Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Forster, E.M. (1879–1970)
Author:
McWilliams, Jim
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

E.M. Forster, one of England's most important modern novelists, admired the poems of Walt Whitman and held humanist ideas analogous to those expressed by the American poet in his Leaves of Grass (1892). Like Whitman, Forster believed in bridging contraries to form a strong union. A central character in his fiction, for instance, pleads in Howards End (1910), "Only connect" (186). Similarly, Whitman declares throughout his work the necessity of connection between races, nations, religions, and ideas. As he says in his poem "Passage to India," he envisions "oceans to be cross'd, the distant brought near, / The lands to be welded together" (section 2).

Forster borrowed Whitman's title from that poem for his greatest novel, A Passage to India (1924), a work in which he explores the question of whether or not there can ever be a full reconciliation between an oppressed race and its oppressors. Both Whitman and Forster focus on the personal "passage" a person must travel to recognize truth, but Whitman's poem is decidedly more optimistic in tone since it concludes with a joyous assurance of the Soul's eventual connection with immortality. While A Passage to India also concludes with an assurance—that the British cannot ignore the legacy of colonialism—this recognition is not a reason for joy since it means connection between races is impossible.

Bibliography

Allen, Gay Wilson. The Solitary Singer: A Critical Biography of Walt Whitman. 1955. Rev. ed. 1967. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1985.

Beauman, Nicola. E.M. Forster: A Biography. New York: Knopf, 1994.

Beer, John. "The Undying Worm." A Passage to India: A Casebook. By E.M. Forster. Ed. Malcolm Bradbury. London: Macmillan, 1970. 186–215.

Forster, E.M. Howards End. 1910. New York: Vintage, 1921.

Furbank, P.N. E.M. Forster: A Life. San Diego: Harvest, 1981.

Trilling, Lionel. E.M. Forster. Norfolk, Conn.: New Directions, 1943.


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