of the early by-play of the plot is taken up with 
the efforts of Adela and Mrs. Moore to be generous toward In- 
dia efforts that are thwarted not by Indians, but by the suspi- 
cious and snobbish colonial officials, including Ronny Heaslop. 
When a genuine rapport between East and West seems finally 
imminent, however, it is shown to be impossible. Indians and 
Englishmen must remain apart, not because Indians are venal 
and shifty (as Ronny and his friends believe) but because of 
fundamental differences in temperament, social structure, and 
religious outlook. The one hope for unity is, as we might expect, 
a trust in the power of affectionate friendship among individuals; 
but even this proves inadequate, as we find in the crumbling of 
relations between Aziz and Cyril Fielding, the liberal and hu- 
mane principal of Chandrapore's Government College. 

A Passage to India, then, finally refuses all bids for "passage" 
through the national barriers it defines; the more earnest the 
gestures of personal good will, the more thoroughly they are 
resented and misconstrued on both sides. Such a novel can 
have no hero or villain, since the blame for the failure of com- 
munication rests on the whole conflict of civilizations, indeed 
upon human nature generally. Because this is so, the novel 
dwells less upon single personalities than its four predecessors; 
instead of following one character's internal debate between 
values represented by a few other characters, we stand before a 
social panorama in which a multitude of "flat" characters are 
briefly glimpsed. 

Thus, on the English side> we shift our main focus continu- 
ally among Adela, Mrs. Moore, and Fielding, none of whom 
matches the complexity of Ridde Elliot or Margaret Schlegel; 
and after these, and perhaps Ronny, we become briefly ao- 

146 



A PASSAGE TO INDIA 

quainted with a series of insignificant persons whose natures can 
be summed up in a phrase. There is Major Callendar, the Civil 
Surgeon, who is rude to Aziz but knows that Aziz is profes- 
sionally superior to him; Mr. Turton, the well-meaning but 
jingoistic Collector; his wife, who speaks Urdu but knows only 
the imperative mood; Miss Derek, a prankster chiefly memorable 
for her expletives ("golly!" "how putrid!" and so on); the Rev- 
erends Graysford and Sorley, timid missionaries; Mr. McBryde, 
the District Superintendent of Police, whom Forster calls the 
most reflective and best educated of the Chandrapore officials, 
but who firmly maintains that all persons born south of latitude 
thirty are criminals at heart; and several others, some of whom 
appear only for a sentence or a paragraph. 

Among the Indians, Aziz and the Hindu Professor Godbole 
are important and are sharply portrayed, but behind them stand 
rows of characters whose nearly unanimous contempt for the 
English tends to blur their individuality. There is the Nawab 
Bahadur, who argues against superstition but believes in ghosts; 
Mahmoud Ali, Aziz's genially cynical friend who hates the 
British but loves the memory of Queen Victoria; Mohammed 
Latif, "a gentle, happy and dishonest old man" (p. 14) who 
humbly but doggedly poaches on his distant relations; Hamidul- 
lah, a Cambridge graduate who wistfully deplores the "'wire- 
pulling and fear" of Chandrapore's political atmosphere (see 
p. 107); Aziz's servant Hassan, an accomplished shirker; Dr. 
Panna Lai, whose low social position licenses Aziz to make an 
enemy of him; the magistrate Das, who tries unsuccessfully to 
befriend Aziz after presiding over the trial; and numerous other 
figures of incidental importance. Forster underscores the profu- 
sion of levels to Indian society. We are told, for example, that 
in addition to the miserable clients who wait in the dust outside 
Chandrapore's courthouse, "there were circles even beyond these 
people who wore nothing but a loincloth, people who wore 
not even that, and spent their lives in knocking two sticks to- 
gether before a scarlet doll humanity grading and drifting 

146 



A PASSAGE TO INDIA 

beyond the educated vision, until no earthly invitation can em- 
brace it." (p. 37) 

Sentences like this last one suggest more than they directly 
say; they lead us to search for some controlling view of life 
behind the observed fact that is reported. In this case Forster 
has used two related metaphors that are picked up and elaborated 
elsewhere with metaphysical overtones. These are the metaphors 
of receding circles and of invitation. In A Passage to India For- 
ster habitually allows his vision to slide outward from a human 
"circle" of perspective to a macrocosmic one, so that we come 
to see the lives of his characters as a tiny, though possibly cen- 
tral, spot in the total pattern. The very first chapter, which 
resembles that of Nostromo in its portentous fixing of the scale 
of action, makes striking use of this device. At night over 
Chandrapore, "the stars hang like lamps from the immense 
vault. The distance between the vault and them is as nothing 
to the distance behind them, and that farther distance, though 
beyond colour, last freed itself from blue." (p. 9) Forster's syn- 
tax here is confusing, but his meaning is sufficiently clear: the 
scale of measurement suggested by the part of the universe visi- 
ble to man is insignificantly small compared with the colorless 
(and hence valueless) realm beyond it. 

Later in the novel Forster is more insistent about this dwarfing 
of humanity. Thus while a group of Englishmen are speaking 
together at a garden party, "their words seemed to die as soon 
as uttered. Some kites hovered overhead, impartial, over the 
kites passed the mass of a vulture, and with an impartiality ex- 
ceeding all, the sky, not deeply coloured but translucent, poured 
light from its whole circumference. It seemed unlikely that the 
series stopped here. Beyond the sky must not there be something 
that overarches all the skies, more impartial even than they? 
Beyond which again. . . " (pp, 39!) Here the importance of 
man is qualified not only by tie predatory kites and vulture, 
suggesting death, but more horribly by the concentric spheres 
of "impartiality/' that is, of divine indifference to the human 

IJft 



A PASSAGE TO INDIA 

world. Mrs. Moore, the Christian, begins to doubt whether the 
name of Jehovah can be meaningful in the vast impersonality 
of India. "Outside the arch there seemed always an arch/' she 
reflects, "beyond the remotest echo a silence." (p. 52) 

Another disquieting feature of India is the constant sur- 
rounding presence of the jungle. Unlike England, whose modest 
proportions and mild climate encourage the illusion of harmony 
between man and nature (Ronny and Adela, significantly, have 
had "serious walks and talks" at Grasmere), India is frankly 
unimpressed by man. "Bats, rats, birds, insects will as soon nest 
inside a house as out; it is to them a normal growth of the 
eternal jungle, which alternately produces houses trees, houses 
trees." (p. 35) The animals of England are scarcely more con- 
siderate, of course, "but in the tropics the indifference is more 
prominent, the inarticulate world is closer at hand and readier 
to resume control as soon as men are tired," (p. 114) 

It is in these conditions that Forster develops his metaphor 
of invitation. The offering or withholding of invitations, which 
is the Englishman's characteristic means of keeping his life in 
proper social order, becomes ineffectual when such "guests" as 
tigers and cobras may drop in at any time. And this fact pre- 
sents a challenge to the whole Western Christian mind, as we 
can see in the following passage: 

"All invitations must proceed from heaven perhaps; perhaps 
it is futile for men to initiate their own unity, they do but 
widen the gulfs between them by the attempt. So at all events 
thought old Mr. Graysford and young Mr. Sorley, ... In our 
Father's house are many mansions, they taught, and there alone 
will the incompatible multitudes of mankind be welcomed and 
soothed. Not one shall be turned away by the servants on that 
verandah, be he bkck or white, not one shall be kept standing 
who approaches with a loving heart. And why should the divine 
hospitality cease hare? Consider, with all reverence, the mon- 
keys. May there not be a mansion for the monkeys also? Old 
Mr. Graysford said No, but young Mr. Sorley, who was ad- 

148 



A PASSAGE TO INDIA 

vanced, said Yes; he saw no reason why monkeys should not 
have their collateral share of bliss, and he had sympathetic dis- 
cussions about them with his Hindu friends. And the jackals? 
Jackals were indeed less to Mr. Sorley's mind, but he admitted 
that the mercy of God, being infinite, may well embrace all 
mammals. And the wasps? He became uneasy during the descent 
to wasps, and was apt to change the conversation. And oranges, 
cactuses, crystals and mud? and the bacteria inside Mr. Sorley? 
No, no, this is going too far. We must exclude someone from 
our gathering, or we shall be left with nothing." (pp. 37!) 

Forster is of course being deliberately absurd in pressing the 
social metaphor to these lengths. He is implying, with logical 
irony, that Christianity cannot afford to slacken its "inhospital- 
ity" to chaos; as soon as one opens the doors of heaven a crack 
wider, the whole idea of bodily resurrection is invaded with 
contradictions. Human kind, as a Christian poet has put it, can- 
not bear very much reality. 

On one level the idea of invitation is perfectly literal in A 
Passage to India; the social tangle of the novel is adumbrated 
in the repeated question of whether Englishmen and Indians 
should entertain one another. Early in the novel, under pres- 
sure from Adela and Mrs. Moore, the English colonials agree 
to include Indians in a bridge party, but their continuing suspi- 
cion and snobbery prevent any real mingling of the races; the 
occasion becomes an embarrassing image of apartheid. Again, 
Aziz's invitation to Adela, Mrs. Moore, and Fielding to inspect 
the Marabar Caves is an ill-starred gesture of friendliness. Even 
Fielding's private entertainment of Aziz with the two ladies ends 
in misunderstanding; Ronny, who has the Forsterian egoist's gift 
of Believing precisely the opposite of what is true, arrives on the 
scene and suggests to Fielding that Aziz cannot be trusted with 
the delectable Miss Quested. The Indians themselves are divided 
along religious lines and are no closer to unity at the end of the 
novel than at the beginning. The flurry of camaraderie follow- 
ing the trial is quickly replaced by the ancient distrust between 

149 



A PASSAGE TO INDIA 

Moslem and Hindu, while the breach between Indians and Eng- 
lish is wider than ever. Fielding, the one character who has tem- 
porarily "belonged" to both sides, understands the futility of his 
liberalism and departs from India altogether. The very spirit of 
the Indian earth, Forster says, "tries to keep men in compart- 
ments" (p. 127), and in the final sentence of the novel the sky 
and earth together are pictured as conspiring against mutual un- 
derstanding. 

On another level of interpretation, this social impasse , opens 
out into the religious question that the Reverends Graysford 
and Sorley handle so gingerly: whether God's attention extends 
to all His creatures, to some of them, or to none. It is significant, 
for instance, that the famous image of the wasp in A Passage to 
India is introduced just after Ronny has tried to discourage his 
mother from associating with Aziz, and just before Aziz is in- 
vited to the bridge party by Mr. Turton. Mrs. Moore finds a 
wasp on a coat-peg and, in calling it "Pretty dear" (p. 35), 
acknowledges its right to existence; she "invites" it into the 
circle of her benevolent interest. The Reverend Sorley, however, 
draws the line precisely at wasps; he must concede that it is 
really too much to ask that God should bother with them. Much 
later in the novel the figure of the wasp is introduced in the 
mind of Professor Godbole, who remembers Mrs. Moore and 
a wasp with the same spiritual tenderness: "He loved the wasp 
equally, he impelled it likewise, he was imitating God." (p. 286) 
The Westerners and Moslems in A Passage to India, considering 
themselves distinct from God and from one another, are inhos- 
pitable to insects, and the enmity seems mutual. Aziz is re- 
peatedly upset by the presence of flies in his house, and Fielding, 
the Western rationalist, is pursued by bees. (pp. 102, 279, 299) 
Mrs. Moore and Professor Godbole extend their love to wasps 
because their religions his is Hinduism, hers a sporadic mysti- 
cism overlaying her Christian training accept the entire crea- 
tion as an indivisible part of God's being. 

