E. M. FORSTER: A Life by P. N. Furbank
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E. M. FORSTER: A Life

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In 1933, with all his novels written but nearly 40 years of life ahead, E. M. Forster mused on his future biography: ""I should want everything told, everything, and there's so far so little."" P. N. Furbank, a friend of Forster in his eighties, has indeed told everything, sharply but sympathetically, and there is enormous sadness and strangeness in the ""so little"" that there is to tell. Coddled, fatherless child in an all--female Victorian household, Morgan grew up to be the ""freakish and demure"" ineffectual stereotype, but wrote a handful of surprisingly vigorous and influential novels that brought him fame--fame that increased with ""every book he didn't write."" Terribly timid and thoroughly homosexual, he lived an idle ""life of mild human contacts and awakened imagination"": some travel, some speechmaking and conference-sitting, less and less writing, many intense friendships, a few brief love affairs (an Egyptian bus conductor, a palace barber in India, a sailor), but a sex life lived mostly in fantasies, some of them written into unpublishable ""indecencies"" and the posthumous Maurice. Though Furbank remains admirably restrained and non-sensationalizing, Forster's preoccupation with his thwarted sexuality--in letters, diaries, and conversation--becomes the dark major chord. ""However gross my desires, I find I shall never satisfy them for fear of annoying others. . . . If I could get one solid night it would be something."" A literary lion, a social mouse; the contrast is both pathetic and funny, and Furbank quietly allows both sides to emerge--in Forster's hopeless weekends with impatient D. H. Lawrence (""Why can't he [Forster] take a woman and fight clean to his own basic, primal being?""), in his passive drift from the lost family manse to rooms at Cambridge or friends' homes (""I see my furniture everywhere, my home nowhere""), in his decades of buddyship--confessing his passion only near the end--with a married policeman. This is not a biography-with-criticism, and Furbank steers clear of the books except for obvious parallels with the life and descriptions of unpublished work. It therefore hasn't the impact of an Edel or Bate life-and-works. But it is hard to imagine a fairer, shrewder, more gracefully compassionate evocation of such a long, pinched, intensely inactive life.

Pub Date: Oct. 4th, 1978
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich