Voices form the margins : an analysis of the cultural politics of E.M. Forster's fiction.
This thesis seeks to offer an explicitly political reading of E.M. Forster's fiction, focusing on three of his novels (A Room with a View, Howards End and Maurice) and two of his short stories ("The Life to Come" and "The Other Boat"). Throughout I have used a combination of close reading techniques and elements of critical theory to show how Forster's fiction is characterised by a prolonged and ongoing analysis of the political notion of the intersection of mainstream and marginal cultures. In this regard, I argue that the majority of Forster's novels and short stories are concerned with issues surrounding characters who are somehow marginalised from mainstream power structures and who then have to rebel against the cultural centre in their personal quests for political autonomy. It is this cultural issue, I argue, that gives Forster's novels and short stories their thematic unity and continuity. In probing this theme, I hope to move beyond restrictive (and often reductive) liberal humanist styles of criticism, which tend to downplay the political implications of Forster's fiction by fore grounding only the metaphysical questions posed by his writing. However, this thesis is also informed by certain deconstructive theoretical concepts, which I have loosely drawn upon in tracing the development of this theme. In particular, I argue throughout that the oppositional quality of the novels and short stories identified by the liberal humanist critics is only truly evident in the early novels, such as A Room with a View. In the later novels, I argue, it is evident that Forster had significantly re-evaluated his understanding of the relationship between the dominant culture and its dissident, subordinate subcultural strands, and that he had begun to conceive of the interaction between the two in a vastly more fluid and pluralistic manner than has been acknowledged by earlier critics. In particular, Forster seems to apprehend in the later works the manner in which a subject can be simultaneously both at the centre and the margins of hislher respective cultural system. It is for this reason that I stress that Forster sees the relationship between mainstream and marginal cultures as an intersection rather than an opposition. I also stress throughout this thesis the fact that the mainstream/marginal theme extends beyond issues raised in the novels and short stories and includes the author himself. As a male homosexual living in a sexually repressive society, Forster was himself a marginalised member of society, and this cultural positioning must therefore be seen to infonn the themes raised in his writings. However, as a middle-class male, Forster was himself also an empowered subject, and his writing thus also reflects his own complicity in the power structures he was seeking to subvert. This is particularly evident when one considers the recurrent misogyny his novels and short stories display. In addition, Forster's particular historical positioning as an early twentieth century writer means that his novels resonate with several of the non-literary discourses so prominent in the period, such as feminism and sexology. It is when one considers the manner in which the novels actively engage with these non-literary discourses that the considerable political invective of Forster's writing becomes apparent. In the light of the issues outlined above, I interpret Forster's novels as an attempt on the author's part to vocalise the feelings, hopes and aspirations of those groups somehow marginalised from the dominant culture.