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The Life to Come and Other Stories – E. M. Forster

December 26, 2015

TLTCAOS 2Many people know that he didn’t want Maurice published until after his death. Fewer, including me, knew that these stories existed and were left unpublished for the same reason. They were shown to an appreciative circle of friends and fellow writers, including Christopher Isherwood, Siegfried Sassoon, Lytton Strachey, and T. E. Lawrence, who considered one story “the most powerful thing I have ever read.” Forster described ‘The Life to Come’ as “violent and wholly unpublishable” It relates one poignant sexual encounter that takes place between a South American chieftain, Vithobai, “the wildest, strongest, most stubborn of all the inland chieftains” and the young priest with whom he falls in love, Paul Pinmay, who is in all ways, Vithobai’s inferior. In a single night their passion transforms into rejection.

The fourteen stories in this book span six decades—from 1903 to 1957 or even later—and represent every phase of Forster’s career as a writer. About a third of them deal with homosexuality.

The significance of these stories in relation to Forster’s famous abandonment of the novel is discussed by Oliver Stallybrass in his introduction. “[These stories] are often brilliant, aware both of the strictly contemporary…the contrast between Greek and Christian; between ‘Goth’ and Christian; between spontaneity and duty in matters sensual and instinctive. In short, they bring up all Forster’s usual preoccupations and at the same time orchestrate the new song and play it loud and clear.”

We get a character’s denial of love reveals the constricting effects of conventional society and leads to his physical, emotional, or spiritual death. In “The Life to Come,” a Christian missionary, who becomes a native’s lover for one night, denies his feelings for his lover who later stabs him to death before killing himself. In “Dr Woolacott” a dying patient refuses the aid of his doctor and chooses instead the spirit-saving love of an unknown boy, even though his choice causes his physical death. “.

‘The Other Boat’ begins with a group of children playing on the deck of a boat travelling from India to England. Lionel is attempting to get one of his friends, Cocoanut (named for his oddly shaped head), to play battle with him. Lionel is one of the five children belonging to Mrs. March, and is aboard the ship because his father had deserted his mother for a native he had met while fighting in a war abroad. Mrs. March makes several comments about how she disapproves of Lionel’s friend, Cocoanut. She refers to him as having a touch of the “tar brush” and not being entirely of European ancestry. However, she allows them to go ahead and play together for most of the voyage. When she observes that the children are playing in direct sunlight, she sees to it that they play under the awning before they become afflicted with sunstroke. Baby, the youngest of the March children, begins crying as Mrs. March is yelling at the children, so she picks him up to carry him inside. Before she can get inside, however, a young sailor hops out of his cabin and draws a white line around her—which puts her in a state of mind where she cannot escape the circle that surrounds her. Then, Cocoanut appears, screaming that she has been caught. She becomes infuriated with he as “a silly idle useless unmanly little boy.”

Years later, Lionel has become a Captain in the British army and a war hero, after he was injured in battle. He has grown into a handsome young man, with blonde hair, blue eyes, and broad shoulders and is aboard a ship to India, where he is to meet up with Isabel, a girl who we assume he is to marry. Cocoanut is also aboard, and had made arrangements for them to share a room together. Lionel seems rather shocked, and quite uncertain about sharing a room with a “half-caste”. But because the ship is already full, and because he acknowledges that his prejudices are tribal, and not personal, he seemingly agrees.

At first, things seem normal. They unpacked as they talked about old times, joking with each other. And then suddenly things became awkward. As Lionel was sitting on his top bunk, Cocoanut grabbed his leg, and began feeling up until he had reached his groin. Lionel’s mind begins to race. He is confused and disgusted as he leaps from his bunk, running out the door. At first he goes to see the Master at Arms, but he is nowhere to be found. He then heads to the Purser’s office, demanding that he have his room switched, without giving any reason whatsoever. When the Purser explains that all of the rooms are already full, Lionel furiously marches out of the office. He goes to the front of the ship and watches as he moves farther away from England as he tries to decide what to do. While at the front of the ship he runs into Captain Arbuthnot and his wife, and they form a group known as the Big Eight. After a few drinks and jokes, Lionel begins to loosen up a bit, and complains about having to room with a “wog”. Feeling a little bit better, Lionel decides to go ahead and deal with Cocoanut being his roommate for the voyage, and tries to forget about the strange incident that had happened earlier.

