EM Forster Stopped Writing After Losing His Virginity

Forster Writer E.M. Forster always knew he was gay but didn't have his first sexual experience until later in life – when he was 38 years old – years before he wrote the gay-themed novel Maurice. A new biography reveals that the relationships he forged replaced his desire to write and also reveal the recent discovery of a diary he kept that chronicled his sexual adventures.

The Times reports:

"Now Forster’s papers, including his “sex diary”, which had been locked away at his former lodgings at Cambridge University, indicate his creative drive was curbed after he lost his virginity to a wounded soldier on an Egyptian beach when he was 38 and met his long-term lover — a married policeman — several years later."

"The author felt he could not continue to write about the heterosexual, English middle-class themes with which he had made his name."

“'I should have been a more famous writer if I had written or rather published more, but sex prevented the latter,' Forster wrote."

Forster's diary also reveals that he apparently exclusively dated blue collar men. One entry, in part: “I want to love a strong young man of the lower classes and be loved by him and even hurt by him."

Comments

  1. TANK says

    What would an English novelist/novel be without the class fetishism? I think it’s hilarious when people state that they’re into rough trade. I mean, it’s awfully hard to take anyone seriously ever, but when you deliberately make a clown of yourself…god times.

  2. says

    Can’t wait to read this. It opens up a whole new level for Forster scholarship.

    It’s amazing that someone who had so much trouble living his life has grown to be such a beloved literary figure. Howard’s End, A Passage to India, A Room With a View and Maurice have deeply touched zillions.

  3. Ted B. (Charging Rhino) says

    It’s important to consider the context…the 19th-century and pre-WW2 gay aesthetic and fetish for “lower class” men wasn’t necessary on a class…but of appearance and attitude. While today it’s the better-off gay men who workout, tan and get lots of fresh air exercise, before WW2 it that same bodytype was that of the working-man, outdoors or in the mill.

    Look at pictures of that period and by today’s standards guys look 20-30 years older than they were and are mostly pallid and paunchy.

  4. TANK says

    England’s love affair with class is much more ingrained than that explanation– transcending orientation and time period (not just victorian). It’s still very much alive. It just wouldn’t be England without class obsession.

  5. Henry Holland says

    What an incredible writer. I’ve read “Maurice” dozens of times (it’s short, can be read in 2 hours, perfect for planes and trains) and all the other ones multiple times. So deft at a phrase that describes something with few words. He co-wrote the libretto to Benjamin Britten’s glorious opera “Billy Budd” and it’s still considered one of the finest opera librettos ever written (I know, thanks to the Italians that’s a low bar, but still).

    From here: http://www.glbtq.com/literature/forster_em.html

    “Perhaps because of his erotic preference for working-class men, Forster was also deeply affected by the belief that homosexuality could serve a positive social function by helping to bridge the barriers that separate the classes”

  6. Chal says

    I’m reading this book now and loving it. Considering how much I thought I knew about gay history, I’m pleasantly surprised to be learning more.

  7. Smartypants says

    Forrester’s notion that homosexuality could help bridge the differences between classes is reflected and expanded upon in Samuel Delaney’s “Time Square Red/Time Square Blue” where he argues that the old porn theaters and sex clubs in Times Square provided a shared ground where men who were looking for a sexual encounter with other men could meet and connect across boundaries of class, race and age. Delaney, who frequented these establishments before they were shuttered by the Giuliani administration’s successful effort to transform Times Square into a Big Apple Disneyland outlet, argues that among the regulars long term erotic relations arose between Wall Street financiers and drug addicts, construction workers and business men, that transcended societal distinctions.

    Men who would never have crossed paths, let alone exchanged a word, came together initially through mutual lust which over time and repeated encounters developed into a real, if circumscribed, interest in aspects of one anothers’ lives leading to a kind of care and understanding that simply would not happen without the erotically charged environment that brought them together in the first place. Delaney laments the loss of these sexual crossroads to censors and prudes who are threatened by the transgression of their social order.

