Novelist Edward Morgan Forster, 42, has awoken from a bad dream and feels relieved.
To attend this two-day festival celebrating the birth of Lord Krishna, Forster has moved from his three-room furnished suite to these rooms in the Old Palace, which offer a better view.
In his dream, Forster was back home in England with his mother Lily, 66, and his cat, Verouka. He dreamt that he had shown Verouka a mechanical doll that scared him. The cat was running round and round in the room above, making a terrible racket.
Forster’s relief comes as he realizes the racket is from a steam engine that is generating electricity for the festival outside his window.
Morgan left England—and his annoying mother—on his second trip to India more than five months ago.
At the beginning of the year, Morgan had written to his primary publisher that he would notify him if he ever got around to writing another book. His third and fourth novels, A Room with a View and Howards End have done well. But they were both published more than a decade ago.
Despairing of his mundane life and his inability to write, Forster prophesied to a friend,
I shall go [on] some long and fantastic journey; but we do not yet know whither or when. I am so sad at the bottom of my mind.”
Days later he received a cable from an old, dear friend, Sir Tukoji Rao IV, the Maharajah of Dewas State, 33, with whom he shares a January 1st birthday.
Sir Tukoji Rao IV
HH, as he is always referred to, decided—for some unfathomable reason—that Forster would be the ideal person to stand in for his private secretary who is going on six-month leave. HH offered Morgan paid return fare and expenses, 300 rupees per month, and his own young male concubine. Morgan had no idea what a “private secretary” would do. Still doesn’t.
But Forster jumped at the chance for a “fantastic journey,” renewed his passport and booked passage to India as soon as he could. Also, he knew his sea voyage would include a brief stopover in Port Said, Egypt, where he hoped to meet up with his Egyptian former lover.
E. M. Forster
His mother emphatically did not want him to leave and became a real pain. His friends in Bloomsbury were not happy either, but slightly more understanding. Fellow novelist Virginia Woolf, 39, thinks she will never see him again; he will become a mystic and forget about his despised life back home in Weybridge. Besides the fact that she likes having him around, Virginia looks to Morgan’s opinions on her writing. The rest of his Bloomsbury friends just think he’s running away from home.
Which he is.
He did spend four idyllic hours in Port Said having sex on a chilly beach with his Egyptian lover.
But now that he is “away,” what’s he supposed to do?! Morgan knows that he doesn’t have the skills necessary to organize the chaotic finances of the palace, and he isn’t any better at supervising the gardens, the garages, or the electricity. He tried to start a literary society, but attendance was patchy and engagement by the participants non-existent. HH asked that Morgan read aloud to him every day; this happens maybe once a month.
Morgan should be using all his free time to write. He had planned to work on what he has called his “Indian Manuscript” which he had started before the Great War. Now he feels that the words on the page melt in the Indian humidity. All he is able to write are deceptively cheery letters back home.
The only bright spots are the instalments on royalties he is receiving from Virginia’s Hogarth press for his supernatural fiction, The Story of the Siren; the most recent was last month on the first anniversary of its publication. The fact that it has sold at all maybe means that he shouldn’t give up trying to write.
“Such Friends”: 100 Years Ago… is the basis for the series, “Such Friends”: The Literary 1920s. Volume I, covering 1920, is available in both print and e-book formats on Amazon. For more information, email me at email@example.com.
This fall I will be talking about Writers Salons in Dublin and London Before the Great War in the Osher Lifelong Learning program at Carnegie-Mellon University.
If you want to walk with me through Bloomsbury, you can download my audio walking tour, “Such Friends”: Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.
Manager as Muse, about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ relationships with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, is available on Amazon in both print and e-book versions.