Rosemary Hill writes:
‘It will not have escaped such an audience as this that Sex played a large part in my uncle’s life.’ E.M. Forster was addressing an early meeting of the Bloomsbury Group’s Memoir Club, and was reading a paper about his closest male relation, the disliked, unmissed and now dead Uncle Willie. The evidence for Sex lay somewhere in William Forster’s unhappy, ‘morbid’ marriage, his growing irritability and an obscure triangular relationship with his wife and a young woman called Leontine Chipman, nicknamed Canada. After Willie’s death his widow Emily and Canada lived happily ever after, until Emily died leaving everything to Canada and nothing to Forster, who was disappointed. The domestic and sexual permutations would have caused no consternation among listeners who included Virginia and Leonard Woolf and Clive Bell. Nor, perhaps, would Forster’s own discomfort with the question of Sex, which played a large, complicated part in his own life: ‘You work it out,’ his essay goes on: ‘I can’t so well.’ Increasingly anguished by the implications of his homosexuality, he was, as S.P. Rosenbaum points out, the only member of this densely interconnected group who hadn’t slept with any of the others. The extent to which his uncle’s mysterious difficulties were a caricature of his own would not have escaped them.