Only Connect

E. M. Forster’s Legacies in British Fiction

by Elsa Cavalié (Volume editor) Laurent Mellet (Volume editor)
©2017 Edited Collection 352 Pages


Since Forster’s death in 1970, many British novelists and film directors have acknowledged and even claimed the influence of the novelist of the English soul (in Woolf’s terms) and of a renewed faith in both human relationships and a quintessentially British liberal-humanism. After the ethical turn at the end of the twentieth century, British literature today seems to go back even more drastically to the figure of the individual human being, and to turn the narrative space into some laboratory of a new form of empowerment of the other’s political autonomy. It is in this context that the references to Forster are more and more frequent, both in British fiction and in academia. This book does not only aim at spotting and theorising this return to Forster today. Rather we endeavour to trace its genealogy and shed light on the successive modes of the legacy, from Forster’s first novel, Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905) onwards, to the novelisation of Forster himself by Damon Galgut. How can the principle of connection, of correspondences and echoes, which informed Forster’s private life and approach to writing so much, equally characterise the aesthetic and political influence of his œuvre?

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Introduction: Forster and After (Elsa Cavalié and Laurent Mellet)
  • Part I. New perspectives on Forster: personal legacies
  • Civilization and Natural Depravity: On Forster, Melville, Lawrence, and Britten (Jeremy Tambling)
  • Reconstructing Knowledge in A Passage to India (Tim Mackin)
  • ‘Well, my England is E. M.’: Christopher Isherwood and E. M. Forster’s Alliance through their Correspondence (Aude Haffen)
  • The Issues of Liberal Humanism and the Condition of England from E. M. Forster to Angus Wilson (Jean-Christophe Murat)
  • Part II. Ethical legacies: from Forster to contemporary British fiction
  • He Cared: Forster, McEwan, and the Ethics of Attentiveness (Jean-Michel Ganteau)
  • Tracing ‘the Heart’s Imagination’ in Contemporary British Fiction (Marie Laniel)
  • The Subject/Object Commodity: From Forster’s Howards End to Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (Yi-Chuang E. Lin)
  • ‘Her Way of Walking’: Explorations of Nature and the Unseen in Forster’s Howards End and Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways (Christina Root)
  • E. M. Forster’s Place in the Long Discourse of Friendship (Maaz Bin Bilal)
  • Part III. Aesthetic legacies: ‘Only connect’?
  • ‘Common Garden Variety’ or ‘Rare Bird’: The Persistence of E. M. Forster’s Singular Song (Catherine Lanone)
  • In Timeless Company: E. M. Forster and J. M. Coetzee (N. Cyril Fischer)
  • Walking, Strolling and Trailing: Ivory’s Adaptation of Movement in Forster’s Howards End (Nour Dakkak)
  • ‘The Muddling of the Arts’: Modernist Rites and Rhythms in Forster, Woolf and McEwan (Susan Reid)
  • E. M. Forster and the Obsession for Rhythm: Rewriting ‘The Story of a Panic’ with ‘The Life to Come’ (Julie Chevaux)
  • Part IV. Gay legacies: ‘Only disconnect’?
  • The Postcolonial Queer and the Legacies of Colonial Homoeroticism: Of Queer Lenses and Phenomenology in E. M. Forster, David Lean and Hanif Kureishi (Alberto Fernandez Carbajal)
  • Coupling: the ‘Lost Form’ of 20th-Century Literature? – Or Only Disconnect (Nicolas Pierre Boileau)
  • Creative Criticism/Critical Creation: E. M. Forster and Alan Hollinghurst (Xavier Giudicelli)
  • Forster’s Pastoral Legacy in Trauma Poetics: The Melancholic Neo-Pastoral in Hollinghurst’s The Swimming-Pool Library and The Folding Star (José Mari Yebra)
  • Damon Galgut’s Arctic Summer (2014) in Context (Celia Cruz-Rus)
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Series Index

