E. M. Forster: A New Life by Wendy Moffat

EMFANLThis is a well-researched book with a detailed bibliography. Forster’s character is filled out as the book progresses. Some thought it a little turgid and stodgy, dry and uninteresting. Though it offered new insights you didn’t get a strong feeling of what he was like.  It’s gossipy in places, which leaves a sour taste.

Moffat’s book is a timely reminder of the struggles that gay men – some remembered like Forster, many forgotten in the tide of civilisation – endured for us who came later, who must be thanked for the liberties we take for granted today.

However, the author focuses on his sexuality rather than is achievement There are so many other dimensions to his life and he was one of the greatest novelists of the early Twentieth Century.

His childhood was stifling, bought up in an all-women household and smothered with rules. As a sort of escape, he had a strong interior life and was reading by age four though never formally taught to do so.

He has an encounter with as paedophile which didn’t seem to do him any harm but which confirmed what he already knew about his sexual orientation.

Then, as now, there were very ‘out’ homosexuals who despised Morgan’s hesitant celibacy, regarding it as cowardice and who were not interested in the aetiology of homosexuality.

He wrote to A J. Ackerley 1,100 times in 50 years.

The author is more sympathetic to Morgan than is Damon Galgut, though the latter has an imaginative telling of his visit to the Barbarar caves compared with Moffat’s dull prose.

Forster was right not to assume that liberal Germany wouldn’t change tack. This should be a warning to all who think ‘things can only get better.’

I was surprised that a doctor blamed prostate trouble on frequent masturbation, though there is some modern research that backs this up – but if masturbation more than once a week by young men increases the likelihood of prostate cancer, it’s a surprise than more men don’t get it – though masturbation is good for the over 50s in this respect..

Reference is made to paintings by Cadmus which scandalised the US navy.

Cadmus The Fleet

Cadmus YMCA

And this painting includes a portrait of Forster:

Paul Cadmus, What I Believe

It’s interesting that so many people from the world of arts and literature knew each other – a small world. He met Edward carpenter, who was a prophetic figure while Forster didn’t have it in him to be such.

I had to look up bies = an evil spirit and bézique = literally “correspondence” or “association”, referring to a card game. Also ‘cleats’=  shoes.


 Within weeks of meeting Morgan, Hugh boldly announced he was an atheist, and proceeded to separate Morgan from the last remnants of his faith. To HOM it was clear that not only was church practice hypocrisy, but the very concept of Christ was humbug. Along with John Maynard Keynes, who would become perhaps the greatest economist of the century, HOM led a public attack under the banner of secularism on the college’s sponsorship of a Christian mission in the slums of East London. Like many undergradu­ate political protests, the atheists’ “sincere and bellicose” display verged on comedy. They sent a representative to present a petition of grievances timed to interrupt prayers at High Table. Just as the provost intoned, “In the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord,” there was a scuffle; the rude emissary was escorted out of the hall, and a don piped up loudly: “Would you mind pass­ing the potatoes?” The renegades won the day; it was decided that college work with the London poor could be done through a secular organization.

Under Hugh Meredith’s influence, Morgan lost his faith “quietly and quickly.”

The idea of a god becoming a man to help man is overwhelming to anyone possessed of a heart. Even at that age I was aware that this world needs help. But I had never much sense of sin, and when I real­ised that the main aim of the Incarnation was not to stop war or pain or poverty, I became less interested and ended by scrapping it.

“saner than anyone else I know … He’s strong because he doesn’t try to be a stiff-lipped stoic like the rest of us, and so he’ll never crack.”

 “When I am 85 how annoyed I am with Society for wasting my time by making homosexuality criminal. The subterfuges, the self-consciousness that might have been avoided.

He was right that the legal changes came painfully slowly. In July 1967, when Morgan was eighty-eight, the Sexual Offenses Act was finally passed. Sex between men who desired each other, were alone in a house, and over twenty-one was legalized—provided that neither of the men was in the armed forces or the merchant navy. And, in a final fillip, the new law applied only to men living in England and Wales.

 ‘He wanted intimacy, love, and domesticity akin to marriage’.

“He delicately ascertained the perfect needful thing, and made it occur with a minimum of fuss.” He had “a gift for friendship”

“began a campaign to have sex of some kind with someone”

For more than fifty years Forster entered political fights from the position of the underdog. Almost every week one could read a pithy and pointed letter to the editor in his inimitable voice. He protested against fascism, against censorship, against communism, against “Jew-Consciousness,” against the British occupation of Egypt and India, against racism and jingoism and anything that smelled of John Bull. Morgan’s public voice wasn’t stentorian. He raised it, tremulously, often alone, against the edifice of conformity. As self-proclaimed gay men, Isherwood and Lehmann adopted the American neologism adopted by the men who resisted police harassment at the Stonewall Inn in Sheridan Square, the men who embraced gay liberation, who eschewed the medical term homosexual, which had marked them for decades as a “species.”

The previous July, just after he arrived at King’s for his residency, Lancaster found himself alone in an octagonal room where a tiny black-and-white television had been installed on a tea cart before the fireplace as a begrudging acknowledgment of the wider world. Next door was the Fellows’ Senior Combination Room, on whose claret-colored walls the portraits of great Kingsmen—all friends of Morgan, all dead—gazed down: Rupert Brooke, a Roger Fry self-portrait, Duncan Grant’s painting of Maynard Keynes. In contrast, the little room had barely enough room for two armchairs and a couple of vitrines stuffed with ancient pottery that flanked the Gothic window. It was a nondescript time in the midmorning, and the BBC was broadcasting coverage of the first moon landing. Decades later, Lancaster still remembered the scene clearly. Morgan “shuffled in, asked me what it was, settled down to watch” on the armchair beside him. He leaned forward conspiratorially toward Mark. “I’m not sure they should be doing that,” he said quietly.

