Jane Austen went to the grave a virgin, leaving six full-length novels behind her. Would those novels have been better had Miss Austen had as lively a sex life as, say, slutty Lydia Bennet? E M Forster was a virgin until the age of thirty-nine, when he had his first ‘full’ sexual experience (a ‘hurried sucking off’, Wendy Moffat informs us) with a passing soldier on a beach in Alexandria. By that point, five of Forster’s six novels were written and the last, A Passage to India, drafted. Until he was thirty, with much of his oeuvre behind him, he did not, he later confessed, ‘know exactly how male and female joined’. ‘Muddle and mystery’ between the sheets as well as in the Marabar caves. Does a writer’s carnal experience matter? D H Lawrence, the most unzipped of British novelists, believed it did. His chauvinist sneer at Austen as a ‘narrow-gutted spinster’ indicates that some rumpy-humpy would have done wonders for her fiction.
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