Cavafy and Forster G.P. Savidis
Few Anglo-Greek literary friendships have proved more lasting and mutually beneficial than that between C. P. Cavafy and E. M. Forster, though in fact the two men saw each other only during 1916-18 and then once again, briefly, in 1922, and finally for a few hours, in 1929, four years before Cavafy’s death. Homosexuality probably contributed to their bond of grateful solidarity, yet we can be reasonably certain that they never became lovers. When they first met, Forster was 37 and Cavafy 53; and as Forster confided to me in 1964 "it was not until my last Egyptian visit (ie, September 1929), that we spoke simply and naturally. I am always so happy that this was achieved".
     The published evidence for this friendship is limited to four items of Forster’s bibliography: his essay on "The Poetry of C. P. Cavafy", first published in The Nation and the Athenaeum (April 25, 1919) and then included in Pharos and Pharillon (1923); an interview of him in the Greek newspaper Tachydromos (of Alexandria), September 26, 1929; his dedication of the second edition of Alexandria: A History and a Guide (1938) "To C. P. C.", which is elaborated at the end of the Preface as: "to C. P. Cavafy, Greek by birth, Alexandrian in spirit, and a great poet"; and his review of John Mavrogordato’s translation of Cavafy’s Poems, first published in The Listener (July 5, 1951) and immediately included in Two Cheers for Democracy (but omitted in the American edition). More evidence is likely to emerge from Forster’s diary and correspondence; also from what Forster once described to me as "a skit" in which Cavafy makes an appearance [see P.P.S., p. 178.]
     On Cavafy’s side there is only unpublished evidence: some handwritten dedications of books and pamphlets, and the correspondence preserved in the Cavafy Papers ¯which intermittently covers the years 1917-32 and fortunately includes the drafts of most of his letters to Forster ("a mixture here of caution and courtesy", according to the latter). This correspondence will soon, I hope, appear in toto edited by Robert Rowe; therefore from the original letters and drafts that are in my possession (along with the main bulk of the Cavafy Papers) I have only chosen the two letters presented here by kind permission of the Provost and Scholars of King’s College, Cambridge, and of Mrs Kyveli A. Singopoulo.
     The first letter, hastily written in pencil, takes us back to the beginnings of the friendship: Forster still misspells Cavafy’s name; yet the gravity of his friend’s moral crisis (hitherto unknown to Cavafists) urges him to become more personal than in any of his following letters. The result, I believe, is one of Forster’s most beautiful private utterances, a timely encouragement in Cavafy’s dejection at the threshold of his greatest creative period, and also a decisive step in their relationship.
     For readers who may not be familiar with Forster’s essays on Cavafy, I should add that George Valassopoulo was a contemporary of Forster’s at King’s, a Greek lawyer living in Alexandria, and Cavafy’s main translator into English until the appearance of John Mavrogordato (1939).
British Red Cross Convalescent Hospital No 7
Dear Cavaffy [sic],
Valassopoulo was over this afternoon and told me that since I saw you something occurred that has made you very unhappy; that you believed the artist must be depraved: and that you were willing he should tell the above to your friends. It made me want to write to you at once, though I gathered nothing clear from him and consequently do not know what to say.
     Of late I have been happier than usual myself, and have accepted my good luck with thankfulness and without reservation. But I suspect that at the bottom of one’s soul one craves not happiness but peace. I seem to see this when the tide is flowing strongly neither way ¯I mean when I am disturbed by no great predominance of either joy or sorrow. I don’t write this to console you¯ consolation is a very inferior article which can only be exchanged between people who are not being quite straight with one another. Only there does seem something fundamental in man that is unhappy perhaps, but not with these surface unhappinesses, and that finds its repose not in fruition but in creation. The peace that passeth all understanding is the peace at the heart of a storm. In other words ¯in extremely other words!¯ you will go on writing, I believe.
     V. and I discussed depravity a little, but not to much effect. He seemed to connect it with passion to which it is (for me) the absolute antithesis. I am not sure that I connect it with curiosity even; though if it exists at all it exists as something cold ¯and would consequently not be a particularly useful ingredient to the artist. That is the only thing I can tell you about depravity ¯its temperature. It has nothing to do with material. No action, no thought, is per se depraved.
