What I Believe by E M Forster

Description

E M Forster’s essay ‘What I Believe’ was published by the Hogarth Press in 1939. It is one of his best-known essays, and in it he expresses some of his humanistic beliefs. Written in the year of the outbreak of the Second World War, ‘What I Believe’ is a defence of democracy and secular values against the advance of totalitarian regimes in Europe. Forster argues that there are two main advantages to democracy. First, it allows individual expression; secondly, it permits criticism.

Forster and the importance of personal relations

Despite the title of his essay, Forster was wary of political declarations and manifestos, and begins his work with a paradoxical statement: ‘I do not believe in Belief’. What Forster believes in is personal relationships, which he sees as something ‘solid in a world full of violence and cruelty’. Forster stresses three values he views as fundamental: tolerance, good temper and sympathy. But ‘What I Believe’ also contained some controversial ideas, such as the well-known extract below:

Personal relations are despised today. They are regarded as bourgeois luxuries, as products of a time of fair weather which is now past, and we are urged to get rid of them, and to dedicate ourselves to some movement or cause instead. I hate the idea of causes, and if I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.

Forster’s words were particularly divisive considering that they were written in a period in which the involvement of Britain in another world war was becoming increasingly inevitable. While Forster was not unpatriotic, he placed a greater importance on personal loyalty than on national belonging.

Full title:
What I Believe
Published:
1939, London
Publishers:  
Hogarth Press
Format:
Book
Creator:
E M Forster
Usage terms:

© The Provost and Scholars of King's College, Cambridge and The Society of Authors as the E.M. Forster Estate. You may not use the material for commercial purposes. Please credit the copyright holder when reusing this work.  

Held by:
British Library
Shelfmark:
W.P.13532/1.

Full catalogue details

Related articles

London during the Blitz: a landscape of fear and shadows

Article by:
Greg Buzwell
Theme:
Power and conflict

During the Second World War, Nazi Germany conducted a sustained bombing campaign on cities and towns across Britain. The raids killed 43,000 civilians and lasted for eight months. Here Greg Buzwell examines how novelists have woven the effects of the Blitz into their work, from Graham Greene and Elizabeth Bowen in the 1940s to Sarah Waters in the 21st century.

Howards End and the condition of England

Article by:
Barbara C. Morden
Theme:
Literature 1900–1950

Barbara Morden considers social dislocation and the search for a home in E M Forster’s novel.

E M Forster’s gay fiction

Article by:
Kate Symondson
Themes:
Exploring identity, Gender and sexuality, Literature 1900–1950

A year after E M Forster's death, his novel about a relationship between two men, Maurice, was published. Kate Symondson explores how Forster's sexuality shaped his writing and the long period during which he didn't publish anything at all.

Related collection items

Related people

Related works

Howards End

Created by: E M Forster

The Howards End of E M Forster’s 1910 novel is a country house where the action begins and ends. The building ...

Maurice

Created by: E M Forster

Maurice was published in 1971, a year after E M Forster’s death. Forster began writing his ‘gay ...

A Passage to India

Created by: E M Forster

E M Forster began writing A Passage to India after his first visit to India in October 1912. The impetus to write ...

A Room with a View

Created by: E M Forster

The title of E M Forster’s third novel, A Room with a View (1908) refers to the booking that his characters, ...