Quote of the Day : E. M. Forster

“The main facts in human life are five: birth, food, sleep, love and death.”

E. M. Forster

The Origins of the Quote

It is purported that these words are from Forster’s collection of short stories titled “The Celestial Omnibus”. All his life Forster triumphed the cause of childhood innocence and curiosity over intellectual snobbery, pretence and posturing. He lauded simplicity, and not necessarily the simple. His sense of observation allowed his to sift and understand nature and nurture. (He consistently presents his characters on a uniform platform, barring their social and economic standing). In this respect his words ring true – for he is talking about the five great levelers that human beings are exposed to. 

Though the book itself is a magical tale of a boy’s discovery of the unknown supported by his imagination, equally unsupported by his parents. Forster’s own life experiences and personal choices can be said to be informing his writing.

His protagonist finds a blind alley opposite his home in Surbiton, marked by a signpost that simply reads, “To Heaven”. From then, he embarks on the most profound adventure and a journey that will lead him to the heavenly realms.

There is no evidence that Forster himself had a difficult life but being a closet homosexual may have been frustrating for the sensitive writer. Moreover, it is known that though his college years were immensely productive, school was where his difficulty lay.

Getting to Know the Man behind the Characters

EM Forster is easily the frontrunner of the idea of ‘liberal humanism’. It is unusual for Forster to be so, given his affluent background and influences. Left with a large inheritance, that secured his future, it was ensured that he would never have to work for an income. But Forster’s journey was invested with discovery, and this would repeatedly reveal itself in his writing. Whether it was ‘A Passage to India’(1924), or ‘Howard’s end’(1910) or the lesser known ‘The Celestial Omnibus and other Stories’(1911).

Born in 1879 at Melcombe Place, London, he was originally named Henry Morgan, but was christened Edward Morgan during the Baptism. Perhaps this altered the course for young Edward!

Forster travelled a great deal with his mother and gathered significant experiences and later read at King’s College in Cambridge. He had a predisposition towards analysing the society within the narrative framework of his writing. He had developed an acute sense of understanding behaviour. It was this element that invested his work with a sensitivity touched with intellect, though never disparaging.

Some Final Thoughts

The subject of Forster’s sexuality comes up repeatedly as he has left in all his writing a submerged trail for those who follow him. His issues of liberalism, and independence and the support of humanity are constant. The references in his writing, to alleys and caves that lead to better planes of existence give away the secret life that he protected.

Not to say that he wasn’t a supreme storyteller, but Forster works at exposing intellectual arrogance and academic pedantry, and the price that it pays. He champions the cause of integrity, authenticity, and the inner soul, forever an advocate of love.  Even in these lines where denotes the ‘facts of life’ in their critical order, he says love instead of sex.

The gentle intellectual, Forster died of a stroke on 7 June 1970 at the age of 91 in Coventry, in London. His sixth and last novel, Maurice, was published posthumously, the next year.


Check out our Quote of the Day archive where we bring you quotes hand picked by me, Divvya Nirula. Sharing the stories, people, moments behind the inspiration and thought provoking words.