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E. M. Forster: Nature, Culture, Queer! April 13-14, 2018 Ludwigsburg, Germany

The international conference "E. M. Forster: Nature, Culture, Queer!" was the third scholarly gathering organized by the International E. M. Forster Society (,1) with the committee of Krzysztof Fordonski (University of Warsaw), Anna Kwiatkowska (University of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn), and Heiko Zimmermann (University of Education Ludwigsburg). The conference was a celebration of Forster and an opportunity for all Forsterians to come together to look, from all possible perspectives, at nature, culture, and queer in Forster's works and life, updating and enriching the scholarly discourse in this field.

Gemma Moss opened the discussion with her paper on "Women In and Out: Maurice, Feminism and Social Purity." She proposed reading the novel as a challenge to the pressures placed on sexuality by the social purity movement rather than as a rebellion against Victorian social norms or women. Julia Libor presented "An Ecofeminist Approach to E. M. Forster's 'The Machine Stops,'" a subject also related to women. She argued that the oppression applied to people by the man-made Machine, when approached through an ecofeminist background, allows us to see crucial interdependencies between the oppression of nature and marginalized groups such as women or homosexuals. In her "Queer Revisions in A Passage to India," Cynthia Drake examined the implications of Forster's multiple revisions of the Indian novel through a queer lens. She focused on the cave, the place linked to the fear of Indian sexual mayhem, arguing that by revising the story to cover over Adela's fate in the cave, Forster uncovers a queer ethos of uncertainty.

Jana M. Giles also discussed A Passage to India. In "'She Was Particularly Vexed Now': The Posthumanist Sublime in E. M. Forster's: A Passage to India," she explored the connections between nature and culture through the aesthetics of the sublime--the concept, as Giles claimed, Forster radically rewrites. According to her, the writer supplanted transcendent metaphysics with materialist immanence. Nature, approached from a different perspective, was also of interest to Barbara Puschmann-Nalenz. In "E. M. Forster's Fictional Representations of Landscape in England and in the British Raj," she pointed to the difference in the presentation of the landscape of India in A Passage to India and the English landscape in Forster's other novels. While the latter is shown as humanized and pastoral, the former is rendered as an alien space.

Tatiana Prorokova, in "'Facing the Sunshine': The Role of Nature in A Room with a View," discussed yet another aspect of nature. She explored the intricate relationship between nature and humans in the novel to show how they co-exist, constructing a unified ecosystem. In "Entering A Room with a View: Embodying Nature/Culture/Queer," Sarah Saeckel addressed the novel and its characters from the perspective of ecocriticism and cognitive literary studies. Saeckel was concerned predominantly with the analysis of the emotional/cognitive effects of a text on the reader and argued that the experiences of the reader subvert oppositions and "othering" and further empathy for the environment, interculturality, and sexual diversity.

Anna Kwiatkowska also applied the intercultural perspective in "Seriously Mocking Interiors and Their Mockingly Serious Inhabitants in Where Angels Fear to Tread by E. M. Forster." She discussed the role irony plays in the descriptions of interiors in the novel, demonstrating how the relationship between space and its participants enhances the creation of the ironic image of characters. Richard Canning also referred to the same novel in his paper devoted to Forster and Firbank. In "'Breaking a Butterfly upon a Wheel': The Secret Love of E. M. Forster and Ronald Firbank," he discussed the lives and writings of both authors in order to reveal why Forster's estimate of Firbank simultaneously embraced and dismissed the novelist for his delicacy, fantasy, and absurdity.

In "De-/Re-queering Virgil: Forster's 'Other Kingdom' and the Second Eclogue," David Scourfield showed how Virgil's poem informs the story in significant ways, serving both to idealize the pastoral world into which the central figure, Evelyn Beaumont, vanishes and to underscore the threat of the world of civilization that abuts it. He further demonstrated how the love triangle of the short story is mapped onto the love triangle of the Virgilian poem. Parker Gordon took on a similar, pastoral topic in "E. M. Forster, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and William Blake's Pastoral Pageant: Literary and Musical Allusions to the Past." Gordon claimed that while the scholarship analyzing the works of Blake within Vaughan Williams's music is plentiful, a gap exists in research on Forster and Blake, especially in relation to the depictions of the pastoral. In "Representing Queer Experience: Maurice and Damon Galgut's Arctic Summer," Howard Booth looked at how both texts negotiate and represent the closet, insult, shame, and the internalization of societal opprobrium--topics much discussed in queer theory.

