Two Cheers for Mr. Forster

The Cave and the Mountain: A Study of E. M. Forster

by Wilfred Stone
Stanford, 400 pp., $8.75

Mr. Stone’s thorough, well documented, and critical study requires one to look back upon Mr. Forster’s achievement, and makes a suggestion that the significance of his work has not been properly accounted for. I think that this is true. Mr. Forster has had more far-reaching ambitions than is generally recognized; and I agree with Mr. Stone that these ambitions were finally realized in A Passage to India, for which all his previous work was a preparation. Mr. Stone supports his interpretation both with biographical evidence, including the evidence of conversations with Mr. Forster, and with some perceptive analysis of the novels.

There is also a philosophical issue, still alive, which may be worth stating abstractly. An underlying argument, a division of allegiance, runs through all of Mr. Forster’s writing and shapes the developing style and structure of his novels. Roughly stated, the division is between, on the one side, an inherited liberalism, confirmed among lifelong friends at Cambridge and never altogether discarded, which stressed the authority of the individual conscience, and stressed also the qualities of sensitiveness and lucidity in personal relations within the setting of a civilized private life. On the other side, Mr. Forster has always represented the natural order surrounding this little compound of cultivated ground as sublime, unknown, unlimited, and as not adapted to our powers of understanding. We cannot be safe and at home within the compound, however much we may defensively pretend to be. The function of art is to take men outside the compound of conscious awareness, beyond their moral anxieties, and to find expression for the deeper rhythms in nature from which we are otherwise disconnected. This is the sense of the often-quoted Forster aphorism “only connect,” which has a philosophical rather than a social sense. The connection that needs to be made is between the upper and literate reaches of the mind and the lower and unwashed, or proletarian, levels of consciousness, which can no longer be downtrodden and despised; for they are ready to strike back, to withdraw their energies, if they are not accepted and set free.

THERE WAS A KIND of provincialism in the enlightened and entirely secular thought which had developed among Mr. Forster’s contemporaries at Cambridge in the generation that succeeded Mill and Sidgwick. In the more or less secret society of the Apostles in Cambridge, to which Mr. Forster naturally belonged, a new intellectual life was founded on the probing of meanings and the rejection of mysteries; Keynes described in Two Memoirs the sudden illumination which G. E. Moore’s analytical philosophy had brought to the Society and to the generation at Cambridge directly and indirectly formed by it. A lucid consciousness, the willed and curious enjoyment of love and friendship and of aesthetic emotions, were taken to be the proper themes of morality, and correspondingly, of that conversation among friends which develops into literature. This new self-consciousness must inform any literature that would interest a generation for whom Christianity, and …

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