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Forster, E. M. (1879-1970)  
 
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Although he always remained to some extent an Edwardian, E. M. Forster embodied more fully than any other imaginative writer of his generation a modern gay-liberation perspective.

Born in London on New Year's Day 1879, the son of a promising architect who was to die within the infant's first year of life, Forster grew up cosseted by a host of female relatives. He became aware of his homosexuality in the climate of repression and self-consciousness that permeated English society in the aftermath of the Wilde scandal of 1895.

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As a student at King's College, Cambridge, where he matriculated in 1897, he fell in love with a fellow undergraduate, with whom he enjoyed kisses and embraces but probably not genital sexuality.

Forster, in fact, was not to experience a fully satisfying sexual relationship of any duration until he was nearly forty, when he fell in love with an Egyptian tram conductor in Alexandria in 1919. His sexual frustration undoubtedly influenced his art almost as much as his homosexuality itself, accounting for the emphasis in his early work on the need for sexual fulfillment and wholeness of being.

Forster and the English Class System and Imperialism

Forster's homosexuality manifested itself in an erotic preference for foreigners and for men of the lower social classes. Reflecting an appreciation of the natural vitality he connected with working-class men and an ambivalence about his own overcivilized temperament, this preference helps account for his tendency to romanticize the lower classes and for his sensitivity to the injustices of the class system at home and to the effects of imperialism abroad.

Perhaps because of his erotic preference for working-class men, Forster was also deeply affected by the belief that homosexuality could serve a positive social function by helping to bridge the barriers that separate the classes.

This belief, which is reflected throughout Forster's fiction and surfaces most explicitly in Maurice, derives from the Whitmanesque ideal of comradeship as expressed in the early English gay liberation movement in writings by such "Uranian" leaders as Edward Carpenter and John Addington Symonds.

Although Forster's affair with the tram conductor Mohammed el Adl was to end sadly, with Mohammed's premature death in 1922, Forster cemented a long-lasting relationship with a good-looking and intelligent police constable named Bob Buckingham in 1930. Their relationship survived even Bob's marriage in 1932 and continued until Forster's death at Coventry in the Buckinghams' home in 1970.

Forster's Attitude Towards His Homosexuality

Forster's acute consciousness of gay oppression, as epitomized in the persecution of Wilde, haunted his imagination throughout his life, fueling his anger at social and political injustices of all kinds. When he was almost eighty-five years old, he noted in his diary, "how annoyed I am with Society for wasting my time by making homosexuality criminal. The subterfuges, the self-consciousness that might have been avoided."

But notwithstanding his difficulties in making a sexual adjustment and despite recent attempts to characterize his attitude toward homosexuality as guilt-ridden and self-loathing, the fact is that Forster never felt shame for his sexual orientation.

What he did feel were a sense of wariness and vulnerability and that sensation of standing "at a slight angle to the universe" that he detected in the poetry of C. P. Cavafy. Forster's sensitivity to the pervasive of his age probably accounts for that tinge of sadness so characteristic of the Forsterian voice.

Homophobic Attacks on Forster's Posthumous Fiction

The posthumous publication of Maurice in 1971 and of The Life to Come and Other Stories in 1972, as well as the revelations of P. N. Furbank's scrupulously honest biography, caused a decided decline in Forster's reputation and led to a number of patently homophobic attacks on him and his work.

The belatedness of the publication of Forster's explicitly gay fiction has also had a more insidious consequence: the tendency to isolate the posthumously published work from the justly celebrated novels and stories published in Forster's lifetime.

The Consistency of Forster's Vision

Such a division is artificial, however, for despite important differences in dramatic situations and degrees of explicitness, the fiction embodies a consistent system of values centered on issues of self-realization, individualism, and responsiveness to life, nature, and the unseen.

What June Perry Levine identifies as the predominant pattern of Forster's posthumous fiction--"the tame in pursuit of the savage, oscillating within a field of attraction and repulsion"--may be seen in all of his work.

Although it is presented discreetly, is a significant element in the five novels he published during his lifetime.

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