Claire Monk concentrated on the popular reception and expansion of Maurice. In "Queer Nature in Maurice Fanfictions," she explored the impact of the novel on the 21st-century online fandoms. She focused on the productive, creative, and social engagement of Maurice fanfiction, and specifically on the treatment of queer nature in these stories. Daniel Monk argued in "E. M. Forster's Will: A Posthumous Publication?" that The Longest Journey and Howards End demonstrate an acute awareness of the practical and symbolic significance of inheritance practices and testamentary wishes. He pointed to Forster's last will in order to show that it should not be looked at only as the case of a functional legal document but also as a highly reflexive text that constructs a compelling narrative about place, social class, family, kinship, avuncularity, and friendship.

Nour Dakkak examined the same two novels, yet her interest in them evolved around symbolic undertones. In "'Trailing Noiselessly': Walking the Material Landscape in Howards End and The Longest Journey," Dakkak looked at the meanings coded in the places presented in the two novels. She was not concerned with the landscape as a distant symbol, however, but with the fact that it influences the characters' habits, everyday life, and sense of belonging. Finally, Krzysztof Fordonski debated the TV and radio adaptations of the works of Forster. His argument was that they kept Forster's popularity as a writer alive in a period when he no longer wrote fiction, paving the way for the Academy Award-winning movies in the 1980s and 1990s.

A number of lightning talks also covered a wide range of topics and related to various works of Forster. In her talk "Maurice's Love: Coming Out Hasn't Changed. 'By linking their love to the past he linked it to the present,'" Peggy Wood focused on the character's coming-out process and compared the process as presented in Forster's novel with the coming-out process in today's world. Sujan Mondal, in "Tryst with Syed Ross Masood: E. M. Forster's Cross-Cultural Encounter at Aligarh," discussed Forster's encounter with the Muslim people of Aligarh and how this shaped the writer's understanding of Indo-Muslim culture. In "Forster's Tourists: Queering Culture through Foreign Landscapes," Ursula Kluwick concentrated on the tourist characters in Forster's novels and presented them as environmentally and culturally mobile figures straddling conflicting impulses, cultural codes, and environments. Tarik Gulcu, in "Foster's Prophetic Response to Kipling's Progressivism: 'The Machine Stops,'" talked about different responses to technology in the respective works, contrasting Kipling's progressivism with Foster's apocalyptic approach.

In his "The Car in the Novel: Constructing the Image of Early Motoring in E. M. Forster's Howards End," Maciej Adamski aimed at showing the linguistic importance of the car theme in the duality of the world presented in Howards End. Randi Saloman delivered a talk entitled "From 'Only Connect' to Autocorrect: Editing Forster for the 21st Century," in which she pointed to the importance of an updated annotated version of A Room with a View for classroom use in the context of teaching the novel to American students. Heiko Zimmermann looked at the interplay of the three entities--nature, culture and queer(ness)--in the works of Forster. In his "E. M. Forster: Nature, Culture, Queer!", Zimmermann argued that works of Forster construct the connections between two items of this triad via the mediation of the respective third item.

The conference also featured a poster session, equally engaging and thought-provoking. Four of the lightening talks' participants also prepared posters that served as either illustrations of or complements to--or both--their short presentations. The participants could also explore the poster by Sabine Tomas, "Progressive Views of Women in E. M. Forster," which pointed to the Victorian ideal of the "Angel in the House" as well as its modifications at the turn of the twentieth century.

The final session was the meeting of the IEMFS members. The participants summed up the event and deliberated over the future plans of the society. Among others, the next Forster conference was discussed and planned. It is scheduled for April 2020, Cambridge. The decision and initial consent from the university was obtained, and an advance notice of the Forster conference has already been dispatched.

The 2018 E. M. Forster International Conference in Ludwigsburg proved very successful. Diverse topics, thorough analyses, well-researched and well-argumented theses, fascinating details, and methodological richness combined with the personal involvement of all the presenters resulted in refreshing as well as mind-stimulating discussions. In effect, the conference showed that intertextual, interdisciplinary, and intermediary approaches allow for a thorough, complex, and multi-perspective examination of Forster's oeuvre. The symposium pointed to the fact that there is still plenty to discover and reveal by Forsterians. Additionally, the conference became a motivating force to look further at and deeper into the works and life of Forster and, above all, to promote and encourage the reading/listening/watching of the works of the versatile writer.

The academic program and some audio recordings of the conference are available at

(1) The first one was organized in 2010 at the University of Warsaw, and the second in 2016 at the University of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn, Poland.

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Author:Kwiatowska, Anna; Fordonski, Krzysztof; Zimmermann, Heiko
Publication:Papers on Language & Literature
Geographic Code:4EUGE
Date:Sep 22, 2019
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