And so, one evening at the studio, after a particularly hectic party, they’d started—and it had been really very funny and not the least disgusting—but quite hopeless. They sat up in bed and laughed and laughed. “Oh Edward!” laughed Margaret—for she was pretty tight, too—“I shall never be able to sleep with a man again. At the critical moment I shall always think of you.” … “I might return the compliment,” said Edward.

“For Isherwood, shepherding Forster’s gay fiction posthumously into print was both a sacred trust and a political adventure. He believed that publication would give Forster a second life as a pioneer of gay writing. Publishing ‘Maurice’ was part of his long campaign to celebrate sexual freedom and repudiate homophobia and hypocrisy.”

“Though he burned great bonfires of ephemera, Morgan carefully preserved the record of his gay life. Thousands of unpublished pages of letters, diaries, essays, and photographs tell the story of the life he hid from public view. Some of the pages are scattered in archives. Some have been coaxed out into the world from remarkable hiding places — a vast oak cupboard in a London sitting room, a shoebox humbly nestled among mouse faeces in a New England barn. Many of Morgan’s surviving friends have told their stories for the first time. Only in 2008 were the final entries in his private diary, restricted from view since his death, opened to readers. All his long life Morgan lived in a world imprisoned by prejudice against homosexuals. He was sixteen when Oscar Wilde was sent to prison, and he died the year after the Stonewall riots.”

“I have plunged into an anxious but very beautiful affair. It seemed to me — and I proved right — that something precious was being offered me and that I was offering something that might be thought precious. . . . I should have been right to take the plunge, because if you pass life by it’s jolly well going to pass you by in the future. If you’re frightened it’s all right — that’s no harm; fear is an emotion. But by some trick of the nerves I happen not to be frightened.”

“Between them, Morgan and May deftly carved out an intimate space for their respective ‘marriages’ to their beloved Bob, with the long weekends for May and the short weekends for Morgan.”

“It was as much psychological as physical. It seemed to go straight through the small of my back into my ideas, without involving my thoughts.”

Like Jane Austen sketching her moral vision on the “little bit of ivory” of provincial domestic life, Morgan discovered the richness and complexity of his entire oeuvre, his whole aesthetic enterprise in a single subject: the search of each person for an honest connection with another human being… He would anchor his plots in the domestic sphere that had been so richly explored by Austen and George Eliot. He would concern himself with their themes: the right choice for a marriage, the tug-of-war between propriety and personal freedom, the moral complexities of an interior life, the pressures of a small community upon an individual’s moral actions.

It emerged that Lawrence’s diagnosis of Morgan’s problem was that he must “satisfy” his “implicit manhood” but “He tries to dodge himself—the sight is painful.” “Why can’t he take a woman and fight clear to his own basic, primal being?” Lawrence lectured Bertrand Russell. Because, he confidently concluded without pausing for an answer, Morgan “sucks his dummy—you know, those child’s comforters—long after his age.” If Morgan would only act, he could become “pregnant with his own soul.” Lawrence told a friend that he found Morgan “very nice.” But he wondered “if the grip has gone out of him.” For his own part, Morgan suspected a different problem in Law­rence’s psyche: suppressed homosexual tendencies.

Even when Morgan had been at Nassenheide, British anxiety about the Hun was palpable. In August 1914 war was declared against Germany. The shadow of war had lingered for so long that “up till the last moment it was impossible to believe that the thing was really going to happen.” The fact of war frayed Morgan’s friendships. Even Malcolm’s wife, Josie Darling, who was dear to his heart, became irritable. Stop dreaming, she told him, enlist in the army, and “face facts.” He gave her a sharp answer. “Don’t say ‘face facts’ to me, Josie. Everybody keeps saying it just now, but the fact is, it’s impossible to face facts. They’re like the walls of a room . . If you face one wall, you must have your back to the other three.”

He confessed to Goldie, “What’s to occupy me for the rest of my life, I can’t conceive.” It was impossible not to comprehend his predicament, and impossible to do anything about it. He told Florence, “I am leading the life of a little girl so long as I am tied to home.”

Policing purity was endless, maddening work. The vast majority of the occupants of Alexandria were beyond their reach, subject by default to the Egyptian Native Penal Code. Under these laws, inherited from the Napo­leonic Code, neither consensual homosexual acts nor male prostitution was illegal. To one administrator charged with developing new “offenses against morality” for a draft penal code, the native population’s blind eye to homo­sexual practices was particularly galling. It was “unthinkable,” he wrote, that young people, “the most precious asset of a State,” should be “exposed to the moral and physical corruption in the toleration of unnatural offenses.” Martial law allowed the British authorities to begin making the crooked straight and the rough places plain.

In his own routine tenderness, Morgan detected a parallel feeling to the love of the men for one another in the muddy trenches. Like them, he found his intimacy disguised by the shape of his duties. Gradually, without senti­mentalism, he came to feel that the greatest story of the war was to be found in compassion. And he heard beneath their words a truer story of gay love and friendship. The small notebook collated fragments, but to him the frag­ments glowed with meaning. Here was the deeper record of the meaning of the war: individual and human, not political. From the verbatim snippets of men in their most extreme trials he gleaned a hidden story that could not be erased. He named this section of the notebook “Friendship.” Under this ti­tle, he collected little tessellated fragments to recover its power

In 1938, Morgan told William Plomer he was “trying to construct a philoso­phy.” It was built out of the bricolage of the “liberalism crumbling beneath him.” Too secular to be a credo, the essay was titled “What I Believe.” It began startlingly.