150 



A PASSAGE TO INDIA 

Is the novel, then, a covert apology for Hinduism? Many 
readers have thought so, but at the expense of oversimplifying 
Forster's attitude. Hinduism is certainly the religion most able 
to cope with the bewildering contradictions one finds in India, 
but its method of doing this accepting everything indiscrimi- 
nately, obliterating all distinctions has obvious disadvantages 
that are brought out in the course of the novel. The tripartite 
structure of A Passage to India, with its formal shifting from 
"Mosque" to "Caves" to "Temple/' suggests that various re- 
ligious paths to truth are being problematically offered; and the 
inconclusive and frustrating ending of the book implies that 
each path, while having particular advantages that the others 
lack, ultimately ends in a maze. 

Those who favor a Hindu reading of A Passage to India rest 
their claims on the final section of the novel, where the setting 
has changed from Westernized Chandrapore to a Hindu Native 
State. In these surroundings there is, indeed, occasion for a 
meeting of East and West. But the meeting, which takes place 
at the peak of the Hindu festival of Gokul Ashtami, is effected 
through the capsizing of two boats in a furious rainstorm, and 
it is a moot question whether the momentarily reconciled par- 
ties have been drenched with Hindu love or simply drenched. It 
is a climax, Forster warns, only "as far as India admits of one" 
(p. 315), and in retrospect the festival amounts only to "ragged 
edges of religion . . . unsatisfactory and undramatic tangles." 
(p. 316) If Hinduism succeeds, where Islam and Christianity 
fail, in taking the entire universe into its view, we still cannot 
silence the voice of Western humanism. What about man and 
his need for order? Are we to sacrifice our notion of selfhood 
to the ideal of inclusiveness? "The fact is," Forster has said 
elsewhere, "we can only love what we know personally." (Two 
Cheers, p. 45) And as Fielding thinks when he has quit India 
and recovered his sense of proportion at Venice, "Without form, 
how can there be beauty?" (p. 282) 

151 



A PASSAGE TO INDIA 

These misgivings about reading A Passage to India in a spirit 
of orthodoxy are strengthened by an acquaintance with For- 
ster's private statements of opinion about the religions involved. 
We know, of course, that such statements cannot take the place 
of internal evidence, but in this case the internal evidence is 
somewhat ambiguous; the temptation to ask Forster what he 
really thinks is irresistible. His attitude toward Christianity is 
hardly obscure, but Islam and Hinduism have aroused mixed 
feelings in him, and these, I think, find their way into A Passage 
to India. On his second trip to India, in 1921, Forster was Pri- 
vate Secretary to the Maharajah of Dewas State Senior, a Hindu 
Native State; his letters from there and elsewhere are sometimes 
revealing. "I do like Islam," he wrote to his mother from Chha- 
tarpur, "though I have had to come through Hinduism to dis- 
cover it. After all the mess and profusion and confusion of Gokul 
Ashtami, where nothing ever stopped or need ever have begun, 
it was like standing on a mountain." 2 

The nature of this attraction is evident in two essays re- 
printed in Abinger Harvest, "Salute to the Orient!" and "The 
Mosque," Islamic meditation, Forster explains, "though it has 
-the intensity and aloofness of mysticism, never leads to abandon- 
ment of personality. The Self is precious, because God, who cre- 
ated it, is Himself a personality. . . ." (Abinger Harvest, p. 273) 
One thinks immediately of Forstefs well-known individualism; 
the idea of selfhood is indispensable to his entire system of 
value. Again, Forster's liberalism and his contempt for super- 
stition seem to govern the following contrasts between Islam 
and Christianity: "Equality before God so doubtfully pro- 
claimed by Christianity lies at the very root of Islam . . ." and 
the Mosl^n God "was never incarnate and left no cradles, coats, 
handkerchiefs or nails on earth to stimulate and complicate 
devotion." (Ibid., pp. 75, 276) Nowhere does Forster imply 
that he actually believes the dogmatic content of Islam; the 
point is that he is aesthetically gratified by a religion that is not 

2 The Hffl of Dm (New Yodc, 1953), p. 193. 

158 



A PASSAGE TO INDIA 



grossly anthropomorphic. He is no more of a Moslem than he is 
a Christian, but Islam at least does not outrage his common 
sense and his love of modest form. 
of cours^ 



Moslems, Forst<^ 

^J^TO 

Eo^r^^araterslo the assuran^e^^.ij^fedj as Fielding puts 
it, " 'There is no God but God^doesn't carry us far t&ough the 
^^^^ex^eTpTmatter and spirit; iti joji^ 
really, a religious pun, not a religious truth." (A Passage to In- 
"TEa-^. ;^ which is 

the strongest bond between Aziz and the Westerners in the 
novel, turns out to be a severe limitation in their apparatus for 
grasping transcendent truth. 

Forster's opinion of Hinduism is more clearly a dual one: he 
finds Hindu ritual absurd but Hindu theology relatively attrac- 
tive. His letters about Gokul Ashtami are extremely condescend- 
ing; he thought the spirit of the festival indistinguishable from 
"ordinary mundane intoxication/' and he generalized: "What 
troubles me is that every detail, almost without exception, is 
fatuous and in bad taste." 8 Yet his admiration for the Maha- 
rajah for whom he was later to work led him to an early sym- 
pathy with Hindu doctrine. The following excerpt from a letter 
of March 6, 1913 explains part of the Maharajah's position and 
Forster's response to it: 

"His attitude was very difficult for a Westerner. He believes 
that we men, birds, everything are part of God, and that 
men have developed more than birds because they have come 
nearer to realising this. 

"That isn't so difficult; but when I asked why we had any 
of us ever been severed from God, he explained it by God be- 
coming unconscious that we were parts of him, owing to his 
energy at some time being concentrated elsewhere ---- Salvation, 

a The HUl of Bevt, pp. 160, 159. 

153 



A PASSAGE TO INDIA 

then, is the thrill we feel when God again becomes conscious 
of us, and all our life we must train our perceptions so that we 
may be capable of feeling when the time comes. 

"I think I see what lies at the back of this if you believe 
that the universe was God's conscious creation, you are faced 
with the fact that he has consciously created suffering and sin, 
and this the Indian refuses to believe. We were either put here 
intentionally or unintentionally/ said the Rajah/ 'and it raises 
fewer difficulties if we suppose that it was unintentionally. 7 " 4 

Here again we may observe that Forster is not asserting a 
religious belief of his own, but is simply trying to be open- 
minded. Still, we can recognize the congeniality of Hinduism, 
in this interpretation, to Forster's opinions as we already know 
them. His disbelief in Providence, his sense of man's ignorance 
of divine truth, his rejection of the idea of a man-centered uni- 
verse all are reconcilable with his summary of the Maharajah's 
Hinduism. Yet the point at which the correspondence breaks 
down is even more striking. It is easy enough for Forster to en- 
tertain the theory that God is presently unconscious of man, 
but there is little provision in his philosophy for the moment of 
awakening; only the negative side of Hinduism accords with 
his temperament, 

There is no escaping the impression that Hinduism is treated 
with considerable sympathy in A Passage to India. Its chief func- 
tion, however, seems to be to discredit the Christian and Mos- 
lem emphasis on personality; the vastness and confusion of In- 
dia are unsuitable for an orderly, benevolent deity whose atten- 
tion to individuals is tireless. When the question of mystical 
union arises, however, Forster becomes evasive in the extreme. 
Gokul Ashtami, he remarks, presents "emblems of passage; 
a passage not easy, not now, not here/ not to be apprehended 
except when it is unattainable. . . " (A Passage to India, pp. 
3i4f.) Although Hinduism offers the most engaging fable to 
describe our isolation from meaning, it, too, like Islam and 

p. 45. 

164. 



A PASSAGE TO INDIA 

Christianity, seems powerless before the nihilistic message of 
the Marabar Caves, 

The incidents in the Caves are of course the symbolic heart 
of the novel, where India exerts its force of illusion and disillu- 
sion upon the British visitors. These incidents are meaningful 
on all levels, making the hopeless misunderstanding between 
East and West vivid and complete, but their most important 
kind of meaning is clearly religious. The Christian Mrs. Moore 
and the Moslem Aziz, having befriended one another in a 
mosque, have previously been kept apart by social barriers, but 
now they are to meet, with Adela, on the ground of what Adela 
has called "the real India/' The Marabar Caves will offer them 
an India more virginal than they bargain for, and will, through 
utter indifference to selfhood, challenge their very sense of real- 
ity. 

The Marabar Hills, "older than all spirit," date back to an age 
long before Hinduism arrived and "scratched and plastered a 
few rocks." (p. 124) They are "flesh of the sun's flesh," and the 
sun "may still discern in their outline forms that were his be- 
fore our globe was torn from his bosom." (p. 123) They are 
thus completely divorced from the works and history of man. 
Like the Hindu God, they seem to have no attributes: "Nothing, 
nothing attaches to them," says Forster. (p. 124) And this anal- 
ogy with Hinduism is highly suggestive, for Mrs. Moore's ex- 
perience in the Hills is a kind of parody of the recognition of 
Brahma. Hinduism claims that Self and Not-self, Atman and 
Brahman, are actually one, and that the highest experience is to 
perceive this annihilation of value. Value is indeed annihilated 
for Mrs. Moore; the echoing Caves convince her that "Every- 
thing exists, nothing has value." (p. 149) 

Glen O. Allen has found several references in the Upanishads 
to the dwelling of Atman and Brahman in caves, 8 and one such 
passage seems especially pertinent here. "The wise who, by 

Glen O. Allen, "Structure, Symbol, and Theme in E. M. Footer's 
A Passage to India," PMLA, LXX ,(December 1955), 934-954. 

155 



A PASSAGE TO INDIA 

means of meditation on his Self, recognises the Ancient, who 
is difficult to be seen, who has entered into the dark, who is 
hidden in the cave, who dwells in the abyss, as God, he indeed 
leaves joy and sorrow far behind/' 6 In the Marabar Caves Mrs. 
Moore discovers "the ancient," but it is not Brahma: "What 
had spoken to her in that scoured-out cavity of the granite? 
What dwelt in the first of the caves? Something very old and 
very small. Before time, it was before space also. Something 
snub-nosed, incapable of generosity the undying worm itself." 
(p. 208) And though she does, indeed, leave joy and sorrow be- 
hind, the departure is utterly pedestrian. She has simply been 
thrust into the disillusion of old age: "She had come to that state 
where the horror of the universe and its smallness are both visi- 
ble at the same time the twilight of the double vision in which 
so many elderly people are involved. If this world is not to our 
taste, well, at all events there is Heaven, Hell, Annihilation 
one or other of those large things, that huge scenic background 
of stars, fires, blue or black air. All heroic endeavor, and all that 
is known as art, assumes that there is such a background . . . But 
in the twilight of the double vision, a spiritual muddledom is 
set up for which no high-sounding words can be found; we 
can neither act nor refrain from action, we can neither ignore 
nor respect Infinity." (pp. 207!) 

