Friday, May 22, 2009

E M Forster (1879-1970) - Triumph over The Self

There are few people who really influence your life and in major ways.

For me, E M Forster was one, and perhaps the most important.

And I acknowledge this to myself each time I re-read one his novels or the P N Furness biography 'E M Forster: A Life' or 'Selected Letters of E M Forster' edited with Mary Lago.

I think the real base of my deep deep admiration is that the author fought through, and overcame to a such great extent, extraordinary personal inadequacies. He was cripplingly shy, overly-sensitive to a degree that was pathological, and tyrannically dominated all his life by his mother Lily. The cloyingly prim and intellectually restricted middle-class Weybridge society of his childhood and youth, and being gay in the last part of the C19 didn't help matters.

What inspired/inspires me was Forster's ability to see outside his small self into a larger world and take the steps needed to make a bigger life than would ever have been expected.

A powerful intellect and Cambridge University helped.

Forster at the time of being a student at Cambridge University

But then and most importantly Forster enlarged himself and his outlook by traveling and working in Egypt and India.

Forster in Mahratta turban

Forster (5th from left) in the courtyard of the Palace of Dewas with the Maharaja (3rd from left) - Forster worked as the Maharaja's secretary

And by over-coming extreme reticence and apprehension when chance offers itself - as in his meeting with an Egyptian tram ticket collector in Alexandria - Mohammed el Adl. This (first real) sexual encounter developed into a relationship which bridged cultural and class barriers - without being patronising. And such was Forster's sense of personal loyalty that he kept in touch with and helped Mohammed till the Egyptian's early death.

Mohammed el Adl, Alexandria, Egypt

I sometimes wonder how my own life would have been if I hadn't encounter E M Forster. And determined to embrace opportunities thrown up by chance and make larger things happen.

I probably wouldn't have delayed going to university to travel through Europe, the Middle East and Asia for an extraordinary 4 years.

Or gone to live and work in China for a year at Beda (Beijing University). And broadcast on CCTV.

Or unexpectedly extended our month traveling in 2003 to nearly seven.

Or ... or ... or ... .

What an absolutely wonderful legacy - just for one person!

Have you guys had any 'guiding forces' in your lives?


  1. Nope - always been a rudderless dinghy.

    Glad you had such an extraordinary influence on your life such as Forster.

    Alan down in Florida

  2. hey alan

    been a bit busy and un-blogged the last day or so - be good to catch up online on gmail

    i thought of you doing the post - only cos we've both had tyrannical mothers - or allowed ourselves to be tyrannized in my case

    be in touch soon?


  3. What an extraordinarily moving post! Thank you for it. Who else, I ask you, would have side-by-side posts about the very personal effect of Forster on one's life, and hot naked guys? (Mr. Forester would certainly approve. Indeed, perhaps that's more of his influence?)

    Since first reading this post a couple days ago, I've thought much about who might have been such a guiding light in my life. To my surprise there isn't such a person, though many people have nudged here and there, and many people have been very generous in helping me along the path.

    Rather than a person, what got me out of the claustrophobic rural American South and away from religious Fundamentalism (personified by a mother who was probably mentally ill) was an overwhelming love for classical music, opera, the theater, and the desire to live among people who shared my passion, who understood why it was necessary to read books, who understood that buying a painting or a work of art was, indeed, a necessity, not a luxury. It was the overpowering drive to satisfying MY soul's craving, (not the barren soul I was lectured about in church) that was the strongest motivating force for me.

    Of course, I still have to ask myself occasionally, if a proposed action is a necessity of my soul, or if I'm behaving like a petulant 3 year old. Very tough to tell the difference sometimes.

    Thank you for this post, Nick. It continues to resonate in a marvelous way.

  4. hey paul in NYC

    thanks for commenting - this posting has been bubbling up for some time - just not sure if it would strike any cords - so very happy for your reaction - tho what spurred you into new things and a different life was more diffuse

    certainly Melbourne of my youth was similarly restricting and London the place where i was able to embrace and indulge theatre concerts opera and ballet - i was for a long time a 4-5night a weeker! cos it was affordable then.

    and in a parallel way i ask myself about new indulgences (extending my travel last year from 2 to 7 moths) - the answer i usually (tho not always) give myself is a resounding 'yes' - life is too short to lack courage and say 'no'

    be in touch