    You can argue with his position, but Delaney defends Forrester’s thesis with passion and gives a thorough, articulate and forceful rebuttal to the forces of prudery that want to eliminate these venues from our society. If you ever need a philosophical excuse to visit a bathhouse or follow a hot guy into the bushes, this is the place to find it.

  8. GrabbinNewscum says

    Smartypants:

    Bla bla bla, stop inflicting your boring PhD dissertation on us. Keep it in the salons of the Yale English department where they shiver and cream their panties over words like “transgressive”

  9. CRANK says

    Yeah, Smartypants!

    Open, free form comments regarding gay revelations about a major literary figure is no place to write in full sentences or use words with more than one syllable!

    You need to listen to us stupid queens and be vapid and only listen to dance music all day, that’ll learn ya!

  10. Kitty Boots says

    Well put, Smartypants. Delaney is a living gay hero who’s standing in the literary world will no doubt eclipse even Forster’s as more mainstream academics discover the depth of his philosophy and writing. “Hogg” is a perfect example of a gay ‘genre’ novel transgressing erotica/sci-fi and becoming a unique literary vision.

    And to Gavin Dumbscum:
    dumb Let dumb fags read bad stupid! Gaga!

  11. Snowlowe says

    Grabbinnewscum: “Blah” has an h on the end of it. Smartypants can spell transgressive and you can’t even spell blah right.

  12. Smartypants says

    Oh blah, blah, blah yourself, sweetcheeks.

    First, in my experience transgressive usually equals hot.

    Secondly, I think it’s fascinating that two great gay writers, separated by an ocean and a half century of time, both concluded that homosexuality, or better — love and attraction between men, has the potential to overcome societal distinctions and prejudice that keep us from sharing and learning from one another. It’s an idea worth exploring in the literary salon, the gay bar and the bushes of a park.

    Finally, while I didn’t go to Yale, I did once bend a Yale Divinity grad over a tree stump in the rain forest and fucked him hard until he recited dirty limericks. It wasn’t revelatory, but it was sexy and a hell of a lot of fun — something that seems to be sadly missing from your life.

  13. Chal says

    Grabbinnewscum: OMG!! I love Glee too!!! The guys on it are like so super cute!!!! =)

  14. TANK says

    Yeah…”love conquers all!” Sorry, but a quick trick doesn’t equate to social justice between the classes. Perhaps that was a more relevant hypothesis when homosexuality was criminalized…but even then, the number of actual relationships born of mutual interest in the male body…I’d say pretty low considering the closet rate. I know for a fact that we’re still marginalized in society, that creates unusual matchups. But with increased acceptance, we see the decline of places like bathhouses, restrooms, and public space hookups. Those “scenes” just smack of oppression; and oppression can come to be erotic for some of the oppressed. However, with that comes an increase in selectivity, and class rigidity.

  15. Rowan says

    Agree with @ smartypants. I think the net has done this aswell to a small percentage no?

    I would never hang out or be around someone like Grabbie but tlrd is the only place for good gay news, so you end up bumping into these people.

    Interesting.

  16. johnny says

    Bridging the gap between classes and engaging is sexual exploits while doing so is prevalent in many eras all throughout history. The early Greeks and Romans, middle-age English, French and German, the wild west, the west coast during the mid and late 1800s… this type of thing has happened probably since the dawn of time in all cultures. I picture neanderthal men sneaking off to whoop it up with hunky cro-magnons because they were attracted to their massive brow ridge.

  17. says

    I’ll be happy to read the book, though much of this information is not that new. He certainly had romantic affairs with men (like the one he dedicated Passage to India to) before he “stopped writing” — and I’m not sure how accurate that is, what about all the Life to Come stories? Were they written before or after? They’re much more openly gay.

    As to the class difference, one should also consider that homosexuality and sexuality in general were treated differently by different classes. Working class men were much less restrained by “R for respectability” — that’s a very middle-class concept. See Chauncey’s Gay New York.

  18. GrabbinNewscum says

    “Transgressive!”

    “Nodes of resistance!”

    “Discourse re-inscribed on the locus of the subject!”

    “The panoptical society!”

    “Performativity!”

    “Deconstruction of the essentialized heteronormativied binary!”

