In the LRB Alan Hollinghurst reviews The Journals and Diaries of E. M. Forster published in full for the first time. The volume collects 28 diaries covering 72 years and Forster admits "unfortunately I only open this book when my heart aches." Hollinghurst explains
"In all the most intimate matters the entries are mere cryptic memoranda, and on a few occasions happiness writes white: ‘After which Bob and I .’ The type for these provoking blanks may be a boyhood diary he recalled keeping; a strange incident had occurred when he was sent for a walk on the Downs near Eastbourne by his prep-school headmaster, and had been induced to masturbate a middle-aged man behind some gorse bushes (‘Dear little fellow … play with it … pull it about’): ‘I made an entry in my diary <<<Nothing>>> to remind me it had been something.’
"There in a concise formulation is the speaking silence of so many gay lives of that era."
"Most of the affairs that Forster would go on to have were with bisexual, generally married men: with Mohammed el-Adl, an Alexandrian tram conductor, in a period of the Great War for which he kept no intimate diary and, most important, with the policeman Bob Buckingham [in photo, on armrest c 1934], whom he met in 1930 at J.R. Ackerley’s Hammersmith flat. He notes without dissent Edward Carpenter’s explanation of ‘why I like the Lower Classes. They are not self conscious. I am and therefore need them.’ When things get going with Bob, Forster is able to write: ‘I am happier now than ever in my life, and hope that if anyone reads this book he will get to this. Aged 55.’ Things were often less happy between them, but Forster forged a famously durable relationship with the Buckinghams, was godfather to their son Robin (who died of Hodgkin’s disease in 1962), and chose to die at their house in Coventry. ‘I have never so known anyone before,’ he writes in 1943, and marvels that Bob ‘has been living and moving against me for 13 years’. So he confounded his earlier predictions; and in a strange and touching private gesture, went back through the Locked Diary recording on the verso of the long since written pages what the man he was yet to meet had been doing at the time, such as ‘Bob, aged 19, goes to Engelbest Tyres’ in September 1923. It’s like Isherwood’s retrospective marvelling, as he sets off to America at the end of Christopher and His Kind, at the unknown future and the unknown life partner who await him: ‘He will be near you for many years without your meeting. But it would be no good if you did meet him now. At present, he is only four years old.’
"Forster seems never to have expected or sought a lover from his own class, or who was as purely homosexual as he was. Love and sex were viewed as beautiful concessions from men whose lives were committed more fully elsewhere. Forster was a serial adulterer, if that can be said of a single man taking married lovers. And the diaries let one glimpse, in their minimal notations, a sprinkling of sexual episodes and one or two more persistent partners..."
After a couple paragraphs describing those men, Hollinghurst offers this:
"Forster’s attitude to his own sexual thoughts and fantasies was a perennially unsettled one. At the end of 1913, with much of Maurice written, he notes that ‘lustful thoughts & glances leave a terrible depression behind them. Acts would not – they involve the personal, however grossly.’ Here perhaps is a Lawrentian mistrust of ‘sex in the head’ awkwardly wedded to his recurrent personal sense of sexual acts as being ‘gross’. Seeing a man of his own age and class ‘watching rough across the river at Shepperton’, he is disgusted, but can’t work out whether through envy or shame. In Egypt in 1920, he wonders if, for lack of any creative notions, he should write his ‘sexual reminiscences’, a volume whose putative contents must remain shadowy to the modern reader. ‘My mind is now obsessed,’ he wrote, ‘by sexual fancies and hopes: wasting much time … Habits not orgies do the harm, though one can’t dodge this truth by saying “Very well – I’ll orge.”’ But it seems he never did. Furbank gives this detail from his own diary 33 years later: ‘4.1.53. M. to tea. He said: “Orgies are so important, and they are things one knows nothing about.”’ At the age of 77 he devotes a longish diary entry to the ‘unpleasant and disquieting experience’ of being ‘controlled by erotic thoughts instead of controlling them’ but concedes that this ‘masturbational eroticism has had its conveniences. At all events I don’t go hanging about urinals or showing my aged genitals to girls.’"
At 880 pages, The Journals and Diaries of E. M. Forster costs $495.
Better to try the 814 page The Creator as Critic and Other Writings by E.M. Forster which Hollinghurst considers "indispensable" as it gathers previously uncollected writings about Coleridge, Tolstoy, Pater, Wilde, James, Hardy, Butler, Housman, Kipling, Joyce, Lawrence, Proust, and Cavafy, and includes Forster's fragmentary memoir Sex from his Locked Diary. He also praises Forster bios old and new by P. N. Furbank and Wendy Moffat.