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Modernist Narrative Democracy

Rethinking Relationality: E.M. Forster’s Commitment to Democracy

Refonder le Commun : le lien et la démocratie chez E.M. Forster
Catherine Lanone


Alors que dans ses émissions de la BBC, E. M. Forster avait pourfendu le fascisme, il n’accorda en 1951 qu’un double et non un triple hourrah à la démocratie. Cet article s’attache à définir cette réticence, non comme un détail mais comme le symptôme d’une réflexion de longue haleine interrogeant le concept-même de démocratie. Dès 1910 par exemple, Howards End explore le bien commun, en faisant du concert un lieu exposant le partage culturel potentiel, mais aussi les failles de la démocratie, la précarité, et le contrôle de l’immobilier permettant de coloniser ville et campagne. Dans les années 1930, Forster se tourna vers la mise en scène d’une communauté, appelant à préserver le non-humain et lire les paradigmes historiques. La guerre, si elle suscita la hantise de la contamination fasciste, sembla offrir simultanément un renouveau du commun, qu’il s’agisse de la radio ou des concerts rituels de la National Gallery. Mais lorsqu’après le Blitz une ville nouvelle vint s’implanter dans des lieux qui lui étaient chers, Forster se trouva déchiré entre ses deux conceptions de la démocratie.

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  • 1 The ideal one was Plato’s Republic of Love.
  • 2 The phrase appears in his 1939 essay ‘What I Believe’; it became the title of his 1951 collection o (...)
  • 3 For Rancière, democracy must find its scandalous, rebellious edge again: ‘il n’y a qu’une seule bon (...)

1During World War II, E.M. Forster delivered BBC broadcasts that met with unexpected public approval. In this ‘Second Darkness’ (Forster 1951, 14), his mild-mannered, stubborn defence of culture made him a familiar fixture, perhaps even a kind of resilient ‘beacon for democratic ideals’ (Lago et al. in Forster 2008, 39). Yet democracy for him was complex; first, he thought that it should include ‘an aristocracy of the sensitive’, ‘if that is the right word and if a democrat may use it’ (TC 82): ‘we form as it were an aristocracy in the midst of a democracy, and we belong to and desire to belong to the democracy.’ (Forster 2008, 414) Then, for him, it was only the best possible system,1 and he could only give ‘Two Cheers for Democracy’2 (TC 79). This might place him at the ‘fag-end of Victorian liberalism’ as he put it (TC 67); or his argument might resonate with Jacques Rancière’s definition of our own unstable political moment, in which the social fabric of democracy seems to be bursting at the seams.3 Rancière’s concerns may apply to Forster’s deep belief in, and mistrust of, democracy, as a political assemblage that may stoop to censorship and easily fall into the traps of fascism. For him, politics should ensure freedom but also protect art, love and a sense of place, in order to build a new commons. Interestingly enough, eco-artist Ruth Beale has recently revisited Forster’s long-forgotten 1938 pageant, in her 2011 installation/performance ‘England’s Pleasant Land: A Remake’. Beale’s interest suggests that Forster’s pageant engages with the community and the sustainable land, core questions in today’s public debate. As we shall see, urban invisibility, music and spatial (un)belonging were first explored in Howards End, calling for some kind of insurance against unemployment; in the 30s, as if the challenge to democracy required experimenting beyond fiction, Forster resorts to communal spectacles and the BBC broadcasts to uphold democracy and ‘the more intangible and intellectual commons’ (Fournier n.p.), books and music, beliefs that may be challenged after the war.

The Umbrella and the Angel of Democracy

  • 4 It is referred to as HE in this paper.

2Howards End was written at a time of democratic debate; in 1909, the Suffragettes began a more violent campaign for equal rights, lashing out at Churchill and Asquith, throwing bricks at the Liberal Party’s windows, and being force-fed in prison. Meanwhile, the Chancellor of the Exchequer David Lloyd George campaigned for old-age pensions and unemployment benefits (with a determination that came from his humble origins and from a desire to nip in the bud the new Labour party). His budget was passed by the House of Commons but vetoed by the House of Lords. The deadlock ended when the new King, George V, threatened to create a spate of new peers in favour of liberal reform. Faced with the prospect of democracy swamping the aristocracy, the Lords gave in; and the 1910 People’s Budget implicitly established the domination of the House of Commons over the Lords. On the surface, Forster’s 1910 novel Howards End4 holds itself aloof from such issues; there is no mention of Lloyd George’s reforms; the franchise is evoked by sympathetic young women during the luncheon given by Margaret, but her guest of honour, Mrs Wilcox, has no interest in the vote. Yet Forster does engage with agency, insurance and the distribution of the sensible in the context of the market economy.

3To begin with, though the ‘Angel of democracy’ (HE 58) is supposed to preside over modern society, Forster doubts that it may offer relationality. The Schlegel sisters first meet Leonard Bast when listening to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in the fifth chapter, and music offers a tentative common ground for the assemblage of listeners. Requiring no precise knowledge (the technical Tibby fares no better than the silly Mrs Munt, the elated Helen or the distracted Leonard), the flow of music allows for a wide range of emotions and reactions precisely because the performance democratises music (note the repetition of ‘cheap’ and the inclusive ‘you’, meaning both the characters and the reader): ‘It is cheap, even if you hear it in the Queen’s Hall, dreariest music room in London . . . and even if you sit on the extreme left of that hall, so that the brass bumps at you before the rest of the orchestra arrives, it is still cheap’ (45). Besides, Leonard enjoys talking to Margaret as much as the music: ‘It’s a fine programme this afternoon, is it not?’ (49). The banal sentence is a reminder that, as Helfrich and Haas put it, ‘commons are not the resources themselves but the set of relationships that are forged among individuals and a resource and individuals with each other’ (Helfrich and Haas, 5). While music opens the novel to modernist rhythm and to the ineffable, as Michelle Fillion explains, it is also a way to ‘refonder le concept de commun’ (Dardot 17), in a transnational, not an Anglocentric way: fencing Edwardian xenophobia, Forster opts for Beethoven, while Frieda is German, Helen and Margaret are of German descent and are bored by ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ (Elgar’s ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ composed for the Coronation of Edward VII).

