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

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9780312572891: A Great Unrecorded History: A New Life of E. M. Forster

A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice

Finalist for the PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography

ALA Stonewall Honor Book

Finalist for James Tait Black Memorial Prize

E. M. Forster's homosexuality was the central fact of his life. Between Wilde's imprisonment and the Stonewall riots, Forster led a long, strange, and imaginative life as a gay man. He preserved a vast archive of his private life---a history of gay experience he believed would find its audience in a happier time. Seeing Forster's life through the lens of his sexuality, Wendy Moffat's biography offers us a dramatic new view---revealing his astuteness as a social critic, his political bravery, and his prophetic vision of gay intimacy. A Great Unrecorded History casts fresh light on one of the most beloved writers of the twentieth century.

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About the Author:

WENDY MOFFAT is a professor of English at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. A Great Unrecorded History is her first book.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

1
“A Queer Moment”
It was just Lily and Morgan. This had not been the plan.
Alice Clara Whichelo, known as Lily, married a marvelous young architect after an eight-week engagement when she was twenty-one. Edward Morgan Forster was the son of a clergyman. Lily and Eddie settled near Dorset Square in London, a few blocks from the rose gardens of Regents Park—a fine place for a young couple to start a family, and far enough away from Eddie’s imposing relatives at Clapham to give them breathing space. It was January 1877. Eddie was twenty-nine, and a bit slow to get on his feet professionally. Coming down from Trinity College, Cambridge, he had taken a slightly crooked path, inching away from filial expectations that he become a vicar. He was just starting his career, and his family buoyed up the young people financially. His sister Laura, having inherited some money, commissioned him to draw up plans for a fine brick country house in Surrey.
Lily didn’t know it, but her husband’s commission of Laura Forster’s West Hackhurst house would be the zenith of her happiness and security for a long time. She was pregnant within weeks of her wedding but their baby was stillborn. So ended the first year of her marriage. The next spring, almost before she had time to breathe, Lily was pregnant again. In the brief time before it would be unseemly for Lily to be seen traipsing about in public, Eddie took her to France to widen her horizons. His formidable “Aunt Monie”—the family matriarch who financed the trip—found the chaperoning arrangements rather unorthodox: “no Lady companion” for Lily unless one counted Eddie’s university friend Ted Streatfeild, who accompanied the couple on their belated honeymoon. Streatfeild, Aunt Monie wrote acidly, was “very nearly” a lady companion, “I own, but not quite.” While Lily rested at the hotel, the men walked and talked. For them Paris was familiar territory. Eddie was “very glib” at speaking French.
By the time they returned to London, Lily was heavily pregnant. On New Year’s Day 1879 she and Edward celebrated the birth of a son, also called Edward Morgan. Naming him thus came from a mistake at the baptismal font—the alchemy of absentmindednesss and fear of social ostracism that would fuel Forster’s first comic novels. In deference to Aunt Monie, the couple had settled on the family name Henry Morgan, the Henry honoring both Monie’s father, Henry Thornton, and Eddie’s brother Henry, a “shining light” who had died when Eddie was eighteen. So they had registered the baby’s name in the official records, but when the verger read from the scrap of paper at the font, he found that Eddie—“distrait”—had written his own full name instead. To differentiate him from his father, they called him by his middle name. Soon after the baby was born, it was clear that Eddie was very ill. He developed a horrifying cough and all through the year he could not shake a cold. Through eighteen “months of languor and sickness” Lily “could not take her husband’s illness seriously.” She was focused on the baby, and “she was accustomed to young people remaining alive.” Behind her back the Forsters and Eddie’s maternal family, the Thorntons, were full of advice and recrimination.
Lily came by her obtuse optimism honestly, and it later served her well. Like her husband, she was one of ten children. But the Whichelos were a hearty family—all her siblings were humming along, “fond of pleasure, generous and improvident,” full of “good looks . . . good taste and good spirits.” The Forsters were a more delicate bunch. Eddie, the eighth born, had already seen the death of five siblings from tuberculosis. One after the other they had been struck down; John, the firstborn, had lived all the way to the age of thirty-four, but the rest died in their teens and twenties. By the late summer of 1880 Lily realized that she must take the illness in hand. She rented a large house with a view of the sea in Bournemouth, and moved Eddie and the baby there to breathe the brisk salty air. But it was already too late. On October 30, 1880, Eddie died of tuberculosis, just ten days before his thirty-third birthday. Before her son was two, Lily was a twenty-five-year-old widow. Morgan wrote later, “[S]he felt that her life had ended before it had begun.” Her own words characterized her stupefying grief: “I wish tonight would never turn into day and that I could go on sleeping