Readers who have claimed that Mrs. Moore has suddenly 
been transformed from a modest Christian to a mystical Brah- 
min have had to overlook the prosaic quality of her feelings 
here. She has had, in effect, an antivision, a realization that to 
see through the world of superficial appearances is to be left 
with nothing at all. "The abyss also may be petty, the serpent 
of eternity made of maggots. . . ." (p. 208) 

Mrs. Moore's inversion of Hinduism is sharpened by the re- 
semblance of the Caves' echoes "bourn" and "ou-boum" to 
the mystic Hindu syllable "Om," which stands for the trinity of 

The Sacred Books of the Ecist, ed. F. Max MuHer (Oxford, 1884), Vol. 
xv; The Upankhads, p. 10. 

use 



A PASSAGE TO INDIA 

the godhead. He who ponders this syllable, says the Prasna- 
Upanishad, "learns to see the all-pervading, the Highest Per- 
son/' 7 ThJ^^ 

sense 

oneness underlying every- 
thing. Its monotony, however, is subversive of the moral and 
ceremonial distinctions that we require to reconcile ourselves 
to the Absolute. ". . . Religion appeared, poor little talkative 
Christianity, and she knew that all its divine words from 'Let 
there be Light' to It is finished' only amounted to 'bourn/ " 
(p. 150) The oneness Mrs. Moore has found has obliterated her 
belief in the categories of space and time, distinctions that are 
essential to a religion whose God has a sense of history. This is 
why she can be said to have perceived both the horror and the 
smallness of the universe; the Marabar Caves "robbed infinity 
and eternity of their vastness, the only quality that accommo- 
dates them to mankind/' (p. 150) 

If I may digress for a moment, this debasement of the ideas 
of infinity and eternity seems to be philosophically suggestive. 
The modem Western sense of time, which was once thought 
to correspond exactly and immutably with the objective world, 
and which kept its "universality" even after Kant proved it to 
be subjective, has been challenged from various sides by physi- 
cists, anthropologists, and psychoanalysts. Norman O. Brown, 
in summarizing the arguments that time is culturally relative, 
says that the progressive and irreversible time of the Newtonian 
universe is, in .effect, a legacy of religion; it is geared to a day 
of redemption at the end of "history." Archaic religion, with 
its annual atonements, is "cyclical, periodic, unhistoric," And 
at a still more primitive level we meet Freud's great discovery 
that the unconscious mind observes no time schema at all. Our 
time-sense, if Brown is correct, is ultimately ruled by repression 
by the effort to manage and spend a primordial unconscious 
feeling of guilt. In these terms it seems highly appropriate that 

* Quoted by ADen, PMLA, LXX, 943. 

157 



A PASSAGE TO INDIA 

both Mrs. Moore and Adela (see below, p. 161) find their sense 
of time disrupted in the "prehistoric" Caves. BotH women are 
gripped by previously unconscious feelings which their religion 
customarily placates or denies; in both cases Forster strikes an 
oblique blow at Christianity by implying that its time-sense is 
dependent on repression. 8 

We may well ask at this point why Mrs. Moore, who seems 
to have a kind of second sight on occasion and who is certainly 
a morally sympathetic character, is visited with disillusionment. 
One answer may simply be that she does have second sight, that 
she perceives what truly subsists behind the veil of Maya; in this 
case her experience would constitute a thorough disavowal of 
Hinduism on Forster's part. Remembering Adela's hallucination, 
however, we may question whether Mrs. Moore has penetrated 
anything at all. Perhaps she has merely heard echoes of her own 
unvoiced misgivings about the significance of life. 9 It is im- 
possible, in any case, to support the popular reading that she 
has experienced the merging of Atman and Brahman. Atman 
is the presence of the universal ego in the individual, the "God 
dwelling within/' and the properly disciplined Hindu will find 
Brahman, the supreme soul, echoed in this "Self." Mrs. Moore, 
however, is unprepared to relinquish her selfhood in the narrow 
sense of personality. Instead of blending her identity with that 

8 See Norman O. Brown, Life Against Death; The Psychoanalytical 
Meaning of History (New York, 1959), pp. 273-278, If Brown is right 
in treating the Newtonian sense of reality as a stepchild of religion, Forster 
also seems vindicated in his treatment of the rationalist, Fielding. Fielding 
has little to offer in the ontological debate of the novel, for his religious 
outlook is simply the Christian one minus God and the Savior. Though 
Fielding and Adela seem dissimilar, they are philosophically quite close, 
and it is proper that they should recognize their common impasse in try- 
ing to "understand India" (see below, pp. i6iff.). 

9 The Caves not only deliver a dull echo in reply to every sound, they 
also offer reflections of light on their polished walls. The flame of a 
match and its reflection, we are told, "approach and strive to unite, but 
cannot, because one of them breathes air, the other stone/' (p. 125) In 
symbolic terms this seems to support the idea that one will "see" his own 
thoughts imprisoned in Marabar stone, i.e. robbed of their context of hu- 
man illusion. 

158 



A PASSAGE TO INDIA 

of the world-soul, she reduces the world-soul to the scale of her 
own wearied ego; her dilettantish yearning for oneness with the 
universe has been echoed, not answered. Whether or not For- 
ster considers the serpent of eternity to be made of maggots is 
a question we cannot answer on the basis of A Passage to India; 
in view of his skepticism it is doubtful that he would feel him- 
self qualified to tnake any assertion at all on the subject. What 
does emerge clearly from the novel is that the Marabar Caves 
have not brought us into the presence of ultimate truth. The 
last words of India to Mrs. Moore, as she sails away to die, may 
serve also as a caveat to eager critics: "So you thought an echo 
was India; you took the Marabar caves as final? . . '. What have 
we in common with them, or they with Asirgarh? Good-bye!" 
(p. 210) 

Adela's experience in the Cave, though it has religious im- 
plications, lends itself more readily to analysis in psychological 
terms. This agrees with the Caves' function of echoing only 
what is brought to them, for Adela's yearnings are sexual, not 
mystical. As she climbs upward with Aziz her conscious thoughts 
are occupied with her approaching marriage to Ronny, but she 
is increasingly troubled by misgivings, until she realizes with 
vexation that she is not in love with her fianc6. Before entering 
the Cave, however, she commits the Forsterian heresy of de- 
ciding that love is not essential to a successful marriage; she will 
marry Ronny anyway. As in the case of Mrs. Moore, the Marabar 
Caves thrust to the surface a conflict between conventional and 
suppressed feelings. The echo that is metaphorically sounded 
in Adela's hallucination (if it is a hallucination) of sexual attack 
is that of her unvoiced desire for physical love. < _ --- ^_ 

That this problematic assault should be attributed to Aziz 
is perhaps the central irony of plot in A Passage to India. For- 
ster takes pains to let us know that Aziz's thoughts about 
sex are "Tiard and direct, though not bratal" (p. 102) ex- 
actly the reverse of Adela's. Though he generally "upheld the 
proprieties ... he did not invest them with any moral 

159 



A PASSAGE TO INDIA 

it was here that he chiefly differed from an Englishman." (p. 
103) As for Adela, he finds her sexually repellent ("She has 
practically no breasts/' he tells Fielding; p. 120), whereas 
Adela, for her part, is attracted to him ("What a handsome 
little Oriental he was . . ."; p. 152). Just before she enters the 
Cave, whose significance is apparently Freudian as well as 
metaphysical, Adela enviously ponders Aziz's physical advan- 
tages: "beauty, thick hair, a fine skin." (p. 153) She asks him, 
in what Forster calls "her honest, decent, inquisitive way: 'Have 
you one wife or more than one?'" (p. 153) And when the 
monogamous widower Aziz passes into a Cave to hide his em- 
barrassment over her question, Adela enters a different Cave, 
"thinking with half her mind 'sight-seeing bores me,' and won- 
dering with the other half about marriage," (p. 153) It is this 
other half, this wondering about physical gratification, that 
accosts her in the Cave; and, since Self and Not-self are con- 
fused there, she assigns her thoughts to Aziz. 

An important difference between Adela's crisis and Mrs. 
Moore's is that Mrs. Moore adjusts her whole view of life to 
accord with the annihilation of value in the Cave, while Adela 
continues for a while to be torn between accepting and re- 
jecting her experience. Mrs. Moore knows intuitively that Aziz 
is not a rapist, but she is weary of legalistic distinctions; the 
alleged crime "presented itself to her as love: in a cave, in a 
church Bourn, it amounts to the same." (p. 208) She does not 
stay to testify for Aziz, for the moral issue of the trial cannot in- 
terest her; if there is no value in the universe, there is surely 
none in distinctions between sanctioned and illicit love. Yet this 
very indifference makes it proper that Mrs. Moore, after she has 
withered out of bodily existence, should be resurrected as a 
Hindu goddess in the minds of the Indians at Aziz's trial. "When 
all the ties of the heart are severed here on earth," says the 
Kathd-Upanishad, "then the mortal becomes immortal. . . ." 10 
The parallel is in one sense ironic, as we have seen: Mrs. Moore 

10 The Sdcred Books of the East, xv, 33. 

160 



A PASSAGE TO INDIA 

has been the victim of a travesty of Hindu enlightenment. On 
the other hand, the Mrs. Moore who originally befriended Aziz 
and who is remembered fondly by Professor Godbole has be- 
lieved in loving everything that enters her consciousness, and 
such a love is the cornerstone of Hinduism. 