4Yet though the concert proposes music as a cultural commons, it cannot erase questions of class. Thrilled by Beethoven, the absent-minded Helen leaves the concert with Leonard’s umbrella; this brings him sharply back to the prosaic world of commodities, quite different from the abstract, angelic ideal of democracy: ‘All men are equal—all men, that is to say, who possess umbrellas’ (HE 58). The joke makes a point. ‘Nowhere in literature are the umbrella’s class associations more painfully obvious than in Howards End’, says Rankin, who considers Forster as a fine literary brolliologist (19). A gentleman’s silk umbrella and a clerk’s coarser one are prophylactics against bad weather, but also social markers connoting a rigid hierarchy. In a comic way, Helen’s jumble of filched umbrellas is an absurd gathering, an inverted version of the commons:

I do nothing but steal umbrellas. I am so very sorry! Do come in and choose one. Is yours a hooky or a nobbly? Mine’s a nobbly—at least, I think it is. . . . What about this umbrella?’ She opened it. ‘No, it’s all gone along the seams. It’s an appalling umbrella. It must be mine.’
But it was not. (HE 54)

  • 5 Bill Brown is discussing Baudrillard.

5In this material turn, while the thingness of the umbrella asserts itself precisely because it is worn-out, the object is ‘shamed, obscene, passive’, intelligible only as the ‘alienated, accursed part of the subject’, to use Bill Brown’s words (Brown 49).5

6Leonard’s black umbrella is run down at the seams, a sign of his own precarious status, but also the wider sign of a social fabric that is dangerously threadbare and may come apart. Forster’s argument entwines the local and the global. Leonard works for the Porphyrion fire insurance company, which he naively identifies with the allegorical giant on the advertising poster. Forster plays with the semiotics of representation and the myth (to use Roland Barthes’s concept) built by advertising. Jeffrey Heath points out that Porphyrion was the leader of the Giants that hurled flaming trees at Zeus in a volcanic land: ‘Evidently enough, “Porphyrion” is not the best name for a company that claims to protect the public from losses incurred by fire and related disasters’ (Heath 691). The image of the draped giant may also recall the striking development of Fire Insurance in late Victorian and Edwardian England. Indeed, branches opened and closed as insurance companies merged and grew global, reaping revenues from overseas and the United States (Westall 25) The Porphyrion might well be such a risky, lucrative giant company.

  • 6 ‘The increase of uncertainty is precisely due to the erosion of varios forms of social security.’

7The would-be Olympian Henry Wilcox and the giant Porphyrion belong to the same opaque system, whereas Forster seems to be calling for a different kind of insurance altogether. For the side effect of global companies is increased vulnerability for the expendable at home. The plot relies on a tangle of coincidences bringing together Leonard, the Wilcoxes and the Schlegels; this might seem heavy-handed, were it not a fable about social vulnerability. Henry Wilcox’s careless, indirect piece of advice (the Porphyrion may smash) makes Leonard sink from relative safety to precariousness. As an ordinary man, Leonard Bast has no access to information, no way of knowing whether the advice is sound or not. The reluctant Bast takes a job at a bank with a reduced salary and is soon made redundant, while the reinsured Porphyrion sails on splendidly. The brief scene in St Paul’s, where Margaret admires the cathedral and fails to see Leonard, connotes the instant social invisibility of the destitute clerk. Guillaume le Blanc links precariousness to the collapse of forms of ‘social security’, meaning social systems, work and addresses, both as a spatial direction (when one loses one’s home and address), and as the way one is addressed, or becomes invisible: ‘[l]a remontée de l’incertitude est précisément liée au délitement des différentes formes de sécurité sociale’6 (le Blanc 72).

  • 7 Since Lionel Trilling and Daniel Born, Forster has been read in terms of liberal humanism (or for B (...)
  • 8 ‘The slippage caused by viral speech . . . between the textuel layers of enunciation.’ Laurent Mell (...)

8Leonard’s plight, as he begs money from his relatives, points to the absence of a social protection net.7 For Stuart Sillars, Howards End is ‘a remarkably contemporary book, concerned with issues insistent and immediate when it was written’ (Sillars 33). Metaphors like ‘Panic and emptiness!’ (HE 46) recall the writers who influenced Lloyd George, such as Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson (a close friend of Forster’s) and Edward Carpenter (it was after a visit to Carpenter that Forster started writing Maurice). Above all, the text recycles Charles Masterman’s 1902 From the Abyss, where the eponymous abyss is for Kuchta a ‘figurative grave, marking poverty as a state of social nonexistence’ (125). The famous liberal disclaimer, which has so often been held against Forster as bourgeois liberalism, ‘We are not concerned with the very poor’ (Forster 1985, 58), might therefore be read as an ironic preterition, a sign of what Laurent Mellet calls ‘les déplacements de la parole contagieuse [. . .] entre les régimes énonciatifs du texte’ (2012, 121).8 Such callousness may be ascribed to Henry Wilcox, who feels no guilt when the Porphyrion remains ‘safe as houses now’ (191), to Helen, who sends money to Leonard but does not try to see him again, or to Margaret herself, who is wont to discuss how money should be spent on the poor but stands safely on her own island of secure money, as she herself acknowledges. Forster’s text, on the other hand, relies on ‘vulnerability as a dynamic form’, calling for welfare and the ethics of care as defined by Jean-Michel Ganteau: ‘To work with vulnerability, so as to build an ethical model in which good and the good life depend on attention to the other, responsiveness to the other, solicitude to the other, and practical help of the other.’ (Ganteau 11) The concern for a better democracy cannot be ascribed to one character, it is conveyed by the overall narrative structure.

  • 9 We may add that on March 19, 1910, Forster met with a friend back from Nigeria, who told him of vil (...)
  • 10 Moby-Dick is one of the texts celebrated by Forster in his 1927 Aspects of the Novel, before it was (...)
  • 11 Laurent Mellet comments on the formlessness of the British landscape congealed by the speed of moto (...)
  • 12 As Elsa Cavalié shows, she jumps from the car but in the end refrains from making a scene.

9Forster’s conception of democratic ethos also questions the logic of Empire. Paul, who regularly vanishes to Nigeria, is the embodiment of the obverse of democracy—a seductive but utterly hollow young man, a slave to propriety who may perform unseen violence in Africa, and whose brief insensitive rejection radically alters the course of Helen’s life. Jameson takes Forster’s text to task for failing to engage properly with the hidden side of the Wilcoxes’ trade in Nigerian rubber, introducing the theme of Africa without portraying natives.9 But Forster’s anti-colonial strategy becomes more compelling if images are not considered in isolation but connected, perceived as a network. The map ‘looking like a whale marked out for blubber’ (120) in Henry’s office vaguely echoes Heart of Darkness and gestures towards Moby-Dick,10 connoting not the white man’s burden but the white man’s plunder. In fact, the indictment of colonial exploitation abroad is repurposed as Forster attacks colonial appropriation at home, for the Nigerian rubber reappears in the guise of motor-car tyres that flash through the countryside, raising ominous clouds of dust that settle down everywhere, polluting the villagers’lungs. Kuchta calls the process the ‘suburban colonization of the countryside’ (126). Andrew Thacker has shown that the Wilcoxes’ accidents—Mr Wilcox’s collision with a horse and cart, or Charles’s smashing of a little girl’s cat11—their speeding tickets and Charles Wilcox’s callous comment that the villagers should learn and tar the roads, echo contemporary debates and governmental inquiries, placing the novel firmly within ‘new geographies of modernity’ rather than mere ‘sentimental ruralism’ (Thacker 37). Though Margaret ultimately colludes with such motorised, mechanised capitalism,12 Forster seems to consider those posh motorcars as agents of the appropriation of the land (a theme that reappears in the pageants), creating a new kind of risk society and ignoring the democratic demands of the locals, overruled as hopelessly backward.