I do not believe in Belief. But this is an age of faith, and there are so many militant creeds that, in self-defence, one has to formulate a creed of one’s own. Tolerance, good temper and sympathy are no longer enough in a world which is rent by religious and racial persecution, in a world where ignorance rules, and science, who ought to have ruled, plays the subservient pimp.

“Truly we live in strange times,” Morgan told him, “and the only thing which is really real in them is love.”

In vain Morgan had tried to counsel Joe against his attraction to venal guardsmen, thieves, and opportunists whom he routinely tried to “rescue”: “Joe—, you must give up looking for gold in coal-mines—it merely prevents you from getting amusement out of a nice piece of coal.”

The social climate, too, had to be cleansed. Sir Theobald Mathews, the new puritanical director of public prosecutions, was appalled by the lax enforcement of the laws against indecent acts. The provinces were holding up their end, but London was a den of vice. Arrests for homosexual acts were duly reported in the newspapers euphemistically as “grave” offenses, “serious” offenses, crimes too horrible to name. But the tabloids echoed the lament of Viscount Samuel in the House of Lords, who decried the “insidi­ous poisoning” of Britain’s “moral state,” complaining that juvenile crime and adultery were rampant, and “the vices of Sodom and Gomorrah, of the Cities of the Plain, appear to be rife among us.” To curb this scourge, police agents provocateurs were sent out to entrap homosexuals through solicita­tion; a special division of the Metropolitan Police was formed solely to patrol public urinals.

The home secretary, Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe, had prosecuted Nazis at Nuremberg; now he undertook a crackdown on vice. The number of prosecu­tions for homosexual offenses skyrocketed. Even powerful and famous men were paraded as examples in the press—including the recently knighted actor Sir John Gielgud and the Labour MP William Field. In the most sensa­tional case, three prominent men were charged with conspiring to commit indecency: the young peer Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, his second cousin Michael Pitt-Rivers, and Peter Wildeblood, chief diplomatic correspondent for the Daily Mail. The press was tipped and the timing of the arrests was orchestrated by the police so the story could appear prominently on the front pages of the Sunday newspapers. The evidence used to convict the men came from love letters—seized in kit searches of the RAF airmen who were their working-class lovers—and a warrantless search of Wildeblood’s flat.

Newspapers were in a race to outdo one another in salacious reporting, spinning out contradictory stereotypes about sexual criminals with increas­ing certainty and fervor. In May 1952 the Sunday Pictorial devoted a full-page feature to ways to recognize these “Evil Men”; nine years later it helpfully explained “How to Spot a Homo.” Readers could discern a homo­sexual by his sedate tweed jacket, suede shoes, and pipe, or alternately be his telltale effeminate manner and mincing step. These “exposés” reflected the anxieties born of the paradox that homosexuals, forced to live a double life, proved to be quite successful at it.

Popular explanations for the causes of homosexuality, in psychology books and newspapers, sermons and speeches, oscillated between the idea of an alien class of humans, diabolical and separate from normal people, or natural and contagious consequence of men being in each other’s company and kept away from the company of women. War service had brought on an epidemic of this problem. Or excess mother love. Or absent fathers. Morgan sent a copy of a letter he had published asking for “less social stigma” toward homosexuals to Lord Samuel, as a kind of catnip. The viscount took the bait. “Incomprehensible and utterly disgusting as [homosexuality] appears to all normal people,” Lord Samuel replied to Morgan, “it seems to have the ca­pacity to form a habit as potent as alcohol or narcotics.”

The law that had sent Montagu and his friends to prison was the same law under which Oscar Wilde had been convicted in 1895. Goaded by concerns about public indecency on the streets, in 1954 the Home Office appointed a committee of mandarins—clergy and peers and respectable academics—to investigate the twin problems of female prostitution and male homosexual­ity. So it was that Sir John Wolfenden, former headmaster of a public school, now vice chancellor of Reading University, assembled a fifteen-person com­mittee that would bear his name In September 1957 the Wolfenden Report recommended that “homosexual activity between consenting adults over the age of twenty-one in private be no longer a criminal offense.” It took a de­cade more to enact these recommendations into law—and even then the statute was “mild and aetiolated.” It applied only to England and Wales, excepted members of the armed services, set the age of consent for homo­sexuals (at twenty-one) four years above that for heterosexuals, and denoted “private” space very narrowly. (Since anywhere a third person was likely to be present—whether present or not—was defined as public space, even the interior of one’s own home was not always deemed private for the application of the law.) After the Sexual Offenses Act went into effect in 1967, prosecu­tions of homosexual acts soared. The vaunted milestone in homosexual rights was largely symbolic.

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The Garden God – a Tale of Two Boys – Forrest Reid

TGG(We have not discussed this in the group but it was a ‘spin off’ from one of our meetings and this review is in a personal capacity.)

Fifteen year old Graham Iddesleigh dreams of a past life, where he frolicked in a garden with a young Greek god. However, his dreams threaten to come to an abrupt end when his father decides to send him away to school. But what is Graham’s surprise when he meets a fellow schoolboy, Harold Brocklehurst, who is the very image of the Greek god of his dreams!

Graham falls deeply in love with his new friend, and the two boys spend an unforgettable summer together — until a heartbreaking tragedy occurs, a tragedy that will change Graham’s life forever.

The Garden God was first published in 1905, in the wake of the Oscar Wilde trial and other scandals, and risked controversy with its undercurrents of pederastic desire.

This novel risked controversy with its portrayal of romantic friendship between two boys; Reid dedicated it to his literary idol Henry James, who was outraged and never spoke to Reid again.

Reid’s father; Robert Reid died when the boy was only five or six years old. Maybe this influenced a very brief part of this novel about the relationship of the boy with his loving father. He was at times lonely and, just like Reid, was searching for a companion.

