I first read this collection of short stories by E.M. Forster back in high school. It was what amounted to my third date with Forster. The first, which I have written about more than once, was seeing the fantastic Merchant-Ivory adaptation of A Room With a View on the big screen. Until then I had no idea who E.M. Forster was.
Not too long after that, my second date with Forster came about after Time magazine printed an article about how Merchant-Ivory was turning Forster’s gay-themed novel Maurice into a film. The possibility that there was going to be a gay Room with a View was more than I could handle. When I went to work that afternoon at the local public library I was surprised to see that we actually had a copy of Maurice on the shelf. Published just 15 or so years earlier I was certainly one of the few to check it out. I think if I hadn’t have worked at the library I would have been too afraid to check out this “gay” book despite the fact that there was nothing about its outward appearance that would have given it away. I took it home that night and read the whole thing cover-to-cover, finishing sometime after 3:00 am. I had to get up for school in the morning, but it was worth it.
My third date with Forster was maybe a year or so after the second. I came across a newly reprinted edition of The Life to Come. With gay culture still too closeted and still too hard to come by, I was thrilled that many of the stories in this collection had gay themes. At the time there were more than a few of the stories that I didn’t quite understand. Not because they had some gay theme that was too adult for my 17-year old brain, but because some of the stories are redolent of abstraction and symbolism that is so often the case with short fiction. You know, those oblique moments when you aren’t quite sure what just happened no matter how many times you go back and read it. Somewhat surprising to me is that all these years later and some of those same passages still confuse me. Although perhaps not as much as they did back then. And what it really amounts to, I think, is that I just don’t like uncertainty and prefer authors to make things really clear so I don’t have to obsess over whether or not I understand what is going on. (Not hard to imagine why most poetry is lost on me.)
Having said all of that, there are some real gems of stories in this collection. And most of them explore in one way or another Forster’s fascination with breaking down, at least in fiction, class barriers and social mores that are damaging to the human heart. In so many cases I think that class stands in for sexuality in Forster’s fiction. In Maurice and in many of the stories in The Life to Come sexuality can actually stand on its own and be considered for what it is.
|Requiescat in pace: Tyler Clementi|
It tears me apart that 23 years after I found solace in Forster’s posthumously published gay fiction, while so very much has changed, there is still a climate of sheer terror and helplessness for so many young gay kids. What a sin that Forster had to live a lie and wait to be dead to publish some of his work. And what an even greater sin that in September 2010 we see the tragic deaths in the US of 3 thirteen-year olds and an eighteen-year old who had been bullied for being (or just seeming) gay to the point where they took their own lives. In the case of 18-year old Tyler Clementi his college dorm roommate used a webcam to spy on him and post on the Internet a live stream of Tyler kissing another man in his own dorm room. As a result of being outed in this way Tyler threw himself off the George Washington Bridge.
I think gay suicides, especially among the young, have always been undercounted and that this recent rash of suicides may be more indicative of increased awareness than an uptick in actual suicide rates. I do think, however, when you have large chunks of the population wearing their hate and intolerance of gays as a badge of honor, it is not difficult to understand why some of these kids are driven to such despair.