     These two paragraphs are very muddle headed and I shall hardly clear them by telling you that in each I have thought of Dante; first of his remark that the Herald Angels promised not happiness but peace; secondly of the centre of his Hell, which was ice, not fire.
     I came here for a couple of days, but as there is work and the Matron kindly urges me, am stopping on. I shall come and see you as soon as I return. This letter doesn’t ¯then or now¯ expect an answer. It is only to remind you that among your many friends you have one on the edge of your life in me.
E. M. Forster.
     The second letter, carefully written in ink, brings us to the last stage of their friendship. Cavafy is now 66 yet not fully established as a poet in Greece, let alone in England, while Forster is 50 and with an international reputation mainly due to A Passage to India (1924). From Cavafy’s letter one would hardly guess that their relationship had ¯as we saw above¯ finally achieved a degree of informality. When I questioned Forster about this permanent difference of tone between the two correspondents, he wrote back with typical modesty: "It is natural that his [letters] should be the more reserved. He was not as anxious to know me as I him" (January 6, 1964).
     I must make clear that it was the late Rika Singopoulo, Cavafy’s unofficial secretary and the first wife of his heir, who interviewed Forster for the Alexandrian daily Tachydromos; that T. S. Eliot is mentioned in his capacity of editor of The Criterion; and that although the draft of his letter is preserved among the Cavafy Papers, I am transcribing here the final text (which differs in two minor points) from the photograph of the original which Forster gave me for publication in January 1950, followed by a note ending: "It is sheer honour for me to have my name linked with Cavafy’s".
10 Rue Lepsius,
15 October, 1929
My dear Forster,
     Your letter of the 26th September from on board gave me great pleasure.
     Your stay here was too short, and I am glad to read you contemplate coming to Alexandria again. The hours we were able to spend together were too few: our friendship required more. At least, during these few hours I had the opportunity to express to you fully my admiration for that beautiful book A Passage to India, to explain the reasons for my admiration. They have become, ever since 1924, companions of mine: Mrs Moore, Fielding, Aziz, Adela, Heaslop, McBryde. I walk into the Club, and get much agitated by the "women and children" ñÞìáôá [ie, exclamations, in this context]. I am in Heaslop’s house and listen, knowingly, to "red nine on black ten", which of course pertains to the [game of] patience, but is also indicative of a firm decision to keep out of the inane mess.¯
     The interview appeared in the Tachydromos of the 26th September, and Mme Singopoulo tells me she has sent you two copies of the issue. She also tells me that the portrait of you by Rothenstein ¯Graphic 8 November 1924¯ was chosen because she had been informed by the Tachydromos that they could not obtain a satisfactory print from the other, Illustrated London News 11 October 1924.
     I am delighted at your intention to place in the Nation one of the translations of my poems; and I am glad it is easy for you to communicate with Eliot.
     If you see Dobrée, remember me to him, please.
      Ever yours,
C. P. Cavafy
     I hope that the presentation of these two letters will accelerate the publication of the complete correspondence and a fresh investigation of the intellectual and spiritual relationship between Cavafy and Forster. Robert Liddell, in his recent biography of Cavafy (Duckworth, 1974), rightly stresses that Forster "was to do more for his [ie, Cavafy’s] reputation in the West than any other man". Yet this is not enough.
     Already, G. D. Klingopoulos, in his essay, "E. M. Forster’s Sense of History and Cavafy" (Essays in Criticism, XIII, April 2, 1958), has argued persuasively, if not exchaustively, the case for Cavafy’s "influence" on Forster to "explore the possibility of a less hubristic, less romantic, yet truly courageous, view of history". And it is gratifying to see his view shared and enlarged by Wilfred Stone (The Cave and the Mountain, Stanford 1966).
     But it seems only fair to add, as a reasonable working hypothesis, that the "influence" (I hate the word!) must have been mutual, with Alexandria acting as a catalyst. One possibility is that Forster’s "firm position on the Imperial question" (Lionel Trilling, E. M. Forster, Hogarth Press, 1944), may have crystallized Cavafy’s view of the Roman Empire, just as Cavafy’s erotic liberation as a poet may have contributed to die rewriting of Maurice (1929, 1932 and 1959-60) and to the remarkable cathartic progress of some stories first published in The Life to Come (1922-58).
