Forster was a humanist, homosexual, lifelong bachelor. Forster developed a long-term loving relationship with Bob Buckingham, a married policeman (his wife's name was May), whom he met in 1930. Buckingham was 28, Forster 51, when the two met. May became his friend and nursemaid. Forster included the couple in his circle, which also included the writer and arts editor of The Listener, J.R. Ackerley, the psychologist W.J.H. Sprott, and, for a time, the composer Benjamin Britten. Other writers with whom Forster associated included the poet Siegfried Sassoon and the Belfast-based novelist Forrest Reid. (Picture: E.M. Forster with Bob Buckingham, ca. 1934)
Maurice (1971) was published posthumously. It is a homosexual love story which also returns to matters familiar from Forster's first three novels, such as the suburbs of London in the English home counties, the experience of attending Cambridge, and the wild landscape of Wiltshire. The novel was controversial, given that Forster's sexuality had not been previously known or widely acknowledged. Today's critics continue to argue over the extent to which Forster's sexuality, even his personal activities, influenced his writing.
"A happy ending was imperative," Forster writes in the novel's Terminal Notes, even though Maurice says: "All the world's against us." Forster was right and helped inspire me to act accordingly with “Gaywyck”. (If I had a happy "ending" why couldn't they?) Meanwhile, my heart swells every time Alec says to Maurice: "And now we shan't be parted no more, and that's finished." (Vincent Virga)Forster was born into an Anglo-Irish and Welsh middle-class family at 6 Melcombe Place, Dorset Square, London NW1, in a building that no longer exists. He was the only child of Edward Morgan Llewellyn Forster and Alice Clara "Lily" (née Whichelo). His father, an architect, died of consumption on 30 October 1880. Among Forster's ancestors were members of the Clapham Sect. He inherited £8,000 (£659,300 as of 2011), from his paternal great-aunt Marianne Thornton (daughter of the abolitionist Henry Thornton), who died on 5 November 1887. The money was enough to live on and enabled him to become a writer. He attended the famous public school Tonbridge School in Kent as a day boy. The theatre at the school is named after him.
At King's College, Cambridge, between 1897 and 1901, he became a member of a discussion society known as the Apostles (formally named the Cambridge Conversazione Society). Many of its members went on to constitute what came to be known as the Bloomsbury Group, of which Forster was a peripheral member in the 1910s and 1920s. There is a famous recreation of Forster's Cambridge at the beginning of The Longest Journey.
After leaving university he travelled in continental Europe with his mother. He visited Egypt, Germany and India with the classicist Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson in 1914. By that time, Forster had written all but one of his novels. In the First World War, as a conscientious objector, he volunteered for the International Red Cross, travelling to Alexandria, Egypt.
Forster spent a second spell in India in the early 1920s as the private secretary to Tukojirao III, the Maharajah of Dewas. The Hill of Devi is his non-fictional account of this trip. After returning from India, he completed his last novel, A Passage to India (1924), for which he won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction. He also edited the graphic letters from India of Eliza Fay (1756-1816).In the 1930s and 1940s Forster became a successful broadcaster on BBC Radio and a public figure associated with the British Humanist Association. He was awarded a Benson Medal in 1937.
From 1925 until Forster's mother's death at age 90 on 11 March 1945, he lived with her at West Hackhurst, Abinger Hammer, finally leaving on or around 23 September 1946. His London base was 26 Brunswick Square from 1930 to 1939, after which he rented 9 Arlington Park Mansions in Chiswick until at least 1961.
Forster was elected an honorary fellow of King's College, Cambridge in January 1946, and lived for the most part in the college, doing relatively little. He declined a knighthood in 1949 and was made a Companion of Honour in 1953. In 1969 he was made a member of the Order of Merit. Forster died of a stroke in Coventry on 7 June 1970 at the age of 91, at the home of the Buckinghams.
Forster had five novels published in his lifetime. Although Maurice appeared shortly after his death, it had been written nearly sixty years earlier. A seventh novel, Arctic Summer, was never finished.
His first novel, Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905), is the story of Lilia, a young English widow who falls in love with an Italian man, and of the efforts of her bourgeois relatives to get her back from Monteriano (based on San Gimignano). The mission of Philip Herriton to retrieve her from Italy has features in common with that of Lambert Strether in Henry James's The Ambassadors, a work Forster discussed ironically and somewhat disapprovingly in his book Aspects of the Novel (1927). Where Angels Fear to Tread was adapted into a film by Charles Sturridge in 1991.
