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text 2018-06-13 22:58
Reading progress update: I've read 228 out of 414 pages.
The Longest Journey - E.M. Forster

Funny, I've just been pondering my issues with Heidegger's praise of tradition and nationalism (inspired by MbD's post), when Forster offers his mockery of the same - 20 years before the publication of Being and Time:


‘Yes. Tradition is of incalculable value. And I envy those schools that have a natural connection with the past. Of course Sawston has a past, though not of the kind that you quite want. The sons of poor tradesmen went to it at first. So wouldn’t its traditions be more likely to linger in the Commercial School?’ he concluded nervously.

‘You have a great deal to learn – a very great deal. Listen to me. Why has Sawston no traditions?’ His round, rather foolish, face assumed the expression of a conspirator. Bending over the mutton, he whispered, ‘I can tell you why. Owing to the day-boys. How can traditions flourish in such soil? Picture the day-boy’s life – at home for meals, at home for preparation, at home for sleep, running home with every fancied wrong. There are day-boys in your class, and, mark my words, they will give you ten times as much trouble as the boarders – late, slovenly, stopping away at the slightest pretext. And then the letters from the parents! “Why has my boy not been moved this term?” “Why has my boy been moved this term?” “I am a dissenter, and do not wish my boy to subscribe to the school mission.” “Can you let my boy off early to water the garden?” Remember that I have been a day-boy housemaster, and tried to infuse some esprit de corps into them. It is practically impossible. They come as units, and units they remain. 

Worse. They infect the boarders. Their pestilential, critical, discontented attitude is spreading over the school. If I had my own way—’

He stopped somewhat abruptly.

‘Was that why you laughed at their singing?’

‘Not at all. Not at all. It is not my habit to set one section of the school against the other.’ After a little they went the rounds. The boys were in bed now. ‘Good night!’ called Herbert, standing in the corridor of the cubicles, and from behind each of the green curtains came the sound of a voice replying, ‘Good night, sir!’ ‘Good night,’ he observed into each dormitory. Then he went to the switch in the passage and plunged the whole house into darkness.

Rickie lingered behind him, strangely impressed. In the morning those boys had been scattered over England, leading their own lives. Now, for three months, they must change everything – see new faces, accept new ideals. They, like himself, must enter a beneficent machine, and learn the value of esprit de corps. Good luck attend them – good luck and a happy release. For his heart would have them not in these cubicles and dormitories, but each in his own dear home, amongst faces and things that he knew. Next morning, after chapel, he made the acquaintance of his class. Towards that he felt very differently. Esprit de corps was not expected of it. It was simply two dozen boys who were gathered together for the purpose of learning Latin.


I have the sad feeling that the MC, Rickie, will eventually be ground down by the institutionalism he's opposing.

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text 2018-06-12 22:56
The Longest Journey - E.M. Forster

Forster's description of rain:

THE RAIN TILTED A LITTLE FROM the south-west. For the most part it fell from a gray cloud silently, but now and then the tilt increased, and a kind of sigh passed over the country as the drops lashed the walls, trees, shepherds, and other motionless objects that stood in their slanting career. At times the cloud would descend and visibly embrace the earth, to which it had only sent messages; and the earth itself would bring forth clouds – clouds of a whiter breed – which formed in the shallow valleys and followed the courses of the streams. It seemed the beginning of life. Again God said, ‘Shall we divide the waters from the land or not? Was not the firmament labour and glory sufficient?’ At all events it was the beginning of life pastoral, behind which imagination cannot travel.

Yet complicated people were getting wet – not only the shepherds. For instance, the piano-tuner was sopping. So was the vicar’s wife. So were the lieutenant and the peevish damsels in his Battlesden car. Gallantry, charity, and art pursued their various missions, perspiring and muddy, while out on the slopes beyond them stood the eternal man and the eternal dog, guarding eternal sheep until the world is vegetarian.




I'm sure it cannot be an accident that he chose a pastoral scene that could be straight out of Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd. 


Let me just say that this book is a treat for me. I love discovering why I love Forster all over again. 


‘My farm is a mystery to me,’ said the lady, stroking her fingers. ‘Some day you must really take me to see it. It must be like a Gilbert and Sullivan opera, with a chorus of agitated employers. How is it that I have escaped? Why have I never been summoned to milk the cows, or flay the pigs, or drive the young bullocks to the pasture?’

He looked at her with astonishingly blue eyes – the only dry things he had about him. He could not see into her: she would have puzzled an older and a cleverer man. He may have seen round her.

