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A Great Unrecorded History: A New Life of E. M. Forster Hardcover – May 11, 2010

4.0 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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*Starred Review* It will come as no surprise to readers of literary fiction that E. M. Forster (1879–1970), author of such classic novels as Howards End (1910) and Passage to India (1924), was gay. His sexual orientation has been noted since the 1970 publication of his posthumous novel, Maurice, which was about love and sex between men. But Moffat places, more firmly than has been done by previous biographers, Forster’s homosexuality at the core of his being, both as the lodestar by which he lived his life and as a source of intense frustration because of social prohibition against depicting it in fiction. He realized early on his attraction to his own gender, and we are given, with no hint of salaciousness, an honest account of his sex life over the years. At once powerful and sensitive, Moffat’s irresistibly compelling and responsible biography sees an unimpressive physical persona whose shyness reduced him to “disappearing into the woodwork.” And his long public silence—silent in that he published no more novels while he lived, after Passage to India—can be attributed to his having “grown tired of the masquerade of propriety.” Forster may have been regarded as mousy, but this treatment of his life is undeniably robust. In fact, it shines with the beauty its subject was made sad that he did not possess. --Brad Hooper


“[A Great Unrecorded History is] a well-written, intelligent and perceptive biography . . . [Moffat] uses the sources for our knowledge of Forster’s sexuality, including letters and diaries, without reducing the mystery and sheer individuality of Forster, without making his sexuality explain everything.” —Colm Tóibín, The New York Times Book Review

“None of [Forster’s] biographers have had either the will or the wherewithal to concentrate as closely on Forster’s sexuality as Wendy Moffat . . . In A Great Unrecorded History, she offers an insightful, revelatory portrait of a man who deeply resented having to hide such an important side of himself . . . Ms. Moffat’s overarching interests are in tracing Forster’s attitudes about sex and hypocrisy and in placing this increasingly outspoken figure within the context of his changing times.” —Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“Wendy Moffat’s reexamination of E. M. Forster identifies his homosexuality as the essence of his creative life. Using unpublished writings, she charts his gradual awakening to the moral, intellectual, and emotional significance of his homoerotic imagination. Her book is an astute and original new portrait of this major novelist.” —Michael Holroyd, author of A Strange Eventful History

A Great Unrecorded History explores the intimate life of E. M. Forster with sensitivity and scholarship. Wendy Moffat writes with profound insight about a great writer who believed in the vital significance of personal connection while being unable to openly express his sexual feelings for the men he desired. She also gives us an illuminating picture of gay sexual culture in the first half of the twentieth century. This biography is at once an engrossing read and a book to cherish and go back to. Essential for understanding E. M. Forster and the times in which he lived.” —Sheila Rowbotham , author of Edward Carpenter

“Wendy Moffat’s biography of E. M. Forster is splendid—beautifully researched and written, imaginatively structured, and deeply revealing. We finally have a life of Forster that foregrounds his homosexuality and skillfully traces its impact on his life and art. We’ve had a long wait for a fully honest book on Forster—but at last we have it.” —Martin Duberman, author of Paul Robeson

A Great Unrecorded History is a bold new re-imagining of Forster’s long career, which makes some striking connections between his life and work.” —D. J. Taylor, author of Bright Young People


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (May 11, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374166781
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374166786
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.3 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,329,812 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Foster Corbin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 30, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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Format: Hardcover
It's not an easy thing to write with Forster-esque humanity, humor, and acute perception in any genre, but Wendy Moffat has done it here, in a biography of all things, writing a "new life" of E.M. Forster. I have loved Forster's work for a long time, and built an image of him in my head...so it was a risk, a bit, to read a biography of him....however, i've come out of it with my love intact and deepened. Moffat builds a portrait that I think Morgan Forster would have liked: amused, humane, casting a wide net to gather in all the parts of his life that informed his work. Which is nice, considering that Forster states his own agenda as "wishing to connect up all the fragments I was born with". Of course, within his lifetime, this was not possible to do - not publicly anyway: homophobic law and vicious anti-gay attitudes in early 20th century England made it necessary for him to conceal a great many parts of himself, and in consequence a great deal of his work.

Moffat situates his homosexuality where he did: right at the center of his life. From that understanding she works through his life to explain the mystery of why his last work was published in just his middle-age -- when he lived in sound mind and body much longer than that. In that seemingly barren time, we see a life teeming with connection and purpose. He was an avid patron and supporter of upcoming authors (many of them homosexual). He built a network of deep, sustaining friendships with men and women (of all stripes: mingling cab drivers and policemen with T.E. Lawrence and the Woolfs). He made quiet forays into advocacy against morality laws, and publicly defended young people endangered by them.
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Wendy Moffat's new biography opens in an amateur, theatrical way - probably the opening a literary agent demanded. But after she settles down to Forster's life and portrays the ways in which Forster crept out - passively and furtively - from his mother Lily's cruel thumb, the book is readable, insightful, well paced, and often highly absorbing. His Cambridge friends, from HOM to Leonard Woolf, reveal how central were his early university experiences. Later, the sexual relationships he managed to secure show an amazing tolerance for half-requited passion. Despite his core of passivity - he provided the equivalent of a lady's companion to his own mother - he managed to write several fascinating novels, all crisp with chagrin. HOWARDS END, we learn, is a superb rendering of aspects of Forster's experience, ably recalibrated to show both his extraordinary humanity and his terror of exposure. Alive with a good blend of specifics and analysis, Moffat's biography is recommended to those wanting a fresh portrait of a classic twentieth-century novelist whose star is gracefully falling.
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This fascinating, especially well written life of the great English writer E.M. Forster is splendid. Its complete account of Forster's homosexuality and its signal importance to him and the picture of gay and literary English life makes this book an original one. For the Forster devotee, it is a must. It illuminates his work subtly. For the reader who doesn't know Forster, it is a telling story of art, love and friendship and the resources and recourses of a banned sexuality. There is nothing reductive about this book. It opens the subject up. It will make you want to read Forster, which is a real pleasure.
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