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literature

Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

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Forster, E. M. (1879-1970)  
 
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What is most impressive about Maurice is its superb artistry. Full appreciation of its subtlety depends on the reader's engagement in a process of interpretation and reinterpretation. The book's "double structure" is complemented by an elusive narrative technique that combines the point of view of the focal character with frequent though cryptic authorial intrusions.

The effect of this sophisticated technique is to force the reader to experience first-hand the protagonist's bewilderment and pain and exhilaration and muddle, thus contributing to the book's peculiar poignancy, as when Maurice envisions himself wandering "beyond the barrier . . . the wrong words on his lips and the wrong desires in his heart, and his arms full of air."

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Only later, on rereading the first section in light of the second, is the reader able to place the early events in context, thereby correcting his or her original responses.

Much of the novel's pleasure resides in the subtle exposure of unexpected dimensions and unsuspected ironies. A book of haunting beauty, written in supple prose that is alternately spare, taut, lyrical, and impassioned, Maurice occupies an honored place in the gay literary heritage.

The Life to Come and Other Stories

Although Forster published no more fiction after The Eternal Moment and Other Stories in 1928, he continued to write occasional stories, nearly all with homosexual themes. The Life to Come and Other Stories collects these gay fictions, as well as some early work that Forster did not publish during his lifetime.

Some of the late stories, those written between 1922 and 1958, are among Forster's finest tales--ironic, witty, resonant, and angry. They express a healthy rage against a hypocritical society that denies the legitimacy of homosexual emotions and acts.

Although they embody a vision consistent with that of the tales and novels published during Forster's lifetime, they differ significantly in their attitude toward sexuality. In these works, sexuality is at once more and less important than in the novels and stories Forster published. Sexuality is celebrated as an agent that expresses and intensifies love, and as a significant dimension of human identity, but it is also demystified as life-enhancing pleasure, valuable for its own sake.

The gay fictions of The Life to Come include three comic stories--"The Obelisk," "What Does It Matter? A Morality," and "The Classical Annex"--and Forster's only piece of historical fiction, "The Torque," as well as the haunting psychomachia, "Dr. Woolacott," and three superb works that rank among his greatest achievements, "The Life to Come," "Arthur Snatchfold," and "The Other Boat."

The comic stories scorn the oppressive morality that inhibits personal growth and distorts social health. They attack the antisexual attitudes that, paradoxically, exaggerate the importance of sex and pervert true morality into moralistic prohibitions.

These priapic stories celebrate recreational sex as a source of joy, accepting the pursuit of pleasure as a deeply human activity. At bottom anarchic, they emphasize the power of sex to humanize and invigorate both individuals and societies but pointedly refuse to justify sex in the name of love or refined emotions.

Forster's three most ambitious posthumously published tales merit special notice.

"The Life to Come"

"The Life to Come," which dates from 1922, concerns the devotion of a primitive tribal chief for an English missionary who betrays his love. The story, which weds satire and prophecy to tragedy and myth, is a fascinating parable that anticipates A Passage to India in its opposition of Eastern and Western values.

As in the novel, Christianity is tested from an Eastern perspective and found to be narrow and small in its denial of the fullness of experience and in its refusal to take literally the doctrine of love that it professes. The tale satirizes Christian hypocrisy, exposes Christian complicity in imperialism as a failure of agape as well as of Eros, and suggests that the repression of Eros perverts the expression of agape.

"Arthur Snatchfold"

"Arthur Snatchfold," written in 1928, pivots on a brief but fulfilling sexual exchange between a successful businessman and a young milkman, who is subsequently arrested and imprisoned for the dalliance. Despite the promise of a reduced sentence for identifying his partner, the milkman bravely refuses.

The story, which raises interesting but deliberately unresolved questions about its morally ambivalent narrator, indicts a stupid and cruel society that criminalizes harmless pleasure and distances individuals and classes from each other.

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