E.M. Forster: Why I Stopped Writing Novels (1958)

E.M. Forster’s lat­er years are some­thing of a rid­dle. After pub­lish­ing five nov­els, includ­ing the clas­sics A Pas­sage to India and Howards End, Forster stopped writ­ing fic­tion at the age of 45. He lived qui­et­ly for anoth­er 46 years and con­tin­ued to write essays, short biogra­phies and lit­er­ary jour­nal­ism — but no more nov­els.

The issues behind it are com­pli­cat­ed, says Forster in this excerpt from a 1958 BBC inter­view. “But I think one of the rea­sons why I stopped writ­ing nov­els,” he says, “is that the social aspect of the world changed so very much. I’d been accus­tomed to write about the old van­ished world with its homes and its fam­i­ly life and its com­par­a­tive peace. All of that went. And though I can think about it I can­not put it into fic­tion form.”

At the time of the inter­view Forster was an hon­orary fel­low at King’s Col­lege, Cam­bridge, where he lived the final 24 years of his life. He speaks of his life at Cam­bridge, and of his own lim­i­ta­tions as a writer, with a sin­cer­i­ty and human­i­ty that read­ers will rec­og­nize from his books.

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Comments (7)
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  • Thanks very much for this. We don’t need every nov­el­ist to be Tol­stoy. No one did bet­ter what Forster did well, or if they did we would still read Forster. I pre­fer his mod­esty to Joyce’s con­vic­tion about his own great­ness, but that is an obser­va­tion about life, not lit­er­a­ture.

  • Brendan says:

    Maybe their self-assess­ments were both right though?

  • Right about lit­er­a­ture or about life? Both?

  • Some­how I doubt that he would be hap­py to see you report­ing him as refer­ring to “van­ished world, with it’s homes…”: Forster was REALLY good at punc­tu­a­tion.

  • I can under­stand if you are scared nobody would want your next book. How­ev­er if you are on form and peo­ple like your stuff I’d keep at it. I write short pieces these past few years as I don’t want to com­mit myself to a year of con­stant writ­ing to pro­duce a new nov­el, though hav­ing just pro­duced a new book of short pieces, 300 and Not OUT, I am think of div­ing in again to fin­ish Tears For a Butch­er, the fol­low on from
    The Butch­er The Bak­er and The Under­tak­er, its real­ly about Love, do peo­ple love your work. I imag­ine every writer is dif­fer­ent though

  • Sam Tiffer says:

    Forster is being both hon­est and disin­gen­u­ous. I’m read­ing Wendy Mof­fat’s biog­ra­phy, and she makes it very clear that the rea­son he did­n’t write any more nov­els for pub­li­ca­tion was that he became inter­est­ed only in writ­ing about the gay expe­ri­ence (for lack of a bet­ter phrase) and knew that any nov­el he chose to write would go unpub­lished. He did go on to write a lot of gay-themed short sto­ries. And though he had writ­ten it when he was young, there is Mau­rice — which of course he does­n’t allude to in this inter­view since he intend­ed it to be pub­lished posthu­mous­ly. The fact that nei­ther Springer’s intro nor any of the oth­er com­ments men­tions Mau­rice is weird — and goes to show that, even today, Forster’s most impor­tant theme does­n’t count to most of the world.

  • Lara says:

    Forster’s too counter cul­ture in his views of divine love (includ­ing sex) truth, beau­ty and val­u­a­tion of Earth and human­i­ty. Have you read his short sto­ries?
    Pagan pan pas­toral wor­shiper
    What becomes of humans with­out us liv­ing lov­ing con­nec­tions?
    Read his short sto­ries! Thanks

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