E M Forster should have been in the bomb squad. His take-down of the Edwardian English and their rules and conventions, A Room With A View and Howards End, is literary dynamite*.
Thankfully for me, after reading the aforementioned works (especially A Room With A View), I was not blown up by Forster’s words but absorbed the explosion; as a result, I can trace my own love of writing about social conventions and their impact on my protagonist to his books**.
As with A Room With A View and Howards End, society is strong part of Maurice. It is also a very malign one.
Maurice tells the story of Maurice Hall who, while at university, realises that he is homosexual. He has an affair with a fellow student, Clive Durham. That ends when Durham falls in love with a woman. For him, homosexuality was a phase that he is now determined to leave behind. Maurice goes on to have an affair with one of Durham’s servants, a game-keeper named Alec Scudder. During the course of the book, Maurice undergoes hypnosis to try and cure him of his homosexuality but gives it up when he falls in love with Scudder. At the end of the book, the two run away together.
My first reaction on finishing the book was that it worked better as a historical document than as a novel. Through Maurice we see very directly how homosexuals were obliged to live in the Edwardian period, namely, in shadows; in the fear of blackmail – homosexuality (or rather, homosexual acts) were illegal; without understanding – even from medical professionals; with the weight of social convention – that to love a member of one’s own sex was wrong – against them.
In short, Maurice gives a name, a face, and visible signs of a struggle to what we might read about more abstractly in history books.
By contrast, the story feels thin: under-plotted and rushed. It is inevitable for books to have a certain amount of telling rather than showing. There should not be so much, however, that the reader remembers it at the end. Unfortunately, after finishing Maurice, I do.
I also felt that Maurice’s relationship with Alec Scudder was hurried through, and – even worse – unrealistic: Maurice goes from sleeping with the under-gamekeeper, to be being blackmailed by and then eloping with him much too quickly.
Maurice is just over two hundred pages long. It should have been at least a hundred more to let it develop properly.
All in all, though, I enjoyed this book and definitely recommend it. Forster writes both delicately and gently. I said that he should have been in the bomb squad but I was wrong. His words are a medicine for anyone worn down by the loud voices that dominate politics, social media and the world at large today. Those voices, though what they say may be true and good, turn one against the cause they espouse; Forster brings one back to it again. I know of only one other writer who has that same kindly gift – G K Chesterton.
* If you are thinking ‘Why has he not mentioned…?’ it is because I haven’t yet read it. Feel free to tell me in the comments section that I should, though!
** To be fair, I must give a nod here to Jane Austen