FORSTER (E.M.) Papers of E.M. Forster's close friend Eric Fletcher, including an extensive series of letters and postcards from Forster, the correspondence spanning over twenty-two years, with photographs, ephemera and other papers

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Lot 236
FORSTER (E.M.)
Papers of E.M. Forster's close friend Eric Fletcher, including an extensive series of letters and postcards from Forster, the correspondence spanning over twenty-two years, with photographs, ephemera and other papers

Sold for £ 31,500 (US$ 43,475) inc. premium
FORSTER (E.M.)
Papers of E.M. Forster's close friend Eric Fletcher, including an extensive series of letters and postcards from Forster spanning over twenty-two years, photographs, ephemera and other papers, comprising:

i) Series of some 250 autograph letters and 70 correspondence cards and postcards signed (variously "EMF", "Morgan Forster", "Morgan"), charting their friendship from Forster's first invitation to take sherry with him at his rooms in King's College in 1947 ("...Very glad if you could come in on Friday at about 6.0 and have a glass of sherry. Hope you're free..." [Michaelmas Term, 1947]) through to Forster's death in 1970; intimate and sometimes amusing letters, revealing Forster's lasting feelings for him ("...I'll end by saying how fond I am of you Eric, and you know it, and I know you're fond of me, and there we are..."); touching on his views on literature ("...Yes, Eric, I have read 1984...or as much of it as I could bear to read. It quite haunts me... the one book of its kind – all other visions of the future even Huxleys go off into mechanics..."); on poetry ("...Poets I like myself are Auden, Vernon Watkins, and sometimes Day Lewis. Don't care for Spender or MacNiece or Christopher Fry..."); a diatribe on critics prompted by Peter Quennell's biography of Ruskin ("...I was interested and repelled... I am not put off the Stones of Venice by being told that Ruskin tossed himself off, but some readers might be deflected or disgusted... It's all part of our old point: the secondary importance of criticism... The critics – supported by a cowardly public which is too timid or too idle to make individual judgments - have got too big for their boots..."); on Robert Frost ("...rustic and friendly, but not devoid of wiles..."); Jude the Obscure ("...And Sue surely is real... [the] subtlest and most successful character he has ever attempted: herself not tragic but a tragedy-carrier...") and Auden ("...Eliot was the better poet in one way..."); his work on the libretto for Billy Budd with Eric Crozier ("...we have roughed the whole opera out and stuffed it with naval details, and I have written out in drama form most of the dialogue... so far no one has quarrelled with any one, or retired to bed with hysteria or with the sulks...") and Benjamin Britten ("...Ben is in the music of the third act. How to make a big bang in the naval engagement? Orchestra or dust bin? Both..."); discussing his work on Two Cheers for Democracy ("...the book is finished and at moments I think it a book. With it under one arm and the ms. of A Passage to India under another – precious loads let us suppose – I staggered last Thursday to town..."); editing his Indian letters and the rediscovery of an unfinished novel, Arctic Summer; the visit of Anwar Masood, son of Syed Ross Masood "...to whom A Passage to India was dedicated... just like his father to look at, and just as generous and amusing in character... we visited Rooksnest (Howards End) on our return... I should like to take you there sometime..."; fears for his friends during the annexation of Hyderabad in 1948 ("...They are Moslems, and heaven knows what will happen to them when the 'liberating' army of India arrives...") his American lecture tour in 1949 ("...terrific... a dinner with the Dr. Kinsey of the Report, a Strip Tease, a Straight Play, ascent of the Empire State Building, a Braque exhibition..."); fears for the future ("...What a world we are all living in! I don't often think of it – the hydrogen-bomb which may merely destroy enormous areas is so terrifying..."); the outcome of the Chatterley obscenity trial ("...one of the few good public items for many months..."); the Profumo Affair ("...what with politicians prostitutes and pluie this is a pretty fucking summer..."); his amusement with the minutiae and politics of college life ("...I wish we weren't such a large college. I get so muddled. However, so does the Provost..."), highlights include the decoration of the Combination Room by Michael Jaffe ("...at the cost of his temper, his manners, and...his sanity... Was the Italian Renaissance like this?..."), visits by Churchill and Nabokov and his involvement in the abortive attempt to get Nehru elected Chancellor of the university ("...Who, alas got the wind up and after keeping us waiting for him and working for him for a fortnight said he wouldn't stand. I don't think he behaved well... So many were in favour... Our Masters and betters have come out very badly, and are furious..."); organising his papers for posterity ("...Dr Jones of Girton is going to help me with my papers... It is very difficult to know whether they have any historic value..."); apologising for not making Fletcher his executor ("...there will be amongst my private papers a good deal of personal-emotional stuff, the handling of which might be vexatious and would certainly be uncongenial and depressing..."); his various illnesses ("...I have been ill one way and another for nearly two years now, yet I don't look back on them as years of pain... Partly through people like Bob and May, and newer friends like yourself, who make one feel one's life is worthwhile. I'm not the least afraid of dying..."); and expounding his views on everything from Christmas ("...The fuss, the cumbersomeness, the obligatory exchange of rubbish, the dentures of commerce gleaming too brightly on the boughs of tree, the ridiculous notion of a child saving us... For the tree – provided it is not donated by the Norwegian Government, I have some feeling...") to the working classes ("...I have a bourgeois sentimentality for the working class, and do not mind the 'likes' and 'sort ofs' with which they adorn their sentences, nor do I mind their four expletives..."); much talk of visits ("...I am off for the week end to the house that was once Howards End..."), holidays ("...Leading event has been visit to the Sitwells in their Tuscan stronghold..."), concerts and theatre ("...They [the Harwoods] took me to "Beyond the Fringe". And Princess Mary came to tea..."), arrangements to meet and travel plans; interspersed with news of family and mutual friends, particularly Bob and May Buckingham, and much else, c.520 pages, the vast majority with envelopes, the usual dust-staining, small tears and wear, 4to and 8vo, King's College, Cambridge, Aldeburgh, Coventry and elsewhere, 16 February 1948 to 28 May 1970

