I’ve read all E M Forster’s novels, starting with Maurice and working my way through the rest in no particular order. I’ve even read the fragments of novels he left behind, unfinished. They were all intriguing, some – Maurice and A Passage to India – were stunning, and the experience left me wanting more. There isn’t “more”.
After A Passage to India the novels ceased. I’ve read various theories as to why, for example his late flowering discovery of physical love somehow stifling his ability to write. There were a few short stories, of course, and I’ve been working through as many of these as I can get my hands on. Some of them are brilliant – such as the delightful The Celestial Omnibus and the amazingly slashy Story of a Panic – while The Machine Stops is an incredible piece of science fiction which predicts the world of the webcam and the ipod. But I knew there were some stories I’d not tracked down so, when I came across The Life to Come and Other Stories, I was really excited. This collection contains some of Forster’s hitherto unpublished gay fiction: better than that it contains a highly informative introduction by Oliver Stallybrass.
His theory about why EMF had given up writing novels is simple, and based on the writer’s letters. What he wanted to write was unpublishable at the time and what was pubslishable he didn’t want to write. He still worked on short stories, with varying degrees of success in terms of getting them accepted, and some of these were evidently for his own gratification. A number of these “indecent” stories were destroyed, as he believed they were inhibiting him artistically (what a loss!). What remains, and has made it into the collection, are some extraordinary pieces.
Consider Maurice. Would you imagine its writer constructing tales in which a respectable married couple meet a couple of sailors at the seaside and each go off for a bit of rooty-tooty in the bushes? Or a widower having a liaison with an amateur rent boy in the woods of the house where he’s a guest? Where the son of a late Romanic English family undergoes the “rape turns to love” trope? Or a son of the empire indulges in a liaison with a man of mixed race – a man he vilifies in public, behind his back – then kills his lover during sex, after which he commits suicide?
As a reader I was surprised at what I found – so out of keeping with the rest of the canon – although given what I’ve read about Forster, I should have known better. There are a number of echoes in these tales of his life and his desires; do look them out if you can.