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literature

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Forster, E. M. (1879-1970)  
 
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Where Angels Fear to Tread

The ironic comedy Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905), for example, traces the inchoate self-fashioning of the quintessential Forsterian protagonist, Philip Herriton, a painfully self-conscious and sexually repressed aesthete.

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As a result of his encounter with Italy, Philip matures to understand something of the complexity of life, though he fails to recognize what Forster subtly informs the alert reader: that his real sexual attraction is not the intellectual response he develops for his Sawston neighbor Caroline Abbott but the physical passion he feels for Gino Carelli, the good-looking young Italian who functions in the novel as a kind of Pan figure, a symbol of natural sexuality and freedom from social restraints.

The Longest Journey

Just as Philip's spiritual love for Caroline is a displacement of his sexual attraction for Gino, so in The Longest Journey (1907) Rickie Elliott's weak passion for his wife Agnes is aroused by his unconscious desire for Gerald Dawes, a brainless soldier who had mistreated him at school.

The Pan figure in The Longest Journey, however, is not Dawes but Stephen Wonham, Rickie's illegitimate half-brother, who is the natural embodiment of the Greek spirit in the English countryside. As allied at the end of the novel with Ansell, an intellectual, homosexual Jew, Stephen represents the best hope for the future of England.

Howards End and A Passage to India

A homosexual consciousness is more subtly present in Howards End (1910) and A Passage to India (1924), where the emotional center of each work resides in a same-sex (though nonsexual) relationship, that of Margaret and Helen Schlegel and Fielding and Aziz, respectively.

Margaret's revolt when she overhears her husband and a physician debating whether Helen is "normal" is revealing: "How dare these men label her sister!" she exclaims, ". . . it seemed to Margaret that all Schlegels were threatened with her. Were they normal? What a question to ask! And it is always those who know nothing about human nature, who are bored by psychology and shocked by physiology, who ask it."

Margaret's indignation here undoubtedly reflects Forster's own resentment at the persistent labeling of homosexuals as abnormal.

The bond between Aziz and Fielding is not sexual but it is increasingly intimate, and Forster's masterpiece may be read as their love story.

A Room with a View

Although the plot of A Room with a View (1908) makes it Forster's fullest celebration of heterosexual love, the novel is actually the product of the author's self-conscious attempt to discover a homosexual literary tradition; and it is suffused with homoeroticism and with the ideology of the late nineteenth-century homosexual emancipation movement.

In an entry in his diary for New Year's Eve 1907, during a period when he was writing A Room with a View, Forster constructed a list of famous homosexual authors and artists, including A. E. Housman, William Shakespeare, John Addington Symonds, Walter Pater, Walt Whitman, Edward Carpenter, Samuel Butler, H. S. Tuke, Luca Signorelli, and Michelangelo, all of whom are quoted in the novel or are otherwise influential on it.

The point that needs emphasis is not that A Room with a View is a disguised homosexual love story with the protagonist Lucy Honeychurch actually a boy in drag but that the novel's celebration of "the holiness of direct desire" has homosexual as well as heterosexual application.

Indeed, Forster's vision of a new Garden of Eden to be attained "when we no longer despise our bodies" emerges directly from the ideology of homosexual comradeship as developed by Whitman, Carpenter, and Symonds. The novel's search for a new chivalry based on sexual and social equality is firmly rooted in the early English homosexual emancipation movement.

The Short Stories Published in Forster's Lifetime

Homosexual themes are also often implicit in the short stories that Forster published during his lifetime. The stories of The Celestial Omnibus and Other Stories (1911) and The Eternal Moment and Other Stories (1928) articulate the same social criticism that energizes the novels, but in them Forster does not so much analyze these social conditions as chronicle the breaking loose of characters from the imprisonment of social conventions.

Forster's earliest tale, "The Story of a Panic," which resulted from a sudden revelation in 1902, is certainly susceptible to a gay reading, recounting as it does the epiphany of a fourteen-year-old English boy and his friendship with an older Italian youth.

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