E.M. Forster

On this date in 1879, English writer Edward Morgan Forster was born in London to a wealthy family. His architect father died of tuberculosis before his second birthday. He inherited £8,000 in trust (about $1.3 million in 2017 dollars) in 1887 from his great-aunt, which enabled him to support himself by writing after attending Kings College-Cambridge.

Forster, who was gay, wrote all six of his novels while living with his mother in Surrey. They traveled widely together. As a conscientious objector in World War I, he served as a searcher of missing military members for the British Red Cross in Egypt.

His most well-known novels are A Room With a View (1908), Howards End (1910), Maurice (1913-14) and A Passage to India (1924). All four have been made into major motion pictures. A television adaptation of Howards End first aired on the cable network Starz in 2018 and premiered as a four-episode series on “Masterpiece” on PBS in January 2020. He also wrote short stories, travel pieces, scripts, essays, biographies and the libretto for Benjamin Britten’s opera “Billy Budd,” based on Herman Melville‘s novel. 

In the 1930s and 1940s he worked as a broadcaster on BBC Radio and was associated with the Union of Ethical Societies. Forster called himself a humanist and was president of the Cambridge Humanists from 1959 to his death. He was a vice president of the Ethical Union in the 1950s and a member of the Advisory Council of Humanists UK from its foundation in 1963.

“A humanist has four leading characteristics — curiosity, a free mind, belief in good taste, and belief in the human race,” Forster wrote in “George and Gide,” an essay in the collection Two Cheers for Democracy (1951).

Forster had a long relationship with Robert Buckingham, a policeman 23 years his junior, with the acquiescence of Buckingham’s wife May, who came to accept that her husband was romantically involved with Forster, perhaps influenced by a gift of £10,000. He died of a stroke at age 91 at the Buckinghams’ home. His ashes, mingled with those of Buckingham, were later scattered in the rose garden of Coventry’s crematorium. (D. 1970)

PHOTO: Forster in 1938; photo by Howard Coster/National Portrait Gallery under CC 3.0.

Freedom From Religion Foundation