20th Century Literary Landmarks

Daily Mail (London), November 12, 1999 | Go to article overview

20th Century Literary Landmarks


Byline: TOM ROSENTHAL

7: RACE A PASSAGE TO INDIA by E.M. Forster (Penguin, [pounds sterling]7.99)considers the seventh of ten books that have helped shape society and define the way we think

EDWARD MORGAN FORSTER was born in 1879 and educated at Tonbridge School and King's College, Cambridge where, once his early genius as a writer was revealed in such novels as Where Angels Fear To Tread or A Room With A View, he was given a Fellowship without any teaching duties.

He thus never had to worry about money for the rest of his long life, dying in 1970.

Forster was a perpetual bachelor, a pillar of that coterie of writers and artists known as 'Bloomsbury' and was briefly secretary to the maharajah of a small Indian state from 1921.

Although the novel is scarcely autobiographical, it is there that he learned about the incomparable subtleties of Indian life which furnished him with his masterpiece, A Passage To India, published in 1924.

With the exception of a posthumous homosexual work called Maurice, it was his last, as well as his best, novel.

His first exposure to Indian ways came when he was engaged as tutor - in Weybridge, Surrey - to a young Moslem from a distinguished Indian family to get him through his Oxford entrance exams in 1906. This was perhaps also Forster's first exposure to the ways of racial prejudice when one of his female relatives said of the Indian boy: 'Oh dear. I do hope he won't steal the spoons.' Of course A Passage To India, like all great novels, is about many things; it's about human relationships, honesty in personal dealings, love and its lack, youth versus age, all the themes of Forsterian liberalism and his celebrated phrase: 'only connect'.

But above all it is about India, the jewel in the crown and the unbearable, to both sides, love/hate it generated. …

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