Friday, July 31, 2009

Maurice by E.M. Forster

This gay classic has been on my to-read list for years. I liked it upon finishing the book a week ago and I find that my appreciation grows as I reflect upon it. The happy ending is particularly striking, considering that it was written in 1913 (although not published until after Forster's death in the early 1970s).

Forster had this to say (in a terminal note): "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 in it for the ever and ever that fiction allows. [...] Happiness is its keynote -- which by the way had an unexpected result: it has made the book more difficult to publish."

Maurice Hall, the central character, was not particularly likable at first but as he comes to accept his homosexuality and become more aware of what is going on around him and is honest with himself, I grew to admire him.

The writing style pleased me very much. For example, when Maurice meets a flamboyantly gay man, Risley, for the first time: "[Risley] made an exaggerated gesture when introduced, and when he spoke, which was continually, he used strong yet unmanly superlatives. Chapman caught Maurice's eye and distended his nostrils, inviting him to side against the newcomer. Maurice thought he would wait a bit first." That scene sprung vividly to life for me in just three sentences.

Maurice falls in love with Clive Durham, who comes from a class above him. "Clive's great-great uncle had been Lord Chief Justice in the reign of George IV, and the nest he had feathered was Penge. The feathers were inclined to blow about now. A hundred years had nibbled into the fortune, which no wealthy bride had replenished, and both house and estate were marked, not indeed with decay, but with the immobility that precedes it." (It is interesting that the book I read directly afterwards was Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger, which opens in 1919 with the introduction to a house which will fall to ruin. More about that book in another post.)

The young men in Forster's novel use admiration for Tchaikovsky as a code in much the way that 'a friend of Dorothy' has been used in more recent times. I understood that because I am aware that the composer was gay. What went over my head (until further research upon completing the novel) is why Risley called Tchaikovsky's Symphony Pathetic 'Symphonie Pathique' instead. A pathique (or pathic) is a sodomite.

I highly recommend Maurice for anyone who loves language and a Jane Austen style of relationship story. Also suitable for high school students who are looking for gay-themed novels.

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