  • 13 For Henry, the dismissal is just ‘the shoe pinching in places’, and one should not worry neurotical (...)
  • 14 They collect houses ‘like tadpoles’, a boyish image of greed.
  • 15 Incidentally, Mr Wilcox takes Margaret to Simpson’s, a posh restaurant known for its meat, whereas (...)

10Therefore, the metaphor ‘safe as houses’ (HE 191), which Henry Wilcox uses to deny his responsibility in Leonard’s case,13 is significant. Forster, like the Schlegel sisters, does hold the likes of the Wilcoxes accountable, and locates the tension between democracy and capitalism in real estate. For Henry Wilcox owns several locations, such as Oniton, the eponymous Howards End, the flat opposite the Schlegels’ home in London, Ducie Street with its posh drawing-room accommodating thick leather armchairs, as if a motor car had spawned. Such places seem part of an endless collection14 which never allows their owner to properly inhabit any of them. Houses and flats remain empty, abandoned because ultimately, in the eyes of the Wilcox men, no satisfactory value can be attached to them: Oniton turns out to be in the wrong part of Shropshire (whatever that may mean), Howards End is not fashionable enough and is let, the flat and Ducie street are given up. Like the map of Africa, the smell coming from a slaughterhouse that mars the splendid Ducie Street is a sign that odours of exploitation are hard to get rid of.15 The text stresses the rootlessness of cumulative capitalism, from the sweeping tide of coins that has come to signify Christmas to the nomadic Henry Wilcox, compulsively switching houses.

11Verticality also stresses the failure of the democratic distribution of the sensible. The Wilcoxes’ ‘Babylonian’ flat is modelled on Queen Anne’s Mansions, the Victorian tower of (for the day) tremendous height, whose lifts were proverbial (Dennis 233). At the other end of the scale, Leonard lives in an unstable area, and at the very bottom of a cheap block of flats:

A block of flats, constructed with extreme cheapness, towered on either hand. Further down the road two more blocks were being built, and beyond these an old house was being demolished to accommodate another pair. . . And again a few years, and all the flats might be pulled down and new buildings, of a vastness at present unimaginable, might arise where they had fallen. (HE 59)

12The city has become the toy of property developers, seeking to maximise profit by building as high and as continuously as possible, their tide of ‘bricks and mortar’ endlessly ‘rising and falling’ (59). This however brings no elevation for the likes of Leonard Bast: ‘Then Leonard entered Block B of the flats and turned not upstairs, but down, into what is known to house-agents as a semi-basement, and to other men as a cellar’ (60).

  • 16 In 1909, Forster’s short story ‘The Machine Stops’ (a technological dystopia that foreshadows the I (...)
  • 17 For Peter Bailey, Forster belittles Leonard Bast as a marginal mimic with a grey life. For Kim Shir (...)

13Half buried below the city,16 Leonard tries to transmute his dwelling by wrapping it up in culture, but the democratisation of knowledge fails to yield instant benefits. Leonard transposes Ruskin’s mellifluous prose, ‘Let us consider each of these characters in succession; and first (for of the shafts enough has been said already), what is very peculiar to this church, its luminousness’ (61), into the dull, ‘Let us consider each of these characters in succession; and first (for of the absence of ventilation enough has been said already), what is very peculiar to this flat, its obscurity’ (62). Language is no magic wand. The point here is not to be as patronising17 as the Schlegel sisters (who relish Leonard’s night outing in pursuit of Nature and poetry, but will not listen to whatever he has to say about books), but to stress that democracy begins with a room of one’s own, and that cultural capital—however much Forster, who taught at the Working Men’s college for twenty years, may have trusted books and art, and believed that the highest values could be transmitted—is not enough in a semi-basement. Stuart Sillars points out that the books praised by Leonard, such as E.V. Lucas’s Open Road, are but ‘a second-hand, middle-brow relocation of experience’ (Sillars 40); meant for armchair travellers, they fail to offer the way back to the earth Leonard longs for. Leonard’s downfall is a distant consequence of rural exodus; the underfed clerk is trapped in the city, while the Wilcoxes, with their ‘civilization of luggage’ and their pre-Twitter clipped language of ‘telegrams and anger’ (54) may paradoxically purchase country housing as well as city housing.

  • 18 ‘C’est dans la terre anglaise que Forster veut puiser l’énergie nécessaire à la construction d’une (...)

14If democracy begins with housing, the novel offers a resolution which is at best a compromise. With its beautiful garden and surrounding fields, Howards End (the radiating house studied by Elsa Cavalié)18 encapsulates Englishness and a sense of belonging; it is bequeathed by Mrs Wilcox to Margaret, a late Christmas present that has no legal value but that has all the aesthetic, sensuous and spiritual value in the world. Margaret, in the end, creates a small common place, bringing together a broken Henry Wilcox (whom she has married), and her sister with her son, Leonard’s illegitimate child—but Leonard himself has been killed (by Charles, the German sword, and by the bookcase that falls over him). The ending recreates spiritual transmission and the link with the house and the earth. But the common ground (with its symbolic crop of hay) is tentative, and already threatened by the encroaching rust of London in the distance.

15Howards End was modelled on Forster’s childhood home near Stevenage, Rooksnest. Lauren Goodlad suggests that the polar opposition between London and country home is ‘not mere nostalgia’, ‘but, rather, a protest against a dominatory “type” that, in aiming to “inherit the earth”, advances a grey “cosmopolitanism”’ (214). Cosmopolitanism in that sense is not the kind of embodied border-crossing and transnational culture Forster longed for, but a capitalistic sweep. The symbolic value bestowed on the house and landscape may therefore be read in the light of ecocriticism rather than conservative pastoral nostalgia; and the post-war pageants he wrote as a shift from fiction to praxis.

Site-specific Community Performances

  • 19 Ayako Yoshino and Bartie speak of ‘pageant fever’ or ‘pageantitis’ (Bartie 2018, n.p.).
  • 20 Beyond commodified nostalgia, the pageants raise money for familiar places and reflect upon them.
  • 21 Forster’s tree motif appeared in his short stories and in Howards End, where the wych elm is the gu (...)

