It began ‘with a purely obscene fancy of a Missionary in difficulties’. So E.M. Forster wrote to Siegfried Sassoon in August 1923, of his short story ‘The Life to Come’ – the title story of a collection that was not published until 1972, two years after Forster’s death.
Forster’s short story – which he described in another letter (to Florence
Barger) as ‘violent and wholly unpublishable’ – seems to bring together the
concerns that the writer explored in two of his novels, A Passage to India and Maurice. It tells of a young English missionary, Paul Pinmay, who travels into the wilderness to attempt to convert a powerful tribe leader, Vithobai, who has so far resisted the
earnest Edwardians’ proselytising. When he preaches to Vithobai of Christ’s
love, in what is to be a tragic confusion of the literal and metaphoric the
native chief wants to hear more about ‘“this god whose name is Love”’.
Seeing ‘how intelligent the boy was and how handsome, and determining to
win him there’, Paul plants a kiss on Vithobai’s forehead and ‘drew him to
Abraham’s bosom’: ‘And Vithobai had lain in gladly – too gladly and too
long – and had extinguished the lamp. And God alone saw them after that.’
Photo credit: Phil Wallace
Source: Opera Today