     If the first part of this hypothesis can be corroborated by an unprejudiced reading of Stratis Tsirkas’s more mature studies (in O Politikos Kavafis, Kedros, 1971), the second part is not as wishful as it may appear. In the letter presented above, Cavafy’s "caution and courtesy" prevented him from making any reference to the following paragraph of Forster’s letter of 29th September, which is marked in the margin: "(Private, this)".
     I wish I could have stopped longer. There was so much to say, and I quite forgot to tell you that I have written a novel and some short stories which cannot be published, and which I should like you to have seen. But you would have to come to England to see them, and this you will never do!
     Having perforce poached on the preserves of Eng Lit, I hasten to retreat into a final quotation of evidence, a letter sent to me by Forster:
K. C. C.
Jan. 25, 1958
Dear George,
     I have just finished, with a good deal of excitement and occasional doubts, Marguerite Yourcenar’s Cavafy. I don’t like the translation, the preface has not the authoritative tone I found in her Hadrian, and the Parisian interventions of Mallarmé, Utrillo etc rather jar. But she says many good things, and when I have written to you I must try to write to her and tell her so. (Not but what she is likely to know about them already.) One of them is her discovery that Cavafy is, and always potentially was, an old poet; another, her suggestion that his own erotic life may never have been continuous or strong. And she does bring out, though without stating it, his triumph ¯a triumph that has nothing to do with success. Sick of getting through my final years by British jokiness, I have had a timely reminder of another method.
     I turned from her translation to Woodencordato’s [ie, Mavrogordato’s], which is reliable rather than inspired. Then I tried to turn to Cavafy himself, but where can I have put him?
     I heard from someone, Noel [Annan] I think, that you might be allowed to see the unpublished papers. I should be interested in them and in anything about him, but, with his type of mind, I should doubt whether be had anything to conceal beyond names, places and dates. How very proud I am, George, hat I ever got to know him; it is certainly one of my "triumphs". R. A. Furness took me to see him in 1916-17.
Above is a letter from
P.S. 1983. Since Mr. Rowe’s projected edition of the Cavafy-Forster correspondence seems, for reasons unknown to me, to have come to a standstill, I will try to provide some additional information for any qualified researcher.
     The surviving correspondence consists of 52 letters, 23 of which are by Cavafy and 29 by Forster, viz.
     1917: F. 12-5, F. 1-7.
     1919: F. 25-4, C. 22 or 23-5, F. 13-8, F. 16-9, C. 1-10.
     1921: F. 15-3.
     1922: F. 7-7, C. 4-8, F. 31-12.
     1923: F. 5-7, C. 10 or 11-7, F. 1-8, C. 9-8, F. 20-8, C. 11-9,
F. 17-9, F. 11-11.
     1924: F. 20-2, C. 10-3, F. 14-4, C. 18-5, C. 11-6, F. 23-6,
F. 24-7, C. 1-8.
     1925: F. 2-1, C. 16-1, F. 27-9, C. 10-10, F. 10-12, C. 11-12,
C. 23-12.
     1926: F. 2-1, F. 20-1, C. 9-3, F. 28-3, C. 14-5.
     1927: F. 19-1, C. 16-2.
     1929: C. 13-6, F. 8-7, C. 8-8, F. 14-9, F. 26-9, C. 15-10.
     1930: F. 24-8, C. 29-9.
     1931: F. 14-5, C. 1-6.
     1932: C. 12-1.