16Pageants were a popular entertainment in Edwardian England,19 which vanished with World War I but returned in the 20s and 30s; for Michael Woods, such popular entertainment was both democratic (performing the local/national past) and conservative (upholding a local version of apolitical history, confirming inequalities). Forster’s foray differs both from such ‘pageant fever’ (Bartie 2018, n.p.) and from modernist revisions like T.S. Eliot’s 1934 urbanised, Christian The Rock and Virginia Woolf’s ironic 1941 deconstruction of the historiographic pageant in Between the Acts. Forster’s 1934 ‘Abinger Pageant’ and 1938 ‘England’s Pleasant Land’ are ‘participatory village rituals’ that appeal to the community (Esty 84): as usual, the local people sang, danced and performed in the self-reflexive pageant. But Forster goes a step further, designing more immersive, site-specific performances. The ‘Abinger Pageant’ was set in the Rectory Garden, and the spectators were directed to look at the rolling downs. For ‘England’s Pleasant Land’, Forster used the semicircle of trees, the landscaped gardens and country house of Milton Court, as a generic country house and grounds. This crucial design made both church and country-house a common place, a biosystem rather than an abstract metonymy of England.20 In the first pageant, a fund-raising event helping to restore the local church, Forster sweeps from the Saxons and Normans or the Puritans and Cavaliers to the Victorians, and pays lip service to clichés (the tree of Royalty, the tree of the church, and Forster being more attuned to the church as a building than a creed, the Canterbury pilgrims) in order to switch to a more rhizomatic democratic impulse. The narrator, a mere ‘woodman’, is just a ‘recorder’, a ‘participant in an ongoing conversation’, implying a ‘mutual investment of tellers and listeners in discerning value in lives lived and establishing social and personal ethos’, to use Pollock’s definition of oral history (Pollock 146). Forster mingles religious hymns, folk songs like the blacksmith’s ‘Twankydillo’, and music specially composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams, with a roll call of local toponyms and families, stressing commoners rather than great names: ‘Edser, Smallpiece, Longhurst, Overington, Etherington, Jelly, Tickner, Harrison, Cumper, Hoad, Lane, Cole, Wood, Carpenter, Stone, Evershed, Dewdney, Tidy, Wordsfold, Snatchfold; and the great name Evelyn from Wotton.’ (1936, 345) Straying from the scenario, he also opens the pageant to the non-human, the sheep at the beginning and ending, and above all the trees. The main historical character, the diarist and gardener John Evelyn, is given no speech, but made to plant a tree,21 the very tulip tree we (the readers, performers or audience) are watching. One of the press reviewers at the time, in The Spectator, aptly noted the uncharacteristic absence of battles in the pageant ‘between 1066 and today’, presumably not ‘because the promoters of this pageant are exceptionally pacifist, but because they have discovered so many other things in the past local life of their beautiful district which are more characteristic and interesting.’ (Spectator 10, in Bartie n.p.) Forster was indeed a pacifist, but he was also waging a battle, seeking, if not a proto-Parliament of things in the manner of Bruno Latour, at least to integrate the trees within the democratic display as part of the common ground. They are not just timber for ships, fodder for the forge, cleared for pasture. The leitmotif ‘the trees are growing, the trees are cut down’ (Forster 1936, 340, 345) calls for balance in the interaction: ‘but the trees are growing all the time, and we shall end with the planting of a tree’ (345). The ‘Woodman’, an ‘organicist metaphor of the enervated Nietzschean epigone’ of history for Stuart Christie (94), is the proper steward of the land, because he is a woodcutter who actually takes care of the woods as well. The perlocutionary performance is cautionary, calling time on grand projects, houses, ‘flats, arterial roads, by-passes, petrol pumps and pylons’ (Forster 1936, 351), reading urbanisation as an environmental crisis threatening the natural and cultural heritage of the woodlands.

17Rather than pastoral nostalgia, this may be read as activism. In his 1926 essay ‘My Wood’, Forster ironically depicts his one venture into ownership. He mocks his own annoyance when people leave papers and cans in his wood, his desire that a bird should belong to him rather than fly away, and his passing wish that he could build a wall to protect his blackberries—to make passers-by keep to the blind public footpath so that he might enjoy the ‘sweets of property’ and turn into an ‘[e]normously stout, endlessly avaricious, pseudo-creative, intensely selfish’ man (1936, 26). Humour reminds us that sharing is a practice, not an abstract ethos. The wood itself was in fact part of Forster’s ecological stance. When he saw workmen digging in the forest, he fenced off potential property development by buying it with the money brought by the American edition of A Passage to India, thereby thwarting the local land-owner Lord Farrer, who retaliated by refusing to let West Hackhurst when the lease expired (the house where Forster was living with his mother and which had been designed by his own father, an architect). Forster made sure that the wood would be protected by leaving it to the National Trust when he died, thus contributing to woodland management and the preservation of Surrey’s designated areas of outstanding beauty.

  • 22 Esty recalls that Forster had complained of the fad for pageants, with their staple recipe of ‘Drui (...)

