forster unlocked


The reason for E. M. Forster’s apparent abandonment of fiction after the publication of A Passage to India in 1924 is now well known: “Weariness of the only subject that I both can and may treat – the love of men for women & vice versa”. Forster had written down this explanation in June 1910 in what became known as “the Locked Diary”. This notebook, which could indeed be locked by a clasp and key (occasionally mislaid), was used by Forster between September 1909 and June 1967 to record those thoughts and observations he wanted to keep private. It now forms the “central column”, as he puts it, of Philip Gardner’s very welcome but problematic three-volume edition of Forster’s journals and diaries. Some previously published material apart, these volumes purportedly contain “everything by Forster that could reasonably be considered as a diary/journal, or which, though classifiable as a memoir, presents evidence of Forster not only in intellectual but in biographical terms”. As we shall see, this is not entirely accurate, but what Gardner does include covers some seventy years of Forster’s long life, running in fragmentary form from 1895 to 1965 and even reproducing brief and bald travel itineraries for holidays in France (1931 and 1955) and Italy (“possibly 1962”). The Locked Diary aside, the most interesting parts of the book are the “Incidents of War” memoir, an appropriately jagged, almost modernist mosaic created from the conversations Forster had with wounded soldiers while working for the Red Cross in Egypt during the First World War, along with extracts from their letters; the “Notebook Journal (1903–9)” and intermittent diaries kept in 1954, 1955 and 1958; and the innocently titled “West Hackhurst: A Surrey ramble”, in fact a score-settling account in Forster’s best feline manner of his eviction in 1946 from the house at Abinger Hammer his father had designed and where he had lived since 1924.

more from Peter Parker at the TLS here.