CFP: E.M. Forster’s legacy: “Only connect” over a century of British arts

A conference orgainsed at University Toulouse Jean Jaurès (France)

Research team CAS (EA 801)

Convened by Laurent MELLET and Elsa CAVALIÉ

10 and 11 December 2015

Hardly more than one century after British writer E. M. Forster’s first novels were published, this international conference will question the artistic, aesthetic, political and ethical legacy of novels that have often been defined as generically blurred, oscillating as they do between the Victorian and Edwardian legacy and Modernist drives.

Since Forster’s death in 1970, many British novelists and film directors have acknowledged and even claimed the influence of the novelist of the English soul (in Woolf’s terms) and of a renewed faith in both human relationships and a quintessentially British liberal-humanism. We may think here of the film adaptations by James Ivory (A Room with a ViewMauriceHowards End) and David Lean (Passage to India), and of Zadie Smith paying homage to Howards End in her On Beauty (2005).

After the ethical turn at the end of the twentieth century, British literature today seems to go back even more drastically to the figure of the individual human being, and to turn the narrative space into some laboratory of a new form of empowerment of the other’s political autonomy. It is in this context that the references to Forster are more and more frequent, both in British fiction and in academia. Jonathan Coe says that in his latest novel Expo 58 (2013) he wanted to work on the Forsterian motif of the British abroad losing their bearings. In The Guardian Laurence Scott shows how relevant the issues Forster raised in his secret novel about homosexuality, Maurice, are today. In 2014 Palgrave Macmillan published a study by Alberto Fernandez Carbajal entitled Compromise and Resistance in Postcolonial Writing: E. M. Forster’s Legacy. Last year too Damon Galgut, one of the most prominent contemporary South-African writers, turned the Indian periods of Forster’s life and literary output into a novel (Arctic Summer, Atlantic Books).

This conference will not only aim at spotting and theorising this return to Forster today. Rather we will endeavour to trace its genealogy and shed light on the successive modes of the legacy, from Forster’s first novel, Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905) onwards, to the novelisation of Forster himself by Damon Galgut. We know that the history of British fiction in the twentieth century teems with novelists and artists who claimed to adhere to and follow Forsterian ethics. In the light of the striking echoes of Forster in contemporary British culture, how can we analyse his aesthetic and literary legacy in works by writers as significant as Christopher Isherwood, George Orwell, Evelyn Waugh, Angus Wilson, and today, Kazuo Ishiguro, Alan Hollinghurst, Zadie Smith, or Jonathan Coe? How can the principle of connection, of correspondences and echoes, which informed Forster’s private life and approach to writing so much, equally characterise the aesthetic and political influence of his oeuvre? Which Forsterian legacy (ideological, aesthetic, critical) do Postrealist, Postmodernist and contemporary British literature and arts claim?

We might explore the following lines:

–       an analysis of the ethical and aesthetic echoes of the Forsterian choices

–       the evolution of Forster’s redefinitions of Englishness

–       the genealogy of his main ideological and aesthetic patterns (liberal-humanism, only connect, secrecy)

–       a new critical approach to the logical structuring of British literature from Modernism to the present

–       conversely, the possibility to think anew the process of intertextuality and rewriting

–       the Forsterian echoes in contemporary literary theory

–       intermediality/transmediality of the legacy (cinema, opera)

We will also be considering the creation of a structure which could bring together, in France and abroad, scholars and specialists of both Forster and his legacy. It will monitor Forsterian news and publications, organise conferences and symposiums, and take an active part in the publishing of new research on Forster. A Website will be created, to be used as a first platform for exchange and interaction. We will discuss the statuses of this Forsterian association when closing the conference.

As a selection of the proceedings will be published in England, communications will preferably be in English.

Proposals (around 400 words), together with a biographical note, should be sent to Pr Laurent MELLET (lau.mellet@gmail.com) and Dr ElsaCAVALIÉ (elsacavalie@free.fr) by 30 May 2015.

Scientific committee

Dr Christine BERBERICH (University of Portsmouth, England)

Pr Philippe BIRGY (Université Toulouse Jean Jaurès, France, CAS EA 801)

Dr Nicolas Pierre BOILEAU (Aix Marseille Université, France, LERMA EA 853)

Dr Howard J. BOOTH (University of Manchester, England)

Pr Peter CHILDS (Newman University, England)

Dr Alberto FERNANDEZ CARBAJAL (University of Leicester, England)

Pr Jean-Michel GANTEAU (Université Paul Valéry Montpellier 3, France, EMMA EA 741)

Dr Sebastian GROES (Roehampton University, England)

Pr Catherine LANONE (Université Paris 3 Sorbonne Nouvelle, France, PRISMES EA 4398)

Pr Christine REYNIER (Université Paul Valéry Montpellier 3, France, EMMA EA 741)

Pr Jeremy TAMBLING (University of Manchester/University of Hong  Kong/independent scholar, England)