18‘England’s Pleasant Land’ was performed in 1938, with ‘unrehearsed blessings’ like a ‘lovely flock of white pidgeons’, though ‘[n]aturally it rained’ (Forster 1940, 8); it was published in 1940 by the Hogarth Press and a fair number of copies were sold. It has left a very, very faint cultural trace; elements from Vaughan Williams’s music score worked their way into his fifth symphony; the pageant itself has briefly emerged in Ruth Beale’s work in 2011 and in 2015 as the Ambridge Pageant performed in the Archers, BBC 4’s popular radio programme. The pageant is no masterpiece. For Esty, the hideous clock offered by the villagers to the Squire is the only bit of onion in the salad,22 when ‘the unexpressed time of modernity asserts itself’, and breaks ‘timeless pastoral vision’ (Esty 83). But Forster’s pageant actually tosses into the salad a controversial version of history, under the guise of smooth linearity. To use Siewers’s concept, Forster maps the landscape as an ‘ecosemiosphere’ (Siewers 33), where nature and culture interact and are constantly rewritten by undemocratic manipulation. This happens through a series of paradigm shifts. It begins with the Domesday Book, laying down boundaries and replacing common law with official record: ‘The Recorder sits at a rough table upon which the Domesday Book is placed. The characters pass before him, and are allotted their shares in the England-that-is-to-be’ (Forster 1940, 18). Though this is presented as the birth of ‘England’s Pleasant Land’, coming into being through the reconciliation of Saxons and Normans, the lingering sense of segmentation makes the eighteenth-century pun of the two silly ladies (Domesday/Doom’s Day) somehow relevant. The core of the play is the next tableau, when in 1760 the traditional Squire George is gradually won over by the intruder, Squire Jeremiah. Bent on modernisation, Jeremiah implements the new enclosure laws voted by Parliament, with the support of Bumble, the lawyer. The merry villagers dance in the background, unaware that ‘up by the Manor House their fate and the fate of the countryside is being decided’ (36), yet taking their strip is legal theft: ‘nothing can compensate a man for what his family has owned for generations’ (31). For Squire George’s daughter, enclosing the commons is not democratic: ‘No, no—those Acts are wrong. Enclosure is bad, Parliament’s wicked—’ (30). Jeremiah’s argument, that the villagers are lazy if they sing and dance, and that the ‘savage’ land should be regulated, and made profitable (34), suggests a kind of colonisation at home. The next scene briefly depicts the Agricultural Swing Riots of the 1830s, as a direct consequence of impoverishment and enclosures. The scene is stylised, the peasants are still Jack and Jill, the landowner is still Squire George and Bumble lays down the law, onomastics suggesting that the legal code blunders on, mechanical and soulless. Forster has been blamed for not anchoring the pageant in a specific place and using generic names for characters that reach across the centuries; yet it is hard to deem the argument apolitical, or to fail to see that those naïve allegories actually deny the pastoral satisfaction expected from a pageant and challenge the course of history.

19Rather than regressive nostalgia, Forster is offering a political analysis of gradual dispossession. In a footnote, he explains that most of the dialogue in the 1830 scene is ‘taken from contemporary documents quoted in Hammond’s Village Labourer’ (41). Such a version of history was discredited in the second half of the twentieth century, especially by Garrett Hardin’s 1968 article ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’ which claimed that common resources could not but be quickly exhausted as people would seek to maximise their gain and overgraze their herds. The phrase stuck, but is now being reversed through economic and ecocritical analyses. Elinor Ostrom’s groundbreaking claim that communities always devise methods of self-regulation, and her work on sustainable commons with an ethic of openness, were awarded the Nobel Prize of economics in 2009. For the ecocritical new commons movement, enclosures are indeed seen as a process of dispossession, a war against the poor. Similarly, Forster’s Jack exposes the dismantling of a commons-based culture: ‘Careful? What of? What have we left to be careful about? We’ve lost our bits of ground, we’ve lost our grazing rights, we mayn’t even gather wood, our pigs have gone, our cows, our geese, our cottages are falling down—curse your Enclosure Acts’ (43).

20In the last scene, cars, buses and ‘masses of adverts’ (78) fill the stage, a ‘Pageant of Horrors’ (79), while the ‘Recorder’ calls for new laws in Parliament protecting the countryside from such suburban defacing. The son of Squire George loses the family property because of death duties. It may seem paradoxical to defend the landed estates that the 1760 episode criticised, while the contempt for cheap bungalows seems snobbish. But for Forster, dismantling the big estates only paves the way for more dispossession; Jack and Jill cannot benefit or regain the land that was once stolen through enclosure. The property developer, Jerry the builder (the same actor who played Squire Jeremiah), is ready to fell the trees and build everywhere as cheaply as possible, wildly chanting ‘Ripe for development, Ripe for development,/Ripe, Ripe for development/Ripe, ripe for development/Is England’s Pleasant Land’ (77). Death duties further fragment the landscape, leaving the land and houses up for grabs, while the planned ‘development’ will both spoil the connection to the land and the balance of the community, the only point being quick profit.

21The pageant was performed to support the Dorking and Leith Hill District Preservation Society and defend the public footpaths. The defence of public footpaths is upheld today by Robert Macfarlane, for instance, as an essential site of freedom: ‘As rights of way determined and sustained by use, they constitute a labyrinth of liberty, a slender network of common land that still threads through our aggressively privatised world of barbed wire and gates, CCTV cameras and ‘no trespassing’ signs’ (16). In the late thirties, Forster thus acted as a quiet green proto-activist.

Censorship, Fascism and Democracy

  • 23 Astutely, Armstrong adds that ‘the obvious but unspoken analogy here is the variable contingency of (...)
  • 24 I am transposing Shannon Walters’ definition of haptics and disability. For her, rhetorical touch p (...)

22But by then there were other pressing matters. In 1938, Forster and Vaughan Williams also founded the Dorking and District Refugee Committee, to help refugees from Nazi Germany. Though he is remembered for his defence of Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness in 1920 and for testifying in favour of an unexpurgated version of Lady Chatterley’s Lover (and against the Obscene Publication Act) in 1960, Forster’s commitment to freedom of speech as an essential dimension of democracy was just as acute in the Thirties. The international crisis tested Forster’s detached view of politics; he had been a staunch pacifist in World War One, but Hitler’s ruthless attack on people and culture made war inevitable. He also felt that even in England, democracy might all too easily slip into a totalitarian regime, fearing the so-called great man, the deceitful providential leader—‘No, I distrust Great Men’ (Forster 1951, 82). He saw censorship as the Trojan horse of fascism. In 1934, he became the first president of the new National Council for Civil Liberties, and passionately opposed the Sedition Bill, which condemned anyone who maliciously seduced a member of the armed forces from his duty or allegiance to the King. In October 1934, a protest march gathered 3,000 people, and Forster gave a public speech which was, according to Stephen Spender, quite eloquent. In June 1935, a shy Forster spoke on the same platform as André Gide in the opening session of the anti-war International Congress for the Defence of Culture in Paris, organised by Gide and Malraux; thousands of people attended, there were 230 speakers from 38 countries, including Aragon, Barbusse, Giono, Wells, Aldous Huxley, Brecht and Pasternak. Aware perhaps of the hidden communist agenda of Malraux and the conference, Forster did not give the speech expected by the organisers, but focused instead on ‘Liberty in England’, stressing how a seemingly innocuous violation of freedom might let in the ‘dictator-spirit working quietly away behind the facade of constitutional forms, passing a little law (like the Sedition Act) here, endorsing a departmental tyranny there’, promoting secrecy and controlling the evening news on the ‘wireless, until opposition is tamed and gulled.’ (1936, 64) For him, propaganda could easily go viral at a time when foreign governments cheated and bullied, destroyed civilians and invaded without declaring war. Instead, Forster upheld ‘Tolerance’ in an eponymous essay, well aware that prejudices and hatred also begin at home, and that ‘Tolerance is not the same as weakness’ (TC 58), because it implies an active discipline of the spirit and the soul. His democratic arguments often are characteristically oblique, as Paul Armstrong points out. In his 1939 ‘Jew-consciousness’, Forster absurdly discusses a school where all boys with sisters are ostracised, and—a tougher case—a second school where all boys with a mother are looked down on, before introducing anti-semitism as equally untenable: ‘Having been a Gentile at my first preparatory school and a Gentile in my second, I know what I am talking about’ (25).23 The joke offers a pragmatic approach to politics and ethics; as Paul Armstrong puts it, ‘Forster’s anecdote implicates the reader uncomfortably in mechanisms of social solidification that cannot simply be dismissed as a foreign aberration . . . Forster’s mischievousness suggests that deviousness may be necessary to fight power with rhetorical power’ (287). The practice of tolerance lies at the heart of Forster’s ethics of care; hence the famous opening line of ‘What I Believe’, ‘I do not believe in Belief’, or, twisting a Biblical reference, ‘My motto is: ‘Lord, I disbelieve—help thou my unbelief’ (Forster 1951, 77). Yet this is, in a way, a creed too, beginning with sensitivity and individual connection, to reshape the experience of the world: ‘And since to ignore evidence is one of the characteristics of faith, I certainly can proclaim that I believe in personal relationships’ (78). It is within this context of international upheaval and of the fascist drift of states that one must read the oft-misquoted shock formula, ‘I hate the idea of causes, and if I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country’ (78). The provocative statement is a scandal in the etymological sense of the word, a little stone meant to make one stumble and think. It is not a call to be disloyal to England, which Forster fought for through his essays and broadcasts, but a call to fight systems (like colonial rule) and war machines, and to trust personal relationship—which must uphold all sense of communality—rather than nationalism and abstract catch-words. Hating Mosley, Hitler and Mussolini’s black shirts, Forster queers politics as a reminder that there is no democracy which does not work at a metonymic level: ‘Naked I came into the world, naked I shall go out of it. And a very good thing too, for it reminds me that I am naked under my shirt, whatever its colour’ (85). The homoerotic image widens, to suggest the kairotic contact at the root of democracy, bringing bodies together in time and space, skin against skin, allowing in turn to touch, i.e. to prompt emotion and identification.24