Reid’s loneliness when he is not so fortunate to be with a companion in reality is not that devastating for he has ways of being with the playmate of his dreams in his dreams. He was always capable of creating his love in his mind and dreaming of him, playing with him and experiencing true feelings with him in his dreams where light would shine “but even now he had only to close his eyes to bring up the light-the light….”

The obtaining of a friendship and the loss of it, affections, feelings, dreams, wishes and imaginations are explored.  A chance encounter, a familiar face, desired emotions, closeness and passion, joy and adventure, longing and belonging, attachment, loss and devastation are what the characters go through. Their experiences, emotions, thoughts and feelings are described beautifully and deeply by Forrest Reid. The reader cannot help but fall in love with Reid’s written words. Reid is able to make a very simple story, gripping, very normal events, dramatic and the emotions profound and intense which makes it impossible for the reader not to sympathize, feel with the characters, sense their suffering and grieve their loss.

To Forrest Reid, friendship is simply trust and being able to be comfortable and natural with your friend. Reid who had spent a, more or less, lonely life, who faced difficulty finding that someone who would share his private world and merge his dreams with his reality longed to find a companion who would take him out of his loneliness and put an end to his singular secret world “My life, from as far back as I can remember, was never lived holly in the open. I mean that it had its private side, that there were things I saw, felt, heard, and kept to myself. There were thoughts I kept to myself, too; and above all dreams.”

Reid and his characters found extreme pleasure and happiness just by being in the company of their loved ones “To feel his companion close beside him, and to be alone with him like this, gave Graham an exquisite pleasure.”

TGG 2Quotations:

“dear Allingham” in a rather polite, apologetic yet confident tone for like he said “I have not in the least fulfilled my duties as a good citizen. Doubtless I am not a good citizen. Doubtless, as you kindly hint, I ought to have married; but I suppose even you will admit that it is now too late-too late for me to think of following your excellent example. I cannot, alas! Even pretend that I want to follow it, want to forsake my wilderness.”

“But there had been many things that had given him pleasure. On the whole he had been happy-happy after his fashion: and he had known, had felt, the most beautiful thing of all, ‘the ecstasy and sorrow of love….’”

“But instead of answering he sat quite still, gazing fixedly at the stranger, his colour gradually deepening. Fascinated, spell bound, his lips parted, his eyes opened wide, he hardly dared to move lest the vision should vanish.”

“‘And I have something to do with it?’

‘Oh yes; everything’-he spoke quietly, simply. ‘You were always there, you know. It belongs to you as much as it belongs to me. You have been meeting me there for years!’”

“Doubtless when he had first gone to school he had also been alone-but the difference, the difference now would be incalculable. There were days, in truth, when it almost seemed to him that it would have been better if he had never been given his happiness, since so soon it was to be snatched from him; and even though deep in his heart he knew he would not forget it if he could, there were days when he thought it would be well if all the past could be effaced from his mind, rubbed out as figures are rubbed from a child’s slate.”

“The visible world!-was it not almost sentient? From the trees and the sky, from the restless sea and the wind had emerged, at any rate, that imaginary playmate who had made his life beautiful; the messenger of Eros; the fair boy who had come to him from his strange garden, his meadow of asphodel.”

“‘One of the signs of a real friendship is not to be afraid to speak openly to your friend of all that concerns both him and you.’”

“I am only trying to remember a dream-a dream I have had so often.”

“And his life?-that too, perhaps, had taken a grayish tinge…. Monotonous? … ah yes, monotonous in truth: but even now he had only to close his eyes to bring up the light-the light….”

had the past five years over again.” (Reid Apostate 218) while he realized that it is inevitable “He walked over to the window and looked out into the breaking day. The world seemed very old and cheerless. Was it the chill of approaching age in his own blood, he wondered, that made him find it so! He smiled a strange, dim little smile. Best, then, to set by the fire and doze! He came back to the table, and leaning over it, buried his face in his hands.”

“the old playmate of his dreams had ceased to visit him, that he could no longer even call up very clearly his image, remember what he was like. It was as if the change had come into his everyday world had extended on into the dusky ways of sleep, and though he did not dwell upon it at all, yet he felt, obscurely, that something that had been had ceased to be, and that there was a blank, a void in his existence, which none of the many new pleasures and interests in his life would ever be able to fill.”

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The Retreat – Forrest Reid

TR 2(We have not discussed this in the group but it was a ‘spin off’ from one of our meetings and this review is in a personal capacity.)

The Retreat is the second of Reid’s three novels featuring Tom Barber, The Retreat earned universal critical acclaim when first published in 1936.

It begins with a vivid dream about an evil sorcerer and his boy apprentice. The dreamer is Tom Barber, age 13. Llike many intelligent and sensitive children, he moves between the world of everyday life and that of the imagination. “I pretend things, and all at once they become real,” Tom says, and they become real for the reader as well, as we follow him over the course of one summer during which the lines between reality and fantasy are frequently blurred. The book depicts Tom’s fantastic adventures in an unseen world, his attempts to thwart the malign influence of the cat Henry, whom he has observed scratching cabbalistic symbols on the gravel path; his meetings with the beautiful boy-angel Gamelyn; his conversations with animals and his experiences in the Garden of Eden.

TRThe book’s title came from a poem of Henry Vaughan

Happy those early days! when I

Shined in my angel infancy.

Before I understood this place

Appointed for my second race,

Or taught my soul to fancy aught

But a white, celestial thought;

When yet I had not walked above

A mile or two from my first love,

And looking back, at that short space,

Could see a glimpse of His bright face;

When on some gilded cloud or flower

My gazing soul would dwell an hour,

And in those weaker glories spy

Some shadows of eternity;

Before I taught my tongue to wound

My conscience with a sinful sound,

Or had the black art to dispense

A several sin to every sense,

But felt through all this fleshly dress

Bright shoots of everlastingness.

