Only connect! … Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and humanlove will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die.
There is fascism, leading only into the blackness which it has chosen as its symbol … It means change without hope. Our immediate duty … is to stop it.
I am the means and not the end. I am the food and not the life. Stand by yourself, as that boy has stood. I cannot save you. For poetry is a spirit; and they that would worship it must worship in spirit and in truth.
"The Celestial Omnibus" (1911)
There is fascism, leading only into the blackness which it has chosen as its symbol, into smartness and yapping out of orders, and self-righteous brutality, into social as well as international war. It means change without hope. Our immediate duty — in that tinkering which is the only useful form of action in our leaky old tub — our immediate duty is to stop it.
"Notes on the Way", Time and Tide Magazine (10 June 1934); reprinted in The Prince's Tale and Other Uncollected Writings (1998)
Romance only dies with life. No pair of pincers will ever pull it out of us.
Romance only dies with life. No pair of pincers will ever pull it out of us. But there is a spurious sentiment which cannot resist the unexpected and the incongruous and the grotesque. A touch will loosen it, and the sooner it goes from us the better.
A wonderful physical tie binds the parents to the children; and — by some sad, strangeirony — it does not bind us children to our parents. For if it did, if we could answer their love not with gratitude but with equal love, life would lose much of its pathos and much of its squalor, and we might be wonderfully happy.
I never expect anything to happen now, and so I am never disappointed. You would be surprised to know what my great events are. Going to the theatre yesterday, talking to you now — I don't suppose I shall ever meet anything greater. I seem fated to pass through the world without colliding with it or moving it — and I'm sure I can't tell you whether the fate's good or evil. I don't die — I don't fall in love. And if other people die or fall in love they always do it when I'm just not there. You are quite right; life to me is just a spectacle, which — thank God, and thank Italy, and thank you — is now more beautiful and heartening than it has ever been before.
This woman was a goddess to the end. For her no love could be degrading: she stood outside all degradation. This episode, which she thought so sordid, and which was so tragic for him, remained supremely beautiful. To such a height was he lifted, that without regret he could now have told her that he was her worshipper too. But what was the use of telling her? For all the wonderful things had happened. "Thank you," was all that he permitted himself. "Thank you for everything."
It is so difficult – at least, I find it difficult – to understand people who speak the truth.
There's enough sorrow in the world, isn't there, without trying to invent it.
The kingdom of music is not the kingdom of this world; it will accept those whom breeding and intellect and culture have alike rejected. The commonplace person begins to play, and shoots into the empyrean without effort, whilst we look up, marvelling how he has escaped us, and thinking how we could worship him and love him, would he but transalate his visions into human words, and his experiences into human actions.
Life is easy to chronicle, but bewildering to practice.
It isn’t possible to love and to part. You will wish that it was. You can transmute love, ignore it, muddle it, but you can never pull it out of you. I know from experience that the poets are right: love is eternal.
Then she generated the light, and the sight of her room, flooded with radiance and studded with electric buttons, revived her. There were buttons and switches everywhere — buttons to call for food for music, for clothing. There was the hot-bath button, by pressure of which a basin of (imitation) marble rose out of the floor, filled to the brim with a warm deodorized liquid. There was the cold-bath button. There was the button that produced literature. and there were of course the buttons by which she communicated with her friends. The room, though it contained nothing, was in touch with all that she cared for in the world.
She might yet be able to help him to the building of the rainbow bridge that should connect the prose in us with the passion. Without it we are meaningless fragments, half monks, half beasts, unconnected arches that have never joined into a man. With it love is born, and alights on the highest curve, glowing against the grey, sober against the fire. Happy the man who sees from either aspect the glory of these outspread wings. The roads of his soul lie clear, and he and his friends shall find easy-going.
Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die.
In these English farms, if anywhere, one might see life steadily and see it whole, group in one vision its transitoriness and its eternal youth, connect — connect without bitterness until all men are brothers.
All invitations must proceed from heaven perhaps; perhaps it is futile for men to initiate their own unity, they do but widen the gulfs between them by the attempt.
