- Modes of Silence in E. M. Forster's "Inferior" Fiction
I am dried up. Not in my emotions, but in their expression. I cannot write at all.... Please do not mention this, as few people know. It often makes me very unhappy. I see beauty going by and have nothing to catch it in.—Letter to Forrest Reid, 2 February 19131
By the beginning of 1911, E. M. Forster believed that he had written himself into a corner and began to proclaim himself "dried up."2 The publication of Howards End (in October of 1910) provided Forster with his first real success.3 The novel received acclaim from both critics and readers, but despite this Forster felt that creatively he could not go on. He did not publish another novel for fourteen years; even then A Passage to India was the last to appear in his lifetime. The public view of his writing life was certainly a contrast to the bustling activity of his private one. The years between 1911 and the start of the First World War were, in fact, amongst the most productive of his writing career. So what did Forster mean by "dried up"? Throughout his life, he would return to this same metaphor. In a 1958 television interview he explained that his career as a novelist halted because "the social aspect of the world [had] changed so very much."4 In the same interview, he referred to being "dried up" on three occasions in just six minutes.
What had happened that could disturb Forster's creative rhythm so dramatically? P. N. Furbank's biography turned to Freud and his essay "Those Wrecked by Success" and found there many of his "symptoms."5 More recently, coinciding with the publication of Wendy Moffat's 2010 biography, the Sunday Times preferred the attention-grabbing headline "Sex Led to E. M. Forster's End."6 The Pink News went further with their hyperbole: "E. M. Forster 'stopped writing because he had gay sex.'"7 Jesse Matz has persuasively argued that Forster's attempt to write more truthfully about himself and his situation happened as [End Page 445] a result of the death of his lover, Mohammed-el-Adl and Forster's attempted memoir of him, but Forster's problematic relationship with his fiction was a decade old by this point.8
In tracing the role of fantastical elements in Forster's fiction, Ambreen Hai seems much closer in detecting the beginnings of Forster's estrangement from his Edwardian public sensibility at the forked road of Howards End.9 A diary entry some years after the publication of that novel (17 December 1913) enduringly explains that "Certainly only happiness is in work. How absurd, and for me how serious.... So here I am with three unfinished novels on my hands. Even mother must notice I'm played out soon."10 But the archives show that in literary terms he was both productive and experimental in this period. It was his mood that prevented him from seeing this in his work. Between 1911 and 1914 Forster managed to produce a number of short stories and articles, he began three novels (A Passage to India and Maurice he would go on to complete), and he even drafted two plays. What, then, explains this deflecting shorthand of Forster's?
When one looks at a variety of the materials that he worked on during the months and years immediately following the publication of Howards End, including some drama and two of the three novels he worked on during this short period, Forster can be seen attempting to make sense of his own fictional landscape—past, present, and future. Further, it is possible to draw from these texts a range of related themes that Forster was attempting to articulate: to find a sufficiently descriptive vocabulary for talking about something new. His literary output during this period attempts (and sometimes fails) to find a mode of writing that kneads between the binaries of sexual inversion to find other means of expression and to discover the finer contours that might exist in relations between men. The period culminates in the aesthetic triumph of a...