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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