Most of life is so dull that there is nothing to be said about it, and the books and talks that would describe it as interesting are obliged to exaggerate, in the hope of justifying their own existence. Inside its cocoon of work or social obligation, the human spirit slumbers for the most part, registering the distinction between pleasure and pain, but not nearly as alert as we pretend. There are periods in the most thrilling day during which nothing happens, and though we continue to exclaim, “I do enjoy myself", or , “I am horrified,” we are insincere.
Pathos, piety, courage, — they exist, but are identical, and so is filth. Everything exists, nothing has value.
'Why can't we be friends now?' said the other, holding him affectionately. 'It's what I want. It's what you want.' But the horses didn't want it — they swerved apart: the earth didn't want it, sending up rocks through which riders must pass single file; the temple, the tank, the jail, the palace, the birds, the carrion, the Guest House, that came into view as they emerged from the gap and saw Mau beneath: they didn't want it, they said in their hundred voices 'No, not yet,' and the sky said 'No, not there.'
As long as learning is connected with earning, as long as certain jobs can only be reached through exams, so long must we take the examination system seriously. If another ladder to employment was contrived, much so-called education would disappear, and no one be a penny the stupider.
Chapter One: Introductory
A mirror does not develop because an historical pageant passes in front of it. It only develops when it gets a fresh coat of quicksilver — in other words, when it acquires new sensitiveness; and the novel's success lies in its own sensitiveness, not in the success of its subject matter.
Chapter One: Introductory
If God could tell the story of the Universe, the Universe would become fictitious.
Chapter Three: People
A man does not talk to himself quite truly — not even to himself: the happiness or misery that he secretly feels proceeds from causes that he cannot quite explain, because as soon as he raises them to the level of the explicable they lose their native quality. The novelist has a real pull here. He can show the subconscious short-circuiting straight into action (the dramatist can do this too); he can also show it in its relation to soliloquy. He commands all the secret life, and he must not be robbed of this privilege. "How did the writer know that?" it is sometimes said. "What's his standpoint? He is not being consistent, he's shifting his point of view from the limited to the omniscient, and now he's edging back again." Questions like this have too much the atmosphere of the law courts about them.
Chapter Five: The Plot
How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?
Chapter Five: The Plot
Most of us will be eclectics to this side or that according to our temperament. The human mind is not a dignified organ, and I do not see how we can exercise it sincerely except through eclecticism. And the only advice I would offer my fellow eclectics is: "Do not be proud of your inconsistency. It is a pity, it is a pity that we should be equipped like this. It is a pity that Man cannot be at the same time impressive and truthful."
Chapter Seven: Prophecy
If human nature does alter it will be because individuals manage to look at themselves in a new way. Here and there people — a very few people, but a few novelists are among them — are trying to do this. Every institution and vested interest is against such a search: organized religion, the state, the family in its economic aspect, have nothing to gain, and it is only when outward prohibitions weaken that it can proceed: history conditions it to that extent.
One must be fond of people and trust them if one is not to make a mess of life.
One can, at all events, show one's own little light here, one's own poor little trembling flame, with the knowledge that it is not the only light that is shining in the darkness, and not the only one which the darkness does not comprehend.
Two cheers for Democracy: one because it admits variety and two because it permits criticism. Two cheers are quite enough: there is no occasion to give three.
The Saviour of the future — if ever he comes — will not preach a new Gospel. He will merely utilize my aristocracy, he will make effective the goodwill and the goodtemper which are already existing.
I do not believe in Belief. But this is an Age of Faith, and there are so many militant creeds that, in self defence, one has to formulate a creed of one's own. Tolerance, goodtemper and sympathy are no longer enough in a world where ignorancerules, and Science, which ought to have ruled, plays the pimp. Tolerance, good temper and sympathy — they are what matter really, and if the human race is not to collapse they must come to the front before long.