Unlike Mrs. Moore, Adela lacks the imagination to be per- 
manently shattered by her irrational experience. "In space 
things touch, in time things part" (p. 193), she repeats to her- 
self, attempting to re-establish the categories that were imperiled 
by the Caves. Though she has been a freethinker, she turns to 
Jehovah for redress: "God who saves the King will surely sup- 
port the police/' goes her reasoning (p. 211). From the day 
of the hallucination until the climax of the trial she continually 
seeks to reconstruct the incident in direct logical terms. The dark 
savage has attacked her but who has been the savage, Aziz or 
herself? Her virtue has been threatened or has she simply re- 
belled against her starched prudery? Justice will be exacted upon 
the guilty one but who is to cast the first stone in matters of 
sex? The psychological complexity of Adela's situation lends 
a kind of realistic support to Professor Godbole's doctrinal view: 
"All perform a good action, when one is performed, and when 
an evil action is performed, all perform it." (p. 177) 

Forster would not assert this as a fixed principle, but we have 
often enough observed him recoiling from its opposite, the black- 
and-white attribution of guilt and innocence to separate parties. 
Before Adela can be freed from the echo of the Cave she must 
retreat a little from her simplistic Western notion of cause and 
effect. She is finally able to retract her charge because she has 
achieved a "double relation" to the controversial event: "Now 
she was of it and not of it at the same time. , . ." (p. 227) In 
other words, she has begun to feel the limitations of a knowl- 
edge that is strictly bounded by her personality, her discrete 
selfhood. If she is never to know what occurred in the Cave, 
at least she will remember that there may be an order of truth 
beyond the field of her rational vision. like Fielding, whose 

161 



A PASSAGE TO INDIA 

empiricism has brought him no closer to knowledge than her 
own resort to prayer, Adela has reached "the end of her spiritual 
tether . . . Were there worlds beyond which they could never 
touch, or did all that is possible enter their consciousness? They 
could not tell. . . . Perhaps life is a mystery, not a muddle; they 
could not tell. Perhaps the hundred Indias which fuss and squab- 
ble so tiresomely are one, and the universe they mirror is one. 
They had not the apparatus for judging." (p. 263) 

A Passage to India, then, is a novel in which two levels of 
truth, the human and the divine, are simultaneously explored, 
never very successfully. Epistemological conclusions are reached, 
but they are all negative ones. Christian righteousness, we dis- 
cover, helps us to misconstrue both God and man; Moslem love 
can scarcely reach beyond the individual personality; rational 
skepticism is wilfully arid; and the Hindu ideal of oneness, 
though it does take notice of the totality of things, abolishes the 
intellectual sanity that makes life endurable to the Western 
mind. The inescapable point of this demonstration, is Jihat God 
cgaaot^^ way. It is a point that 

Forster dwelt upon at some length in 'his earlier novels, but al- 
ways with a note of smugness; there was always the facile warn- 
ing that we should restrict our interest to the world that we 
know. In A Passage to India, however, Forster's characters are 
given no choice; if they are to understand themselves and one 
another they must grapple with metaphysics. They do their best, 
but it is very little not because they are exceptionally weak, 
but simply because they are human. Forster implies that we 
ourselves, his readers, are equally blocked off from meaning. 
We cannot fall back on reason and the visible world, for we see 
how these are falsely colored by personality. Even if we could, 
we ought not seek Mrs. Moore's "dignified and simple" identifi- 
cation with the universe, for this is nihilism in disguise. JSfor. 
j&njv^^ piety that our whole duty is to 

love one anothegj^^ 

16SS 



A PASSAGE TO INDIA 

have gathered from Foreter^gre^ con- 

Fronts^iuils ,'an jn^araBK Thready between v manfs jgoj^reluS 
^s j( needs.^ - 

"^TTITperhaps significant that Forster's career as a novelist 
comes to an apparent end at this moment of development, for 
the characters of a novel, as he has said elsewhere, "suggest a 
more comprehensible and thus a more manageable human race; 
they give us the illusion of perspicacity and power." (Aspects of 
the Novel, p. 99) A Passage to India, though it tells us more 
about its characters than they themselves know, tries to refute 
the very thought that our race is comprehensible and manage- 
able; it casts doubt upon the claim of anyone, even of the artist, 
to supply the full context of human action. In writing one novel 
which pays full deference to the unknown and the unknowable, 
Forster thus seems to announce the end of the traditional novel 
as he found it; between pathetic futility and absolute mystery 
no middle ground remains for significant action. 



163 




THE IMPORTANCE OF REASON 

The most important element in Forster's sensibility the one 
that plainly distinguishes him from most other liberals and 
humanists is his overriding eclecticism. The most active force 
in his novels is his belief that the human mind is an undignified 
organ: that man cannot be both "impressive and truthful" 1 at 
the same time. The principle applies to Forster's own efforts at 
"impressiveness" as well as to those of his characters. In his 
novels, where his ideals are not simply announced but acted 
upon and tested for practicability, no faith stands up very well 
not even the humanistic faith proclaimed in Abinger Harvest 
and Two Cheers for Democracy. Rickie Elliot, who of all his 
characters is the closest to Forster, is spiritually rained by his 
desperate search for value, and Cyril Fielding, the ideal liberal, 
comes to wonder whether his tolerance and brotherhood have 
brought him toward any goal. The most successful of Forster's 
humanists, Margaret Schlegel, succeeds precisely to the degree 
that she refrains from demanding that her ideals be mirrored in 
the world. She adopts Forster's own posture of standing ready 
to alter his interpretation of reality at a moment's notice. 

Each of Forstefs novels, we might say, gets its total structure 
of plot from this eclecticism. In each case we are presented 
with idealistic characters whose original dreams are more im- 
pressive than truthful Philip Herriton's idea of Renaissance 
glory, Rickie's ethereal classicism, Margaret's vision of coopera- 
tion between business and culture, Aziz and Fielding's notion 
of interraciaj understanding. In most cases something of the 
ideal is salvaged, but the original impressiveness is always lost. 

1 See especially Aspects of the Novel, p. 212. 

164 



THE IMPORTANCE OF REASON 

Forster's most sensitive and open-minded characters, if they 
survive their ordeals at all, emerge with a chastened humanism, 
an awareness of imperfection and danger; and the business of his 
novels is just this hacking away of intellectual pretensions* Even 
Lucy Honeychurch and Stephen Wonhain, whose fortunes im- 
prove as their characters develop, leave behind them two "im- 
pressive" illusions of superiority to the general fate of mankind. 
Lucy is taught that she cannot ignore either love or death; in 
marrying into the Emerson family she accepts not only sexual 
passion but a frank view of man's evanescence, unveiled by re- 
ligious or social consolations. And Stephen, who has considered 
himself independent of the past and future, acquires a rudimen- 
tary sense of tradition and a feeling of paternal obligation. He 
too, in other words, emerges with a revision of his first, over- 
simplified view of reality. 

The closer we get to the texture of Forster's novels, the more 
pervasively we see the eclectic principle in operation. His mul- 
tiple ironies of plot and his famous (or infamous) casual revela- 
tions of his characters' sudden deaths contribute to a deliberate 
atmosphere of instability and recoil from specious certainties. 
The everpresent moral of his novels is that nothing is to be taken 
for granted, that the world must always be interpreted afresh. 
If, in reading the opening pages of Where Angels Fear to Tread, 
we suspect that Forster is scornful of the Herritons' purely so- 
cial criteria for marital happiness, we suppose that Lilia will 
refute them by being happy with Gino; but no erotic precon- 
ceptions turn out to be as risky as social ones. If we mistrust 
the "outer" worlds of the Pembrokes and the Wilcoxes, we 
find that the inner worlds of Rickie and Helen have their limita- 
tions, too. Margaret's "continuous excursions into either realm" 
are thrust upon us by Forster himself until, ideally, we have 
adopted his own double perspective on the world. 

This process of complication and revision does not necessarily 
leave us in Mrs. Moore's spiritual muddledom. As Hyatt Wag- 
goner has argued, the surprises and coincidences in Forstef s 

W5 



THE IMPORTANCE OF REASON 

plots serve to remind us of powers beyond the grasp of Forster's 
Lilliputian characters. 2 The higher order is not necessarily a 
friendly one; "those agitating apparitions" that inject disquiet 
into the "Game of Life" are of consolation only to those who 
are offended by anthropomorphic religion. Yet this is precisely 
Forster's situation. "For some of us who are non-Christian/' we 
recall, "there still remains the comfort of the nonhuman, the 
relief, when we look up at the stars, of realising that they are 
uninhabitable/' This is not precisely nihilism, but a reassurance 
that man's ability to degrade the universe by humanizing it is 
limited. If we stumble into farcicality by regarding our lives 
in a panoramic context of heaven and hell, so, conversely, we 
may increase our dignity by refusing to do so, by paying homage 
to the truly unknowable. 

This is why a book like Howards End, which ostensibly deals 
with human relationships and the social order, is saturated with 
allusions to infinity and eternity. In order to become heroic, 
Margaret must not simply master the crisis of her private life. 
She must obtain a spiritual flexibility that will exclude neither 
the human realm of meaning nor the overarching, mysterious 
one. And this is true of the four other novels as well. When we 
get to A Passage to India the transcendent order or chaos is more 
sharply hostile to human values than before, but the moral for- 
mula is the same; Fielding and Adela depart from the ranks of 
the misguided blunderers only when they have acknowledged 
that they lack "the apparatus for judging" whether life is a 
mystery or a muddle. Intellectual maturity among Forster's 
characters is always prefaced by metaphysical humility. 

Forster's eclecticism, then, is something more than an auto- 
matic vibration, a habit of timidity; it is his method of coping 
with a fundamental problem of knowledge. To see his mental 
logic we must bear in mind a distinction between his sense of 

2 Hyatt Howe Waggoner, "Exercises in Perspective: Notes on the Uses 
of Coincidence in the Novels of E. M. Forster," Chimera, m, No. 4 (Sum- 
mer 1945), 3-14. 

166 



THE IMPORTANCE OF REASON 

reality and his sense of value; between the uninhabitable stars 
and the yearning for individual human meaning. It is in the na- 
ture of Forster's humanism that these two senses should work 
against each other. In The Longest Journey, where they are 
most violently in conflict, Forster's moral point is that we should 
persist in our humanism despite our sense of futility; the enor- 
mous difference between man's ideal hopes and his actual cir- 
cumstances is the energizing force of the novel. And if A Passage 
to India offers a kind of grim stasis instead of energy, it is be- 
cause Forster has allowed one of his senses almost to throttle the 
other. His eclecticism is finally tipped over on the side of 
irony and disillusion evidence enough, I should think, that 
he is responsive to the world's complexity and is not simply per- 
forming intellectual gymnastics. 

Forster's present reputation, so far as one can judge, has been 
affected by ideological considerations as much as by artistic ones. 
He is so much the committed liberal, in spite of his eclecticism, 
that critics have tended to praise or blame him according to 
their approval or disapproval of liberalism. Though this is unfor- 
tunate, the questions raised are by no means irrelevant. Posterity 
may conceivably be capable of "purely aesthetic" judgments, but 
aesthetic value itself, at least in the novel, is dependent on a 
moral and perceptual soundness in the writer. We have to ask, 
therefore, whether Forster's liberalism is of the sort that makes 
for a weak grasp of reality. 

The argument against liberalism takes many forms at least 
as many forms as there are contradictory accounts of what liberal- 
ism is but we may divide them roughly into political and moral 
criticisms. The political ones need not detain us, since they are 
irrelevant to Forster personally. When Harold Laski, for example, 
says that liberal theory merely cloaks the profit motive with 
respectability and smooths the way to totalitarianism, he is think- 
ing of Henry Wilcox's liberalism, not Forster's. 8 Liberalism in 

See Harold J. Laski, The Rise of Liberalism; The Philosophy of a 
Business Civilization (New York and London, 1936), passim. For his 

167 



THE IMPORTANCE OF REASON 

Forster is not an adjunct of capitalism but a code of moral val- 
ue. 

