Most accounts of E. M. Forster recall him as a dowdy man in a suit, someone Lytton Strachey nicknamed “the Taupe” for his restricted sartorial palette. The ability to wear unfashionable clothes without causing remark is an exercise of privilege that Forster became aware of during his time working for the Red Cross (1916–19), and through interactions with his Egyptian friend, Mohamed El-Adl. Refusing to wear his uniform after work, Forster broke away from convention to wear one of the three suits he had brought with him to Egypt even as he embarked on a difficult love affair with El-Adl. Their clothes-based interactions prompted Forster to question and discard many of his colonialist biases. The suit, previously an unexamined everyday object, thus becomes a loaded metaphor for social privilege and unwilling complicity with national politics in Forster’s essay “Me, Them and You” (1925). The sartorial symbols that emerge from his letters, essays, and the archive he created of El-Adl’s notes allow us to reapproach the philosophical idea with which he is most closely associated: liberal humanism. This essay finally suggests that Forster’s experiences in Egypt led to an intersectional humanist position that holds interest for global modernist approaches.

You do not currently have access to this content.