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.


17 thoughts on “Maurice

  1. What a beautiful review! I haven’t really gotten along with E. M. Forster previously but Maurice sounds as if it might be the exception. I’ve never really connected with his characters in the past. Did you feel as if you did in this book?

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    1. Rather than connecting with the characters I just found this such interesting social history but thinking about it, perhaps the character I connected with the most was Forster!

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      1. Yes, it makes sense that you connected with the author rather than the characters given the author’s own personal life. That makes me want to read this even more. Glad he was eventually able to write his/this story.

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  2. I only know this story through the Merchant Ivory film with James Wilby and Hugh Grant, so I would like to read the book one day to see how it compares. ‘Intensely personal’ definitely chimes with my memories of the film…

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    1. Yes, I watched the film a few months ago and enjoyed it, but the introduction of the book gives it a fairly negative response which I think is interesting and makes me think about the audience the film is aimed at and if that was (at least largely) a heterosexual one but then is that necessarily a bad thing, if it’s making us ask questions? The book is definitely one to read and one I’d like to read again. Forster’s Terminal Note is worth reading for its own sake.


    1. Thank you, in trying not to give anything away of the plot I was worried that I just hadn’t said anything at all!! It is definitely one to read, it felt like reading the diary of someone who is a natural story teller and therefore has to put in characters and a plot

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  3. Wonderful review, you’ve certainly made me curious about this one. I am determined to start with A Room with a View, but if I get on with Forster’s writing, I may look into Maurice next.

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    1. I absolutely love A Room with a View and would start there! I haven’t read a biography of Forster yet but I think Maurice lets you see him as personally as you could want. He asked for the book not to be published until after his death, which I think shows how important it was to him.

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  4. Like the others, I’ve only read A Room with a View (if you discount his excellent foray into science fiction in The Machine Stops, that is) and would like to read more. I imagine this one was considered very shocking when it came out. In fact, I’m surprised it didn’t destroy Forster’s career. Ah! Just googled and I see it was published posthumously in 1971 – that explains it!

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    1. I should have said that he asked for it not to be published until after his death, that’s how personal and yes shocking it was! It isn’t a ‘great novel’ (at least I don’t think so) it’s more what it stands for and his views on the treatment of homosexuality by and in society which are very pessimistic both in the novel in 1913 and the Terminal Note in 1960 (which is brilliant reading on its own). I must read The Machine Stops, I’d never heard of it!!

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  5. Lovely review of one of my favorite works by a favorite author! I loved the ending. So ahead of its time. At least they could have a happily ever after in the world of fiction! I loved this book for although it is about same sex love it is also about living authentically and following your heart.

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    1. I’m so glad you love this too! Living authentically is exactly what it’s about – I don’t want to give away the ending, but I could say a lot about Clive! I think the ending is just beautiful, the way he just disappears like a spirit leaving the petals behind. Also I love it that Risley is based on Lytton Strachey and that he recognised himself!

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  6. Yet another author who has interested me for years and yet I’ve never read. What I am reading at the moment is the recently published Still Life by Sarah Winman in which one of her characters knew Forster. I’m not far enough in to know what significance this has in Winman’s plot but it had reminded me yet again, that I really want to read him. There’s never enough time! A lovely review as ever, Jane 😊

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  7. A splendid review of one of my favourite works! I first encountered the 1987 Merchant-Ivory film and was extremely touched by it, and since then have read and loved the book. Your review is crisp and to-the-point!

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