forever, it would be so nice.” Morgan was all she had left. There was no money on Lily’s side of the family. Her father had been a drawing master—a big, dreamy man who cobbled together a living. He had died suddenly when she was twelve, leaving her mother, Louisa, indefatigable and resourceful, to find ways of pressing her children out into the world. As the third of ten children and the eldest girl, Lily had learned to be stout-hearted, uncomplaining, and to take care of herself. In 1872, she had bought a diary which she wryly dedicated to herself, “a great heroine . . . age 17, manners 71 years of age, from her infancy always very old for her age.” Soon after, with an introduction from her family doctor, Lily became a companion to the neighboring Thorntons and a governess to the children of their friends. So she had met Eddie, and so she remained in the sway of his family after his death. Eddie had left a small inheritance. Seven thousand pounds would generate enough income for her to live a frugal middle-class life. By default Eddie had also left her to the redoubtable influence of his Aunt Monie, Marianne Thornton.
The Thorntons, Morgan Forster later came to understand, had a genetic gift: they “always had known best—it was part of their moral integrity.” And Aunt Monie “knew best better than ever” as she aged. She was eighty-two when Morgan was born, and she claimed not only the financial and moral power to determine her favored great-nephew’s future but a formidable family history to guide him. The Thorntons had all the gravitas and social influence the Whichelos lacked. They had been among the first families in Clapham for generations. Marianne’s father, Henry Thornton, was a founding member of the Clapham Sect, a group of Christian evangelists who proved to be effective, if ornery, politicians in the early nineteenth century.
Henry Thornton’s money came from banking. First he did well and then he did good. Family prayers were “a discipline and an institution,” Morgan wrote later. “The Clapham Sect listened, rose from its knees, ate, and then made money—made as much as ever it could, and then gave as much as it could away. The activity in either direction was immense.” Thorntons were great moralists, and despite all opposition they Stood Up for What Was Right. Year after year, Henry Thornton stood up in Parliament to support bills that would make this world a little more like the next: bills to establish asylums for the insane, bills for parliamentary reform against sinecures and corruption, bills for peace with the Americas, bills to stabilize the banking system, which was hopelessly unregulated, always bubbling and bursting. Most famously, Thornton had been a great friend of William Wilberforce in the long campaign to end the British slave trade. Thornton was a moderate, humorless man who had not an ounce of whimsy in his bones. (His friend Hannah More had unironically named her two cats Non-resistance and Passive Obedience.) By the time of Eddie’s death, in Marianne’s hands the Thornton evangelical fervor had distilled to the essence of knowing what was right for Lily and the baby.
After a miserable and smothering year living in the gloom of Aunt Monie’s large house in South London, Lily did something astonishing. She resisted her in-laws’ desire to envelop her, and set off to establish a separate household for herself and Morgan. In the autumn of 1882 she found an eighteenth-century redbrick house to let on four acres of land north of the city. The house was an island, even an idyll, suspended in time and place. Neither country nor yet fully suburban, Rooksnest stood at the margin of the village of Stevenage.
Morgan and Lily would live at Rooksnest for the next decade. Once there had been a hamlet and farm called Rooksnest, but those had disappeared, and now the name attached like a ghost to a two-story gabled house with plain windows and broad chimneys in the center of the roof and at one end. There was nothing particularly grand or historical about the house. To Morgan, whose first proper piece of writing was a memoir of the house, composed when he was fifteen, its very ordinary Englishness made it seem mystical, tied as it was to a past that was rapidly being eroded by the growth of suburban London. The walk to the village was about a mile. In the meadow beside the house was an ancient wych-elm in which people of the distant past had pressed boars’ fangs into the bark, little “votive offerings of people who had their toothache cured by chewing pieces of the bark.” Next door was the Franklyn farm, where there were ponies and children to play with, and a barn full of sweet straw to hide in. The kitchen garden was big enough to be hard work. Lily adapted the lawn for tennis. She and Morgan lived with two domestic servants—one for indoors and one for out. There might have been a moat, so socially isolated was their little household. Years later Forster immortalized the house, and the feeling of the house, in a novel. He called it Howards End.