     Of the above letters, only the posted autographs of C. 1-8-24 and C. 15-10-29 are preserved among the E. M. Forster Papers in the King’s College Library, Cambridge. All the rest, i.e. Forster’s originals and Cavafy’s drafts (including those of 1-8-24 and 15-10-29) are preserved in the C. P. Cavafy Archives, in Athens. However, in December 1963, I mailed to Forster ¯as a Christmas and birthday present¯ photographs of the whole series, which are now also kept in the Library of King’s. After Forster’s death, the origin of these photographs and the location of their autographs remained unknown until October 1975 ¯which, I suppose, explains why no permission was asked from Mrs K. A. Singopoulo or any acknowledgment made to the Cavafy Archives by Professor Jane Lagoudis Pinchin or the Princeton University Press, for using them in Alexandria Still, 1977. In this book, which seems also unaware of my 1975 article in the TLS, fifteen of the letters (including those published by me two years before) are cited or quoted in extenso on pp. 100, 107, 108, 110, 121, 124-125, 140-141, 148 and 211.
     However, I must add that in Dr. Pinchin’s generally well-documented chapter 3 ("The Bridge: E. M. Forster in Alexandria"), we are supplied with references to two further items of Forster’s bibliography concerning Cavafy
     a. Charles Mauron’s French translation of a shortened yet partly unpublished, later version of F.’s 1919-23 essay on Cavafy; it appeared in the first Cavafy Special Issue of La Semaine Egyptienne (25 April 1929, p. 18 ¯ reprinted in Athens, by E.L.I.A., 1983, together with the commemorative issues of Panaigyptia, 8 July 1933, and of La Semaine Egyptienne, 1 July 1933).
     b. "C. P. Cavafy: 1863-1933", Umbrella, 1 (October 1958) 5-7 ¯which I have not seen.
     To these may still be added Forster’s final (1960) introduction to the 1961 "First American edition" of Alexandria: A History and a Guide (see Michael Haag’s lovingly annotated "First British edition", London 1982, p. xvii), and possibly an elusive contribution to Cavafy’s centenary, announced to me in a letter of January 31, 1963:
     I am taking part in the small tribute to him that the Greek section of the B.B.C. are organising. I don’t know any details. And what is more interesting if not perhaps more important, the other day there was a poetry-reading in a College Society and not only did I read two of his poems but an unknown undergraduate read one too.
     Finally, here are two handwritten dedications by Forster to Cavafy ¯which the TLS decided not to use as facsimile illustrations for my 1975 article:
     a. In two copies of the first edition of Pharos and Pharillon (identically inscribed, one in pencil and one in ink):
To C. P. Cavafy with gratitude
admiration }
from E.M.F.
May 1923
     Both copies are now in the Cavafy Archives, along with the remains of the poet’s library.
     b. In a copy of A Letter to Madame Blanchard:
C. P. Cavafy,
with affection and admiration
from his old (yes ¯since 1916) friend
E. M. Forster
Christmas 1931
     This pamphlet, acquired by me in 1969 together with the Cavafy Papers and books, has since been presented to the Gennadius Library, Athens.
     For those who might think all those minutiae irrelevant or indeed contrary to Forster’s temperament (certainly not Cavafy’s!), let me quote a sample of his attention to biographical detail, from a letter written to me on January 12, 1964:
     I have read my letters [to Cavafy] and now send a scholarly note or do I mean a note for scholars? You, or more probably your son may know.
     A letter from me [dated June 23, 1924] is addressed from my home. But it was actually written from Clouds Hill, and the point is important because it speaks of Thomas Hardy visiting us [i.e. T. E. Lawrence and Forster].
     Concerning Hardy’s visit, see P. N. Furbank, E. M. Forster: A Life, Secker & Warburg, 1977-78, II, p. 307, and cf. p. 121 where Forster’s stay at Clouds Hill seems limited to March 1924.
     It is indeed with scraps such as these ¯and God knows how many more¯ that a serious history of the Cavafy-Forster relationship may yet be written.
     P.P.S. I have barely the time to note the publication of the first volume of Selected Letters of E. M. Forster, 1879-1920, edited by Mary Lago and P.N. Furbank, Collins and The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1983. It includes only one letter to Cavafy (1 July 1917, pp. 259-60 ¯see above, pp. 170-1) but also two other letters of related interest, both addressed to Robert Trevelyan (6 August 1917 and 23 August 1918, pp. 266 and 294-6): the latter contains part of the "skit" referred to above, p. 169.

G.P. Savidis, “Cavafy and Forster” (1975). In ÌéêñÜ êáâáöéêÜ, Á´, ÅñìÞò, 1985