Forster on friendship -
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:
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.
Shelthorpe, 9 Sawston Park Road,
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,
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.