In Howards End the house is haunted not by a literal ghost but by a sort of genius loci. Eddie’s ghost, if it walked at all, signified a lost world that might have supplanted or at least balanced out the “haze of elderly ladies”—the aunts and great-aunts, Victorian matrons who formed the only circle of friends with whom Lily felt comfortable. The lost world, Morgan came to understand, was an unspoken world, not only male but homoerotic. When he was in his mid-seventies, preparing a biography of Marianne Thornton, Morgan thought back on the oddities that he had stubbornly gleaned from Eddie’s short life. There was the unusual interest in aesthetics, fashion, and the decorative arts, the kind of pursuit au courant with Oscar Wilde and his set at Oxford. In facing marriage, Eddie was described as “not wild like L[ily] but as befitted his seven more years all aglow with happiness and having looked ‘things’ steadily in the face . . .” Things? Why did the milk-livered Ted Streatfeild accompany the couple to Paris? Why had Aunt Monie worried that Eddie “won’t be too old maidish to walk you down the Boulevard Italienne at night”? Then there was the strange companionship, akin to an informal adoption, between his dashing young uncle Percy Whichelo and an older military gentleman. In retrospect, Morgan thought “the implication was obvious.” It was not merely wish fulfillment to see the root of his homosexuality in his family’s past.
At Rooksnest, Lily Forster established the domestic pattern that would last the rest of her life: she and her boy against the world. She never remarried. Mother and son lived alone on a delicate reef of interdependence. A formal photograph taken when Morgan was five suggests the balance of power. The picture looks mid-Victorian though it was taken thirty years later. Wearing a little velvet suit with lace cuffs and collar, Mary Janes and stockings, his long hair cascading down his back, Morgan appears as an androgynous little Lord Fauntleroy. Though he is stout, Lily is shielding him as if he’s delicate. She stands behind him, not yet thirty, still dressed in mourning, her long hair pulled back in an elegant coil of plaits. Steadying him with her right hand, his mother looks down at him adoringly. But Morgan—with wide blue eyes—faces the camera directly with the attitude of an odalisque.
Aunt Monie had given Morgan the “deplorable” nickname “The Important One,” and it had grown less and less ironic over the years. He was accustomed to being the center of attention, but oddly this didn’t translate into narcissism. Because he was intensely filial and intensely sensitive, Morgan felt the weight of his role as Lily’s reason for living. He was a solemn little boy, often very still. He watched with interest the delicate dance women must adopt to be heard by men. He became in effect Lily’s lady companion. So close were he and Lily that their identities seemed to merge. He parroted her habit of cosseting and her intense interest in the exquisite proprieties of social standing and social etiquette. To his two dolls, Sailor Dollar and Sailor Duncan, he told long, complicated stories about what could and shouldn’t be done. One afternoon when Morgan was five he and Lily settled down to play “our usual game at Bézique. M. had S. Duncan stuck under his arm, which a good deal interfered with his play. At last he said so gravely ‘I am having such a miserable time with this doll. Do you think he would mind much not learning the game?’”
Learning the game seemed to be the key to living life. The whole of the world appeared as a set of rules, to be negotiated with care if you were not powerful. There seemed to be ways to earn a little safety. At the age of four, Morgan told his mother he “would much rather be a coward than brave because people hurt you when you are brave.” At other times, it seemed that however much one tried, who you were was determined by whether you could adequately act a part. But both his anachronistic dress and his extremely sensitive manner made him seem “half a girl,” Lily complained. “I wish he was more manly and did not cry so easily.” Once, when he was mistaken for a girl by a servant, he was told to go back and correct the misapprehension. Dutifully, he returned and announced, “I’m a little boy.” “Yes, miss,” was the reply.
He was clever. By the age of four, he discovered that he could read. Thereafter he fiercely defended his interior life, commenting to Aunt Monie’s maid that it was “[t]iresome to be interrupted in my reading when the light is so good.” Learning to read opened a vista into a separate life—a life apart from Life, which he figured in a piece of juvenile fiction as a “secret place.” Here it was possible to slow things down to consider them, to magnify feelings, to roll them around in the brain, to hone the strange interior truths of being and feeling. In later years, he crystallized these insights into a very funny, very sad essay he called “Notes on the English Character.” “It is not,” Morgan wrote there, “that the Englishman can’t feel—it is that he is afraid to feel.” The essence of English character is to “measure out emotions . . . as if they were potatoes.” Even as a young boy, Morgan was both trapped in the English character and a connoisseur of its vagaries. When he was only four, he spent days earnestly studying an etiquette book for children. The book was titled Don’t!
He became a keen pupil of different kinds of knowledge. There was the bilingualism of women, their private talk and their careful, vicious, oblique wielding of social power. And there was dream knowledge, a magical, incantatory way to discover what is already known to be true. In Maurice, he would write, “Maurice had two dreams at school; they will interpret him.” The wishes that acted upon, or acted for, the passive Morgan were centered on affection for men. The warm, diffuse, disembodied yearning for connection and intimacy that appeared as a voice calling out in the dark, and the panicky, miserable jolt of fear when the yearning became embodied in any way. Thinking about things was relatively safe. Touching was not.
So Morgan persisted in trying to figure himself out in a kind of vacuum. His earliest self-knowledge was sexual and tinged with homoerotic hunger. At Rooksnest, this island where there were no men, he sought the company of Ansell, a neighboring garden boy, conf...

