Title

The Archival “I”: Forster, Isherwood, and the Future of Queer Biography

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date

6-2020

Department

English

Language

English

Publication Title

Isherwood in Transit

Abstract

The first meeting between the British novelists E.M. Forster and Christopher Isherwood in the early 1930s marks a seminal moment in gay literary history. I describe it in my biography of Forster:

When Christopher first met Morgan [Forster]... he was already yearning to be his "disciple." Here was a gay mentor, a novelist who had found "the key to the whole art of writing." Christopher admired Morgan's technical skill, but he was awed by his humility. He reminded Christopher of a Zen master .... They met in the [London] flat that Morgan had rented ... as an occasional escape from the suburban surveillance of his mother.... Christopher was so bowled over that he barely recalled their conversation. But the pleasurable sense of being invited into a circle of the elect was palpable.

Christopher left the flat clutching Forster's contraband copy of T.E. Lawrences's Seven Pillars of Wisdom. At their second meeting six months later, "in a gesture that became a ritual of intimacy", Morgan showed Christopher the typescript of his unpublished and to him "unpublishable" gay novel Maurice. Christopher was touched by reading this story of committed love between two men--and the imperative of its happy ending. He was moved, too, by Forster's bravery in writing the novel, that the power of his imagination could take root in arid Edwardian England. "The wonder was Forster himself," Isherwood wrote four decades later in Christopher and His Kind, "imprisoned within the jungle of pre-war prejudice putting those unthinkable thoughts into words".

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