One must be fond of people and trust them if one is not to make a mess of life, and it is therefore essential that they should not let one down. They often do. The moral of which is that I must, myself, be as reliable as possible, and this I try to be. But reliability is not a matter of contract — that is the main difference between the world of personal relationships and the world of business relationships. It is a matter for the heart, which signs no documents. In other words, reliability is impossible unless there is a natural warmth. Most men possess this warmth, though they often have bad luck and get chilled. Most of them, even when they are politicians, want to keep faith. And one can, at all events, show one's own little light here, one's own poor little trembling flame, with the knowledge that it is not the only light that is shining in the darkness, and not the only one which the darkness does not comprehend.
I hate the idea of causes, and if I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.
This has sometimes been misquoted as: If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the decency to betray my country.
There lies at the back of every creed something terrible and hard for which the worshipper may one day be required to suffer.
Democracy is not a beloved Republic really, and never will be. But it is less hateful than other contemporary forms of government, and to that extent it deserves our support. It does start from the assumption that the individual is important, and that all types are needed to make a civilization. It does not divide its citizens into the bossers and the bossed — as an efficiency-regime tends to do. The people I admire most are those who are sensitive and want to create something or discover something, and do not see life in terms of power, and such people get more of a chance under a democracy than elsewhere. They found religions, great or small, or they produce literature and art, or they do disinterested scientific research, or they may be what is called "ordinary people", who are creative in their private lives, bring up their children decently, for instance, or help their neighbours. All these people need to express themselves; they cannot do so unless society allows them liberty to do so, and the society which allows them most liberty is a democracy.
Whether Parliament is either a representative body or an efficient one is questionable, but I value it because it criticizes and talks, and because its chatter gets widely reported. So two cheers for Democracy: one because it admits variety and two because it permits criticism. Two cheers are quite enough: there is no occasion to give three.
I realize that all society rests upon force. But all the great creative actions, all the decent human relations, occur during the intervals when force has not managed to come to the front. These intervals are what matter. I want them to be as frequent and as lengthy as possible, and I call them "civilization". Some people idealize force and pull it into the foreground and worship it, instead of keeping it in the background as long as possible. I think they make a mistake, and I think that their opposites, the mystics, err even more when they declare that force does not exist. I believe that it exists, and that one of our jobs is to prevent it from getting out of its box. It gets out sooner or later, and then it destroys us and all the lovely things which we have made. But it is not out all the time, for the fortunate reason that the strong are so stupid.
The Valkyries are symbols not only of courage but of intelligence; they represent the human spirit snatching its opportunity while the going is good, and one of them even finds time to love. Bruennhilde's last song hymns the recurrence of love, and since it is the privilege of art to exaggerate she goes even further, and proclaims the love which is eternally triumphant, and feeds upon freedom and lives.
The people I respect most behave as if they were immortal and as if society was eternal. Both assumptions are false: both of them must be accepted as true if we are to go on eating and working and loving, and are to keep open a few breathing-holes for the human spirit. No millennium seems likely to descend upon humanity; no better and stronger Ieague of Nations will be instituted; no form of Christianity and no alternative to Christianity will bring peace to the world or integrity to the individual; no "change of heart" will occur. And yet we need not despair, indeed, we cannot despair; the evidence of history shows us that men have always insisted on behaving creatively under the shadow of the sword; that they have done their artistic and scientific and domestic stuff for the sake of doing it, and that we had better follow their example under the shadow of the aeroplanes. Others, with more vision or courage than myself, see the salvation of humanity ahead, and will dismiss my conception of civilization as paltry, a sort of tip-and-run game. Certainly it is presumptuous to say that we cannot improve, and that Man, who has only been in power for a few thousand years, will never learn to make use of his power. All I mean is that, if people continue to kill one another as they do, the world cannot get better than it is, and that, since there are more people than formerly, and their means for destroying one another superior, the world may well get worse. What is good in people — and consequently in the world — is their insistence on creation, their belief in friendship and loyalty for their own sakes; and, though Violence remains and is, indeed, the major partner in this muddled establishment, I believe that creativeness remains too, and will always assume direction when violence sleeps. So, though I am not an optimist, I cannot agree with Sophocles that it were better never to have been born. And although, like Horace, I see no evidence that each batch of births is superior to the last, I leave the field open for the more complacent view. This is such a difficult moment to live in, one cannot help getting gloomy and also a bit rattled, and perhaps short-sighted.
