Set at the beginning of the twentieth century, Maurice follows Maurice Hall through his school days and adolescents, to his time as an undergraduate at Cambridge and into early adulthood. It follows his loneliness and confusion, his sexual awakening and acceptance of his homosexuality and his eventual happiness.
Forster wrote Maurice in 1913 directly after a visit to Milthorpe, the home of Edward Carpenter (who I did a brief post on here) and his ‘comrade’ George Merrill. He calls Carpenter his ‘saviour’ and Milthorpe a ‘shrine’ and says that they ‘combined to make a profound impression on me and to touch a creative spring. . . The general plan, the three characters, the happy ending for two of them, all rushed into my pen.’ I think this is important because I found Maurice the most intensely personal book I think I’ve ever read.
Maurice Hall is an average man, often outwitted by cleverer friends he is deeply conventional, he doesn’t find the rigidness of his class stifling rather it provides the boundaries within which he can be confident of his status. Keeping up with appearances is everything, sometimes to a ridiculously comic point and his sexuality is completely tied in with his notion of class and being an Englishman. So that when Clive Durham tells Maurice that he loves him, Maurice is ‘scandalized and horrified’, ‘shocked to the bottom of his suburban soul’
‘Oh, rot! . . . Durham, you’re an Englishman, I’m another. Don’t talk nonsense. I’m not offended, because I know you didn’t mean it, but it’s the only subject absolutely beyond the limit as you know, it’s the worst crime in the calendar, and you must never mention it again. Durham! a rotten notion really -‘
despite Clive being all he’s thought about for months! Reading it now, the snobbishness is shocking. About to play cricket for Penge, Clive Durham’s ancestral home against the village, it reads:
‘Maurice hated cricket. It demanded a snickety neatness he could not supply; and, though he had often done it for Clive’s sake, he disliked playing with his social inferiors.Footer was different – he could give and take there – but in cricket he might be bowled or punished by some lout, and he felt it unsuitable.’
But it’s important for Maurice to be so conservative I think, because through that we see how much he has to give up, and how much his attitudes have to change in order for him to know happiness. Maurice has to actually take a risk and be brave.
The ending was very important to Forster, ‘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’ he says in the Terminal Note, that he added in 1960. And it seems imperative that the two remain in England as well, outlaws that disappear into the greenwood leaving behind a pile of evening primrose petals.