Most critics discuss the work of E. M. Forster without acknowledging that he was gay. His secret was an important part of his life, and also his work as revealed in the new documentary E.M. Forster: His Longest Journey.
Forster was born on January 1st 1879, into a Victorian world, where he often had to choose between freedom and control, between himself and others. Forster’s father died when he was very young, brought up by his mother, they lived together up until her death in 1945. Between 1905 and 1924 Forster published five novels, among them “Howard’s End”, “A Passage to India,” and his favourite “The Longest Journey.”
Published in 1907, the protagonist Rickie Elliot, a sensitive young man escapes from public life and the pressures of public school to Cambridge, where like Foster himself, finds understanding friends, among them the characters Stewart Ansell, Agnes Pembroke and her fiancé Gerald. The novel follows the protagonist through his journey into adulthood; the documentary E.M. Forster: His Longest Journey in reverse chronology highlights pivotal occurrences that have remained secret.
The idea that Forster was homosexual had occurred to him in his youth, though he avoided living a conventional life of marriage with children which was common in that period, he did not act on his sexuality until later in life when he turned 37. The documentary traces Forster’s footsteps from the age of 27 meeting a handsome Indian student seeking Latin lessons. Though the two were not lovers, there was an acknowledgement of his hidden feelings.
In Alexandria during the First World War, Forster met the first of two men who would become his lovers. Muhammad el-Adl a young Egyptian tram conductor who like most men of that era went on to marry and have children, named his eldest son after Forster. The two were separated when Muhammad went into military service, it was later that Forster discovered that his lover had tuberculosis. Forster nursed him in his final days.
Forster’s second great love was an English policeman Bob Buckingham, whom he met in 1930; they were in a relationship for almost 40 years. Meeting at a party, Buckingham was then 28 and Forster 51. It was the greatest love of his life, however Buckingham had a girlfriend May who he later married. The two became very close, on the day that Forster died, May held his hand for almost three hours.
“If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country,“ wrote Forster once, a notion that he followed to his death. Friends were often more than just friends, he always sensed that there was a future where Homosexuals would not be persecuted. E. M. Forster died three years after homosexuality was decriminalised in England and Wales.
Samuel Beckett wrote in the play Endgame “The bigger a man is, the fuller he is. And the emptier.“ It’s a parallel theme to the Sky Arts premier E.M. Forster: His Longest Journey, a story about tolerance and ability to endure beliefs and lifestyles different from others.