← 8 | 9 →

(UAPV, ICTT EA 4277 & Université Toulouse Jean Jaurès, CAS EA 801)

Introduction: Forster and After

Since E. M. Forster’s death in 1970, Forsterian studies have hinged round three main axes that most publications usually bring to the foreground at some point: his complex links to modernism, the no less intricate question of his sexuality as informing his writing (Bakshi, Martin), and the postcolonial dimension of A Passage to India and other critical writings. Many collections of essays tackle those issues and endeavour to go further. This book could not have been written without the first investigations to be found in many of those, be it Philip Gardner’s Critical Heritage (1973), Das and Beer’s seminal Centenary Essays (1979), Shahane’s Centenary Volume (1981), Herz and Martin’s Centenary Revaluations (1982) or Wilde’s Critical Essays (1985). Two more recent publications have now become landmarks for Forsterian scholars: Jeremy Tambling’s Contemporary Critical Essays (1995) and J. H. Stape’s Critical Essays. Many individual monographs have also embarked on fresh perspectives on Forster’s ethics and aesthetics. Catherine Lanone’s book (1998) offers a daring study of Forster’s poetics of places and spaces allowing the author to theorize on writing as a journey or an odyssey – may the editors of this book here express their deepest gratitude and warmest thanks to Catherine Lanone for sharing her love of Forster with them over all these years now. Other publications include Nicholas Royle’s equally enamoured yet rigorous monograph, David Medalie’s bold celebration of Forster’s ambiguous modernism, Stuart Christie’s study on the pastoral, and Michelle Fillion’s innovative work on music in Forster’s writing. Let us also mention the more personal books by Frank Kermode and Tim Leggatt, both testifying to the everlasting interest for the man and his oeuvre.

Even more recently, many studies have interrogated the reasons for this interest and paved the way for exciting new directions. David Bradshaw’s Cambridge Companion to E. M. Forster (2007) is the most ← 9 | 10 → complete introduction to the man, the books and Forsterian studies themselves. Bradshaw claims Forster’s life and oeuvre have to be reassessed now that much has been written on his homosexuality and peculiar form of modernism. This is precisely what the authors of the Companion manage to do, coming up with innovative and very often conclusive Forsterian food for thought. The late 2000s also saw the appearance of new literary and biographical material concerning Forster, which fuelled the public’s and the critics’ renewed interest in the novelist: the relevance of his political and humanistic thought was brought to the fore by the edition of his BBC talks (Lago, Hughes & McLeod), while the spotlight was turned on the complexity of his private life when a collection of letters focusing on his homosexuality, Letters between Forster and Isherwood on Homosexuality and Literature (Zeikowitz), was published, an aspect that was also discernible in Philip Gardner’s Journals and Diaries of E. M. Forster (2011). Thirty years after P. N. Furbank’s authoritative E. M. Forster. A Life (1978), Forster’s homosexuality and private life were indeed the focus of Wendy Moffat’s New Life (2010), a trend that would later be followed and fictionalised by Damon Galgut in Arctic Summer (2014). In his perceptive re-reading of Maurice published in 2013, Laurence Scott indeed persuasively argues that ‘despite its failings, both the book’s plot and its life as a secret manuscript have something to say about a major debate of our times: the extent to which the bounds of privacy are being redrawn’ (Scott). Forster’s ‘hidden life’, one of the reasons why he stopped, if not writing, but at least publishing, may paradoxically be why he has become so relevant in the last two decades.

