A writer’s review of E.M. Forster’s The Life to Come.
IN THESE glimpses through the window into Edwardian and post-war restrictions on homosexuality, much of them still chillingly relevant to our times, E.M. Forster recreates his own inner life – and that of gay men everywhere.
Where his living, breathing gay protagonists meet allegorical endings in Classical juxtapositions, Forster was simply staying the hand of damnation he witnessed in the shadow of the Oscar Wilde trials, keeping these men safe in another place and time.
Any writer doing that, and in private – most of these works were not published in his lifetime – was likely to be calming his own rising sense of panic and anger at tired British fears about sexual diversity.
Other stories (such as ‘The Obelisk’ and ‘Arthur Snatchfold’) are gloriously lust-filled in and around taboo themes of male sex, yet always replete with Forster’s tempering wit.
My favourite is the collection’s first, ‘Ansell’, the story of an academic forced to eschew the life laid out for him in books and letters, which has undertones of Forster’s most complex novel The Longest Journey.
“Essential reading, particularly for conservatives who believe it’s ‘all good now’ for the LGBTIQ community.”
‘Ambergo Empedocle’, the story of a strapping young Britisher, honest to his bootstraps and set for a life of convention, is an Italian-set tragedy akin to Forster’s debut novel ‘Where Angels Fear To Tread’. It explores the state of closeting so accurately, and the desire for anything but inhabiting a life where the core restriction cuts to the soul.
Forster often sends his protagonists to other states instead of this world in the denouement of his stories. More often than not, author or protagonist label this a ‘dodge’, a kind of schoolboy’s mind game.
It’s a literary technique that comes straight out of classical mythology, but Forster’s use of it inspired generations of writers decades after he’d hung up his literary tools, including Joan Lindsay, the Australian author of Picnic at Hanging Rock.
While they blend myths and legends with a Sci-Fi edge, these moments reveal Forster capturing the genuine suicidal motivations experienced by a significant proportion of same sex-attracted people.
I have read and reread these stories all my adult life, and will continue to do so. They are essential reading, particularly for conservatives who believe it’s “all good now” for the LGBTIQ community.
In them, Forster is celebrating what he got away with sexually and emotionally, yet imagining what the risk could have cost him. Thank Jove he didn’t burn them, like he did some of his other gay-themed work.
© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.