These are some of the letters that E M Forster sent to his friend and fellow writer Lytton Strachey, one of the core members of the Bloomsbury Group. The letters make reference to several of Forster’s works, including A Room with a View and A Passage to India, as well as Forster’s other occupations; in a 1913 letter he writes to Strachey saying that he’s ‘teaching English to eleven policemen of extreme beauty’. Forster’s letters mention several of the writers associated with the Bloomsbury group, including Leonard and Virginia Woolf, as well as other well-known authors such as D H Lawrence.

E M Forster, conscientious objector in Alexandria

Among the most fascinating letters in this collection are the ones Forster sent to Strachey from Egypt during World War One. Like several other members of the Bloomsbury group, Forster opposed the war, and he became a conscientious objector. In a letter written on 30 May 1915, Forster wrote to Lytton Strachey explaining that he was feeling depressed: ‘I have one of the simpler forms of war-malady – can only think of young men killing each other while old men praise them’.

Forster began to pay service in a hospital in Alexandria, Egypt (then a British protectorate) in November 1915 and returned to England in January 1919. He worked as a volunteer ‘searcher’ with the Red Cross, interviewing wounded soldiers in hospitals to find out information about other soldiers who had been reported missing. His letters often focus on the subject which interested him the most, personal relationships, describing for instance the furtive kiss of an injured soldier and a visitor.

In Alexandria Forster also met and began a friendship with the Greek poet Constantine P Cavafy. Forster wrote an essay on Cavafy’s works a few years later, which was published in Pharos and Pharillon: A Novelist's Sketchbook of Alexandria Through the Ages (1923).