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A Great Unrecorded History: A New Life Of E. M. Forster (2010)

A Great Unrecorded History: A New Life of E. M. Forster (2010)

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4.08 of 5 Votes: 3
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0374166781 (ISBN13: 9780374166786)
farrar, straus and giroux

About book A Great Unrecorded History: A New Life Of E. M. Forster (2010)

When researching her biography, Wendy Moffat tells us, Christopher Isherwood, a lifelong friend of E. M. Forster, advised her, "Unless you start with the fact that he was homosexual, nothing's any good at all." Moffat took that to heart. In doing so she gives us a different biography from what we might have expected. Forster was the novelist who wrote such critically-acclaimed and influential novels as Howard's End and A Passage to India. He was a don of Cambridge, lecturer, friend of Leonard and Virginia Woolf as well as many other intellectuals of the Bloomsbury group of artists and writers. He was also a homosexual who lived most of his life trying to live so that the fact wouldn't be revealed, though he relished the lifestyle and lived what he considered a fulfilling and satisfying life while defining himself as a homosexual, as did those who knew him.That's the biography Moffat gives us. Not the biography of the novelist Forster and man of letters but the life of Forster the homosexual. The great unrecorded history, a phrase of his own, is the story of his sexual orientation and relationships. It's the story of how he lived as a homosexual in a society which, for his lifetime at least, prosecuted such behavior. It's an interesting story--Forster came to terms with his orientation quite early and never agonized over the fact of it. Moffat is even-handed with her material. There are no salacious details or juicy reveals we didn't know. And she writes well enough she can engagingly relate the stories of his relationships and those he loved as well as the many homosexual acquaintances he had. Moffat describes some of these friendships, those which influenced Forster directly or those which were with those prominent in society and the arts, in detail.One small quibble: Moffat too frequently uses the word gay. To me the sexual and social lifestyle Forster lived was more correctly homosexual than the gay lifestyle we know today.I enjoyed the book. Still, it wasn't the biography of Forster the writer I wanted. His novels are here, but not in any great detail, and without analysis or suggestions as to how their various elements and themes might relate to their author. Forster the writer was necessarily active in a rich company of authors and artists with whom he interacted. He socialized with the Woolfs and others of the Bloomsbury circle, for instance. He knew T. S. Eliot and D. H. Lawrence. But we're not told of his relations with them. The novel most often referred to is Maurice, the novel of homosexuality whose publication he wouldn't allow during his lifetime. The most detailed description of Forster at work is his writing the libretto for Billy Budd in collaboration with Benjamin Britten. As for Forster in life, what's important in Moffat's biography is his homosexuality. I think she probably records much of what has gone unrecorded until now. She has made it possible--necessary, even--to return to Forster's great novels as the focus of his life.

This book is just amazing. Wendy Moffat has done a terrific job, brilliantly researched and so sensitive to the interior life of the 20th century homo. Academic biography aside, Moffat creates a compelling polemic on the damage a narrow minded society imposes on gay men and women. "Yes, yes, I remember feeling that," I would say as the author parsed the homophobia that caused Forster so much suffering and distraction. Things are different now, I would tell Morgan, knowing he would be pleased with the progress we have made. On the other hand, Morgan's life-long task to protect his mother's sensibilities hit close to home, a reminder that some things remain resistant to change. Best of all, unlike so much of today's cultural debate where gay criticism addresses the "choir," Moffat's biography will reach a wider audience, those seeking appreciation of 20th century Brit. Lit, and pushing academia a few more inches out of the closet. Morgan, via Moffat, makes me proud to be an American, as least one lucky enough to be out in the 70s. Morgan’s wide-eyed appreciation of America’s ghetto culture, the openly gay enclaves of Greenwich Village and Santa Monica canyon, for example, registered for him as hope in the future. Imagine his bearing witness to both the Oscar Wilde trial and the Silverlake riots of 1967. Despite his long life, he was fortunately spared the epidemic of the 80s and 90s, exacerbated by this same “liberating” ghettoization he so admired.Through this astute biography, I hope Moffat reaches a larger audience, be it academic, religious or Republican, with the awareness on the enormous cost culture pays to maintain policies of homophobia.

Do You like book A Great Unrecorded History: A New Life Of E. M. Forster (2010)?

Forster was thoroughly and determinately gay. Moffat makes abundantly clear that this fact informed and shaped every aspect of Forster's private and professional life from first tentative thoughts to final comfort. By surrounding her portrait of his life with the societal events that he experienced, she exhibits her wonderfully engaging gift of combining thorough, sympathetic scholarship with a strong narrative style expressed with an obvious love for words, all very much a tribute to her subject. If her university courses are anywhere near the richness of this work, her students are very lucky indeed.
—Christopher Fox

An incredibly well-researched biography of E.M. Forster—and when I say “well-researched” I also mean the research doesn’t get in the way of the story. The book focuses on Forster’s homosexuality and his long journey from isolation to friendship and love. Forster struggled with (not against) his inclinations during a time that homosexuality was not only an underground activity, but also a crime that led to prison and social exclusion. Additionally, Forster was engaged with men of a different class from his own, and his exploration of sexual and class differences became inextricably intertwined. Against the backdrop of his mother’s presence, (to whom he was very close) Forster managed to carve out a life for himself, though it was always a discrete and clandestine one.

Is art born out of hysteria? Or does sexual fulfillment kill the creative urges? In Forster's case, he wrote a handful of great novels while still in denial and in the closet (which seems to have been located in the home he shared with his domineering mom - obviously). After Forster came to terms with his homosexuality, he seems to have become a slightly creepy ageing queen who preyed on ostenstibly straight younger men from the lower social orders and replaced his creative urges with a quick wank behind the sheds - all the while staying firmly closeted, of course. It is sad that a man with such undeniable talent focused so much on what should have been a minor element of his life, even terminating his public writing career because he felt he couldn't write freely about his feelings. This biography focuses on what may indeed have been the single most important issue in Forster's life (and not unjustly so, since homosexuality was still a punishable offence for most of his life), but it makes for a rather thin story.

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