A character on MI-5 used E.M. Forster’s Two Cheers for Democracy as a source for old time codes. I was intrigued so I got the book. Forster is such a good writer and this collection of essays, all written around and after World War II, contain lively insights which are still worth reading.
Topics covered include politics, arts, and places. The first section contains articles about the Nazism brewing in Germany and the prospect o war, which are interesting looks back into another era. In another essay he writes about the beginning of what would become one of London’s first libraries. I found the essay on Virginia Woolf interesting as he chastises her for being too aggressively feminist. Now that’s nothing new, but he seemed generally on the side of feminism, but he expected women would be completely equal by say 1950. Right, we wish.
There’s an essay on the origins of the London Library. If Thomas Carlyle could have easily gotten all the reference books he needed, perhaps it wouldn’t be. Carlyle was working on a biography of Cromwell and couldn’t easily cross town every time he needed some facts. Thus he found a patron for this library. This essay not only tells of the origins of the London Library but praises libraries in general as they serve to help all to increase their knowledge. Noble indeed.
On his first trip to America Forster writes of seeing vaguely familiar birch trees in the Berkshires.
“Was I in England? Almost, but not quite. That was again and again to be my sensation, and in the Arizona Desert I was to feel I was almost but not quite in India, and in Yosemite Valley that it was not quite Switzerland. America is always throwing out these old-world hints, and then withdrawing them in favour of America.”
Like Waugh and Greene, whose Heart of the Matter I’m now reading, Forster’s writing is superb. Forster is obviously a well-heeled man. Reading these essays is like befriending this incredibly well-rounded man who shares everything he knows about culture, politics, government, publishing.
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