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It may be that Samuel Butler’s bold novelistic call for religious liberation, the kind of sexual freedom that Forster championed, in these early novels, is not really what he cared about at all?That is the thesis of Moffat’s book, which can be read as an attempt to renew Forster’s pertinence by recasting him as a fighter in a different liberation struggle, one that has not yet won complete success.
Kermode writes that his fiction is almost “evangelical” in its obsession with “the choice to be made between winning salvation and backsliding,” and notes that critics often relate this quality to Forster’s descent from the Clapham Sect—a group of rich London evangelicals who were prominent in the early nineteenth-century campaign to abolish slavery.
Forster preserves his ancestors’ concern with salvation, but he reverses their definition of it.
Truth counts, Truth does count.”Forster speaks in the voice of Bunyan’s Valiant-for-Truth, and the truth he preaches is that of the body: “love is of the body; not the body, but of the body. the misery that would be saved if we confessed that! Over the last hundred years, the primacy of the body and of sexual desire became an article of psychological, medical, and commercial faith.
We have not entered paradise as a result—sexual abundance and familiarity have their discontents, though reading Forster convinces us that these are not to be compared with the discontents of scarcity and ignorance.
Creation, no longer monotonous, acclaimed him, in widening melody, in brighter radiances. Biography may have little to tell us about why a novelist writes well, but it can sometimes be helpful in understanding why a novelist writes badly.
So it is not insignificant, in reading such a purple passage, to learn that at the time he wrote it—in his mid-twenties—Forster actually did not know how men and women had sexual intercourse.Yet it is true that Forster never “came out” in the modern sense, and people who knew him only as a writer or public figure did not necessarily know he was gay.Only friends who had been welcomed into Forster’s full confidence were allowed to read the manuscript of , his only novel about homosexuality, which he finished in 1914 but never published.he had hurried away as if ashamed.” A few pages later, Margaret’s reflections on this erotic incompetence lead, as often happens in Forster’s fiction, into an authorial homily: Outwardly [Henry Wilcox] was cheerful, reliable, and brave; but within, all had reverted to chaos, ruled, so far as it was ruled at all, by an incomplete asceticism. For if there is one thing that separates us from Forster, it is the transformation in Western sexual mores between 1910, when was published, and 2010.Whether as boy, husband, or widower, he had always the sneaking belief that bodily passion is bad.... If Forster strikes us as quaint, in a way that his contemporaries Joyce and Woolf do not, it is not simply because of his formal conservatism, but because he shows us, in Frank Kermode’s words, “a world in which what may now seem fairly trivial sexual gestures carry a freight of irreversible significance.” As Kermode goes on to note in his brief but illuminating new study, “two stolen kisses are sufficient to sustain the plot of .” That novel appeared in 1908, just fourteen years before Joyce would show Leopold Bloom masturbating on Sandymount Strand.World War I was clearly the dividing line between these sexual epochs, but even though Forster was not yet forty when the war ended, he published only one novel after it, It was a fragment of the Tune of tunes.Nobler instruments accepted it, the clarinet protected, the brass encouraged, and it rose to the surface to the whisper of violins.This chance guess, that came so near to the truth, never developed and , which was published in 1905.In each of his first four books, Forster writes as a defender of sexual freedom and self-knowledge against the suffocating ignorance of conventional morality.This is the fight for gay liberation, and the unrecorded history Moffat alludes to in her title is the history of Forster’s homosexuality.In her preface she quotes Christopher Isherwood, shortly after Forster’s death in 1970, saying that “all those books [about Forster] have got to be re-written.