An efficiency-regime cannot be run without a few heroes stuck about it to carry off the dullness — much as plums have to be put into bad pudding to make it palatable.
I distrust Great Men. They produce a desert of uniformity around them and often a pool of blood too, and I always feel a little man's pleasure when they come a cropper.
I believe in aristocracy, though — if that is the right word, and if a democrat may use it. Not an aristocracy of power, based upon rank and influence, but an aristocracy of the sensitive, the considerate and the plucky. Its members are to be found in all nations and classes, and all through the ages, and there is a secret understanding between them when they meet. They represent the true human tradition, the one permanent victory of our queer race over cruelty and chaos. Thousands of them perish in obscurity, a few are great names. They are sensitive for others as well as for themselves, they are considerate without being fussy, their pluck is not swankiness but the power to endure, and they can take a joke.
On they go — an invincible army, yet not a victorious one. The aristocrats, the elect, the chosen, the Best People — all the words that describe them are false, and all attempts to organize them fail. Again and again Authority, seeing their value, has tried to net them and to utilize them as the Egyptian Priesthood or the Christian Church or the Chinese Civil Service or the Group Movement, or some other worthy stunt. But they slip through the net and are gone; when the door is shut, they are no longer in the room; their temple, as one of them remarked, is the holiness of the Heart's affections, and their kingdom, though they never possess it, is the wide-open world. With this type of person knocking about, and constantly crossing one's path if one has eyes to see or hands to feel, the experiment of earthly life cannot be dismissed as a failure. But it may well be hailed as a tragedy, the tragedy being that no device has been found by which these private decencies can be transmitted to public affairs. As soon as people have power they go crooked and sometimes dotty as well, because the possession of power lifts them into a region where normal honesty never pays.
The more highly public life is organized the lower does its morality sink; the nations of today behave to each other worse than they ever did in the past, they cheat, rob, bully and bluff, make war without notice, and kill as many women and children as possible; whereas primitive tribes were at all events restrained by taboos.
The Saviour of the future — if ever he comes — will not preach a new Gospel. He will merely utilize my aristocracy, he will make effective the goodwill and the good temper which are already existing. In other words, he will introduce a new technique. In economics, we are told that if there was a new technique of distribution there need be no poverty, and people would not starve in one place while crops were being ploughed under in another. A similar change is needed in the sphere of morals and politics. … Not by becoming better, but by ordering and distributing his native goodness, will Man shut up Force into its box, and so gain time to explore the universe and to set his mark upon it worthily. At present he only explores it at odd moments, when Force is looking the other way, and his divine creativeness appears as a trivial by-product, to be scrapped as soon as the drums beat and the bombers hum.
Naked I came into this world, naked I shall go out of it. And a very good thing too, for it reminds me that I am naked under my shirt, whatever its colour.
This title comes from a phrase from his 1938 essay "What I Believe" which is the first essay in the book.
[Tolerance] is just a makeshift, suitable for an overcrowded and overheated planet. It carries on when love gives out, and love generally gives out as soon as we move away from our home and our friends.
Think before you speak is criticism's motto; speak before you think is creation's.
Love is a great force in private life; it is indeed the greatest of all things; but love in public affairs does not work.
Hardship is vanishing, but so is style, and the two are more closely connected than the present generation supposes.
A poem is true if it hangs together. Information points to something else. A poem points to nothing but itself.
"Anonymity: An Enquiry"
What is wonderful about great literature is that it transforms the man who reads it towards the condition of the man who wrote, and brings to birth in us also the creative impulse.
"Anonymity: An Enquiry"
Think before you speak is criticism's motto; speak before you think is creation's.
"The Raison d'Etre of Criticism in the Arts"
To make us feel small in the right way is a function of art; men can only make us feel small in the wrong way.
We are willing enough to praise freedom when she is safely tucked away in the past and cannot be a nuisance. In the present, amidst dangers whose outcome we cannot foresee, we get nervous about her, and admit censorship.
"The Tercentenary of the 'Areopagitica'"
To make us feel small in the right way is a function of art; men can only make us feel small in the wrong way.