Everything seemed to be going well. “Order had been re-established”. But Lionel can’t help but think back on the night when Cocoanut had made his move, and even wonders what would have happened if he had granted Cocoanut’s desires. The ship enters the Mediterranean Sea, and one night, after Lionel returns to his cabin, he is awaited by Cocoanut and a bottle of champagne. After a few drinks, Lionel gave in Cocoanut’s seduction, and as they lay in bed together, they talked about their lives. At one point, Cocoanut questions the large scar that Lionel has on his groin area. It turns out that the scar was Lionel’s “battle wound”, which is what ended up making him a war hero. After the story of the battle wound, Lionel continues talking, getting further into deeply personal stories from his younger days. Cocoanut doesn’t go into much detail about his past. We are able to gather that he is in charge of some type of business, although his specific occupation is never revealed. We also know that he has several passports from different countries, which makes the reader wonder of who Cocoanut really is.

While the two men lay entwined in their cabin, they have become close with one another, not only on a physical but on an emotional level. Lionel says “I’m fonder of you than I know how to say”. Cocoanut’s response is that Lionel should have someone to take care of him. The two men ponder being together, but Lionel realises that it would be impossible.

Suddenly, Lionel notices that bolt on the door had been unlocked the entirety of their lovemaking. Anyone could have walked in. He blames himself for being too careless, but then Cocoanut claims that it was partly his fault also, because he knew that the door was unlocked the entire time. Furious with Cocoanut for not mentioning this before, Lionel decides to go out on the deck for a smoke. Realizing the seriousness of what just transpired, Cocoanut says, “When you come back you will not be you. And I may not be I.” As he is out on the deck for a smoke, he sees Colonel Arbuthnot sleeping, next to his wife. He thinks about everything which he would lose if anyone were to find out about the scandal with Cocoanut. He was the first born, and felt responsible for maintaining integrity of the family name. Thinking of Isabel, who is waiting on him in India, he decides what happened would not follow him any further. Hearing Lionel, Colonel Arbuthnot wakes up, and apologises to Lionel for having to bunk with a ‘wog’. It had just been discovered that Cocoanut was not supposed to be on the boat at all. He had sent some “fat bribes” out to get himself aboard the ship. After his discussion with the Colonel, Lionel leaves the deck.

Returning to the cabin, Lionel sees Cocoanut in his top bunk. Getting close to Lionel, Cocoanut insists that he kiss him. When Lionel rejects him, Cocoanut decides to go in for the kiss regardless and bites Lionel’s forearm. Lionel flashes back to the war and strangles Cocoanut, then kisses his eyelids tenderly, then commits suicide by throwing himself into the ocean. His body is never found. Typically depressing internalised homophobia from Forster.

In ‘The Obelisk’, I warm to the teacher who is reluctant to ask directions – typical male autonomy thing.

Some of the stories, however, are boring and the footnotes are somewhat pedantic.

And isn’t it very English to have ‘dice of friend bread’ with soup rather than croutes?

TLTCAOSQuotations:

“You can not possibly lie on hard asphalt,” he says.
“I have found that I can”, is the poignant reply

“Can’t you grasp, Barnabas, that under God’s permission certain evils attend civilization…Five years ago there was not a single hospital in this valley.” “Nor any disease, I understand.”

Love had been born somewhere in the forest, of what quality only the future could decide. Trivial or immortal, it had been born to two human bodies as a midnight cry. Impossible to tell whence the cry had come, so dark was the forest. Or into what worlds it would echo, so vast was the forest. Love had been born for good or evil, for a long life or a short.