    “Bla bla blabbity bla! Can I have my PhD now?”

  19. Smartypants says

    Reading these comments and thinking a bit more about the idea of homosexuality as a connector across social boundaries, led to a headslap moment. What other mechanism gives people the opportunity to meet people from outside their own little corner of the world?

    Stay with me here, fellas…THE INTERNET!

    When I was in college I spent a term living in Vienna. My first day there (a Friday) I went to a gay community center, met several nice men and got invited to brunch the following Sunday. (Apparently brunch and blowjobs are part of the universal gay language). In less than 24 hours I was eating, talking and hanging out with interesting men from the other side of the world.

    Today I am Facebook friends with a writer in Thailand who posts regular updates about the political situation there, a college friend who teaches English at a medical school in Northern Japan, and a dance instructor in Amsterdam. All because of the world wide web and homosexuality.

    It just goes to prove, THE INTERNET IS GAY!

  20. says

    “Bla bla blabbity bla! Can I have my PhD now?”

    Only if you hang it on the wall of your dungeon and promise to stay there, Grabbin.

    Funny how an intelligent discussion of one of the major gay literary figures of all time can be so threatening to the frustrated few . . .

  21. Smartypants says

    Tank, I agree with you. “Love conquers all” is a romantic notion that doesn’t survive scrutiny. And love usually ain’t what going on in the places Delaney writes about.

    But I don’t think he’s arguing that sex among strangers is a social cureall. But it does bring men together in ways that don’t happen in “polite” society. Sometimes this means they also connect on a deeper level where they experience more than just a quick release.

    I’ve had more than my fair share of sexual adventures in unexpected men in unusual places. It’s certainly not something I romanticize, but I’m not ashamed of it either. Sometimes the encounters just left me feeling empty and dirty, but as often as not there were real moments of tenderness, compassion, or a brief moment of connecting across barriers of class, age and language.

    But I’m willing to bet I’m the only person in my extended biological family who has had a long conversation with an illegal immigrant about what it’s like trying to get by in America, or discussed the challenges of payload balancing on the space shuttle with a NASA scientist.

    I’m not arguing that cruising dirty bookstores is a social panacea, but it sometimes chips away at the social barriers and can lead to a bit more understanding and compassion around people who are different from oneself. And I that’s not a bad start.

  22. GM says

    Is this Towleroad’s most erudite discussion ever? Bravo to those involved. Forster spoke to me as a younger gay man. “Only connect.” That was the theme of Howard’s End. Seems appropriate here.

  23. stopabusingourchildren says

    i love it when queens quarrel!

    @smartypants: true about the theatres. oh that balcony, and the dark corners!!! oh god, the bathroom downstairs. !!!
    i saw fireman, cop, construction worker, leather guy, suit guy, medical guy, homeless guy, regular guy, crazy guy, rabbi, muslim guy, blaH….penis here and there!

  24. candideinnc says

    It is of interest that the satisfaction of sexual desires was accompanied by diminishment in creative output. That seemed to be the case for Bernstein, as well. I wonder if there are others that could be added to the list?

  25. Jacknasty says

    Dating, fucking and marrying across class lines isn’t exactly confined to teh gayz. Straights have been doing the same since forever, via various interactions (church, work, bars & pubs, etc.). Not to mention all those slave masters who fucked their slaves (I’m talkin’ ’bout you, Mr. Jefferson), or frustrated uppercrust housewives who fucked the gardeners and butlers senseless.

  26. GrabbinNewscum says

    You can dress it up all you want, girls, it’s still just rough trade. lol

  27. says

    I think this topic is great, but I also think that the final outcome (so to speak) of these couplings may not have been that important. One of the things that’s been uncovered about race in America is that while people may mix well at work, they leave those cross-racial relationships there. Wouldn’t the same be true of cross-class relationships? (And race and class are often conflated.)

    Hopefully, however, even if these relationships (sex couplings and work friendships) are limited, they can give the folks at least some appreciation of the life and experience of the “other”.

    Only connect, indeed.