O, how I long to travel back,

And tread again that ancient track!

That I might once more reach that plain

Where first I left my glorious train,

From whence th’ enlightened spirit sees

That shady city of palm trees.

But, ah! my soul with too much stay

Is drunk, and staggers in the way.

Some men a forward motion love;

But I by backward steps would move,

And when this dust falls to the urn,

In that state I came, return.

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Uncle Stephen – Forrest Reid

USt(We have not discussed this in the group but it was a ‘spin off’ from one of our meetings and this review is in a personal capacity.)

Forrest Reid (1875- 1947) was an Irish novelist, literary critic and translator. He was, a leading pre-war British novelist of boyhood. He was influenced by the novelist E. M. Forster, who used to visit him but he was repelled by Forster’s Maurice. He has been labelled ‘the first Ulster novelist of European stature’, and comparisons have been drawn between his own coming of age novel of Protestant Belfast, Following Darkness  and James Joyce’s novel about growing up in Catholic Dublin, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Reid strongly disapproved of homosexual acts (despite his being gay, he was full of self-loathing) and, even more so, of men who ‘interfered with’ boys.

A supernatural novel about Tom Barber, an orphaned boy in search of the mysterious uncle he has never met, and about whom there is a hint of scandal. The story of ‘Uncle Stephen’ came to Reid in a dream, and the dreamlike evocation of the Ulster countryside in which it is set.

It’s the first of a trilogy which goes backwards in time. In this book, Tom is 16.

The uncle is a recluse who is reputed to dabble in black magic.

Unathletic, interested in books and the beauty of nature, Tom is like many a sensitive child in literature (and life).  What sets him apart is that the people he encounters are not the unfeeling ogres of such stories.  Tom Barber is not a radiant spark hidden under a bushel, but a human being, as responsible as anyone else for his difficulty in relating to the mass of humanity.  His interactions with those who can’t understand him ring true, and the range of Reid’s sympathy, like Tom’s, includes many characters lesser writers would dismiss or stereotype.  Uncle Stephen is not primarily a psychological novel, but it deftly captures the complexity of human relationships


Chequered bands of golden fire splashed on the moss-dark sward.  A stilled loveliness breathed its innocent spell.  Then suddenly a hare bounded across the path, and the trilled liquid pipings of hidden thrush and blackbird broke on his ears like the awakening of life.  The music came to him in curves of sound.  All the beauty he loved best had this curving pattern, came to him thus, so that even the rounding of a leaf or the melting line of a young human body impressed itself upon him as a kind of music.  The avenue turned, widened, a house was there.

He could not remember the rest of the story, but he knew everybody had been happy because nobody had asked questions…. The earth might be a kind of heaven!  It wasn’t really impossible.  Happiness depended on kindness and understanding and– and– on not insisting that everybody should have the same feelings and thoughts….

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My Father and Myself – J. R. Ackerley

MFAM(We have not discussed this in the group but it was a ‘spin off’ from one of our meetings and this review is in a personal capacity.)

In this memoir, which one reviewer termed the “mystery” of the son on the track of his father, Ackerley speculated that his father had some homosexual experiences as a young guardsman, but never proved it. In trying to understand his father’s life, he grappled with his own.

This posthumously published autobiography was written in his last depressing years and concentrates more upon his lack of fulfilment than the humorous enjoyment of experience that was typical of most of his life.

Joe Randolph “J. R.” Ackerley (4 November 1896 – 4 June 1967) was a British writer and editor. Starting with the BBC the year after its founding in 1927, he was promoted to literary editor of The Listener, its weekly magazine, where he served for more than two decades. He published many emerging poets and writers who became influential in Great Britain. He was openly gay, a rarity in his time when homosexuality was illegal and socially ostracized.

His memoir serves as a guide to the sexuality of a gay man of Ackerley’s generation. W. H. Auden, in his review of My Father and Myself, speculates that Ackerley enjoyed the “brotherly” sexual act of mutual masturbation rather than penetration. Ackerley described himself as “quite impenetrable.”

 He met E. M. Forster, though strangely he never mentions him, but was lonely despite numerous sexual partners. With his play, The Prisoners of War,  having trouble finding a producer, and feeling generally adrift and distant from his family, Ackerley turned to Forster for guidance. Forster, who he knew from writing A Passage to India, arranged a position as secretary to the Maharaja of Chhatarpur.

In his introduction, W. H. Auden makes some strange observations (though they reflect the views of his time):

Mr. Ackerley strictly limits himself to two areas of his life, his relations with his family and his sex-life. His account of the latter, except for its happy ending, is very sad reading indeed. Few, if any, ho­mosexuals can honestly boast that their sex-life has been happy, but Mr. Ackerley seems to have been exceptionally unfortunate.

any permanent relationship demands interests in common. However their tastes and tempera­ments may initially differ, a husband and wife acquire a common concern as parents. This experience is denied homosexuals. Consequently, it is very rare for a homo­sexual to remain faithful to one person for long and, rather curiously, the intellectual older one is more likely to be promiscuous than his working-class friend. The brutal truth, though he often refuses to admit it, is that he gets bored more quickly.

It doesn’t really get going until you’re 94 pages in.

It isn’t mentioned in this book, though J. R. aye that he saw it when he was ill, but Wendy Moffatt, in her life of E. M. Forster, says that Ackerley’s farher had a twelve inch penis – though with his blood pressure at around 300, I doubt it would have reached its full potential very often. Did the son inherit this or was his from his maternal grandfather?

I had to look up ‘cascaras’ = a fruit with a thick shell

MFAM 3Quotations

“I was born in 1896 and my parents were married in 1919.”

