"There has been, is, and always will be every conceivable type of person." - Maurice
Rating: 4 stars out of 5 (This book was really enjoyable)
Recently I read Maurice, whose titular character is a middle-class suburban man in the early 1900s who happens to be gay. It follows Maurice coming to terms with his sexuality and his relationships with men. I found this book through recommendations for LGBT reads and I soon added it to my LGBT reading challenge (you can read more about this here). I read Forster's A Room With a View in January and thoroughly enjoyed it, so I couldn't wait to read this. This book was very enjoyable and I will certainly be reading more Forster in the future.
Obviously, the main theme of this book is homosexuality. We see how homosexuality was viewed in the early 1900s. Maurice was living in a time when homosexuality was a criminal act, where a homosexual was almost unconceivable and taboo. A time when the beginnings of gay-therapy existed, the notion of visiting various doctors to be 'healed' from the 'perversion'. Maurice also briefly touches on homosexuality and class, something that is rare. As Forster writes in his Terminal Note: "and Clive on the bench will continue to sentence Alec in the dock. Maurice may get off."
What I found interesting was that not only we saw how people 'outside' reacted to homosexuality, i.e. heterosexual people, but also the reaction of those on the 'inside'. I found this aspect very sad but believable/understandable. I found it fitting that social prejudice can influence LGBT people so much that even gay people themselves can be homophobic. Clive himself was certainly hostile to the notion of 'consummating' the relationship, which could be interpreted as a reflection of Clive's own hostilities towards homosexuality. Clive certainly goes a long way to present homosexuality as 'intellectualised' act with his copious references to the ancient Greeks. Even when Maurice was talking/thinking about his homosexuality, he rarely called himself 'gay' or 'homosexual'. Maurice said of himself, "I am an unspeakable of the Oscar Wilde sort." So unspeakable he distances himself from the fact of being 'gay' through a comparison. I find this sad that he has to deny, or at least reframe, who is he not only for others but also for himself and engage in a self-deception. This issue of self-prejudice is still an issue today (cf. Russell Tovey's controversy who was glad he was not an 'effeminate' man, although he did later apologise) as is gay-therapy.
This book could have been 5 stars but something bothered me about the relationship with Alec. Forster saw the downfall of his writing as the ending. Forster desperately wanted a happy ending but felt that what he wrote was unrealistic fairytale. I understand why a happy ending was essential; to give hope for homosexual relationships and to help dispel the false shame attached to homosexuality.
“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
I think the issue isn't the miraculous ending. I think that the relationship with Alec feels rushed and this is the real issue. Perhaps I am a sceptic of love happening in this way but I don't think the relationship has developed properly. I don't feel like Maurice has a reason to trust Alec (vis-à-vis blackmail) and I don't feel like Alec has a reason to trust Maurice (vis-à-vis having respect). I think how Alec and Maurice met should be changed to have a more healthy beginning and then this book would be superb.
Forster completed the first draft of Maurice in 1914 but it was only published after his death in 1971, a whole 57 years later. (For those interested in the semi autobiographical aspect of the book, here is a brilliant piece but beware of spoilers.) I found this book very hard to put down, but saying that it took me a week to finish. This was mostly because the book kept getting lost, which was my subconscious saying I didn't want to finish the book. They say that the sign of a great novel is that it is too short. I agree with this about Maurice. If I am honest, I doubt I would read a sequel to the piece. It ended in a natural place and anymore would diminish this excellent tale.
Original Publication: 1971
Publication Date: 1972
This book is available to buy here. This is mostly an experiment to see whether anyone does buy. Any money raised will be used to fund giveaways.