ii) Other correspondence to Eric Fletcher, including five letters from May Buckingham, others from Clementine Poston, Jack Sprott, Forster's solicitor regarding a £100 legacy, Nick Furbank and Mary Lago in the early 1980's with regards to the biography and Calendar ("...Morgan has been very helpful; he says that I can have the free run of his papers, and that he doesn't mind what I say about him..."), and the archivists at King's College, including photocopies of the small number of letters from Fletcher to Forster held there (EMF/18/184/1)

iii) Collection of menus, invitations and other ephemera, including the programme for the first performance of Billy Budd in December 1951, many annotated by Forster; a small group of photographs, some of Forster and Bob Buckingham from the collection of May Buckingham; typed transcripts of Forster's speeches on the occasion of his eightieth birthday 9 January 1959, on Founder's Day, 6 December 1952, titled and annotated by Forster, the opening of the Trevelyan Library at Birkbeck College 1954; typed and handwritten commentaries by Eric Fletcher on Forster's works; two 5" spools of tape recordings of Forster's TV and radio broadcasts, 1970; four volume set, E. M. Forster Critical Assessments, edited by J. H. Stape (Helm Publications); with various newspaper cuttings, articles and magazines etc.

Footnotes

  • "...YOU MAKE ME FEEL THAT I HAVE DONE AND BEEN SOMETHING IN MY LIFE AND THAT ON THE TOP OF THAT YOU HAVE MANAGED TO RESPECT AND LOVE ME, I RESPECT, I LOVE, YOU...": THE LETTERS OF E.M. FORSTER TO HIS GREAT FRIEND ERIC FLETCHER.

    Eric Fletcher met E.M. Forster when he was an undergraduate at King's College between 1945 and 1948. The sixty-eight year old Forster was, by then, firmly settled into Cambridge college life, living the life of a traditional bachelor don, '...he was looked after; he was among friends; he knew the way of life and loved the city and it's buildings... and at his age it was convenient' (P.N. Furbank, E M Forster: A Life, vol.2, 1978, p.277), and modestly put up with his great fame, finding his enormous daily post a nuisance but enjoying a stream of visitors, many of them young men who looked on him as a mentor or sage. One of these young men was Eric Fletcher. They immediately struck up a warm friendship and embarked on this correspondence of 'several hundred letters of gossip, affection and advice' (Furbank, p.278) which would continue until Forster's death. Fletcher embodied Forster's deep set views of liberal humanism; writing of him to William Plomer in November 1948 – '...He's working class (very much so in his speech)... I like him for his outlook as well as for himself – humanist, humanitarian, openly agnostic...' (Furbank, p.278) and later, as Fletcher's referee (also included in the collection), "...I have the highest opinion of his integrity, his general intelligence, his sympathy and his capacity to help. He is well read... has great knowledge of contemporary affairs... his temper is essentially sweet and his judgements are charitable. And he has a sense of humour...".

