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Comparing Mythologies: Forster's Maurice and Pater's Marius J. H. STAPE Montréal, Canada I IN HER NINETIETH BIRTHDAY tribute to E. M. Forster, Elizabeth Bowen, having acknowledged that no English novelist had influenced her own fiction more than Forster, went on to query "who influenced him? One finds no traces."1 As perhaps befit the occasion, Bowen generously overstated her case: "traces" of Jane Austen, Samuel Butler, George Meredith, to name only the most obvious "influences," are much in evidence. Bowen's comment, however, insightfully emphasizes how subtle and complex Forster's assimilation of his predecessors is, and the extent to which one of these—Walter Pater— informs and influences his fiction has been belatedly, but only partly, recognized. In a path-breaking analysis of Forster's debts to Pater at the Forster Centenary Conference in Montréal in 1979, Robert K. Martin could rightly summarize that "Forster himself had little to say about Pater, aside from recognizing in Aspects of the Novel that any definition of the genre must be able to encompass Marius the Epicurean as well as Ulysses and Pilgrim's Progress, among others."2 Since that occasion, however, the publication of "Nottingham Lace," a novel fragment dating to 1901, and the appearance of Forster's Selected Letters reveal that Pater loomed larger as an interest and point of reference. The abandoned novel's allusion to him is wholly deflationary . Confined by a cold, Edgar, the novel's hero (who in some ways rather too obviously resembles its author), wiles away his hours by reading: Edgar meanwhile read Walter Pater. He had got a cold and was not allowed to go out and as there was no fire in his own room was immured with his aunt. His aunt bored him, and Pater did not, nor did he see a parallel between the Oxford don who found undergraduates too boorish to speak to and the middle-class lady who was finding the world too vulgar a place to live in.3 141 ELT: Volume 33:2, 1990 The accusation of snobbery, the escape from commonplace tedium into literature or art are typical charges laid against Pater, and they set up here a significant opposition between the narrative voice and the characters. Forster some years later again accuses Paterism of snobbery and escapism in the character of Cecil Vyse in A Room with a View (1908) and in Tibby Schlegel, a would-be Oxford aesthete, in Howards End (1910). In April and May 1905, a year that he appears later to qualify as marking the apogee of Pater's reputation, Forster read Marius the Epicurean, recording in his diary on 2 May that the "absence of vulgarity ... is something like fatal," noting that Pater seemed moved only by death: "any death is wonderful: dead or wounded flesh gives Pater the thrill he can never get from its healthiness."4 Later references to Marius, however, show an altered estimation of Pater's interests and achievement. On New Year's Day 1917, Forster, then working for the Red Cross in Alexandria and an observer of much "wounded flesh" himself, copied the end of the Beata Urbs chapter into his diary, summarizing it to his aunt, Laura Mary Forster: he describes the longing of Marcus Aurelius for the Ideal City that lies even farther from his grasp than it had from Plato's because (unlike Plato) A[urelius]. conceived of it as including tenderness and pity; virtue, wisdom, and beauty were not enough.5 And a year later, writing to his friend and confidante Florence Barger, he referred to "The Will as Vision" chapter as "touching."6 Such references complicate coming to terms with Forster's interest in and relationship to Pater's novel: his comments on his earlier reading as well as his fictional portraits reduce Paterism to a clichéd aesthetic pose languidly neglectful of the urgent and passionate problems in human relationships while the later references, focusing on Pater's humanism, reveal a deeply shared yearning for the Ideal City. Precisely why Forster's later re-reading and consequent revaluation were more nuanced and sympathetic remains unclear. Caricature, however, had obviously not served him adequately as...


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