Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘E M Forster’

Serendipity and E M Forster

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 10th February, 2019

8D7FA5BF-072B-4D30-AF67-E45E0A170EC8Last week, walking home from the tube in London, I saw that a neighbour (unknown) had left out a dozen books or so on a wall for passers-by to pick up and take away. By chance my eyes fell on an old Penguin edition of E M Forster’s Howards End, which I had never read, despite a great affection for the author and his work. I guess this was because as a young man during my intense fiction-reading days I was attracted to the continental and the exotic, whereas Howards End sounded terribly English. As indeed it is, as I have discovered as I savour it in moments of leisure while I am travelling in Oman. But it is deliciously satirical of the English middle class — especially those who did not have to work for a living — and as Christopher Isherwood once memorably put it, Forster “tea-tables” the emotions and the dramas, with a precise and critical eye for detail. I sometimes hear older people say, “Oh, I wish I had known about such-such-a-book years ago!” But I am glad that I have happened upon Howards End in later life. I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much half a century ago. Moreover, the serendipity of spotting it on the wall in London, picking it up and bringing it with me to Oman somehow enhances the pleasure in reading it. And, yes, when I finish it, I will leave the 1957 paperback on a wall or the seat in a bus shelter to ensure the book’s next chance encounter.

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Alexandria’s Cavafy Museum

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 3rd November, 2009

CavafyThe celebrated Greek poet Constantine Cavafy (1863-1933)was born and died in Alexandria, though in between he spent time in Constantinople (Istanbul) and Liverpool (sic). He was part of that extraordinary ethnic Greek bourgeoisie which ran so much of the commerce in Egypt’s main port city in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, though he personally earned his living as a journalist. This morning I visited his apartment, which is now a museum: a roomy, high-ceilinged, second-floor dwelling in the city centre . There is not much furniture left in situ, apart from in the bedroom, but it is still an atmospheric place and there are plenty of period photographs and copies of books by and about Cavafy in various languages, as well as a small exhibition about his fellow Alexandrian Greek scribe, Stratis Tsirkas. Cavafy enjoyed the bohemian nature of the neighbourhood (also celebrated in Lawrence Durell’s Alexandria Quartet), writing: ‘Where could I live better? Below, the brothel caters for the flesh. And there is the Church which forgives sin. And there is the hospital where we die.’

Some of Cavafy’s poetry was homoerotic, though in keeping with the conventions of the time, he kept his own personal life discreet. However, he did enjoy a good gossip with another one-time Alexandrian resident, the British novelist E M Forster, who met the love of his life (a young tram conductor) in this city. It’s hard to imagine quite what this place was like in the inter-war years, despite all the books and the photos, because so many of the residents of the time — Greeks, Italians, Armenians, Jews — had to leave and most of the places they frequented closed. From 1956 onwards, the city became resolutely Egyptian, and it is now best savoured by the locals as a summer holiday resort thanks to its beaches and sea breezes.

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