The Leitmotif of Homosexuality in Edward Morgan Forster’s "A Room with a View" and Evelyn Waugh's "Brideshead Revisited"

Love, Friendship or Something Else Entirely?

Term Paper, 2019

12 Pages, Grade: 2,3










Whether rents are expensive or not does not matter, but there is always a family or a single person who is not able to pay for the housing. The most natural solution would be to look for a roommate to at least share the high rent. This situation is the beginning of Josh’s and Al’s story. Josh is a salesman, who offers Al to move in with him since Al cannot afford to buy a mattress and bed because his rent is too high. Josh even offers to share his bed, so that Al does not have to spend money on buying a new one. For the next several years they do indeed share a bed, developing something resembling deep intimacy. One day, Josh is urged by his family to marry, separating both men. They are devastated by the separation, and none of them is happy in the slightest about their situation. Josh receives a letter from Al every day, assuring him that hiding his aversion until after the wedding will make him happy someday in his marriage. After Josh’s marriage, he and his wife settle anywhere but near Al. As a result, the relationship between them mitigates. Al eventually ends up in an unhappy marriage. The only thing that seems to bring him some happiness is that when his wife is out of town, he shares his bed with other men (cf. Castiglia 288).

This story took place in 1803 in Springfield, Illinois. Al is the moniker for Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth president of the United States, while the other’s name is Joshua Speed – a Southern plantation owner (cf. Castiglia 288). They indeed exchanged passionate love letters, but is love still the same as it was back then? Can they be called homosexuals if there is only ‘love’ involved? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, homosexuality means “sexual attraction or the tendency to direct sexual desire towards another of the same sex”. This means that intense passion, sensuality and affection does not reveal sexuality. It certainly shows a tendency, yet it is not indicative of homosexuality. The same goes for the double plot in the books Room with a View and Brideshead Revisited, respectively. Many critics agree that the surface plot is about heterosexuality whereas the covert plot’s topic is homosexuality.

This paper will deal with the covert plot and if it can actually be classified as homosexual or if there is another sense of understanding the clandestine plot. As mentioned before, homosexuality is defined by sexual attraction. The intense passion and affection the male characters feel for another can also depict a deep form of friendship which every person may have experienced once in their life. Sometimes these profound friendships can be confused with love, resulting in faux feelings which are a figment of the imagination.

To argue whether homosexuality is dealt with in the secret plot, the history of homosexuality has to be looked at in the specific time both books have been written and published. The difference for the publications adds up to 37 years — not a short period for history to progress and reshape the minds of the writers and readers. Besides history, faith, especially the Catholic faith, has to be taken into consideration as well.

The history of homosexuality will be discussed in the next part of this paper. A Room with a View plays in Italy and England; the difference of homosexuality will be shown in both countries in the following section.


The first known use of the word ‘homosexuality’ was in 1892 (cf. Merriam-Webster) after the word was coined in 1869 by the Swiss doctor Karoly Maria Benkert (cf. Bakshi 39). Not too long ago, yet long enough to own a history itself. Even though the word was not known, “intimacy and sexual practices between men existed prior to the discourse of homosexuality” (Bakshi 39). Texts and art existed long before the term ‘homosexual’ was produced. One does find signs of homosexuality, of men who might be perceived homosexual nowadays in texts from before the word was known. The term itself, however, was impossible to put in simple definitions.

Furthermore, homoerotic desire has been confused with homosexuality, creating a disillusion of the terms. Before the term ‘homosexuality’ was introduced, love between men was viewed as something simple: ideals of brotherhood, friendship or other forms of relationships. People never thought of sexual acts between men until the concept was introduced, “contributed to the social formation of homosexuality by shifting emphasis from sexual acts between men, especially sodomy, the traditional focus of legislation, to sexual sentiment or thought, and in this way to an abstract entity soon to be widely referred to as ‘homosexuality’” (Dellamora 200).

How people thought about homosexuality was and still is dependent on contemporary social and religious attitudes towards male love. Christianity, especially the Catholic Church deemed homosexuality as something abnormal which homosexuals have to be cured from. Even the Bible states that man should not lay with other men. Therefore, executing any sexual acts between the same sex was illegal for a long time. Later, sexual passion did not equal friendship anymore, and it was confined to man-woman relationships (cf. Bakshi 43). As homosexuals outed themselves and the communities around them became aware of their situation, their attitudes changed to a more understanding one. In 1924, the first Early Gay Rights Movement was established in the USA. As more and more movements emerged, countries decided to legalise homosexuality. Nowadays, however, there are still countries which deem it illegal resulting in a punishment of ten years in prison. Especially countries in Africa vehemently refuse to legalise it (cf. The Week).