The most coherent objections to this code spring from the 
traditional Christian view of human nature, of which we may 
take T. S. Eliot as an advocate. Eliot believes that liberalism is 
a kind of moral paralysis, a system of negation that erases valu- 
able distinctions of class and doctrine. The political chaos of 
the modern world, in this view, is attributable to the success 
of such liberal errors as "progress/ 7 egalitarianism, and the denial 
of original sin. Mr. Eliot has explicitly stated the literary con- 
sequence of this position: we must disapprove of works that fail 
to reflect the (apparently obvious) "primacy of the supernatural 
over the natural life." 4 By this standard, of course, Forster's 
novels are worthy only of contempt. While they do not embody 
the liberal materialism hidden in the nineteenth-century idea 
of progress, they do rest on a foundation of secularism and in- 
dividualism that Eliot considers pernicious. 5 

Eliofs basic plea, that we concern ourselves with the philo- 
sophical or theological framework of a work of literature, is not 
unreasonable. We have the right to demand of an author that 
he show us some interpretation of life beyond the mere record- 
ing of data. Whether we must therefore subscribe to Mr. Eliot's 
brand of supernaturalism, however, is another question. In this 
century it would seem to be essential to literary creativeness that 
an author not accept an a priori interpretation of the meaning 
of things. I cannot think of a single great modern work, includ- 
ing The Waste Land, that has been written in a spirit of 
orthodoxy. When we bring together Proust, Mann, Gide, Yeats, 

alleged failure to see through capitalistic liberalism, Forster is attacked by 
D. S. Savage, The Withered Branch; Six Studies in the Modern Novel 
(London, 1950), p. 47. 

*T. S. Eliot, "Religion and Literature/' Selected Essays (New York, 
1950), p. 352. 

8 For samples of the Eliotic approach to Forster, see Montgomery Bel- 
gion, 'The Diabolism of Mr. E. M f Forster," The Criterion, xrv (1934), 
54-73, and Peter Ault, "Aspects of E. M. Forster," The Dublin Review, 

CCXDC (1946), 109-134. 

168 



THE IMPORTANCE OF REASON 

Joyce, and Lawrence we have collected as weird a conglomera- 
tion of what R. P. Blackmur calls "irregular metaphysics" as 
could be found anywhere. Indeed, if Forster is not named to the 
literary pantheon it may be because his vision of reality is not 
irregular enough. 

Discounting Eliot's partisanship, however, we remain faced 
with an important challenge in his rejection of liberalism. The 
matter to be settled is whether a liberal view of human nature 
is not narrow-minded and latently anarchistic. Is it not dan- 
gerous to imply, as Forstefs novels do, that virtue can be up- 
held apart from faith in a heavenly order of reward and punish- 
ment? Does Forster overlook the inherent sinfulness of man- 
kind? 

In one sense Forster's works invite criticism of this sort. It 
is true, certainly, that his picture of man is more optimistic than 
the Christian one, and conspicuously more so than that of 
Calvinism. If it is wrong to believe that sources of human good- 
ness can be tapped without the aid of Divine Grace, then For- 
ster is wrong. He is not, however, a Godwinian denier of per- 
sonal evil, nor can he rightly be grouped with Utopian "ethical 
scientists" like Leslie Stephen. At times, indeed, Forster alludes 
to human weakness in virtually a Christian sense. Freedom is 
menaced today, he has written, because a million years ago 
Man was born in chains," and if we are to understand our 
troubles we must peer "deep into the abyss of our own charac- 
ters." (Two Cheers, p. 9) This insistence on personal respon- 
sibility is, as we saw in Chapter Two, the essential point in 
Forster's approach to social and political issues. And the one 
moral desideratum underlying all others in his novels is the 
virtue of self-knowledge the knowledge of one's limitations 
and biases as well as of one's power. Far from celebrating an 
emancipation from religious ties, the novels seek to ind the 
connections that really subsist between man's moral nature and 
the forces of good arid evil that he meets in his world. This, I 
take it, is the philosophic ideal of religion. 

169 



THE IMPORTANCE OF REASON 

Forster is un-Christian, not because he is irreligious, but be- 
cause Christianity fails to meet his idea of religious truth. Being 
skeptical of divine interest in human affairs, he doubts the 
legitimacy of Christianity's incarnation and miracles. Being 
eclectic, he finds its intolerance of heresy unappealing. As a 
student of the classics and of history, he deplores its contempt 
for secular truth. Because he sees a measure of goodness within 
the natural world, he dissents from Christian otherworldliness 
and hatred of carnality. And because he finds no historical evi- 
dence that Christianity has brought men any closer to peace 
and mutual understanding than they were in classical times, he 
does not take the moral influence of its doctrines very seriously. 
There is no Rousseauistic naivet6 behind these judgments. To 
doubt the efficacy of Christian redemption is not automatically 
to stake one's faith in impulses from a vernal wood, and to up- 
hold the value of a civilized individualism is not to deny the 
evil that really does infect the world. Forster does not approach 
the depth of a Dostoyevsky in penetrating into the darker part 
of man's soul, but neither does he ignore its existence and its 
potential terrors. 

The severest reservations about Forster's outlook come from 
a direction that is harder to define than the Christian one; it is 
moralistic but at the same time it upholds the priority of "real 
life" over any moral pattern. I am thinking of F. R. Leavis and 
his followers, the sworn enemies of aestheticism and intellectu- 
ality in general and of Bloomsbury in particular. As opposed to 
G. E. Moore's "complex wholes" of consciousness, these critics 
believe in sexual vitality, in emancipation from effete leisure-class 
traditions, and in the importance of moral choices leading to the 
life of useful action. Thought divorced from action as found, 
for example, in Laurence Sterne and the later Henry James 
is repugnant to this school.* While Leavis himself has had kind 

See especially F. R. Leavis, The Great Tradition (Garden City, New 
York, 1954), pp. unu, 188-210. 

170 



THE IMPORTANCE OF REASON 

words for Forster, mingled with detraction/ his followers have 
considered Forster a dilettante and a dreamer, in contrast to 
their earnest and passionate hero, D. EL Lawrence. 

It is difficult to appreciate the real import of the Leavisite 
charges against Bloomsbury without an awareness of the social 
antagonism that generates them. One has the impression in read- 
ing the Scrutiny critics that the class war is being fought over the 
prostrate body of literature. When Hard Times is declared to 
be Dickens' masterpiece, 8 for example, one feels that something 
other than literary value must be involved. For all this, Leavis' 
assault on the "intellectual aristocracy" has probably been a 
spur to creativity in England, and as an outsider I am certainly 
not in a position to condemn it. It may simply be doubted 
whether Leavis' specific complaints against Bloomsbury are al- 
ways well-founded. Superciliousness, idleness, worship of aes- 
thetic enjoyment these, within limits, are genuine Bloomsbury 
traits, and when carried to extremes they do isolate the artist 
from the real world that should nourish his art. But the Leavisite 
school seems to exaggerate the contract between its own moral 
energy and Bloomsbury's studied amorality. The Bloomsbury 
disdain for acquisitiveness was, after all, the consequence of a 
moral review of the hypocrisies latent in laissez faire, self-help, 
and limited Christian philanthropy. The careers of Leonard 
Woolf and J. M. Keynes prove that Bloomsbuiy figures could 
engage themselves in the world, and Forster's own detachment 
from politics goes back to a broad ideal of individualism, not 
to class snobbery. 

Whether or not Forster would have been a better man if he 
had been raised in a working-class atmosphere is, of course, 
beyond our interest here. The point to be considered is whether 
his particular kind of detachment has impaired his grasp of real- 
ity as a novelist. It seems to me, indeed, that Forstef s eclecticism 

* See, F. R. Leavis, "E. M. Forster/' The Common Pursuit (London, 
1952), pp. 261-277. 
See The Great Tradition, p. 273. 

171 



THE IMPORTANCE OF REASON 

does not spare him from a certain shallowness that is inherent 
in his liberalism. His hypersensitivity to the compromising na- 
ture of action and his tendency to draw an impassable line be- 
tween individuals and "society" lead him into sentimentality 
over the holiness of the individual. It is not so much that For- 
ster really finds the individuals he meets "divine" as that his 
aversion to every show of corporate power leaves him with noth- 
ing to cling to but an abstract and artificial notion of individu- 
ality. 

It is a commonplace of modern psychology that an individual 
man is a locus of warring influences emanating from his parents, 
his environment, and his own divided psyche; however much 
force his "individuality" may show, it gains its shape and direc- 
tion from the resolution of these various pressures. This means 
that it is no longer plausible to worship the "unprejudiced 
individual" in the manner of John Stuart Mill, or even to accept 
without qualification Mill's theory about the victory of truth 
in a "free" society. We have discovered that attractively pack- 
aged and persistently advertised falsehoods have greater appeal 
than plainly-wrapped truths; the supposedly rational individual 
can be seduced from his opinions in various subliminal ways. 
Forster, however, cannot afford to absorb such knowledge, 
though he has duly taken note of it. He is determined to see 
the individual as separate and whole, a miraculous being who 
might accomplish "the service that is perfect freedom" if only 
he were left unhampered by society. 9 It does not occur to For- 
ster that this figure is nothing more than a dream of the liberal 
imagination one that has inspired good works, but which 
serves poorly as a model for realistic characters in fiction. Insofar 
as Forstefs social and intellectual background has blinded him 
to this, the Leavisite critics seem justified in their class-conscious 
attacks. 

The restrictive effect of Forster's liberalism is plainly visible 
in his early novek. Each of them turns upon a romantic polarity 

9 See Two Cheers, p. 10. 

in 



THE IMPORTANCE OF REASON 

between the characters' "true selves" and their social milieu. 
Society is rendered almost as a conscious force for the obstruc- 
tion of self-development and the inculcation of lies about duty 
and propriety. To win Forstef s approval the characters must 
not simply become true to themselves, but must utterly re- 
ject the enfeebling bourgeois code of their friends; and though 
Forstefs plots make this rejection seem difficult to the charac- 
ters, it seems all too easy to the reader. There is no trick to see- 
ing through the Reverend Eager or Harriet Herriton, and the 
novels in which they appear are uncomfortably close to farce. 
In The Longest Journey, where moral seriousness is essential, the 
important figure of Herbert Pembroke is virtually a caricature. 
We are asked to believe that the intelligent and sensitive Rickie 
is torn between Herbert's world and the individualistic one of 
Ansell and Stephen, but this is scarcely believable; Forster has 
blackened "society" so zestfully that Rickie's dilemma seems 
thin and melodramatic. And we have noted how the tolerant 
theme of Howards End, instead of fundamentally modifying 
Forster's attitudes, merely creates a strain between his intention 
and his true feelings. It is simply impossible for him to give 
society its due. 

