Posted by: Lisa Hill | January 23, 2023

Maurice (1971), by E.M. Forster

Reviews From the Archive

An occasional series, retrieving unpublished reviews from my journals 1997-2007

The catalyst for retrieving this review at this time is that it’s Midsumma Festival time here in Melbourne. Which is, as Wikipedia tells us

an annual celebration of LGBTQIA+ arts and cultures, held annually for 22 days across January and February.  The festival began as a one-week celebration of LGBTQ+ pride in 1989. The festival has expanded over the years to a three-week event that attracts over 280,000 people each year. The festival is now one of the top five gay and lesbian arts and cultural celebrations, along with New York, San Francisco, Vancouver and Sydney.

When I read Maurice in 1997 — a novel not published in E M Forster‘s lifetime (1879-1970) because it would have compromised his freedom and ruined his career — the idea that the Victorian government would be associated with, let alone sponsor a celebration of LGBTQ+ pride would have been bizarre.  Homosexuality was still illegal in Tasmania, and the question of gay marriage was decades away. Yet I read Forster’s novel as a ‘museum piece’ because homosexuality had been decriminalised in Victoria, and in Britain. I had no idea that LGBTIQ+ rights had such a long way to go, and I thought that the easy-going circles I moved in were the norm except among the older generation.  Well, even a quick look at Wikipedia’s LGBT Rights in Victoria page shows my ignorance and naïveté.  My review reflects this, yet at the same time it reveals my dawning understanding of the torment caused by intolerance and religious mores. Maurice is the book that made me a supporter of LGBTIQ+ rights because it shows the human cost of denying them.

This is the blurb for Maurice:

“A century after its publication, it seems as relevant as ever.” –The Guardian
Maurice is heartbroken over unrequited love, which opened his heart and mind to his own sexual identity. In order to be true to himself, he goes against the grain of society’s often unspoken rules of class, wealth, and politics.
Forster understood that his homage to same-sex love, if published when he completed it in 1914, would probably end his career. Thus, Maurice languished in a drawer for fifty-seven years, the author requesting it be published only after his death (along with his stories about homosexuality later collected in The Life to Come).
Since its release in 1971, Maurice has been widely read and praised. It has been, and continues to be, adapted for major stage productions, including the 1987 Oscar-nominated film adaptation starring Hugh Grant and James Wilby.


Maurice, by E.M. Forster, first published 1971

From my reading journal, dated 12 January 1997

This is a book to illuminate another’s soul.  Published posthumously in 1971, it’s set immediately before the First World War and tells the achingly sad story of a young man’s discovery that he is homosexual.

In the circles in which I move, homosexuality is no longer an issue, except for the occasional intolerant old fossil.  Tasmanian homophobia seems a quaint aberration that will eventually go away.  And the issue is, if it is one in other circles, primarily social.

For Maurice, it is social in that his homosexuality imposes an appalling loneliness and despair of being able to love in his own world.  But for Clive (Maurice’s lover) religious issues are a torture.  He searches for support in the Bible and finds none, and he scandalises his family by refusing to take communion in the traditional show of family solidarity at their country seat.  This novel very powerfully conveys the way in which religion, British society and tradition conspire to make his impulses seem filthy and depraved — and it’s heartbreaking to become aware that numerous young men must have suffered these torments alone, with no one to support them and a terror of being found out haunting them all their lives.

All of us are afraid of exposing ourselves, our inner selves, when we explore new relationships… but Maurice shows how fearsome it must be for homosexuals who must first traverse the barriers that conceal their homosexuality from an insensitive society.

The happy ending is unconvincing [and now I realise that it was meant to be.] Maurice and his new love, Alec, become outlaws in the greenwood, (which Forster in his ‘terminal note admits no longer exists.) It isn’t just that the notion of these two (of different classes in class-bound Britain) might live happily in a rustic idyll is farcical.  It’s also unsatisfactory that a ‘happy’ ending requires them to hide. Better to live openly in France or Italy than to skulk in the greenwood.


The Midsumma Festival is more than a celebration.  It’s also a way of offering support to people still victimised by religious groups and bigots.

Author: E.M. Forster
Title: Maurice
Publisher: The Softback Preview
ISBN: Not recorded, pbk., 319 pages
Source: Personal library


Responses

  1. I have exactly the same edition of ‘Maurice’. I confess: I have not yet read it, but I have now put it into a ‘read soon’ pile.

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    • It will be interesting to read a response from more recent times. I still think it’s very relevant, though I wish it weren’t, if you know what I mean.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I probably read Maurice around the same time as you. In the mid 90’s I became conscious of LGBTIQ+ issues and actively sought out such books. I read this, The Weekend by Peter Cameron, then I ‘discovered’ Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit which led me to Robert Dessaix and Night Letters. I was living and working in a small country town at the time and felt very avant-garde. Although my friendship group were open, tolerant people I was aware that many others around me would have been shocked by my reading matter. Like Tasmania, it took a little longer for attitudes to change in rural areas.

    For some reason I thought that Maurice was autobiographical or based on a true story, but you don’t mention that in your piece, so no doubt my memory is at fault!

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    • Ah, then you were ahead of me. I remember buying this one. It was with a whole lot of other EM Forsters, and I bought the lot because I’d read Aspects of the Novel at university and I’d seen A Room with a View and I thought I’d like them.
      I don’t know if Maurice is autobiographical. I don’t know anything much about his life…

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  3. I think within the environment of the Bloomsbury Group, E.M. Forster was able to admit to his homosexuality without stigma, but elsewhere in society of course he had to hide it. So there are certainly some autobiographical elements to the story (and also probably what he saw among his friends). I read this a very long time ago and thought it was rather lovely – I wanted a ‘happy’ ending for them.

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    • Thanks, Marina, I really ought to know more about this author!

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  4. I love Forster’s books. More books on the subject are the books of Alan Hollinghurst (The Swimming Pool Library, The Stranger’s Child, for example) and Sarah Walters, The Paying Guests.

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    • Hello Vanessa, thanks for your contribution. I’ve read both Hollinghurst and Walters, (#Guessing: their books became available about the 1980s? 1990s?) but the interesting thing about Maurice is that it was written so early in the C20th — round about the time that The Immoralist was published in France — but not published for over half a century. Jay Weatherall, in his afterward to Marlo made the point that he had to imagine the world of his novel because — in contrast to the wealth of books available now — there is no literature of gay love in Melbourne from the 1950s.

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  5. Hi Lisa, I have just read Maurice quite recently, at the end of last year. I had picked up an old copy at a Lifeline sale, noting that it was by Forster, but never having heard of it or knowing anything about it. I loved it. It was tender and sad and it broke my heart, and how extraordinary that it was written so long ago, and yet, shamefully, still so relevant today.

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    • Yes, you have said so well, Karen. It’s a very important book.

      Liked by 1 person


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