Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Longest Journey by E. M. Forster

This is the centennial year for The Longest Journey by E. M. Forster, an early novel by the author of A Room with a View (1908), Howard's End (1910), and A Passage to India (1924). Though it is less known today than these other novels, Forster often said that it was his favorite work. Through the characters of Frederick (Rickie) Elliot and his friend Stewart Ansell, he works some of his own school and writing experiences into fiction and expresses his misgivings with the British class structure.

Forster took his title from the Shelley's poem "Epipsychidion," which suggests people sometimes live out their lives with the wrong partners and companions. He could have titled the novel No Great Expectations, as in youth the lame Elliot is sheltered by his mother, who intends just to keep him home. Once she and her estranged husband die, Elliot is sent to live with an aunt, who sends him to day school. He finds his first friends later at Cambridge University, where he is a mediocre student, and after graduating he marries more for pity than love. He tries to write little stories while teaching at a second rate school. Family revelations worthy of a soap opera follow, and the end is slightly heroic but tragic. E. M. Forster fans will love it.

As in other Forster novels, action revolves around moments of misunderstanding and betrayal. Scenes are well-drawn and characters are complicated. It should be adapted for Masterpiece Theater. I listen to an audiobook version read by Nadia May. It was a good companion while gardening.

Forster, E. M. The Longest Journey. New York: Vintage Books, 1993. ISBN 0679748156.

9 compact discs. Ashland, OR : Blackstone Audiobooks, p2000. ISBN 0786197323.

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