Next, Forster published The Longest Journey (1907), an inverted bildungsroman following the lame Rickie Elliott from Cambridge to a career as a struggling writer and then to a post as a schoolmaster, married to the unappetising Agnes Pembroke. In a series of scenes on the hills of Wiltshire which introduce Rickie's wild half-brother Stephen Wonham, Forster attempts a kind of sublime related to those of Thomas Hardy and D. H. Lawrence.
Forster's third novel, A Room with a View (1908), is his lightest and most optimistic. It was started before any of his others, as early as 1901, and exists in earlier forms referred to as "Lucy". The book is the story of young Lucy Honeychurch's trip to Italy with her cousin, and the choice she must make between the free-thinking George Emerson and the repressed aesthete Cecil Vyse. George's father Mr Emerson quotes thinkers who influenced Forster, including Samuel Butler. A Room with a View was filmed by Merchant-Ivory in 1985.
Where Angels Fear to Tread and A Room with a View can be seen collectively as Forster's Italian novels. Both include references to the famous Baedeker guidebooks and concern narrow-minded middle-class English tourists abroad. The books share many themes with short stories collected in The Celestial Omnibus and The Eternal Moment.
Howards End (1910) is an ambitious "condition-of-England" novel concerned with different groups within the Edwardian middle classes represented by the Schlegels (bohemian intellectuals), the Wilcoxes (thoughtless plutocrats) and the Basts (struggling lower-middle-class aspirants).
It is frequently observed that characters in Forster's novels die suddenly. This is true of Where Angels Fear to Tread, Howards End and, most particularly, The Longest Journey.
Forster achieved his greatest success with A Passage to India (1924). The novel takes as its subject the relationship between East and West, seen through the lens of India in the later days of the British Raj. Forster connects personal relationships with the politics of colonialism through the story of the Englishwoman Adela Quested, the Indian Dr. Aziz, and the question of what did or did not happen between them in the Marabar Caves. Forster makes special mention of Ahmed Ali and his Twilight in Delhi in his Preface to its Everyman's Library Edition.
In the United States, interest in, and appreciation for, Forster was spurred by Lionel Trilling's E. M. Forster: A Study, which began:
E. M. Forster is for me the only living novelist who can be read again and again and who, after each reading, gives me what few writers can give us after our first days of novel-reading, the sensation of having learned something (Trilling 1943).Forster was President of the Cambridge Humanists from 1959 until his death and a member of the Advisory Council of the British Humanist Association from 1963 until his death. His views as a humanist are at the heart of his work, which often depicts the pursuit of personal connections in spite of the restrictions of contemporary society. His humanist attitude is expressed in the non-fictional essay What I Believe.
Forster's two best-known works, A Passage to India and Howards End, explore the irreconcilability of class differences. A Room with a View also shows how questions of propriety and class can make connection difficult. The novel is his most widely read and accessible work, remaining popular long after its original publication. His posthumous novel Maurice explores the possibility of class reconciliation as one facet of a homosexual relationship.
Sexuality is another key theme in Forster's works, and it has been argued that a general shift from heterosexual love to homosexual love can be detected over the course of his writing career. The foreword to Maurice describes his struggle with his own homosexuality, while similar issues are explored in several volumes of homosexually charged short stories. Forster's explicitly homosexual writings, the novel Maurice and the short-story collection The Life to Come, were published shortly after his death.
Forster is noted for his use of symbolism as a technique in his novels, and he has been criticised (as by his friend Roger Fry) for his attachment to mysticism. One example of his symbolism is the wych elm tree in Howards End; the characters of Mrs Wilcox in that novel and Mrs Moore in A Passage to India have a mystical link with the past and a striking ability to connect with people from beyond their own circles.
