The great novelist E. M. Forster on the subject of his posthumous legacy wanted everything told. Wendy Moffat, to her credit, certainly does just that. In A GREAT UNRECORDED HISTORY, a quotation from Forster, as are all the chapter headings, Moffat draws from his journals and a "locked diary" that he kept for sixty years as well as interviews with his friends. She also includes voluminous notes and an extensive bibliography at the end of this most informative and heartwarming biography.
It of course has been long known by readers that Forster's novel MAURICE and a collection of short stories THE LIFE TO COME, dealing with love and sex between men, were published at his direction only after his death in 1970. Moffat writes extensively about MAURICE. One of the most moving portions of this biography appears early when Forster-- he was called "Morgan" by friends and family"-- showed a typewritten copy of the novel to Christopher Isherwood. His eyes wet with tears, Isherwood told Forster that he found the novel "wonderful and brave." Isherwood encouraged Forster to publish the novel-- in 1928, 1948, 1951-- to no avail, however. Forster finished MAURICE before he ever touched another man-- he had his first sexual encounter when he was 37-- and certainly that is one of the saddest facts about Forster's life. Sergeant Leonard Matlovich-- discharged from the USAF for being openly gay-- said something similar in his autobiography when he remembered that he had never touched another human being until he was well into adulthood. Through the years a copy of MAURICE made the rounds of Forster's friends although T. E. Lawrence chose not to read it. The author later in his life revised the novel to give it a happier ending.
In an example of life imitating art, as in the novel, Forster chose men from the lower classes as lovers. He, for example, remembered forty years after his affair with the Egyptian tram conductor Mohammed el Adl that this friendship was one of the two '"greatest things"' in his life. The two men had a single suit made for each of them to wear. It was slightly too big for Adl and a litle small for Forster. He was devastated when Adl died of consumption at the age of 23. He kept for the rest of his life studio photographs of Adl, the ticket stub from their first tram ride together and Adl's letters to him: "Do not forget your ever friend." Forster's longest relationship was with Bob Buckingham, a British policeman he met in 1930 who like Adl, married and named a child Morgan after Forster. Buckingham and his wife May-- with whom Forster became good friends in the most interesting of triangles-- were with him when the writer died in 1970.
Forster's homosexuality was at the center of who he was. He essentially stopped writing fiction for publication after A PASSAGE TO INDIA, which became a best seller and made him rich, because he believed he could not write about gay characters although he would never have used the word "gay" to describe the love between two men. Throughout his long life--he died at the age of 91-- Forster met other writers and moved in literary circles, both gay and otherwise, around the world, including the United States where he made two visits: D. H. Lawrence, W. H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood, Virginia and Leonard Woolf, C. P. Cavafy (Forster believed that meeting the very "out" Greek poet was one of the most fortunate things that happened to him), Henry James (to whom he did not warm) and Gore Vidal whom he did not like at all. He also wrote the libretto for Benjamin Britton's opera from Melville's BILLY BUDD and became friends with Paul Cadmus who included him in one of his paintings and George Platt Lynes who photographed him and Bob Buckingham on their visit to the U. S.
In what has to be one of the most unusual dinner parties ever held--"Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?"-- on their visit to the United States, Forster and Buckingham were the guests of honor at a party hosted by Glenway Wescott and Monroe Wheeler. Also in attendance were Joseph Campbell and Dr. Alfred Kinsey. What the two Brits did not know was that the theme of the party--Wescott and Wheeler's parties always had themes-- was sex although Forster and Buckingham rose to the occasion. Bob invited Kinsey to visit England to see Scotland Yard's confiscated pornography and Morgan took comfort in learning-- as did he-- that Kinsey believed that homosexual men were as much a male as heterosexual men although he chose not to discuss his sex life with the sex researcher.
It is easy to criticize Forster for the life he chose to live-- his relationship with his mother, for example. Apparently he always bowed to her wishes. In his own words: '"We were a classic case."' Other writers published gay works without having their careers ruined: Christopher Isherwood, James Baldwin Andre Gide, to name three, although Forster quipped that Gide did not have a mother. There is much, however, to admire about his life. He spoke out in defense of D. H. Lawrence and Radclyffe Hall and their right to publish LADY CHATTERLY'S LOVER and WELL OF LONELINESS. He also later in life advocated-- if cautiously-- for gay rights, supporting the Wolfenden Report that recommended that "homosexual acivity between consenting adults over the age of twenty-one be no longer a criminal offense." And Forster tried to bridge the gap between social classes, no easy task for a man of his time and station. Finally his friend Eudora Welty in her review of Forster's collection of short stories THE LIFE TO COME said that "his greatness surely had root in his capacity to treat all human relationships seriously and truthfully."
Ms. Moffat in this biography has created a really fine portrait of E. M Forster that brings to life this great writer and-- more importantly-- decent and good person.