Soundscapes and Communities on the Air

  • 25 See Forster’s contribution to the Festival’s programme. In 1951, Forster collaborated with Britten (...)

23When the BBC was founded in 1922, the public airwaves were treated as a commons. In 1926 the Royal Charter stipulated that the BBC was to sustain civil society, promote learning and creativity. Forster was drawn to this public mission and he gave his first talk in 1928, while Hilda Matheson, the head of the Talks Section, was a staunch supporter of radio’s educational value: ‘Matheson’s concern for a more democratic approach to radio audiences spoke directly to his long interest in the Working Men’s College’ (Lago 1995, 99). Forster was a diffident speaker and his voice was not beautiful, but he made the talks sound natural, and they appealed to listeners. Whereas in 1914 Forster had seen Germany as just a hostile country and practiced pacifism, he was scared that Nazism was a regime bent on total destruction, be it of people or of culture, and he opposed appeasement (see ‘Post-Munich’, Forster 1951, 33). During the war, the broadcasts became Forster’s way of disseminating literature but also of engaging with history-in-the-making and of addressing totalitarianism—indeed, his three ‘Anti-Nazi Broadcasts’ (Forster 1951, 43) placed him on Hitler’s blacklist of people, like Woolf, who were to be killed as soon as England was invaded. Anticipating Barthes’s definition of myth, Forster states that German culture has become ‘governmental’ and has thereby been ‘falsified’ (46). He carefully distinguishes Germany, with its great literature, ‘supreme’ music and ‘eminent’ philosophy (46) from Nazism: not only has Nazi Germany ‘had to make war to its own people before it attacked Europe’ (47), but it has waged war on culture, and Forster describes the burning of books at length. In his broadcasts, on the contrary, Forster speaks of books as a performative defence of democracy: ‘We, in this war, are not likely to destroy books. Literature and Democracy are natural allies’ (Forster 2008, 159). Books might seem of little importance in the face of chaos, but for him they remained one of the touchstones of resilience, and he campaigned relentlessly for more literature on the radio, rather than less. Art was a common ground, defying darkness and anti-semitism. Typically, he opposed censorship in 1941, would not let Churchill have his pick among broadcasters; just as Vaughan Williams would not allow his music to be played on the air, Forster withdrew three of his talks, to block the BBC’s blacklist. It irked him a bit, for the piece on George Crabbe had a strong sense of place (Alderburgh), and in a whimsical swoop of inspiration he had summed up the poem ‘Peter Grimes’—a community turning against a scapegoat, perhaps a fascist drift—as an opera, ‘for my inward ear only’ (TC 191). Instead, the unspoken broadcast was printed in The Listener, sailed across the sea, and was read by Benjamin Britten. Britten did not know Crabbe, but he was from Suffolk and he was touched; he made up his mind to leave the United States and return to England, where he composed his Peter Grimes, which was performed in 1945 to public acclaim. In 1948, Britten launched the Alderburgh festival; as in the pageants, but with Britten’s supreme talent, place, music, Englishness, the community and human touch met in Alderburgh, making the festival festive indeed, to Forster’s liking.25

  • 26 This was the church of Reverend Dick Sheppard, an activist for the poor, who suggested in 1931 that (...)

24Yet it was in London perhaps, that Howards End’s dream of a musical commons materialised, under the unexpected guise of the National Gallery’s war-time lunch-hour concerts. Forster begins his 1943 New Year’s BBC broadcast by sending his greetings ‘from the portico of the National Gallery’: ‘I don’t mean that I am actually standing in the portico. I am not standing anywhere. I am sitting in a studio, reading from a prepared script . . .’ (2008, 217) Still he goes on, as if he were actually standing in front of the National Gallery looking at St Martin-in-the-Fields,26 with the towers of Westminster in the distance, for him a promising but inadequate expression of democracy. He then shifts back to the Gallery:

The first thing you will notice, if the hour is midday, is a smell of coffee. Yes, coffee in the National Gallery! Provided for the people who come in their hundreds to the lunch-hour concerts. They can get excellent coffee and sandwiches cheaply, and then listen to first-class music for 1/-s. This has been going on five days a week since the beginning of the war, and will continue all through 1943, all being well. (Forster 2008, 217)

  • 27 Hess thought of the concerts to raise funds for unemployment musicians, who had no jobs because of (...)
  • 28 Clark was influenced by Ruskin and believed that everyone should have access to art; recently, his (...)
  • 29 Hess was famous for her arrangement of ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring’, which she often played. A jou (...)

