Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Maurice - EM Forster

em forster
c. 1913
246 pages
completed 6/20/2011

*may contain spoilers*

Once a term the whole school went for a walk - that is to say the three masters took part as well as all the boys.

Maurice tells the story of Maurice Hall, a middle class boy growing up in Edwardian England. At Cambridge he befriends Clive Durham, and as the two become intimate their friendship quickly blossoms into love. Though the two remain almost inseparable during the first few years after they leave university, a trip to Greece causes a change of heart in Clive. He comes home "fixed" and marries a woman names Anne, breaking Maurice's heart. Due to his devastation at losing Clive, Maurice too becomes determined to cure himself of the "disease" of homosexuality.

I think I kind of read this at a bit of the wrong time. I watched the movie due to a recent actor obsession (damn you BBC Sherlock and your silver fox Lestrade - who can be seen in the sidebar as my current tv boyfriend) and completely fell in love. I thought the movie was excellent and kept watching bits of it over and over on youtube (especially Maurice and Alec's last scene at the boathouse). Then I discovered my sister owned the book so I had to read it immediately, and so since I'm currently so enamored of the movie and Alec Scudder especially, I don't know how objective I can be about the book.

This book was written in 1913 but due to its subject matter (where the main character is not only a homosexual who is portrayed mostly positively, but one who *SPOILER* gets a happy ending with the man he loves) wasn't published until the 70s, after Forster's death. So it's less known than some of his other works. I found it interesting that though homosexuality is obviously the crux of the novel, it is the class distinction and tension between Maurice and Alec, something always featured so prominently in Forster's work (I say this like I've actually read anything else of his - well, I've seen the movies!), that is really the more pervading issue. Alec is only the under gamekeeper of Penge and Maurice is a guest there. As such, Alec isn't even noticed by Maurice (or even the reader really) for quite sometime. The use of a homosexual relationship, bringing two men of very different backgrounds together, is an interesting way to showcase the beginning disintegration of the European class system during this time. I love when books are obviously about one thing but are really, sneakily about something else, too.

It took longer for me to read this than I think I would have had I not seen the movie. It's Maurice and Alec who are the real love story (or to be fair to Clive's love for Maurice, they are the happy ending) and so I did feel like I had to slog through Clive a bit in order to get to Alec. Not that Clive is not a worthwhile or interesting character. His sudden abandonment of his homosexual leanings is a curious thing. It's a little ambiguous as to whether he really did grow out of it or if he still held those feelings but no longer allowed himself to act on them. The movie gives an actual answer to this question by adding a sad ending to the story of Clive and Maurice's university pal Risley that's not in the original story. While some purist may be super against this addition by the filmmakers, I actually thought it added a lot. It explained Clive's transformation and also made it clear to modern viewers just how dangerous it was for homosexuals at this time in England. Readers in 1913 (even though the book wasn't published then) would be aware of the dangers, whereas people today might not realize it was a jail-able offence (and had at one point in English history been an offence worthy of execution). Anyway, like I said, even though Clive is an intriguing character, I was impatient to get to Alec who is just so wonderful.

I just loved this story, book and movie alike, and I am pretty sure they'll be ones I revisit again and again.


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