Monthly Archives: June 2019

E.M. Forster & E. Nesbit

British novelist, essayist, and social and literary critic Edward Morgan (E.M.) Forster died on 7 June 1970, which seems incredibly recent given that he was born in the Victorian era, in 1879.

BBC Hulton Picture Library

In 1909, Edith Nesbit read A Room with a View, Forster’s third novel, which had been published the year before. She loved it so much that she invited him to lunch at her flat to discuss his work. While he was there, Forster, who was two decades her junior and a shy and awkward man, knocked over a towering pile of plates while closing a window at her request. Nesbit responded kindly, assuring him that she had purchased these plates for practically nothing from a bric-a-brac stall at the Caledonian Market in Islington.

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E. Nesbit’s home at Well Hall

They became friends and Forster visited Nesbit at her home at Well Hall in Eltham. On one occasion, in 1911, she played the pianola for him and they strolled through her lovely orchard, discussing their shared passion for books. At sunset, Forster joined family and fellow guests in the garden to watch Nesbit burn a cardboard model depicting rows of factories and terraced housing. She detested the creeping urbanisation that was encroaching on her once-secluded home.

NesbitCover

For more on Nesbit and her circle, look out for my new biography, which will be published by Duckworth/Prelude in October 2019.

 

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“I should never have married at all if I had not been dead at the time.” GBS

Charlotte_and_George_Bernard_Shaw,_Beatrice_and_Sidney_Webb,_1932

Charlotte and Bernard Shaw (centre) with Sidney Webb and Beatrice Webb     Library of the LSE

On 1 June 1898, Irish playwright and thinker George Bernard Shaw married Charlotte Frances Payne-Townshend, a wealthy Irishwoman, fellow Fabian and champion of women’s rights. Shaw wrote of his new wife:

She, being also Irish, does not succumb to my arts as the unsuspecting and literal Englishwoman does; but we get on together all the better, repairing bicycles, talking philosophy and religion… or, when we are in a mischievous or sentimental humour, philandering shamelessly and outrageously.

As was his wont, he considered himself captured prey, pounced upon when at his most vulnerable. “I should never have married at all,” he told his friend Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, “if I had not been dead at the time.” The nature of this perceived entrapment was that he had fallen off his bicycle and agreed to recuperate in her home. In truth, they got on terribly well. According to fellow Fabian Beatrice Webb they were “constant companions, pedalling round the country all day, sitting up late at night talking.”

When it came to sex, they reached a mutually satisfactory understanding:

As man and wife we found a new relation in which sex had no part. It ended the old gallantries, flirtations, and philanderings for both of us. Even of those it was the ones that were never consummated that left the longest and kindliest memories.

They stayed together until Charlotte’s death in 1948. In 1950, when Shaw died, their ashes were mixed, then scattered along footpaths and around the statue of Saint Joan in their garden.

This is an extract from my new biography, The Life and Loves of E. Nesbit, which will be published on 17 October 2019. Further details here.

References:

Michael Holroyd. Bernard Shaw: the search for love 1856-1898.Chatto & Windus, 1988

G.B. Shaw. Sixteen Self-SketchesDodd, Mead, 1949

Wilfrid Scawen Blunt. My Diaries 1900-1914: The Coalition Against Germany. A.A. Knopf, 1923

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Filed under Book Excerpt, Essay, History