"A Book That Influenced Me"
Tolerance, good temper and sympathy — they are what matter really, and if the human race is not to collapse they must come to the front before long.
The only books that influence us are those for which we are ready, and which have gone a little farther down our particular path than we have yet got ourselves.
"A Book That Influenced Me"
A humanist has four leading characteristics — curiosity, a free mind, belief in good taste, and belief in the human race.
Dead silence ensued, which was well enough for Ansell, to whom it merely meant that neither of us had any more to say. But to educated people silence matters; it is a token of stupidity and lack of invention.
But that was only the beginning of her mortification. Harold had proved her wrong. He had seen that she was a shifty, shallow hypocrite. She had not dared to be alone with him since her exposure. She had never looked at him and had hardly spoken. He seemed cheerful, but what was he thinking? He would never forgive her.
Had she only realized that it is only hypocrites who cannot forgive hypocrisy, whereas those who search for truth are too conscious of the maze to be hard on others – than the bitter flow of her thoughts might have been stopped and the catastrophe averted. But it was not conceivable to her that he should forgive – or that she should accept forgiveness, for to her forgiveness meant a triumph of one person over another.
‘Why are pictures like this allowed?’ he suddenly cried. He had stopped in front of a colonial print in which the martyrdom of St Agatha was depicted with all the fervour that incompetence could command.
‘It’s only a saint,’ said Lady Peaslake, placidly raising her head.
‘How disgusting – and how ugly’
‘Yes, very. It’s Roman Catholic.’
She began to speak, but waited a moment for the maid to clear away the tea. In the waning light her room seemed gentle and grey, and there hung about it an odour (I do not write ‘the odour’) of Roman Catholicism, which is assuredly among the gracious things of the world. It was the room of a woman who had found time to be good to herself as well as to others; who had brought forth fruit, spiritual and temporal; who had borne a mysterious tragedy not only with patience but actually with joy.
This conversation taught me that some of us can meet reality on this side of the grave. I do not envy them. Such adventures may profit the disembodied soul, but as long as I have flesh and blood I pray that my grossness preserve me. Our lower nature has its dreams. Mine is of a certain farm, windy but fruitful, half-way between the deserted moorland and the uninhabitable sea. Hither, at rare intervals, she should descend and he ascend, to shatter their spiritual communion by one caress.
His hand came nearer, his eyes danced round the room, which began to fill with a golden haze. He beckoned, and Clesant moved into his arms. Clesand had often been proud of his disease but never, never of his body, it had never occurred to him that he could provoke desire. This sudden revelation shattered him, he fell from his pedestal, but not alone, there was someone to cling to, broad shoulders, a sunburnt throat, lips that parted as they touched him to murmur – ‘And to hell with Woolacott’.
It is better to have a home of one’s own than to always be a typist. Hilda did not talk quite as she should, and her husband had not scrupled to correct her. She had never forgotten – it was such a small thing, yet she could not forget it – she had never forgotten that night on their honeymoon when she had said something ungrammatical about the relative position of their limbs.
Before the civil war, Pottibakia was a normal member of the Comity of Nations. She erected tariff walls, broke treaties, persecuted minorities, obstructed at conferences unless she was convinced there was no danger of a satisfactory solution; then she strained every nerve in the cause of peace.
Laughing at mankind is rather weary rot, I think. We shall never meet with anyone nicer. Nature, whom I used to be keen on, is too unfair. She evokes plenty of high & exhausting feelings, and offers nothing in return.
Letter 57, to Arthur Cole, 7 July 1905
You can gather however that I know I am not a real artist, and at the same time am fearfully serious over my work and willing to sweat at atmosphere if it helps me wo what I want. What I want, I think, is the sentimental, but the sentimental reached by no easy beaten track—I cannot explain myself properly, for you must remember (I forget it myself) that though 'clever' I have a small and cloudy brain, and cannot clear it by talking or reading philosophy.