Yet, the renewal in Forsterian studies did not only arise from the finer understanding of Forster’s personality and (private) life. The new developments also came from the more systematic study of the intersection between Forsterian studies and other fields. Such is for instance the premise of Laurent Mellet’s exploration of the cinematographic adaptations of the novels, developing an aesthetics of sensation based on the interplay between seeing and hearing, and the representation of the body on screen and in writing. In 2014, Alberto Fernández Carbajal’s Compromise and Resistance in Postcolonial Writing. E. M. Forster’s Legacy examined the different types of Forsterian legacies, focusing especially on postcolonial texts. It is, Carbajal argues, Forster ‘marginal’ quality ← 10 | 11 → that makes his novels prime material for contemporary revisiting: ‘Forster’s resistance to normative discourses and ideologies, together with his drive for compromise, make his original debates attractive for later writers who attempt to gauge similarly open and dialogic positions’ (Fernández Carbajal 2). His book delves into Forster’s legacies especially in terms of liberal-humanism (or rather liberalism and/or humanism), modernism, postcolonial issues and the debates around queer fiction. Elsa Cavalié’s book on Englishness in contemporary fiction looks at how England is revisited today and elaborates on the various facets of the possibly new English identity thereby created. Her chapters on the ethics of contemporary literature exemplify the way turning back to Forster may help us better understand our times and their arts. Other recent books have also questioned the political and democratic background to the Forster novels. In Against Democracy, Simon During devotes a whole chapter to Howards End’s socialism. Francis Mulhern keeps coming back to and quoting from Howards End in his recent Figures of Catastrophe. These are only two examples of the ongoing presence of Forsterian words and ideas in contemporary thinking. Michele Mendelssohn’s Alan Hollinghurst. Writing under the Influence (2016) examines, among other things, the connection between Hollinghurst and Forster. The renewed vigour of Forsterian studies in the last ten or fifteen years stems, at least partly, from the rising tide of contemporary novelists drawing inspiration from Forster’s life and works, among which Zadie Smith may well be the most relevant example.

It was not just with her rewriting of Howards End in On Beauty that Zadie Smith showed that ‘all [her] fiction is indebted, one way or the other’ (Smith 2006, ‘acknowledgements’), to Forster. She is also the author of several essays or articles in which she stresses the ethical and stylistic peculiarities of the Edwardian novelist and underlines how contemporary the questions raised by those may be. In ‘Love, Actually’, she writes about A Room with a View, the typically Forsterian ‘undeveloped heart’ and the muddled structure always to be found in a Forster novel: ‘But what interests me is that his narrative structure is muddled also; impulsive, meandering, irrational, which seeming faults lead him on to two further problematics: mawkishness and melodrama’ (Smith 2003). Comparing him with Jane Austen, she contends that his fiction allows for richer and more modern ethical patterns: ← 11 | 12 →

Central to the Aristotelian inquiry into the Good life is the idea that the training and refinement of feeling plays an essential role in our moral understanding. Forster’s fiction, following Austen’s, does this in exemplary fashion, but it is Forster’s fiction that goes further in showing us how very difficult an educated heart is to achieve. It is Forster who shows us how hard it is to will oneself into a meaningful relationship with the world; it is Forster who lends his empathy to those who fail to do so. And it is Forster who, in his empathic efforts, will allow his books to get all bent out of shape.

This connection between the ethics of his plots and the loose shape or structure of his books becomes here a way for Forster to be innovative in generic terms as well: ‘Forster ushered in a new era for the English comic novel, one that includes the necessary recognition that the great majority of us are not like an Austen protagonist, would rather not understand ourselves, because it is easier and less dangerous’. Similarly Peter Childs and James Green recently wrote about the way ‘Smith as much as Forster presents characters whose certainties are their weaknesses’ (Childs & Green 56). Finally Smith claims that while ‘Austen asks for toleration from her readers [,] Forster demands something far stickier, more shameful: love’ (Smith 2003). As some chapters of this book will show, love and other ‘stickier’ feelings or values might indeed account for some decisive aspects of Forster’s legacy.

