E. M. Forster’s Alexandrian Essays

  • Hilda D. Spear


Forster went to Egypt in 1915 to work as a ‘Searcher’ with the Red Cross. Whilst there he travelled extensively, met many people, fell in love and, after more than two years in the country, came to the conclusion that the shiny picture postcard evocation of Egypt was a misrepresentation, that the Egypt he had been led to expect did not exist: ‘O Photographic Egypt! O fantastic and extraordinary land, where art thou, where art thou?’ he asked in an essay published in The Egyptian Mail on 13 January 1918. ‘Photographic Egypt’ was, he claimed, ‘the survival of an old nineteenth century tradition that ours is a sumptuous and exotic country’. In his own word-snapshots he rejected the romantic for the real: his Egypt was a land of twentieth-century people, busy boys rushing down the streets, whistling or spitting out the remnants of chewed sugar cane

A long thin waggon edged with women… a long thin tray… peopled with loaves of bread and balanced upon the head of a man…. A shop-keeper who from a little mug sprinkles water over the ground in front of his shop…. turkeys… Chickens head downwards. Dreamy ducks, Members of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals… A lump of dirt in a corner, proving on closer inspection to be a lady with her baby, both asleep…. This is the sort of thing one sees.

(op. cit.)


North American Literature Modish Gesture Ring Round Sentimental Attachment Italian Notice 
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  1. 1.
    Selected Letters of E. M. Forster eds Mary Lago and P. N. Furbank, (London: Arrow Books 1985), vol. 1, p. 299.Google Scholar

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© Norman Page and Peter Preston 1993

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  • Hilda D. Spear

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