I’ve mention elsewhere on this blog that as part of my research for the 1920s novel I’m working on at the moment, I read a few earlier queer works. I enjoyed these so much I’ve decided to carry on reading a few more.
I read the Penguin Classics edition (pictured), which has an excellent introduction by David Leavitt. I’d recommend this edition. I generally find Penguin Classics to be better than cheaper alternatives, but then I like a bit of historical and literary context.
Forster finished writing Maurice in 1914, but it wasn’t published until 1971 at his request, after he’d died. Although Forster shared the story with friends, including Christopher Isherwood, at the time of writing. Forster didn’t feel the world was ready for a book about love between men that had a happy ending, and he was determined to have a happy ending. There had been a previous fashion for using same sex love in tragic cautionary tales, but that really wasn’t what Forster wanted. He wanted a celebration.
I’m a huge fan of Forster’s better known social satires, and I love his style. Maurice has the same easy style as his other books, although it lacks the satire. It’s much more in earnest, as you’d probably expect from the subject matter and Forster’s aims.
The story follows Maurice Hall from a school boy through to Cambridge and adulthood, focusing on his sexual awakening. In that sense, it’s follows the familiar path of the traditional coming out story, which seems to be a specific kind of Bildungsroman. At Cambridge, Maurice meets Clive Durham, and they share an appreciation for an intellectual ideal of classically inspired love. But this doesn’t fulfil what Maurice really wants, and Clive is unwilling to commit to anything more. Then Maurice meets Alec Scudder, a gamekeeper at Clive’s country estate. If Maurice is to find love with Alec, they must overcome their class differences and Maurice’s prejudices.
People have suggested that Forster was a bit of a prude, and that he hadn’t really come to terms with his own desires when he wrote the book. There are some very sweet and tender moments in the story, which don’t really seem prudish, but there is a certain unease in the novel with society’s attitudes and whether love between men can really ever fit. It’s not a story of hopelessness, by any means, but it is a story of escape.
One of the things that I find most interesting about reading these early queer stories is that they chart the changes in the ways that sex and sexuality has been viewed at different times. Some of them have even shaped those views. You have to read them in the context they were written, for sure, but it’s a fascinating insight. In that respect, and because Forster is always enjoyable, even in unfamiliar territory, Maurice is worth a look.