Check out Zadie Smith's long, smart essay on Forster in the current New York Review of Books. Here's the second paragraph, which reflects the tone throughout:
Still, like all notable English novelists, he was a tricky bugger. He made a faith of personal sincerity and a career of disingenuousness. He was an Edwardian among Modernists, and yet—in matters of pacifism, class, education, and race—a progressive among conservatives. Suburban and parochial, his vistas stretched far into the East. A passionate defender of "Love, the beloved republic," he nevertheless persisted in keeping his own loves secret, long after the laws that had prohibited honesty were gone. Between the bold and the tame, the brave and the cowardly, the engaged and the complacent, Forster walked the middling line.
Smith's theme of Forster's middlebrow stature is a constant in this review of a collection of his BBC talks just published by the University of Missouri Press. She quotes his letter about Flaubert with its not so odd verb from a century ago, then she repeats it:
All I write is, to me, sentimental. A book which doesn't leave people either happier or better than it found them, which doesn't add some permanent treasure to the world, isn't worth doing.... This is my "theory," and I maintain it's sentimental—at all events it isn't Flaubert's. How can he fag himself to write "Un Coeur Simple"?
To his detractors, the small, mild oeuvre of E.M. Forster is proof that when it comes to aesthetics, one had really better be fagged: the zeal of the fanatic is what's required. "E.M. Forster never gets any further than warming the teapot," thought Katherine Mansfield, a fanatic if ever there was one.
Although Smith never hints why, if he was so middling, she wanted to model her recent novel On Beauty on his Howard's End, she does affirm his central course:
Forster's novels are full of people who'd think twice before borrowing a Forster novel from the library. Well—they'd want to know—is it worth the bother or not? Neither intellectuals nor philistines, they are the kind to "know what they like" and have the "courage of their convictions," though their convictions are not entirely their own and their courage mostly fear. They are capable of cruelty born of laziness, but also of an unexpected spiritual greatness, born of love. The right book at the right moment might change everything for them (Forster only gave the credence of certainty to love). It's worth thinking of these cautious English souls, with their various potential for greatness and shabbiness, love and spite, as Forster's radio audience: it makes his approach comprehensible.
Think of Maurice Hall and Alec Scudder, settled by their Bakelite radio waiting for the latest installment of Some Books. Maurice, thanks to his superior education, catches the literary references but, in his suburban slowness, misses much of the spirit. Alec, not having read Wordsworth, yet grasps the soul of that poet as he listens to Forster recount a visit to the Lake District, Wordsworth country:
Grey sheets of rain trailed in front of the mountains, waterfalls slid down them and shone in the sun, and the sky was always sending shafts of light into the valleys.
Early on, Forster voiced his determination to plow the middle course:
I've had nice letters from people regretting that my talks are above them, and others equally nice regretting that they are below; so hadn't I better pursue the even tenor of my way?
Well, hadn't he?