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. After an idyllic period together at Cambridge, the two journey to Italy. Upon their return, they settle down in London to fulfill their families’ expectations and enter the business world. Clive studies law in order to enter politics, and Maurice joins his father’s brokerage firm; the two spend Wednesday nights and each weekend together for two years.
The breakup of their Platonic love affair begins, significantly, when Maurice refuses to accompany Clive on a journey to Greece. When Clive finds himself isolated and in despair in the alien, sterile Greek world, he concludes that he has made an error in judgment. It is women, not men, that he loves. When he is first seen again in London by Maurice, he is sitting in the kitchen with Maurice’s mother and sisters, who have wrapped him, symbolically, in their practice bandages. The resulting argument and break between Maurice and Clive, and Clive’s subsequent marriage, plunge Maurice, at age twenty-three, into his first real crisis.
The second important stage in the novel occurs in the interval between Maurice’s break with Clive and their first meeting, at Clive’s country estate, Penge, a year after Clive’s marriage. After experiencing rejection, isolation, despair, and self-loathing, Maurice comes to the point of considering suicide. Death seems preferable to a life of either shame and scandal or total self-denial. The shock of his grandfather’s death stops such ideas. Maurice desperately longs to be normal or even to marry simply to procreate and exist safely in society. After meeting Clive and his wife, Maurice even arranges a consultation with a hypnotist who has helped other men such as himself. Science, however, only confirms what Maurice is; it cannot change him. It is during this suffering that Maurice develops the inner strength to remain true to himself, despite society’s conventions.
The final stage of the novel concerns Maurice’s relationship with Alec Scudder, the skilled gamekeeper of Penge. When Maurice accepts his feelings for Alec and is able to help Alec in turn, he is finally able to reject society’s standards. With...
(The entire section is 1,664 words.)