Forster's reverence for the private life, then, often obstructs 
his efforts at moral realism. His novels before A Passage to India 
approach the condition of fable; their secondary characters tend 
to be schematic opposites to one another, and their heroes move 
among these characters as a knight in The Faerie Queene might 
shuttle between enslavement to vices and allegiance to virtues. 
In Where Angels Fear to Tread and A Room With a View we 
may say that ibis effect is intentional; these books are governed 
more by comic justice than by psychological realism. In The 
Longest Journey and Howards End, though, Forster is com- 
mitted to a serious representation of actuality; here, it seems, 
his romantic liberalism leaves him with types of "the world" 
that are too close to allegorical pawns. It is not that such char- 
acters as Herbert Pembroke and Henry Wilcox fail to resemble 

178 



THE IMPORTANCE OF REASON 

real people, but that Forster's antipathy to them is so glaringly 
evident that we cannot share the other characters' sympathetic 
interest in them. We see at once that their real function is to 
become the straw men in an argument against inhibition. 10 

This leads us to the general reflection, explicitly made by 
Leavis, that Forster's desire to "say things" through his char- 
acters frequently causes him to violate plausibility of motivation. 
Not only does Forster himself preach at us from time to time 
and subject us to the moralizing of an Anthony Failing or a Mr. 
Emerson, but the central characters themselves are given di- 
dactic roles. The virtually incessant philosophizing of Rickie, 
Ansell, and Stephen makes for an overbalance of theme at the 
expense of characterization in The Longest Journey; Ansell, for 
instance, exists simply in order to refute the Pernbrokes. In How- 
ards End the entire plot seems to be an intellectual contrivance 
for the illustration of a theme; the Wilcox-Schlegel marriage is 
allegorically significant but psychologically artificial, and the 
connection of the Basts to both houses is too appropriate to 
be considered literal. That Forstefs novels are thematically 
coherent is admirable, of course, but we would prefer that the 
themes appear to grow out of the characters rather than the 
reverse. In reading Forster we never have the feeling, so super- 
abundant in Joyce, that the sheer reality of the characters is 
more striking than any intellectual or moral value they might 
convey. 

The mention of Joyce may prove helpful to us at this point, 
for Joyce's strength and weakness are conspicuously opposite to 
Forster's. Both writers express disapproval of the ascetic dis- 
crimination between body and soul. 11 In Ulysses, however, 
Joyce's anti-asceticism can be felt in the texture of the lan- 
guage; we see, hear, taste, smell, and touch the interdependence 
of the physical and the spiritual. We feel ourselves in the pres- 

10 Forster apparently agrees: 'The goats and sheep are too plain, surely," 
he told Angus Wilson. See Encounter, No. 50 (November 1957), 53. 

11 For this intention of Joyce in Ulysses, see Richard Ellmann, James 
Joyce (New York, 1959), p. 450. 

174 



THE IMPORTANCE OF REASON 

ence of a world whose overpowering immediacy seems to thrust 
interpretive questions into the background. It is impossible, 
for instance, to pause at any point in Ulysses and make an in- 
telligent surmise as to what will happen next. The sentences 
roll out with the richly arbitrary sequence of our unconscious 
thoughts; they seem at first to invite not analysis but simply awe. 
And if, on a more sophisticated reading, we see that the novel 
conceals myriad puzzles and solutions, the total impression re- 
mains one of prolific spontaneity. 

Forster, on the contrary, is incapable of surprising us very 
deeply. In his novels the unpredictability of experience is overtly 
stated and is frequently embodied in a neatly ironic illustration, 
but it is rarely felt on the level of language. Forster's sentences, 
instead of exploding in multiple suggestions of meaning, hit their 
mark with minute precision. They have, in other words, already 
been sharpened by a fastidious intelligence, and if the reader is 
alert he will feel their whole meaning at once. Such a style 
(its prototype is the style of Jane Austen) lends itself su- 
premely to verbal wit and comic irony, and it can convey a 
steady moral scrutiny of everything it touches. On the other 
hand, it will not descend to catch the note of experience, but 
must constantly be selecting and evaluating, even when the au- 
thor is striving for realism. If Joyce, in his effort to be ingenious 
and comprehensive, races toward incoherence, Forster too readily 
withdraws to lucid commentary. While his characters are sing- 
ing the praises of freedom, passion, and earthiness, his style re- 
mains indoors among the teacups. 

The virtues of Forstefs novels are thus simply the virtues 
of his intellect: honesty, incisiveness, sympathy, irony, rigor. In 
Joyce, on the contrary, the conscious operation of intellect al- 
ways threatens to smother what is truly valuable, the fusion of 
lyricism with concrete detail. The greatness of Ulysses, one 
might say, is due not only to its authof s genius with words, 
but to the arrogance and superstition that enabled him to charge 
every moment of experience with significance; while Forster's 

176 



THE IMPORTANCE OF REASON 

works, so immediately familiar and congenial, ultimately become 
imprisoned in their tastefulness. Joyce in his recklessness, his 
vulgarity, his ferocious independence stretches the limits of art. 
Forster puts on no airs, takes few chances, and follows out his 
limited intentions with professional deftness and so falls short 
of Joyce, 

To say that a modern novelist is not to be ranked with Joyce, 
however, is not to say much against him. Comparisons of literary 
merit between Joyce and Forster have little value, since we go 
to the two writers with such different expectations. And the 
same remark applies to Forster's other great "competitor," D. H. 
Lawrence. Lawrence refuses to offer us well-made novels in the 
Jamesian mode; as Francis Fergusson maintains, Lawrence "was 
the kind of romantic poet whose writings are seldom self-con- 
sistent creations, but rather signs of his inspiration, which is it- 
self the important thing/' 12 However romantic Forster may be 
in feeling, as a plot-maker he is a classicist. We would be sur- 
prised to come across any rapturous "epiphanies" in his work; 
what we do expect is that every scene will be artfully geared 
to the total structure of development, and that the full meaning 
of the novel will become apparent only when the development 
has been brought to its final point. 19 

It could of course be argued on traditional novelistic grounds 
that Forster's books are incomparably superior to Lawrence's. If 

12 Francis Fergusson, "D. H. Lawrence's Sensibility/' Critiques and Es- 
says on Modern Fiction 1920-1951, ed. John W. Aldridge (New York, 
1952), p. 328. 

13 See Aspects of the Novel, p. 133: 'The plot-maker expects us to re- 
member, we expect him to leave no loose ends. Every action or word ought 
to count; it ought to be economical and spare; even when complicated it 
should be organic and free from dead matter. It may be difficult or easy, 
it may and should contain mysteries, but it ought not to mislead. And 
over it, as it unfolds, will hover the memory of the reader . . . and will 
constantly rearrange and reconsider, seeing new clues, new chains of cause 
and effect, and the final sense (if the plot has been a fine one) will not 
be of clues or chains, but of something aesthetically compact, something 
which might have been shown by the novelist straight away, only if he had 
shown it straight away it would never have become beautiful." 

176 



THE IMPORTANCE OF REASON 

some of Forster's characters are thin, many of Lawrence's are 
much thinner empty receptacles, like Kate Leslie in The 
Plumed Serpent, to be poured full of Lawrentian doctrine. If 
Forster moralizes now and then, Lawrence subjects us to repeti- 
tious barrages of polemics. Where Forster gradually unfolds his 
theme, Lawrence multiplies illustrations of a few overtly 
stated ideas. Yet the point is that Lawrence can compel us, 
partly by his evocative language and partly by the contagiousness 
of his terrible sincerity, to ignore his technical faults and accept 
him on his own Dionysian terms. 14 No such force of sheer per- 
sonality weighs on us in Forster's writing. 

It may be, of course, that Forster's novels will be prized be- 
cause they do not submit to the irrationalism that is now in 
vogue. This is not for us to decide. In literary judgments, how- 
ever, good sense generally counts for less than imaginative vigor; 
the novels to which we return are those that are governed by a 
powerful and original vision of the world. Perhaps because they 
are insufficiently free from the naive optimism that accompanied 
his liberal heritage, Forstef s novels before A Passage to India 
do not seem to measure up to this standard. In Where Angels 
Fear to Tread and A Room With a View, Forster has complete 
mastery of a comic genre, but the genre owes more to Jane 
Austen than to Forstefs Weltanschauung. In The Longest 
Journey he does strike out on his own, but not boldly enough; 
the result is ponderous awkwardness instead of freshness. How- 
ards End, though it successfully develops the new themes 
broached in The Longest Journey, suffers from an imperfect rec- 
onciliation between Forstefs "message" and his sense of reality. 
Only through tyranny of plot, or perhaps tyranny of symbol, 
does Forster manage to prop his characters into a hopeful pos- 
ture at the end; the humanistic slogans sound increasingly hol- 
low as the novel's metaphysical backdrop becomes broader. It 

14 For the correlation between Lawrence's and Nietzsche's Dkraysiamsm, 
see Graham HougJv The Dark Sura; A Study of D. H. Lawrence (London, 
1956), p. 257. 

177 



THE IMPORTANCE OF REASON 

is only in A Passage to India that Forster succeeds in being con- 
sistently faithful to his vision of man's impermanence. This 
book escapes the limitations of its predecessors because it has 
those limitations for its subject, and makes of them a solid 
masterpiece of pessimism. 

A Passage to India thus strikes me as Forster's sole claim upon 
posterity. And yet the claim seems to be a substantial one. 
Since we have already studied this novel in detail, let us simply 
review its position in Forster's career. The progress of his art, 
we might say, is a movement from commentary about behavior 
(moral questions) to statements about reality (existential ques- 
tions). The two Italian novels, with their rather simple ethical 
dilemmas and their formal infliction of comic justice upon the 
unworthy characters, are almost exclusively moral; the meta- 
physical views of Mr. Emerson, for example, are not tested out 
but are simply intruded into the narrower issue of Lucy's eman- 
cipation from "society." Already in The Longest Journey, how- 
ever, we find that the meaning of Rickie Elliot's existence nearly 
overshadows the moral question of what he should do with his 
life. Indeed, Rickie's moral choices gain their significance only 
from an elaborated background of theories about the size, uni- 
formity, and ethical character of the universe; and the clash of 
these theories, while parallel to the crisis of the plot, begins to 
assume an independent interest. In Howards End this meta- 
physical preoccupation is continued: Margaret Schlegel cannot 
control her life until she has widened her sense of truth. But it is 
precisely to the degree that Forster is seriously pursuing the 
question of existence that his novel seems forced and brittle; 
for, as we have seen, his instinctive sense of reality is hostile to 
the chins-up resolution of his plot. When Forster proclaims 
hopefully at the end, "Let Squalor be turned into Tragedy" 
(Howards End, p. 330), he is trying to rescue the novel from its 
own metaphysics from the conclusion that the human order 
of meaning is of very small consequence to the universe at large. 

178 



THE IMPORTANCE OF REASON 

Hence the necessity, fulfilled in A Passage to India, of a novel 
that passes beyond humanistic morality to a basically meta- 
physical critique of man's fate. Forster's last novel, unlike the 
others, refuses to suggest that we can be saved or damned 
through our behavior; its main point is that God's will, if it 
exists at all, cannot be known in human terms. I believe that A 
Passage to India is a great book, not because it takes this line 
of argument a bad novel, after all, could have been written in 
the same spirit but because in drawing upon Forster's pro- 
foundest feelings and building itself around them with bold con- 
sistency, it achieves aesthetic freedom. Here at last Forster ac- 
cepts with his whole imagination the destructive ironies of his 
humanism, rather than stifling them with ambiguous claims 
about "hope even on this side of the grave." (Howards End, p. 
103) The result is a novel whose resources of plot and symbolism 
work in harmony toward a single end, and whose subdued prose 
reverberates, like the voice of Mrs. Moore, to swell the night's 
uneasiness. Forster's theme is now sufficiently grand, and his 
relationship to it sufficiently controlled, for his novel to stand 
unsupported by moralizing rhetoric. Ironic understatement, 
which has always been his most effective manner, is here set 
free to bring all human endeavor into a single focus of descrip- 
tion and evaluation. 