Letter 60, to Robert Trevelyan, 28 October 1905
As for 'story' I never yet did enjoy a novel or play in which someone didn't tell me afterward that there was something wrong with the story, so that's going to be no drawback as far as I'm concerned. "Good Lord, why am I so bored"—"I know; it must be the plot developing harmoniously." So I often reply to myself, and there rises before me my special nightmare—that of the writer as craftsman, natty and deft.
Letter 104, to Forrest Reid, 19 June 1912
The newspapers still talk about glory but the average man, thank God, has got rid of that illusion. It is a damned bore, with a stall mate as the most probable outcome, but one has to see it through, and see it through with the knowledge that whichever side wins, civilisation in Europe will be pipped for the next 30 years. Don't indulge in Romance here, Malcolm, or suppose that an era of jolly little nationalities is dawning. We shall be much too much occupied with pestilence and poverty to reconstruct.
Letter 136, to Malcolm Darling, 6 November 1914
Masood, a young lady has fallen in love with me—at least so I judge from her letters. Awkward is it not—awkward and surprising. You would be flattered and twirl your moustache, but I am merely uncomfortable. I wish she would stop, as she is very nice, and I enjoyed being friends. What an ill constructed world this is! Love is always being given where it is not required.
Letter 137, to Syed Ross Masood, 5 December 1914
I wrote it [Maurice] neither for my friends or the public—but because it was weighing on me; and my previous training made me write it as literature, though for a long time I meant to show it no one at all. [...] I am much dependant on criticism and now, backed by you and some others, do feel that I have created something absolutely new, even to the Greeks. Whitman nearly anticipated me but he didn't really know what he was after, or only half knew—shirked, even to himself, the statement.
Letter 144, to Edward Joseph Dent, 6 March 1915
Always fatuity, vulgarity, as soon as human passion is touched. [...] Just as some poetry is of the eye (form, colour) and some of the ear, so Keats is of the palate. Not only has he constant reference to its pleasures, but the general sensation after reading him is one of tasting. 'What's the harm?' Well, taste for some reason or the other can't carry one far into the world of beauty—that reason being perhaps that though you don't want comradership there you do want the possibility of comradership, and A cannot swallow B's mouthful by any possibility:....and this exclusiveness (to maunder on) also attaches to the physical side of sex though not the least to the spiritual.
Letter 162, to Malcolm Darling, 1 December 1916
Happiness in the ordinary sense is not what one needs in life, though one is right to aim at it. The true satisfaction is to come through and see those whom one loves come through.
All this fame and money, which have so thrilled me when they came to others, leave me cold when they come to me. I am not an ascetic, but I don't know what to do with them, and my daily life has never been so trying, and there is no one to fill it emotionally.
Letter 251, to Florence Barger, 23 December 1924
Pain is good, I'd say, when it's incidental to Love. In 'I give up my life for my friend' it is my friend, not my death, that matters. And sometimes I needn't give up my life for him, I can live for him, and with him, and the power of the spirit is then equally manifested, I should think.
Letter 285, to George Thomson, 1 August 1931
[Before the prostate operation] I feel gay and calm, but have an open mind as to whether I shall get through or not[.] I don't say this to anyone else, but I love you too much to say anything but the truth. I don't feel afraid of anything and it is your love that has made me be like this. I hope to come back to you and everything and be as before, and I will try my best to do so.
Letter 311, to Robert J. Buckingham, 17 December 1935
Your letter firmed me up a lot. It certainly is a comfort to know that my work is respected by someone whom I respect and am as fond as you. It confirms my beliefe that life is notall nonsense and cruelty—the inversion of Victorian complacency—but has hard spots of sense and love bobbing about in it here and there.
My difficulty with working class writers is that they don't make the working class come alive—Leslie Halward is an exception, but as you imply he is not very important. They give me information and they give their comrades gratification, but that's all; gloom, indignation, aspiration in plenty, and plenty of stains on the tablecloth and coal-dust in the mine—but no living beings to experience them.
Letter 350, to John Lehmann, 21 December 1940
The story of the Fall always fascinates me as a play ground, but I cannot find any profound meaning in it, because of my 'liberal' view of human nature: I cannot believe in a state of original innocence, still less in a profound meaning in it, and I am always minimising the conception and the extent of Sin and the sinfulness of sex.
