Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 892
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...
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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 trip to Greece, their relationship is forever altered. Alone in Greece, Clive concludes that he is mistaken about homosexuality and decides he loves women. Clive returns to London and, wrapped in bandages by Maurice’s mother and sisters (who were in training as World War I nurses), sees Maurice again. Clive confesses his choice of a heterosexual identity to Maurice and an argument ensues, causing a rift between the men. Clive marries for socioeconomic reasons after Risley, Clive and Maurice’s Cambridge friend, has his life ruined after arrest on a morals charge. A rising barrister, Clive rejects Risley’s plea for help and warns Maurice that they must forget the past and respect the boundaries of friendship.
Maurice, twenty-three years old, plunges into a deep depression. He experiences guilt over his homosexuality after being rejected by Clive. Desperate and self-loathing, Maurice considers suicide because death seems preferable to self-denial or the scandal associated with homosexuality. With the distraction of his grandfather’s death, Maurice comes out of his depression to an extent, but still wants to be normal. Maurice spends some time with Clive and his wife. Maurice consults a quack hypnotist who has supposedly helped other men overcome their homosexuality. Science, however—as religion had before—proves what Maurice intuitively knew: He cannot change who he is.
A year later, Maurice accepts his sexual identity when he meets Alec Scudder, the gamekeeper of Clive’s estate, Penge. Alec’s profession keeps him outdoors, attuned to nature, in sharp contrast to the indoor world of Maurice and his friends. Maurice breaks down class barriers when he enters into a relationship with Alec after a day of playing cricket. Maurice is still conflicted, however, about his homosexuality. Clive believes Maurice’s secret trysts are with a girlfriend about whom Maurice has not told Clive. As his relationship with Alec deepens, Maurice becomes concerned about their class differences and the possibility that Alec might blackmail him. When Clive discovers that Maurice’s lover is a man, he is appalled—especially by Alec’s working-class background—and more than a little jealous.
Alec tries to reconcile with Maurice, but to no avail. Alec decides to emigrate. At the last moment, he decides to stay in England and goes to his and Maurice’s usual trysting place, where Maurice and a new life together await him. Maurice rejects society’s standards and accepts his love for another man wholeheartedly. He finally feels as if he were a fully integrated personality. At peace with himself, Maurice convinces Alec to share a life together—a man loving a man, both intellectually and physically. While there is no promise of permanence in Maurice and Alec’s relationship, Maurice speaks to Clive one last time with unprecedented eloquence. Maurice tells Clive that he, Maurice, loves Alec, that Clive had trapped himself into a dull marriage, and that Maurice is bidding farewell to the life and society in which he had been born and raised. In the manner of earlier bands of English outlaws—those who were alienated from society—Maurice and Alec withdraw to live in the greenwoods where they can find the freedom and happiness necessary to preserve their love. At the age of twenty-four, Maurice’s inner journey to find himself seem complete.