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Descrizione libro St Martin s Press, United States, 2011. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book ***** Print on Demand *****.A New York Times Book Review Editors Choice Finalist for the PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography ALA Stonewall Honor Book Finalist for James Tait Black Memorial Prize E. M. Forster s homosexuality was the central fact of his life. Between Wilde s imprisonment and the Stonewall riots, Forster led a long, strange, and imaginative life as a gay man. He preserved a vast archive of his private life---a history of gay experience he believed would find its audience in a happier time. Seeing Forster s life through the lens of his sexuality, Wendy Moffat s biography offers us a dramatic new view---revealing his astuteness as a social critic, his political bravery, and his prophetic vision of gay intimacy. A Great Unrecorded History casts fresh light on one of the most beloved writers of the twentieth century. Codice libro della libreria APC9780312572891

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Descrizione libro St Martin s Press, United States, 2011. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book ***** Print on Demand *****. A New York Times Book Review Editors Choice Finalist for the PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography ALA Stonewall Honor Book Finalist for James Tait Black Memorial Prize E. M. Forster s homosexuality was the central fact of his life. Between Wilde s imprisonment and the Stonewall riots, Forster led a long, strange, and imaginative life as a gay man. He preserved a vast archive of his private life---a history of gay experience he believed would find its audience in a happier time. Seeing Forster s life through the lens of his sexuality, Wendy Moffat s biography offers us a dramatic new view---revealing his astuteness as a social critic, his political bravery, and his prophetic vision of gay intimacy. A Great Unrecorded History casts fresh light on one of the most beloved writers of the twentieth century. Codice libro della libreria APC9780312572891

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