Analysis of E. M. Forster’s Arthur Snatchfold

Although E. M. Forster produced sufficient material in his writing career for three collections of short stories, he published only two collections in his lifetime: The Celestial Omnibus (1911) and The Eternal Moment (1928). The Life to Come and Other Stories was collected after Forster’s death in 1970 and was published in 1972. This was not the only instance of this happening. In 1971, Maurice, a novel that Forster had first drafted as early as 1913 and returned to many times throughout his life, also received its first publication posthumously. Its frontispiece reads “Dedicated to a Happier Year.” The reason for the delay in publishing these two texts was that Forster believed that their homosexual content would damage his and others’ reputations. Forster died only three years after homosexuality was first legalized in Britain, so even though he had enjoyed a successful literary career, he believed that no publisher would go near these works.

The Life to Come and Other Stories features a variety of settings—from the more traditional, dramatic, and realist settings of “Arthur Snatchfold” and “Ansell” (both similar to that of Maurice) to the fantastical “The Life to Come” and the comic “The Obelisk.” The story “Arthur Snatchfold” is similar in structure to the latter half of Maurice. It tells the story of the bisexual Sir Richard Conway, who, while staying at his friend Donaldson’s country mansion, meets and becomes involved with Arthur Snatchfold, the estate’s milkman. The morning after they meet they have sex in the woods. Later, Donaldson tells Conway that Snatchfold was caught and convicted of “gross indecency” on “evidence of a medical character.” Snatchfold goes to prison without revealing the identity of his lover. The story concludes with Conway guiltily relieved but also changed by the experience. He acknowledges this to himself by writing down Arthur’s name “in order that he might not forget it. He had only heard the name once, and he would never hear it again.”

There is a variety of Forsterian themes at play in this story, the most obvious of which is that of the working class emancipating the upper class through a single act of coitus. This model of Uranian democracy is derived from the thought and writings of Edward Carpenter, a friend of Forster’s. And the working-class man was typically a man of the forest—an autochthonous man of the earth. Forster’s use of this symbol is out of step with 20th-century modernity. Instead, it suggests a pastoral nostalgia for a more equal world. Carpenter holds the notion that men can become equals through sex, the ultimate democratizer. Forster’s notion of queer desire in “Arthur Snatchfold” presents a radical vision of same-sex desire, not because the desire was against the law but because it suggests that society’s codes of behavior are artificial and unnatural and therefore can be broken.

Analysis of E. M. Forster’s Stories

Bristow, Joseph, ed. Sexual Sameness: Textual Differences in Lesbian and Gay Writing. London: Routledge, 1992.
Forster, E. M. The Life to Come and Other Stories. London: Penguin, 1972.
Martin, Robert K., and George Piggford, eds. Queer Forster. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997.

Categories: British Literature, Literature, Short Story

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