In ‘E. M. Forster, Middle Manager’, Smith argues that ‘[b]etween the bold and the tame, the brave and the cowardly, the engaged and the complacent, Forster walked the middling line’, and that ‘that middle line was, in its quiet, Forsterish way, the most radical place to be’ (Smith 2009, 14). Paving the way for new Forsterian studies, as the authors of this book have embarked on, Smith quotes from a letter to Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson1 and from the recent publication of the BBC talks,2 to argue that Forster’s humble middling position was his strength and still explains his peculiar place today. She then evokes his reluctance to abide by the law of the opposition between realism and experimentalism (22), and links his simple style to his ethics of connection: ‘He understood the beauty of complexity and saluted it where he saw it. His own ← 12 | 13 → preference for simplicity he recognized for what it was, a preference, linked to a dream of mass connection’ (23). Her closing remarks about Forster’s ‘magic and beauty’, but also ‘weakness’, ‘laziness’ and ‘some stupidity’ (27) must be construed as a celebration of his humanism – yet another direction that will be investigated in the following chapters. The same type of ambiguity can be found in Alan Hollinghurst’s approach of Forster. The Stranger’s Child opens with a quote from A Room With A View, and in Hollinghurst’s own words:

[E. M. Forster] loomed large when I was starting The Stranger’s Child – the first part is so obviously in Forster territory, the outermost suburbs of London before the Great War. And I was deliberately playing on Forsterian situations, like the skinny-dipping in the pool in the woods in A Room with a View. At the same time, the whole thing kept slipping into a pastiche of Forster, with cute little asides about the characters’ motivations and so on. My ambition was to show the people in each of the book’s five periods living quite naturally in their era, and not being objects of a historical reconstruction. So I had to get Forster out of my system. I don’t know whether I fully succeeded. (Terzian 40)

Howards End is on the Landing for Susan Hill, who takes us on a literary journey starting from and ending with Forster. In Susie Steiner’s latest novel, characters are sometimes obsessed with Forster and his ethics. Jonathan Coe has said that in his novel Expo 58 (2013) he wanted to work on the Forsterian motif of the British abroad losing their bearings. As indicated before, Damon Galgut, one of the most prominent contemporary South-African writers, turned the Indian periods of Forster’s life and literary output into a novel. A Place Called Winter, Patrick Gale’s 2015 novel, is strewn with references to Forster and particularly Maurice and Where Angels Fear to Tread.

Because of this intriguing enduring presence of Forster in both literature and academia, and in the wake of those seminal publications, this book purports to question the artistic, aesthetic, political and ethical legacy of novels that have often been defined as generically blurred, oscillating as they do between the Victorian and Edwardian legacy and modernist drives. Many British novelists and film directors have acknowledged and even claimed the influence of a novelist whose ‘message is addressed to the soul’ (Woolf 166) and of his renewed faith in both human relationships and a quintessentially British liberal-humanism. We may think here of the film adaptations by James Ivory (A Room with ← 13 | 14 → a View, Maurice, Howards End)3 and David Lean (A Passage to India), and of Zadie Smith paying homage to Howards End in her On Beauty.

After the ethical turn at the end of the twentieth century (Davis & Womack 2001), British literature today seems to go back even more drastically to the figure of the individual human being, and to turn the narrative space into some laboratory of a new form of empowerment of the other’s political autonomy. It is in this context that the references to Forster are more and more frequent, both in British fiction and in academia. This book does not only aim at spotting and theorising this return to Forster today. It also endeavours to trace its genealogy and shed light on the successive modes of the legacy, from Forster’s first novel, Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905) onwards, to the novelisation of Forster himself by Damon Galgut. We know how the history of British fiction in the twentieth century teems with novelists and artists who claimed to adhere to and follow Forsterian ethics. In the light of the striking echoes of Forster in contemporary British culture, how can we analyse his aesthetic and literary legacy in works by writers as significant as Christopher Isherwood or Angus Wilson, and today, Kazuo Ishiguro, Alan Hollinghurst, Zadie Smith, or Ian McEwan? How can the principle of connection, of correspondences and echoes, which informed Forster’s private life and approach to writing so much, equally characterise the aesthetic and political influence of his oeuvre? Which Forsterian legacy (ideological, aesthetic, critical) do Postrealist, Postmodernist and contemporary British literature and arts claim? In her chapter in the Cambridge Companion Elizabeth Langland contends that ‘Forster fears the aestheticism that characterizes some modernist works; for him, ethics must be wedded to aesthetics’ (Bradshaw 94). Ian McEwan might be implying the same when he says he wants to ‘enter into a conversation with modernism and its dereliction of duty’ (McEwan 2002). This necessary wedding of ethics to aesthetics is precisely what the authors of this book investigate in both Forster’s works and his possible legacy.

