Summary (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)
Maurice is the story of the education of a young man, a form as old as Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus (c. 429 B.C.) and Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones (1749). Its major distinction is in its open treatment of the main character’s growing understanding of his own sexuality. This topic no longer has the impact that it possessed in 1914, when the novel was originally written and when D. H. Lawrence’s use of such themes was first censored.
Maurice Hall, an indifferent intellect, is the center of his mother and sisters’ world; he is sent, successively, to the same mediocre public schools that his deceased father attended. He manages to muddle through the usual problems of adolescence, and here E. M. Forster’s analysis of the older boys’ mixture of tenderness and cruelty, especially regarding their sexual roles, is extremely penetrating. It is not until he arrives at one of the less prestigious colleges at Cambridge that Maurice becomes aware of his homosexual inclinations and is disgusted and confused by them. From that moment onward, his inner struggle for harmony and joy is at war with his easy acceptance of what his family and society expect of him. As in other Forster novels, however, such a startling experience in his youth is part of Maurice’s final salvation.
Maurice’s first true love is his tutor Clive Durham, a classics scholar at Cambridge a year ahead of Maurice. It is Clive who first stirs Maurice’s heart and mind, making him aware of how unthinkingly he has let conventions rule him. In this way, acknowledging his homosexuality acts as a mental spur, making Maurice learn to think clearly about his own identity for the first time. When Maurice rejects Christianity and accepts Clive’s Hellenism, he takes his second clear step toward affirming his own individualism. Appropriately, this first love occurs in the spring....
(The entire section is 772 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
At the age of fourteen, Maurice (pronounced like “Morris”) Hall is sent to the same mediocre public school his dead father had attended. Maurice is not a remarkable student, though he is proficient at his lessons and is athletic and handsome. Mr. Ducie, a schoolmaster, is aware that Maurice has no proper male role model and takes it upon himself to instruct Maurice in sexual matters during a walk on the beach. Maurice realizes that Ducie’s explanation does not explain Maurice’s own sexual urges. Maurice is perplexed by his schoolmates’ mixture of rude and cruel behavior tempered by tenderness, especially concerning their sexual roles.
When Maurice arrives at one of the less prestigious colleges at Cambridge, he comes to understand his sexual inclinations and finds them both disgusting and confusing. At Cambridge, Maurice falls under the influence of Greek culture and thought, whose ideals are sexual freedom and tolerance, when he is introduced to Plato’s Symposium by Clive Durham, a tutor with whom he falls in love and who persuades Maurice to abandon his conventional religious ideas. A year older than Maurice, Clive becomes Maurice’s first love. Rejecting Christianity and understanding the stirring of his heart, Maurice begins to think about the nature of his identity.
Clive loves Maurice, but in a romantic way that idealizes homosexuality. Clive is guilt-ridden by his desires, but liberated by Plato’s writings. He derives a freedom to idealize homosexual love from Plato’s Phaedrus, but not the license to act on his sexual desires. Maurice, taller and more athletic than Clive, desires physical fulfillment of their love. Despite their contrary philosophies, an idyll begins between the two. The pair travel to Italy. After graduation from Cambridge, Maurice and Clive settle in London to fulfill their families’ expectations. Maurice is accepted into his father’s brokerage firm; Clive studies law in preparation for a career in politics. For two years, the two men spend every Wednesday night and weekend together; however, their relationship remains strictly platonic.
When Maurice refuses to accompany Clive on a...
(The entire section is 892 words.)