Letter 396, to Eric Fletcher, 9 July 1951
What puzzles me most is your criticism that he showed 'no sense of engagement'. I haven't met the expression before, and feel bound to comment on its totalitarian tang. Engagement not with the truth as the speaker apprehends it, but with the alleged opinion of the majority of listeners.
Letter 400, to John Morris, 12 January 1953
I went to our Theological College lately, Westcott House, and we had a sort of chat. He told me that without him it was impossible to understand the universe, and I came away having forgotten to reply that it did not occur to me to try to understand the universe. I must not run on like this so. Or rather what I mean is I have just finished the biography of my great aunt. Undersanding, or partially understanding, her has been quite a large enough job.
Letter 411, to Lionel Trilling, 1 August 1955
I had an interesting day's reading yesterday, with the sudden sensaton of being in close contact with what I was reading. [...] But as for reading how curious it is: all these books, their lore of the ages, waiting to be embraced but usually slipping out of one's nerveless hands on to the floor. When one reads properly it is as if a third person is present.
Axiom: Novel must have either one living character or a perfect pattern: fails otherwise.
Long books, when read, are usually overpraised, because the reader wants to convince others and himself that he has not wasted his time.
Probable that I am now better than most people and as good as I ever shall be at this game, and can therefore get to know anyone I wish, provided I am not physically repellent. And perhaps this is why personal relationships no longer seem to me a serious branch of study.
I don't think literature will be purged until its philosophic pretentiousness is extruded, and I shant live to see that purge, nor perhaps when it has happened will anything survive.
Self-pity? I see no moral objections to it, the smell drives people away, but that's a practical objection, and occasionally an advantage.
I grudged her nothing except my company. But it has gone further, like the degradation of rural England: this afternoon (Sunday in April) all the young men had women with them in far-flung cameradeie. If women ever wanted to be by themselves all would be well. But I don't believe they ever want to be, except for reasons of advertisement, and their instinct is never to let men be by themselves. This, I begin to see, is sex-war, and D.H.L. has seen it, in spite of a durable marriage, and is far more on the facts than Bernard Shaw and his Life Force.
No disease of the imagination is so difficult to cure, as that which is complicated with the dread of guilt: fancy and conscience then act interchangeably upon us, and so often shift their places, that the illusions of one are not distinguished from the dictates of the other.
[...] it is now only in letters I write what I feel: not in literature any more, and I seldom say it, because I keep trying to be amusing.
p. 92 (26-2-32)
One can run away from women, turn them out, or give in to them. No fourth course.
Today 29-9-34 ion the garden, rockery side, looking up to the house where Bone was working, sky bluish, very gentle, I looked without theories or self consciousness. This happens very seldom, though I can prolong the delight if I prevent my engines from restarting.
But I have seen my obstacles: trivialities, learning and poetry. This last needs explaining: the old artist's readiness to dissolve characters into a haze. Characters cannot come alive and fight and guide the world unless the novelist wants them to remain characters.
N.B. this book and pensées not important and the temptation to mistake them for Creation must be resisted.
p. 155 (1943)
I have very strongly of late the wish that others may be as sensitive as myself and the fear that they will not be. Colleague Sir Frank Adcock stumped by the sunset-portent unheeding. And I can't arge that I gain, or that others would gain, anything for humanity by observing and recording what went on for a few moments in the sky on Boar Race evening. I sometimes pretend to myself that I am public-spirited. I am not. I am an hedonist who wants pleasant sensations. On the other hand I am not the usual type of hedonist, for I want sensations to be had – if not by myself, then by someone else. The show shouldn't end with my death, which becomes a minor boo-hoo.
p. 211 (1959)
Peacefulness to be found in writing. Why do I not write every day? Partly because I feel I ought to write well and know I can't. But that is not a good enough reason for not writing, if it gains me poise & peace.
