restricted access Worlding Forster: The Passage from Pastoral (review)
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Reviewed by
Stuart Christie. Worlding Forster: The Passage from Pastoral. New York: Routledge, 2005. xiv + 208 pp.

In the pages of Worlding Forster, one can find a first-rate analysis of Christopher Isherwood's thorough deconstruction of "the pastoral mode" in his short story "On Reugen Island," an insightful study of the way Virginia Woolf challenges "the textualization of national consciousness as the privileged expression of historical truth" in Between the Acts, and an excellent discussion of Sir Andrew Fraser's condemnation of "British metropolitan decadence" as the primary source for the decline of the Empire in his autobiography Rajahs and Ryots (59, 108, 134). What one will have difficulty finding is a sustained and compelling interpretation of E. M. Forster's work. This is not to say that Christie offers nothing of relevance or significance about Forster in this book. There are certainly brief moments when he makes significant contributions to Forster studies: an insightful contrastive analysis of Walter Benjamin's "Unpacking My Library" and Forster's "In My Library," an exceptional discussion of "the textual practice of everyday life" to illuminate Forster's Commonplace Book, and a brilliant explication of A Passage to India that challenges many fixed and essentializing homosexual readings (70). But these moments are too few. Moreover, the individual insights are neither unified by an overarching textual vision nor integrated within a clearly formulated theoretical paradigm, which gives the book a slapdash feel. In short, Worlding Forster, despite some flashes of brilliance, is ultimately a missed opportunity.

Throughout the book, there is a carelessness that, in its cumulative effect, will certainly lead readers to question Christie's assertions. [End Page 197] The problems are multiple, ranging from a confusing, jargon-saturated prose style to blatant misrepresentations of the facts. For instance, in the introduction, when indicating what he intends to accomplish in the book, Christie writes a garbled sentence that confirms what many antitheorists say about the corrosive effect of theory on language: "At once complicitous with imperialism and dissident of its official codes of propriety, Forster's sexuality marks his texts metaphorically as a traveling difference that transgresses self-standing notions such as nation, homosexuality, and exile" (9). How can someone's sexuality mark a text as "a traveling difference?" And what is a "traveling difference?" Moreover, how can "exile" be a "self-standing" notion?

More irritating are the simple misrepresentations of the facts sprinkled throughout the book. What Mrs. Moore hears in the Marabar Caves is not the "boum" found in the pages of A Passage to India, but, according to Christie, "poum-poum" (21 and 72). Stephen Wonham successfully markets "the dead Rickie's poems" in Worlding Forster, even though the Stephen of The Longest Journey only markets Rickie's short stories and a long story (85). According to Christie, Aspects of the Novel was published in 1926, though every source I consulted says that the book was published in 1927 (157). In A Passage to India, Adela mistakenly accuses Aziz of assaulting her, but in Christie's book, the "terror Adela encounters in the Marabar Caves provokes Aziz's mistaken accusation" (80). On page 182 and again on page 193 Christie references "Melba Cuddy-Deane's" work to confirm his own interpretation of Between the Acts, but the Woolf scholar he has in mind is Melba Cuddy-Keane.

Such errors become more pronounced when Christie is pursuing a particular interpretation. For example, in his chapter on Woolf, he claims that "Woolf's radical distinction . . . between the fullness of a trans-historical present and the burden of the national past, owes much to Nietzsche" (96). Given the way this sentence reads, it sounds like Woolf read Nietzsche's work and adopted some of his ideas. In a footnote, however, Christie acknowledges that "[d]irect mention of Nietzsche in Woolf's correspondence and diaries is scarce" (182). The word "scarce" makes it sound like there are a handful of references to Nietzsche scattered throughout her letters and diaries, which would leave open the possibility that Woolf was directly responding to or appropriating Nietzsche's work, but in Woolf's diaries and letters, there are no references to Nietzsche. The next footnote...