Homosexuality is the key to E. M. Forster’s personal life, but not to his work. For that we must look to his desire to grapple with the contradictions and dangers of living the moral life.
A Great Unrecorded History:
A New Life of E. M. Forster
by Wendy Moffat
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
$32.50 List Price
As literary careers go, E. M. Forster’s had a singular, storied arc: a remarkable burst of creative energy that produced five books in the seven years from 1905 to 1911 (Where Angels Fear to Tread, The Longest Journey, A Room with a View, Howards End, and The Celestial Omnibus, the last of which appeared when the author was all of thirty-two), and an equally stupendous—and, to his contemporaries, stupefying—silence, which followed the publication of A Passage to India in 1924 until his death in 1970 at the age of ninety-one.
“Perhaps his future biographer will be able to explain,” Lionel Trilling wrote as early as 1943, Forster’s “possibly permanent retirement after the great success of his last novel.” Biographers had that explanation handed to them in the form of a pair of books “about homosexual love” (Maurice  and The Life to Come ), which Forster circulated privately for more than half a century but didn’t allow to be published until he died, sparking even more interest in the author than death usually does (Salinger’s executors, take note). More than a decade later, a spate of five movies further revived Forster’s name but also made it synonymous with, and to some degree subordinate to, a kind of well-meant but essentially inconsequential period melodrama.
This status seems less lamentable than inevitable, reflecting as it does the difficulty Forster’s own and subsequent generations have had in ascertaining his contribution to English literature. Generation is an arbitrary measure, of course, and it was Forster’s bad luck to straddle two: the late
REGISTERED USERS of bookforum.com and BOOKFORUM SUBSCRIBERS have access to this article, but must be logged in to view it. If you are not a registered user of bookforum.com, please create your free login here. If you are a subscriber, but haven’t activated your online account, please do so here.
SUBSCRIBE NOW for access to our online archives,* and receive the printed magazine for the discounted rate of $18 a year.**