I should insist, finally, that this triumph of self-criticism does 
not constitute a betrayal of the liberal humanism that pervades 
the earlier novels. The essence of that humanism, as it is ex- 
pressed in the "coinage" chapter of The Longest Journey, is a 
pessimistic awareness of the disparity between human meaning 
and supernatural truth: a sense not only of the futility of other- 
worldliness, but of the instability of earthly value. The humanist 
is portrayed from the first as the owner of a paralyzing knowledge 
of man's limitations, a seeker after truth who knows that he is 
ill-equipped to make sense of the world. A Passage to India 
makes us feel the pathos of this condition more vividly than 
its predecessors, for it refuses to glamorize the relatively slight 

179 



THE IMPORTANCE OF REASON 

reassurance that is left to the humanist when he has turned his 
back on heaven. The original picture, however, is not essentially 
changed. Forster's last novel merely emphasizes more vividly the 
impossibility except perhaps in art of victory over fortune 
and time. Humanistic tolerance and sympathy remain the cardi- 
nal Forsterian virtues, but they lead to no splendid reward and 
must simply be exercised in the absence of any better way of 
getting along. 

If A Passage to India is, as I believe, incomparably superior 
to the rest of Forster's fiction, it is nevertheless not a tour de 
force. It is, rather, the culminating expression of Forster's 
refinement of liberalism. Like The Magic Mountain, also pub- 
lished in 1924, it expresses the self-scrutiny of a mind that is 
anchored in liberalism and yet aware of weaknesses in the 
liberal tradition. Like Mann, Forster rests his masterpiece 
on a foundation of intellectual integrity; his nearly suicidal 
eclecticism becomes a weapon for aesthetic victory over the 
partiality and error it reveals. The victory belongs to reason, 
but to reason defining the limits of reason. We could see in such 
novels, if we wished, the formal surrender of liberalism to the 
self-doubts that have always tormented it; but we may see them 
equally as announcing the severance of liberal ideals from the 
narrow dogmas of progress and profit. Forster's career as a 
novelist, in any case, finally brings him away from the fashiona- 
ble slogans of sexual equality, self-expression, and even social 
responsibility, and places him briefly in the company of those 
great writers who have looked steadily, with humor and com- 
passion, at the permanent ironies of the human condition. 



INDEX 



Allen, Glen O., 155, 
Annan, Noel, 7 and n., i2n., 
Apollo and Apollonianism, 124-125, 

127-130, 133, 140-141 
"Apostles, The," 40-41 
Arnold, Matthew, 8n., 16, 27, 31, 

34n., 35 and n., 125 
Auden, W. H, 16 
Ault, Peter, i68n. 
Austen, Jane, 96-97, 99, 175, 177 

Bagehot, Walter, 27 
Beal, Anthony, 10911. 
Beethoven, Ludwig van, 89, 120 
Belgion, Montgomery, i68n. 
Bell, Clive, 8n., 44, 47 
Bell, Vanessa, ion., 44 
Bentham, Jeremy, 25-28, 47n., 118 
Berenson, Bernard, 8n. 
Berkeley, Bishop George, 61 
Bible, 53, 78 and n., 100 
Blackmur, R. P., 169 
Bloomsbury Group, The, 8n., 10, 17- 
18, 25, 28, 42n., 43-49, 170-171 
Botticelli, Sandro, 89-90 
Brookfield, Frances M., 4in. 
Brown, Alan W., 4in. 
Brown, E. K., 3, 54n. 
Brown, Norman O., 157, i58n, 
Browning, Robert, 71, 125 
Buddhism, 43 
Bunyan, John, 137 
Bush, Douglas, i25n., i3in. 
Butler, Samuel, 27, 95-96, 99, 140 
Byron, George Gordon, Lord, 56n. 

Calvinism, 169 

Cambridge University, 3, 10, 11, 19, 
29, 31, 39-50, 53, 55, 56, 57, 61, 
62, 127-128, 131, 134, 146 

Carlyle, Thomas, 11, 82, 143 

Carpenter, Edward, 21 

Chamberlain, Joseph, 29 

Chaucer, Geoffrey, 104 

Chesterton, G. K., 3^J4, 107 



Clapham Sect, 8-13, 18, 24, 40, 47 
Clerk-Maxwell, James, 41 
Clifford, W. K., nn. 
Communism, 20, 23n., 35 
Conrad, Joseph, 147 
Cornford, F. M., 8n. 

Dante Alighieri, 79 

Darwin, Charles, 8n., 12 

Demeter, 135-137, 138, 140 

Dicey, A. V., 12 

Dickens, Charles, 171 

Dickinson, G. L., 29-30, 39, 41-43, 

47-49, 50, 96, 131 
Dionysus and Dionysianism, 124- 

132, 141, 177 and n. 
Discussion Society, The, 43 and n* 
Disraeli, Benjamin, 28 
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor, 170 

Eliot, T. S., 4, 128, 149, 168-169 
Ellmann, Richard, 174^ 
Emerson, R. W., 62 
Ensor, R. C. K., 28n. 
Erasmus, 13 

Fabianism, 21, 48 

Fascism, 20-23 

Fawcett, Henry, 11, 27 

Fergusson, Francis, 176 

Fielding, Henry, 97 

Forster, Alice Whichelo, 8, 152 

Forster, Rev, Charles, 7-8 

Forster, Edward, 8 

FORSTER, E. M. 

admiration for the Greeks, 17, 
42-43, 131; ancestry and family 
tradition, 7-10, 23-24, 38, 44, no; 
development of career, 3-6, 20, 50, 
67-71, 72-73, 91, 101-104, 105, 
122-124, 163, 167, 173, 178-180; 
edectitism, 13-14, 39, 48, 73-74, 
92-96, 127, 164-167, 171-172, 
180; faith in personal relations, 5, 
37-38, 41-42, 47-49, 106, 109- 



188 



INDEX 



no, 115-116; individualism, 5, 6, 
21-24, 26, 30-31, 33-34, 37, 49, 
50, 54, 59, 61-62, 87, 106, 109, 
131, 168-169, 171-174; political 
and social views, 6, 9, 19-24, 26, 
28-36, 37, 48, 49, 87, 105-123, 
167-168, 169, 172, 180; religious 
and philosophical views, 7, 9-10, 
13-18, 19, 37, 39, 47, 49, 50-54, 

60-65, 69-70, 72, 80-82, 110, 112, 
Il5-ll6, 148-154, 162-163, 169- 

170, 174; reputation, 3, 5, 167- 
172; ruralism, 21, 37-39, 62, 107, 
109-111, 137-138; theory of 
art, 34-36, 47-48, 67-70, 73, 92- 
97, 99-104, 163, 176 and n.; use 
of comedy, 71-104, 122, 173; use 
of fantasy and allegory, 67-70, 94- 
95, 99, 137, 173, 174; use of my- 
thology, 124-141; use of symbol- 
ism, 58-60, 65-69, 79, 83, 88, 92- 
94, 97, 111-113, 121 > 1 5?' 1 5 6 

CHARACTERS: Abbott, Caroline, 
68, 73-78, 87, 101, 132 and n., 
139; AH, Mahmoud, 146; Ansell, 
Stewart, 53-62, 64, 76, 81, 134, 
136, 143, 173, 174; Aziz, 139- 
140, 144-146, 149-150, 153, 155, 
159-161, 164; Bahadur, Nawab, 
146; Bartlett, Charlotte, 84-88, 98, 
102; Bast, Jacky, 115, 118-119, 
174; Bast, Leonard, 114, 115, 
n6n., 117-121, 137, 174; Beebe, 
Rev., 84-86, 89, 97-98; Callendar, 
Major, 146; Carella, Gino, 68, 
74-79, 83, 90, 101-102, 132 and 
n., 144, 165; Das, 146; Dawes, 
Gerald, 58 and n., 67, 69, ;i34 
135; Derek, Miss., 146; Eager, 
Rev., 84, 97-99, 173; Elliot, Mr. 
(Rickie's father), 58-59, 63, 88n.; 
Elliot, Mrs. (Rickie's mother), 58- 
60, 63, 67, 88n., 135-136 and n.; 
Elliot, Rickie, 50-51, 53-70, 72, 
76, 81, 87, 89n., 92, 102, 103, 
114, 120, 134-137, 138, 139, 143, 
145, 164, 165, 173, 174, 178; 
Emerson, George, 68, 81-90, 97- 
99, 102 andn., 132-133, 139, 143, 



165; Emerson, Mr., 81-88, 97-98, 
102 and n., 133, 143, 165, 178; 
Failing, Anthony, 66, 81, 100, 
101, 174; Failing, Mrs., 64, 102, 
103; Fielding, Cyril, 139, 143-145, 
149-151, 153, i58n., 160-162, 
164, 166; Godbole, Prof., 146, 
150, 161; Graysford, Rev., 146, 
148-149, 150; Hamidullah, 146; 
Hassan, 146; Heaslop, Ronny, 
139, 145, 1148, 149, 150, 159; 
Herriton, Harriet, 73 and n., 74- 
79, 81, 101-102, 165, 173; Herri- 
ton, Lilia, 74-76, 79, 88, 101, 
165; Herriton, Philip, 68, 73-81, 
87, 90, 101, 120, 132 and n., 139, 
143, 164; Honeychurch, Lucy, 68, 
72, 81-90, 96, 97-99, 102, 132- 
!33> 137. *39> M3> 165, 178; 
Latif, Mohammed, 146; Lavish, 
Eleanor, 87, 98-99; McBryde, Mr., 
146; Moore, Mrs., 111, 139, 143- 
145, 148-150, 155-162, 165, 179; 
Panna Lai, Dr., 146; Pembroke, 
Agnes, 53-61, 63, 67, 69, 102, 

114, 134-135, 165, 174; Pern- 
broke, Herbert, 53, 55, 62, 65- 
66, 73n., 102, 134-135, 138, 165, 
173-174; Quested, Adela, 139-140, 
143-145, 148-149, 155, 158-162, 
166; "Robert," 59-60, 62; Schle- 
gel, Helen, 106-109, ni'izi, 165; 
Schlegel, Margaret, 105-109, 111- 

