27 May 2009

Literature & Education: Maurice by EM Forster

By Erastes

Maurice, in my mind, was one of the first "Unusual Historicals."

Forster, well-known and successful author of many other books such as and Howard's End and A Room with a View started Maurice in 1913, but the book wasn't published until 1971, after he had died the previous year.
The themes in his books up to this point had explored class differences and the incompatibility of such: upper class Helen Schlegel supports and eventually sleeps with the lower class Leonard Bast to tragic results, while upper class Henry Wilcox's mistress was the present and lower class Mrs Bast. In Maurice he plays with the same themes, but in an entirely unprecedented move, he not only makes the unhappy and inconclusive love-affair the upper-class one Maurice has with Clive, but he crosses the class divide, making Maurice ultimately happy with Alex, an ignorant brash gamekeeper.

He says, in his "terminal note" in the book:

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 it for the ever and ever that fiction allows, and in this sense Maurice and Alec still roam the greenwood. I dedicated it "To a Happier Year" and not altogether vainly. Happiness is keynote--which by the way has had an unexpected result: it has made the book more difficult to publish. Unless the Wolfenden Report becomes law, it will probably have to remain in manuscript. It if ended unhappily, with a lad dangling from a noose or with a suicide pact, all would be well, for there is no pornogrpahy or seduction of minors. But the lovers get away unpunished and consequently recommend crime.
On a further, more depressing note, written in September 1960, he bemoans the fact that:

If [homosexuality] could be slipped into our midst unnoticed, or legalized overnight by a decree in small print, there would be few protest. Unfortunately it can only be legalized by Parliament, and Members of Parliament are obliged to think, or appear to think. Consequently the Wolfenden recommendations will be indefinitely rejected, police prosecutions will continue and Clive on the bench will continue to sentence Alec in the dock. Maurice may get off.
It is tragic that he didn't see his book published, nor lauded and celebrated for the masterpiece it is. It was so very much ahead of its time, and only now, in the last ten years has "gay romance" finally claimed the "happy ever after" for which he paved the way.

It is interesting that, in this era (FIFTY YEARS after these words were written), homosexuals are, right now, still struggling for acceptance, and even legality in the most powerful nation in the world. Perhaps if he were to rewrite the end of Maurice now, he would not send them off to America for their happy ending.