25Such pragmatic elements insist on the experimental, communal space of dissensus rather than on propaganda for Englishness. The idea of reinvesting and repurposing the gallery came from Myra Hess, a famous pianist who gave up a lucrative tour of the United States to stay in Britain during the war. The paintings had been taken down and hidden elsewhere, theatres were closed,27 London was under fire, the Gallery itself was about to be requisitioned for governmental paperwork; Kenneth Clark,28 the National Gallery director, instantly supported Hess’s idea. The concerts fulfilled Myra Hess’s dream of democratic music; they became the luminous upstairs version of underground shelters, a community of emotions. Forster insists on the conjunction between ‘first class music’ and a single shilling, an unheard-of entrance fee which made music available to all (actually all the performers, including Hess, received only five guineas per performance). The variegated audience was part of the democratic project, from soldiers29 and typists to the Queen sitting among the crowd; people ‘came in their hundreds’: for the first concert, Hess and Clark had expected a handful of listeners, but about 1,000 people showed up, and about 800 were let in, though regulations stipulated no more than 200 people. People could get coffee and sandwiches in the hallowed Gallery, as Forster jokingly notes. Above all, the transnational programmes went straight to Forster’s heart: Hess played Beethoven’s Appasionata for her first concert, and the ethos of equality applied to the choice of music:

That’s part of my Happy New Year to you; the thought that in the heart of a war and close to destruction, great music is being upheld: for instance, all the Beethoven Quartets have been performed and all the chamber music of Brahms, and the songs of Schumann, and modern stuff, like Benjamin Britten’s settings of the sonnets of Michael Angelo. (218)

  • 30 Hess performed in the last but one concert, not the last one, she feared a surge of emotion would h (...)

26English and German music meet as if to enact the Forsterian principle of tolerance; he must have loved the fact that Beethoven was a favourite, whom Hess played first and last.30 Incidentally, Hess also embodied the refusal to betray one’s friends for the sake of nationalism; when the Netherlands were invaded, Hess insisted that German lied singer Elena Gerhardt should perform and she was given a standing ovation. Music testified to the strength of this spiritual democracy: ‘Meanwhile Beethoven persists, Beethoven does not flicker’ (Forster in Philip 9). Indeed, like culture, courage was a routine part of the commons; when the Blitz got worse, the concerts were moved from a beautiful room with a glass ceiling to the basement; when Myra Hess heard a flying bomb while playing a quiet piece by Schubert, she added an impromptu crescendo to hide the noise (Bosman 52); when the bomb squad came for an unexploded bomb, the concert simply changed rooms. An instance of Michael Madison’s ‘intangible commons’, the concerts brought a degree of peace and solace in the ongoing ‘storm’. In his contribution to a commemorative 1944 booklet, Forster described ‘the importance of live concerts’ for the audience in the badly damaged Gallery (Philip 9): vibrations, ‘strange filaments’, cling to the soul, as music becomes an antidote to the lethal planes: ‘the feet of birds have, as it were, become entangled in the snares of heaven’ (Forster in Philip, 10). Much to Myra Hess’s sadness, the concerts were discontinued in 1946 (Forster and Vaughan Williams signed a petition to keep them going). The trustees claimed that it would be too expensive and with so many Gallery rooms in ruins, space was needed for the paintings; perhaps we may wonder whether the concerts were not too democratic for the post-war Establishment, even at a time of solidarity and reconstruction.

A ‘Collision of Loyalties’

27To face the destruction of the Blitz, after World War II, a new experiment was tried. Stevenage was chosen to be the first ‘New Town’. Industries and people would move away from overcrowded London; a community would be built from scratch, in a planned site offering housing, a pedestrian shopping centre as a core, artistic and sports facilities, and bike paths everywhere. The new Stevenage was the radical, utopian solution to the post-war housing crisis. Relief, however, came with an edge—for Stevenage was Forster’s beloved home country, where Rooksnest, the blueprint for Howards End, stood. For the local people, development meant displacement, losing their homes and roots after the war. Forster was torn between divided loyalties, as he puts it in ‘The Challenge of Our Time’: ‘“Well”, says the voice of planning and progress, “why this sentimentality? People must have houses.” They must, and I think of working-class friends in North London who have to bring up four children in two rooms, and there are many worse off than that. But I cannot equate the problem. It is a collision of loyalties’ (TC 70). Forster was sensitive to the plight of those who had lost their homes in the Blitz, especially working-class people; yet for him, the ‘meteoric’ utopian town was also like a bomb hitting a precious place: ‘I wonder what compensation there is in the world of the spirit, for the destruction’ of that ‘little piece of England’ (TC 70). As he feared in the prophetic Howards End, a piece of the encroaching London had indeed displaced itself, and his commitment to the countryside heightened the dilemma of the distribution of the sensible.

28Thus, Forster was a passionate but divided believer in democracy, who grappled for decades with the idea for a common ground. His transnational cultural ethic upheld tolerance and ‘democratic affection’ (Forster 2011, 19) and expanded into, as Goodlad suggests, ‘an ethic of queer internationalism’ (209). Fiction and non-fiction address the politics of belonging, engaging with books, place and music. His celebration of the war concerts, his inability to face the uprooting of Stevenage and the ‘challenge of our times’, seem to revisit the fictional Howards End. Interestingly enough, Forster did use his fiction as a weapon to defend the Stevenage landscape, ascribing value to the original of Howards End; in the end, both Rooksnest and West Hackhurst were spared by development. This persists today as ‘Forster Country’, though not as popular or as well-defined as Hardy country, is used both for tourist commodification and ecological land preservation. Should we revise the legend of Forster as a washed-up writer after A Passage to India? He kept addressing the ethos of music, tolerance and the politics of personal relations; he still pursued what Latour calls matters of concern, urbanisation and ecological damage, while remaining painfully aware of the logic of social precariousness. Such matters of concern recur in today’s fiction, including the satiric Number 11 by Jonathan Coe, which ironically picks up George Osborne’s ‘We are all in this together’ (Coe 231) as a neo-liberal lie, where the tide of bricks and mortar is causing a strange downward building boom: obscenely wealthy owners now reclaim the underground space of the likes of Leonard Bast, digging deeper and deeper mega-basements, with luxury swimming pools or cinemas stealing the last common ground, the very soil of London. As foreshadowed in Howards End, and as Laurent Mellet puts it when discussing Coe and Wells, the haunting downward topography becomes an ‘example of the way space can be redistributed and thought anew to figure the political and democratic programme of fiction’ (Mellet 2018, n.p.).

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1 The ideal one was Plato’s Republic of Love.

2 The phrase appears in his 1939 essay ‘What I Believe’; it became the title of his 1951 collection of essays, Two Cheers for Democracy, subsequently referred to in this paper as TC.

