British writer E.M. Forster is born on this day in London. Forster’s architect father died when he was two, and Forster was raised by his mother and a great-aunt in an old house called Rooksnest, which later became the model for the country estate portrayed in Howard’s End. Forster was teased and tormented mercilessly at the private school he attended as a day student, and remained shy and timid throughout the rest of his life. However, he found intellectual companionship during his university years at King’s College, Cambridge, where he joined a secret society of intellectuals called the Apostles.
Forster began contributing essays and stories to the newly formed Independent Review in 1903 and published his first novel, Where Angels Fear to Tread, two years later. Like many of his later books, the novel looked at English discomfort with foreign cultures. Forster traveled widely, visiting Greece, Italy, and India, and later served with the Red Cross in Alexandria, Egypt, from 1915 to 1919.
At home in England, Forster made many close friends among the intellectual and literary “Bloomsbury set,” including Virginia Woolf. Forster’s fifth novel, A Passage to India, now considered his greatest work, was the last novel that Forster published in his lifetime. The novel explored racism and colonialism through the story of an English tourist who accuses a respected Indian doctor of attacking her. A sixth novel, Maurice, which dealt with homosexuality, was published after his death. In 1946, Forster received an honorary fellowship from his alma mater, which allowed him to live in Cambridge during the rest of his life. He died in 1970, at the age of 91.