The Spike or Victoria University College Review 1948
'The Longest Journey' (1907) comes in point of time between the two novels just discussed. But in effect it is the synthesis of these two in which all the problems there implied or expressed are here presented in a heightened emotional form. It is a far greater book than the other two and one in which. Forster attempts to reconcile the fundamentalpage break page break page 9
problems of the true relationship of human beings one with another and with the universe. If he fails it is a splendid failure. The conflict again is between the real and the pretended. The urgent need for the human spirit to remain unclouded and unimpeded by the corrupting influence of social conventions. It is a little disconcerting to find that the touchstone is the elemental Stephen Wonham to whom ultimately all problems are referred for their final answer. Stephen is the symbol of life. He is a man of fine limbs, great physical strength and little learning. An agnostic reared on the Wiltshire Downs among the shepherds, his bed often as not the hills, his companions the stars and wind in the trees in the mystic circle of the 'Rings'. One who has been far back and sat with the Gods in the fields of Elysium. In his company his half-brother Rickie is at long last brought to realize 'The man (Stephen) was right and would have been lovable. He longed to be back riding over those windy fields, to be back in those mystic circles, beneath pure sky. There they could have watched and helped and taught each other until the world was a reality and the past not a torn photograph but Demeter the Goddess rejoicing in the spring. Ah, if he had seized those high opportunities! For they led to the highest of all, the symbolic moment, which if a man accept he has accepted life'. And so Rickie accepts Stephen. He leaves his wife who has wed him to the conventions and joins Stephen and his Cambridge friend Anse11, who ' kept away and somehow saved himself'. He (Rickie) stood behind things at last and knew that the conventions are not majestic, and that they will not claim us in the end.' Out of the chaos had emerged one fierce burning light. Stephen was a hero. He was a law unto himself and rightly. He was great enough to despise our small moralities. This evening Rickie caught Ansell's enthusiasm and felt it worthwhile to sacrifice everything for such a man." His disillusionment soon follows. Inexplicably the light turns dim, splutters and dies out. Stephen breaks a solemn promise to Rickie who now 'remembered that Stephen was a law unto himself. He had chosen to break his word and would break it again. Nothing else bound him. To yield to temptation is not fatal for most of us. But it was the end of everything for a hero.' Rickie is finally ruined. From the bridge the whole constellation was visible and Rickie said "May God receive me and pardon me for trusting the earth" . . . then he leant against the parapet and prayed passionately for he knew that the conventions would claim him soon.' Soon after he is killed, while rescuing Stephen who lay drunk on a railway crossing nearby. While we are convinced of Rickie's failure, can we accept Stephen as the apotheosis of mankind? Has Forster unwittingly falsified the situation and endowed Stephen with qualities which he could not conceivably possess. I believe this to be so. 'Forster's fundamental error consists of invoking the spiritual principle and then referring it for its ultimate sanction—not to God, to the supernatural, a resort which would have had the effect of thoroughly disequilibrizing Forster's mental pattern and bringing it to a new and revolutionary centrality—but to Nature.'† There is a basic inconsistency in Forster's appeal to Nature. Thus he says, 'There is indeed another coinage that bears on it not man's image but God's. It is incorruptible and the soul may trust it safely; it will serve beyond the stars. But it cannot give us friends, or the embrace of a lover, or the touch of children, for with our fellow-mortals it has no concern. . . . Have we learnt the true discipline of a bankruptcy if we turn to such a coinage as this? Will it really profit us so much if we save our souls and lose the world?' No, Forster proclaims, for Stephen has saved his soul who has turned not to God but to the earth and stars and deep dark rivers of night. Where then is the point of contact between the spirit of man and nature? Wherein lies the real union between the external world of nature and man's soul? Forster does not tell us for in Stephen there is no true union. The last we know of him as the book closes is that he had fled with his girl child to sleep out on the hillside. Thinking of the departed Rickie it is said,' . . . The body was dust, and in what ecstacy of his could it share? The spirit had fled in agony and loneliness, never to know it had bequeathed him salvation. . . . One thing re-mained that a man of this sort might do. He bent down reverently and saluted the child: to whom he had given the name of their page 10 mother. 'Man turns in the night not to God but to man. To his own kind. Although the soul must trust God who is 'beyond the stars' Stephen turns to his own child for therein lies man's fulfilment. Forster has rejected the supernatural which' is incorruptible and which the soul may trust' in favour of—Nature.