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.