  28. TANK says

    Yes…LOL! Love conquers all is a cliche that’s false. Love is a great emotion, but it is, mechanically, an evolved neurochemical response to facilitate the exchange of genetic material AND (more importantly, because lust covers the last bit) take care of the product of the gestation of that transfer…and to take care of each other for the greatest strength of humanity is in our unbelivable capacity for cooperation. Perhaps I should have written lust conquers all (especially reason). And love works by shutting down our critical faculties…that’s why when love gives way, faults magically appear out of nowhere (e.g., “YOU SNORING SWINE!”)

    Now for my comments section argument!

    While I don’t dispute that a motley assortment of individuals are brought together due to oppression, size of, and shared interest in same sex sex in the gay community, mistah pants, I just don’t think it’s currently really a force to break down class barriers in any significant or broadbased way (or really was…as I don’t consider a person of one class sleeping with another as constituting a reduction of the gap in social strata…and when oppression was greater as in Forster’s day, the lack of social power perhaps had less of an impact in doing that).

    With the ever increasing normalization of homosexuality, these locales are no longer as central to social cohesion (as gathering spots), or for quick release of pent up sexual energy. The entire premise of bathhouses, and sex in public places between MSM is anonymity based on shame/oppression, AND a place to release so-randomly deemed socially unacceptable urges. That’s part of the reason why the bathhouse is quickly (I’ve never been to one…but have read enough of its impending extinction) and public sex venues (e.g., public parks, restrooms, etc) are declining as acceptable areas of sexual expression…especially within our own community (it’s considered a throwback to earlier more oppressed generations). I expect in the future (if we continue down this path of enlightenment in western society), sex betweem men who have sex with men in public and/or bathhouses will be near the same rate as men who have sex with women in public and/or “swingers clubs”. With this normalization, more space to be selective in who you have sex with, date, and get involved with is created (premise).

    Another aspect is the advent of online dating (i.e., hooking up), which has increased selectivity (undefined…because I’ll be damned if I post a formal argument on towleroad) drastically. With these new found “freedoms”, oppressions such as classism thrive as a trade off (no free lunch), and need to be dealt with as the separate issues they are. We still have a long way to go in terms of consolidation by mainstream culture (esp. in the united states), but we’ve come far enough for selection to have an extremely negative impact on minimizing class, racial, physical prejudices (conclusion).

    As jacknasty observes, LUST brings together many individuals who otherwise would have nothing to do with each other, totally distinct from any particular orientation. Perhaps its more pronounced amongst men who have sex with men due to increased oppression (and historically, it surely has been); but again, I wouldn’t credit it with dissolving the boundaries of class in any serious way…can’t do that out of sight, out of mind…lol

  29. veg says

    Many of the stories in E. M. Forster’s short story collection THE LIFE TO COME also delved into cross-class and interracial (with white English men and Indian and African men) gay love.

    Two in particular are sumptuous: “The Other Boat” (about a white English naval officer’s affair with an Indian boy) and “The Life to Come” (about a white English missionary’s affair with the male head of an Indo-African tribe).

    Pity that these stories each have tragic endings where the lovers do not run off happily into the greenwood as they do at the end of Forster’s novel MAURICE.

  30. Daniel says

    I think Foucault also talks about this across-classes aspect of homosexuality on The History of Sexuality. But my memory may be faulty. I seem to remember in it he argues this is another of the threats the gay culture poses on capitalist society. And also one of the reasons Wilde was so ostracized by his peers. I have had these encounters, but I don’t really believe some differences can be reconciled.

  31. Sancho says

    By coincidence, I just finished reading Wendy Moffat’s new biography of Forster yesterday. It’s a good read and makes effective use of her new material, though I think it falls short of Furbank’s in terms of depth of analysis.

  32. says

    ” The entire premise of bathhouses, and sex in public places between MSM is anonymity based on shame/oppression, AND a place to release so-randomly deemed socially unacceptable urges.”

    Speak for yourself, queen.

    I thoroughly enjoyed bathhouse sex, central park sex, and a wide variety of others without shame or self-hatred. And I sensed precious little in my co-respondents (save for the Catholic priests of course.)

  33. GrabbinNewscum says

    Didn’t Foucault frequent bathhouses, like to get fisted, and die of AIDS?