“I was now on the sexual map and proud of my place on it. I did not care for the word ‘homosexual’ or any label, but I stood among the men, not among the women. Girls I despised; vain, silly creatures, how could their smooth soft, bulbous bodies compare in attraction with the muscular beauty of men? Their place was the harem, from which they should never have been released; true love, equal and understanding love, occurred only between men. I saw myself therefore in the tradition of the Classic Greeks, surrounded and supported by all the famous homosexuals of history—one soon sorted them out—and in time I became something of a publicist for the rights of that love that dare not speak its name”

“Oh, lord, you’ll be the death of me! I think he did once say he’d had some sport with him [Count de Gallatin]. But me memory’s like a saucer with the bottom out”

“I am not going to make any excuses, old man. I have done my duty towards everybody as far as my nature would allow and I hope people generally will be kind to my memory. All my men pals know of my second family and of their mother, so you won’t find it difficult to get on their track.”

In spite of such adventures, if anyone had asked me what I was doing, I doubt if I should have replied that I was diverting myself. I think I should have said that I was looking for the Ideal Friend. Though two or three hundred young men were to pass through my hands in the course of years, I did not consider myself promiscuous. It was all a run of bad luck…What I meant by the Ideal Friend I doubt if I ever formulated, but now, looking back, I think I can put him together in a negative way by listing some of his disqualifications. He should not be effeminate, indeed preferably normal: I did not exclude education, but did not want it, I could supply all that myself and in the loved one it always seemed to get in the way; he should admit me but no one else; he should be physically attractive to me and younger than myself—the younger the better, as closer to innocence; finally he should be on the small side, lusty, circumcised, physically healthy and clean: no phimosis, halitosis, bromidrosis…. The Ideal Friend was always somewhere else and might have been found if only I had turned a different way. The buses that passed my own bus seemed always to contain those charming boys who were absent from mine; the ascending escalators in the tubes fiendishly carried them past me as I sank helplessly into hell…. In the “thirties” I found myself concentrating my attention more and more upon a particular society of young men in the metropolis which I had tapped before and which, it seemed to me, might yield, without further loss of time, what I required. His Majesty’s Brigade of Guards had a long history in homosexual prostitution. Perpetually short of cash, beer, and leisure occupations, they were easily to be found of an evening in their red tunics standing about in the various pubs they frequented, over the only half-pint they could afford or some “quids-in” mate had stood them. Though generally larger than I liked, they were young, they were normal, they were working-class, they were drilled to obedience; though not innocent for long, the new recruit might be found before someone else got at him; if grubby they could be bathed, and if civility and consideration, with which they did not always meet in their liaisons, were extended to them, one might gain their affection.

in the matter of sex there was nothing he had not done, no experience he had not

“I’ve got something to tell you, Dad. I lied to you about Weybridge. I didn’t go there at all.”
“I know, old boy. I knew you were lying directly I asked you about the floods.”
“I went to Turin.”
“Turin, eh? That’s rather farther. I’m very sorry to have mucked up your plans.”
“I’m very sorry to have lied to you. I wouldn’t have done so if you hadn’t once said something about me and my waiter friends. But I don’t mind telling you. I went to meet a sailor friend.”
“It’s all right, old boy. I prefer not to know. So long as you enjoyed yourself, that’s the main thing.”

(About his dog, Tulip): She offered me what I had never found in my sexual life, constant, single-hearted, incorruptible, uncrit­ical devotion. She placed herself entirely under my control. From the moment she established herself in my heart and my home, my obsession with sex fell wholly away from me. The pubs I had spent so much of my time in were never revisited, my single desire was to get back to her, to her waiting love and unstaling welcome. I sang with joy at the thought of seeing her. I never prowled the London streets again, nor had the slightest inclination to do so. On the contrary, whenever I thought of it, I was posi­tively thankful to be rid of it all, the anxieties, the frustrations, the wastage of time and spirit. The fif­teen years she lived with me were the happiest of my life.

MFAM 2 Did I tell you that story Bilson told me the other day? There was a fellow walking down the street when he saw a pretty girl—Ah! damn you! Why can’t you let up?—in a very short dress bending down to adjust her garter. So as he passed he put his hand up under her skirt between her legs. She was furious at this. “How dare you!” she said, but he passed on with a—Crikey! ­a smile. So she called a policeman. “Constable!” she said. “Arrest that man! He’s insulted me!” “What’s he done?” asked the policeman. She told him “Well,” said the policeman, “I’m afraid the evidence isn’t sufficient. You’ll—Oh, drat the thing!—You’ll have to come back with me to the station so that I can photograph the finger-prints.” Te-he-he. . . .

Though two or three hundred young men were to pass through my hands in the course of years, I did not consider myself promiscuous but monogamous, it was all a run of bad luck, and I became ever more serious over this as time went on.

some time in the ‘thirties, a friend asked me if I had any notion how many boys I’d taken to bed, I was astonished to find that those I managed to rec­ollect got into three figures, for I never had any sense of riches, only of poverty, and at last of dire poverty.

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Boy by James Hanley

Boy(We have not discussed this in the group but it was a ‘spin off’ from one of our meetings and this review is in a personal capacity.)

This book charts the short and brutish life of a boy forced out of school and into the unforgiving world of work. Escape—in the form of stowing away on a ship—only deepens his exposure to the squalor and brutality that men are capable of, and when he arrives in Alexandria he learns there are some things that one can’t run away from.

