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[64] Maurice – E. M. Forster

maurice.jpgWritten in 1914, first published in 1971. Must-read for every gay man.

Very few, perhaps none of the contemporary gay fiction paints a more authentic, true-to-life picture of how a coming-of-age gay man is torn between his sexuality and the need to assimilate to social and cultural constructions of the “normal” than E. M. Forster’s Maurice does. Perhaps the fact that it was written before our time, prior to any of the gay activism and social awareness, renders it feasible to afford such brilliant verisimilitude. Forster does not offer any explanation nor attempts any effort to justify his protagonist’s queerness. The result is an honest, often heart-breaking and at times poignant map of emotions, inner-working of a tortured mind.

Maurice follows the teenage boy through public school, then Cambridge, when his undefined flesh received the first blow of reality, and finally his father’s firm. Like many gay men who have yet to fling open the closet door, Maurice senses the hostility that envelops many gay men before they even have the tiniest clue what all the social taboos refer to. Growing in what he calls “normal” social and domestic milieu, he conceives that assimilation to this “normality” founded on a phony morality contriving to validate heterosexuality the rule of the game. He meets someone who has too strong an acumen of right and wrong and who lays down the lines on which the unusual relationship shall proceed, and who nudges the relationship to a direction of platonic restraint. Clive, who always feels threatened that he will lose his salvation, found himself at an early age crossed at having this “other desire.” Clive’s desire to pull out of their relationship, to be with a woman who would secure him and diminish his lust, to become a “normal man”–strikes him a hard blow and transforms his repulsion and misgiving into shame. Peals of dismay overwhelms him as he becomes convinced, from his suffering to the full hilt, that one must be “normal” to have dignity.

The course of Maurice’s self-enlightenment is one of utter inspiration. His coming to term to his sexuality and his identity reaffirms that the gravitas of humanity is the ability to love freely. If there is only one thing in his life that he is being real, that would be his desire. He realizes how much he has overcome, that for years after living in the shadow of his deceased father, whom his family expected him to model in such taken-for-granted manner, his fear and stigma. Once he comes to grasp the desire (the longing for men, the adoration of men…) should be self-validating and there is no need to attach a punitive name to this desire (the truth of his feeling), he has triumphed over his self and finds a way to a niche behind the world’s judgments.

Maurice, despite the fact that it was ahead of its time when written, speaks the truth of the hearts of many who are stricken by the very stigma, shame, and fear decades later. It reassures us that assimilating to any normality, pr abiding by any standards does not give us dignity. Instead dignity manifests itself and comes to engulf us without our knowing when we are at ease with who we are. What makes a profound impression on me about the novel is not the gay protagonist, but the inexplicable loneliness Maurice has to live and to persevere. Maurice seems to hold the key to trouble but deep inside he is rather a simple-lifer who searches for love and wants to be loved. It makes me realize someimes there are maladies in life so strangethat one has to pass through them in order to attain the true happiness.

20 Responses

  1. Hands down – one of my favorite books of all time!

  2. Can’t wait to read it.

  3. A classics and favorite of mine. You did a great, thorough review Matt!

  4. I have read several books by Forster–he is one of my favorite authors. I have Maurice on my shelves–I really need to read it! Wonderful review!

  5. I’ll include it on my shopping list. Would I ever be able to keep up with you?

  6. I really enjoyed that, I read it when I was in college. I think, tho, I enjoyed the film version even more.

    Is that bad? LOL!

  7. This is on my “must read” list so eventually…. Another book that fits this theme is “The Well of Loneliness” by Radclyffe Hall. Even though it does focus more on the lesbian side of life, it still gives a wonderful image of what being gay around the turn of the century entailed.

  8. […] under Gay Literature , Literature , Books  Written insanely ahead of its time (again, like Maurice), despite the pleasant emotion that aroused in the press, The New York Times would not advertise it […]

  9. […] Maurice in Maurice had come a long way being in element with his sexuality, wrestling through the pang of fear and […]

  10. A novel about a struggle of one’s emotions and by knowing ,understanding and not denying it, the true happiness was found

  11. […] of the Rose, Umberto Eco 7. Blindness, Jose Saramago 8. The Painted Veil, W. Somerset Maugham 9. Maurice, E.M. Forster 10. Anna Karenina, Leo […]

  12. […] of the Rose, Umberto Eco 7. Blindness, Jose Saramago 8. The Painted Veil, W. Somerset Maugham 9. Maurice, E.M. Forster 10. Anna Karenina, Leo […]

  13. […] of the Rose, Umberto Eco 7. Blindness, Jose Saramago 8. The Painted Veil, W. Somerset Maugham 9. Maurice, E.M. Forster 10. Anna Karenina, Leo […]

  14. […] of the Rose, Umberto Eco 7. Blindness, Jose Saramago 8. The Painted Veil, W. Somerset Maugham 9. Maurice, E.M. Forster 10. The Go-Between, L.P. […]

  15. […] of the Rose, Umberto Eco 7. Blindness, Jose Saramago 8. The Painted Veil, W. Somerset Maugham 9. Maurice, E.M. Forster 10. The Go-Between, L.P. Hartley 11. Beloved, Toni […]

  16. Must-read for every gay man……….
    ……… and every gay woman? As a young lebsian, I found the film (unfortunately haven’t read the book) inspiring.

  17. I finished this novel last weekend with the help of my dictionary–I was not used to some of the turn of the century British terms and idioms. The edition I read also had an afterward by Forester written in 1969 describing how he developed the story and the characters–very interesting. Immediately upon completion, I rented the DVD of the Merchant/Ivory film from 1987. It was first time to read the novel, but my 3rd or 4th time to see the film. It was interesting to see it again after reading the novel. I noted the last two scenes in the novel were flipped in the film. And, except for a couple of other scenes, it was a excellent adaptation of the novel. At first I thought the film ending was better, but then I decided the endings were appropriate for each. An interesting aspect of the film dialogue is that so much of it is lifted directly from the novel. The Criterion Collection DVD has an entire disc regarding the film and Forster’s influence upon the director, producer, actors, and screen writer. A must view for fans of Maurice. Great review, Matthew

  18. I agree that Maurice is everything you say it is, but A Passage To India is not only Forster’s best, but has yet to be surpassed by anything else I’ve read. No matter how many times I read it, I can never exhaust its insights and fresh meanings.

  19. […] Umberto Eco 7. Death with Interruptions, Jose Saramago 8. The Painted Veil, W. Somerset Maugham 9. Maurice, E.M. Forster 10. The Go-Between, L.P. Hartley 11. Beloved, Toni Morrison 12. To the Lighthouse, […]

  20. One of my all time favourite novels, with a fairy tale ending which I also love! There are so many scenes from it that lodged in my head and are still there – Maurice and co thundering down stairs in Cambridge, the motorbike and sidecar, the train, the boat shed, the Natural History Museum, the writing in the sand on the beach at the beginning! I’ve read a few of your reviews – they would bring the books to life more if you mentioned some of your favourite scenes, though I know you are more interested in the ideas and the psychology of the characters.

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