    I guess he was trying so hard to be “transgressive” that it caused his death. So much for all those airy fairy theories.

  34. TANK says

    Yes, DE…and then there were the cackling maries who partook of those activities because that’s where the men were…but of course it never occurs to you to wonder why…I guess gay men just really like fucking outdoors and in bathrooms! Huh? That it? LMAO! you’re subcognitive, DE. Keep swimming in the shallow end, discussing the glory days of rock hudson and other big hollywood mos.

  35. TANK says

    and I wasn’t speaking for myself, DE. I was speaking to people that I have no connection to. I would never embrace marginalization by having it off at those venues. That’s your schtick.

  36. TANK says

    I just don’t think that most gay men who frequented bathhouses were thinking to themselves: “FUCK YOU, PATRIARCHY! I’M SO RADICAL UNDERMINING THE BIGOTED MORES OF MY SOCIETY! TAKE THAT, AND THAT, AND THAT…AND THAT….” to orgasm…then again, it takes all kinds…

  37. arch says

    Interesting, the comments on this piece started off about how the English (of whom I am one) were obsessed with class, the comments then moved onto an american version of the class debate but substituting Yale in place of Oxford; maybe it’s not just the English who get fired up by class…always suspected the yanks loved it too – Scott Fitzgerald was far more class obsessed than any English writer I an think of.

  38. nic says

    i’m astonished at the hatred leveled by the lesser educated on those of us who earned more than a GED. i thank you for your comments, SMARTYPANTS. the bloomsbury group that included virginia woolf, forster, lytton strachey, and john maynard keynes (all of them queers) had a profound impact on modern day society and economics. kenyesian economics is back in vogue after the debacle of the bush/cheney years.

  39. nic says

    @arch,

    i noticed the shift from england to america, too. but, why should that surprise us? we are just as prudish as you limeys. it’s the puritan ethos. but wait, i’m latino, so that does not apply to me. yea, me!

  40. says

    “I just don’t think that most gay men who frequented bathhouses were thinking to themselves: “FUCK YOU, PATRIARCHY! I’M SO RADICAL UNDERMINING THE BIGOTED MORES OF MY SOCIETY! TAKE THAT, AND THAT, AND THAT…AND THAT….” to orgasm…then again, it takes all kinds. . .”

    A shame you don’t get out much “Tank.”
    For those of the “FUCK YOU, PATRIARCHY! I’M SO RADICAL UNDERMINING THE BIGOTED MORES OF MY SOCIETY! TAKE THAT, AND THAT, AND THAT…AND THAT….” I heartily reccomend “The Sexual Outlaw” by John Rechy.

  41. gregorybrown says

    If nothing else, I hope this exchange encourages more people to read Delany AND Rechy And Forster. Each offers insights into behaviors and lives lived before the mainstreaming of queerness was on fast track. Each writes well, in different ways. and whether a reader comes out of their books in agreement with their premises and conclusions, the experience can be liberating and induce thinking about your own life and how you do it.

  42. mickeymouth says

    This is the most exciting back n forth, I’ve seen on any gay site. Congrats to Andy for having created a place where smart, vibrant openness can ensue!

    Yes, “Only Connect” is and always have been the most important thing, whether with oneself or another…It’s been the most affecting of aphorisms for me for my 45 years since reading HF! And Yes that does apply to All classes with a personal sexual fascination for the “lower classes.”

    This is a thrilling way to begin a week! Thanks All for the chat!!

    Hip-Hip and Here-Here!!

  43. tbeth says

    Love Forster *and* Rechy. Both traded in a sort of poetic sadness, Forster’s rather detached and wry, Rechy’s more visceral and heartbreaking. Wow, I have some reading to do when I can get back home to my books.

  44. Glynn Beck says

    Fucking doesn’t solve social problems, education and redistributing wealth does. Might I suggest everyone check out the book, “Selling Out: The Gay and Lesbian Movement Goes To Market”? A great read with good insight on sellout orgs like HRC. And GrabbinAnkles, I’m not sure why you are so angry, but I acknowledge it, sister. Do you!