This is a selection of the letters that E M Forster sent to the academic and birth control campaigner Marie Stopes from 1940 to 1941. During World War Two Forster lived in Abinger with his mother, and Marie Stopes was their neighbour. The correspondence between Forster and Stopes often contains references to their respective work – Stopes sent Forster her 1940 collection of poetry Oriri, complaining that it had not elicited many reviews.

Unsurprisingly, given the dates the letters were written, the war and its protagonists are recurrent topics in their conversation. In a 1941 letter Forster writes admiringly about Churchill, commenting that his coarseness ‘is somehow allied with aristocratic decency and compassion’. This selection also includes a letter written by Stopes to Forster in which she states that she has a present for Forster’s mother, an onion, a valuable commodity in times of food rationing.

Who was Marie Stopes?

Dr Marie Stopes was a paleo-botanist, a eugenicist, and an activist for birth control. She studied at University College London and took her PhD at the Botanical Institute in Munich. Her book Married Love, a manual on sexology, was published in 1918 and became an instant success. In 1921 Stopes opened a birth control clinic in Holloway, north London, aiming to care for the reproductive health of working class women. Stopes’ attitude to eugenics, a theory which underlies her ideas about the benefits of family planning, remains a subject of controversy with historians and critics.

Although Stopes’ literary ambitions are less well known, she was the author of several collections of poetry and plays, and throughout her life she corresponded with several well-known literary figures, including George Bernard Shaw.