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EM Forster, the Policeman, and the Wife
by Darren Marples | @Mattersofpride
Arguably one of the greatest English writers of the last century was EM Forster. His life experiences spanned from 1879 to 1970, a time of great global change.
Between leaving King’s College, Cambridge in 1901 and 1910 EM Forster had written four novels. His first and last novels; Where Angels Fear to Tread and Howard’s End, respectively, were two of the four he wrote in this time. Most of his finest novels were written in his twenties, with the subject matter heavy on heterosexual relationships in the 1900s.
In his thirties he wrote in a personal diary of an encounter with a wounded soldier on a beach and remarked on losing his ‘R’ (this referred to his respectability). The novelist struggled at this point in his life with writing. His fifth novel; A Passage to India wasn’t released until 1924, after spending time abroad in India. Once more he wrote about a heterosexual relationship, this time it was cross–culture with an Indian Doctor and an English Woman.
Fame and Sex
More recently, EM Forster’s diaries have been studied, examining how he felt living through a life of change we can only imagine. He believed that the main reason he didn’t continue writing as productively past his twenties was because he had discovered sex. It is thought that the driving force behind his creativity may well have been the suppression of his sexuality. He believed that if he had suppressed his sexual urges, he would have written more and achieved greater fame.
In 1964 there was a diary entry that read “Now I am 85, how annoyed I am with society wasting my time by making homosexuality criminal. The subterfuges and the self-consciousness that might have been avoided”.
EM Forster documented having several affairs with men in his diaries, two of which were policemen.
In 1930, at a party on the day of the Cambridge and Oxford boat race, the novelist met a twenty-eight year old policeman; Bob Buckingham. Buckingham impressed Forster instantly with his knowledge of the Thames. Buckingham was invited to his flat he was taken aback with Forster. EM Forster wrote several entries in his diaries about the next few years, during which they began a lifetime on-off affair. Married and considering himself heterosexual, Buckingham spent many weekends at Forster’s flat in Brunswick Square and time away together.
Even by today’s standards the relationship between EM Forster and Buckingham’s pushed boundaries, although several entries in the novelist’s diaries note that it was sometimes “trying”.
The Policeman’s Wife
Bob Buckingham’s wife, May, slowly became acquainted with Forster. In several letters she commented that she was grateful of Forster being in their lives, not only for financial support, but also for the culture that Forster introduced to the couple.
The Buckingham’s had a baby boy in 1933 and Forster became his godfather. By 1935 May Buckingham became ill with tuberculosis (TB) and was sent to a sanatorium for a year. In the meantime Robin, their son, was sent to May’s sister on Forster’s recommendation. As soon as this occurred, Forster and Bob Buckingham went to Amsterdam to visit a gay couple that Forster was acquainted with.
EM Forster stayed in contact with May Buckingham in this time period, and he not only sent her letters but gifts too, strengthening their relationship. On her return, a relationship blossomed that was built on the two of them “silently sharing” Bob Buckingham.
The novelist’s own mother also became firm friends with Bob’s wife. In 1945 Forster’s mother died and he was devastated. He also became paranoid that Buckingham was less interested in him than he once was. Forster moved into King’s College at this point. By 1949 things improved when Forster and Buckingham went to New York.
Joys & Sorrows
As the novelist grew older, May began to nurse him and ensure that he was taken care of. May and Forster became closer after her son, Robin Buckingham, died. They consoled each other. By the mid-sixties Forster’s health worsened, leading to several strokes. Forster lost his usual composure and began talking to Bob Buckingham about their relationship in front of May. Although Bob denied it and distanced himself from from Forster, May reminded her husband of Forster’s generosity.
On the day that EM Forster died in 1970, May held his hand most of that morning. She wrote afterwards “Over the years he changed us both and he and I came close to one another, able to share the joys and sorrows that came.”
He died only three years after homosexuality was decriminalized in England and Wales.
Legal to Love
Almost eighteen months after the novelist’s death, the novel Maurice was published. It is thought to be semi-autobiographic and describes sexuality at the turn of the century. Written in 1917, Maurice is based on a world far different from 1970 and even more so today.
EM Forster was a remarkable man finding ways to survive and come to terms with his sexuality during difficult times. In some ways he was a lucky man. Charles Dickens wrote after visiting the last two men executed for sodomy “It would be different if the men were wealthy as they wouldn’t have been spied upon, like they had been when caught. If they were rich, they would have more privacy”.
EM Forster left the majority of his wealth to King’s College and spent his last few years knowing that homosexuality was legalized, something he clearly wished for all his life.