p. 219 (1960)
Going to Bits. This phrase me to day and is indeed the one I have been looking for; not tragic, not mortal disintegration; only a central weakness which prevents me from concentrating or settling down I have so wanted to write and write ahead. The phrase "obligatory creation" has haunted me. I have so wanted to get out of my morning bath promptly: have decided to do so beforehand, and have then lain in it as usual and watched myself not getting out. It looks as if there is a physical as well as a moral break in the orders I send out. I have plenty of interesting thoughts but keep losing them like the post cards I have written, or like my cap. I can't clear anything up yet interrupt a 'good read' in order to clear up. I hope tomorrow to copy out a piece of someone else's pose: it is the best device known to me for taking one out of inself, Plunge into anothers minutiae.' 31-1-61
I haven't made my point yet, which is that it is right to be kind and even sacrifice ourselves to people who need kindness and lie in our way — otherwise, besides failing to help them, we run into the aridity of self-development. To seek for recipients of one's goodness, to play the Potted Jesus leads to the contrary the Christian danger.
Only connect...", the motto of Howards End, might be the lesson of all his work.
Forster wrote the five books on which his reputation rests because he desperately needed to create characters and situations that would expose his own plight in ways that were subtle and dramatic without being obvious or explicit. ~ Colm Tóibín
"Only connect...", the motto of Howards End, might be the lesson of all his work. His heroes and heroines...are the precursors of the left-wing young people of today; he can be used by them as a take-off in whatever direction they would develop... Much of his art consists in the plain-ness of his writing, for he is certain of the truth of his convictions and the force of his emotions.
"Two Cheers for Democracy"...[made] a considerable impression. It annoyed many, both orthodox patriots and orthodox Marxists, but they felt outmanoeuvred by it. And many others, sickened of "commitment" by the betrayals and confusions of the Spanish civil war, found it a great support and recognized a heroism in its facing of limitations.
P. N. Furbank, E. M. Forster: A Life. Oxford University Press, 1979. (p. 225)
His light blue eyes behind his spectacles were like those of a baby who remembers his previous incarnation and is more amused than dismayed to find himself reborn in new surroundings. He had a baby's vulnerability, which is also the invulnerability of a creature whom one dare not harm.
No government, no big organization, will pay for the truth. To take a crude example: can you imagine the British Government commissioning E. M. Forster to write A Passage to India? He could only write it because he was not dependent on State aid.
George Orwell, "As I Please" column in Tribune (13 October 1944); reprinted in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters of George Orwell: As I please, 1943-1945 (1968)
Forster took a risk, opening the comic novel to let in the things it was not designed for; small patches of purple prose were the result. But Forster's innovation remains: he allowed the English comic novel the possibility of a spiritual and bodily life, not simply to exist as an exquisitely worked game of social ethics but as a messy human concoction. He expanded the comic novel's ethical space (while unbalancing its moral certainties) simply by letting more of life in .Austen asks for toleration from her readers. Forster demands something far stickier, more shameful: love.
He's a mediocre man — and knows it, or suspects it, which is worse; he will come to no good, and in the meantime he's treated rudely by waiters and is not really admired even by middle-class dowagers.
Lytton Strachey, Letter to James Strachey, 3 February 1914, in Michael Holroyd, Lytton Strachey: A Critical Biography (1968)
Forster wrote the five books on which his reputation rests because he desperately needed to create characters and situations that would expose his own plight in ways that were subtle and dramatic without being obvious or explicit. His true nature was not only homosexual, it was also wounded, mysterious and filled with sympathy for others, including foreigners and women. Despite his best intentions, he allowed all of himself into the five novels published in his lifetime, and only part of himself into “Maurice".
Colm Tóibín, in "Lives of the Novelists: E. M. Forster", The New York Times (22 July 2010)
The book [A Passage to India] shows signs of fatigue and disillusionment; but it has chapters of clear and triumphant beauty, and above all it makes us wonder, what will he write next?
Virginia Woolf, 'The Novels of E.M. Forster, Atlantic Monthly, November 1927, in E. M. Forster: The Critical Heritage, ed. P. Gardner (1997)
The middle age of buggers is not to be contemplated without horror.
Virginia Woolf, Diary for 12 March 1922, in The Diary of Virginia Woolf, ed. A. O. Bell (1977-82)