Maurice - Kat Mulligan

Mai 2nd, 2024

English author E.M. Forster’s Maurice is a story of homosexual triumph in an era more than happy to rebuke it. After dedicating his first few chapters to detailing his protagonist Maurice Hall’s early school life, Forster sets the scene at the University of Cambridge, where a rough-around-the-edges Maurice meets fellow student Clive Durham. They instantly hit it off and begin to spend every day with one another. When Clive confesses his love to Maurice, Maurice initially rebuffs him, moored in his traditional English ways. Eventually, Maurice comes around and sneaks into Clive’s window to return the favor of his confession. Love unfurls its wings—Maurice begins to sleep with Clive’s letters pinned to the inside of his pajamas. They spend three euphoric years together, all the while projecting a facade of platonicness to the world around them.

However, Clive eventually wonders if life would be a breeze for the two of them if only they committed to the conventional standard of heterosexuality. To be discovered meant risking jail time and ostracisation in 1910s England; for Clive, it is worth it to suppress his romantic feelings for Maurice in order to pursue a safer life. Clive ends their relationship, marries a woman, and, despite keeping in contact with Maurice and his family, seemingly never wavers in his decision. He refuses even to acknowledge their past, except for when Maurice presses the issue.

The story could have ended there. By even allowing the two men an explicit romantic connection, Forster achieved much more than the authors of similar works of his era. For example, Evelyn Waugh’s 1945 novel Brideshead Revisited, a story of two Oxford men with many parallels to Forster’s novel, relies on subtext and eventually results in compulsory heterosexuality. The story could have ended there—Forster could have demonstrated the demonic effect of homosexuality on a respectable man’s soul by punishing Maurice for his impropriety before turning him onto the so-called “right track”. This, however, is not the ending that Forster bestows upon his protagonist.

Forster was inspired to write Maurice in 1913 while  visiting his contemporary, Edward Carpenter, and Carpenter’s younger working-class lover, George Merrill. Bored of writing novel after novel about the only kind of love society was in a position to consume at the time, Forster found himself greatly inspired by the uninhibited homosexuality of his friend. Carpenter refused to assume a single iota of shame for his love which transcended boundaries of gender and class (which, in twentieth century English society, was an unignorable social marker). Forster’s friends were aware of his homosexuality, but the greater public knew him instead for his touching heterosexual romances; impassioned by the unadulterated love he then bore witness to, Forster resolved to write a more personal story, one in which his characters might achieve the happy ending he privately longed for.

Clive’s denial of same-sex love is not enough to quell Maurice’s thirst for authenticity. Forster allows Maurice to break free from self-reproach through the company of Clive’s gamekeeper, Alec. Alec—who, like George Merrill, belongs to the working class in contrast to his lover—grants Maurice a reprieve from the pursuit of unrequited love, as well as from the stuffy traditions imposed on him by the members of his class. Alec opens himself to Maurice, stripped of pretension, stripped of guilt. Although hesitant at first, Maurice eventually leans into the warmth of freely given love. Maurice informs Clive of his relationship with Alec, to Clive’s dismay, then disappears from Clive’s life forever. At the book’s close, Maurice is ecstatic with freedom, having untangled himself from the lie that bound his life in sorrow.

Thus, an unlikely joy was achieved within the realm of English literature. This achievement was, however, a private one, lying dormant through the years. Forster’s manuscript would have to endure decades before it saw the light of day. No stranger to the Oscar Wilde case and many others of its kind, the author was keenly aware of the consequences he would face if his book openly espoused ideas of queer preservation. As a literary champion positioned directly in the public eye, his career would fall to pieces, and the pleasure he received from his writing would be a pleasure known only to him and his loved ones. Weighing his choices, Forster decided to have his manuscript published posthumously and shared only with his close friends. In 1971, a year after his death, his 250 defiant pages flew off the press like a declaration of their survival.

Although Maurice was unable to cause a ruckus or start a movement in the era of its drafting, it is a testament to the eternal presence of queer love, both where we can and cannot glimpse it with the naked eye. It is proof of a happy ending. It is proof of a way out from pretending, if only in the literary world.

I highly recommend this book for its heart-wrenching love story, its flowery prose, and its charming scenes of English university and countryside life. If books are less your style, I also fell in love with Maurice’s movie adaptation, which is very faithful to the source material and includes a young (and undeniably gorgeous) Hugh Grant.

Works Cited

Hartree, Anne. “‘A Passion That Few English Minds Have Admitted’: Homosexuality and Englishness in E.M. Forster’s ‘Maurice.’” Paragraph, vol. 19, no. 2, 1996, pp. 127–38. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/43263490. Accessed 2 Oct. 2023.

Markley, A. A. “E. M. Forster’s Reconfigured Gaze and the Creation of a Homoerotic Subjectivity.” Twentieth Century Literature, vol. 47, no. 2, 2001, pp. 268–92. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.2307/827852. Accessed 7 Oct. 2023.

Toda, Ángeles. “The Construction of Male-Male Relationships in the Edwardian Age: E.M. Forster’s ‘Maurice’, H.A. Vachell’s ‘The Hill’, and Public School Ideology.” Atlantis, vol. 23, no. 2, 2001, pp. 133–45. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/41055031. Accessed 2 Oct. 2023.

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