In Boy (1931) young Fearon’s isolation and suffering arise because no one cares for him. The story of Boy is “sordid and horrible”. The young protagonist’s parents are only interested in the wages he can earn, and encourage him to leave school as soon as possible. It starts off with him getting the cane and the teacher telling him that he’s worthless, not worth bothering with. And that’s the message he gets throughout his short, tragic life. His parents claim that ‘We know what’s best for our children.’ But they don’t. And his first job involves, literally, shovelling shit.

Likewise society is unconcerned about the harsh, unhealthy conditions he endures cleaning ships’ boilers. Then, when he goes to sea, he is sexually abused by his fellow seamen. Finally, when young Fearon is dying in agony from a venereal disease caught in a Cairo brothel, his Captain smothers him.

When I was a choirboy in a seaside town, we often heard about the Missions to seamen (whose title always got us smirking – they have changed their name of ‘Mission to Seafarers’ now.)  I now realise why their work is needed – providing somewhere to relax, writing letters for the illiterate and being a home from home miles away.

Narrated in unflinching language that is both visceral and acute in its observational power, Boy is a shocking book that stays in the mind long after it is read. Unfairly neglected during his lifetime, only recently has this original, uncompromising novelist started to be reappraised as among the finest novelists writing in English in the 20th century

The author (1897 –1985) was a British novelist, short story writer, and playwright of Irish descent. He wrote a number of novels and short stories about seamen and their families. This included Boy (1931), which was the subject of a notorious obscenity trail. Novelist Sir Hugh Walpole condemned the work and ripped up a copy in a bookshop in protest. 100 copies were burnt publicly. But the book became a cause célèbre for other writers who recognised his talent. E M Forster, William Faulkner and, more recently, Anthony Burgess rallied to support it. He explained: One of the causes of neglect in his lifetime was a kind of double solitariness: he belonged to no literary school, and he cherished the self-elected condition of a recluse. He also tells how: The main voice of middle-class condemnation was that of Sir Hugh Walpole, a once respected popular novelist, knighted for services to what the middle class thought of as literature but now nearly forgotten: “It is so unpleasant and ugly, both in narration and incident, that I wonder the printers did not go on strike while printing it.” Walpole was said to have torn up a copy publicly in a London bookshop. Boy became a cause celebre in the fight against Britain’s Sedition Act, with E.M. Forster addressing the International Congress of Writers in Paris in 1935 in eloquent endorsement of the book and fierce denunciation of official squeamishness.

Boy 5Boy was reprinted in 1931, and 1932, when an American first edition was also published. Then, when it was reprinted in 1934, in a cheap (second) edition with a “scantily dressed” belly dancer on its cover, Boy was prosecuted for obscenity. The court case followed a complaint to the police in Bury, near Manchester. The prosecution suggested that the cover of the book and extracts from reviews just inside were most suggestive, and that the purpose was to pollute young people’s minds”. Boriswood “were advised that, owing to the book’s reference to ‘intimacy between members of the male sex’, any defence against prosecution was futile'”. In March 1935 Boriswood pleaded guilty of “uttering and publishing an obscene libel” and paid a substantial fine. But it’s fairly tame, merely using phrases like ‘interfering with…’

It is not surprising that Hanley should show an interest in extreme situations, given his early awareness of the precariousness of life in the working class world that he came from. Hanley would also have sensed, very early in his life, that individual lives of the working poor and their children was of little value in a modern industrial city like Liverpool. All this encouraged his exploration not only of working class life but also the emotional life of characters on the periphery of society.

Boy 4Some readers have assumed that the horrors Boy depicts were experienced first-hand by the author, although there is no evidence for this; indeed, Hanley’s son Liam remembers his father laughing at such suggestions and dismissing them as “silly.” But the book is not without autobiographical elements: Hanley did embark on his first sea voyage when he was the same age as Fearon, although that ship was bound for the United States rather than the Middle East, and unlike the principal character of Boy Hanley actively wanted to leave school early and looked forward to taking up shipboard work. Some of the events of Fearon’s journey, such as the details of his day-to-day duties and the death of a sailor after a few days, resonate closely with the account Hanley gives of his own maiden trip in his autobiography, Broken Water (1937). Furthermore, in the essay ‘Oddfish’ (published in Don Quixote Drowned, 1953), Hanley recalls that the novel’s ending was inspired by a conversation between a group of sailors that he overheard and was horrified by, some years later in his shipboard career:

“Captain L. Surely you have heard of Captain L?”
“Even if I didn’t, what about him?”
“Say he did away with one of his crew.”


“Smothered him, they say. Mercy killing, like cancer, you know.”
“Boy with cancer?”
“Not exactly, but something he didn’t like.”
“What then?”
“Logged as drowned. However, sailors sometimes talk.”
“They often do.”
“Quite seriously, though, this kid ran amok in the wrong places.”
“Was L. drunk?”
“They say he dropped off in Karachi, not been seen since.”

Boy 3Quotations:

“The Government’s going to pass a bill regarding schools. Well I never. Interfering gang they are, as if a parent doesn’t know what’s best for her own child. I don’t know, I don’t know! We won’t be able to call our children our own just now.”

The mortality amongst these scavengers of civilization was never inquired in any of the companies concerned, though sometimes a boy was to death or suffocated in a boiler, or drowned in the foul water bottom of the ship. In such cases a collection was made for the parents.

But the ship was merely a hulk and nothing more, a kind of weapon with which an order can squeeze the guts out of labour and extract from it just sufficient to keep the average shareholder from getting really low-spirited …The crew had worked like Trojans. And below the engineer had goaded on his men, driven them, jeered at them. Something had to be done. The sea could not act thus without serious reactions. And as one could not chastise her, then the men must be chastised. The men must be made to work harder. The firemen must extract every ounce of energy from her coal, that was not much better than dirt itself. Not a man must wear a look of contentment. Everybody must suffer for the caprices of the sea.