3 For Rancière, democracy must find its scandalous, rebellious edge again: ‘il n’y a qu’une seule bonne démocratie, c’est celle qui réprime la catastrophe de la civilisation démocratique’ (Rancière 10). Neo-liberalism and the financial oligarchy endanger democracy, which must rely on the sharing of the sensible, not on institutions. For Pierre Rosanvallon, elections today have lost their sacred character and ability to metonymically represent the nation.

4 It is referred to as HE in this paper.

5 Bill Brown is discussing Baudrillard.

6 ‘The increase of uncertainty is precisely due to the erosion of varios forms of social security.’

7 Since Lionel Trilling and Daniel Born, Forster has been read in terms of liberal humanism (or for Brian May in terms of Richard Rorty), yet Forster is far from theory or party politics; as Lauren Goodlad points out out, ‘liberalism is a misleading rubric for Forster, a novelist whose focus on embodiment flummoxes liberal categories up to and beyond the New Liberalism of the Edwardian years’ (208). There are obvious echoes between the insurance theme and current debate about Lloyd George’s welfare budget, designed to wage war against poverty by establishing an insurance system against sickness, unemployment, and old age. Incidentally, in 1911, Forster mentions in his diary that he has had lunch with Beveridge, then dinner at the House of Commons with, among others, Masterman and Beveridge. This shows that Forster had some connection with the political milieu (Beveridge was instrumental in bringing about Lloyd Georges’ measures on unemployment, just as his 1942 report led to the Welfare State).

8 ‘The slippage caused by viral speech . . . between the textuel layers of enunciation.’ Laurent Mellet discusses ironic repetition, and he also applies linguistic ‘contagion’ to Leonard Bast’s attempt to apply Ruskin. (2012, 120).

9 We may add that on March 19, 1910, Forster met with a friend back from Nigeria, who told him of villages burnt down if taxes were not collected, of escaping poisoned arrows, and not knowing ‘why we are in Northern Nig., or what purpose the new railway will have’ (Forster 2011, 7). This suggests fodder for Paul’s career, had Forster wished to use it.

10 Moby-Dick is one of the texts celebrated by Forster in his 1927 Aspects of the Novel, before it was reclaimed by mainstream academic criticism.

11 Laurent Mellet comments on the formlessness of the British landscape congealed by the speed of motorcars. The meditation on dust spread by cars also resembles the arguments put forward by Lloyd George to justify a tax on petrol (in order to help finance the people’s budget).

12 As Elsa Cavalié shows, she jumps from the car but in the end refrains from making a scene.

13 For Henry, the dismissal is just ‘the shoe pinching in places’, and one should not worry neurotically about those left behind by the wayward march of progress and trade.

14 They collect houses ‘like tadpoles’, a boyish image of greed.

15 Incidentally, Mr Wilcox takes Margaret to Simpson’s, a posh restaurant known for its meat, whereas Margaret takes him to a vegetarian restaurant.

16 In 1909, Forster’s short story ‘The Machine Stops’ (a technological dystopia that foreshadows the Internet) was meant as a response to H.G. Wells’s Morlochs; Wells’s influence may be seen here too.

17 For Peter Bailey, Forster belittles Leonard Bast as a marginal mimic with a grey life. For Kim Shirkani, on the contrary, ‘the dramatization of Leonard’s failures enriches his character, both by making his coming as far as he has seem all the more remarkable and by emphasizing his appreciation of things that other characters are seen smugly to take for granted.’ (Shirkani 205).

18 ‘C’est dans la terre anglaise que Forster veut puiser l’énergie nécessaire à la construction d’une identité moderne [. . .] apaisée par la plénitude de ce qu’il nomme “la connexion” entre prose et passion’ (Cavalié 73).

19 Ayako Yoshino and Bartie speak of ‘pageant fever’ or ‘pageantitis’ (Bartie 2018, n.p.).

20 Beyond commodified nostalgia, the pageants raise money for familiar places and reflect upon them.

21 Forster’s tree motif appeared in his short stories and in Howards End, where the wych elm is the guardian of the community with the ritual teeth fixed in its bark long ago.

22 Esty recalls that Forster had complained of the fad for pageants, with their staple recipe of ‘Druids, Drake, the Lady Mary’, claiming that a spot of grotesque at least should lurk in such eulogistic splendour, ‘like onion in the salad’ (Forster 1936, 55).

23 Astutely, Armstrong adds that ‘the obvious but unspoken analogy here is the variable contingency of Forster’s own doubleness as a cultural authority and a sexual outlaw’ (Armstrong 287).

24 I am transposing Shannon Walters’ definition of haptics and disability. For her, rhetorical touch provides identification and emotional contact; touch is a gift and a trespass, defying rules to catalyse a new emotional transaction.

25 See Forster’s contribution to the Festival’s programme. In 1951, Forster collaborated with Britten and Eric Crozier and wrote the libretto for Britten’s 1951 opera, Billy Budd. The notion of a democratic, festive concert appears in Forster’s first novel, Where Angels Fear to Tread, with a chaotic performance of Lucia de Lammermoor. In the novel, democracy is also a code name for friendship between men.

26 This was the church of Reverend Dick Sheppard, an activist for the poor, who suggested in 1931 that a pacifist army of unarmed peacemakers should stand between the Chinese and Japanese armies in Shanghai. When praising him on a BBC broadcast, Forster discussed totalitarianism abroad and exploited factory workers at home: ‘I’ve been wondering where liberty ends and restraint begins in contemporary society.’ (Forster 2008, 124).

27 Hess thought of the concerts to raise funds for unemployment musicians, who had no jobs because of the blackout. The concerts were a success throughout the war.

28 Clark was influenced by Ruskin and believed that everyone should have access to art; recently, his aesthetic judgment as an art critic has been reappraised, though there is no question about his commitment to popularising the arts.

29 Hess was famous for her arrangement of ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring’, which she often played. A journalist on a train heard a soldier whistling and asked him if he liked Bach. ‘“That’s not Bach”, came the reply. “That’s Myra Hess.”’ (Bosman 52)

30 Hess performed in the last but one concert, not the last one, she feared a surge of emotion would hamper her playing.

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Catherine Lanone, « Rethinking Relationality: E.M. Forster’s Commitment to Democracy »Études britanniques contemporaines [En ligne], 57 | 2019, mis en ligne le 01 décembre 2019, consulté le 06 décembre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Catherine Lanone

Catherine Lanone is a Professor of English Literature at the University Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3. She has published a book on E.M. Forster (Odyssée d’une écriture, PUM, 1998) and many articles on E.M. Forster and Virginia Woolf, as well as on Victorian and Contemporary Literature.

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