To do so, several lines are followed and questioned, among which: an analysis of the ethical and aesthetic echoes of the Forsterian choices ← 14 | 15 → (Eastham); the evolution of Forster’s redefinitions of Englishness; the genealogy of his main ideological and aesthetic patterns. The end is to draft a new critical approach to the logical structuring of British literature from modernism to the present, as well as to think anew the process of intertextuality and rewriting thanks to innovative studies of the Forsterian echoes in contemporary literature and literary theory (Davis & Womack 2006), in the wake of Andrzej Gasiorek’s essay on Forster, Murdoch and Smith (James 2012b). In his Modernist Futures, David James explains that though Forster will not be addressed much remains to be done:

Among those excluded is Forster himself, not because he is formally uninventive, and certainly not because ‘[t]here’s something middling about’ him, as Zadie Smith has argued. Curiously enough, in light of her own homage to Howards End in On Beauty (2005), Smith sounds as unflattering towards her own work here as she does about Forster’s. More perceptive is her later remark that Forster ‘didn’t need anyone else to be like him. Which would appear to be the simplest, most obvious principle in the world – yet how few English novelists prove capable of holding it!’ It would hardly be true to say that nobody wants to be ‘like’ Forster these days, not only after On Beauty’s tale of prejudice and accountability, but also because Forster’s ethics of connectedness, along with his own ‘insider-outsider’ status, as Paul Armstrong calls it, reverberate through such admired narratives of nationhood as Ishiguro’s An Artist of the Floating World (1986) and The Remains of the Day (1989), as well as Timothy Mo’s Sour Sweet (1982). (James 2012a, 34)

The modes of such ‘reverberations’ are precisely what the authors of this book have set to unravel and theorize. This project was part of the new research programme of the CAS (Cultures Anglo-Saxonnes) team in Toulouse Jean Jaurès University ‘Construction(s) of the Individual and the Collective’, and more precisely led by ARTLab (Atelier de Recherche Toulousain sur la Littérature et les Arts Britanniques), and the colleagues working on ‘Individual and Collective Memory’ and ‘Constructions of Democracy’. This book is also the first major production of AFAR (Association for Forster and After Research), an international group of scholars aiming at furthering the knowledge of Forster’s works and their legacy (<http://forster-afar.com/afar>).

The first part of the book, ‘New Perspectives on Forster: Personal Legacies’, opens on Jeremy Tambling’s essay on Forster, Melville, Lawrence and Britten. The chapter weaves new links between these authors ← 15 | 16 → around their common interest for ‘natural depravity’, looks at Forster on symbolism as this emerges in Aspects of the Novel and suggests how Forster’s interest in Melville may have been anticipated in the earlier novels. In ‘Reconstructing Knowledge in A Passage to India’, Tim Mackin then purports to make sense of the many failures in the book, which, he writes, are part of Forster’s examination of the limits and promise of knowing. He argues that Forster anticipates the work of contemporary philosophers like Martha Nussbaum and Stanley Cavell who confront an epistemological scepticism that underwrites a great deal of twentieth-century thought, including much literary theory, and that Forster’s attempt to think past this scepticism makes his work especially relevant to the current critical age. The next chapter is by Aude Haffen, who investigates Forster’s legacy to the Auden-Isherwood generation. She shows that beyond the alleged anti-Edwardian, anti-Bloomsbury ‘rebellion’ of the young writers of the 30s, Forster’s works and liberal humanist ethics were deeply relevant to Auden and Isherwood’s own works and lives. Haffen evokes and studies the recently published correspondence between Forster and Isherwood and sheds light on Isherwood’s negotiation of his literary debts to and differences from his close predecessor. In the last chapter of this section, Jean-Christophe Murat questions the issues of liberal humanism and the condition of England from Forster to Angus Wilson, and looks at the sometimes vexed relationships between the two writers from a set of complementary perspectives: biography and personal acquaintance and admiration; (liberal) humanism and its discontents; dealing with (one’s) homosexuality; and the idealisation or the criticism of the condition of England.

