The Age of E. M. Forster

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      E.M. Forster's literary career spans, the first quarter of the twentieth century. The twentieth century is an age of complexities and contradictions. The spate of new ideas and inventions has bewildered mankind and the tensions of the modern age have made life oppressive. A new world seems to have emerged.

An Age of Science

      Forster's age is dominantly an age of science. An era of material prosperity and affluence has been ushered in. Spiritual values have been thrown into the background. Materialism has become rampant. Racial differences have surfaced. A sensitive man like E.M. Forster felt all this keenly. He was aware of the racial differences, the onrush of materialism, and the spiritual vacuum. His age had lost the most cherished values of life. In his novel. A Passage to India, Forster has presented the racial problem and the problem of human relationships very effectively.

Advent of Democracy and Socialism

      The outcome of the Industrial Revolution has been the concept of socialism and democracy. Whereas it liberated the masses to some extent, it also created a chaotic condition. Faster means of communication created problems of its own. Religion had become a spent force.

Historical Events Responsible for the Change

      The Boer War (1899-1902) had been a turning point in the political life of England. The life led by Englishmen in Victorian England was complacent. The Boer War gave the Britishers a rude shock. In the course of time, England was faced with grave problems at home as well as abroad. Indians, led by Gandhiji, agitated for freedom. Racial bitterness and hatred was on the increase. Besides, England was plagued by widespread unrest and disturbances in the industrial and political fields.

      The Great War of 1914 was hailed in the beginning as a deliverer and the harbinger of a golden age. But very soon the optimism faded away and people realized the futility of the war. The world was found to be groping in the dark for a sure and definite guidance. T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land appeared as early as 1922 and two years later appeared E. M. Forster's A Passage to India. The period, in which these two works appeared may be summed up in the words of G.S. Fraser "One can think of the 1920s as a decade in which the English people as a whole were recovering from the shock of the First World War and hoping desperately that things would get back to 'normal' to the material comfort and moral security of the Edwardian age, to the old Victorian confidence in the steady march of human progress. To the soldier, the war had left something like a permanent scar on the mind."

      And Forster, who lived in such an age, wrote about the problems of his age. He wrote specially about the racial problem and the problem human relationships in A Passages to India.

The Contemporaries

      From the beginning of the First World War, new experiments were being carried out in the field of literature. The new forces which resulted from the war broke the old traditions and made it necessary for new experiments to be conducted in several fields. In fiction James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Aldous Huxley and D.H. Lawrence played an important part.

      James Joyce was a novelist of unique and extraordinary genius. He looked upon language as a sixth sense. He did pioneering work in the 'stream of consciousness technique'. His important novels are Ulysses and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Of these Ulysses is his masterpiece. Virginia Woolf was the most distinguished woman writer of her generation. She made a far more exciting use of the 'stream of consciousness', technique than James Joyce. She had been immensely impressed by James Joyce's Ulysses. The Voyage Out and To the Lighthouse are two of her important novels.

      Aldous Huxley was different from the above mentioned novelists. His prime concern was the search for a workable faith in the bewildering world of his day. In order to understand the generation that attained maturity between the First and the Second World Wars, Huxley's novels and prose writings are the best guide. Crome Yellow and Brave New World are two of his well-known novels.

      Perhaps, D.H. Lawrence was the novelist who reacted most sharply to his times. He was against the mechanized society of his time. He believed that man should not go against the grain of his nature. Sons and Lovers and Women in Love are some of his best works. Almost in all his novels he was pre-occupied with sex.

      E.M. Forster, unlike some of the other contemporary novelists mentioned above, never tried to impose on his readers a new creed or impress them with some technical novelty.

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