“Let us both be entirely reasonable, sir. God continues to order me to love you. It is my life, whatever else I seem to do. My body and the breath in it are still yours, though you wither them up with this waiting. Come into the last forest, before it is cut down, and I will be kind, and all may end well. But it is now five years since you first said Not yet.”

“It is, and now I say Never.”

“This time you say Never?”

“I do.”

“When you come back you will not be you. And I may not be I.”

Dead silence ensued, which was well enough for Ansell, to whom it merely meant that neither of us had any more to say. But to educated people silence matters; it is a token of stupidity and lack of invention. Ansell.

But that was only the beginning of her mortification. Harold had proved her wrong. He had seen that she was a shifty, shallow hypocrite. She had not dared to be alone with him since her exposure. She had never looked at him and had hardly spoken. He seemed cheerful, but what was he thinking? He would never forgive her. Albergo Empedocle.

Had she only realized that it is only hypocrites who cannot forgive hypocrisy, whereas those who search for truth are too conscious of the maze to be hard on others – than the bitter flow of her thoughts might have been stopped and the catastrophe averted. But it was not conceivable to her that he should forgive – or that she should accept forgiveness, for to her forgiveness meant a triumph of one person over another. Albergo Empedocle.

‘Why are pictures like this allowed?’ he suddenly cried. He had stopped in front of a colonial print in which the martyrdom of St Agatha was depicted with all the fervour that incompetence could command.
‘It’s only a saint,’ said Lady Peaslake, placidly raising her head.
‘How disgusting – and how ugly’
‘Yes, very. It’s Roman Catholic.’ Albergo Empedocle.

She began to speak, but waited a moment for the maid to clear away the tea. In the waning light her room seemed gentle and grey, and there hung about it an odour (I do not write ‘the odour’) of Roman Catholicism, which is assuredly among the gracious things of the world. It was the room of a woman who had found time to be good to herself as well as to others; who had brought forth fruit, spiritual and temporal; who had borne a mysterious tragedy not only with patience but actually with joy. The rock.

This conversation taught me that some of us can meet reality on this side of the grave. I do not envy them. Such adventures may profit the disembodied soul, but as long as I have flesh and blood I pray that my grossness preserve me. Our lower nature has its dreams. Mine is of a certain farm, windy but fruitful, half-way between the deserted moorland and the uninhabitable sea. Hither, at rare intervals, she should descend and he ascend, to shatter their spiritual communion by one caress. The rock.

His hand came nearer, his eyes danced round the room, which began to fill with a golden haze. He beckoned, and Clesant moved into his arms. Clesand had often been proud of his disease but never, never of his body, it had never occurred to him that he could provoke desire. This sudden revelation shattered him, he fell from his pedestal, but not alone, there was someone to cling to, broad shoulders, a sunburnt throat, lips that parted as they touched him to murmur – ‘And to hell with Woolacott’. Dr Woolacott.

It is better to have a home of one’s own than to always be a typist. Hilda did not talk quite as she should, and her husband had not scrupled to correct her. She had never forgotten – it was such a small thing, yet she could not forget it – she had never forgotten that night on their honeymoon when she had said something ungrammatical about the relative position of their limbs. The obelisk.

Before the civil war, Pottibakia was a normal member of the Comity of Nations. She erected tariff walls, broke treaties, persecuted minorities, obstructed at conferences unless she was convinced there was no danger of a satisfactory solution; then she strained every nerve in the cause of peace. What does it matter? A morality

we only caught one of them. His mother, if you please, is president of the Women’s Institute, and hasn’t had the decency to resign ! I tell you, Conway, these people aren’t the same flesh and blood as oneself. One pretends they are, but they aren’t. And what with this dis­illusionment, and what with the right of way, I’ve a good mind to clear out next year, and leave the so-called country to stew in its own juice. It’s utterly corrupt. This man made an awfully bad impression on the Bench and we didn’t feel that six months, which is the maximum we were allowed to impose, was adequate to the offence. And it was all so re­voltingly commercial — his only motive was money.’ Arthur Snatchfold

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