I say now, and for the last time, I can’t see the significance in a man shooting another man in cold blood and then calmly going to mass immediately afterwards. And all their cock shots at England leave me cold. I’m not a bit interested. Of course you’ll up and say, ‘Ah! But when you’ve learned your history properly you’ll realise they were in the right.’ It’s quite illogical. I call that stuff third-rate gangsterdom, and you can go on deifying it until you’re blue in the face. In Ireland the grass grows greener than in any other country in the wide world. That’s a lovely thing to think about, isn’t it? Well, then, isn’t it a big step down from that to putting a bullet in a man’s lug and shouting, ‘Ireland’s saved!’? I don’t agree with you there, and never will. Mother doesn’t either, and she knows the colours of all the stones in Cobh, and even the size of the mackerel they catch there, but she loves the stones and the fish and the green grass and the great quiet you get there, and that’s Irish too. No. I wouldn’t speak to my cousin because we never get anywhere at all. And he can shout and rave till he’s sick, but it won’t shift those two destroyers out of Bere Island, and that is that …

“like a dark tapestry it covered his wounded thought, the spoliation, the degradation, the loneliness, the misery of his existence.”

Boy 2 Suddenly an idea occurred to Fearon. He had one day heard the bosun say that when in Salonica, he had attended a cancan dance, where the girl for a wager had placed a lit cigarette in her philosophic centre. Fearon smiled. He pushed himself away and said to the girl: “You put cigarette there, eh?”

Immediately the girl understood. She watched him light a cigarette. When he handed it to her she placed it where he most desired to see it and again began to dance in the centre of the room. The boy became full and choking with a desire to bury himself in that flesh, to hide away from all that had angered and worried him, all that had humiliated him. There he could hide away from the world of men for ever. He felt in his pockets. Pulled out some coins, almost ran to the girl, grabbed her shoulders, said: “How much? How much? You… me?”

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German Democratic Republic: Politics, Economics and Society – Mike Dennis


(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

The Head of German in the school where I last taught was somewhat of an expert in East Germany and he devised teaching schemes for schoolchildren there. From him I gained an interest in the GDP.

I was very surprised that homosexuality isn’t mentioned in this book despite its account of the general liberalisation in attitudes towards sexual behaviour. East Germany inherited the law Paragraph 175. Communist gay activist Rudolf Klimmer, modeling himself on Magnus Hirschfeld and his Scientific-Humanitarian Committee, campaigned to have the law repealed, but was unsuccessful. However, the law was reverted to the version found in the 1925 criminal code, which was considerably milder than the version adopted in 1935 under Nazi rule. In the five years following the Uprising of 1953 in East Germany, the GDR government instituted a program of “moral reform” to build a solid foundation for the new socialist republic, in which masculinity and the traditional family were championed while homosexuality, seen to contravene “healthy mores of the working people”, continued to be prosecuted under Paragraph 175. Same sex activity was “alternatively viewed as a remnant of bourgeois decadence, a sign of moral weakness, and a threat to the social and political health of the nation.”

In East Germany, Paragraph 175 ceased to be enforced in 1957 but remained on the books until 1968. According to historian Heidi Minning, attempts by lesbians and gays in East Germany to establish a visible community were “thwarted at every turn by the G.D.R. government and SED party.” She wrote: Police force was used on numerous occasions to break up or prevent public gay and lesbian events. Centralized censorship prevented the presentation of homosexuality in print and electronic media, as well as the import of such materials.

Ironically, the Protestant church provided more support than the state, allowing meeting spaces and printing facilities.

Towards the end of the 1980s however, just before the collapse of the iron curtain, the East German government opened a state-owned gay disco in Berlin. On 11 August 1987 the East German Supreme Court affirmed that “homosexuality, just like heterosexuality, represents a variant of sexual behaviour. Homosexual people do therefore not stand outside socialist society, and the civil rights are warranted to them exactly as to all other citizens.”

The author is Professor of Modern German History at the University of Wolverhampton.


With about one-third of all marriages ending in divorce, GDR has one of the highest divorce rates in the world. And women are far likely than men to institute an action for divorce. The increasing number of mothers and some young couples’ preference for free association (Lebensg testify to the questioning of marriage as a ‘part of the good life’. Another sign changing pattern of the relationship is the increase in the proportion of live unmarried mothers from 17.3 per cent in 1978 to 32 per cent in 1983.

Despite the rejection of the institution of marriage by some Marxists, the GDR has always recognized the value of both marriage and the family The GDR family continues to perform the basic functions of reproduction, the socialization of children, and economic and emotional support for its members. Marriage is proclaimed by the 1966 Family Code as a union for life based on mutual love, respect and faithfulness, understanding and trust, and unselfish help for one another. The founders of the GDR sought, however, to modify the traditional relationship between the sexes. For example, the 1950 Law on the Protection of Mother and Child replaced the previous right of the husband alone to make decisions on all marital matters by the joint decision-making right of both partners. In addition, women’s employment was regarded as the key to their equality and a ‘higher’ form of family life. After much delay, a new family model emerged in 1966 with the promulgation of the Family Code.

The code defines the family as the smallest cell in society and proclaims that only socialism, which is allegedly free from the exploitation and material insecurity of bourgeois society, can provide the necessary conditions for family relations of a new and lasting kind. Children receive a good deal of attention in the code. The most important task and duty of parents, to be undertaken jointly, is the upbringing of the children in, it is hoped, a stable and happy environment. The socialization of children and young people is not envisaged as the prerogative of parents but as a cooperative effort between parents, school and state organizations such as the Thalmann Pioneers and the Free German Youth.

The SED target of two to three children per family is not easily reconciled with the burdens arising from the full-time employment of a high proportion of women and with the liberal abortion legislation.

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