Maurice by E. M. Forster.
Maurice is a novel by E. M. Forster written between 1913 and 1914 but not published until fifty-seven years later in 1971, a year after Forster's death (which was his intention). The Edwardian world, Forster (rightly) believed, was not ready for his character Maurice Hall.
The novel begins with Maurice as a young teenager, nearly fifteen and at a prep-school, learning the facts of life from a teacher and feeling very alienated from them - "Liar," he thinks, "coward, he's told me nothing". We later see him at university, Cambridge, where he meets Clive Durham and begins his awakening - Clive reveals that he is love with Maurice, and confused and having not yet fully acknowledged to himself he was gay, Maurice rejects him only to realise that he loves Clive too. As Forster writes, "After this crisis Maurice became a man". Fortunately all is not lost, and the two enter into a relationship that lasts some two years before Clive breaks it off and announces his intentions to marry. From here we see Maurice struggle with his sexuality, being gay in an era in which such a thing was criminal: Oscar Wilde, only twenty years earlier, had been imprisoned, and it would not become legal in England and Wales until 1967 (the law wouldn't change until 1980 for Scotland, 1982 for Northern Ireland, 1983 for Guernsey, 1990 for Jersey, 1992 for the Isle of Man, and 1993 for the Republic of Ireland). And not only was it illegal but viewed as a mental illness: homosexuality was listed on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-II) until 1973. In Maurice's time, it was not an option for society to change it's opinions: Maurice and other gay men and women had to change themselves, or more specifically their 'public' identity; that is to say, they had to repress their sexuality or, to all outward appearances, appear to be heterosexual. Maurice sees his doctor, who in his ignorance panics, and a hypnotherapist (it is of no surprise today that this didn't work either). Maurice despairs, and then he meets Alec Scudder.
I'll break off here so I don't spoil the novel for anyone who hasn't read it! It is an excellent novel, not the easiest of flowing, but very poignant and enlightening and I would urge those who haven't read it to give it a try. It is a novel on awakening and discovery outside of society, literally in some parts in woods; Clive's sham of a marriage, however, seems to be all fumbling about in the dark. Darkness, in Forster's novel, is about both repression and freedom.
There is one aspect of it I thought particularly remarkable and that is the ending. So, for the sake of those who haven't read it and want to read the end for themselves, consider this the end of the post :)
|The Memoir Club by Vanessa Bell (1943). E. M. Forster pictured on the far right.|
E. M. Forster's Maurice has a happy ending: Forster wrote of it,
A happy ending was imperative. I shouldn't have bothered to write otherwise. I was determined that in fiction anyway two men should fall in love and remain in it for the ever and ever that fiction allows, and in this sense Maurice and Alec still roam in the greenwood.… Happiness is its keynote–which by the way has had an unexpected result: it has made the book more difficult to publish.
So often, even now, there are negative or stereotypical portrayals of the LGBT community in mass media: characters are defined by their sexuality (the straight person's brash "gay best friend", a comedic minor character), they are shown as subversive or untypical, even deviant in some cases (multiple sexual partners, drug use, or under age sex for example), and / or their ending is shown as bleak if not tragic (break ups and even death). For Maurice, his sexuality is not pathological (although he does attempt to treat it as such in a part of the novel): he is a man in love, and he yearns for a society which will accept him so that he may live as he should, as he is entitled to do so, without fear of recrimination or discrimination. The best part of Maurice is that he does get his 'happily ever after'; Alec says, "And now we shan't be parted no more, and that's finished", something which was subversive of Forster: had Maurice Hall have committed suicide, for example, it perhaps would have been easier to publish. This is why I loved this novel - Forster's Maurice really did break boundaries.