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text 2018-06-10 19:10
Reading progress update: I've read 122 out of 414 pages.
The Longest Journey - E.M. Forster

Forster on friendship -


In theory:

He was thinking of the irony of friendship – so strong it is, and so fragile. We fly together, like straws in an eddy, to part in the open stream. Nature has no use for us: she has cut her stuff differently. Dutiful sons, loving husbands, responsible fathers – these are what she wants, and if we are friends it must be in our spare time.


- And through his characters:




Dear Rickie,


I would rather write, and you can guess what kind of letter this is when I say it is a fair copy: I have been making rough drafts all the morning. When I talk I get angry, and also at times try to be clever – two reasons why I fail to get attention paid to me. This is a letter of the prudent sort. If it makes you break off the engagement, its work is done. You are not a person who ought to marry at all. You are unfitted in body: that we once discussed. You are also unfitted in soul: you want and you need to like many people, and a man of that sort ought not to marry. ‘You never were attached to that great sect’ who can like one person only, and if you try to enter it you will find destruction. I have read in books – and I cannot afford to despise books, they are all that I have to go by – that men and women desire different things. Man wants to love mankind; woman wants to love one man. When she has him her work is over. She is the emissary of Nature, and Nature’s bidding has been fulfilled. But man does not care a damn for Nature – or at least only a very little damn. He cares for a hundred things besides, and the more civilized he is the more he will care for these other hundred things, and demand not only a wife and children, but also friends, and work, and spiritual freedom. I believe you to be extraordinarily civilized.


Yours ever,


Shelthorpe, 9 Sawston Park Road,


Dear Ansell,


But I’m in love – a detail you’ve forgotten. I can’t listen to English Essays. The wretched Agnes may be an ‘emissary of Nature’, but I only grinned when I read it. I may be extraordinarily civilized, but I don’t feel so; I’m in love, and I’ve found a woman to love me, and I mean to have the hundred other things as well. She wants me to have them – friends, and work, and spiritual freedom, and everything. You and your books miss this, because your books are too sedate. Read poetry – not only Shelley. Understand Beatrice, and Clara Middleton, and Brünnhilde in the first scene of Götterdämmerung. Understand Goethe when he says ‘the eternal feminine leads us on’, and don’t write another English Essay.


Yours ever affectionately,




Dear Rickie,


What am I to say? ‘Understand Xanthippe and Mrs Bennet, and Elsa in the question scene of Lohengrin’? ‘Understand Euripides when he says the eternal feminine leads us a pretty dance’? I shall say nothing of the sort. The allusions in this English Essay shall not be literary. My personal objections to Miss Pembroke are as follows: (1) She is not serious. (2) She is not truthful.


Shelthorpe, 9 Sawston Park Road,


My dear Stewart,


You couldn’t know. I didn’t know for a moment. But this letter of yours is the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to me yet – more wonderful (I don’t exaggerate) than the moment when Agnes promised to marry me. I always knew you liked me, but I never knew how much until this letter. Up to now I think we have been too much like the strong heroes in books who feel so much and say so little, and feel all the more for saying so little. Now that’s over and we shall never be that kind of an ass again. We’ve hit – by accident – upon something permanent. You’ve writen to me, ‘I hate the woman who will be your wife’, and I write back, ‘Hate her. Can’t I love you both?’ She will never come between us, Stewart (she wouldn’t wish to, but that’s by the way), because our friendship has now passed beyond intervention. No third person could break it. We couldn’t ourselves, I fancy. We may quarrel and argue till one of us dies, but the thing is registered. I only wish, dear man, you could be happier. For me, it’s as if a light was suddenly held behind the world.




Forster really had something to say in this novel and is not holding back. Most of the people around our MC (Frederick "Rickie" Elliot) are horrible. I am not sure if Ansel is one of them or whether he really does care for Rickie but is incapable of expressing it. 


I'm also wondering if the axe that Forster is grinding is based on something personal to his life. It might be conceivable, as the MC is being attacked from all sides for his perceived short-comings (such as being sensitive), which seems to be a theme in Forster's novels. 


No doubt, I'll follow up with a Forster bio before too long.


I have both Wendy Moffat's "E.M. Forster : a new life" and Nicola Beauman's "Morgan : a biography of E.M. Forster" on order from the library. I am particularly curious about the Beauman bio, as I rather enjoy her editorial work and her Persephone Books newletters. 

