E. M. Forster's first trip to India, the one that inspired him to write a novel about his experiences, was by the invitation of an Indian man with whom he was in love. It would be another ten years before he finished his famous novel, A Passage to India, and during that time he gave up on his first love (though they remained close friends), volunteered with the International Red Cross in Alexandria during the First World War (he was a conscientious objector), wrote a different novel called Maurice, and fell in love with Mohammed el Adl in Egypt.
The couple never got to live together and openly. They wrote letters, Forster helped Mohammed secure a job, he visited Mohammed and his wife and children in Egypt. E. M. Forster made a special stop in Egypt when he heard Mohammed was seriously ill. It was the last time they saw each other alive. Forster kept a few small mementos of his love, as well as their letters.
Forster wrote his journals in pen, and he wrote a lot. Among all his papers, there is only one entry written in graphite:
"Finished A Passage to India and mark the fact with Mohammed's pencil." (January 21, 1924)
It's a beautiful gesture to preserve a loved one's pencil, an object that, like a vinyl record, erodes with every use. Only so many words exist in a pencil, and Forster chose this moment to spend a few in celebration of his greatest novel and his greatest love.
I came across this story in Bill Goldstein's excellent book The World Broke In Two. It's about E. M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, and D. H. Lawrence in the year 1922. I cannot recommend this book enough, especially if you're interested in modernism or writing in general. Have any of you read it? I'd love to hear your thoughts on it!