Burial: Canley Garden Cemetery and Crematorium Canley, Warwickshire, England
Forster is, of course, one of our literary lions. Maurice is a tale of love between men. It was written deep in the past and, at the author’s request, published posthumously. So no punches were pulled. Taking on the class structure as well as societal disdain for gay love, there is no question what desires lay deep in Forster’s eloquent heart. --Lee Bantle
Jimmy gave me Maurice as a 7th anniversary gift, Memorial Day 1972. (I just showed the inscribed edition to him; he exclaimed: "How sweet! Now don't cry! Don't burst into tears!" Why do I write romantic novels?!) I love this book so much that its two central characters, Maurice Hall and the heavenly Alec Scudder are currently frequent guests at Gaywyck and are the greatest pals with Robert Gaylord in “Children of Paradise”. And why not? I love them! Forster thinks they "still roam the greenwood." He may have written one of favorite novels, “Howard's End”, but he can be very silly. They needed to "connect" with their brothers in this our life. So I've given them the community Forster never had while he was alive. --Vincent Virga
E.M. Forster is well-known for his seminal gay novel Maurice, as well as for mainstream classics like A Passage to India and Howards End. The quality of writing in this short story collection, The Life to Come and Other Stories, however, shows that Forster was equally adept at writing shorter pieces. Many of the stories were unpublished until 1970 due to gay themes, and include standouts like the humorous seaside vignette “The Obelisk” and “The Other Boat,” a tragic story of an interracial relationship during the days of the Empire. --G.S. Wiley
A work that’s beautifully lyrical, understated and full of wonderful characters; most of the things I’d like to say about Maurice have already been said by better folk than me. I’ll just add one note – this book was written by a gay man, yet it resembles (style, pacing, slowly building and hesitant romance) some of the gay romances which originate from a female pen. To me, it’s one of the great pieces of evidence to counter the ‘men don’t write like women do, they understand gay relationships differently’ argument. Some men clearly do/did think and write this way. The extent to which Maurice is autobiographical (or at least based on EMF’s experiences) is a matter for debate – the author said that Maurice was very different from him - but I see EMF when I read it… --Charlie Cochrane
Maurice, male costume drama with a happy ending! I loved Forster's skewering of the Victorian British social hierarchy, contrasting Maurice's strangled, hamstrung relationship with the self-hating but socially equal Clive, with his ultimate, willing conquest by the Pan-like game keeper's son, Alec Scutter. Caught between the two, tossing and turning on his bed in Clive's house, Maurice finally throws open the window and shouts hopelessly, "Come!" And Alec does. And so does Maurice, in short order. And did I mention that it actually has a happy ending? Good movie, too. --Lynn Flewelling
Maurice is long and beautifully written. It's a comfort read for me, because despite Maurice's ill fated affair with his university sweetheart Clive, by the time Clive has become a pompous hypocrite, Alec has breezed onto the scene. And I may be a little in love with Alec, who is aggressive and inarticulate and lower class, perfectly willing to engage in blackmail, and literally a breath of fresh air. This was a ground-breaking book in its day, with its insistence on a happy ending for its two heroes, and I appreciate that a lot. There's something, even in the book, that lets you know how unbearably poignant, how lucky, how unexpected are the tender scenes between stuffy old Maurice and forthright, unashamed Alec. I'd have liked more of Maurice/Alec and less of Maurice/Clive, but I can see that it took the failure of the first relationship to enable the success of the second. Another classic, as it should be. --Alex Beecroft
One of England’s most prominent novelists, the story that was closest to Forster’s heart, Maurice, was only published after his death. This book means so much to me because it was one of the first ‘gay’ books I ever read, sneaking it off my older sister’s shelf. It was also one of the first representations of a gay couple I discovered in film or literature that didn’t end in tragedy. Seriously, check out the excellent documentary The Celluloid Closet to discover just how often a gay, or gay-coded, character doesn’t survive the film they’re in. Imagine my relief where I read a story where the characters slipped away into the mist, presumably to find a place where they could live freely and happily. --Sean KennedyDays of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle
Paperback: 760 pages
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Days of Love chronicles more than 700 LGBT couples throughout history, spanning 2000 years from Alexander the Great to the most recent winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Many of the contemporary couples share their stories on how they met and fell in love, as well as photos from when they married or of their families. Included are professional portraits by Robert Giard and Stathis Orphanos, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, and photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten among others. “It's wonderful. Laying it out chronologically is inspired, offering a solid GLBT history. I kept learning things. I love the decision to include couples broken by death. It makes clear how important love is, as well as showing what people have been through. The layout and photos look terrific.” Christopher Bram “I couldn’t resist clicking through every page. I never realized the scope of the book would cover centuries! I know that it will be hugely validating to young, newly-emerging LGBT kids and be reassured that they really can have a secure, respected place in the world as their futures unfold.” Howard Cruse “This international history-and-photo book, featuring 100s of detailed bios of some of the most forward-moving gay persons in history, is sure to be one of those bestsellers that gay folk will enjoy for years to come as reference and research that is filled with facts and fun.” Jack Fritscher
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