Tea in Cambridge
October 27, 1961 Cambridge. Tea with E. M. Forster in his rooms at King’s College. Several times the conversation grinds to a stop, each of them agonizing because Forster’s silences are so acutely critical. Each time, moreover, it is Forster who artificially resuscitates the talk, with questions such as: ‘Did you come on the two-thirty-six train?’ When Tolkien’s1 name comes up, he says ‘I dislike whimsicality and I cannot bear good and evil on such a scale. But surprisingly I liked Thomas Mann’s The Holy Sinner.2 Mann always knew a great deal, of course, but his other books were so heavy.’ Don Quixote is mentioned, and Forster says, ‘I never reached the end of it, did you?’ — and though obviously I did not, I wonder if I would admit it if I had. He talks about meeting Tagore in 1910, and about a trip to Uganda,3 this prompted by a question of mine concerning an object on his table, a smooth white box with wires attached to the base, like a jew’s-harp. ‘The natives played these instruments as they worked on the roads’, he says. ‘They cut the telephone wires for “strings.”’
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- 1.J. R. R. Tolkien (1892–1973), Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford, whose Lord of the Rings trilogy (1954–5) enjoyed a vogue into the 1970s.Google Scholar