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text 2018-06-10 11:07
Reading progress update: I've read 30 out of 414 pages.
The Longest Journey - E.M. Forster

Some people spend their lives in a suburb, and not for any urgent reason. This had been the fate of Rickie. He had opened his eyes to filmy heavens, and taken his first walk on asphalt. He had seen civilization as a row of semidetached villas, and society as a state in which men do not know the men who live next door. He had himself become part of the gray monotony that surrounds all cities. There was no necessity for this – it was only rather convenient to his father.

This should make up nicely for the rather disappointing book yesterday.


Btw, Rickie's father was awful.

He was never told anything, but he discovered for himself that his father and mother did not love each other, and that his mother was lovable. He discovered that Mr Elliot had dubbed him Rickie because he was rickety, that he took pleasure in alluding to his son’s deformity, and was sorry that it was not more serious than his own. Mr Elliot had not one scrap of genius. He gathered the pictures and the books and the flower-supports mechanically, not in any impulse of love. He passed for a cultured man because he knew how to select, and he passed for an unconventional man because he did not select quite like other people. In reality he never did or said or thought one single thing that had the slightest beauty or value. And in time Rickie discovered this as well.

The boy grew up in great loneliness.

I have a feeling that this one will not be as farcical as A Room with a View.

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review 2018-05-23 23:52
A Room with a View
A Room With A View - E.M. Forster

‘Bless us! Bless us and save us! We’ve lost the way.’

Certainly they had seemed a long time in reaching Santa Croce, the tower of which had been plainly visible from the landing window. But Miss Lavish had said so much about knowing her Florence by heart, that Lucy had followed her with no misgivings.

‘Lost! Lost! My dear Miss Lucy, during our political diatribes we have taken a wrong turning. How those horrid Conservatives would jeer at us! What are we to do? Two lone females in an unknown town. Now, this is what I call an adventure.’

Lucy, who wanted to see Santa Croce, suggested, as a possible solution, that they should ask the way there.

‘Oh, but that is the word of a craven! And no, you are not, not, not to look at your Baedeker. Give it to me; I shan’t let you carry it. We will simply drift.’

Drifting is a huge theme in this book. At least, from where I'm reading, or rather re-reading it.  


Our main character, Lucy Honeychurch, is a young woman on the cusp of emancipation, who travels with her older cousin as a chaperone. 


It is in opening chapter in Italy, that the ladies are offered a room with a view by a father and son duo. As it turns out, the father and son, the Emersons, will offer up a number of views to Lucy and her circle throughout the novel, few of which are met with enthusiasm by the Edwardian mores. 


Nevertheless, my take on Forster's aim here is to portray that break in generations and that break in thinking from the old and established to the progressive. He does this with great subtlety in the form of Lucy, who first looses her guide book and has to find her way through a foreign city, and later has to make a choice to either pick a path that has been set out for her by her family and the unbearable Cecil, who is best described in these lines:

 ‘Come this way immediately,’ commanded Cecil, who always felt that he must lead women, though he knew not whither, and protect them, though he knew not against what.

Or to make her own path with the young George Emerson, who has his own ideas but has no illusions about life being uncertain.


I really like Forster's writing in this book but it is still a far cry from the excellent - and much more forthright - Howards End, which followed two years after this one. 

The subtlety in his writing is delightful in parts, but I find it hard in this book to sustain the same enthusiasm as I have for the much more twisted Howards End

Of course it is unfair of me to judge this book by comparison, but there are parts of A Room with a View that are, while lovely, quite boring.


And yet, I loved the re-read of this for being able to notice again how progressive Forster was. This book was written in 1908 and Forster dares to ask questions, not just about class, and national identity, but there is also a discussion of feminism. Of course, the suffrage movements (both suffragists and suffragettes) had been in full swing at the time of writing, but I am rather impressed at how clearly Forster illustrated some of the salient questions that are still causing debate today:

It was unladylike. Why? Why were most big things unladylike? Charlotte had once explained to her why. It was not that ladies were inferior to men; it was that they were different. Their mission was to inspire others to achievement rather than to achieve themselves. Indirectly, by means of tact and a spotless name, a lady could accomplish much. But if she rushed into the fray herself she would be first censured, then despised, and finally ignored. Poems had been written to illustrate this point.

And I am still more impressed that Forster made a choice to support the emerging demand for women (and other groups as we'll see in his subsequent books) to be heard: 

Next, I meet you together, and find him protecting and teaching you and your mother to be shocked, when it was for you to settle whether you were shocked or no. Cecil all over again. He daren’t let a woman decide. He’s the type who’s kept Europe back for a thousand years. Every moment of his life he’s forming you, telling you what’s charming or amusing or ladylike, telling you what a man thinks womanly; and you, you of all women, listen to his voice instead of to your own. 

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