Sunday, June 06, 2010

A novel excuse

The Telegraph has an amusing story about the novelist E.M Forester, which says that he gave up writing novels after his first homosexual experience, at the age of 38.

After suppressing his sexuality as a young man, Forster, who was known to his friends as Morgan, lost his virginity to a wounded soldier in 1917 while working for the Red Cross in Egypt.

That sexual awakening in his late 30s led to a series of romances with working class men including a tram conductor and two policemen.

After publishing A Passage to India, arguably his greatest work, in 1924, Forster spurned the novel and most creative endeavours for the rest of his life, publishing only occasional short stories, essays and plays.

Wendy Moffat, associate professor of English at Dickinson College, Pennsylvania, who uncovered Forster's secret "sex diary" while researching a new biography of the novelist, said that the energy of his early years was drained by physical fulfilment.

I love the details: he lost his virginity to a wounded soldier, while working for the Red Cross? Was the soldier was just lying on the battlefield with shrapnel wounds all over him and, well, one thing led to another? Or maybe the soldier been hit by a mortar bomb, and was just blown to buggery? And then after that 'Morgan' moved on to tram conductors and (two! at the same time?) policemen. And I love the euphemism of the "energy of his early years was drained by physical fulfilment". You bet it was.

He only started at 38, so there's hope for me then. But I knew there was a good reason to keep away from the prowling gayers - too much cock saps your creative juices. Basically they're saying that E.M stopped plugging away at his novels, cos he was too busy just plugging away. It gives the homophobes a new angle: it's for your own good, we don't want you to dry up and stop being creative! Now for the first time they can say: Don't be gay, you want to be an artist, darling! So E.M wrote some classic novels, but once he discovered buggery he stopped writing, making it one of those few times that the sword is mightier than the pen. I can just imagine his Victorian father saying to him: "Now E.M, I don't think a novelist is a suitable career for you, I think you should go into banking with Ronald." And then at 38 E.M comes home and says: "Dad, I've got some good news, and some bad news." It is true to say that a lot of creativity comes out of pain, and maybe E.M was just having such a whale of a time, so to speak, that he couldn't keep churning out the middle-class rom coms, which makes you think that perhaps it's time Richard Curtis got himself down Old Compton Street.

Of course the story is probably not true, being in the Torygraph. Their website is actually quite good, if you swerve around the comment pages, ignore the gratuitious slant on the politics stories, and take a hefty pinch of salt with the Obama-is-doomed stuff, but apart from that, it is a busy site with lots of news that doesn't appear on the Guardian or Times sites. But still a story that says gaying ended famous novelist's career does seem a bit too much like moral wishful thinking on their part. And of course it doesn't occur to them that perhaps he felt that he couldn't write about the true romance of his later years because it was illegal, and that blocked his creativity much more than a bit of rough trade round the back of the Vauxhall Tavern. Or maybe he just got to 40 and got rubbish, like the aforementioned Richard Curtis. Which is a depressing thought, but marginally less depressing than the thought that sexual fulfilment will ruin your creativity.

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