Review published on February 7, 2018.
The recent TV dramatisation of Howards End has led me to re-read other offerings by a novelist who greatly played out a lot of his life through his written words.
Maurice, which tells of the life of a young boy and then student discovering he is drawn sexually to other men, was written by Forster in 1914. Yet it was not published until 1970, after his death.
Today we are mostly (but not by all) happy to allow homosexual men (or women) to live their lives as they choose, yet in Forster’s Edwardian era this was far from the norm. The whole novel is not just about the relationship between Maurice and his friend Clive at Cambridge and Alec the gamekeeper, but a powerful condemnation of the repressive attitudes of British society (whilst ignoring such relationships amongst the rich and powerful) and also a moving love story.
The writing is precise and has a lot of classical references (the Penguin Classics edition with an introduction by David Leavitt is a very useful to highlight some of the quotes).
We meet Maurice Hall as a school boy where Forster states ‘There is much to be said for apathy in education’ and in whole both his school and university experiences are but a backdrop to his growing sexual awakening, particularly with Clive Durham.
The 1987 glossy Merchant Ivory film production which starred James Wilby and Hugh Grant tried to balance out the erotic with the class and strong Edwardian distaste for homosexuality as Clive retreats to his ‘normality’ and of course power and wealth whilst Maurice still struggles with the real sense of who he is.
There are some great extra characters such as Mr Borenius, the rector, – a moral guidance amongst the immoral perhaps?
Overall the plot flows well and the narrative parts are, as we would expect from Forster, excellent.
A joy to read again as a personal choice and I think one of interest to some book clubs who could discuss the relevance of sexual norms today against the backdrop of a stricter Edwardian life.
Philipa Coughlan 5/4
Maurice by E.M. Forster
Penguin Classics 9780141441139 pbk Jul 2005