The second section is devoted to contemporary British fiction and Forster’s ethical legacies. First, Jean-Michel Ganteau examines the connection between Forster and McEwan under the aegis of what he calls ‘ethics of attentiveness’, chartering the shift to McEwan’s vulnerable narrative aesthetics by showing how his opening to the modernist father’s authority is not so much a sympathetic parody as a homage to Forster’s ethical soliciting. Ganteau approaches McEwan’s aesthetic choices as means to throw into greater visibility Forster’s thematisation and performance of attentiveness and attention, as the cornerstone of his humanist agenda and of a more general sense of responsibility. Marie Laniel then traces ‘the heart’s imagination’ in contemporary British ← 16 | 17 → fiction, explains the ins and outs of the Forsterian phrase and analyses its many echoes in works by Zadie Smith, Kazuo Ishiguro and Jeanette Winterson. The ways these novelists revisit the Forsterian motif, Laniel writes, become evidence of how Forster connects to both his past and the future of literature itself. The next chapter also questions the links between Forster and Ishiguro. Yi-Chuang E. Lin traces the genealogy of the humanist debate over civilization, science, and power in Never Let Me Go back to Forster, and explores the question of the I and the soul raised in this novel mainly in terms of Michel Foucault’s approach to the subjective and his almost ambiguous attitudes towards the subject. Christina Root then offers a new take on Howards End through her reading of the explorations of nature and the unseen in this novel and Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways (2012), in which the author takes as his guides some of the very writers that Margaret and Helen disapprove of. Macfarlane describes himself as walking into new ways of seeing that echo those achieved in Howards End – he may owe to Forster the sheer availability of the track he follows. Finally, Maaz Bin Bilal establishes Forster’s place and contribution in the long discourse of friendship. Beginning with Plato’s and Aristotle’s writings on the subject, the chapter argues Forster is looking for a ‘democratic affection’ which Bin Bilal defines and studies while looking at this rather long tradition of friendship in Europe and at Forster’s influence on writers such as Zadie Smith and Damon Galgut, as global society engages with friendships between different people and of mixed sexualities, as well as with immigration and sexuality laws.

The authors in the next section question Forster’s aesthetic legacies in various corpus and contexts. First, Catherine Lanone listens carefully to Forster’s ‘singular song’ today and its melody in recent novels, including Zadie Smith’s NW which, she writes, ‘dismiss[es] direct intertextuality yet revisit[s] and negotiat[es] webs of connection and disconnection’. Her study offers a panel of unexpected instances of Forsterian legacies, beyond intertextuality and homage. Niklas Fischer’s chapter on Forster and Coetzee focuses in particular on how Forster’s negotiation of the conflicting demands of political engagement and the autonomy of aesthetics can be read alongside Coetzee’s own political aesthetics and his persistent play with the idea of truth in literature. Fischer proposes to explore a new direction in Forster studies ← 17 | 18 → and to develop the conceptual framework Forster set up in Aspects of the Novel. Nour Dakkak then offers a new perspective on film adaptations of Forster in her study of movement, walking, strolling and trailing in Howards End, the novel and the film. Her chapter examines how James Ivory’s adaptation succeeds in drawing attention to the characters’ relationship with their environment. Dakkak explores the ways these films highlight the characters’ walks in the different places depicted, and how their walks and the way they walk gain importance in relation to the different filming techniques used by the director. The next chapter is devoted the ‘the muddling of the arts’, and modernist rites and rhythms in Forster, Woolf and McEwan. Susan Reid begins by charting the influence of Forsterian musicality among his modernist contemporaries, and then shows that while McEwan has acknowledged the influence of Yeats and Joyce in his recent novel The Children Act (2014), the central role of music in McEwan’s work might also comment on and extend Forster’s modernist musicality. Julie Chevaux then looks at Forster’s ‘obsession for rhythm’ and its modern/modernist promises in two short stories and through how Forster may have been rewriting ‘The Story of a Panic’ with ‘The Life to Come’. With her study of Forster rewriting himself, she shows how humanist legacy, ‘hovering on the brink of collapse and self-reinvention,’ might be the richest and most ambiguous facet in Forster and After studies.