    This correspondence epitomises everything Forster believed in: 'No one wrote with greater simplicity or originality in defence of such well-worn concepts as liberty, democracy, and tolerance... He distrusted size, pomp, the Establishment, empires, politics, the upper classes, planners, institutions. He put his trust in individuals, small groups and insignificant people, the life of the heart and mind, personal relations' (Noel Annan, DNB). During these final years Forster travelled widely at home and abroad, saw friends and dealt with his large correspondence, 'All the accoutrements of the successful elder stateman's literary life...' (Nicola Beauman, ODNB) but also embarked on some significant late works. The letters describe many happy hours in Aldeburgh during his collaboration with Eric Crozier and Benjamin Britten on Billy Budd, of which he tells a typically amusing annecdote: "...there's a young fisherman here whom we all much like, and who is a great friend of Ben's... I said to him "You know Billy I'm quite as famous as Ben is." He politely and seriously replied "Yes, you're one of the back room boys as does the work"...".

    Although Forster was not to publish another novel in his lifetime after A Passage to India in 1924 (Maurice being published posthumously), he was still writing, publishing amongst others a collection of essays and reviews, Two Cheers for Democracy as a sequel to Abinger Harvest in 1951, and a book of memoirs of his sojourns in India, The Hill of Devi in 1953. In 1960 he stood as a witness for the defence in the trial of the Crown v. Penguin Books after the publication of Lady Chatterley's Lover, which he ruefully describes in these letters as "...one of the few good public items for many months...".

    Sometimes instructive, particularly in the realms of literature and philosophy, sometimes despairing of the modern world, these lively letters are full of gossip and stories, with many references to his past. He talks fondly of the Poston family, inhabitants of Rooksnest, Forster's childhood home and model for Howards End – and it has been said unwitting prototypes for the characters of Charles and Ruth Wilcox - whom he visits. He entertains Anwar Masood, the son of his friend Syed Ross Masood, the dedicatee of A Passage to India and on whom the character of Aziz was based. During the annexation of Hyderabad in September 1948 he worries about the fate of the Masoods ("...I know a large family of brothers there – have known them for over thirty years, during which time they have risen to important positions in the government... They are Moslems, and Heaven knows what will happen to them when the 'liberating' army of India arrives...").

    Throughout the correspondence Forster makes no secret of his feelings for Fletcher and misses him greatly when he leaves Cambridge ("...since you left, Eric, there is no one into whose room I feel I can drop whenever I want to, and where I can sit down and make myself at home even if the owner's out..."). Fletcher himself was reticent in later life about the details of his friendship with Forster but, according to someone who knew him well, while Forster's influence on his intellectual and spiritual life was indisputable, he was always clear that they were never physically intimate. Forster shows a keen almost fatherly interest in Fletcher's career as a teacher ("...a profession I mistrust and don't usually recommend...") and his family life, and was a source of emotional and financial support, generously sending him a "...small cheque dear Eric...for your car..." and a £500 legacy ("...If you do refuse I shall leave you the same sum in my will, but this doesn't seem so satisfactory partly because neither of us will want you to get it, partly because I shan't have the pleasure of seeing you getting it..."). Throughout runs the well-documented and somewhat complicated relationship between Forster and Bob and May Buckingham, and the correspondence demonstrates his dependence on the Buckinghams for his day-to-day care, particularly in the latter years of his life. The Fletchers were at Forster's bedside at the Buckingham's home in Coventry just two days before his death.

    The vast majority of the correspondence to Eric Fletcher listed in Mary Lago's Calendar of the Letters of E.M. Forster, 1985, is included here, with a handful of exceptions. However, a significant group are hitherto unpublished and do not appear in the Calendar. Three have been published in Lago and Furbank's Selected Letters, those from 26 April 1950, no.392, pp.240-41; 25 March 1958, note 2, p.270; and 6 January 1963, no.433, pp.282-3.

    These papers were retained by Eric Fletcher and have been in the family since his death in March 2019. All the proceeds from the sale of the present lot will go to educational and other charities of which, it is hoped, Forster and Fletcher would have approved.
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FORSTER (E.M.) Papers of E.M. Forster's close friend Eric Fletcher, including an extensive series of letters and postcards from Forster, the correspondence spanning over twenty-two years, with photographs, ephemera and other papers
FORSTER (E.M.) Papers of E.M. Forster's close friend Eric Fletcher, including an extensive series of letters and postcards from Forster, the correspondence spanning over twenty-two years, with photographs, ephemera and other papers
FORSTER (E.M.) Papers of E.M. Forster's close friend Eric Fletcher, including an extensive series of letters and postcards from Forster, the correspondence spanning over twenty-two years, with photographs, ephemera and other papers
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