Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

E. M. Forster

Edward Morgan Forster (1879-1970) was an English writer of novels, short stories and essays. After his father died before he was two years old, Forster was raised by female relatives who were affiliated with a stern evangelical sect. At the age of ten, a great aunt left him an inheritance that afforded him a private education while allowing himself to attempt a career as a writer. Forster detested public school, but found King's College, Cambridge, almost a paradise by contrast, with its strongly homoerotic atmosphere among students and faculty.

In 1901 Forster was elected to the elite Cambridge secret society The Apostles, leading to close ties with other members such as John Maynard Keynes and Lytton Strachey of the Bloomsbury group. After traveling for a year in Italy Forster taught a course at the Working Mens’ College, a part-time commitment he maintained for over twenty years in order to affirm his belief in reducing class barriers. Then four novels appeared in a five year period of creativity: Where Angels Feared to Tread (1905), The Longest Journey (1907), A Room with a View (1908) and Howards End (1910). This brilliant body of work, openly critical of Edwardian pieties, secured his fame.

In 1914 Forster completed the first draft of a homosexual novel, Maurice. Realizing that it was not publishable in England after the persecution of Oscar Wilde, he shared the manuscript with only a few friends, including Christopher Isherwood and D. H. Lawrence, who used it as the model for his heterosexual Lady Chatterley's Lover. Forster continued to revise Maurice* until 1960, but it was not published until 1971, after his death the previous year. After completing Maurice, Forster felt that his novel writing was over, as he had exhausted his insights into heterosexual relationships, yet could not publish the works with homosexual themes that affected him personally.

*The film version of Maurice, released by the Ivory-Merchant-Jhabvala team in 1987, was a success and remarkably true to the novel. In Maurice, an upper class man comes to find his true destiny with a working-class boy, the gamekeeper at an estate.

Scholars have long speculated about the reason for Forster’s low productivity after a string that included the aforementioned classics plus A Passage to India (1924), considered by most to be his masterpiece. A Passage to India delivered a sharp critique of British imperialism. Newly revealed papers from Forster, including his sex diary, reveal that his first sexual encounter with a man and the way it compounded his lifelong struggle with homosexuality killed his creative drive. He did not write any novels between 1924 and the time of his death in 1970. Forster lost his virginity to a wounded soldier on an Egyptian beach when he was 38 and later met Bob Buckingham, a married policeman, in 1930. Forster and Buckingham remained lovers until Forster’s death.

After 1924 Forster published only essays and reviews. The broadcasts of his essays on the BBC during the early years of the Second World War (published in Two Cheers for Democracy) delivered to the British people some of the most important writing of the mid-twentieth century, according to Adrian Barlow, a Forster scholar. In 1946 Forster accepted an offer to become an honorary fellow at King's College Cambridge, where he lived for the rest of his life. Although Forster struggled to reconcile the heterosexual English middle-class themes of his famous works with the reality of his affairs with working-class men, he went on to become an influential President of the National Council for Civil Liberties and a committed advocate of free speech.


Wayne R. Dynes – Encyclopedia of Homosexuality (1990)

Julie Bolder for The Advocate (2010):

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