Witten in around 1913/14 and dedicated ‘to a happier year’ – Maurice wasn’t published until – 1971 a year after Forster’s death.
*Apologies – there will be spoilers in this review – I have found it impossible to write about this book without them.*
“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 the greenwood.”
(E M Forster 1960)
Forster had intended to write a novel that was frankly homosexual – a book which in the world of 1914 would have made Forster liable to prosecution. Resisting publication the book was put away – and by the time Maurice appeared the law had changed, attitudes were changing too.
Maurice Hall is a young man born into a conventional place in society – he is confidently aware of his place in that society. At fourteen, preparing to leave his prep school Maurice first talks about sex with a school master – who takes it upon himself to have such talks with the boys as they leave his care. At home Maurice lives with his mother and two sisters, his father having died, Maurice is rather a young snob, frequently irritated by the conventional world of his home, there are moments when he wants to rock that comfortable world of smug conformity.
As a young man Maurice finds himself very much at odds with the world – he never really feels that the traditional marriage is something he can see for himself. Maurice feels himself becoming more and more attracted to members of his own sex – he assumes that no other young man has ever felt as he does.
At Cambridge Maurice meets Clive Durham, it is here, growing closer to Clive that Maurice finally experiences a profound emotional and sexual awakening. Finally Maurice learns that he is not alone in the world – that there are other men like him. In Clive’s company – though their relationship remains chaste – Maurice is briefly ecstatically happy. However, following a bout of illness and a trip to Greece Clive suddenly announces he has become ‘normal’ and fully intends to marry. Clive revels in his apparent ‘normalness’ relieved to be taking his place within the society he sees around him. Maurice is left reeling, convinced by Clive that his own feelings really are unnatural – he considers going in search of a cure. With this in mind Maurice consults Lasker Jones a hypnotist in London – but it is soon apparent that there is no cure for Maurice.
“He would not deceive himself so much. He would not – and this was the test – pretend to care about women when the only sex that attracted him was his own. He loved men and always had loved them. He longed to embrace them and mingle his being with theirs. Now that the man who returned his love had been lost, he admitted this.”
On his country estate Clive is conventionally – though we suspect, not entirely satisfactorily – married to Anne, Maurice meanwhile is settled into the life of a stockbroker. Invited to stay by the man he must now only think of only as his old college friend – Maurice meets Alec – Clive’s gamekeeper. Recognising Maurice’s attraction to him, Alec climbs through a window into Clive’s room. Alec is due to emigrate to Argentina – and Maurice is appalled at the risk he has taken in sleeping with a man outside of his own class – he fears blackmail – and hurriedly returns to London to consult Lasker Jones one last time. Forster emphasises the class difference by having Alec call Maurice sir on several occasions, Alec is referred to by his surname Scudder. Alec writes to Maurice – letters Maurice tries to ignore. For a moment it even seems that Maurice’s fears of blackmail and scandal could come true, but Alec is really not that kind of man.
“Did you ever dream you had a friend, Alec? Someone to last your whole life and you his. I suppose such a thing can’t really happen outside sleep.”
However – Forster wanted his characters to have that happy ending – so naturally, Maurice and Alec do find one another again, and a happiness which would have been unpalatable to readers in 1914. Clive – those old feelings now apparently put firmly away – is horrified when Maurice tells him quite frankly of the nature of his relationship with Alec. One can’t help but wonder what the future will be for Clive and Anne – the future for Maurice and Alec being the one we feel more confidence in.
“I was yours once ’till death if you’d cared to keep me, but I’m someone else’s now – I can’t hang about whining forever – and he’s mine in a way that shocks you, but why don’t you stop being shocked, and attend to your own happiness?”
Maurice is a deeply personal work; brave, honest it’s beautifully written, and very compelling. Condemning the attitudes prevalent in Britain at the time the book was written, Maurice is a poignant love story, and has become an important early work of modern gay literature.