British author Edward Morgan Forster (1879-1970) is best known for his well-crafted, witty, and sensitive novels that provide a thoughtful critique of early twentieth-century British society, in particular its strict social mores, rigid class structure, and imperialist philosophy.
Forster was born in London. His father, an architect, died of tuberculosis before Edward was two years old, and Edward was raised by his mother and aunts at the estate of Rooksnest in the Hertfordshire countryside. Forster enjoyed ten happy years at Rooksnest, and his beloved childhood home became the model for Windy Corner in A Room with a View, and for the house in Howards End (1910). Being raised in a household full of women is probably what inspired Forster to create the strong female characters that appear in his novels.
As a young man, E. M. Forster studied at the Tonbridge School in Kent, England. His experience there was unhappy, and he later criticized the English public school system in his writing, notably in the novel The Longest Journey (1907). Forster then went on to King’s College, Cambridge, receiving B.A. degrees in classics and history in 1900 and 1901, eventually followed by a master’s degree in 1910.
After graduation, Forster traveled to Italy and Greece with his mother and began his career as a writer. Two of his earliest novels, Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905) and A Room with a View (1908), are set in Italy. Forster also tutored in Germany and worked for the Red Cross in Alexandria, Egypt during World War I. Alexandria was the subject of several nonfiction works he wrote during that time. In Egypt in 1919, Forster experienced his first serious love relationship, with an Egyptian tram conductor named Mohammed el Adl. In 1930, he began a lifelong friendship (possibly romantic as well) with a policeman named Bob Buckingham. Homosexuality was then considered a crime in England, and Forster did not live openly as a gay. However, the attitudes of society toward his choice of whom to love almost certainly informed Forster’s fiction.
The writer’s travels to India in 1912 and 1922 led to his book A Passage to India (1924), a novel about classism and racial prejudice in British-ruled India. During this period, Forster was a member of London’s influential Bloomsbury Group, a collective of writers, artists, and thinkers that included writer Virginia Woolf, biographer Lytton Strachey, and economist John Maynard Keynes. Woolf in particular was influenced greatly by Forster’s novels, although her writing style was more modernist.
Forster’s mother died in 1944, after which he returned to his beloved Cambridge as a professor. For the rest of his career, Forster produced mostly literary criticism, biographies, and other nonfiction. At his request, the novel Maurice, which deals with homosexual love, was not published until a year after his death, in 1971. Maurice, Where Angels Fear to Tread, A Room with a View, Howards End, and A Passage to India have all been made into films in recent years, bringing Forster’s timeless work to new audiences.