In the last part of the book, ‘Gay Legacies: “Only Disconnect”?’, authors question and revisit this specific legacy and endeavour to rethink the part Forster’s sexuality played in his own writing but also for the artists he might have influenced. First, Alberto Fernández Carbajal looks at the postcolonial queer and the legacies of colonial homoeroticism in Forster, David Lean and Hanif Kureishi, analysing the traces in My Beautiful Laundrette of the latent homoeroticism of A Passage to India, embodied in Dr Aziz and Mr Fielding’s ambivalent relationship, and via David Lean’s burgeoning homoeroticism in his 1984 adaptation. By showing how Kureishi’s perspective on postcolonial racism is effected through an ironic inversion of the colonial condition, Fernández Carbajal argues that the complex power dynamic embodied by the characters constitutes a critique of the racism inherited from the Empire. Finally, he suggests that My Beautiful Laundrette offers counter-memories to the homosexual censorship experienced by Forster, while simultaneously ← 18 | 19 → acting as a postcolonial and counter-cultural response to Lean’s politically conservative film version of Forster’s book. Then Nicolas Pierre Boileau purports to construe Forster’s influence on the novels of Alan Hollinghurst in terms of values, Lacan-inspired failed encounters and the impossibility to connect that was to be at the core of postmodernist theory and praxis. Hollinghurst’s novels belong to the tradition of the romance, one of the ‘lost forms’ of twentieth-century fiction, which could be the easy label given to Forsterian novels, especially A Room with a View. If one could read these novels as failed attempts at connecting, revealing as they seem to do a fascination for the forms of disconnection which reinforce the idea that coupling is no longer an ideal and the sexual encounter doomed to fail, how can we reconcile it with the Forsterian exhortation to ‘only connect’ that these writers still return to? This chapter shows how Hollinghurst follows in the footsteps of Forster’s modernist ethical attitude: the visible failure of the couples in these novels does not exhaust the attempt at bridging gaps between people and between life, between reality and the written word. In the next chapter, Xavier Giudicelli theorizes the connection between Forster and Hollinghurst in terms of creative criticism and critical creation. His contention is that Hollinghurst’s whole production provides a form of creative criticism of Forster’s texts, and that, in Wildean fashion, it blurs the line between criticism and creation. Giudicelli argues that Hollinghurst’s creative use of Forster is both an aesthetic choice and a political act, a rewriting/re-righting of the past that blurs the limits between aesthetics and politics, two forms of activities which, if we are to follow Jacques Rancière, tear bodies from their assigned places and disrupt forms of domination. A third and complementary perspective on Forster and Hollinghurst is then provided by José Mari Yebra, who investigates Forster’s pastoral legacy in trauma poetics and its influence over what he calls the melancholic neo-pastoral at work in Hollinghurst’s fiction. According to him there is a gay pastoral legacy that connects the authors and their works. While speaking the unutterable is a traumatic experience, surviving ‘pastoral loss’ is a promise of new strength. As Yebra writes: ‘[“Only connect”] connects writers that, being poles apart, find a discourse to deal with the trauma of the unsayable through pastoral melancholia’. The last chapter of the book is by Celia Cruz-Rus, who analyses Damon Galgut’s Arctic Summer. Her main interest therefore ← 19 | 20 → is Forster’s resurrection as a character and the revision of his life. She contends that Galgut’s novel shows how Forster’s books still influence our apprehension of the Edwardians and links them to contemporary literary theory, revealing an intricate use of nostalgia.

