On this day in 1879, the great writer E M Forster was born. Admit it: you wouldn’t even know who he was if it weren’t for Merchant-Ivory or maybe that David Lean character. Oh, okay: you would know because you are a Frankly Curious reader — a better class of person. But it is definitely the case that Forster has been done pretty well by filmmakers in the 1980s and early 1990s. It might be because Forster wrote so much about hypocrisy and these were especially great times for hypocrisy in the the US and UK.
He is best known for writing A Room with a View and A Passage to India. But Forster was so much more than that. He wrote in lots of styles and forms — both fiction and nonfiction. He wrote plays. He even wrote an opera libretto. He was truly an amazing man.
What I find most interesting about him is his short story “The Machine Stops.” One doesn’t much think of Forster was a science fiction writer, but there you go. The whole story is online, and I highly recommend reading it. It’s about 10,000 words long — so something even I could read in bed before going to sleep. And what is perhaps more interesting about it is that it really isn’t that different from A Room With a View in terms of its theme. Fundamentally, he was always writing about people trying to connect with each other. He may have been pessimistic about that much of the time, but he always held out the hope.
I had embedded a BBC production of the story here, but Lawrence alerted me to the fact that it has been taken down. I can’t find a replacement. But if you would prefer to hear it read to you while you clean up the house, here is Jerome Lawsen reading it for a LibriVox recording:
Happy birthday E M Forster!