Maurice

Maurice
E. M. Forster
Difficulty: Medium
Amazon, Barnes and Noble

Blurb from Amazon:

From early adolescence to his college years at Cambridge and into professional life at his father’s firm, Maurice Hall plays the part of the conventional Englishman. All the while, he harbors a secret wish to lose himself from society and embrace who he truly is.

Maurice’s first love, Clive Durham, introduces him to the ancient Greeks who embraced same-sex attraction. But when Clive marries a woman, Maurice is distraught enough to seek a hypnotist who might “cure” him of his homosexuality. In his quest to accept his true self, Maurice must ultimately go against the grain of society’s unspoken rules of class, wealth, and politics.

Maurice was originally written in 1913, but it would remain unpublished until 1971, a year after Forster’s death. Forster was proud of the novel and shared it with friends, but ultimately believed that the public wasn’t ready for it because he had dared to give the story a happy ending. Generally, it was only possible to write about homosexuality in the early twentieth century as long as the deviant characters were appropriately punished for their transgressions so they could serve as a warning to readers. That’s why Giovanni is executed in Giovanni’s Room (1956), why Stephen ends up alone and suicidal in The Well of Loneliness (1928), and why Jim murders Bob in The City and the Pillar (1948). The history of queer literature is one of miserable, godawful unhappy endings, and that’s why I try to emphasize happier stories on this blog. So Forster was probably right, the public probably would have hated Maurice. Considering how much he had to lose at the time, I can’t say I blame him for choosing not to publish it then.

Maurice has since aged beautifully. It feels like it could have been written today as a work of historical fiction, and the book enjoys a reputation as one of the most approachable and enjoyable works of its era. This may be partly due to Forster’s willingness to disregard social conventions when those conventions obstruct the happiness of his characters. Watching people in older novels grapple with now-antiquated cultural norms can be difficult, not to mention tedious, so it’s such a relief when Forster sets his characters free. Maurice himself also plays a role in the novel’s accessibility. If he were a sensitive, exceptional darling buffeted about by a cruel society, he would have seemed unreal, and the story would have been reduced to a mere protest novel. Instead, Maurice is merely a typical man working to overcome his biases and accept himself, and that’s something a lot of readers can relate to, myself included.