The chapters presented here will investigate the various reasons for Forster’s legacy and suggest new ways of understanding his nostalgia of nostalgia, the logical links between his rewritability and his humbleness, or the actualisation of a potential legacy ‘already there’, such as with posthumanism. It was our contention that much still had to be unravelled about Forster’s contemporaneity, as Scott wrote about Maurice: ‘The story of a young man’s search for erotic companionship amid dinner jackets and Maggie Smith-style Edwardian sneers, Maurice is, it’s true, far from Forster’s best work. But it has a powerful contribution to make to a modern argument about the delights of obscurity, and how much should be sacrificed to perpetual illumination’ (Scott). According to him, ‘[t]he novel argues for the preservation of a space, physical or psychological, beyond any sort of scrutiny or public comment, homophobic or otherwise. […] Forster makes clear that a life of real connection and intimacy takes guts, and if you want to find a friend you must be willing to face a leopard’ (Scott). Whether it be with the multifaceted Forsterian connections between the personal and the political or with a Forsterish middle line as ‘the most radical place to be’ (Smith 2009, 14), what this book underlines is also the political, democratic essence of Forster’s legacies and new forms of ‘aristocracy of the sensitive’ (Forster 1972, 67–8). ‘[T]wo people pulling each other into salvation is the only theme I find worthwhile,’ Forster wrote in his Commonplace Book (Forster 1987b, 55): as many authors pinpoint here, Forster’s legacy can often be deciphered in such a literary form (and not only theme) of empowerment of the individual thanks to the connection. In The Cambridge Companion to E. M. Forster, David Medalie writes that while ‘others writers […] provide art [,] Forster provides value’ (Bradshaw 33). The aim of this book is precisely to theorize Forsterian values and ethics, connections and repetitions with variations, so as to better understand the politics of twentieth-century and contemporary British fiction – since, as Medalie continues, ‘[p]erhaps there has been too much of the comforting Forster and too little of the discomforting one. Veneration ← 20 | 21 → has made him too tame and the time is now ripe to revere him less but to listen to him all the more intently’ (45).


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–––. Postmodern Humanism in Contemporary Literature and Culture. Reconciling the Void. Basingstoke & New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

During, Simon. Against Democracy. New York: Fordham UP, 2012.

Eastham, Andrew. Aesthetics Afterlives. Irony, Literary Modernity and the Ends of Beauty. London & New York: Continuum, 2011.

Fernández Carbajal, Alberto. Compromise and Resistance in Postcolonial Writing. E. M. Forster’s Legacy. Basingstoke & New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

Fillion, Michelle. Difficult Rhythm. Music and the Word in E. M. Forster. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2010. ← 21 | 22 →

Forster, E. M. Two Cheers for Democracy [1951]. London: Edward Arnold, 1972.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2017 (April)
E.M. Forster rewritings englishness gay studies postcolonial studies intertextuality
Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2017. 348 pp.

Biographical notes

Elsa Cavalié (Volume editor) Laurent Mellet (Volume editor)

Elsa Cavalié is a Senior Lecturer at Avignon University (France). Her research focuses on Contemporary British fiction and Cultural Studies with particular emphasis on the notions of Englishness and Britishness. Laurent Mellet is Professor of British literature and film at the Université Toulouse Jean Jaurès (France). He specialises in Modernist and contemporary British fiction, and in film and adaptation theory.


Title: Only Connect
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354 pages