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.)