Italy has always had a reputation for being the country of love. Only a few know, however, that Italy is also known as the land of homosexual romance. In the beginning, there were significant tensions between the Church and the state in how to proceed with homosexuality. They did not come to a decision, and the homosexual practices in the Church went unnoticed (cf. Italian Literature 10). Interestingly, historiography discovered that rich pantheons of the Risorgimento saints had intercourse with the same sex, for example, Giovanni Bosco. As word got out that also other true Italian leaders at the global level were accused of homosexual intercourse, the Church opened the debate on homosexuality and Catholicism again (cf. Italian Literature 11). It ended with the legalisation of homosexuality in 1890, shortly after the term was introduced (cf. Itaborahy 81).

Italian society was way more accepting of homosexuality than any other country at that point. It was no longer “considered in the same light as magic and witchery” (Italian Literature 103). The state even allowed them to serve in the army openly. Of course, there were also parties which had been displeased by the outcome of the legalisation, and they are still trying to reopen old wounds and illegalise it again.


While Italy is the image of homosexual romance, England, on the other hand, deemed it unacceptable for a long time. Up until 1967 when The Sexual Offences Act came into the act, punishment for gay and bisexual males meant a maximum sentence of life in prison. Forster’s plot of Brideshead Revisited reaches from 1923 to 1944. That is precisely the time when Charles meets Sebastian and when Charles visits the deserted Brideshead Castle at the end of the book. The novel was published in 1945, at a time when sodomy was illegal to the extent of the death penalty. All sexual contact between people of the same sex was prohibited.

In the 1950s a group was established to have a look at how the law treated gay men. Their report recommended that the government should change the law, yet the government did not do so immediately. They only started to alter the law after more people began to campaign for gay people’s rights. Finally, in 1967, it was legal for two people of the same sex to be in a relationship, not having to fear of being arrested. After legalisation, there were many improvements in gay rights. Since 2013, for example, gay marriage was made legal in England. Even though it was no longer a crime, it was still considered impolite to speak of it in public and openly portray homosexuality. A part of the population deemed it as “sin, madness or crime” (White 14).


Since homosexuality was illegal to practice in the UK until 1967, people started to write and read about it. Well, at least between the lines because every work containing apparent homosexual contents would not be published but banned. This was also the case for the writers Edward Morgan Forster and Evelyn Waugh. With the creation of a double plot, it was easier to hide the possible homosexual nuances in their novels.

In both stories, the surface plot deals with heterosexual romance – Lucy and George, Charles and Julia. The under-plot, however, deals with other pairings of the novel, suggesting a homosexual background. These homosexual relationships are not explicitly mentioned but only interpreted by how the characters behave and speak, determined by their gender roles which are socially and culturally constructed (cf. Butler 10).

Reading between the lines can lead to false assumptions. Homosexuality is certainly a part of both novels, critics and essayist agree, but can we go that far to assume that there is more than deep friendship between men? There is desire involved, even homoerotic desire, yet it is not the same as being homosexual.


Even though homosexuality is dealt with in the covert plot, Waugh indeed writes more openly about such topics when compared to Forster. Maybe it changed with the bygone time between the publications of both books or the shifted attitude towards homosexuality after the First World War.

In Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited the relationship between Charles and Sebastian is extraordinary and intriguing from the very beginning. They met under peculiar circumstances but became inseparable from then on. “At Sebastian’s approach these grey figures seemed quietly to fade into the landscape and vanish, like highland sheep in the misty weather” (Waugh 29). This passage matches a young girl falling in love at first sight, and Charles continues to describe Sebastian in the most flattering way, “he was the most conspicuous man of his year by reason of his beauty, which was arresting, and his eccentricities of behaviour, which seemed to know no bounds” (30). Throughout the novel, Charles speaks only in the highest tones of Sebastian's unmatched beauty; so much that other people around them seem to notice the special friendship between them.

There is a myriad of passages to deduct from that their friendship has a deeper meaning. When Charles went home to see his father, Sebastian stayed in Brideshead castle writing letters to Charles of how much he misses him and wishes he were here with him. Sebastian says that he is never alone because a member of his family is always around, yet this expresses his innermost desires. Even though there are people around, he must write Charles (cf. 82) which signifies his loneliness which only Charles’ presence would be able to fill. Also, when Charles receives a telegram of Sebastian, saying that he has been gravely injured, he drops everything and leaves at once, afraid that Sebastian might die (cf. pp. 83-84). When they both visit Sebastian’s father in Venice, Cara assesses that Charles is “very fond of Sebastian” (117) and he does not deny it. In the third part of the novel, Julia and Charles become a couple, and when she asks him if he loved Sebastian, Charles replies with, “Oh yes! He was the forerunner” (307).


Excerpt out of 12 pages


The Leitmotif of Homosexuality in Edward Morgan Forster’s "A Room with a View" and Evelyn Waugh's "Brideshead Revisited"
Love, Friendship or Something Else Entirely?
University of Regensburg
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Homosexuality, Brideshead Revisited, A Room with a View, Forster, Waugh
Quote paper
Melanie Höpfler (Author), 2019, The Leitmotif of Homosexuality in Edward Morgan Forster’s "A Room with a View" and Evelyn Waugh's "Brideshead Revisited", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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