115, 117-122, 130, 138, 139, 143, 
145, 164, 165, 166, 174, 178; 
Schlegel, Tibby, 113, n6n.; Sor- 
ley, Rev., 146, 148-149, 150; Tur- 
ton, Mr., 146, 1 50; Turton, Mrs., 
146; Vyse, Cecil, 81, 83, 85-87, 
96, 102 and n., 103, 116, 120; 
Wilcox, Charles, 107, 108, 113; 
Wilcox, Henry, 105-109, 111-122, 
138, 165, 167, 173-174; Wilcox, 
Paul, 114; Wilcox, Ruth, 110-112, 
114, 115, 116, 138; Wonham, 
Stephen, 54-56, 58-60, 62-69, 81, 
103, 134-136 and n., 143, 165, 
173, 174 

WORKS CITED: Abinger Har- 



184 



INDEX 



vest, passim; "Abinger Pageant, 
The," 38; "Art for Art's Sake," 
35, 48; Aspects of the Novel, 13, 
14, 7311., 93-94, 103-104, 163, 
16411., 17611.; "Cardan," 3in.; 
"Celestial Omnibus, The," 3in., 
94n.; "Cnidus," 300., 136^; Col- 
lected Tales, The, ijn., 68n., 
94n., 129-130; "Curate's Friend, 
The," 68n., 94n., 130; England's 
Pleasant Land, 38; "Eternal Mo- 
ment, The," 3in., 68n.; "Game 
of Life, The," 13-16, 18, 166; 
"Gemistus Pletho," 3 in.; Golds- 
worthy Lowes Dickinson, 2 in., 29- 
30, 39-43 and n., 45, 47-48, $6n.; 
Government of Egypt, The, 20; 
Hill of Devi, The, 152-154; How- 
ards End, 7, 19, 34 and n., 38-39, 
66, 70, 95n., 105-123, 124, 130, 
131, 137-138, 143, 166, 173, 174, 
177, 178, 179; "Literary Eccen- 
trics: A Review," 3 in.; Longest 
Journey, The, 7, 38-39, 48, 50-70, 
71, 72, 73 and n., 76, 80, 81, 88n., 
&9n., 92, 100, 101, 102-104, no, 
114, 120, 130, 133-137, 138, 143, 
167, 173, 174, 177, 178, 179; 
"Macolnia Shops," 3on.; "Menace 
to Freedom, The," 22n.; Mari- 
anne Thornton, 7, 8n., 9, 38, no; 
"Mosque, The," 152; "Notes on 
the English Character," ^in.; 
"Other Kingdom," 67, 68 and n., 
130; "Other Side of the Hedge, 
The," 3in., 94n., 129; Passage to 
India, A: 3, 7, 19, 49, 70, 95n., 
104, 111, 123, 127, 139-141, 142- 
163, 166, 167, 173, 177-180; Pha- 
ros and Phanllon, 17; "Point of 
It, The," 68n.; "Road from Co- 
lonus, The," XJ%^B^*-^> 
Room With a View, A^j, 68, 70, 
71-73, 81-91, 9411,, 96-99, 102 and 
n., 103, 132-133, 143* 1 73' *77> 
178; "Rostock and Wismar," 
310.; "Salute to the Orient," 152; 
"Story of a Panic, The," 3 in., 
68n., 9411., 128-129; "Story of the 



Siren, The," 129-130; Two Cheers 
for Democracy, passim; "Voter's 
Dilemma, A," 20; Where Angels 
Fear to Tread: 7, 68, 70, 71-81, 
83, 89, 90, 91, 101-102, 132 and 
n., 143, 165, 173, 177, 178 
Frazer, J. G., 127-128 
Freud, Sigmund, 23n., 157, 160 
Fry, Roger, 29, 41, 42n., 48 

Gibbon, Edward, 17 

Gide, Andr6, 168 

Gladstone, W. E., 27-28, 48, 107 

Godwin, William, 169 

Goebbels, Joseph, 20 

Gokul Ashtami, 151-154 

Grant, Duncan, 44n. 

Green, T. H., 27 

Guthrie, W. K. C., 127, i28n. 

Halevy, Elie, 25 

Hallam, Arthur, 40 

Harcourt, William, 41 

Hardy, Thomas, 49, 72 

Harrison, Jane, 128 

Harrod, R. F., 43^ 

Harvey, John, 5 in. 

Hermes, 134 

Hinduism, 43, 127, 140, 149-158, 

160-162 

Hirst, F. W., 29 
Holt, Lee E., 95n. 
Hook, A., io7n. 
Huxley, T. H., 8n., 12 

Ibsen, Henrik, 14, 38 
Independent Review, The, 29-33 
Islam, 140, 149-155, 162 

James I, 35 

James, Henry, 80, 90, 93, 170 

James, William, 16, 39 

Jenks, Edward, 29, 31 

Johnstone, J. K., 42n. 

Jones, Ernest, 23n. 

Joyce, James, 3, 4, 5, 128, 169, 174- 

176 
Jupiter, 125 



186 



INDEX 



Kant, Immanuel, 157 
Keats, John, 3711., 55, 124 
Keynes, J. M., 8n., 17, 41, 43, 44 

and n., 46-47, 171 
King's College, Cambridge, 39, 40, 

42, 44, 131 

Laski, Harold, 167 

Lawrence, D. H., 4, 5, 82, io8n., 

128, 169, 171, 176-177 and n. 
Leavis, F. R., 26n., 170-172, 174 
Liberalism (see dso Forster, political 

and social views), 19-36, 105-107, 

167-168, 172, 180 
Lorenzo de' Medici, 97 
Louis XIV, 35 

McConkey, James, 5n., 64, 65, 66, 

96 
McTaggart, J. E., 41-42 and n., 43 

and n., 47, 49 
Macaulay, Thomas, 8n. 
Maharajah of Dewas State Senior, 

*5 2 > i53' 1 54 
Malthus, Thomas, 25 
Mann, Thomas, 3, 168, 180 
Masterman, C. F. G., 29, 31 
Maurice, F. D., 40 
Melville, Herman, 93 
Meredith, George, 49, 56, 70, 99- 

104, 131, 133, 140 
Midnight Society, The, 44 
Mill, James, 25 
Mill, John Stuart, 12, 25-27, 30, 31, 

35-36, 45, 47n., 82, n6n., 172 
Mines, Monckton, 41 
Montaigne, Michel de, 1 3 
Moore, G. E., 41, 43-50, 62n., 170 
Morley, John, 12 
Moses, 13 

Muller, F. Max, i56n., i6on. 
Murray, Gilbert, 128 

Newman, Cardinal John H., 1 1 
Nietzsche, Friedrich, 67n,, 124-129, 
131, 140-141, 



Oedipus, 130 
Oliver, H. J., 90 



Ovid, 128 

Oxford University, 40 

Packe, Michael St. John, 26n. 

Pallas Athene, 133 

Pan, 13 in. 

Pater, Walter, 126, 131, 135-136 

Paul, Saint, 13 

Persephone, 97 

"Phaethon," 97, 133 

Plato and Platonism, 32, 41, 43, 

45n., 49, 50, 60 
Plotinus, 43 
Pound, Ezra, 4 
Praxiteles, 134 
Prometheus, 125 
Proust, Marcel, 3, 168 

Racine, J. B., 35 
Raleigh, Sir Walter, 41, 43 
Ricardo, David, 25 
Richards, I. A., 38 
Russell, Bertrand, 43, 46-47 

Sanders, Charles R,, 43n. 

Savage, D. S., i68n. 

Scrutiny critics, 170-172 

Shakespeare, William, 35 

Shaw, G. B., 27 

Shelley, Percy, 41-42, 48, 50, 54-55, 

71, 125, 140 

Sidgwick, Arthur and Eleanor, 4 in. 
Sidgwick, Henry, 41 
Smith, Adam, 25 
Smith, Sydney, 8 
Smollett, Tobias, 97 
Socialism, 21, 22, 26-32, 84, 107 
Socrates and Socratisrn, 47, 127 and 

n., 129 
Sophocles, 35 
Spencer, Herbert, 12, 45 
Spender, Stephen, 5 and n. 
Spenser, Edmund, 173 
Stephen, Fitzjames, 12 
Stephen, James, ion. 
Stephen, Sir James, 10-11 
Stephen, Leslie, 8n., 10-14, 1 ^ 2 ^" 

29, 40 and n., 169 



186 



INDEX 

Stephen, Thoby, 44 Van Gogh, Vincent, 14 

Sterne, Laurence, 93, 170 Venn, John, 12 

Strachey, Lytton, 8n., 17-18, 41, 43 Venn, Rev. John, ion. 

and n., 44-45, 49 Venus (Aphrodite), 89-90, 132, 

Swift, Jonathan, 95, 96 133, 137, 140 

Swinburne, Algernon, 126 Victoria, Queen, 146 

Sydney-Turner, Saxon, 44 

Waggoner, Hyatt, 165-166 

Tennyson, Alfred Lord, 40, 125 Webb, Beatrice and Sidney, 21, 27 
Thornton, Henry, 8-10 
Thornton, Marianne, 8, 9, 10, 38 
Tonbridge School, 39 
Trench, Richard, 40 
Trevelyan, G. M., 8n., 29, 31 
Trevelyan, Sir G, O., 12 
Trilling, Lionel, 3, 24, 5in., 61, 80, Woolf, Leonard, 8n., 41, 44, 

112, 122, 142 171 

Trinity College, Cambridge, 44 Woolf, Virginia, 8n., ion., 42, 49 

Tyndall, John, 12 Wordsworth, William, 38 

Upanishads, 155-157, 160 Yeats, W. B., 128, 168 

Utilitarianism, 12, 25-28, 30, 31, 
45, 47 and n., n6n., 118 Zabel, Morton Dauwen, 3n. 



Wedd, Nathaniel, 29, 41-42 
Wells, H. G., 27 
Whitehead, A. N., 41 
Williams, Basil, 4 in. 
Wilson, Angus, 1090., 174 
Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 



187 



CONTINUED FROM FRONT FLAP 

of Forster's work I have read. He treats each book 
at full length and, what is more, places Forster in 
the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century 
liberal tradition. His . . . second chapter and his 
highly objective concluding chapter are welcome 
additions to the available critical treatments of 
E. M. Forster/' RICHARD M. LUDWIG. 

"The author has made valuable and sensitive 
analyses of each of Forster's novels and he is ex- 
cellent in A Passage to India while tracing the 
influence of his cultural background on his art. 
The result is a vivid, pointed study of Forster's 
growth as an artist/' DOROTHY VAN GHENT. 

FREDERICK C. CREWS is an assistant profes- 
sor of English at the University of California at 
Berkeley. 



THE THIRD VOICE 
Modern British and American Verse Drama 
BY DENIS DONOGmiE 

"The Third Voice is a very thorough book 
about a topic which most critics tend to dodge. 
Mr. Donoghue . . . knows modern English and 
American poetry like the back of his hand . . . 
He knows the living theatre, and he has an excel- 
lent grasp of the metrics and phonetics of spoken 
verse . . . Learned, elegant/ packed, suggestive, 
this is an indispensable book to bridge the gap be- 
tween lovers of pure theatre and lovers of poetry/' 
MANCHESTER GUARDIAN. "Dr. Donoghue is a 
critic of the first rank definitely a man to watch/' 
AMERICA. 288 PAGES. 1959. $5,00 



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