Saturday, October 17, 2009

"The Cambridge Companion to E. M. Forster"

I read A Room With a View again, at the beginning of the school year, in order to discuss their summer reading with my students. This time I found the book dispiriting in its call for "courage and love," when its author did not heed his own call. Of course his times criminalized homosexuality--and punished it in a thousand other ways--but why call to the blood as if one is in the vanguard of change?

Forster stopped writing novels after publishing A Passage to India. Many reasons have been advanced for that, some of which are rehearsed in this 2007 collection of essays, edited by David Bradshaw. The reason I find most persuasive is one Forster himself alluded to in his diary. He was tired of writing heterosexual romances and marriage plots but was prevented from fictionalizing what he most desired: homosexual relationships. Maurice he wrote, but did not intend to publish. How many writers are willing and able to keep writing novels destined for the locked drawer?

Some critics argue that closeted homosexuality gave force and subtlety to the early novels. That may be true for some writers, but Forster did not seem to belong to that tribe. Or he grew away from that tribe. Such criticism may also be allied with the unspoken desire that homosexual writers keep their nastiness out of sight. Why do queer writers flaunt their queerness, is one version of this kind of criticism, which may come from both straight and gay readers.

1 comment:

Shropshirelad said...

Forster came of age during the trial of Oscar Wilde. I think he was 21 when that occurred. I wonder what the impact of that event was on his imagination.

Maurice is not a very strong book, really, so maybe there were reasons other than aesthetic martyrdom for hiding it away. I am pretty sure he circulated the manuscript among some of his friends, TE Lawrence being one of them.

Many of Forster's short stories deal a bit more frankly and far more creatively with homosexuality. I am not sure how many of these were published in his lifetime, but they are collected in an anthology called, "The Life to Come."

There is one story called, "The Obelisk," which I remember enjoying very much. It deals with cruising in a very delightful way. I think you might like it.