Coming out in full Forster.*Posted: February 6, 2014
If you read the State of the Bloggers LHB so eloquently delivered to our little Internet fiefdom earlier this week, you might remember that lately I’ve been “screwing up [her] Netflix algorithms by watching BBC costume dramas from 30 years ago.” This is only partly true, LHB. I know you’re referring to when I watched the lush and lustful 1985 A Room with a View three times in two days recently on our ‘Flix account. I say to you, LHB, that you are erroneous on TWO COUNTS:
1. I’m no scientist, but it seems to me that 2014 minus 1985 equals 29 years, not the 30 years you alleged. Hyperbole! J’ACCUSE!
2. That shit is 100% prime Merchant Ivory melodrama and you know it. BBC can’t even begin to think about touching this (especially after what ITV did to it in 2007 amiright).
I won! Let’s celebrate by learning about a closeted British dude, shall we?
So that aforementioned A+ period drama (which stars a pre-Longbottom Bellatrix Lestrange and a post-Emancipation Proclamation Abe Lincoln and the Dames Superior Maggie and Judi) is AMAZING AND YOU SHOULD WATCH IT. If you don’t believe me, maybe the words “full-frontal,” “hot,” “Brit dudes,” and “skinny-dipping” will change your tune (for the sake of clarity, there is a full-frontal skinny dipping scene featuring hot Brit dudes). Also it’s based on a book, or whatever.
Upon my third viewing, I decided to reread said whateverbook (which is artfully plotted and really very sumptuous and affecting and all that good shit) for the first time since I was like 15 and even more susceptible to novel-induced ladyboners than I am now. And I got to wondering about the mind behind the ladyboners. And then I did some Googling. And here we are.
A Room with a View was written in 1908 by a Welsh-Irish Brit-mutt by the name of Edward Morgan “E.M.” Forster, who was coincidentally GAYER than SLEIGH BELLS. A Room with A View is about conflict between the self and the environment, English primness and continental earthiness, the spiritual and the material. Mostly, though, it’s a big ol’ 200-page metaphor for doing it.
In need of a short, sweet summary? Happy to oblige: Our heroine Lucy Honeychurch (we can all agree this is one of the better fictional names of all time) meets a young, eccentric dish named George Emerson while Under the Tuscan Sun with a bunch of super old British people. George is muscular and blond and makes Lucy feel tingly in her bathing suit places. They spend a lot of time looking at each other meaningfully under the duress of heat and passion and pasta that is Italy. While on a side trip in the country, George very suddenly, assertively, ardently grabs and makes out with Lucy in a dense and verdant meadow. She’s hella confused, because while it felt great, it is also Something That Is Just Not Done. Her chaperone aborts the trip and Lucy returns to Surrey and her pedantic, aesthete boyfriend. George and his dad move in down the road in an-almost-unbelievable-but-not-totally-dealbreaking plot contrivance. Our little filly spends a lot of pages pretending she hates George because society. He spends a lot of time saying things like “I love you” and “Fuck the man.” Eventually she comes around and decides to fuck the man (like in the social expectations sense) and later, after their wedding, fuck the man (like in the George sense). And she lives happily ever after because she lets her own feelings, and not the feelings of the stuffy, boring people around her, decide her fate.
E.M. Forster did a great fucking job exposing how hollow a culture is that asks people to deny themselves any and all pleasure in this novel. He did not do as great of a job in allowing himself any of these pleasures. (So sorry I’m using the word “pleasure” so much). Raised by a difficult and demanding mother, Ed managed to get to Cambridge, where met the Bloomsbury Group and was presumably exposed to real life non-straight relationships for the first time, because pretty much everyone in there was fucking everyone else regardless of gender. Except Ed, that is — he remained celibate until he was 38, but we’ll get there in a second.
Ed (who went by Morgan but I prefer Ed and it’s my blog) went on to write a string of truly groundbreaking and now-canonical novels between 1905 and 1924. Where Angels Fear to Tread, The Longest Journey, A Passage to India, A Room with A View of A Hot Muscular Blond Guy Skinnydipping, Howard’s End, Maurice. All pretty great. All about the condition of being English and uncomfortably fitting into the changing definition of Englishness in the age of imperialism and the rising middle class. Good. Cool. Cool cool cool.
Except Maurice is about a homosexual affair and was published posthumously in 1971. And, along with the discovery of Ed’s diary, which had been locked in a cabinet in his Cambridge dorm, confirmed his homosexuality. Scholars actually call this the “sex diary,” which is coincidentally what my mom called The Carrie Diaries once when I asked what she was watching.
Anyway, did I mention that upon completing A Passage to India in 1924, Ed, who lived until 1970, never published another novel? Once the sexy sex diaries became available, a few Forsterites did some cross-referencing and realized that the start of his decline in work nicely coincided with his 38th year. The year in which he finally allowed himself to bone and be boned in return, if you’ll recall.
At the end of World War I, Ed was working for the Red Cross in Egypt. You know how it goes — a hot, young Egyptian soldier stumbles into your tent with a war wound, you press gauze into his golden flesh, you share a lingering look just as his eyes glaze over from the chloroform. Next thing you know, you’re doing it on a beach. Well, that’s what happened to Ed, anyway. In his sexy sex diary, he only refers to the event as “losing R,” with “R” meaning “respectability.” Sad.
But not too sad! Because after that, Ed had a few flings with dudes! And turns out Ed and I share a proclivity for men in uniform, as he preferred to get fancy with sailors and policemen. In one sexy sex diary entry, he even said “I want to love a strong young man of the lower classes and be loved by him and even hurt by him.” Can’t fault a man (or ladyblogger) for that, ya feel? In fact, Bob Buckingham, a London police officer, became the love of Ed’s life. Which I would be much more effusive about were it not for the fact that Bob was married and homosexuality was still illegal so dating the fuzz was kind of a risky business. Also Ed was 51 to Bob’s 28, which is fine but maybe not ideal from a relationship stability standpoint. Lots of fancy people suggest that Ed lost interest in writing because the marriage plot ceased to have any real truth or catharsis for Ed once he’d fully embraced his sexual identity. I mean why write shit you don’t care about, right? Right.
At any rate, Ed and Bob really beat the odds and lived happily together until Ed’s death in 1970. There was the problem of Bob’s wife and son, of course, but Ed fixed that right up by buying a nice county house in Coventry where they could all cohabitate in a living situation that I imagine some network somewhere is optioning into the world’s next shitty sitcom. By all accounts, Ed and the Buckinghams (the shitty sitcom will be called Buckingham’s Palace, obviously) got on famously, probably especially due to the fact that he paid all the bills and even put them in his will.
Though Ed’s story seems to end much, much more happily than it began, he was as acutely aware in life as he was in his novels that society’s expectations can really yuck your yum. When he was 84 and about to die, he wrote “How annoyed I am with society for wasting my time by making homosexuality criminal. The subterfuges, the self-consciousness that might have been avoided!” Nuts. Double nuts, when you consider how hard it must have been to write li’l Lucy’s sexual and social awakening so motherfucking well, knowing you’d never get to experience the same liberation yourself.
But he did get to write a deliciously homoerotic skinny-dipping scene and call it Literature, so glass half full, y’all!
*(Sorry about the wordplay in the title; I know it’s kind of Forst) (NAILED IT).