E.M. Forster, by Francis King. New York: Thames & Hudson. 128 pp. Illustrated. $9.95. D.H. Lawrence, by Harry T. Moore and Warren Roberts. New York: Thames & Hudson. 143 pp. Illustrated. $9.95.

Two recent issues of the excellent, profusely illustrated Thames & Hudson Literary Lives provide a study in contrasts. Edward Morgan Forster (1879-1970) lived to be 91 but did most of his writing by 1924, the year his masterpiece, ``A Passage to India,'' was published. His literary reputation rose steadily over the rest of his life, but has declined slightly since his death. A shy, self-effacing man, Forster championed the value of personal relationships, offered a modest ``Two Cheers for Democracy,'' and spoke out against censorship, appearing as a defense witness in the ``Lady Chatterley's Lover'' trial. Yet he would not allow his own homosexually oriented writings to appear in his lifetime.

D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930) met and liked Forster, but pronounced the older man's life style ``inane.'' Lawrence's own brief life was filled with the fruits of his intense creativity: some 10 novels, many short stories, critical essays, travel books, a vast body of still-underrated poetry, and even a collection of fascinating paintings. Both Lawrence and Forster had been delicate, mother-dominated boys caught up in textbook Freudian situations. But their temperaments, talents, and lives were notably different. If Forster was a spokesman for liberal, democratic values, Lawrence was a prophet of values he was only on the edge of formulating. Some of his writings seem to flirt with fascism. But, as Moore and Roberts note, Lawrence repudiated the leadership cult he'd explored in ``The Plumed Serpent'' in favor of focusing on relationships based on a more egalitarian ``tenderness'' between the sexes and among individuals. Perhaps because no one - including Lawrence himself - has ever been able to pin down exactly what he was seeking so passionately, his works continue to speak to a remarkably wide range of people. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------Letters to Ms. 1972-1987, edited by Mary Thom, with an Introduction by Gloria Steinem, Afterword by Eva Moseley. New York: Henry Holt/An Owl Book. 264 pp. $9.95.

These letters from readers include some of the most interesting writing to appear in the pages of Ms. Magazine. Arranged by topic - love, marriage, friendship, parenting, women in the workplace, women up against a variety of institutions from the Army to advertising - these letters discuss a wide variety of issues with honesty, wit, anger, inventiveness, and plain common sense.

Anyone who still thinks of ``liberated women'' as bionic superpersons scaling the heights of corporate America while raising bias-free children with the help of supportive house-husbands has only to glance through these pages to see the kinds of poverty, discrimination, brutality, and fear that many women live with. But there's comedy as well, and keen insights, and many stories of the improvements that came with a genuinely raised consciousness. Drawn from files now housed at the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe College, the letters in this book, written by men and women, feminists and antifeminists, some published, some appearing here for the first time, document the history of a 15-year period that saw a crucial change in attitudes about gender. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------The Organ, by Peter Williams and Barbara Owen. New York: Norton. 437 pp. Illustrated. $14.95.

Everything about the history, construction, functioning, and development of this instrument - the complete diapason, so to speak - may be found in ``The Organ,'' one of the New Grove Musical Instruments Series. Along with the clock, the organ was the most complex mechanical apparatus developed before the Industrial Revolution. A 3rd century BC Alexandrian engineer, Ctesibius, is credited with inventing this remarkable instrument, which is classified as a member of the wind family, although it relies on a mechanical device rather than human breath for its air supply. This comprehensive volume not only covers the history of organs, but also includes appendixes on organ builders, organ stops, the registration of organs, and a glossary of terms.

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